The government is worried about the controversy surrounding the Ricketts family’s bid to buy Chelsea and does not want an unpopular group with supporters to purchase the club.
The owners of the Chicago Cubs have seen their campaign rocked by accusations of bigotry and their efforts to turn public opinion in their favor are yet to bear fruit. A #notoricketts campaign has been trending on Twitter and Chelsea fans will stage protests against the Ricketts when Thomas Tuchel’s side meet Brentford at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Opposition to the bid began after it emerged that Joe Ricketts, the family’s patriarch, was accused of Islamophobia three years ago. Problematic comments attributed to other family members have also been criticized and the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust has expressed doubts about the Ricketts on diversity grounds.
Those comments have been noted in Westminster circles, where there is a desire for the sale of Chelsea to run smoothly. One issue for the government is that the sale has been forced by its decision to impose sanctions on Roman Abramovich after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The government knows it could face criticism if Chelsea’s next owners prove controversial and it is understood to be uneasy about the negativity around the Ricketts, one of four shortlisted groups set to submit improved offers before the 11 April deadline.
It remains to be seen how much the government will seek to influence the process. It is highly unlikely to use its veto power if the Raine Group, the US bank handling the sale, and Chelsea identify the Ricketts as their preferred bidders. A more plausible scenario is that the government will express its concerns in private to Raine and Chelsea.
The backlash has not stopped the Ricketts. They have heavy financial clout after partnering with the billionaire hedge fund tycoon Ken Griffin, have appointed the US investment bank Jefferies in an advisory capacity and believe their sporting background would give them an edge at Chelsea. They can point to their renovation of Chicago’s Wrigley Field stadium as evidence they would be capable of redeveloping Stamford Bridge.
Yet many Chelsea fans remain unconvinced, even though Joe Ricketts is not part of the bid and the family has said it “rejects any form of hate in the strongest possible terms.” Efforts to improve the family’s image by Tom Ricketts, who is facing the bid and has distanced himself from his father’s past comments on him, have had little effect. There was more controversy after it emerged that Raine facilitated a meeting between Tom Ricketts and Paul Canoville, Chelsea’s first black footballer, at Stamford Bridge last week.
The meeting went down badly with rival bidders, who fear that the Ricketts are receiving favorable treatment from Raine and Chelsea. That drew an angry response from Chelsea fans and led to plans for demonstrations at the Brentford game.
The backlash has surprised the Ricketts. A source close to the bid questioned whether there was a campaign of misinformation against the family and said their behavior had been above board. It was also pointed out that the family have met with fans and stakeholder groups to offer reassurances, with further meetings are planned.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism