EXCLUSIVE: BATES JOINS FANS’ FIGHT FOR BRIDGE

Former Chelsea chairman backs supporter campaign to prevent sale of stadium freehold to club

CONTROVERSIAL former Chelsea chairman Ken Bates has emerged as an unlikely saviour for Blues fans opposed to selling the freehold to Stamford Bridge back to the club, City A.M. has learned.

Bates is backing supporter-led group Say No CPO’s campaign against the proposed sale, which could pave the way for the club to leave their home of 106 years, and has pledged to oppose the deal at this month’s vote.

“I am voting against it but I can’t elaborate,” Bates told City A.M. last night.

Say No CPO is confident the support of Bates and his family – who also own shares in Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO), the company that owns the freehold – will help it get the 25 per cent of the vote they need to block the sale.

A spokesperson for Say No CPO said: “We are in touch with Ken Bates and we are sure he will back our campaign.”

Outspoken Bates cut his ties with Chelsea in 2003, after 21 years in west London, when he sold the Premier League club to their current owner, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. However he has since clashed with the Blues hierarchy, who reported him to the Football Association in 2006 for calling them “a bunch of shysters from Siberia”, and remains a polarising figure. He is now chairman of Leeds United.

Chelsea need at least 75 per cent of CPO shareholders to vote in favour of their offer at a vote on 27 October for the sale to be approved.

The club have offered CPO shareholders £100 a share – equivalent to money back on their 1993 investment – as well as season ticket incentives should they move to a new stadium. They say they have no plans to leave Stamford Bridge and, in the event that they did, have pledged not to move further than three miles from their current home before 2020.

Say No CPO, which was formed last week to oppose the sale, say they are not opposed to moving to a new stadium per se but have concerns over the current offer.

The group believes shareholders should have been given more time to consider; that possible expansion of 42,000 capacity Stamford Bridge has not been exhausted; and would like to see the CPO scheme transferred to any new home.

Chelsea are thought to have previously considered sites for a possible new ground in Earls Court and Battersea.

Say No CPO hopes the support of Bates will encourage more of the 12,000 shareholders to vote against the club. However its members are mindful that the forthright 79-year-old’s presence could polarise shareholders and prompt some to vote in favour purely to oppose Bates.

The group has set up a Facebook page to recruit support and a website is close to completion. Chelsea posted a lengthy Q+A on their website this week in an attempt to address concerns.