Chelsea F.C. Shaken by Considerations, Complaints and a Suicide

LONDON — Month after tense month, the issues mounted inside Chelsea F.C.

Nearly a dozen staff of the membership’s advertising division mentioned they’d come to count on being berated by their boss in entrance of colleagues. Others mentioned they’d confronted his wrath in additional humiliating methods, ordered to face up and go away employees conferences on a single man’s phrase.

The stress took its toll. By final yr, a number of Chelsea staff had vanished for weeks, or typically months, of medical go away. Not less than 10 employees members — from a division that employs about 50 individuals — had left the membership altogether, one worker mentioned. Then, in early January, a popular former employees member killed himself.

Whereas it’s unknown whether or not office stress was accountable, his demise surprised the Chelsea staff who had come to contemplate him a good friend and sounding board. Throughout conversations at a memorial service for him earlier this yr, their sense of shock and disappointment gave strategy to anger.

“It ought to by no means have occurred,” one worker mentioned.

Amid rising inner stress to deal with the issues, Chelsea this spring employed a consultancy to conduct what was described as a “cultural evaluation” of the advertising division. However few employees members had confidence within the course of: The evaluation of their office, they had been instructed, can be overseen by the chief who they felt was accountable for the worst of its issues.

It’s exhausting to think about an expert sports activities workforce whose staff have needed to endure the sort of uncertainty that the employees at Chelsea has confronted this yr.

The membership’s world was turned the wrong way up in March, when the workforce’s longtime proprietor, the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, was sanctioned by the British government simply as he introduced plans to sell the Premier League club. Till that course of was full, these working for Chelsea — from gamers and coaches to executives and lower-level employees members — had been left to fret about tips on how to do their work; whether or not they would nonetheless be paid for it; and if their jobs would nonetheless exist as soon as a brand new proprietor was discovered.

A few of that uncertainty disappeared in Might, when a gaggle led by the Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly paid a record price to acquire Chelsea and probably the most onerous restrictions positioned on the workforce’s enterprise had been lifted. However as all that was enjoying out within the headlines, a extra troubling state of affairs was festering behind the scenes.

The New York Instances interviewed nearly a dozen present and former Chelsea staff in reporting this text. Talking independently, all painted an image of a dysfunctional office surroundings at Chelsea marked by unhappiness, intimidation and concern. But it surely was the demise by suicide in January of Richard Bignell, the previous head of Chelsea TV, that delivered to mild longstanding considerations in regards to the surroundings contained in the workforce’s advertising division — a gaggle comprising roughly 50 staff — and the habits of its chief, Gary Twelvetree.

In an announcement on Wednesday, two days after The Instances contacted the membership in regards to the staff’ accusations, Chelsea mentioned its new board had appointed “an exterior evaluation workforce to research the allegations which have been made underneath earlier possession.”

“The membership’s new board believes strongly in a office surroundings and company tradition that empowers its staff and ensures they really feel protected, included, valued and trusted,” the assertion mentioned.

Whereas the membership mentioned “preliminary steps have been taken by the brand new house owners to instill an surroundings in step with our values,” it’s unclear if any motion has been taken by the brand new board in response to employees members’ allegations towards Twelvetree. The membership mentioned he was unavailable for remark.

Whereas Bignell’s household selected to not converse with The Instances when contacted, nearly a dozen present and former Chelsea staff spoke of a poisonous office tradition underneath Twelvetree that they mentioned left many employees members feeling belittled, bullied and typically even frightened of merely attending conferences.

The staff spoke on situation of anonymity as a result of some nonetheless work at Chelsea, or in soccer, and feared retaliation or injury to their skilled reputations by detailing their experiences publicly. However a coroner’s report compiled after Bignell died in January and reviewed by The Instances linked his suicide to “despair following the lack of his job.”

By March, underneath stress after Bignell’s demise and amid rising frustration among the many colleagues and associates he had left behind, Chelsea employed an outdoor agency to look into the tradition contained in the division in addition to the accusations of bullying made by a number of staff towards Twelvetree. However to the frustration of some staff, the membership made no acknowledgment that the evaluation was associated to his demise or any particular criticism.

One employees member who left the Chelsea advertising division mentioned the expertise of working for Twelvetree merely grew to become an excessive amount of to take; fearing for his or her psychological well being, the worker give up the membership regardless of not having lined up different employment. The expertise had been so distressing, although, that the previous worker detailed it in writing to Chelsea’s chairman, Bruce Buck. Others mentioned they expressed comparable considerations in communications with different prime executives or in exit interviews with the membership’s human sources employees. However little appeared to vary past a churn of staff that had turn into so frequent that it was an open secret amongst recruiters who typically directed candidates towards open positions at Chelsea.

Few staff had confidence within the evaluation of the division as soon as they heard it was to be collectively overseen by Twelvetree, the division head, and the skin consultants Chelsea employed.

“It was not going to deal with the considerations, was it?” mentioned an individual requested to take part within the evaluation. “How might or not it’s if he’s reviewing his personal tradition?”

Workers members mentioned that they’ve but to obtain any conclusions from the now-completed evaluation, and that there have been no modifications to work practices.

“I contemplate myself to be fairly a powerful individual and beforehand to working with Chelsea I by no means felt like I had considerations over my psychological well being,” mentioned one former member of the advertising division. “However fairly shortly after becoming a member of, I used to be not sleeping correctly and it received worse and worse.”

That nervousness grew to become seen in Bignell, based on a number of of his former colleagues. Bignell had been a popular member of the club, heading its tv operation, Chelsea TV. The channel had initially been run by the membership’s communications division earlier than shifting into advertising as a part of a brand new digital technique carried out by the membership’s hierarchy.

The change meant profound modifications for Bignell, who had spent a decade working a tv channel and was now required to change his focus to producing digital content material for social media, accounts that had been underneath the path of the workforce’s advertising employees. Bignell’s relationship with Twelvetree, employees members recalled, was a fraught one; Bignell, like others, struggled to cope with the advertising head’s administration model, which might embrace biting, shouted critiques of their work that, some staff mentioned, typically left colleagues in tears.

A married father of two younger daughters, Bignell largely hid the torment he was feeling from his co-workers, staff mentioned. They described him as having a sunny, constructive disposition, a colleague all the time able to share a joke or lend an ear. However progressively, based on individuals who knew him, his bodily situation had noticeably deteriorated.

“Final time I noticed him he was strolling round Stamford Bridge and he was a multitude,” mentioned a colleague who encountered Bignell in the summertime of 2021, across the time he left on medical go away. “He seemed in poor health. He had misplaced a lot weight.”

Bignell returned to Chelsea in September and was abruptly fired the subsequent day. In early January, he took his life. The workforce, in announcing his death on its website, mentioned the “much-loved” Bignell was “a extremely popular and massively revered member of the broader soccer and sports activities broadcasting household.” The coroner’s report, in the meantime, later linked his frame of mind on the time of his demise to his firing by Chelsea. “Richard was deeply troubled by nervousness, despair and despair following the lack of his job,” the report mentioned.

Even after Bignell’s demise, and after the membership’s cultural evaluation, the Chelsea advertising employees has continued to lose staff.

Those that have departed say they’ve now turn into used to offering emotional assist for the colleagues who’ve stayed on. After attending one latest celebration marking the departure of a number of staff, for instance, a former Chelsea employees member mentioned she had spoken with so many people fighting life at work that she had felt the occasion had doubled as a remedy session.

Chelsea’s new possession group, in the meantime, mentioned Wednesday that it has reached out to Bignell’s relations by way of the household’s lawyer. “Our coronary heart goes out to Richard’s whole household,” the workforce’s assertion mentioned. “His passing has been deeply felt by his colleagues on the membership and throughout the soccer group.”

Senior Chelsea officers already had been talking with the household, which had raised considerations in regards to the circumstances of his demise, and employees members mentioned that they’ve continued to press internally for modifications. However the sale of the membership in Might has solely introduced recent uncertainty.

As the brand new house owners take management of the workforce, probably the most highly effective leaders from Chelsea’s previous regime are being changed. The chief govt Man Laurence, who runs the membership’s day-to-day operations, and Buck, the outgoing chairman, had been probably the most senior leaders whom employees members contacted with their considerations about working circumstances.

Now each are amongst those that will go away.


If you’re having ideas of suicide, the next organizations might help.

In Britain, name Papyrus at +44 800 068 4141 (9 a.m. to midnight), or message Younger Minds: textual content YM to 85258. It’s also possible to discover a listing of further sources on Mind.org.uk.

In the USA, name the Nationwide Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You could find an inventory of further sources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.

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