There isn't any way to describe the news out of Chelsea today as anything but interesting, so here goes. Interesting news from Chelsea today, where the club has announced their intention to buy back the Stamford Bridge freehold from Chelsea Pitch Owners PLC, which was set up as a safeguard in the mid-90s to ensure that the team wouldn't be forced out of when money started to become a real problem.
Obviously, money is no longer an issue, and Chelsea are using that as an excuse to mothball the CPO and reclaim the land for themselves. The club's official rationale behind their attempted repurchasing is as follows:
Roman Abramovich's ownership and long-term commitment to the club removes the once real danger that the team could find itself homeless or at a substandard ground, therefore we believe the CPO safeguard is no longer necessary.
Chelsea FC will, in return for the freehold, effectively write off the remainder of a £10 million loan given to CPO 14 years ago to assist CPO's purchase of the freehold.
That's pretty weak, because it's absolutely obvious for all concerned that this is about the club moving. Chelsea couldn't leave Stamford Bridge while still being called 'Chelsea' without permission from the CPO, and if they buy it back, that's no longer an issue. There've been murmurings of a move for some time now - the Bridge is simply too small to bring in the same kind of match-day revenue that their fiercest rivals do, and that puts the club at a long-term competitive disadvantage that they'll be looking to shed with a move. There's a clear motivation here, and the fact that Chelsea aren't acknowledging it seems more than a little bit disingenuous.
Should the CPO agree to the proposal, the club will agree not to relocate to anywhere more than three miles away before 2020, which is fairly scary wording. Does that mean the club might move more three miles away after 2020? That's eight years from now, which isn't a particularly long time, and while the prospect of leaving Stamford Bridge for a new stadium isn't particularly palatable for many fans, moving that far will be even worse.
The reaction to this (surprise) has mostly been fairly distressed. Blues fans are fairly attached to their stadium, after all - it's been home for 106 years now - and the idea of moving to a new and shiny soulless and corporate stadium isn't really a very nice one. That said, assertions that the club couldn't fill, say, an 80,000 seater are insane - arguing from ignorance isn't a very good way to get one's point across, after all. Chelsea aren't going to be moving to the Emirates, so instead of arguing against straw men, perhaps the vehemently anti-move brigade should focus on positive reasons for the team staying at the Bridge.
At the end of the day, I think that as a displaced fan of Chelsea I would like what's best for the club without seeing it lose its identity. I'm not convinced that a move away Stamford Bridge is enough to do that, because there are a whole host of factors at play that I have no idea about. Certainly, I'd rather a (close) move take place rather than, say, renaming the current stadium. And I'd also quite like the team to maintain the financial clout it currently has. That said, I'm not someone who's in a position to regularly go to matches or buy tickets*, so my emotional response isn't nearly as strong as those who do get to go to matches on a routine basis.
*Many readers will think that makes me 'not a proper supporter'. I cordially invite said readers to orally pleasure the nearest goat.
With all of that said, one suspects that Chelsea could probably have handled this one a little better.