And so it came to pass that victory over Gillingham and Bury’s failure to win at Bolton meant that the Addicks survived in the third flight with two games to spare. This much we now know. The rest, the important stuff (personally I don’t care whether or not we set a new post-War/lifetime low for the final placing; what matters a great deal more is that in my time we’ve never spent more than three consecutive seasons in this division), has to remain speculation as the chances of any Australian purchase in the near future at least have clearly diminished. Until there is more on when and to whom Duchatelet is going to sell, on what basis, and whether Karl Robinson and all the squad will form part of a new owner’s plans we are back to guessing. At least it keeps up the Mail’s record of never having printed anything true.
The regime’s expensive PR team either failed to prevent another gaffe or fell into line with Duchateletworld with the ‘anonymous club spokesman’ apparently stating that “the rumours and speculation regarding the sale of Charlton Athletic are unhelpful”. You just put your head in your hands and laugh. Surely it doesn’t need to be said that if they are unhelpful and not true, they could have been – and should have been – ended, which was easily done; if they are unhelpful but true, well tough. The Australian Football Consortium Investment Opportunity statement at the time said that the company is in “final negotiations with the current owner of the club”. Either we are/were that club or we are not. A club which cared at least a little about a major stakeholder, the fans, might want to clear that up. Now that our league status for next season is assured, there can no longer be anything ‘unhelpful’ about not giving supporters/stakeholders more information. But of course there will be silence. They will keep on treating supporters with contempt to the bitter end while claiming to want dialogue.
We’ve all seen that the AFC statement has now been altered to remove the wording about being in ‘final negotiations’. Presumably either AFC and its advisors were being misleading about how far down the line they were, or they were in final negotiations and these talks either broke down or are on ice while AFC raises the money it is looking for (whether or not the sum they are raising, AUD55m, would be the total in AFC coffers remains to be seen). For now at least, AFC falls into the category of potentially interested parties rather than owners-in-waiting (of the club if not The Valley).
I had written something along the lines of there being plenty that supporters can do to protect the best interests of our club while we wait for concrete developments. But the Trust quite rightly stepped in and rattled off a letter to AFC which pretty much fitted the bill. No matter, I’ve tried to update the thoughts.
Just why any company would want to pay £20m for the club - a loss-making outfit which needs further investment to get promoted and would then require a higher operating loss to compete in the higher division as a platform for any further investment to try for the Premiership – is beyond me. No matter. You can see the rationale – for a purchaser and for Duchatelet – of separating out The Valley, by making acquiring an English football team more affordable for the former and by allowing the latter to retain an asset which can presumably generate an annual profit while ridding himself of the ongoing losses of running the football club. But it is clear that the other party in any transaction, the fans, have legitimate concerns, especially as the interests and intentions of our deluded owner need to be watched; he needs to be muzzled and for supporters to ensure that the muzzle remains firmly in place.
It is quite possible that the obstacles to developing The Valley involving the sale of private property will ensure no desecration of our spiritual home, whatever Duchatelet has in mind. If he does really just want to improve The Valley, with the promise of increased revenues for him, fair enough. We just need safeguards. The first I’d assume would come in the length of a lease for the football club to use the stadium. A 50-99-year lease would be reassuring; anything less than 20 and you would question why. And to be acceptable to supporters I’d suggest the lease would need to include guarantees of no reduction in crowd capacity.
Any material unwanted development of The Valley would of course require planning permission and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the Trust and other groups to get the message across that anyone on Greenwich council voting in favour of development opposed by the supporters can expect to be ousted at the ballot box at the first available opportunity. Shouldn’t need a history book to remind them what happened last time around.
Also, a full AFC document for potential investors would have to outline both the means to achieve returns for investors (which have been outlined in brief: basically get the club acquired into the Premiership and then take the dosh) and the risk factors involved. The latter would have to include the possibility that under AFC’s ownership Charlton don’t get into the Premiership within the envisaged time period (that they could even get relegated from where we are), that more funds will need to be raised to achieve objectives than currently planned for (which would involve at least dilution of the eventual return), and other issues. And here’s where we come in.
If I was a potential investor in AFC I would want to know why the target club has been underperforming. Answer: it was bought by a deluded, rude and arrogant old man who had some strategies which anyone with an understanding of football could have said would not work – and they haven’t – and who managed to further alienate the fan base by installing incompetent staff whose mistakes and lies compounded problems, while all the way through regularly insulting said supporters. OK, fair enough, sweep him away and AFC should succeed with a modicum of common sense and especially with their superior Australian approach to sport.
However, I’d also want to know, as a potential AFC investor, how will the fans respond if this crazed owner retains ownership of the stadium and messes with it? Is it a potential risk factor that the fans, instead of getting fully behind the new set-up and helping it to outperform, will feel obliged to oppose ‘development’ of The Valley in ways which would seriously reduce the chances of AFC achieving its goals and returns for investors? Well of course it is. Any sensible investor would be considering the possibility and would want any deal involving Duchatelet retaining ownership of the stadium to involve material constraints on what he may do with the stadium, up to and including no development being able to proceed if the supporters oppose it. This is after all just an investor protecting his or her interests; not to do so would be irresponsible.
Finally I do have to thank our hub Forever Charlton, for all the good work in general and for giving me a laugh this morning. There is a headline link to a piece entitled ‘EFL teams of the year revealed’. What on earth is the relevance for Charlton? We already have our well-deserved gong, for having English football’s worst owner (although Orient, Coventry and Blackpool surely ran us close). Ideally if there is a supporters-run Player of the Year dinner Roland would be invited along to receive his award. If by then he is no longer the owner of our club, so much the better.
Barring actual takeover news that could be it for the season for me. I’m off to Lyon ahead of the weekend and, having not done my homework, expect to be back too late to help with CARD-organised protests for the final game. I will be there in spirit. I do hope to take in a Lyon Duchere game while away. Some disappointing home results of late have seen them slip down the table, to eighth. But they are still only two points off third with five games to go; and I think the top three are automatically promoted (for sure the first two are, the third spot is a different colour in the site I use but Wikipedia says three go up). So all still to play for with Duchere away at mid-table Beziers on Friday evening. Just checked for the following round and the game I should get to see. I kid you not, Duchere will be at home to Dunkerque. Seems rather apt for a citizen of a country planning to try to run away from the rest of Europe (assuming of course that France doesn’t do something equally stupid with a vote of its own). So perhaps for me, rather than flying pigs it will be a case of 'once more onto the beach, dear friends ...’