Chelsea lose Stamford Bridge vote

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The Independent Online

Roman Abramovich lost the battle for Stamford Bridge today as Chelsea fans revolted against his bid to buy the land on which the stadium sits.

Billionaire Blues owner Abramovich and his board were forced to rethink their proposal to Chelsea Pitch Owners, which was seen as a precursor to a move to a new stadium, after it was voted down at a dramatic extraordinary general meeting this afternoon.

Chelsea failed to convince the holders of 75% or more of the shares in CPO to back them at the emotionally-charged gathering in Stamford Bridge's Great Hall.

The plan was supported by 61.6% of the 5,796 votes cast in person or by proxy, leaving the club 13.4% short of their target.

Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck confirmed Abramovich had been quickly made aware of the outcome.

"Roman's disappointed, but he respects that Chelsea Pitch Owners have spoken," said Buck, who refused to speculate whether the club would make a fresh proposal.

"It's really a matter of discussing with the rest of the board and discussing with Mr Abramovich what - if any - next steps there should be, can be, will be."

The outcome prevented Chelsea regaining ownership of the land they sold to supporter-led group CPO in the 1990s in order to ensure the club was not made homeless by property developers.

In what were remarkable scenes, today's vote looked set to be postponed at one stage when an adjournment of the meeting was proposed by one shareholder who challenged the validity of the vote and the handling of proceedings by the CPO board and its chairman Richard King.

That motion received widespread support and appeared certain to succeed until King dramatically intervened to reveal a no vote would almost certainly carry the day.

With 4,000 proxy votes already counted, King confirmed that for the club to triumph, they required the holders of 1,400 of the 1,700 shares present at the meeting to back their proposal.

That convinced the 700 shareholders present to cast their votes, which were quickly totted up before the result was announced.

Chelsea made an offer to buy back the Stamford Bridge freehold at the start of the month, saying they would not be able to move to a new stadium unless they could profit from the land on which Stamford Bridge sits.

Their opponents, spearheaded by the 'Say No CPO' (SNCPO) campaign, insisted they were not against relocation in principle but criticised the club for a lack of transparency, failing to give enough time for the issues to be debated and an unwillingness to negotiate terms.

There were calls for the existing CPO agreement to be transferred to any new stadium, with several shareholders expressing fears about the club's future post-Abramovich.

But they were most angry about CPO's apparent failure to contact all shareholders and their decision to allow shares to continue to be sold after Chelsea announced their proposal on October 3.

The last week before trading was eventually suspended saw more than £200,000 spent on the £100 shares - around 10% of the entire shares in issue - with more sold during that period than during the previous seven years.

There were accusations at today's meeting that most of those shares were bought by 20 individuals with loyalties to the club and the calls for an adjournment came in an attempt to get the votes discounted of anyone who bought shares after October 3.

Shareholder Clint Steele said: "Has that not made this meeting today a complete and total farce?"

King, who hinted he would resign as chairman tomorrow after facing repeated calls for his head, admitted "there were some shares bought in bulk", but pointed out the CPO board would also have been criticised by the 'no' campaign had they prevented people from purchasing them after October 3.

Buck, who was subjected to personal attacks as well, bought the maximum number of shares that would enable him 100 votes earlier this year.

"If I wanted some kind of subterfuge or to hide that, I could've bought those shares through my mother or grandmother or whatever and hidden the fact that I own them," he said, pointing out leading SNCPO figure James Greenbury also purchased 100 shares.

"I'm proud to own the 100 shares and have them in my name."

Reacting to today's victory, SNCPO called for a change of directorship of CPO, adding in a statement: "We hope that this is the prelude to a process of negotiation between the club and the shareholders to reach a mutually-acceptable outcome."





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