History. The thing that the Scousers (and others) accuse us of not having. There is a banner that says ‘making history, not re-living it’, and there was a sense of a bit of both in SW6 on Saturday, when the first AGM of the Chelsea Supporters Trust was held in the Attenborough Suite at Stamford Bridge, preceded by a hugely enjoyable tour of West Brompton Cemetery led by Chelsea FC historian, Rick Glanvill.
As members of the Trust and Working Group gathered before the South Lodge at the Fulham Road entrance to the cemetery, the skies were overcast, but mercifully the rain held off. The first stop was at the grave of Claude Kirby, the first chairman of Chelsea FC. This also contains the mortal remains of John Ernest Claude Budd, known as ‘Jack’. The headstone describes Jack Budd as Claude Kirby’s ward, but with a fascinating hint of early 20th Century scandal, it turns out there may have been more to their relationship than met the eye, and Kirby may in fact have been Ward’s son.
The tour then headed down the east side of the cemetery, past the East Stand and something called the ‘Catacombs’. This is a rather attractive walled feature which, unfortunately is currently walled off for safety reasons. If you’ve never visited West Brompton, there are two things which strike you about it. One is the sheer size of the place and the other, sadly, is the number of military graves. We passed the grave of the famous Suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst, en route to the next stop, the Chelsea Pensioners Monument. This is a huge, imposing monument, albeit the sculpture atop reminded me of the ‘Sorting Hat’ from the Harry Potter films. Rick did advise the group to beware of any squirrels we might encounter as they are known to be vicious!
The Mears Family plot is not only a monument to the life of the founder of Chelsea FC, but a sad reminder of what might have been for the family. Gus Mears lived at 444 Fulham Road, which is approximately where the Britannia Gate (West Stand entrance) is is now. Sadly, he died of kidney failure aged just 37, only seven years after the club was founded. His funeral cortege, including seven horses, paused in the rain outside Stamford Bridge to bid farewell, watched by hundreds of mourners. Gus’s motto was “never mind” – an appropriate one for a generation of Chelsea fans who waited years for success. Whilst 37 was, by the standards of the early twentieth century, almost middle aged, the death of Henry Frank Mears, Gus’s son, at just 18 years old, can only be described as a tragedy. The RAF was formed on 1st April 1918, and young Frank became one of its first fatalities when the Strutter biplane he was flying, which had been launched from HMS Furious, crashed on 18th April. He had been in the Armed Forces for less than a year, having joined up as soon as he turned 18 the previous July. It’s sad that the young man never had a chance to build on his father’s achievements at Chelsea.
John Henry Maltby was the founding administrator of Chelsea FC – indeed, it is his name on the club share issue which reads “Honorary Secretary”. However, in the 1920s Maltby found himself having to reconstitute the board of Chelsea FC after the FA made enquiries on the work that the Mears family (whose trade was construction) were doing at Stamford Bridge. One of the new appointees was George Schomberg, a local whip-maker – a trade then becoming rarer. One thing all of the directors had in common, however, was membership of the Freemasons.
The last stop on the tour brought us to Chelsea’s very own ghost. Alfred Frederick Janes was a wealthy local publican, and at one point ran The Rising Sun, opposite Stamford Bridge, although sadly not at the time the club was formed there, in 1905. However, towards the end of his life he ran The Chesterfield pub, in Streatham, and despite resisting pressure to sell for years, finally sold up in 1929 and moved to Clapham, where he lived until his death later that year. The Astoria Cinema was built on the site of The Chesterfield, and on Christmas Night 1933, the fireman on duty at the cinema was doing his rounds when he saw a figure in the darkness and his torch shone on an old man who was crying ‘I won’t sell, I won’t sell’. This ghostly figure was later identified in the press as ‘Janes’, however the link with the Alfred Frederick Janes who had been a founding Director of Chelsea FC was only established in 2004, in the run-up to the club’s centenary celebrations.
After looking back at the club’s history in the morning, the action moved on to the present in the afternoon with the first AGM of the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust, which was held in the Attenborough Suite at 2pm. Interim Chairman Tim Rolls welcomed attendees and declared the meeting quorate and open. He outlined how the business of the meeting would proceed, and followed this with his report which gave an overview of Trust activity since the launch meeting on 9th February. This was followed by the Secretary’s Report by Paul Jeffrey which provided an update on the current membership position. Paul also confirmed that regular communications would continue to be sent out to the membership, that Special General Meetings (SGMs) would be held four times a season and that further surveys would be carried out to ensure that the Trust is member driven.
The next item was Election Hustings. Candidate manifestos having been available online and in print at the door, the Secretary called for questions from the floor (including via Mixlr), and took the opportunity to thank the representative from the Fulham Supporters Trust who was acting as the impartial overseer to the Election Board. A number of questions were put from the floor relating to formation of the board, and duration of tenure. One speaker expressed disappointment that so few members had chosen to stand for the board, and hoped next year would see a greater number of candidates.
Together with the hustings, another of the pivotal items was the presentation of the results of the Membership Survey by Celia Mindelsohn, the Working Group member responsible for collating the data. The results of the survey will be published on the CST website over the weekend, but Celia concluded her presentation by thanking the membership for their response to the first survey, and confirmed that further surveys would be undertaken in future.
Following the discussion of the survey, the Chair suggested as the meeting was halfway through the agenda, there should be a 5 minute break. When the meeting reconvened, the Chair took the opportunity to introduce the Working Group, and was able to confirm that the CST now have more than 4,000 followers on Twitter. The meeting then moved on to motions put by the Interim Board and the Chair reminded the meeting that the motions proposed would be voted on at the same time as electing the Trust Board. The Secretary confirmed that this decision was taken as it would have been unfair to exclude those unable to attend in person from voting. The Chair went on to read the motions, a number of which were the subject of questions from the floor and via Mixlr. Following the motions put by the Interim Board, the Chair invited the meeting to put motions from the floor, an offer which was taken up by one member. His proposal found a seconder, and as a result he was asked to submit his motion via email before midnight on Sunday in time for it to be included in the online vote.
Subjects discussed under Any Other Business included the issue of membership badges and the possibility of a social function at Christmas.
The meeting concluded with the Chair thanking the membership for attending in person and online, and the meeting closed at 3.42pm.
Given that this was the first AGM of a fledgling Trust, it’s very encouraging that almost 100 people attended the AGM either in person or online. The Trust’s determination from the outset to make communication inclusive to all members, especially given the number of Chelsea supporters overseas, was justified by the fact that approximately 50 members took part, and were able to ask questions, via Mixlr.
Full minutes from the meeting, together with the results of the Membership Survey, will appear on the Chelsea Supporters Trust website (where you can join the Trust) and if you want to read more about Chelsea FC and Brompton Cemetery, there’s a fantastic booklet you can download.
There’s an unfortunate hiatus coming up in the home programme due to the Super Cup and international break, but over the next couple of weeks TheChels.Net will be having a Natter with club historian Rick Glanvill, and we’ll be reporting on the club coach trip (only a tenner, hurry up) to Everton.
In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67.