In the wake of CFC’s recent, unsuccessful, attempt to secure the support required to initiate a transfer of the freehold of Stamford Bridge from the CPO, for me, the recent news that the club were re-examining the merits of the Battersea Power Station site as a suitable venue for a new stadium curiously served to pour oil on waters that had become troubled by the controversy associated with the club’s unscrupulous approach to the whole buy-back process.
I recall back in 2003, when Mr Abramovich arrived in SW6, Battersea, along with Earls Court, was soon being touted as a possible site for a new stadium. In 2006, Peter Kenyon boldly outlined CFC’s plans to become the Number 1 club in the world by 2014 – at the same time the BPS site was dismissed as being “too small”. Five years on, with Kenyon long gone, the grand plan for world domination is somewhat behind schedule although Mr Kenyon’s unpopular apprentice Ronald Gourlay, now tasked with running “the business” and developing “the brand” would claim otherwise. As for Battersea Power Station, with a firm of developers and architects now looking at the feasibility of moving to the iconic site – Blues fans have once more been ruminating over what the future might hold – a welcome distraction from debates about the whys and wherefores of the football team’s abject run of form in recent weeks.
Whether or not CFC choose to make a new “offer” to the 12,000 plus CPO shareholders at the January AGM remains to be seen, one things for certain though, unless Gourlay et-al are both blind and stupid (don’t rule out this possibility), I’d expect their approach to the whole process to be markedly different with open consultation being the order of the day. Staying at, and redeveloping, Stamford Bridge remains an option and Hammersmith and Fulham Council have recently vowed to “work closely” with the club, reaffirming their desire to see CFC remain in the borough – and again we wait with baited breath to see what might transpire from this collaboration.
If, and it’s a big if, the freehold transfer process is initiated and runs smoothly – what then? Battersea Power Station? Who fancies that? Well I’d put my hand up immediately, you see I’ve been fascinated with the place since October 26th 1973. Smiffy tells me that on this date Chelsea beat Norwich City 3-0 at Stamford Bridge with a Baldwin brace and a goal from Stevie Kember – I’ll take his word for it. I wasn’t allowed to go to watch the Blues on my own back then on account of a) being too young and b) being displaced from SW6 by 180 odd miles. Nah, October 26th 1973 holds a place in my memory because it was the day that Riggo, the lad who lived across the road, came and knocked for me, excitedly proclaiming that his elder brother, Big Riggo, had just bought the new Who album, Quadrophenia, and we should go and listen to it whilst he was out with his girlfriend.
As with most lads growing up in the 70s, there were only three things that mattered in life – football, music and girls – though depending on age, not in that particular order. As a 12 years old Chelsea fan, I was about to witness the slide of my team into what was by-and-large a dreadful decade of decay. The kings of the Kings Road dethroned. As a 12 years old music fan on the other hand, things were markedly different and the influence of Big Riggo’s burgeoning record collection would smooth my transition to being a teenager and assist in my pursuit of Roxette the pneumatically developing daughter of my old Ma’s hairdresser who was in the year above me at school.
Riggo cued side one of Quadrophenia up on his impressive looking Dynatron RG88 Radiogram and we sat down side by side on the sofa to studiously examine the gatefold sleeve that the double album, the Who’s second rock opera, was packaged in as the opening bars of “I am the Sea” enveloped us. The iPod generation have no idea what they’ve missed out on – gatefold sleeves, crackly vinyl – having a look on the run out groove to see if you had a George Peckham ‘porky prime cut’ – ah I’m getting all dewy-eyed just thinking about it.
Anyway back to the record sleeve and, more importantly, the thick 44 page booklet adorned with lyrics, storyline and grainy black-and-white photographs. Whilst Riggo assaulted an imaginary drum-kit Keith Moon-style, I slowly turned the pages – page 3 – eyes drawn to the sight of a local Battersea Mod kid, Terry “Chad” Kennett ( the Jimmy Cooper character brilliantly portrayed by Blues fan Phil Daniels in the 1979 film adaptation of the album) riding a scooter along Queenstown Road, SW8 with the four chimney stacks of a coal-fired power station belching smoke into the twilight sky forming a prominent backdrop.
From that moment, I was hooked – nay obsessed with the place, researching its curious history for various school projects, which included a meticulous study of the work of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott the architect whom in 1930 had been commissioned by the London Power Company to beautify the concept. Unbeknown to Scott at the time, he had already secured his place in British legend by designing the truly iconic red telephone box for the GPO in 1924.
Quadrophenia remained a huge part of the soundtrack to my life despite Big Riggo’s musical tastes trending fabulously into punk at a time when I was finally old enough a) to be allowed to go to football on my own and b) to be considered boyfriend material by the fragrant peroxide princess Roxette. Being a part of the nascent punk scene, the mantra ‘never trust a hippy’ was writ large in my teenaged subconscious and the story I am about to share has been kept a secret from polite society for the past 34 years.
It’s 4.50pm, Saturday December 2nd 1977 and I’m following Roxette down the concrete steps at the back of the old Shed Terrace. I’ve got mischief in mind and it’s nothing to do with the fishnet-stockinged Roxette or the fact that Chelsea have just lost 1-0 to Everton. The match had been a shocker. Toffees striker, Bob Latchford scored what turned out to be the winner early on in the second-half as the oft-ridiculously-coiffured, Ian Britton, had failed to equalise late on from the penalty spot. Britton side-footed wide of George Wood’s goal, the ball eventually rebounding back onto the pitch after striking one of the pale-blue, three-wheeled, AC Invacars which were allowed to park on the track in front of the terrace. The defeat came on the back of a 6-2 cuffing away at Citeh, a game incidentally in which Britton had managed to score from the spot, and Blues gaffer Ken Shellito would be picking up his P45 while there was still plenty of chocolate left in my Advent Calendar.
Twenty minutes later, looking out from the top-deck of the bus as we traversed Chelsea Bridge, I shook my head in dismay as I caught sight of the huge inflatable pig that was clearly visible in the night sky floating betwixt the chimney stacks of Battersea Power Station. Alighting on Queenstown Road and marching through wind and rain towards the hallowed building, Roxette couldn’t quite grasp why I was so vexed that Pink Floyd would chose to shoot the cover art-work for their soon-to-be-released album Animals on such hallowed ground – and I was in no mood to explain. What was required now was direct action. Back-in-the-day there was no CCTV to worry about, no over zealous security patrols and besides I had Roxette to act as a decoy at the gate. Using my extensive knowledge of the sites layout, I slipped by unnoticed. Stanley to hand, I made light work of the mooring ropes on the south chimney – and looked on gleefully as the giant pink pig floated away.
In the year that followed I was delighted that another favourite group, the Jam, shot the promotional video to their brilliant single “News of the World” atop the roof of BPS – and in a faint twist of irony, in later life, I came to appreciate the work of Pink Floyd and indeed the Animals album.
Battersea Power Station was declared a heritage site in 1980, and in 1983 ceased generating electricity, its useful life ended by a combination of outdated equipment and a shift towards oil, gas and nuclear power. Since then I’ve attended both legal and illegal “raves” at the site, various art exhibitions and even a performance by Cirque du Soleil all the while, watching, waiting and hoping that something good might come to pass as crumbling decay set in. And now, with the possibility that Chelsea Football Club might provide salvation, as you can imagine, my heart is gladdened by the possibilities – The Punk and the Godfather, satisfied at last? Maybe – just maybe.
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics ‘Over Land and Sea’, ‘Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die’ and ‘One Man Went to Mow’ and the co-author of ‘Chelsea here Chelsea there’. Copies are available to buy with a discount of up to 60% and free postage within the UK at www.gate17.co.uk