Chelsea fans fighting the club's bid to buy back the freehold of Stamford Bridge have been given a shareholders' register by the club that is so out-of-date it lists fans who are dead – including the former Labour minister for sport, Tony Banks.
The "Say No CPO" group, which is campaigning for shareholders in Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) to reject an offer from the club to buy back the freehold, requested a shareholders' register ahead of the vote on 27 October. Instead of receiving the data in electronic form, they were given a 600-page document which included the name of Banks, who passed away in January 2006.
A lifelong Chelsea fan who was appointed chairman of CPO when it launched in 1993, Banks, the former MP for Newham North West is believed to have owned shares Nos 115, 116 and 117 which were registered in that same year. The "Say No CPO" campaign is concerned that the register could include names of supporters who have passed away.
With "No" vote campaigners trying to contact as many shareholders in time for the vote this month, they are concerned that the quality of information is making it difficult for them to muster support to their cause. Chelsea believe it was the responsibility of the CPO directors, who are independent of the club, to keep the register up-to-date.
The register details the fact that Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck purchased 100 shares at £100 each in April which will entitle him to the maximum 100 votes. Shares in CPO are still available and The Independent purchased one yesterday for £100 and a £3 administrative fee.
The club want to buy the freehold back from CPO in order that they can move quickly should they decide that leaving Stamford Bridge, their home of 106 years, is necessary. Although the club maintain they are not in any current negotiations to move they argue that all the best alternative sites within a three-mile radius will have gone by 2020.
There is no way of the club selling Stamford Bridge without first owning the freehold to the four stands and pitch, currently held by CPO, and Chelsea would need to do so in order to finance a new stadium. All the indications have been that a new stadium at Battersea Nine Elms, incorporating or alongside the famous disused power station, would be the club's first choice.
Chelsea are also aware of threats circulating on Facebook that "Yes" voters on 27 October will be targeted by hardline elements of the club's support who do not want to leave Stamford Bridge under any circumstances. The threats say that any names who appear on a proposed "roll of honour" at a new stadium – which the club have promised for CPO shareholders who vote "Yes" – would be "dealt with".
The "Say No CPO" campaign, which has no connection to the threats, met for the first time on Monday night. It claims to be a broad coalition of supporters' groups, fanzines and fans' independent websites who are against the proposal to give the club back the freehold. They are concerned that many of the 12,000 CPO shareholders have not received information about the vote because the register carries out-of-date addresses.
The "Say No CPO" activists also plan events around Chelsea home games to persuade match-going fans who hold shares to vote "No". They are not against a stadium move in principle but they want the club to be more transparent about their plans and also to give fans access to the architectural studies that Chelsea say concluded Stamford Bridge's capacity could not be expanded.
Other high-profile CPO shareholders include the former Conservative cabinet minister David Mellor and Dennis Wise, who was captain of the club when CPO launched and was an original director. Wise remains a fans' favourite at Stamford Bridge. The "No" campaign are also hopeful that former chairman Ken Bates, who set up the CPO, and is a shareholder, will also come out publicly to back them.
On the club's side, they have said that if they lose the vote on 27 October then that will end the issue for them and they will stay at Stamford Bridge in the long-term. There have been suggestions that a defeat for Chelsea on the CPO issue will mean that the club comes back to shareholders with more detail on their plans.
A "No" vote would leave the Chelsea hierarchy very concerned that they do not have the flexibility to move to a new site if they judged it necessary to do so over the next 10 years. With Uefa financial fair play rules being implemented soon, and with Stamford Bridge ranked 60th in size in European football's stadiums, they feel being tied to the ground would limit their scope for development.
As well as the Battersea Nine Elms site there is the White City site, which the club have currently ruled out as an option but could be convinced, and Earls Court. In the latter's case the owners Capital & Counties would have to change their mind about plans for redeveloping the site. The club do not want to leave Stamford Bridge but if they judged it essential to do so in order to be competitive they believe that all three aforementioned sites will be gone by 2020.
There is no question of the club transferring the freehold of a potential new stadium to CPO shareholders. If Roman Abramovich was to part-fund a new stadium the club believe that would demonstrate his commitment to Chelsea's future without having to hand the freehold over to supporters.
At the moment there is no chance of Abramovich speaking directly to CPO shareholders about the vote this month. However, the club will make efforts to answer the questions that shareholders have about the future and are likely to put Buck in a public forum before the vote to address the key issues.