Rebels win pitch battle to give club pause for thought

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The Independent Online

The bid by Chelsea to buy back the freehold of Stamford Bridge was defeated at a stormy meeting yesterday in which the club's supporters angrily rejected the proposal endorsed by owner Roman Abramovich with a sufficiently large proportion of "No" votes.

In a fractious meeting of Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) at the stadium, chairman Bruce Buck and the board of CPO came under attack from shareholders who claimed that the sale of a tranche of some £200,000-worth of shares in recent weeks was to tip the balance in favour of a "Yes" vote.

As emotions ran high, one shareholder, Mark Wyeth QC, described the terms of the vote as a "farrago". Another said that the club's alleged promise to give "Yes" voters a place on a roll of honour at a new stadium was "shabby". Clint Steele, who initiated a move to get the meeting adjourned, described it as "corrupt".

After the vote, Buck (above) claimed that defeat was "not a catastrophe" for the club, which won 61.6 per cent of the vote to the "Yes" side, short of the 75 per cent required under the CPO protocols to buy the freehold. The Chelsea chairman said that the board would now discuss with Abramovich their next move and did not rule out coming back to CPO shareholders with a different offer.

The mood among the 700 shareholders was combative from the very start with the chairman of the CPO, Richard King, a particular target. Tempers flared when Steele alleged that there had been "manipulation" of the vote by the sale of a relatively large volume of more than 2,000 shares since the club's proposal to buy out CPO was announced on 3 October. Chelsea deny any wrongdoing.

The meeting was moving towards an adjournment when King unexpectedly told the shareholders that, with the 4,000 proxy votes counted, the "Yes" lobby required 1,400 of the 1,700 votes controlled by shareholders at the meeting to win. Recognising that the mood in the Great Hall at Stamford Bridge was clearly in favour of a "No" vote, the shareholders present shelved the adjournment and went to a vote.

Less than an hour later it was announced to the meeting that the "No" vote had won 38.4 per cent, 2,227 votes, comfortably higher than the 25 per cent threshold needed to defeat the "Yes" vote. King, who had to face calls from the floor to resign, said he would consider his position and announce a decision today.