Harding is landlord of Bridge

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The Independent Online
The millionaire Chelsea director and lifelong fan, Matthew Harding, became the new landlord of Stamford Bridge yesterday when he bought the freehold for £16.5m, effectively guaranteeing the future of the west London club.

Ken Bates, the Chelsea chairman, denied that this move threatened his own position. It is understood that Harding and Bates differ on certain aspects regarding the future development of the club; Harding wants to see a greater financial input in the team and many fans will welcome his arrival as the new man on the Bridge. It certainly ought to give him a stronger bargaining position in any dealings with Bates.

"I believe that this necessary foundation will provide the springboard for Chelsea Football Club to realise its enormous potential and reward the club's supporters for their unfailing patience," Harding said.

Harding, 40, whose personal fortune of £150m is reported to make him the 45th wealthiest man in Britain, was recruited to the Stamford Bridge board 18 months ago by Bates, who believes that Harding's purchase will make no difference at all. "All he's done is bought the shares of the company which owns the ground and given Chelsea a lease at a fixed rent with a 20-year option," he said. "Nothing's changed." Bates retains the right to buy the stadium from Harding before the year 2012.

Bates also denied that there were any differences of opinion on how the club's massive redevelopment of the site - which includes building a hotel and its own railway station - should proceed.

"The situation is that there's input into the team and the development," he said. "There's no point in having an empty stadium and there's no point in having a good team if people can't go and watch you, so you've got to do the two in tandem, which is what we're doing."