May You Live In Interesting Times

This was originally meant to be the first article of 2014, but was superseded by the news of Juan Mata’s sad departure for Manchester (a transfer which was finally completed yesterday).  Chelsea Football Club appear to have sailed into calmer waters during the past six months.  The return of Jose Mourinho, replacing the almost universally detested B*n*t*z, has delighted and pacified the supporters, and our outpouring of love for The Special One has been reciprocated.  The team are building up a real head of steam in the pursuit of silverware, and everything’s hunky dory.

The club hierarchy will have been satisfied with the results of the Deloitte Money League, which were published during the week.  Although the club dropped a couple of place in the league (which the fans certainly won’t be bothered about, not being spreadsheet w*nkers), revenue increased due to a number of major sponsorship deals. However, in the London Evening Standard’s report, the devil was in the detail:-

The Blues, however experienced a drop in their matchday earnings with Deloitte noting: “Stamford Bridge’s relatively limited capacity continues to hamper the club’s aspirations to grow matchday revenues, with their average home league match attendance of 41,462 being the sixth lowest of all of the money league clubs, and the club are continuing to explore options to build a new stadium elsewhere or redevelop Stamford Bridge.”

There is, of course, one significant flaw in Deloittes’ findings.  If the club continue to stand by the philosophy that was part of their 2011 bid to obtain the Lease held by Chelsea Pitch Owners, i.e. build a new stadium no further than three miles from the current site, relocation is no longer a viable option.  As those who pass through West Brompton will be aware, work has already begun to redevelop Earls Court.  Battersea has been bought by the Malaysian real estate developers, SP Setia. And, most recently, QPR have committed to leave their bijou shoebox and move to Old Oak Common, another mooted possible location for Chelsea.

So that leaves the redevelopment option.  And hereby hangs a real tale.  During the dead days between Christmas and New Year, it was announced that Millennium & Copthorne, who operate the hotels on the Stamford Bridge site, are to purchase the prestigious Wyndham Grand London Chelsea Harbour for £65 Million, making a portfolio of eight properties in London.  However, it is worth noting that the hotels at Chelsea are not owned by M&C, but leased by the group and operated on behalf of Chelsea FC, the owners.  While it makes sense for M&C to purchase a high-end property like the Wyndham, what may be crucial here is the length of the lease on the Stamford Bridge hotels, which commenced in 2007. Speculation on our part, but could it be that M&C anticipate losing part of their portfolio in West London before too long?

Another interesting development occurred at the start of January, when news broke that the Royal Parks had been successful in their application to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund for the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project.  Given its proximity, it is almost inevitable that any potential expansion of Stamford Bridge will impact upon Brompton Cemetery and one wonders if the grant of funding for the Conservation Project is another tiny step that will lead to an announcement about a possible expansion of Stamford Bridge.  And if the ground is redeveloped, then surely part of the project will be the demolition of the hotels, hence Millennnium & Copthorne’s enthusiasm to add another hotel in Chelsea to their portfolio. QED.

And of course, ground development leads us neatly on to Chelsea Pitch Owners, whose Annual General Meeting takes place in the Drake Suite at Stamford Bridge on Friday 31st January at 11.00am.

On the face of it, this year there is nothing particularly contentious under debate (I’m certainly not aware of anything likely to be sprung on the Board), however, there are a couple of issues which do give cause for concern, and I’m obliged to an eagle-eyed shareholder who wrote to me pointing out that the letter of invitation to the meeting states:-

“Please note that in an effort to minimise costs in all of the dealings of Chelsea Pitch Owners, that we have cut back on the number of persons who will be on site from ERS, thus you are asked to arrive in good time for the meeting, and to note that the count will take place off site, with the results being announced on the Chelsea Pitch Owners website later in the day”.

It is of course understandable that CPO are looking to make cost savings, however not announcing results of the count at the meeting might cause some concern amongst shareholders.  Whilst the Chairman is not noted for allowing any queries after the count is announced (see passim), any delay in the count also denies  shareholders in attendance the chance to discuss the results among themselves immediately after the meeting.  It is also a worry that in the event of shareholders facing a proposal such as that of October 2011, an off-site count may lead to all sorts of scenes if the members get home to find out that a contentious proposal has been voted through.  In such circumstances the issue of the “dodgy shareholders” would undoubtedly be thrown back at the Board.

STOP PRESS….. Since this article was written (Saturday), the issue has been brought to the attention of the CPO Board who are mindful of the problems an off-site count might cause in the event of a crucial vote.  Hopefully at Friday’s meeting the Chairman will confirm that whilst off-site counts will take place at Annual General Meetings where routine business is discussed, the vote at any Extraordinary General Meeting will be counted on site and declared upon completion of the count.

Cost cutting measures are also behind Item 2.3, which is a proposal that the Company may communicate with shareholders by electronic means, “either by way of individual communication or publicity of materials on a website…”.  Again, a laudable endeavour to cut costs.  However, there are some potential problems here.  Firstly, you have to “opt in” to paper communications.  Thus, if Item 2.3 is voted through, unless you send back the form dated 03.01.13, you will be deemed to have agreed to receive electronic communications.  What if they don’t have your email address? Or you don’t have one?  What if another landmark proposal is received and you don’t get the voting papers or meeting notification?  The Board will hopefully address any concerns that the shareholders have during the meeting.

Literary News

There are a couple of recent Chelsea-related publications from Gate17 which will appeal to the die-hard Chelsea fan.  Firstly, the magnificent “Making History, Not Reliving It”, co-authored by Mark Worrall, Kelvin Barker and David Johnstone, with guest essays from such noted wordsmiths as Joe Tweeds, Tim Rolls and Jenny Brown, is the definitive fan’s eye view of the first ten years of the Abramovich era.  Stunning photos and poignant obituaries complete a must-have tome.

Al Gregg’s first novel “The Wrong Outfit” is the story of Adam Nedman, growing up in the 70s and 80s, and the impact that both football and punk rock have on his life.  It’s just a pity that he invariably finds himself in the “wrong outfit”.  A loving evocation of the era which will appeal to anyone who grew up then, or indeed younger readers who want find out more about it.

Both novels are available in paperback and in Kindle, and you can also bag a copy on matchdays at the cfcuk stall opposite Fulham Broadway. Find out more from the Gate 17 website.

Trust News

Apologies for not providing a blow-by-blow account of the Chelsea Supporters Trust Christmas Party, which was held at the Black Bull on 13th December. However, a good time was had by all, certainly judging by the number of hangovers that appeared on social media the next day.

The Trust will be holding another one of their regular Special General Meetings in the near future to discuss progress and answer any questions members might have.  Details of date, time and venue will be published once confirmed.

Finally, the Chelsea Supporters Trust badges are now available for collection.  More details on the website here.

STOP PRESS 2…. Literally as this article was going to press, confirmation came in that the CST will be holding an end of season event on Friday 9th May.  All will be revealed over the next couple of weeks, but believe me, you really do need to put that date in your diary!

I’ll be at the CPO AGM on Friday, with a report following on TheChels.Net early next week.  In the meantime, you can find out more about the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project here and as always you can follow me on Twitter @BlueBaby67.