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5. Saving the Bridge (1975-1993)

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Chapter 5 - Saving the Bridge (1975-1993)

On October 24th 1975 a sub set of the clubs directors met with the club accountant on whose advice they decided to approach the Barclays Bank with a view to having a receiver appointed. Due to some banking protocol or other the Barclays Bank couldn’t appoint one and so we carried on fighting against a substantial tide of financial demands (including ones from the Inland Revenue and VAT man). In June 1976 a recommendation was made to the bank and the club’s creditors that they support a 12 month moratorium to allow Chelsea to get back onto sounder financial grounds. They all agreed although it was more a case of what choice did they have, as things stood they were getting bugger all back anyway!

This respite allowed Chelsea to start getting back on slightly sounder financial grounds and in conjunction with this the results on the park, thanks in no small part to Eddie McCreadie, started to improve.

eddie%20mac%20and%20coppers.gif Chelsea won promotion back to the top flight however they were to go into it without Eddie Mac as he resigned in June 1977 because he was not satisfied with the deal offered to him by the club. Within a couple of months he rescinded that resignation but the club were having none of it (when people say Chelsea are always shooting themselves in the foot this is the sort of thing they are referring to) and appointed Ken Shellito to manage the club. This was the season when the Bridge was to suffer visible from the hooligan element that followed Chelsea though don’t for a second be fooled by the claims that we were the only club that suffered from this problem, it was widespread in English football yet we received the lions share of the criticism for it. Fences were erected around the perimeters of the running track and work had to be carried out to ensure the stadium met the requirements of the new ‘Safety of Sports Grounds Act’

The cost of meeting this act proved to be extensive and as a consequence any work to develop the stadium further was put on hold, and soon there was a distinct possibility that there would be no more ground for which to plan development! In August 1979 a meeting was held at which a proposition was put forward to relieve the club of the financial burden of the debt tied up in the East Stand by creating a Holding Company for the stadium which would mean the club was divorced from the stadium. I would say ‘sounds great in theory’ however to be honest I don’t even think it did. This decision (the proposition was passed) meant that the Bridge, and all the land it existed on, was wide open to offers from property developers and the club wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

sb%20shed%201981_82.jpg In June 1981 club chairman Brian Mears resigned, discussions with property developers made it very clear they intended to sell the ground and by December the club were losing £28,490 a month. On 12th March 1982 a board meeting resolved that the possibility of ground sharing with another club in the SW of London should be actively pursued thus vacating the Bridge and allowing it to be sold or redeveloped. This resolution was signed by club Chairman, Viscount Chelsea. On April 3rd a further board meeting was held and at it a new director was appointed, that director was Ken Bates. Although he was officially made a director on April 3rd he actually took over the running of the club on the evening of April 2nd (don’t ask me how that all works) Ken bought the club for £1 but he didn’t own the club’s main asset, the ground). Bates recognised that the current board were seen as being pretty much entirely responsible for the financial mess the club was in and he rapidly invoked a clause which gave him the power to ‘request’ the resignation of all the current directors.

ken%20chelsea%201982.jpg SB Properties, the new landlords of the Bridge, were entitled to nominate two directors to the SB board (with Bates’ approval) and they duly nominated Viscount Chelsea and David Mears. As an aside to all this doom and gloom I should slip in that in 1980 Stamford Bridge created another piece of sporting history however, like the Speedway, it wasn’t to be football history. Prior to WW1 the Bridge had been used to stage many cricket games however none of particular significance (unless you count the annual Chelsea vs Spurs cricket games that were a close season regular in the mid 20s) until August 14th, 1980 when the Bridge played host to the first major cricket match to be played under floodlights in the UK. Essex played the West Indies and a temporary cricket scoreboard was erected in front of the Shed End. As the sky got darker and the floodlights came on the players began to complain about losing the white ball against the umpire’s white coats. Before you could say ‘Dicky Bird’ match Umpire Lloyd Budd was wearing Mickey Droy’s tracksuit top which had been fetched from the Stamford Bridge kit room.

tunnel%2081%2082.jpg Anyway back to Ken! On New Years Day, during the half time break of a game between Chelsea and Shrewsbury, Ken shook hands on a deal with David Mears which meant Mears’ SB shares would be transferred back to Chelsea. Ken saw this as a significant deal in terms of trying to secure Chelsea’s future at the Bridge however the deal was no more than a verbal agreement at this stage. Try as he might Ken couldn’t get Mears to sign a contract (at least that is how Ken tells it and frankly I am inclined to believe him, Ken may have been a bar steward at times but he was our bar steward and he did what he could, when he could, to protect the club) and he was soon tipped off by Crystal Palace chairman Ron Noades that Marler Estates had been visiting Selhurst Park with a view to the possibility of Chelsea and Crystal Palace ground sharing. Mears didn’t honour his agreement with Ken and chose to sell his 40% in stake in SB Properties to Marler Estates. At the next home game Mears walked into the Executive Lounge and had a ‘conversation’ with Ken. Ken is quoted as saying to Mears ‘Listen, when this gets out you’ll be a f**king leper, nobody will ever want you at Chelsea.’ The Bridge was firmly in the hands of property developers and its days were well and truly numbered as Marler Estates were keen to get Chelsea out and sell on the land for a mighty fine profit.

save%20the%20bridge.jpg On April 15th, 1987 the ‘Save the Bridge’ appeal was officially launched with a target set to raise £15m in just two years. This wasn’t just a straight forward appeal for cash, it was a plan that involved a major overhaul of the stadium and the land it stood on. The entire Bridge complex stood on 11 acres at that point and the plan involved selling off 5 acres of it for commercial development (with Chelsea maintaining a stake in the company which developed those 5 acres) and the capital raise being invested in the development of the remaining 6 acres to create a 40,000 capacity stadium with a hotel and a leisure centre. he legal battle between Ken Bates and Marler Estates was to take a favourable twist in Ken’s direction when a market crash in the early 1990s forced Marler Estates into bankruptcy allowing Ken to agree terms with the bank to re-unite the club with the freehold for the stadium. This allowed the redevelopment of the stadium to gather pace again with various phases throughout the 1990s finally seeing the end of the running track meaning the four stands were finally all seater, roofed and stood adjacent to the pitch.

In order to protect the long term future of the stadium Chelsea Pitch Owners was established who purchased the stadium’s freehold and actually own the pitch, turnstiles and naming rights of the stadium. This was specifically to prevent a repeat of the farcical situation where the ground was sold to property developers and was made possible via a non recourse loan of £10m made in December 1997 to the CPO by Chelsea Village PLC (now Chelsea Football Club Ltd) who were the parent company. In return the CPO granted Chelsea a 199 year lease of the stadium. CPO has been set up in such a manner that irrespective of how many shares an individual owns their voting rights are limited to 100 thus any one person or organisation gaining control. Fans were actively encouraged to purchase shares so as to extend the security of the club’s future.

Click here to read Chapter 6 - And Finally (1994-2008)

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