CHELSEA owner Roman Abramovich suffered an embarrassing defeat yesterday and was sent back to the drawing board as fans railed against his bid to buy the land on which Stamford Bridge sits.
The billionaire Russian oligarch and his board were forced to rethink their proposal to Chelsea Pitch Owners, which was seen as the first significant move towards leaving Stamford Bridge in favour of building a new stadium, after it was thrown out at a highly-eventful extraordinary general meeting yesterday.
Approval of 75 per cent of the shareholders was needed to pass the proposal, and although they gained a healthy majority, only 61.5 per cent of shareholders in CPO voted in favour of selling the freehold for the stadium back to the club.
Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck confirmed Abramovich had been quickly made aware of the outcome.
“Roman’s disappointed, but he respects that Chelsea Pitch Owners have spoken,” said Buck (right), who refused to speculate whether the club would make a fresh proposal.
“It’s really a matter of discussing with the rest of the board and discussing with Mr Abramovich what – if any – next steps there should be, can be, will be.”
Buck and the club’s chief executive, Ron Gourlay, earlier had been forced to field two hours of awkward questioning from the floor at a meeting that was attended by around 700 shareholders.
Those not in favour of the club’s proposals had raised fears at the potential pitfalls letting go of the safety net provided by CPO could bring, including seeing the stadium fall into the hands of property developers.
The opposition also suspected foul play following the revelation that around £200,000 worth of shares had been sold to only a handful of individuals since the club’s plans were first revealed on 3 October – the suspicion being that shares had snapped up by people willing to support Chelsea’s proposal.
That suggestion was readily dismissed by the club, but the view was voiced by Clint Steele of the Say No CPO (SNCPO) campaign, who asked if the sales had not “made this meeting into a total farce?” But those claims were allayed by the result of the vote which will force Chelsea to rethink their stance before they press ahead with plans to relocate.
Buck added: “There is no way we can just walk away from the site and build a new stadium.
“For any move to happen, we need to take the proceeds from selling Stamford Bridge and put them towards financing a new stadium.”
The meeting ended on a slightly bizarre note when Buck asked the two factions to put their differences behind them and unite to “beat the crap out of Arsenal” ahead of tomorrow’s eagerly anticipated London derby at Stamford Bridge.
“We are all Chelsea fans, and I can only hope that on Saturday we can all get together, support the club and beat the crap out of Arsenal,” he said.