Chelsea board member Barbara Charone opens up on representing the fans: ‘The expectation is always to win’

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Eddie Mulholland

Barbara Charone has spent over 40-years working in the music industry rubbing shoulders with the likes of Madonna, Rod Stewart, Prince and Keith Richards. But it’s Chelsea footballers who really give her the butterflies with her favorites including Ruud Gullit, Gianfranco Zola, Frank Lampard and Mason Mount. 

“It’s funny, I meet famous people all the time and take it in my stride. But with footballers I’m a little bit star struck,” said Charone, who joined Chelsea’s board in June following the purchase of the club by an American consortium led by Los Angeles Dodgers minority owner Todd Boehly.    

The Chicago-born Charone moved to London in 1974 and now runs her own PR agency, MBC, representing Kasabian, Foo Fighters, Depeche Mode and Lewis Capaldi to name but four. Prior to this she was a critically acclaimed music journalist writing for NMERolling Stone and Sounds magazine. 

Charone also penned a 1979 book on Keith Richards depicting with brutal honesty the highs, lows and narcotic adventures of the iconic Rolling Stones guitarist. And it was whilst staying at Richards’ home that her unexpected love affair with Chelsea began.

“I didn’t even know about football when I came to the UK,” conceded Charone, who is widely known as ‘BC’. “I did like sport and was a baseball fan.  I lived in Chelsea on Sloane Street [two miles from Stamford Bridge] when I first moved to England. I was a journalist writing a book on Keith Richards and he was kind enough to let me stay at his house near Chichester,” she said. “And after I had worked all day, at night I’d watch TV and there was really nothing on except a midweek sports special on Wednesdays. So I started watching it and just got hooked on football. And then as soon as I got back to London I went to a few games.

“Chelsea was the nearest ground and I just kind of fell in love with them. I pretty much had a season ticket from that point onwards. Chelsea were in and out of the old First Division at the time so it was much easier to get tickets. We were a little bit of a yo-yo club back then. Slowly but surely that changed.”

One of Charone’s earliest memories was the final day of the 1983-84 season. Chelsea celebrated promotion to the old First Division (now the Premier League) with a resounding 5-0 win over Leeds United. And when Paul Canoville (a boyhood Leeds fan) added Chelsea’s fifth goal it sparked a wild pitch invasion.

Angry away fans responded by trashing the North End’s new electric scoreboard with then-Chelsea owner Ken Bates calling for Leeds to be kicked out the league as punishment for vandalism. 

“Leeds fans smashed up the scoreboard that was behind what is now the Mathew Harding Stand,” said Charone. “And I remember the following season it still wasn’t fixed so we had no scoreboard. Crazy!

Chelsea beat Sheffield Wednesday to the 1984 Division 2 title.
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“Football has changed enormously from when I first started going. There was the hooligan problem in the 1980s in the English game – hence Leeds smashing a scoreboard. Now you see a lot more families and kids. Comfort has certainly improved, too, and football is more all-encompassing, which is obviously a good thing.”

Charone was also at Wembley to witness Chelsea win the 1997 FA Cup against Middlesbrough — a game in which Roberto Di Matteo scored one of the great FA Cup Final goals after just 42 seconds — and even got to work on Chelsea’s official song, Blue Day.

“It was amazing really,” she smiled. “Suggs was someone I’d worked with at Warner Brothers. And Mike Connaris, who wrote the song, brought it to me and thought it would be good for Suggs. And I was lucky enough that Warner Brothers thought it was a good idea as well.

“It was a top 30 hit. But Ruud Gullit wouldn’t let the team do [famous BBC chart show] Top of the Pops, so it could have been an even bigger hit had he done so. It was crazy. All the Chelsea players were all in a studio on a Sunday singing the song. And we also went to training to film the video.”

Then-Chelsea captain Dennis Wise, Suggs and Mark Hughes pose alongside Charone.
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On the Roman Abramovich era

After Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich took over in June 2003, Chelsea soared to success, winning the Premier League at Bolton in 2005 (ending a 50-year championship drought) and their first of two Champions League titles in Munich against Bayern in 2012. Charone was at both games.

“I went to Bolton,” she said. “We had players like Lampard, Drogba and Makelele. Even before then there was Hoddle and Gullit so you could see we were starting to get better players and managers. But when Abramovich bought the club everything just took on a whole new life.

Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea lost just once en route to the 2004/05 Premier League title.
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“And when we won the Champions League in Munich, it was pretty much the greatest day of my life. The ground lit up in blue was incredible. It was a beautiful weekend.

“Bayern had also had a really odd season, just like we had. The chemistry between both sets of fans was great. The only annoying thing was when Bayern scored, because it was their home ground, the announcer was so biased.

“Bayern took the lead in the 83rd minute and some friends of mine were in another part of the ground. So I texted them and said, ‘Let’s just go’ and five minutes later Didier Drogba scored. It was lucky we were still inside right by the corner flag. That was my joint-favorite Chelsea goal along with Fernando Torres scoring against Barcelona to send us to that Champions League Final.”

On joining the Chelsea board

During this period, Charone forged a friendship with Times columnist and fellow Chelsea fan Danny Finkelstein, leading to a text out of the blue back in March asking her whether she’d be interested in joining the board should the Boehly-led acquisition of the club prove successful.

“I have known Danny for over 20 years,” said Charone. “He is a Chelsea fan and has had a season ticket for a long time. Danny texted and asked if he could speak to me. He was friends with Jonny Goldstein, who is part of the Boehly consortium [and now also sits on the Chelsea board]. They were looking to put two fans on the board. Lots of clubs have talked about this but very few have actually done it. 

“When Danny asked if I’d be interested it was a no-brainer. So it kind of spun from there. I met Jonny a few days later and now I’m on the board which is crazy. It’s a new regime, so goal posts are literally changing every day. But the initial brief is to liaise with fan groups — official and unofficial. But really there’s a lot to do.”

Charone didn’t know Boehly before accepting the role but has been impressed by his ambition. Within a month of taking over he has become chairman, replacing American lawyer Bruce Buck, and is currently interim sporting director following the departure of Marina Granovskaia.

Boehly is clearly a busy man and transfers between now and the end of the window are the urgent priority. But there is a longer-term strategy and structure waiting to be implemented once things calm after September 1.

Chelsea have already signed Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Kalidou Koulibaly (Napoli) and Marc Cucerella (Brighton) as well as American goalkeeper Gaga Slonina (Chicago Fire) and Carney Chukwuemeka (Aston Villa).

They are currently in advanced talks with Barcelona over striker Pierre Emerick-Aubamayang and still hoping to persuade Frenkie de Jong to leave the Camp Nou. Talks are also ongoing to try and persuade Leicester to sell Wesley Fofana, but it may require a world-record fee for a defender of close to $100 million. And Chelsea have had $55 million bid rejected from Everton for winger Anthony Gordon.

In the long-term, Chelsea’s new owners want to change the recruitment model to something similar to Liverpool‘s. That includes adopting a more data-led approach. Chelsea used (and as importantly stored) football data sparsely under Abramovich compared to their rivals and sources tell CBS Sports that the new owners are surprised by just how little they have inherited. 

Boehly also wants to create a more incentive-driven and sustainable wage structure. Clearer pathways from Chelsea’s academy to the first team are seen as essential, too, with under-25 players expected to be offered lengthy deals, potentially as long as seven years.

There is also clear desire to modernize the club off the football field. This will include improved fan engagement and ultimately the renovation of Stamford Bridge led by architect Janet Marie Smith, who oversaw significant and well-received upgrades to Dodger Stadium last year.

“Todd is incredibly impressive,” said Charone. “He’ll always reply to emails and is incredibly open to ideas. He is just very impressive and very nice.”

Boehly has been a regular and popular presence at Stamford Bridge since taking over.
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“If you look at all the new owners, their track record, in every aspect, is so well suited to what we need. On the playing field, the work that Todd has done with the Los Angeles Dodgers is exemplary. They were on an insane [12-game] winning streak until recently and hopefully that’s something we can replicate.

“And Jonny Goldstein’s expertise really lies in development and obviously the ground needs that. It’s pretty well known that they want to do it stand-by-stand and not have us move away from Stamford Bridge, which I think is really important.

“It’s was an awful four or five months for us with all the sanctions and I think everyone just wants to move forwards in a positive way and be excited about the future. There is a whole fresh outlook on everything really. It’s exciting. Even if I wasn’t involved, as a Chelsea fan I’d be incredibly excited about what lies ahead.”

On growing Chelsea Women

Supporting and growing Chelsea Women is another key goal. Boehly has spent plenty of time strategizing with Emma Hayes and was pictured during Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Spurs last weekend alongside Sam Kerr, Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert.

Chelsea Women are in Portland to take part in the Women’s International Champions Cup.
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Chelsea Women have signed Johanna Rytting Kaneryd (BK Hacken), Kadeisha Buchanan (Lyon), Eve Perisset (Bordeaux), Katerina Svitkova (West Ham) and Lucy Watson (Sheffield United) and are currently in Portland for the International Women’s Champions Cup ahead of their Women’s Super League opener against West Ham on September 11.

“Chelsea Women is of paramount importance to Todd and all the other new owners as well,” said Charone. “I went to the Women’s FA Cup Final [which Chelsea won, beating Manchester 3-2 in extra-time]. And I went to the Women’s Euros Final, which was incredible. The women’s game is probably going to explode in the next year or two.

“One of the ways we are going to grow the brand is the first women’s game of the new season will be at Stamford Bridge not Kingsmeadow. That’s a huge step in the right direction.”

On expectations for 2022-23

Charone has high expectations for the new season and believes Chelsea’s new owners can add some instant silverware to the 21 trophies won under Roman Abramovich.

“Both managers, for the men and women’s team, excite me,” she said. “The women’s team did the double last season, winning the league and FA Cup. All they have to do is repeat that and win the Champions League and they can do the treble!

“And for the men, the expectation is always to win. At least a top four finish in the Premier League and a great Champions League run would work for everyone. The whole team just excites me. We have great players, like Mason Mount, Reece James, Ben Chilwell and Kai Havertz. I think Raheem Sterling is a great signing. So is Kalidou Koulibaly. And Marc Cucurella had a great game against Spurs.

A fiery London derby on Sunday saw Chelsea dominate Spurs only to concede a controversial late equaliser from a corner, prior to which Cucurella’s hair was pulled by Cristian Romero.

Tottenham’s first goal had an unspotted foul in the build up on Kai Havertz (deemed outside of VAR’s remit) and Richarlison was offside but judged to be in a passive position.

And, against this backdrop and on an already scorching day, tempers flared at full-time with both managers sent off following a heated confrontation. 

Thomas Tuchel and Antonio Conte have both been charged by the English FA for misconduct. 
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“We did not fist fight, we just had a little longer handshake and before that we had some arguments,” Thomas Tuchel told UK-based radio station talkSPORT. “We were fighting. He was fighting for his team, I was fighting for mine. Nobody got insulted, nobody got hurt. It was like a fair tackle. You don’t say sorry at the end of the match, it’s a fair tackle and that’s it. There was no need for red cards for us.”

“I think our demise has been greatly exaggerated,” added Charone. “If we’d have won the headline would have been, ‘Crisis, what crisis?’. We played really, really well, much better than Everton in the first game of the season. And all the talk before the game was about Spurs being so much better than us. I think we showed we were better than them.”

On Access All Areas

Alongside her new role as a Chelsea board member, Charone has a new book out, written during lockdown, called Access All Areas: A Backstage Pass Through 50 Years of Music And Culture. It is a first-hand account of changes to both the music and PR industry, written with real personality and at times humor. It also includes insight into how Madonna rapidly rose from an unknown Detroit girl to a global superstar. 

“Work was less busy during lockdown and I had always toyed with the idea of doing a book,” said Charone, who once read the classified football results to Celtic fan Rod Stewart in April 1991, although she purposefully chose to leave out Chelsea’s 7-0 loss to Nottingham Forest!

“And out of the blue, Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream texted me. He’d just read an interview I’d done with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards years and years ago. And he said I should put my Keith Richards book out again and I said, ‘No, I want to write my own’. So I wrote a proposal and within a month I had a deal.

Charone has represented Madonna and Prince.
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“It’s really a story about how a music fan makes a living in the music business and how an American, who loves music and also Britain moves to England and lives happily ever after.

“I always loved British music and culture. Growing up in America, I actually brought a Beatles album in to school for what we called ‘Show and Tell’, which now sounds really archaic. And I just loved everything on TV that was British — James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., A Hard Day’s Night. So I couldn’t wait to come over and see the red buses and black taxis or Waterloo Bridge. I had a completely romantic vision of the whole thing and I still do. 

“So the whole point of the book, like any memoir, is the center of gravity is about me not about the famous people I happened to work with. But the real story, and the human interest part is about — to use a very cliched word — the journey I went on. It’s not a spill the beans. The only beans I spill are really on myself. It’s all about my love for music and when it’s great, just like football, it is joyous.”

Charone’s love for both music and football is infectious. And her knowledge of and passion for Chelsea will prove invaluable to the new ownership group. 

“It’s exciting for me, and for every Chelsea fan,” she said. “I think starting a new era is exactly what we are doing. And if we can be as successful as the previous era then we’ll all be in dreamland.”

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