In my dad's living room there is a picture of our family; we're on the pitch at Stamford Bridge, with the East Stand looming over us in the background. My dad is at the back, putting on that forced photo-grin he always does, while my now-dead mum smiles enthusiastically. At the front there's a 13 year old me, already as tall as I am now, only with a more defined jaw line and a lot more hair, while my little brother is on the other side of Mark Hughes. If memory serves it's half time of an evening game – although I can't for the life of me remember against who – it's 1995, and we'd been brought on by on-pitch compère Neil Barnett, to the sound of a polite ripple from the rest of the ground. Back then anyone who bought their £100 Chelsea Pitch Owners share would get to go on the pitch and have cursory contact with a player, and I have to say that I was pretty happy that we got Hughes rather than say, Andy Dow, or Gareth Hall. I pity the poor people with that picture on their mantelpiece.
In the photo all four of us have ours – framed – in our hands, and we all look proud as anything, part of something that was going to safeguard the existence of our club. After nearly two decades of financial problems a new Stamford Bridge was taking shape: to the left, out of shot, the still-new North Stand offered a glimmer of the future, while behind the temporary seating at the other end of the ground a new Shed was being prepared. Only the West Stand remained of the original structure, and the benches there were our regular spot that season; half-way line, right at the back – the best view in the house for only £3. Soon that would be gone too, bringing to an end a redevelopment that began in the early 1970s, and which – thanks to Cabre Estates – nearly killed the club stone dead. Now a bright future lay ahead of us, and with it a new Stamford Bridge, one that no-one could take away from us.
Stamford Bridge has remained a constant. It symbolises the club more effectively than anything else, especially for the 12,000 or so of us who own our share of it
An awful lot has changed in the intervening 16 years, but Stamford Bridge has remained a constant. It symbolises the club more effectively than anything else, especially for the 12,000 or so of us who own our share of it, and to move away from it would be the final straw for many supporters. The more emotive reasons for why we should vote 'no' were already laid out by Hannah Duncan last week, and while I'm broadly sympathetic to them myself, she didn't touch on the real reason (nor by the way, is it correct that we 'can't' fill Stamford Bridge – we can and regularly do): to vote 'no' now would not mean never moving to a new stadium, but voting 'yes' would mean that we have no say whatsoever in the club's future. And anyone who can remember the not-so-distant past will know exactly what that can mean. However, there is also the problem that Arsenal make £30million a year more than Chelsea in matchday revenue, and given that they're already stretching our fan base very thin with their current ticket price policy, another rise would probably see a drop in revenue: there are many boycotting Champions League group games because of cost (although it looks like Genk might be a sell-out, unfortunately, rendering the protest useless), and if season ticket costs were to go up, it's very likely that more fans would drop out. That means that a drop in the wage bill would be necessary to comply with Financial Fair Play, reducing the club's ability to buy top quality players (although given our recent expenditure you might say that would be a good thing), or selling the naming rights to the ground to raise revenue. Assuming that footballers don't agree to a worldwide drop in wages, the club do have a legitimate case to make, especially as debts accrued in the process of building a stadium don't count towards FFF, and a lot of supporters could be swayed if the new ground allowed room for:
ñ Cheaper tickets for youngsters/local residents/the unemployed
ñ a modern standing section as seen in Germany
I include myself in that number, by the way: I would far rather see Chelsea playing in front of a young, enthusiastic audience in a new ground than the corpses we have at the Bridge right now, and increased capacity could allow for the price reductions in specific areas that would encourage that kind of support. I don't doubt that there are others who agree, regardless of the sentimental pull of The Bridge. The fact is that the private flats and stupid hotel built by Ken Bates (which the club now does not own) behind the Meccano-like Shed End have buggered any chance of adding extra capacity to the Bridge, and the stink Hammersmith and Fulham council put up over the redevelopment of the West Stand means that they're unlikely to approve any plans for increased capacity at The Bridge.
Arsenal make £30million a year more than Chelsea in matchday revenue, and given that they're already stretching our fan base very thin with their current ticket price policy, another rise would probably see a drop in revenue.
So I'm baffled by the fact that the club have asked for us to sell our shares now, and even more so the way in which they've done it. If you leave aside any hypothetical argument as to whether we would regularly fill a 60,000 capacity stadium (my own response would be 'yes with an if, no with a but', for what it's worth), what sticks in the craw is the sheer lack of information that the club have given us, and the fact that what they have said in public has been contradictory. As it stands there is a meeting taking place at 11.30am on 27 October, in which each CPO holder will to vote on whether to sell their share to the club. A majority 'yes' vote will see these shares sold for £100 (no adjustment for inflation, as you can see) back to the club. The vote comes the day after Chelsea play at Everton in the Carling Cup, in which fans who go up there will be likely to get home at around 3am. It's a working day, so those who took a day off or a half day to get to the game will have to ask for more time off to vote. Now, the club needs a 75 per cent 'yes' vote from CPO members who participate, which I think explains why they have scheduled the meeting for that day, and with new CPO holders able to participate in the vote, I'm suspicious that people will sign up to vote 'yes', recouping the £100 spent very quickly, and seeing the ground move into the hands of the club.
The conditions that the club have laid down for the vote make it obvious that they have a site lined up, otherwise why try to tip the scales in their favour? Why don't they hold a vote on the day of a home game? Why do they need to do it right this instant? We have heard nothing of substance from them, only that they consider it a financial matter that they need to clean up, and that we should hand over our stadium to them on the basis of nothing. For the good that Roman Abramovich has done for the club, we don't know who he is and we certainly don't know his motives. What guarantees do we have that we won't end up homeless? Wherever we play is likely to be attractive land for property speculators, and after the club's long fight with Cabre Estates, I would personally like to have a whole lot more information before I relinquish the one true stake I have in the club. What they really should have done, were they to be honest with their intentions, would be to call a meeting to discuss their plans (even if they're only at an early stage), instead of putting us to a vote at short notice. Come and talk to us about what you want from a new stadium; we want what's best of the club as much as you do, and we want to continue seeing our team challenging for trophies. Don't send a letter out to the fans saying that we need to sell our shares so the club can move to a bigger, shinier stadium, then days later say to the BBC that we don't need to move to compete. Don't ask us to sell, using the new stadium as a key reason, only to say in the same interview that there are no plans in place, because in that case, why buy the shares back at all? It doesn't make any sense whatsoever, and one can only conclude that they know that any plans they do have would be shot down in a heartbeat. That means instead of a modern, fan-friendly new stadium worth leaving behind 106 years of history for, we will be lumbered with a characterless, Emirates-style bowl, complete with a price structure that will hardly ever see it full, and more long-time fans phased out. That is something that isn't worth moving for – just ask Arsenal supporters.
Click here for more Football and Sport stories
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook