Chelsea Pitch Owners – A PhlEGMatic view…
Last week I took part in one of the award-winning Chelsea Fancasts, hosted as ever by David Chidgey. In a break from their usual format, this focussed on a single issue, the upcoming Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO) EGM. As a result, the usual team of Fancast enthusiasts was replaced by a motley crew of pundits with various opinions on all things CPO.
Those participating were CPO shareholders John King (noted author), Darren Mantle (CFCUK), Dan Levene (Fulham Chronicle), Dave Spring (SaynoCPO), Gray Smith (CPO Board member), Adil Pastakia (Campaign 55) and myself. Chidge attempted to get a wider range of shareholder opinion on the show, but sadly the vociferous, resilient but anonymous CFCTRUTH organisation refused to participate. A shame as they would have added to the breadth & depth of the debate, but I guess they had their reasons.
The Fancast is well worth a listen http://chelseafancast.com/ – it’s lively and opinionated, with some issues getting broad agreement and others sparking lively debate and it covers many of the issues which are on Monday’s agenda, and also wider issues about the future role of CPO.
This piece is based on notes I made when preparing for the Fancast, the Fancast itself and events since, as well as my thoughts on the EGM and some wider issues.
This EGM, being held next Monday at Stamford Bridge, will inevitably be less emotive than last October’s landmark meeting, but still of interest and concern to shareholders and non-shareholders alike.
My position regarding any new stadium or redevelopment of Stamford Bridge is very clear, unchanged and unequivocal. Like many other fans (shareholders and non-shareholders alike), I desperately want to stay at Stamford Bridge and am very keen that club, council, CPO, Boris and any other relevant stakeholders work hard towards that end.
If it can genuinely be demonstrated that achieving a 55,000 capacity at Stamford Bridge is hopelessly expensive (given that the club apparently acknowledge it could technically be achieved by developing the Shed & Matthew Harding stands) and adequate egress etc really cannot be achieved, then a move to a suitable, nearby, location (i.e. Battersea or Earls Court) would be acceptable. Given that both of these seem fraught with problems, and other ‘local’ options like White City and Old Oak Common are seen to be totally unacceptable by most fans I’ve spoken to, staying at Stamford Bridge increasingly looks a very strong option.
In terms of the EGM, to me a fundamental issue is to reduce the maximum votes that can be cast by one individual to ten from the current 100 (Motion 3). This will reduce the power of the block vote and negate a lot of the controversial large share sales last autumn. The problem is, of course, that those with 10+ shares are not necessarily likely to act like turkeys voting for Christmas, so it may be difficult to get the necessary 75% of votes cast, but to me Motion 3 is a clear YES vote.
My problem with the agenda, which I pointed out to Gray Smith at the Fancast, is that to me shares should ideally only go on sale (Motions 1 & 2) if voting rights are restricted. If not, it is being left open for further bulk purchases to be made. So in an ideal world, Motion 3 would be voted on before Motions 1 & 2.
There also seems some confusion as to what action the club could take, if any, if shares are not put back on sale. A week or so ago there were stories that the club could in theory apply to wind CPO up if shares were not being sold, and as I write this piece (Wednesday evening) the CPO board have just put up the following statement on their website “All directors are required to ensure that a company is able to pay its debts as and when they fall due. CPO is no different. Should we continue to have no income after the EGM, we will breach our loan obligations and could then have to cease trading, unless the club chooses to allow the situation to continue. Share sales is the obvious route open to the directors, as we have some 200 applications in hand.“
However, Gray Smith (a corporate lawyer) implied at the Fancast that this was not necessarily true so I am somewhat confused as to what the true position is. I would hope this can be categorically cleared up before the vote at the EGM, though this is too late for proxy votes. My inclination is to vote YES for Motions 1 & 2, on the basis that part of the reason CPO exists is to raise money by selling shares (and through other fundraising activity) but with a slightly heavy heart if it ends up that bulk purchases immediately take place.
Motion 4 (the requirement of CPO directors to own at least one share) is entirely logical so I would vote YES for that. Another no-brainer in terms of voting YES is Motion 5 which asks the board to look at ways of preventing carpetbagging.
There are other issues which I am sure will be raised at the EGM.
One is the replacement of Bob Sewell as CPO Company Secretary after his recent resignation. It’s not clear to me the process for doing this and whether such an appointment needs shareholder approval, given that it is a paid role, unlike the other directorships, and clearly specific experience is needed so presumably some sort of recruitment process would be required.
Another ongoing issue is the ‘hijacking’ of the CPO Lunch to become the club Annual Lunch, with a significant impact on CPO’s fundraising ability. I know CPO chairman Steve Frankham, a keen and active fundraiser in the past, was going to try and reverse this but it seems without success. This would appear to make a nonsense of any attempt by the club to prove that the CPO wasn’t trying to raise funds, as they have taken away one key, and established, fundraising opportunity.
If the loss of the CPO Lunch is a fait accompli, there was a lot of energy at the Fancast, and I know among other shareholders (and members of the CPO board), to revive a fundraising drive regardless of whether share sales take place, and I hope this energy can be turned into concrete action.
To those attending the EGM, enjoy it. To those wavering, why not turn up, hear the arguments and exercise your democratic right. To those who aren’t but want to follow events, I will be live tweeting as @tim_rolls , subject to being allowed to do so by security of course (I wasn’t allowed at the last EGM but was at the AGM). I suspect others will be doing the same thing.
Tim Rolls (CPO Shareholder)
As usual you can follow Tim on twitter @tim_rolls opining on all things from Chelsea, cricket, the Olympics and beyond.
(Unlike many CPO articles this one will be open to comments. I understand the sentiments are quite strong from both sides, so do please keep it civil or the article will be locked)