Help Chelsea to leave Stamford Bridge, Roman Abramovich tells Blues fans

04 October 2011 09:18
Roman Abramovich wants to clear a major barrier to leaving Stamford Bridge with an offer to buy crucial plots of land owned by Chelsea fans.

Thousands of Blues supporters share the freehold to land beneath the pitch and the stands at Stamford Bridge as part of the Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) initiative set up in the Nineties to protect the club from property developers.

Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck insists there is no immediate plan to move but wants to remove this obstacle so that the board can react quickly if a good site becomes available. Letters of proposal were sent and will by now have reached CPO shareholders.

Pastures new: Roman Abramovich is looking to move Chelsea from Stamford Bridge, the ground they have inhabited since 1905

The offer is to buy back the freeholdfor ?10million with an assurance that Chelsea will not move beyond a three-mile radius of their spiritual home before 2020.

It will go before an Extraordinary General Meeting of the CPO on October 22, where a simple majority of those present will be enough to pass it.

Buck believes Chelsea no longer require the safeguard under Abramovich's ownership but this is an emotive issue for many fans from the CPO generation. Many of them recallthe bitter fight to save the club in the Eighties and to preserve the ground it has occupied since 1905.

Buck your ideas up: The Chelsea chairman is prepared for a move

The CPO formed in 1993 as a non-profit organisation as a way to keep the key to Chelsea's future into many friendly hands.

With the help of a ?10m loan from theclub, the CPO bought the freehold to the pitch and the stands and leased it back on a 199-year lease at a peppercorn rent.

They also bought the rights to the club's name, whereby if the team were to move from the site without the consent of the CPO, they would not be allowed to use the name Chelsea FC.

Around 15,000 shares were sold at ?100 each to 13,000 different fans, which paid back ?1.5m of the loan. The rest of the loan remains unpaid.

Abramovich's proposal is to pay the CPO ?10m, which will write off the loan and leave the organisation with ?1.5m. Those who vote in favour of the proposal will be guaranteed theirnames on a roll of honour if a new stadium becomes a reality.

'Bear in mind that no-one bought these shares as a financial investment,' Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said. 'Everyone bought these shares as a way of helping the club and they also bought them as mementos and souvenirs.

'We haven't considered making them a big offer because we believe that they are fans of Chelsea Football Cluband want to do what's best for Chelsea Football Club and we've offered them a couple of things relating to their role as a fan.'

Since taking control in 2003, Abramovich has spent about ?700,000 investigating ways to expand Stamford Bridge, none of which have proved viable, mainly because the ground is pinned in by railway lines on two sides.

Considered: The land at the nearby Earls Court sight has been considered

It leaves a simple decision: cope with the current capacity (41,800 for domestic games and 38,000 for the Champions League) or move.

Chelsea's fanbase may not be big enough to sell 60,000 seats for every game and economic strife, increased ticket prices and the advance of digital technology have many clubs fearing lower crowds.

Yet, in his proposal letter to CPO shareholders, Buck points out how Arsenal's move from Highbury (38,000 capacity at the time of closure in 2006) to the Emirates (capacity 61,000) has been worth ?35m a year in revenue terms.

If the club want to keep growing in the era of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules, they could do with a bigger stadium.

There have been talks about three sites - Earls Court, White City and Imperial Wharf at Battersea - but each have distinct problems.

Any move would be partly funded by the redevelopment of the highly desirable 13-acre Stamford Bridge site into a residential and office complex.

Success: Arsenal generate ?35m more in stadium revenue since switching to Emirates Stadium

By regaining total control of Stamford Bridge, Abramovich can step up negotiations on a location big enough to build a new 60,000-seater stadium and sell the naming rights.

Time is an issue because both Fulham and Queen's Park Rangers are in the market for similar sites.

'We have not made the decision that, yes, Chelsea want to move,' said Buck. 'More significantly, we are looking at whether our stadium might be the right size.

'We are happy at Stamford Bridge but we have to be prepared for a move if something right comes along. This is something we should have done five years ago.

'We are hopeful the shareholders willapprove this proposal. They are fans and we believe they will want the best for Chelsea FC.'

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Source: Daily_Mail