I’ll never forget my first meeting with Ken Bates, the newly departed Chelsea chairman. As I was shown into his office, the great man was dictating a letter.
Looking up with a scowl, he informed his secretary: ‘Take his coat or he’ll just go and write some s*** about us.’ The scowl then turned to a grin. This banter set the tone for subsequent meetings.
People either like or loathe Bates – I fall into the former category.
I wouldn’t want to work for him, but I found him witty and acerbic. He speaks his mind, which makes a refreshing change.
Bates has been criticised for his tunnel vision over Stamford Bridge, which has evolved into an odd collection of hotels, bars, health club and a football ground. The place is just a bit too far from anywhere.
But you have to admire the way Bates stuck to his vision, despite running up £70m debts.
From the moment that Roman Abramovich appeared on the scene, of course, Bates’ days were numbered. He should have left at once, flush with his £17m windfall. But the prospect of a civilised transition was too tempting to turn down. Inevitably, the honeymoon was shortlived.
Bates spent the last couple of years trying to boost Chelsea’s revenues, helped by Trevor Birch, the Ernst & Young supremo. He launched a new glossy magazine, Chelsea Village, and touted swanky Millennium suites at £1m each (there were few takers).
With Abramovich, the need for funds evaporated. The magazine has been pulled. No-one really cares whether the hotels are full or not. After all that work, it’s a bit sad.
Bates should not dwell on it. At 72, it’s time he had some fun. And to Chelsea’s adoring fans, he will always be The Chairman.
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