Just how serious a setback for our club yesterday’s court decision will prove only time will tell. Suffice to say that it was only Paul Elliot and his lawyers celebrating last night, everyone else involved with Charlton Athletic hanging their heads. And to compound the misery we hear that Thomas Sandgaard apparently will not deal with Elliot because it would go against his “personal integrity”. In other words, if that line is stuck to, for good or bad reasons, there will be no out-of-court payment to Elliot to walk away, ruling out one avenue by which Sandgaard might complete the takeover that we want to see – and which he has led us to believe was imminent.
I really don’t want to sound negative – for the record again we are very fortunate to have attracted Sandgaard’s interest and will rejoice if he emerges as our new owner, getting out those dancing shoes that we put on (prematurely it has proven) in January - but there’s that moment (one of many) in Lawrence of Arabia when Auda Abu Tayi turns to Sherif Ali and comments “he is not perfect” (with Lawrence having lied about there being gold in Aqaba). Let’s face it, Sandgaard has had his first slip-up since coming onto the scene as our saviour.
Everyone saw his expressions of delight at the first announcement that Paul Elliot’s case for an injunction on ESI selling us had been rejected by Judge Richard Pearce. When Elliot on 8 September won the right to go to the appeal court Sandgaard told the South London Press that “there is no reason for the fans to worry” and that his taking over was going “exactly as planned”. Then there were the reassurances ahead of the Appeal Court’s judgement that the outcome would have no bearing on his plans, which stoked the rumours that his people had indeed found a loophole to either take Elliot out of the picture or reverse the original sale by Duchatelet to ESI(1).
None of that squares with his comments after Elliot was granted his injunction until a November trial. “I’m working with some of the smartest people to figure out how we make that happen without dealing with certain people”. So the planning/figuring out is still going on, with no guarantee of a successful solution, however smart the people involved are. “What really matters to me now is we show the world that the fans want this deal done. That might actually have an impact – and obviously I’m hoping the EFL will take notice”. We do want the deal done, please believe us, but there is no real court of popular opinion; and if fans’ pressure on the EFL is likely to prove material to the outcome I find it hard to believe that all is going according to plan.
I suspect I’m more sympathetic than most to the position the EFL finds itself in. That doesn’t mean I think it is fit for purpose, it demonstrably is not (the Sheff Wed example being the most obvious). But rather I think it has been overwhelmed by issues that it is not constructed to deal with, involving areas of rules and regulations that are being shown to be inadequate. The problem is, just as courts are asked to make rulings on specific issues (and not necessarily the wider picture) the EFL can’t simply tear up these rules and regulations without due process. I don’t think it does us any good if we end up blaming the EFL for a dire outcome (a bit like a cyclist blaming the motorist for putting him/her in hospital – perhaps true but no help), we have to find ways in which the EFL can contribute to a positive outcome (for us).
So we have to live with the fact that, according to the Trust following its meeting with EFL representatives, there is no timetable for an appeal process for someone who failed their ODT. Seems astonishing unless you keep in mind that until the chancers currently involved with our club came along just about nobody failed the test. Why have a timetable for appeal when it’s reasonable to assume first, that anyone not actually banged up will pass, and second, that anyone who is disqualified would want an appeal to be heard as quickly as possible.
So I do think there is mileage in consultations with the EFL to pressure them to get a ruling on Elliot’s position asap. There may be no timetable, but there is a procedure - and surely if the EFL finds it has reasonable grounds for concluding that the appellant (Elliot) is not complying with due process (eg by not responding to requests for information, for the process of creating the independent panel to consider his appeal) it would be able to rule that this non-compliance is grounds for rejecting an appeal outright before a formal hearing. I suspect the EFL would need to be led to such a conclusion rather than reaching it itself. We learnt on 7 August that the EFL had rejected three ODT applications. Elliot has said that the problems are “technicalities”. So make him prove that. Quickly.
Seems that others want the EFL to give a quick ruling on whether Sandgaard has/would pass its tests. Might be good to know, but I fail to see how that would amount to a hill of beans in the current situation. Sandgaard is not the owner of Charlton and the means by which he might become the owner is not dependent on the EFL.
Barring an EFL ruling on Elliot, seems we either wait for the November trial or Sandgaard/Duchatelet do indeed find grounds for tearing up the original sale to ESI(1). The ex-directors remain an outside bet but presumably that too would involve the courts (unless perhaps Duchatelet comes out and admits that he broke contract law with the original sale and makes amends. For someone who can never recognise a mistake that is probably a step too far).
If there is a loophole, whether or not involving rent payments or share purchases, now is the time to act on it. Now we have the court ruling there is no reason to sit on something like this, if it exists. If it does not, come out and tell us. Sandgaard has to date made good use of communication with fans and the media (it was after all the means by which he forced open the door to a takeover).
No accurate update and no action in the days ahead and we will have to conclude that no loophole has been found, however clever those looking for one are, and at best some credibility will have been lost. Not the end of the world. With Varney/Barclay now joined by the Turkish consortium on the sidelines there is only one acceptable owner in play (have to say I thought the Turkish group let itself down with its obvious lack of suitable ambition for our club: “We had a 10-year project; first of all to reach the Premier League; and then reach the Europa League” – what’s wrong with the Champions League?).
For now it’s back to matters on the pitch for the Doncaster visit and fingers crossed that someone will be paying the wages and that the latest setback doesn’t usher in the departure of Phillips, Doughty or Bonne (albeit the situation with Phillips different from the other two).