Matthew Harding remembered – his Chelsea timeline

Today is 25 years since a tragedy that shocked Chelsea Football Club, when our vice-chairman Matthew Harding lost his life on a journey back from watching the team he loved.

A long-serving fan, Matthew’s time on the board in the mid-1990s was relatively brief but very headline grabbing and captured the imagination of many Blues supporters. His legacy is clear at Stamford Bridge to this day and the part he played in the growth of Chelsea FC into what we are today is never forgotten.

Tomorrow, his memory will be honoured with a minute’s applause before our Premier League game against Norwich City.

Here today, to mark the anniversary of his passing, we look at the timeline of Matthew Harding at Chelsea…

26 December 1953 - Matthew Harding is born in Haywards Heath in Sussex.

November 1962 – An eight-year-old Matthew attends his first Chelsea game with his father, a big Blues fan. Chelsea win the Second Division fixture.

Between 1980 and 1982 – Harding becomes a shareholder, a director and then the major shareholder of the reinsurance firm Benfield Group, the same company he had joined as a teenage boy. In doing so he becomes one of Britain’s richest men.

The summer of 1989 – Having continued to regularly attend Chelsea games, and with his children growing up and other interests subsiding, Harding buys season tickets for the first time.

October 1993 – After chairman Ken Bates had succeeded in Chelsea winning a battle with property developers and saving Stamford Bridge, Harding provides £5 million to help start our stadium’s much-needed regeneration, the funds going towards the North Stand that will later bear his name. The 39-year-old also becomes a Chelsea director. He is introduced to the crowd at half-time in a game against Arsenal. We lose 2-0.

May 1994 – Chelsea, under the guidance of Glenn Hoddle, reach the FA Cup final for the first time in a generation. Although beaten by Man United, the Blues’ fortunes begin to turn. A massive blue crowd-surfing flag is a feature of the cup run, funded by Harding and his business friend Graham Bell.

June 1994 - Harding starts a loan fund of £5 million to help purchase new players.

November 1994 - the new North Stand opens and the Harding family’s season tickets are relocated there from the East Stand. Matthew would leave the pub and his friends and change into a suit before watching games from the directors’ box.

May 1995 – A board meeting takes place that will become known as the Marriott Accord. It proves a game-changing moment in our history. Bates, Harding, managing director Colin Hutchinson and Hoddle discuss our future and commit to try to sign Ruud Gullit and Paul Gascoigne. Gullit arrives, and Mark Hughes follows soon after as Chelsea’s ambition changes, setting us on our way to become the world-class club we are now.

Harding also purchases the freehold of Stamford Bridge for £16.5 million from the bank which had been in possession since the collapse of the property company that had owned it. Bates had negotiated with the bank for the land to eventually become Chelsea’s on favourable terms.

November 1995 – Simmering discord in the board room between Harding and Bates bubbles to the surface when the former is banned from the Stamford Bridge directors’ box having resigned from the board of Chelsea Village, the parent company overseeing stadium redevelopment. They disagree over priorities between that project and the team, including pitch size in the new development. Harding watches Chelsea from the North Stand instead.

March 1996 – There is talk of new co-operation between the two but a contract remains unsigned and Harding investing in Chelsea Village stays on hold.

The summer of 1996 – Matters move forward. The club pays back the loan fund Harding made available for player purchases and he invests in a large number of shares in the recently floated Chelsea Village. In doing so he is made vice-president of Chelsea Football Club.

October 1996 – The helicopter Harding is in crashes as he makes his way back from a League Cup tie at Bolton. His death is confirmed a few hours later, and immediately Stamford Bridge is turned into a shrine with thousands paying tribute to Matthew. At our next home game, against local rivals Tottenham, an immaculate minute’s silence is observed. The North Stand is renamed the Matthew Harding Stand.

May 1997 – Chelsea win the FA Cup as Matthew Harding’s Blue and White Army rings out around Wembley. The line in our enduring Cup Final song ‘Blue Day’ when Suggs sings, ‘And even heaven, is blue today,’ recognises Matthew’s legacy.

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