Chelsea dealt blow over new stadium plans

 

Chelsea fans dealt what could be another blow to the club's hopes of moving to a new stadium today after another stormy meeting of Chelsea Pitch Owners.

Supporter-led company CPO, which owns the freehold of Stamford Bridge and in October revolted against Roman Abramovich's bid to buy it back, this afternoon effectively blocked the Blues owner from being able to railroad through any relocation plans.

In what were scenes almost as dramatic as those at last year's extraordinary general meeting, the CPO board caved into angry calls to prevent more shares in the company being sold pending an investigation into whether associates of Abramovich and other club directors engaged in bulk buying prior to the EGM.

It has been claimed those alleged associates - some of whom were named in a report this week - backed Chelsea's proposal to reacquire the stadium freehold at the EGM, a vote the club needed to win to be able to move ground but ended up losing anyway.

Bulk buying is perfectly legal and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by anyone at Chelsea, but CPO sold 1,686 more shares than they were entitled to last year and it has been claimed many of them were bought by those with sympathies to the club.

Sales of shares were suspended shortly before the EGM and the CPO board proposed that they be reopened at today's AGM.

Fearing the 1,000 shares available would be hoovered up by more alleged club sympathisers, shareholders queued up to demand no more were issued, and they got their way in the most unexpected fashion.

Having insisted he would use his hundreds of proxy votes to ensure the resolutions to reopen share sales were passed, CPO chairman Steve Frankham performed a dramatic u-turn when it came to the vote itself.

The man who succeeded Richard King after the EGM used his proxies to defeat the resolution that would have effectively given CPO permission to issue shares to non-shareholders.

His climbdown prevented anyone joining CPO until a resolution was passed otherwise.

Frankham told Press Association Sport afterwards: "I did it because the room asked me to.

"Hopefully that shows that we are listening."

The CPO board also bowed to pressure to hold another EGM in the next few months, during which shareholders would be able to propose resolutions of their own.

In the meantime, CPO director Gray Smith - a lawyer who was invited to join the board after voting against the club at the EGM - vowed to try to establish who bought the 1,686 oversold shares.

The board reiterated it was against the law for CPO simply to void the shares in question but promised to explore whether their validity could be challenged.

Were they to succeed, that could make it even harder for Chelsea to win any future vote on the Stamford Bridge freehold.

That might also be the case were CPO to slash the voting rights of any new shareholders, something the board suggested they would be willing to discuss.

Currently, the most number of votes an individual shareholder can cast is 100 - regardless of the number of shares they own - and there were calls to limit that to 10 or even one.

But as at the EGM, it was the overselling of shares which drew the most anger at today's meeting, which was held in Stamford Bridge's Harris Suite.

Although only around 150 shareholders attended, as opposed to the 700 who turned up to the EGM, the club and the CPO board's sternest critics were among them.

Several called into question the validity of any resolutions passed while the holders of the oversold shares continued to have voting rights.

Shareholder David Spring said: "Every other issue is a farce if the 2,000 votes are counted today."

There were numerous demands for an adjournment and stinging attacks on Frankham and fellow board members Rick Glanvill and Bob Sewell, the latter two the only surviving directors from October's EGM.

CPO secretary Sewell insisted the overselling of shares had been "simple human error", with Glanvill apologising and admitting the mistake had given him "sleepless nights".

Both survived calls for their heads, as did Frankham, with Gray and former Chelsea captain Dennis Wise also re-elected to the board.

Wise was, perhaps surprisingly, a voice of reason amidst the infighting, saying: "It's not an 'us and you'. We're all together."

PA

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