English billionaire nearly bought Chelsea before Roman Abramovich arrived

English billionaire Richard Branson almost bought Chelsea long before Roman Abramovich took over.

Abramovich is associated with transforming the west London club with his huge wealth after his takeover in 2003. The Russian oligarch injected huge swathes of money and relentlessly pursued silverware before having to sell the club in 2022 due to his links with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

But Chelsea came close to being bought by another billionaire beforehand in the form of Virgin founder Branson.

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The Athletic reports that Branson’s affiliation with the Blues began in the mid-1990s when vice-chairman Matthew Harding sought to use Stamford Bridge’s West Stand roof for advertising on Heathrow’s flight path.

Virgin were interested in using the ground as an advertising site but after discussions between the two parties, British Airways landed the space instead. But Branson and Harding, who became a club director after funding the North Stand, continued to build their relationship.

According to Mark Killick, a close friend of Harding's, the former Blues vice-chairman began to see Branson as a potential new Chelsea owner and someone who could provide the capital for the club while he himself acted as the figurehead.

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The set-up would have been similar to Chelsea’s current one with Clearlake Capital possessing the biggest stake while Todd Boehly is the face of the operation.

Branson was so interested that he was even prepared to change Virgin’s red branding to blue in an effort to match Chelsea’s colours. Yet things would take a major turn when Harding died in a helicopter accident in 1996 while returning from a League Cup defeat at Bolton.

Killick claims talks with Branson still persisted after the tragedy, though the British business tycoon was not a football fan and was therefore not interested in figure-heading Chelsea’s operations in the absence of Harding.

And with Harding's 23% of shares being sold after his death, Branson pulled out of purchasing the stake due to the share prices being too high.

Killick explained: “We had a meeting with Richard and that took place at his house, and we discussed the idea of it. After that initial meeting, I think it was left very much with Richard himself, with his advisors, and also with my advisors as well.

“So that was left for more due diligence and then I had a final phone call with Richard where we did just speak about an informed price. And I remember him saying, ‘No, I think that is a little bit too much for me’. And that was the end of the conversation.”


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