Chelsea Pitch Owners – One Year On

Saturday 27th October marks the first anniversary of the extraordinary victory of ordinary Chelsea Pitch Owners shareholders in their fight to secure a future for the organisation. It therefore seems an opportune time to look back on the dramatic events of last autumn and forward to what the future might hold.

Readers will recall that the board of Chelsea Pitch Owners, then led by Richard King, required 75% of the vote in order to pass the resolution put forward by Chelsea Football Club to purchase the land currently held by CPO. After 24 days of intense lobbying, including publicising the campaign, leafleting on the day of the home game against Everton on 15th October, and seemingly endless meetings, the “Say No” campaign succeeded in defeating the proposal with the CPO Board only securing 61.6% of the votes required.

Since that time, the issue of Pitch Owners has quietly meandered along, albeit with sporadic violent eruptions, notably surrounding January’s AGM, when Bob Sewell was castigated for selling shares in excess of the authority granted during the 2010 AGM, and at July’s EGM, when a motion to restrict voting rights to a maximum of 10 per shareholder was voted down amongst some acrimony.

The past 12 months have seen changes to the composition of the board. Richard King departed under a cloud following last October’s EGM, and was replaced as Chairman by Steve Frankham. Mr Frankham subsequently co-opted Denis Wise and Gray Smith on to the board, and whilst Mr Wise impressed at the 2012 AGM, his non-appearance at July’s EGM was shortly followed by the announcement of his resignation. Bob Sewell also failed to appear at the EGM, his resignation having been announced by Steve Frankham on 3rd July. Mr Frankham is currently seeking new faces for the board, and it believed that amongst those who have expressed an interest in the vacancies are prominent figures from various lobbying groups connected with CPO, as well as individuals with no affiliation. It is hoped that when the time comes to fill the vacant directorships, the wider shareholdership of Chelsea Pitch Owners will be able to have a say in this crucial issue, rather than it being left solely in the gift of the board.

The Chelsea Pitch Owners website has recently been updated to provide further information regarding issues raised at recent meetings in a question and answer format. Rather disappointingly with regard to the still contentious issue of what are seen as ‘concert party’ shareownership, point 21 of the Q and A asks “Why is the Board against writing to the 25 or so multiple share buyers from October 2011 to verify their ID, address and independence of the Club as recommended?’, with the answer given ‘Because there is no obligation on those share buyers to respond.’ That doesn’t mean that there is no point in trying. One positive note is the announcement that a register of interests now exists to record any ‘gifts’ (i.e. match tickets, hospitality, etc.) received by Directors of CPO from the football club. This is very welcome and timely step.

The thorny subject of how CPO can generate future income remains, and at July’s EGM Steve Frankham appealed for fund-raising ideas. Indeed, TheChels hears rumours that a meeting to discuss this very subject is likely to take place on Sunday prior to the game against Manchester United. One disappointing development is the slow take-up rate of shares in Chelsea Pitch Owners since they went back on the market in July, with unconfirmed reports that as few as 200 applications, mainly from individuals, have been received. Sadly for CPO, it’s undoubtedly the case that the first priority of many Chelsea supporters at a time of ongoing economic uncertainty is not likely to be the purchase of a share, but simply to be able to keep going to matches. It could of course be that those with an interest in bulk purchasing shares have found themselves unwilling to do so for fear of attracting unwanted publicity.

Following the club’s failure to secure the Battersea Power Station site earlier in the year, Chelsea’s options within the ‘heritage’ area remain extremely limited. If the club are to remain within the historic locality, their best bet still appears to be extension of the ground, and Campaign55 continue with their dilligent work in exploring this area. However, a glimmer of light remains with respect to a possible move to Earl’s Court. The High Court ruled on 12th October that plans by CapCo to demolish 900 homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green Estates are unlawful, and should now be the subject of a substantive hearing. This, together with allegations of bribery by Earl’s Court residents by a Council official, which are now in the hands of Fulham Police, may yet lead to the collapse of the CapCo master plan, and if it does, you can be pretty sure that Chelsea FC will be waiting in the wings with an alternative.  Indeed, the latest blog from the CFC Truth website suggests CapCo may  ‘even have already been on the phone to the club….’.

The first anniversary of the defeat of the club’s proposals gives those involved an opportunity to quietly relish their massive achievement, but there is little doubt that there will be battles ahead. It is possible that the proposed Chelsea FC Supporters Trust will give a voice to those who found themselves disenfranchised from the hard-line taken by Say No CPO subsequent to the EGM, but given that CFCST is in its embryonic phase, any involvement they are likely to have is a long way down the road.

Whatever the twists and turns of this ongoing saga, TheChels will be there to cover them. For further information and reading, you can visit the following sources:-

Chelsea Pitch Owners website
Say No CPO website
Campaign55 website
ChelseaFC Supporters Trust website
CFC Truth website

Speaking of the Chelsea FC Supporters Trust, following the positive start-up meeting on 21st September, a further meeting is taking place at The Atlas in Seagrave Road at 18.30 on Sunday.  All welcome.  In order for the Trust to be a success, it’s important for as many people as possible to become involved, so if you’re in the area, please consider attending.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67 and if you fancy additional opportunities to to debate all things Chelsea, visit the revitalised After Hours Football