On the train home from Liverpool last night after their League Cup win at Everton, Chelsea supporters could have been forgiven having something on their minds. For today, considerations regarding the Champions League, the Premier League, the League Cup and even the investigation into comments which may or may not have been made by John Terry last weekend took a back step this afternoon in preference to a vote that would surely have had significant ramifications for the future of their club.
The vote was, of course, on the subject of the attempt by Chelsea FC to buy out the ownership of Stamford Bridge by the Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO). CPO was set up in the early 1990s with a view to ensuring that the ground ownership crises of the 1980s, when the club was almost left homeless after Stamford Bridge was purchased by a property development company, would never be repeated. Certain privileges were bestowed upon CPO at that point, including that including that Stamford Bridge cannot be used for non-footballing purposes and that the name of Chelsea Football Club cannot be used away from Stamford Bridge without their blessing.
Today saw the EGM to vote upon a resolution which would have ended this arrangement and allowed the current owners of the club to relocate it to a place of their choosing. There were sweeteners in place for members that voted in favour of the resolution, including promises not to move more than three miles from Stamford Bridge if the move could be concluded by 2020 and an offer of priority season tickets to those that voted in favour. This afternoon, however, the “Yes” group failed to get the 75% majority that it needed to secure what they wanted – 61.6% voted in favour of the move, falling short of the amount needed it for it to be ratified.
Chelsea, therefore, will stay at Stamford Bridge for the time being, and this is in spite of what may best be described as vigorous campaigning on behalf of the club to try and ensure that things went their way. During the last week before trading in CPO shares was suspended, £200,000 worth were sold (more than had been sold in the previous seven years), and the Independent reported earlier this week that the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, had been found to have a contractor at the club to help put one “No” vote agitator “on the sidelines”.
The opposition group, Say No CPO, states that it is not opposed in principle to Stamford Bridge, but that it does have misgivings about the way in which the club has conducted itself over the last few weeks with regard to this sale, that the plans for what happens after the sale were too vague and that the principles that underpinned the setting up of CPO should be transferred to any new stadium. There is also a possibility that the chair of CPO, Richard King, will now face a vote of no confidence – he has stood accused as having become too close to those running the club to be a truly independent voice for the organisation.
Buck’s response to the defeat, “We are all Chelsea fans and I can only hope that, on Saturday, we all get together, support this club and beat the crap out of Arsenal”, can be interpreted in several different ways, but whether this can be regarded as conciliatory would be another matter altogether. Whether those CPO members that have felt as if their trust in their club has been undermined can be brought back on board is something that only they can confirm. It must, however, surely be considered that if – or when, since it seems unlikely that Chelsea will simply let this matter drop on acccount of today’s votes, especially when we consider that they were only 14% of votes from having the majority that they craved – this matter returns to the agenda, the club will need to be a deal more circumspect with whatever application they submit.
For now, then, the CPO’s membership has spoken, and that they managed to see off an attempt to remove one of the central tenets of Chelsea Football Club, a unique arrangement which was put in place to ensure the long-term survival of the spirit of the club itself, is an impressive feat in itself. The reasons why Chelsea FC feels the need to move from Stamford Bridge are understandable and are not without merit. What is critical to remember, however, is that any decision to leave Stamford Bridge would be arguably the most important in the history of the club and that, as such, it should be treated with due reverance by the club and supporters alike. Ultimately, Chelsea Football Club is extremely lucky to have CPO there as an institutional safe-guard for its future. This afternoon, it proved its value to all supporters of the club.
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