In The Eye Of The Storm

On Wednesday evening, I had a text from a Pitch Owner mate who was going to the meeting on Thursday asking what time I was planning to arrive.  I told him and he said he’d keep an eye out for me.  I replied “You’ll recognise me.  I’ll be the one asking the awkward questions”.  As things turned out, it proved to be an accurate prediction.

I don’t know how others in the SayNoCPO campaign slept on Wednesday.  I slept, but woke frequently.  The first thing to always come into my mind was the thought of the meeting ahead.  In an ideal world, I would have taken the day off work, but with our holiday year ending 31st October, I had no annual leave left, having spent some days nursing Old Mother Baby at the end of September (for the benefit of her fan club, she continues to make an amazing recovery and had her first post-op outing last week). Therefore, my place of employment had very kindly agreed to my absenting myself for a few hours, having previously put in much unpaid overtime in August.

I arrived at work at the unearthly hour of 7.40am, hoping to get about three hours in before I set off for the Bridge.  My breakfast eaten at my desk, instead of the usual bowl of frosted flakes, was a sustaining bowl of porridge and a croissant.  Sadly pre-meeting nerves got the better of me, and it’s better to draw a veil over the unpleasant consequences.

At 10.20am, I could no longer stand it.  I grabbed my appropriately blue raincoat, said my goodbyes with a promise to return at an unspecified time, and set off from the City to SW6.

I honestly believe that it takes longer to get to Fulham Broadway than it used to.  When I first relocated to London, I’d go to the ticket office in person to save on the breathing charge imposed on online transactions, and it used to take about 25 minutes.  Now it takes half an hour.  Last Thursday, the journey seemed endless.

On alighting, I made my way to the Britannia gate and to my joy spied various members of the campaign team talking to camera crews and distributing the “Ten Questions to be Answered by the Board of CPO” flyer.  As it wasn’t quite 11am, I decided I’d put off registering for 10 minutes, and wandered off with a bundle of flyers.  As with the leafleting experience on the day of the Everton game, I was surprised at how engaged people were.  Again, I couldn’t keep up with the demand for flyers, as fresh waves of tube passengers made their way up Fulham Road towards the ground.

At 11.10, I decided it was probably time to queue up for registration as there was only 20 minutes left until the meeting was due to start.  Fellow queue members struck up conversations with each other about the merits of the proposal as the line moved along the West Stand wall where the megastore van stands on matchdays.  Once at the end of the wall, there was a wait till you were allowed over by the West Stand turnstiles to join the queue for the Spackman Entrance.  Once over there, you had to show your valid ID (passport or driving license) to the stewards, you were then searched and warned to turn off your mobile at the start of the meeting.  Once inside, you were then registered and given poll forms (one for the proposal, one for any motions that arose during the meeting) and a pink wristband.  A cloakroom was provided, and the West Lower catering facilities offered tea, coffee and water.

And a considerable transformation had taken place. I had always wondered why the roof of the West Stand had been painted black, making it look gloomy.  I now knew why.  For the concourse had been transformed into a stylish conference venue, black curtains obscuring the walls and exits to the West Stand, screens hanging down so everyone, no matter how far away, would be able to see the boards of the club and CPO, and carpet on the floor.  The upholstered chrome seats were not only smart, but comfortable.

On walking in, I saw my friend who had texted scanning the crowds coming into the room, and I waved to him. Happily he had saved me a seat.  “How considerate”, I remarked “you’ve chosen a seat close to a microphone.  That’ll be handy later”.

The clock ticked round to 11.30am, people were still coming through the doors and there was still no sign of the meeting starting.  With the atmosphere in the hall already at fever pitch, Richard King then announced a 15 minute delay in order to admit the queuers.  Eventually, at 11.50am, the meeting started.

The facts of the meeting can be found elsewhere, but the written word will never convey the feeling in the hall, the sense of occasion and drama.  The actor Jonathan Kydd, season ticket holder and CPO shareholder, later tweeted about this. Personally I’ve never seen anything like it outside of a theatre, and occasionally the meeting even descended into pantomime, with speakers from the floor being cheered, “hear hear”-ed and the club and CPO officials being heckled and booed.

I decided after the opening questions and answers that there was stuff I wanted to get off my chest, so I went and stood in the queue for the microphone.  The chair was recognising each of the four microphones in rotation, but even so it was a long wait, I was becoming nervous, and my mouth was starting to dry up.

Twenty minutes later I was called.  I tried to speak slowly and clearly, and put the points I had on paper and in my head – about Bruce Buck’s comments to the BBC that shares were “souvenirs or mementoes”, that the club saw the meeting as their best opportunity for forcing through the “yes” vote Richard King had promised to deliver before he faced a vote of no confidence at any future AGM, that CPO shareholders were in danger of signing away the club’s birthright, that Hammersmith & Fulham Council hadn’t given any independent verification that the club had exhausted all planning potential, where were the architects’ reports of this, Roman’s fortune, Roman’s family and finally, that in the worst case scenario, we could end up at the super stadium on the M25 that Marler Estates had promised us 25 years ago.

Mr Buck’s first mistake was to start his reply with a stammer, followed by the words “well, the firm…”, drawing instant heckling from the audience.  I’d got in Paul Todd’s comments about the problems of naming rights, and the shareholders were generous in their applause not only during my peroration, but in the comments made to me afterwards.  By the time I sat down, though, my legs were shaking and I swigged half a bottle of water I’d brought with me.

For the SNCPO team, another crucial point was Richard King’s announcement of the number of votes needed in the hall. Having previously favoured an adjournment due to the issue of possible voting irregularities, it suddenly dawned on me that we needed only 300 votes in the hall to defeat the proposal.  I’m not supposed to run, but I trotted as quickly as I could back to where several of the Say No campaign were huddled and we conferred.  Whilst James Greenbury went over the legalities with the platform, excited chatter arose in the hall.  A show of hands was requested on whether the vote would take place after 10 minutes’ further questions, and was carried unanimously.

I used the extra 10 minutes to pop out of the hall to Gate 8 of the West Lower, which was being used as a smoking/telephoning area.  In spite of the grey day and the smokers, it was wonderful to be out in the fresh air after the heat of the conference.  I phoned Old Mother Baby to say things were looking good, but we weren’t counting our chickens, and my boss to say I’d be back later than anticipated.

When our votes were cast, my friend and I went round to Frankies, he for a beer, me for a coke.  Here’s a little tip.  Don’t have a drink in there.  You’ll get a 12.5% service charge. At least it was a break, although we continued to discuss the meeting. The screens in Frankies were showing Sky Sports, and we could see the strapline at the bottom saying that the meeting was taking place.

At 2.35, we made our way back into the Great Hall.  As a lot of voters had left, we were able to join the SNCPO huddle.  The CPO and club officials filed back in, and then the press returned to their roped-off area at the back.  Richard King announced the proposal had been defeated by 38.4% of the vote.  We clapped and cheered, though not too loudly.  We knew that this wasn’t going to be the end of the matter.

Bruce Buck spoke on behalf of the club and Richard King made his closing speech.  The Say No team had arranged to go to the Butchers Hook to mark the occasion, but I, sadly, had to get back to work, so mine was a fleeting visit.  Walking back to Fulham Broadway I met a few of the team who had been doing TV interviews, made my apologies, and travelled back to the City, where I got in a good couple of hours.

At the moment, this is a story without an end.  The CPO shareholders defeated last week’s proposal, and in the wake of Richard King’s resignation on Friday, Steve Frankham has been appointed Chairman of CPO.  The question is, by whom?  The slogan “Say No CPO” is no longer appropriate.  There are many issues to be resolved and the next column will take a look at what potentially happens next.

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