Tonight’s Richard Murray Q&A was a triumph, in that an appreciative audience was treated to honest and candid answers (where possible) to all questions, plus the appropriate mix of asides and anecdotes. There is always the issue of at least an element of confidentiality in these gatherings, not because of any sense of ‘privileged information’ but because the last thing you want is for people to feel they have to be guarded about what they say. Murray asked for no verbatim reporting, which is just as well as I’m far too lazy a git to take notes (and as can be gleaned from match reports there would be the human error component). So overall impressions will have to suffice from me at least.
Before that, the evening was topped and tailed by more surreal elements. In the North Stand lounge the TV was playing a recording of a Charlton match in March 1965 versus Bolton. The pitch had obviously been covered in snow and ice not long before the game, which had melted in some places and not in others, leaving a quagmire mix of mud, large puddles, and patches of ice. We were losing 1-0 when I arrived and I’m that sad that, even watching a video of a game played nearly 45 years ago, I felt downhearted when our efforts to equalise before the break came to nothing and we gave away a penalty (which even allowing for the conditions was about as stonewall as they come). Checking the records we went on to lose 3-1. If this was a PR stunt to remind all and sundry how far we have come it was a masterpiece (but should have been rounded off by turning on the floodlights to show the ground now in all its glory). Then on the train back I picked up an evening freebie and looked at Chelsea’s group in the Champions League. In the pub before the Bristol Rovers game we were chatting to some of their fans and after Wigan’s defeat it was asked if we have ever seen our team score 9. “I have”, I piped up; Apoel Nicosia in a friendly, 9-0, I still have the programme (I think). And there they are. In the Champions League. Oh, the swings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
The meeting itself had very much the air of a valedictory. Murray talked a fair deal about legacy and whether it’s been a job well done. That may have been encouraged by most of the early questions being about finances and a takeover, but it was clear, if it hadn’t been before, that Plan B and not Plan A is to continue as we are. Just for the record, in my view there is no question that Murray deserves the accolade of being Charlton’s finest ever chairman and that the board collectively over the past 20 years have been admirable. The mistakes made have hurt them as much as any other fans. Equally, if that sounds like a verdict on a chapter of the club’s history there was nothing said at the meeting to work against that impression.
On finances, the salient points I think were that if we are promoted and not taken over we would be broadly stable in the Championship, but forget about any ideas of significant new signings (at least in net terms). The goal as things stand is to get back and stay in that league (although of course nothing can ever be that cut and dried), where we could operate and hopefully compete (my words). We haven’t cut our cloth for this league and if we’re not promoted players would have to be sold (how many understandably depending on whether one or two attracted big money). It was noted that we have 14 players out of contract at the end of this season; reading between the lines going up and keeping the bulk of the current first team squad would be the realistic objective. No surprises, but a salient reminder of the reality of the situation. What was dismissed as unreal was the contents of The Mirror’s recent piece (other than an acknowledgement of the damage that such reports can have when the calls from creditors come in the next morning).
On a takeover, nothing specific was asked and Murray was understandably guarded when individuals were named. Irrespective of today’s news regarding Dubai, it was clear that that would have been a very welcome deal for the board (although naturally where that would have left us today is entirely hypothetical). There was no impression that there is any offer for the club on the table (which could I guess be inferred from the meeting going ahead), or one imminent, but of course that can change.
On the management, it is clear that Parkinson has the full support of the board and that, as came across from previous meetings, Murray feels far more comfortable (in a positive sense) with him than Pardew or Dowie. Let’s face it, the value of their asset is in his hands.
On the players (past and present) most of what was said should remain unwritten, especially the entertaining bits (for what it’s worth, the Bristol Rovers fans we talked to on Saturday had fading enthusiasm for signing Dickson – started well but now doesn’t seem to be too bothered). But what was significant was the interplay between the new investment, the financial plans outlined at the AGM, and not selling players before the transfer deadline. Murray confirmed that we had offers for two players and there was a conscious decision not to sell and opting instead for putting in more money (rather than the club having tried to sell and not getting offers). For that alone, if it proves to be the end of an era the penultimate significant act by the board deserves our praise. The final act would be ensuring that if the club is sold it goes to people who will themselves pass it on in better shape.