Saturday 24 March 2012

A few thoughts on the way forward

It seems so long ago that the acrimony of the EGM pitched fan against fan, supporter against club and set the mad hare running on a myriad conspiracy theories. There is no need to rehash all of that now. It is history. And we expect that an announcement of another EGM will be made in the not too distant future at which shareholders can attempt to set in stone measures that will give the CPO board the ability to operate in an environment of trust and transparency. It is also vital that resolutions to spread and grow the ownership of CPO shares are enshrined in the AOA.

What we have seen since the EGM is a growing and complex picture of the problems facing Chelsea FC in their search for a new home. The duplicity of the council has been risible and deeply unhelpful but the forthcoming meeting with them should go some way to testing the veracity of their claims. It seems to us that we need to establish clearly that the council has been dishonest about their behaviour towards Chelsea and their very strange and anomalous position on Earl's Courts ability to house a stadium. That little problem is not yet solved for them and the Mayoral elections will likely be a real turning point for the whole project - good or bad.
What has been terribly depressing has been the way in which irrelevancies have clouded and then diverted the real issues facing the club and by definition us fans.

But what ARE the issues now confronting us as fans and shareholders? We think they are these;

- Can Stamford Bridge really continue to be the home of a club in Chelsea's position?

- Can Chelsea continue to flourish, succeed and grow in its existing stadium?

- If they do, would 50,000 be enough and is that reasonably possible at SB?

We understand and accept that football fans are a very unusual breed. We get wedded to our histories, we like tradition. When it comes to our football club, we rarely make sensible and logical decisions. If we want to move house, we weigh up the need, the benefits, the disadvantages of location, size and economies and then generally make an informed and sensible choice. This article will perhaps fall on many deaf ears; ears owned by those who just cannot countenance a move away from our home of over 100 years. All we can do is urge those people to make a simple choice that is predicated on whatever their desire for their club is. If they accept that the club should grow and evolve as a sporting entity then the business model that provides for it has to be considered. After all, we go to watch eleven footballers perform in the name of the club we support and in the main, we like them to succeed. In the modern football world, the two are usually inextricably linked. Of course, some may just prefer a team of moderate gifts as long as the walk up that same road to that same stadium is retained. The existence of a man who has pumped hundreds of millions into the club has probably clouded the issue too; but that cannot continue, as we all know.

So returning to the questions above. If the answer to all of them is "No" then what are the alternatives?

We now have a very clear picture of what the club have been trying to do in this terrifically competitive, politically charged and congested London property market. The Earl's Court
Battersea options have had a huge amount of money thrown at them and we understand the club is fighting hard on them. Their hand is weakened by not having the CPO shares but we can only hope that they get a bit of luck in these projects. By the end of the summer, we should know pretty well for certain if either are going to be possible. Fans simply have to acknowledge this reality; nobody is very keen to have Chelsea on either of those two developments and that is not the fault of the club. Ken Livingstone's election may offer a way forward we believe but that is by no means a certainty.

So what then? There is absolutely no way, in our view, that the club would ever countenance a move to some M25 outpost. In fact, we know this to be the case.

But it is probably time for fans, who accept a move to another London site is necessary, to begin to consider the way in which they think about such an outcome. What is being a Chelsea fan about? What "is" Chelsea Football Club? After all, most of us don't recognise the stadium we all grew up watching the team in. The area around the ground, its pubs and bars have all changed beyond recognition too. And most of us travel miles to get to the games now. Obviously location is a huge concept for a football club and only a fool would fail to recognise that but what are our priorities as supporters of a football team? Obvious yet so difficult for us to get our heads around when the looming ideals of "territory" figure so large in our minds.

What, then, would we accept as the new territory of Chelsea Football Club? How will we feel when we are inside a new stadium, beautifully appointed and designed watching a sparkling team? Will we bemoan the fact we couldn't have a pint in our old pub? We might.

It is, however, not acceptable or helpful to continue to fall back on ridiculous conspiracy theories, accusations of corruption and profiteering by Abramovich. These are lunacies that just confuse and inflame opinion and obstruct the real work that has to be done. The talk of land values is growing and it is with regret that we have come to the conclusion that there is a financial motive for far too many shareholders. We have tended to the view that this wasn't the case but some simple investigations and reasonable deduction have, depressingly, led us to this view. Some of those who persist with the mention of breathtakingly silly figures may just have mistrust and paranoia as their motive but that is only marginally more forgivable than avarice in this context. It will be very interesting indeed to see some of the resolutions that are put forward at the EGM in this regard. We believe we can make a pretty good guess at what some of them will be.

We are not going to propose where a stadium should be if EC and BPS fall through. We will wait and see what the options are. But we do feel it is time that the key issues facing the club begin to become the focus of our attention. If not, chaos will reign. There is some irony in the concern fans are feeling now that we face the prospect of losing CL income for next season...just a thought with which to leave you.

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