Q&A: How a group of fans came to hold all the keys to Chelsea's future

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The Independent Football

Q. Why was Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) launched?

A. In 1993, soon after the club had won a nine-year fight to regain the freehold of Stamford Bridge from developers who wanted to knock the stadium down, the thinking was that if the freehold of the pitch and four stands was in the possession of the supporters it could never be separated and sold.

Q. How much did shares cost?

A. Shares were sold for £100 each and were limited to 100 per person in order that no one person could ever gain control of CPO.

Q. What rights does CPO hold?

A. As well as the freehold, the agreement states that if the club move away from Stamford Bridge, the rights to the name "Chelsea Football Club" revert to CPO.

Q. How much did the freehold cost?

A. It was finally acquired for around £10m in 1997 from the estate of the late Chelsea director Matthew Harding. Share sales at the time only raised approximately £1.5m so the club loaned the rest on very favourable terms. The shares will be bought back by the club for the same price, £100.

Q. Who bought shares in CPO?

A. Ken Bates, the chairman at the time, rallied friends like the late Labour minister Tony Banks, who was a Chelsea fan and an original director of CPO. Celebrity Chelsea fans such as Suggs from Madness and television presenters Johnny Vaughan and Tim Lovejoy also appear on the shareholders' register. As does the former Tory MP David Mellor.

Q. Who runs CPO?

A. The chairman is Richard King. Attendance at meetings have dwindled over recent years.

Q. Why is it suddenly such a hot topic?

A. On 3 October, Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck announced that he would be writing to CPO shareholders to tell them that the club wanted to buy back the freehold.

Q. When is the decision made?

A. There is a meeting tomorrow at Stamford Bridge where the club need 75 per cent of the CPO shareholders present and proxies to vote "Yes".

Q. Why now?

A. The club believe they have to keep open the option to move in future. They say that in order to do so they need to own the freehold to the Bridge site which would be redeveloped as part of the funding for a new stadium.

Q. What are they offering in return?

A. The club have said that supporters who vote "Yes" will have first choice on season tickets at any new ground. "No" campaigners say this is a bribe.

Q. How much is Stamford Bridge worth?

A. Buck has said that the cost of land acquisition and building a new stadium would be £550-£600m within three miles of the ground and that the funds the club could raise from Stamford Bridge would be around one third of that. Supporters' groups say they want an independent land valuation.

Q. Why not just stay at the Bridge?

A. The club say they have spent up to £700,000 on architectural studies of the ground and discovered that, even if they realigned the pitch, they could not increase the capacity significantly as the site, at 12-13 acres, is too small.

Q. Can Chelsea even fill a 60,000-capacity stadium?

A. The club have promised that 10 per cent of tickets at the new stadium will be priced for families and under-21s. The club needs to be self-sufficient with Financial Fair Play rules coming in.

Q. Why are some of the supporters against a "Yes" vote?

A. The "Say No CPO" campaign is not against moving from Stamford Bridge. They will endorse the club buying the freehold if, in exchange, they give the shareholders the freehold of any potential new stadium.

Q. Why would the club not agree to swap one freehold for another?

A.Chelsea say that building a new stadium would be sufficient to demonstrate the commitment of Roman Abramovich and are not prepared to negotiate.

Q. How important is this to the club?

A. Very important. Buck has spoken individually to CPO shareholders with significant holdings. The likes of John Terry have urged a "Yes" vote.

Q. What happens if it is a "No" vote tomorrow?

A. Chelsea say that ends their interest in building a new stadium and they will have to stay at Stamford Bridge, which only has a capacity of 41,800.

Q. What happens if it is a "Yes" vote tomorrow?

A. It means Chelsea could, theoretically, start negotiating for a new site straight away.

Q. Surely that would be good news?

A. For some supporters it is enough that Abramovich is in charge. He has delivered the most successful eight years in their history and they trust him. For the objectors the fear is what lies down the line under a different owner.