The desperate lengths that Chelsea have gone to in order to win a crucial vote tomorrow, which will ultimately decide whether they can sell Stamford Bridge and move to a new stadium in west London, can be revealed today by The Independent.
In voicemails left by the Chelsea chairman, Bruce Buck, and heard by The Independent, Buck asks for help from a waste disposal contractor at the club to put a shareholder in Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) who had asked awkward questions "on the sidelines". Since Buck announced the club's intention on 3 October to buy back the freehold of Stamford Bridge from CPO so they can sell the ground and move on, the club has faced concerted opposition from fans' groups.
The Independent has also learnt that an extraordinary volume of shares has been sold in an open sale that closed on Thursday ahead of tomorrow's vote, in which the club needs 75 per cent of CPO shareholders to vote "Yes" to their proposal in order that they can buy back the freehold – which they say is crucial to any future stadium move.
In the last week before sales of CPO shares were suspended, more than £200,000 was spent on shares which cost £100 each and are limited to 100 per person. In all, more shares were sold in that period than in the previous seven years, representing more than 10 per cent of all the shares in issue. The fans' groups lobbying for a "No" vote fear that some have been bought by individuals with loyalties to the club.
Tomorrow's vote, which follows a CPO meeting at Stamford Bridge, will be defining for Chelsea's future. The club say any potential move to a new stadium on sites such as Battersea Nine Elms or Earls Court will be dependent upon them buying the freehold for Stamford Bridge so they can redevelop the potentially lucrative site to fund the move.
The dissenting supporters, chiefly the "Say No CPO" (SNCPO) group, are concerned about the consequences of CPO shareholders losing the freehold. CPO was launched in 1993 as a not-for-profit initiative which encouraged Chelsea supporters to invest as little as £100. It was devised as a block against developers ever being able to buy the prime, 13-acre Stamford Bridge site on the Fulham Road which has been Chelsea's home since their birth in 1905.
In the case of the voicemails left by Buck, his specific concern was a Chelsea fan and CPO shareholder Paul Todd, whom the Chelsea chairman had identified as a particularly vocal opponent of the club's bid to buy back the freehold. The voicemails were left with Mick Crossan, a friend of Todd. He played the five voicemails to Todd, who has passed them on to The Independent.
In the second voicemail, Buck says to Crossan: "Just to let you know that at about 10.30 last night Paul Todd wrote quite an aggressive email to Chelsea Pitch Owners and he is obviously organising something and really we don't like that and we really want him on the sidelines and we are relying on you to take care of that and I would appreciate it very much if you could." In the third voicemail, Buck says: "I think reports are coming back to me that Paul Todd is totally out of control and we are relying on you to get him under control."
In the fifth voicemail left for Crossan, Buck says, "As of last night your friend Mr Todd was still very active, very annoying and very frustrating and we really need your help here and I would appreciate it if we could get it... and I would really like to talk to you about this situation because it's not a good one."
Todd claims his "activity" amounts to nothing more than trying to get Chelsea to be more transparent over their plans for Stamford Bridge and to respond to his emails and letters.
Crossan is chairman of Powerday, a recycling and waste management company in north-west London which has contracts with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and the club's training ground in Cobham, Surrey. He is also a season-ticket holder at the club and is understood to hold CPO shares in his family name.
A spokesman for Chelsea said that Buck had sought an "amicable" resolution of differences with Todd. The second voicemail from the Chelsea chairman was left on 4 October, just one day after the club went public with their plan to buy out CPO.
The Chelsea spokesman said: "Since the proposal to CPO was announced the chairman has had an open dialogue with many of the stakeholders in the process. Bruce and the club have said on many occasions that they encourage dialogue on the proposals, but expect that everyone behaves responsibly and stays away from personal attacks.
"In light of such attacks that Mr Todd had purportedly made against CPO directors, Bruce tried several times through a third party, to meet with him to find an amicable resolution and calm the situation, as he felt Mr Todd's behaviour was inappropriate and out of line. His voicemails reflect his frustration with the difficulty in reaching Mr Todd."
CPO is a company independent from Chelsea, but the club said that Buck had not been passed emails sent from Todd to Bob Sewell, a director of CPO, and had only learnt about their contents anecdotally. Todd denied that his behaviour had been "inappropriate". He said: "All I have done is dig my heels in and ask for answers. If we are talking about having a dialogue, what does he mean by having me 'sidelined'?"
The Independent, which also holds a share in CPO under this correspondent's name, requested an updated shareholders' register from CPO's offices in Surrey yesterday but received no response to its inquiry. A recent shareholders' register revealed that Buck had bought 100 shares himself in April. CPO shareholders with significant holdings have been invited to meetings at the club with Buck and John Terry over the last two weeks.
Pitch battle: Key players in Chelsea power play
Bruce Buck Brought in by Roman Abramovich when he took over the club in 2003. Buck is a lawyer, originally from New York, who has supported Chelsea since moving to London in 1983. With Roman Abramovich he is a shareholder in Chelsea Limited, the ultimate owner of the club.
Paul Todd A Chelsea season-ticket holder and Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) shareholder, he has been critical of the CPO board, including chairman Richard King, at CPO meetings. It was Todd whom Buck identified as a potential annoyance in his voicemail messages to Mick Crossan.
Mick Crossan A Chelsea season-ticket holder and also the founder of Powerday, a waste disposal company which has a contract with Chelsea. Buck went to Crossan for help in getting Todd onside because he knew that the two men were friends. But Crossan, who has a long-standing association with Todd, alerted his friend.