Bates the master builder of Stamford Bridge

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The Independent Football

It is 21 years since Ken Bates strode into Stamford Bridge having paid the sum of just £1. His tenure has now come of age. Then he was a little-known property developer, who had briefly registered on the public conscience when chairman of Oldham Athletic. Today he is an, occasionally, earring-wearing white-haired septuagenarian, the most abrasive man in football (Sir Alex Ferguson notwithstanding) and, more pertinently, a millionaire 18 times over after last night's news that Bates has sold the club to the Russian businessman Roman Abramovich.

The only time in his life that the colourful Bates has shown deference was when he acquired Chelsea in the first place. And that was fleeting. Then he was buying from a certain blue-blooded Viscount Chelsea and he felt somewhat constrained. Bates is more renowned for blunt speaking, once telling journalists: "I'm off to my 300-acre farm. You lot can bugger off to your council houses." When, for example, he was booted off the committee planning the new Wembley Stadium, he said: "Jesus only had one Pontius Pilate. I had a whole room full of them."

Property has been as much his passion as football. His legacy is not just, admittedly, a rejuvenated football club, but a towering hotel complex, restaurant included. The Chelsea Club - a top-notch health club and spa - opened and is hoping to poach the area's bodies beautiful from the Harbour Club nearby. Membership costs a cool £3,000 a year. Stamford Bridge, at 42,500, meanwhile, has the biggest capacity of all of London's clubs. Bates can recite the corporate card rates, and rental tariffs per square foot, as readily as the Premiership points total his team accumulated last season. He discusses the dinner-dances at his venues as quickly as the goals of Gianfranco Zola. Indeed, some critics disparagingly refer to the club as the Bates motel, the chairman himself occupying a penthouse suite when he is in town.

Bates, to be fair, is not unaware of the situation. When he took over he could not forget that Chelsea was a club with no team but 12 acres of land in "the most valuable part of London". A decade ago Chelsea FC finished 11th in the the Football League, having been knocked out in the third round of the FA Cup. The club was heavily involved in litigation with its then landlords, Cabra Estates, and risked being kicked out of its home which was crumbling.

Now Bates's plans have literally been made concrete. Not that he has done much to reduce Chelsea's debt. When he took over it was running at £12,000 a week - it has risen to a paralytic, inflation-bloated £100m. With a net interest bill of £4.2m and a £75m euro-bond to be paid up in 2007, some say Chelsea Village, the parent company, has overreached itself with its development plans. Still Bates has clung to the mantra that location - that postcode no less - will see them through.

It was bluff. No club can be content with such liabilities, especially when the money from football's finances is being questioned and the honey pot has run dry. Champions' League qualification - gained on the last day of the season against Liverpool - was as vital as a blood transfusion. Chelsea may have displayed the necessary sangfroid but without the injection they would have been bereft.

Furthermore it is not a happy camp. In Claudio Ranieri they clearly have a manager of substance. Not least because he is so undemanding. Indeed as Bates' ninth appointment he is in danger of becoming, quickly, the longest-server at just three years. Maybe it is because the Italian has not had a lira to spend. Still it all seems a far cry from the era of Glenn Hoddle, quickly followed by Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli, who actually brought some serious silverware to west London during his tumultuous stewardship.

Despite his obsession with the property side, Bates says that his modus operandi every year has always been to spend a little on the ground, a little on players and a little on the team. But even Bates admits that he needed the £5m injection from Matthew Harding, who subsequently died in a helicopter crash, to kick-start the development of the ground.

Now reality has bitten. It has been known for some time that Bates was in search of backers. The first suggestion was the Middle East, then the Far East. He has undoubtedly set his net far and wide. The Chelsea chairman appears to have found a catch. He has gone east, to stay west.

'You're richer than me so we'd better get together'

I'm off to my 300-acre farm. You lot can bugger off to your council houses.
Bates to the press after Chelsea's relegation, 1988.

I missed the last goal. I was too busy counting our share.
Bates after Chelsea v Manchester City Full Members Cup final produced receipts of £510,000.

He'd be better employed writing the Noddy books for Enid Blyton.
Bates on a journalistic bête noire.

I tried to buy Monaco but some guy called Rainier had got there first.
Bates in 1989.

I never speak, according to the papers. I just storm and blast.
Bates in 1990.

I'm off back to my pigsty. You meet a better class of person there.
Bates in 1992 as would-be Premier League clubs wrangled over alleged secret deals, 1992.

I understand you're richer than me, so we'd better get together.
Bates in telephone call to the wealthy supporter Matthew Harding, 1994.

So what? Ninety-nine per cent of all Iraqis voted for Saddam Hussein.
Bates after a poll showed that supporters wanted him replaced by Harding, 1995.

They're building another stand at Villa Park. They're going to call it 'The Other Doug Ellis Stand'.
Bates in 1996.

I get to my feet when the Chelsea fans sing 'Stand up if you hate Man U', but I have to admire them, too.
Bates in 1997.

I'm not starstruck around players. How could I be? I'm the biggest star here.
Bates in 1997.

If Arsène Whinger really said that [accusing Chelsea of diving], he'll become the first Premiership manager to be landed with a libel writ.
Bates in 1998.

Someone came up to me and said he preferred the old atmosphere [at Stamford Bridge]. I said: 'Not only do you look like a prat, but you are a prat. If you really think it was better then, I'll get two security guards to rough you up and piss in your pocket.
Bates in 1998.

It's the greatest game in the world, and also the most infuriating, frustrating, exasperating and desolating. But there is nothing else.
Bates in 1995.

John Hollins was a mistake. He had a very strong wife. It might've been better if I'd made her manager.
Bates in 1995.

The reason we haven't signed any English players is that there aren't any good ones about, as Euro 2000 showed.
Bates in 2000.

Lord Fergie, Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.
Inscription on a medal struck by Bates and rejected by Alex Ferguson, 2000.

We have Spanish, French and Italian players. They speak better English, are more civilised and know how to use a knife and fork.
Bates in 2001.

OTHERS ON BATES

What comes next - water cannon, guards, tanks and consultant undertakers to ferry away the dead?
Simon Turney, a local council official, on Bates' proposed electric fence, 1985.

When you make Ken Bates' programme notes, it's a sign that you've really arrived.
Graham Taylor, then England manager, after a pen-lashing from the Chelsea chairman, 1992.

Ken Bates paid £1 for Chelsea. He was done. Have you seen how they're playing?
Barry Hearn, Leyton Orient chairman, 1995.

Compiled by Phil Shaw

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