CHELSEA legend Matthew Harding died 20 years ago.
Not only was Harding vice-chairman of The Blues, he was a Chelsea nut.
His contribution to the club is recognised by the north stand, the one he helped finance, being named after him…the Mathew Harding Stand.
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Chelsea fans still sing his name to this day, so fondly remembered is the man who died aged 42 on October 22, 1996, in a helicopter crash just seven months before his beloved team won their first major piece of silverware in 26 years, the 1997 FA Cup.
Harding’s passion for the Blues never waned – indeed, he was killed along with fellow passengers Ray Deane, Tony Burridge, John Bauldie and Mick Goss travelling back from a League Cup game at Bolton.
Even when watching from the directors’ box, he struggled to contain his enthusiasm. Just as likely, though, was the sight of Harding in the crowd cheering on his heroes even after he joined the board in 1994.
That Harding is part of Chelsea folklore is as much down to former chairman Ken Bates than anything else.
In 1994 Harding responded to Bates’ call for new investment. He weighed in with a reported £26.5million and joined the board.
But there were to be several clashes with the fiery Bates, also the club’s majority shareholder, over the direction of Chelsea FC.
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So much so that Bates eventually banned Harding from the Chelsea boardroom and effectively limited his input and influence over the club.
The dispute between Bates and Harding was continual and only stopped after his death in 1996. Even then, Bates caused more controversy and upset many Chelsea fans with some untimely remarks about his fellow director.
Harding’s legacy was also sealed after he effectively galvanised the Chelsea Pitch Owners, launched in 1993 after a nine-year battle to regain the freehold of Stamford Bridge from developers who wanted to knock the stadium down.
The thinking was that if the freehold of the pitch and four stands was in the possession of the supporters it could never be separated and sold.
Shares were sold for £100 each and were limited to 100 per person in order that no one person could ever gain control of CPO.
Would Roman Abramovic be at Chelsea had it not been for tragic Matthew Harding’s death?
The freehold was finally acquired for around £10m in 1997 from Harding’s estate. Importantly, the agreement stated that if the club move away from Stamford Bridge, the rights to the name “Chelsea Football Club” revert to CPO.
Harding made his fortune from the insurance industry. He joined brokers Benfield, Lovick & Rees and at first made the tea.
By 1980 he had acquired a 32 per cent stake in the company, becoming one of Britain’s 100 richest men.
He was to play a massive part in Chelsea FC’s history. Had he lived, who knows…would there ever have been a need for Roman Abramovich to take the club over?
We’ll never know.
But when Chelsea fans unfurl a massive banner commissioned by Abramovich in Harding’s honour before Sunday’s home game with Manchester United, his name will be sung again..with the same enthusiasm he reserved for his beloved Chelsea.