Chelsea fans from all walks of life... but united in anger

There was a man who watched his first game at Stamford Bridge in 1942. There was a woman who defied her Tottenham Hotspur-supporting father to follow Chelsea in the 1970s. There was a Chelsea-supporting QC who used words like "farrago" with accomplished ease, and knew his way around company law. There was a well-spoken man called Charles who said he felt "alienated" by the behaviour of the Chelsea board.

They all had one thing in common: they were Chelsea fans and Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) shareholders and they were very, very angry.

Yesterday's extraordinary meeting of CPO, convened to vote on whether the club could buy back the freehold of Stamford Bridge, was ferocious at times. For Bruce Buck, the club chairman, and Ron Gourlay, the chief executive, it was two hours of bombardment. For Richard King, the CPO chairman, whom some shareholders alleged had not represented their interests, it was even worse.

The AGMs of football clubs are often occasions for bloodletting, an opportunity for supporters to put their views to a board that spend the rest of the year in the more protected territory of the directors' box. It was the same in the "plc" days of Manchester United and under David Moores' reign at Liverpool. And for Chelsea, a club often accused by rivals of lacking a meaningful history, there was plenty of evidence yesterday that this club has a soul, and a determined, engaged support.

Having had little more than three weeks to organise, the "No" lobby of Chelsea fans defeated the club's proposals and, as they retired to celebrate in the Butcher's Hook pub across the road from their 106-year-old home, you were reminded that there are few opponents more determined than an English football fan nursing an injustice.

For Roman Abramovich, the club's multibillionaire owner, this was a defeat to the ordinary man and woman of Stamford Bridge which, in itself, is remarkable. Yet for all the brutal exchanges that had taken place during the day, it still ended with a sense that Chelsea could move forward.

At times Buck had struggled to mask his anger at the fury of the supporters, yet his final words raised a cheer all around Stamford Bridge's Great Hall. "I don't view this as an 'us against you' situation," he said. "We are all Chelsea fans. I only hope that on Saturday we can all come together and support this club and beat the crap out of Arsenal."

It should be said that he meant that in the American sporting vernacular, not a call to arms on the Fulham Road. But it also felt like an admission from a man familiar with the cut and thrust of the boardroom that, despite this defeat, there was still common ground with the supporters who had just thrown out his proposals.

Did the club make mistakes? You bet they did. Rushing this vote through in 24 days simply raised supporters' suspicions. Chelsea also misunderstood the principle that CPO shares are a cherished stake in the club. We may never get to the bottom of who bought those 2,000-plus shares in the last few weeks but, as was pointed out yesterday, why should those shares cancel out the votes of supporters who scrimped and saved to buy them 14 years ago?

On the other side, the "No" lobby, led by "Say No CPO" (SNCPO), has always maintained that they would support leaving Stamford Bridge under different terms. Those terms would involve the club giving them a freehold at a new stadium, and Abramovich remaining in charge. Yes, it would be unprecedented but then every club is different.

It should be said that for all the fury yesterday, Abramovich was never referred to in anything other than the most respectful terms, as you would imagine for a man who has pumped £800m into the club. One shareholder, Patricia Penny, began by saying that she had "nothing but respect for Mr Abramovich" before asking the simple questions: What if something happened to Roman? And what if Roman's children are not interested in Chelsea?

Another woman, who gave her name as Kim, reminded the meeting that it was the grandsons of Gus Mears, the club's visionary founder, who sold the freehold to Stamford Bridge which created all the problems that CPO was eventually created to prevent ever happening again. There were veterans of that old battle with Cabra Estates over the future of Stamford Bridge in the 1980s for whom the wounds were still raw.

On the other side, it was the chief executive, Ron Gourlay, who gave the most impressive answer of all on why Chelsea would one day have to leave Stamford Bridge. He spoke about a 38,000 reduced capacity for Champions League games that would be further diminished by the greater demands of television; the pressure a small capacity put on ticket prices and the limitations all that would put on the club's ambition.

"Stamford Bridge is fine, if that is what a 'No' vote brings," Gourlay said, "and we will do our utmost. But that will bring other major challenges for us. We are trying to build a brand – we are a football club but we also have to be viewed as a brand – and the success of this football club has to be financed."

Much as any football fan hates for their club to be referred to as "a brand" – and Gourlay made no apologies for the term – there is an acceptance among all but the diehard Chelsea support that if they want to continue the success, and to conform to Uefa financial fair play, then they may have to move on.

"We always knew that this was going to be a very emotional meeting because it's an emotional issue," Buck said. "We accepted that and I thought the meeting went OK in terms of the dialogue."

He admitted that the club has always encountered 'difficulty understanding the make-up of the shareholder-base' and certainly his statistic that only 12 per cent of current season ticket holders are CPO shareholders went down badly at the meeting.

So after three weeks of struggle between club and supporters, the ball is in the club's half of the court. To make a misjudgement once might just about be forgivable for the club's support. What they come up with as a solution will surely define Chelsea's future.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil