Chelsea take first step toward leaving Stamford Bridge

Yeah, this is pretty big news. Chelsea announced today that the club has extended a proposal to Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) shareholders to buy back the freehold land on which the football stadium at Stamford Bridge sits.

So the plan to move to a new stadium is further along than we anticipated. Wow.

stamford
Never forget

For those unfamiliar, that freehold is currently owned by a company called Chelsea Pitch Owners, established in 1993 to safeguard the club's future at the stadium when economic stability wasn't exactly the go-to phrase at the club. The idea was to put the land and four stands into friendly hands to ensure it could never be at risk of developers. It was a fantastic move at the time.

But times change, and the club, in this current economic climate, is finding it most difficult to complete with Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and the like. Smallish Stamford Bridge, as intimate and brilliant as it is, isn't turning the kind of matchday revenue that the likes of Old Trafford and that vacant lot in which Arsenal play are. Roman Abramovich understandably wants to solve that problem.

And, quite simply, without the agreement of the CPO shareholders, Abramovich cannot move the club away from Stamford Bridge.

CPO purchased the assets for £10 million in 1997, thanks in large part to an £8.5m loan secured from Chelsea's then holding company, Chelsea Village PLC. The club says it will, in return for the freehold, write off that debt and buy it back for £1.5m, the same amount the group raised back in '97.

CPO shareholders are scheduled to vote on the proposal October 27 at Stamford Bridge. The club will need 50 percent of attendees or those who have arranged to vote by proxy to approve the plan.

The Independent, with its excellent piece on this story, names Battersea Nine Elms area next to the famous decommissioned power station, with views of the River Thames, as the club's first-choice site for relocation. Other locations mentioned include Earls Court, White City, Imperial Wharf, Wormwood Scrubs and Old Oak Common.

Among the so-called perks for those shareholders who agree to the proposal:

• The transaction will make it possible for CPO to offer to buy back shares from shareholders
• The club will enter into a legal commitment to CPO that no relocation will take place before 2020 unless it is within a three-mile radius of the current lot (interesting)
• The commitment will set new stadium capacity at a minimum of 55K, at least 10 percent of those seats being made available exclusively to families and supporters under 21
• Shareholders who vote in favour will have their names inscribed on a "roll of honour" at the new stadium
• Approving shareholders also will have priority in buying season tickets at this new stadium

Sucking up much?

Chelsea chairman Larry David Bruce Buck offered this: "Chelsea should always be grateful to those who invested in CPO. We know only too well how close the club came to losing our home prior to the formation of CPO, but that threat has now gone under Mr Abramovich's ownership and with the CPO structure in place we cannot plan with certainty for the future. I hope all shareholders vote in favour of the proposal."

Chief executive Ron Gourlay added: "We continue to look at options for expanding the Bridge and I should be clear that we have not identified a site for a new stadium elsewhere."

Not identified, sure. But looking? Of course. Most of us have read by now of the difficulty in expanding Stamford Bridge. The Independent notes that the club has spent some £700,000 on two architectural firms only for both to conclude that expansion was out of the question.

So, really, this isn't new news. Just new in the sense that club is finally making it pseudo public. We discussed attendance figures in a post late last week. I mentioned there that a move to a bigger stadium is becoming almost necessary, particularly with FFP looming on the horizon.

I am of the opinion that staying at the Bridge, if possible, would be the best way forward. But that doesn't appear to be the case. I empathize with those that are against a move away. I get it. But I'm also not going to remain close-minded about the situation. If a move is a must in remaining a highly successful club - both financially and competitively - then I will support it.

I just hope that if/when a move is made, the essence of Stamford Bridge is retained at the new venue. And that the Bridge is - and always is - paid tribute to. How can one move forward is we don't remember the past? Roman has always been in touch with that sentiment, so I believe we're in good hands.

Anyway. What are you thoughts on this?

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