Whilst the following story refers to real persons both dead and alive, it is a work of fiction.
‘Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…’. The sounds of the Salvation Army brass band outside Knightsbridge tube station on Christmas Eve floated gently after the armour-plated Bentley as it made its way down Sloane Street and towards Belgravia. The Oligarch sat back in the leather-cocoon, and pondered his problems, both big and small, following a splendid evening attending a reception at the Russian Embassy.
The Bentley drew up outside the vast residence. Always exclusive, at the turn of the 20th century Eaton Place had mainly been home to the English aristocracy. Now in the 21st, its inhabitants were the vastly rich, as often from overseas as from the UK, and the odd politician. The front door was opened and, save barking a few instructions to the burly security guard following him, the oligarch immediately made his way upstairs. A quick shower, and he was ready for bed. He needed to make an early start in the morning. But then it was ever so. Attending to his business interests, attending to the welfare of his people in the far-off Russian state where he was Governor, keeping the government happy, keeping an eye on his growing family and, most of all, watching over his beloved football club.
He normally had no trouble in sleeping as soon as his head hit the pillow. But tonight it was different. The hospitality at the Embassy reception had been lavish, and the food beautifully prepared. However, the mixture of caviar, blinis, borsch, pieroigi, shashlik and kissel, washed down with vodka and champagne, wasn’t easy on the digestive system.
‘I must sleep’, he told himself, tossing and turning. The crisp, white Egyption sheets, became knotted around his legs and the light duvet slipped off the bed. The pillows bunched up behind him and he sat up to re-arrange them. When he turned round, he saw a figure at the foot of his bed, and shot out an arm to press the panic button discreetly located behind the bedside table.
‘I wouldn’t do that, if I were you’, said a man of about his own age. ‘I mean, you can, but when they arrive, you will look foolish, for you can see me, but they can’t’.
‘Who are you?’ gasped the Oligarch.
‘Don’t you recognise me?’ asked the figure, genially. ‘Ah – history. The one thing that the Chelsea fans are always taunted about. Other fans like to pretend the club hasn’t got a history, but we have one as rich as anyone else’s. You should recognise me, if you know the club’s history’. Suddenly it dawned on the Oligarch. It was Ted Drake, the club’s legendary manager who had led the side to their first Football League Championship in 1955. ‘What do you want from me, is this some crazy dream?’ the Russian demanded.
‘I don’t want anything from you, and it certainly isn’t a dream’ replied Ted. I just want to take you on a trip to the old days’.
The opulent bedroom was shrouded in mist and swirled around. Suddenly the Russian felt cold. Hardly surprising as he was only wearing a vest and shorts, and he suddenly found himself in the middle of the Fulham Road. But it was a Fulham Road with a difference. Badly lit, with pockmarked road,
the Butchers Hook appeared to have been replaced with a pub called The Rising Sun. In disbelief, he looked at locked gates, above which read the legend ‘STAMFORD BRIDGE GROUNDS CHELSEA FOOTBALL & ATHLETIC CO. GREYHOUND RACING’. Greyhound racing? At Stamford Bridge?
‘Oh yes, that’s right’ said Mr Drake, reading his thoughts. ‘The ground was used as an athletics stadium before the football club was even founded. The greyhounds are very popular. Come with me’. The mist swirled around them again, and suddenly they were inside the ground, on the pitch. ‘It’s changed a lot since my day, of course. The South Stand is where all the most dedicated fans stand these days. We’re very proud of the North Stand, we were lucky to get that finished before the end of the war.’
‘The war?’ asked the oligarch. ‘Yes,’ replied Ted. ‘1939-1945. Shame that the stand shakes so much when the trains pass by’.
The Russian looked around in amazement. Instead of the neat stands, full of seats, with the hotel and apartments looming over the Shed End, he saw a collection of ramshackle terracing and an East Stand dating back to the start of the 20th century. Seeing the oligarch’s face fall, Drake added ‘We’re hoping to rebuild the West Stand in the next few years.’
The manager led the magnate down the tunnel to dressing rooms which were sparsely equipped – benches, coathooks and a physio’s table. No custom-built lockers with designer toiletries. The Russian wandered into the bathing area – he had heard of the legendary communal baths that pre-dated his involvement in the English game, but had never seen one before. He shuddered. The genial Mr Drake saw him do so and pointed out ‘If you think our facilities are poor, you should see them at other grounds. Chelsea are a progressive club. We may have had to turn down the invitation to play in the European Cup this season, but you know our time will come again. But we didn’t have a parade you know. We took the trophy around the stadium on a trolley at the first home game this season’.
Finally, in Drake’s ivy-clad office, he told the Oligarch ‘You have a huge responsibility on your shoulders. The institution of Chelsea Football Club isn’t about any one individual. It’s about the club as a body; yes, the chairman and the manager and the players, but the supporters too. That’s something you will have to come to terms with over the years.’
Suddenly, the walls of the office began to close in, the mist began to swirl and the room spun round. The oligarch found himself back in his luxurious bed, bathed in sweat. He was still convinced that the visitation from the Chelsea legend was just a dream.
He closed his eyes and was just starting to drift off into a quiet sleep when the heavily-lined curtains stirred as if caught by a breeze. He opened his eyes to find Rafael Benitez standing on front of him. This was becoming too much. ‘Hello there’, said the Spaniard. ‘I think we should take a trip down to Stamford Bridge’. Again, the room began to spin. When the mist cleared, manager and owner were standing before the West Stand entrance. The Oligarch was hugely relieved. Benitez put his hands in his pockets and trudged towards the Millennium Entrance. The Russian strode ahead of him. Together they took the lift to the fabled fifth floor offices, accessed only by putting a switchcard in a special socket as they reached the fourth floor. The two men went into the Russian’s private office and sat down.
‘There’s something I should tell you’ said the Spaniard. ‘I really wanted this job, but mainly because I needed to find a way back into the game. Chelsea. I don’t care. It’s just another cloob, a stepping stone for me. Ideally, I would be looking to move to Spain at the end of this season. I ‘ear there’s a job at Real Madrid coming up’. The Oligarch listened with a mingling of outrage and exasperation that his pet project was being used as a stepping stone, and interest that he had finally met someone who was treating the role simply as a job in professional football, with no emotional attachment to it. The words of Ted Drake came back to him ‘The institution of Chelsea Football Club isn’t about any one individual…’
‘But tell me Rafael, when you were at Liverpool and you criticised the club and the supporters, surely that was just gamesmanship?’ asked the owner.
‘No. I ‘ate Chelsea. I ‘ate their supporters and I ‘ate their plastic flags.’
And you look like you ‘ate all the pies too, thought the Russian. Unbeknown to anyone else except his closest advisors and security guards, there was a button under the desk which would summarily dismiss the occupant of the chair for good. His finger itched at the Spaniard’s contempt for the club. ‘Rafael, I wonder if you might perhaps consider making a statement to the fans? Tell them that you didn’t really mean it. That you believe Chelsea to be a great cloob, I mean club.’
The Spaniard thought for a moment. ”
‘No. I couldn’t do that. As far as I am concerned, this is a marriage of convenience.’
That was it. The Oligarch reached under the desk and pressed the button. The room evaporated. Again he found himself back in his Belgravia bed. Another crazy dream. He drifted off into a fitful sleep and awoke in darkness to yet another figure at the end of the bed. This time it was a stranger, clad in back. The Oligarch sat bolt up right. ‘Who are you’? He looked again. The stranger had a faintly familiar profile. ‘I am your grandson, Piotr’, the young man replied. ‘I don’t have a grandson’ said the Russian.
‘I am from the time that is still to come, after you are no longer here’, Piotr responded.
The Russian sighed and flopped back on his pillows. This was getting ridiculous. But the apparition reached out his hands and the room began to spin once more. This time, the motion was so violent that when he came to, the Oligarch believed he must have blacked out. He found himself seated in an unfamiliar room. A door in the corner opened, and the young man who claimed to be his grandson entered the room.
‘Come Grandfather. Don’t you wish to see what the future holds?’ The older man got to his feet and followed his grandson through the door. He was led through a tunnel and eventually they emerged into the sunlight. They found themselves standing on the touchline of a football ground, but it was one the Oligarch failed to recognise. ‘Where are we?’ he asked Piotr. ‘This is the new ground, Grandfather. It’s called the B&A Stadium – short for the Bauxite & Aluminium Corporation of Chukota. You founded B&A in 2015’.
‘Is it successful?’ asked the Oligarch ‘Hugely’ replied Piotr. ‘One of the most valuable companies in the world, a conglomerate that doesn’t just deal in bauxite and aluminium but virtually every other facet of diversified heavy industry. Mining, steel, oil, gas, you name it.’
The Russian was pleased. ‘So the Earl’s Court takeover was a success, then?’ he asked. Piotr looked shifty. ‘There were one or two….hurdles which you failed to overcome. Unfortunately the local authority couldn’t see that it was in their interest to gain two billion pounds in cold hard cash rather retain the estate, and a new climate of puritanism in Britain that followed years of austerity left government officials…shall we say unwilling to enter into agreements they might later have to explain to an increasingly violent population.’
‘So we rebuilt Stamford Bridge?’ the Oligarch enquired. ‘No’ said Piotr. ‘After your sad and untimely death in 2017…’
The Oligarch went cold, as if someone had walked over his grave, as indeed they might.
‘My death?’ he whispered.
‘Gunned down outside your residence in Chukota. My father inherited the lion’s share of your interests. In 2020 he realised that the football club was becoming a drain on the family resources. He therefore decided that he should speculate to accumulate and offered the Chelsea Pitch Owners shareholders five thousand pounds for each share they owned. The outlay cost him one hundred million pounds, but the return was ten times that amount after he announced that the club would be relocating to a new stadium at Leatherhead in Surrey – the super stadium on the M25 that Marler Estates had promised the supporters as long ago as the 1980s. The land on which Stamford Bridge stood was sold to property developers for one billion pounds’.
‘How did the supporters take the news?’ the Oligarch asked his grandson.
‘Badly. They became militant. Several CPO shareholders went on hunger strike. One of them chained herself to the turnstiles. Three set fire to themselves. Then on the day the bulldozers came, there was a full-scale riot. Seventeen dead. Hundreds injured. Widespread property damage in the area. Twenty five fans were sent to prison for between two and fifteen years’.
The Oligarch swallowed. This was truly the stuff of which nightmares were made. Again, the words of Ted Drake came back to him ‘You have a huge responsibility on your shoulders…’
‘What of my son?’ he asked. A shadow passed over Piotr’s face. ‘Papa was shot by a fan on the day the new stadium opened. That was two years ago, in 2025’ he answered. ‘And are you the owner of the club now?’ the Oligarch asked his grandson. ‘Yes, the owner and manager. I have absolute authority, and my word is law’ Piotr replied. The Russian paused. He had never considered running the team himself. Well not seriously, anyway.
‘And do the fans like you?’ he asked Piotr.
‘It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to be like previous managers in our history, hearing the sounds of the supporters jeering.’ Piotr walked to the edge of a tunnel and pressed a blue button. To the Oligarch’s astonishment, figures began to pop up in the stands surrounding the pitch. Piotr pressed a green button, and a chorus of “Carefree” rang out around the ground.
‘You see? People always used to joke about plastic fans, and now they really are. No opposition, no dissent. We spent the last three years at Stamford Bridge constantly recording the songs the crowd were singing with a view to placing them in an archive for the new visitor attraction; those are the only people that visit the B&A these days. Tourists who are bussed out from London and local schoolchildren. All our games are broadcast exclusively on Chelsea TV in the UK, and overseas in deals with major broadcasters. We give them the big-match atmosphere without the need for any of these so-called supporters spoiling things.’
As Piotr went on extolling the virtues of a fan-free existence, the Oligarch felt a roaring in his ears, and the ground open up beneath him. As he vanished through the earth, the last words he heard Piotr say were ‘European League Champions three years running, and there’s no relegation. It’s about franchises these days!’
There was a blinding flash of light. Suddenly the Oligarch was back in his bed in Eaton Square, with the light of Christmas dawn streaming through the windows, and the sound of bells in the distance. He wondered if what had happened during the night was a dream or rooted in reality.
There was only one way to find out…
I’ll be back in the new year in the run up to the CPO AGM. In the meantime you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67 – and if you fancy debating the big issues with your fellow fans in more than 140 characters, why not try ahfcchat.com