Sam Wallace: Chelsea fans have the future in their hands – and beneath their feet

Talking Football

When you read the original letter that Ken Bates, then Chelsea chairman, sent to his club's fans on 18 March, 1993, inviting them to invest in a new company that would own the freehold to the pitch and four stands at Stamford Bridge, it strikes you that this is a football club communication from a different age.

Then, the Premier League was in its first season. Leeds United, Bates' current club, were league champions. David Webb was Chelsea manager. A Chelsea fan, John Major, was in 10 Downing Street. But most remarkable was a club chairman, in effect, giving his club's greatest asset to the fans for £100 a pop. Leeds are likely to win the league title before that happens again.

Say what you like about Bates, and many have, but his was a once-in-a-lifetime offer to Chelsea fans. They would be wrong to throw it away on Thursday by voting "Yes" to Chelsea's proposal to buy out Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) – the company Bates established – in order to reclaim the freehold of Stamford Bridge.

The question of whether CPO shareholders should sell the freehold back to Chelsea is a complex issue but voting "No" to the sale on Thursday does not represent "No" to Chelsea ever leaving Stamford Bridge. A "No" vote does not mean the supporters do not trust Roman Abramovich. A "No" vote on Thursday does not rule out the possibility that some time in the future there would be a case to vote "Yes".

A "No" vote on Thursday simply means that Chelsea supporters who bought shares in CPO do not want to give up the protection over their club that was enshrined in CPO's creation more than 18 years ago.

The club wish to buy out CPO because, they say, should they decide to purchase a site on which to build a new stadium they will have to move quickly, and they say no developer will accept Stamford Bridge without the freehold. Despite this apparent urgency, Chelsea's official position as regards the new stadium is that they have no plans to move.

Given the reduced options in south-west London – reading between the lines only the sites at Battersea Nine Elms, White City and Earls Court are realistic – perhaps it would be fair to say that they are playing their cards close. In the tough world of multi-million pound commercial land deals it is not the smartest tactic to advertise your next move.

But even so, why the sudden rush? Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 knowing full well that the deal did not include the freehold on the stands and pitch. Since then he has embarked on the biggest investment programme ever in an English football club, pre-Sheikh Mansour. All of this without owning the very blades of grass upon which his array of multi-million pound footballers have won Chelsea's three Premier League titles.

To date, his total investment in Chelsea, the club say, is £800m and for more than eight years not owning the CPO freehold has not been an issue. Yet Chelsea gave CPO shareholders just 24 days between announcing their intention on 3 October to buy back the freehold and Thursday's vote.

The fans' group "Say No CPO", which has been convened in a hurry, has made a modest request. Members say they would endorse voting to sell the freehold of Stamford Bridge if, in return, Chelsea gave them the freehold to any new stadium that was built before 2030, as long as it was within three miles of the current ground and Abramovich was still in control.

To fund the new stadium, Chelsea could redevelop Stamford Bridge and at the Samsung Battersea Bridge – or wherever the club ends up – the shareholders of CPO will still have the same rights of protection they have over their current 106-year-old ground. The club can concentrate on filling 60,000 seats and conforming to Financial Fair Play rules.

The problem for Chelsea fans is that once the CPO is gone – as it will be with a 75 per cent "Yes" vote on Thursday – it will be gone for ever. It is not the current owner whom the club need to fear; it is the owner that might come in 50 or 100 years. The future of the Bridge was imperilled in the 1980s because the grandsons of Gus Mears, the club's jolly Victorian founder, sold to a developer.

Many of the supporters of England's biggest clubs have fought battles with their owners. At Manchester United, there was horror at the size of the debt the Glazers loaded onto the club. At Liverpool, there was the debilitating fight to be rid of Tom Hicks and George Gillett. The less said about the indignities visited on the likes of Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday by past owners, the better.

At every club the story is different. At some it is about debt. At others, like Arsenal, it is a case of who owns the shares. At Chelsea, it is about land. Arguably no club in England occupies a more lucrative plot than the 13 acres of prime west London real estate upon which Chelsea sits and, through a quirk of fate, the supporters who own shares in CPO hold the key.

CPO is a democratic concept. One share costs £100 and no one person is allowed to own more than 100. They are not "souvenirs" from a fight long since won, as the "Vote Yes" lobby keep saying. They are the keys to protecting the club's future and if the CPO shareholders toss them away on Thursday, they will never get them back.

Qatar offer will reveal the character of Capello

There are lots of things that Fabio Capello could do when he leaves the England job next July, but if he goes to Qatar to take up a consultancy role with that country's football association we will know that it is the money talking.

The job on offer for Capello is said to be working on a structure for children's coaching and the professional league in the country. The Qataris clearly have not noticed that Fabio's attention seems to wander as soon as conversation goes beyond the top half of the Premier League table and, as for the Championship, he has never watched a game there despite selecting Jay Bothroyd when he was a Cardiff City player.

Of course, Qatar would only be doing what the English FA once did: using their wealth to bag a famous foreigner but if Capello was to change his mind and stay in the game, you would hope he turns his thoughts to a more serious pursuit.

Mason and Co look cut above for England

I watched Derby County's Mason Bennett play for England under-16s this month and he looked a terrific prospect. He made his first-team debut for Derby on Saturday at the age of 15 years and 99 days, the youngest player ever to start a Football League game. From the same England team, 14-year-old Seyi Ojo of MK Dons has already been the subject of a bid from Chelsea and Dan Crowley of Aston Villa looks just as good. This lot were not even born in time for Euro 96.

Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015
Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall