Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Roman Empire to Sacrifice Chelsea's Saviour; Is It Goodbye to the Bridge for Chairman Bates?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Roman Empire to Sacrifice Chelsea's Saviour; Is It Goodbye to the Bridge for Chairman Bates?

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

BELLIGERENT, abrasive, impat ient, Ken Bates devoted enormous energy to his 40-year career in football-making friends and enemies in equal measure.

You could love him or hate him, but you couldn't ignore him. A Bill Sykes figure rampaging menacingly through football's corridors of power, he loved a battle, and usually found one.

Although he is now a silver-haired 72, retirement is a concept that will not be easily embraced by a man who could regularly stir up a hornet's nest, challenge the status quo and bludgeon political correctness into submission - all before breakfast.

"Retire?" he barked when I gently raised the subject a couple of years ago.

"Most people retire then do what they've wanted to do all their lives.

I'm already doing what I want to do."

Not any more.

Initially, following his sale of Chelsea to Roman Abramovich, Bates hoped to continue in some capacity at Stamford Bridge until next year. But in recent weeks the signals from the Bridge have suggested that the old chairman was being marginalised and steered into exile by the new regime with the end approaching.

His programme notes were the first casualty. He was also dropped from the club's centenary committee. This might not mean much to you and me but it was a knife in the heart for the man who 22 years ago saved Chelsea from the kind of fate now facing Leeds. The Bates story traces the remarkable evolution of one of London's-great clubs and, whatever else the historians say about him, they cannot dispute the fact that he deserves the lion's share of the credit for Chelsea's survival and progress.

When he bought the club for [pounds sterling]1 in April 1982 he also accepted debts of around [pounds sterling]2million and a weekly loss of [pounds sterling]12,000. The attendance at his first match, a 2-2 draw with Oldham in the old Second Division, was 8,938.

Perhaps the most memorable moment of his chairmanship came on a December evening 10 years later when, with the help of the Royal Bank of Scotland, he brought to an end a long running battle with Cabra Estates over the ownership of Stamford Bridge. When they signed the paperwork that night Bates was able to set in motion plans to make Chelsea one of Europe's most successful football clubs.

Did he succeed? Well, very nearly. He appointed bold, imaginative managers including Glenn Hoddle, Ruud Gullit, Gianluca Vialli and Claudio Ranieri and, if the championship eluded them, they enjoyed enough success at home and abroad to put Chelsea close to the top table in Europe.

Bates also modernised the dilapidated stadium and built two hotels, though the financial return never quite matched the investment.

Subsequently, Chelsea were clearly in serious trouble last year when, much to Bates's relief, Abramovich came to his rescue with a [pounds sterling]140m package that included provision for paying off the club's [pounds sterling]80m debt. …

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