Before Roman Abramovich and the new normal of trophy win after trophy win and a constant parade of glorious European nights at Stamford Bridge, there was financial hardship and an uncertain future and Ken Bates, with all the good and bad his business-first attitude entailed at the time.
But there was also Matthew Harding, insurance tycoon, one of the UK's one-hundred richest men, and most importantly, a die-hard Chelsea fan. His financial contributions in the early '90s got him a seat on the board, his joie de vivre got him into the tabloids, his ambitions got him into constant conflict with Bates but set a direction for Chelsea that has been followed every since. He was Vice-chairman for a short while; his moneys helped build the North Stand, which bears his name; his enthusiasm and love of the game and the club remain legendary to this day.
"We will build a world-class team and a world-class stadium and the board believes that Matthew Harding's memory will be best served by achieving these objectives."
-Ken Bates; source: The Free Library
Twenty years ago this weekend, Saturday to be exact, Harding and four others including, as it turned out, a highly unqualified pilot died in a helicopter accident on their way back from Bolton having watched Chelsea play there in the League Cup. Harding was just 42 years old.
In his memory and honor, Chelsea will unveil a 100ft x 50ft banner (according to the Mirror, it will read "Matthew Harding — Always Loved Never Forgotten"; according to the Evening Standard, it will read: "Matthew Harding, one of our own") this weekend, in the match against Manchester United on Sunday. In addition to other tributes like commemorative tickets, Harding's widow, Ruth, alongside many other family members, will also be special guests at the match.
.@ChelseaFC ⚪ plan special tribute to Matthew Harding to mark 20th anniversary of his death | By @sjstandardsport https://t.co/fLHyf0kMP3— Standard Sport (@standardsport) October 20, 2016