When the latest piece about Charlton on the BBC’s site is about two weeks old and relates to the Championship fixture list, it’s reasonable to describe the period we are in as a lull. Every other team in the league has had something on them since. But is it the lull before the storm? (I have no reason or information to believe this to be so, this is just a cliché to provide an intro as if you wait long enough you are bound to be proven right.) The Ruskies haven’t bought us (yet), Obika hasn’t signed for us (yet), and nobody else has come in or gone. Something’s surely going to happen soon, and I don’t just mean Welling.
How would I feel if the club is bought by a Russian or a Russian consortium? If there was any indication on the part of the current owners that their desire to take the club forward, and to keep writing the cheques, was waning, we’d have to welcome anyone with open arms, given the implications. Absent a real fair play-generated levelling of the playing field – which I’m inclined to believe that any half-decent accountant will find a way around – we need an ongoing level of cash injection to be able to compete in the Championship, which can of course sometimes be aided as in the past by the sale of a player. That aside, and I don’t think this is prejudice, Russian money would be the last type I’d want for us.
I’m certainly no expert on Russia. Never been there and my experience writing/editing pieces on the country ended a decade ago. But the two abiding impressions I was left with were first, the constitution Boris Yeltsin introduced would ensure that Russia would not be truly democratic for the foreseeable future; and second, nobody made an honest buck out of the privatisation process. I can’t help thinking that nobody, except possibly Goldman Sachs, has made an honest buck in the country since – or at least nobody has made one and stayed honest.
Just why would a Russian oligarch (or group of) want to buy/invest in Charlton? I’d be happy to find out that any new owner/investor did indeed have some affiliation with us, or simply learnt in a short space of time to love being an Addick (as any normal person would). But surely the chances are that the motivation would be found in a mix of finding a plaything/potential bolt-hole and having money to throw away (or, shall we say, cleanse). The opportunity for a reasonable piece of bargain-hunting by people already involved with football was taken by our current owners. They would quite reasonably expect some return (again, unless their pockets and/or motivation are running out), even in the form of the potential for a future pay-out (and I’m assuming that there are still former shareholders entitled to some belated dosh if we were to return to the Premiership).
Let’s face it, there’s no novelty in a Russian owner; it’s been done. And the idea that a Russian owner will simply throw millions at us in a ‘promotion at all costs’ drive is of course appealing (if only for us to tag along for the ride) but far from assured. We’re far from a sure thing when it comes to backing a club to take into the promised land and stay there. Sir Chris wants to build and progress, but would he be the new owner’s choice? The plans for expanding The Valley would need to be taken off the shelf and dusted down, or would the new owner favour a move?
So I guess my answer to the first question would be I’d feel dubious, sceptical, concerned – but willing to be persuaded otherwise. If pushed, I’d have a hankering for a revival of the mooted Dubai takeover (if there was any residual interest on their part). I know that’s been done too, with Abu Dhabi, but the reassurance it comes with is that a country’s reputation is put on the line, not necessarily to ensure success but to ensure that things are done correctly (there’s no point in Abu Dhabi having Man City as part of its marketing department if it brings bad publicity).
It’s obviously too much to hope for the authorities’ ‘fit and proper person’ test to offer some kind of safety net. So our ‘ace in the hole’ has still to be Richard Murray. He may no longer be in a position to determine whether or not any sale of the club goes through; but he can – arguably should – pass comment on any change. His opinion still carries considerable weight with us, the supporters, and when he sold to the current owners he in effect gave them his endorsement. He still has skin in the game and quite understandably his own financial interests to consider. But if any deal does happen I’d be assuming it had his endorsement, as if he came out against it there would be a fair chance of the supporters turning anti too. To that extent, a deal and either no comment or open endorsement from Murray would allay my immediate concerns.
Have to say some concerns were eased by the news that Tony Jimenez and Dennis Wise are embroiled in a court case. I have no interest in the case itself, but the remote risk that Sir Chris would do a runner (to Wigan, Brighton or anywhere else) and our owners consider replacing him with said Mr Wise would seem to have gone for good. Let’s be pleased with that.
So, no news and nothing to plan for. As my French partner Suzanne will tell you, I’m not strong on planning. She gets pleasure from anticipation – generated by being away from me for spells of course – so plans; if I make a plan I want it to happen now. If it isn’t going to, why plan for it? But sometimes days just fall into place and I’ll break my rule. This Saturday is a case in point.
The loose itinerary for us involves being seated in a drinking establishment by 10.30 for decent seats and wine for the final Lions test. Emerge around 12.45 and enter decent establishment for a ruby (with wine). Exit around 14.00 for bus to Welling, in time to try to fathom out the team and subs. Enjoy the match, bus back and into another drinking place by around 17.45. Round things off with another curry whenever suits.
The next time Suzanne tells me I don’t plan anything I’ll point to this day. I can if I have to.