Chelsea's landlord has agreed to allow the club to call Stamford Bridge it's home forever. What does this mean, and what are the next moves in rebuilding the stadium?
Chelsea Pitch Owners (CPO), the mostly fan-owned group that possesses the freehold to Chelsea's home of 112 years, today voted in favour of offering the club an extension to its lease of the stadium plot.
Presently with 180 years to run, the move looks likely to see a 999-year lease offered: generally considered in common law to mean a permanent lease of land to one organisation.
Why have CPO taken this step?
After Hammersmith & Fulham Council this month accepted plans to rebuild Stamford Bridge as a 60,000 capacity Gothic modernist cathedral, the next step is to get the thing built.
But there are lots of other things that need to happen in the meantime, not least a clearer picture on the funding of the £500m+ project.
It would be easier for Roman Abramovich to attract backers if he also owns the freehold, but CPO doesn't want to sell.
By making it possible to offer him a permanent lease, CPO's Board believes they are removing the need for Abramovich to table another hostile bid for the freehold, like the one that failed in 2011.
Will Abramovich be happy with this offer?
Firstly, no offer has been made by CPO – this vote just makes it possible for that to be chucked into the negotiations.
But well-placed sources suggest Abramovich may not be happy with remaining merely a leaseholder on the site.
Why, is anyone's guess: perhaps he sees that 2011 battle with CPO as unfinished business; perhaps there are other financial reasons that aren't yet entirely clear.
But with CPO having made the effort to meet the Russian half-way over this – the owners of 20,000 shares having been willing to kiss goodbye to any money at all they have put into the company – there will be disappointment if Abramovich refuses the olive branch.
The failed takeover in 2011 was a public relations disaster for Abramovich and Chelsea: do they really want to go back there?
What happens next?
As freeholders, CPO need to sign-off the Section 106 agreement on the Stamford Bridge plans – that's the document that sets in stone how much benefit needs to be delivered to the local community to get the planning approval sealed.
CPO also have the final say on whether Chelsea can play home games away from Stamford Bridge during any redevelopment – though not where they are played; but, contrary to some beliefs, they have absolutely no say over stadium naming rights.
With the Mayor Of London expected to pass the plan, without objection, it is up to both the club and Hammersmith & Fulham council to push it forward.
CPO have a certain bargaining power because of that, but concern was expressed at the Friday CPO meeting that they should not appear to be standing in the way of the rebuild happening.
Essentially, there are two parties here – CPO and Abramovich – who are in a very finely balanced political position.
It would be very easy for either to be painted as the obstacle between Chelsea and a new stadium.
With work not expected to get underway on the plans before summer 2018, and Chelsea not expected to be considering moving out of Stamford Bridge before summer 2019, there could be plenty of twists and turns in this story yet.