Thursday, 20 April 2017

'Once More Onto The Beach ...'

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 ...’

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dancing Shoes At The Ready

First off if such confirmation were needed I have no inside information regarding the report in the Daily Fail that Duchatelet is selling us to Australian Football Consortium. Ordinarily I wouldn’t believe anything printed in that vile rag, but on this occasion and at this stage we have to take it at face value, especially as the only rebuttal so far has come from a “club spokesperson”, which sounded as convincing as Karl Robinson’s recent comment that he’d been assured that the club is not for sale. It is reasonable to suppose at least that negotiations are ongoing and have reached an advanced stage. The AFC’s published ‘investment opportunity’ states that the company “is in final negotiations with the current owner of the club” and as AFC’s stated target is “an underperforming English football team” we do fit the bill.

So it’s a bit too soon for celebrations; we’re not getting out the dancing shoes just yet, but they are ready and waiting. Inevitably there are questions and concerns: will a deal simply collapse over money (the price to be paid and AFC’s ability to pay it)? Will AFC prove to be a stalking horse if it is clear we are for sale? And are we jumping (or being pushed) out of the frying pan into the fire if the talk of us becoming an Australian feeder club comes to pass?

The reported sum for the club seems to be around £20m. The figure is almost meaningless until it is clear what would happen to the £54m owed to Staprix (and presumably the debt to Richard Murray). It would appear that AFC doesn’t yet have the funds necessary to complete any deal; its Investment Opportunity document outlined a “confidential capital raise” of a total of AUD55m (which if my quick calculation is correct is around £33m). Not necessarily a problem if investors are close to committing and waiting for more details over the club to be bought. But has to be a worry that AFC is an investment vehicle raising a set amount, one which if the purchase price is £20m doesn’t leave a lot left over for investment in the club and the covering of ongoing losses. Of course AFC could go back to ask investors for more further down the line.

I’d suggest that finances would be a concern in the event of an actual sale to AFC, but no more than that. I find it strange that people say that we are financially secure under Duchatelet. He only has to wake up and decide that he doesn’t want to spend another penny on us and won’t sell unless the debt is repaid for us to be bankrupt. Sure, there’s no reason to suppose that he would treat a saleable asset in such a fashion, but we are nevertheless at the mercy of an old man’s whim. Not exactly stability in my eyes, so the fact that AFC wouldn’t come with unlimited finances needn’t be a powerful negative.

Of more concern to all Addicks will be the suggestion that we might become an Australian feeder club. Personally I hated the network scheme from the start, when it was clear that the best interests of Charlton Athletic were not paramount. Something akin to that, to help foster the development of football in Australia and perhaps even the Australian national team, would be equally unwelcome. However, subject to further information from AFC about their plans if they buy us, I’d only point out that it is only the Mail that has used the word ‘feeder’ and that may be just supposition; the report says that AFC “have their sights on making Charlton the breeding ground for talent from Down Under”. But there is nothing in the AFC investment proposal to that effect.

What the AFC proposal to investors does outline is the potential for “attractive returns on investment” through taking said underperforming club and, as a result of a five-point strategy, get it promoted to the Premier League. Here too in the published AFC document there is no time period specified but the Mail suggests a five-year plan. Have to go back to the finances here as raising £33m and spending £20m buying the club does not leave enough for five years of losses including two planned promotions. After achieving the stated objective, an IPO would follow to provide investors with their return (or presumably the club would be sold).

There’s been no shorted of daft or worthy but failed five-year plans in football. I seem to recall that Icelandic owners of West Ham had such a plan. So we’d be right to be concerned. However, it is at least a plan, one which if it fails to achieve its objective might still very well leave us in a much better place than we are now, to be sold on again. Also, I find it hard to square AFC’s stated objectives and the means by which it envisages rewarding investors with turning Charlton into a feeder club – unless that is seen as a short-cut to rapid promotion. Don’t forget Duchatelet’s network was supposedly a means to outperform once financial fair play rules kicked in (ie never). I think there is a difference. AFC’s investors will only be happy if Charlton are moving towards the Premiership – and on that front there would be clear unity of purpose with the supporters.

And when all’s said and done, we have to embrace any change of ownership – barring of course asset strippers. Our club cannot turn around under Duchatelet, for reasons that don’t need to be stated yet again. It is almost inconceivable that AFC or any new owner would go out of their way to insult and alienate the support base. From what we read it seems that the AFC people are experienced in sport, if not the demands of the English third division. If so, they will understand that outperformance – and achieving success – is not possible without the necessary role played by supporters. It gives me confidence that if a sale does go through there will be common purpose once more, or at least more likelihood of such than can ever be possible under Duchatelet. For that reason alone, if a deal goes through get those dancing shoes out for a new chapter begins, one that we can help make sure results in our club succeeding.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

How Bad Does It Get?

Not going to go for a full match report; I’m rather out of practise, rather late in any event, and I don’t want to deepen anyone’s misery by raking over the coals. Suffice to say that if that were the standard for a full season we would have already been relegated. As it is other results sort of went our way (if you can view a Millwall win from that perspective) and a four-point cushion, better goal difference and four teams between us and the fourth relegation spot with only five games to go mean we are still likely to avoid the drop; but the odds are obviously shortening given our current form and Saturday’s round of matches will produce fresh shifts.

I was left asking fellow Addicks who have been attending at least some games how our performance last night compared with what else they had seen this season. The answer seemed to be perhaps not the worst but if not very close to it. And as we head towards the lowest end-season league position in my lifetime I was trying to remember if I’d seen a worst performance at The Valley. Of course there have been heavier defeats. A 1-5 capitulation against Rotherham in the early 1980s comes to mind (it was also a rather odd time for our club on the ownership front); but that was in a higher league and we scored. I can remember three occasions from last night when it seemed we might score, against a team that was hardly outstanding. MK Dons defended well, dominated midfield, and with any sort of composure in the final third could have run up a cricket score given the space they were afforded.

It’s been suggested that MK Dons were better than us from start to finish. I don’t agree. We had by far the better of the first minute. Watt flicked the ball past their defender and ran around the other side, only to be cynically hauled back. A yellow card after 43 seconds, a free kick in a promising position, an indication that we might have the weapons to beat the opposition. That was as good as it got, for Charlton and Watt in particular.

We went behind after seven minutes and I’m afraid that for me Solly has to take most of the blame. A fairly routine cross from their right was going to be contested by a forward and a central defender when for some reason Solly left his man at the far post to challenge for the ball. Nobody won it cleanly and it dropped to the guy Solly had left unmarked. He took a shot which was deflected, Rudd twisted well to keep it out with an outstretched palm but only for it to sit up for their guy to score from a couple of yards out. It was a horrible goal and the collective effort which followed was well short of what we would expect – and what any set of supporters would expect from a team which should be fighting to avoid relegation.

Seemed to me that we had plenty of fluidity up from, with Watt and Holmes moving around either side of Magennis. But also a total lack of understanding as to where they might crop up and consequently, with our midfield largely static, nothing productive resulted, especially with any ball chipped forward to Magennis dealt capably by their centre-halves and anything played up to Watt leading to either a failure to repeat his first minute trick and lost possession or poor control and the ball bouncing into touch.

By contrast, what turned into a very narrow formation from us enabled MK Dons to enjoy all the time and space that they could want down the flanks. The quality of their balls into the box and decision-making in the final third really let them down, otherwise the game would have been over as a contest before the break. However, with no change to the pattern in the second half it was only a matter of time before they got one right. Watt gave the ball away once more and they sprang forward. A simple pass and this time their guy advanced and really passed the ball into the side of the net without a tackle made. I’m not sure if it was before or after that decisive strike that we saw one of the worst examples of our collective defending. On this occasion we had numbers behind the ball but when MK Dons switched the ball from their left side to the right every Charlton player followed suit, leaving utterly unattended their players on the left. Schoolboy is an understatement.

Our three moments? A Holmes shot towards the end of the first half which was always going wide but showed some attacking intent. A defensive cock-up of MK Dons’ own saw two defenders and their keeper, plus Holmes, go for a ball just inside their box. Their guys collided and Holmes seemed ready to plant the ball into an empty net, but the linesman flagged, presumably for some infringement by Holmes. I can’t say for sure, would have to see it again, but at the time it just seemed that their guys had run into each other. And then most lamentable of all a decent cross from the left and Watt rose unchallenged, only to put in an utterly unconvincing sort of header well wide. With around 10 minutes left I was thinking please let there be another goal: if it’s for them there would be a mass exodus and we can get an earlier night, it it’s for us it would at least mean an interesting finish, conceivably an utterly undeserved point. But they hit the post with their final real chance and there was never a realistic prospect of us mounting a comeback.

Did anyone emerge with credit? I thought that we improved with the introduction of Byrne and Botaka, their threat helped free up more space for Holmes and it looked as though the pair did at least know how to control and pass the ball. Holmes himself would probably have been our man of the match for me, without much competition. Niggles and lack of match fitness may have affected others’ displays, but Watt was worse than inept. In his final 10 minutes or so on the pitch he was more intent on provoking their players than playing football, being taken off before his yellow card was added to, and his glaring miss summed up the night. I would shudder to think of the percentage of his touches which resulted in immediate loss of possession. Magennis was indeed a shadow of the player I saw earlier in the season bully central defenders. Collectively our midfield was static, unimaginative and easily bypassed by them.

If Robinson is right and the players are on trial for next season, their level of determination and ability displayed last night would suggest that they really don’t want to be here, at least not if he's still around. After the well-conducted tributes to PC Keith Palmer the mood in the stadium turned increasingly toxic. We are a club in steady decline and real crisis. I hope Duchatelet was watching a live stream but don’t have confidence that if he was he could finally see the wood for the trees.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Sadim Touch

For a time the regime merited a little goodwill, as acknowledged by a number of its critics (ie the majority of Charlton supporters), with its reaction to the murder of PC Keith Palmer. The initial tribute, then the announcement that the club will be donating 50% of ticket sales to Mr Palmer’s family, with the players adding their match appearance fees, struck the right note. I’m in my second season of boycotting games (I have attended a couple when given a ticket which no-one had paid for, having been outside on CARD duty) but will be there tonight, for obvious reasons. I won’t be wearing a protest shirt or scarf, not because anything’s changed on that front but because the night is about paying tribute to a man, one who was also an Addick. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll be going despite the disgraceful comments posted on Facebook by Sue Parkes in the wake of Saturday’s defeat. I’d guess that by now everyone’s seen them and they certainly don’t merit being repeated, for whatever purpose, or given the dignity of any sort of detailed reply. They echo the previous deplorable attempt by Katrien Meire to label protesting fans as motivated by racism and sexism (an easier explanation for them than protests being a reaction to their stupidity and incompetence), which amounted to an unjustified slur on the good name of our club, one which has not yet (I believe) been apologised for. But they go further; to say that they were in poor taste is an understatement.

We’ve all said and done (and written) things we wished we hadn’t, perhaps in the heat of the moment; when we do an apology is in order. I hope Ms Parkes has the intelligence and decency to acknowledge that what she wrote was entirely inappropriate. Just that I suspect from the sanctimonious and schoolmarm-like tone of what she wrote this is unlikely. In the absence of an apology I would hope that the regime would go out of its way to dissociate itself with her remarks. But given that the club site’s ‘Media Watch’ page had a link to a couple of Kent Live pieces but not the one titled ‘Charlton Athletic secretary’s wife Sue Parkes provokes Twitter storm’ we may be waiting in vain. I appreciate that Ms Parkes was not writing in any official capacity, but she is hardly an unaffiliated casual observer.

I have no doubt that all Charlton fans will rise above Ms Parkes’ insults and not allow them to interfere with tonight’s proper tribute. Just that they add to the impression that any time there’s some area of possible rapprochement with the fans the regime and its cohorts manage to screw it up. It’s happened so often you start to believe it’s deliberate policy rather than ineptitude.

Could say the same about the club’s recently published results. The statement on them on the club site read as though the regime was trying to stress that they did all they could to avoid relegation, spending well above budget in a desperate attempt to stay up. All that comes across is more evidence of mismanagement, with an emphasis on ‘desperate’. You came away with the impression that they could have run up double or treble the loss and the outcome would have been the same.

Of course we hope that the tired and resigned appearance of Ms Meire in the aftermath of Saturday’s final whistle amounts to further circumstantial evidence that, despite having assured Karl Robinson that they will never, ever sell and his job is safe for life, honest, the regime is in its final phase before we can welcome in new owners, just as we welcomed Duchatelet at first. It is the only viable way forward, perhaps even the regime is coming around to that view, which only leaves them to look for and accept a realistic offer. I’ve no inside info on this, just stand ready, with dancing shoes to hand, to join those returning following a change.

In the interim there is no good reason for CARD to let up and the reports from Belgium over the weekend and the calling for another joint protest with Coventry fans are both welcome (in the sense that they are necessary and appropriate, not that we like protesting for its own sake).