Bates lets in Harding

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The Independent Online
The public feud between the chairman, Ken Bates, and the club's landlord, Matthew Harding, over the control of Chelsea moved behind closed doors at Stamford Bridge yesterday.

The club announced after a board meeting that the pair would lunch and sit together at tomorrow's home Premiership match against Newcastle. That implied Bates had agreed to lift the ban on Harding taking his seat in the directors' box and using the boardroom facilities, though both refused to comment before leaving the ground.

Now extensive discussions will take place in private to try to turn the public truce into a lasting peace. A statement from the club added: "Discussions are proceeding on the best way forward to finance and achieve Chelsea Football Club's future aspirations in the best interests of the club and its supporters."

Harding said only that it was a "very satisfactory meeting", while Bates said simply: "I'm very pleased with the way it went. There's nothing more I can say now."

The thaw followed a month-long dispute which had seen Harding refused permission even to park his car at Stamford Bridge. It was thought before the two-hour meeting that Harding, who has pounds 26.5m invested in Chelsea, would offer to end the stand-off. He said: "I'm not going along looking for trouble, and I hope Ken isn't either. We haven't spoken for the best part of a month and I'm looking forward to seeing him."

Harding had avoided a confrontation by watching games from the pounds 5m North Stand he helped finance. He was, however, welcomed warmly into the directors' boxes at Leeds and Manchester United.

Bates, who has been suffering from pneumonia, has not attended a Chelsea game since 4 November. The pair had been at odds after Harding revealed he had resigned from the board of Chelsea Village, the club's parent company. He recognised that the row was a distraction from issues such as development of the south stand. Bates wants to accommodate a hotel, shops, offices and flats. Harding believes the investment in the team should take precedence.

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