Thursday, 29 July 2010

No Pleasing Some People

Like just about everyone else, my initial reaction to the news of Richard Murray taking sole control of the club is positive. Nobody questions where his interests lie (which is not to suggest anything different on the part of those leaving the scene) and he has earned the full trust of Charlton supporters. Given that, anything that additionally promises to make the club more attractive to potential investors and which affords the possibility of more money being available to spend on the squad has to be welcomed; Murray’s pledge of injection of new money is in itself highly laudable. But I’m a natural-born contrarian, so it there anything to pick holes in?

First, will what has been done make the club more attractive to an outside investor? I may be completely wrong (and I guess we won’t know any more until the extraordinary shareholders’ meeting, which is likely to take place when most of us are swanning off on hols), but I’m not sure I see that this is a given. The club has nearly been bought twice (at least) in recent times, by the Dubai investors and Sullivan and Gold (before they had to settle for a less desirable location more suited to their dress code). In both cases it seemed to be a full takeover (whether or not Murray kept a role) and in both cases the club’s debt wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle. In any such deal those holding the club’s debt (leaving aside the bank) would undoubtedly have been asked to take a good deal less than full paper value; formalising their loss may help (and I don’t mean this to sound indifferent to their support) and speed future investment negotiations, but doesn’t look to me like a fundamental change. If the amounts invested by the other former interested parties have simply been written off it would be a remarkable gesture. If the others are being bought out by Murray, it’s fair to assume that they are taking a substantial loss (if not, debts have only been shuffled). And if that’s the case, given the stated intention to try to secure fresh investment, I would imagine there is some other agreement between Murray and those backing out to cover the event of the club being sold on.

There’s been no doubting the seriousness of the club’s financial position over the past few years. But through the period I think I’ve been more relaxed than many about the risk of administration/bankruptcy. The vast bulk of the club’s debt has been to the directors and the bank, in both cases (if memory serves correct) secured against the ground. That situation does produce a happy (if that’s the right word) alignment of interest. Whatever the pressure applied by the bank and cutting of facilities, forcing the club to the wall would not have been worth it. The bank (HSBC, if memory serves correct) would attract unwanted criticism and would end up with a messy situation involving the sale of the ground. And any one of the directors would have ended up getting little return after the bank and others were paid off after a sale of The Valley. Football clubs tend to get pushed into administration by the taxman (or someone daft enough to make short-term loans to them, as in the blissful case of Palace) and I’ve seen no indications that we’re seriously behind with them.

If the latest moves involve a tidying-up exercise whereby the club’s non-bank debt is consolidated in Murray’s hands that sounds fine to me; and maybe that would help attract investment, whether or not a full takeover. I’m not privy to inside information, so I’ve no idea if the suggestions about the imminent involvement of one of the Sainsbury family are accurate. If it happens, I promise not to moan during any forced Saturday morning shop (except when I have a hangover and/or when Doris with her trolley gets in the way).

Any other downsides? Well, two possibly. First, assuming the plc is wound up I will regret not getting a copy of the accounts (I know they’re accessible but I’m very lazy) and not being able to attend shareholder meetings. It isn’t anything to do with any notional value of the shares (that went out of the window with Dubai if not before, and like others shares were not purchased with any expectation of a return or any lingering claim on the club). It is about feeling of involvement and the sharing of information. Of course all the actual decisions at the meetings are a done deal, but the rationale still has to be outlined. We’ve already lost the fans director (for perfectly good operational reasons), and if an AGM is going to be a one-man show I hope Murray and the new board make every effort to develop further the fans forum and other ongoing means of communication with the fans. It matters. We are ready to shell out on the shirts and buy season tickets but it’s good to feel some sense of involvement from time to time.

Second, perish the thought but just what happens if Murray falls under a bus? He has our full confidence, but a one-man ownership always casts doubts about a succession issue. Would the person/people who would inherit the estate be as committed to Charlton? There is, after all, no guarantee that fresh investment will be forthcoming.

While I’m in a nit-picking mood, and while we await the new strikers, has anyone heard anything regarding Liverpool loanees? When explaining the sale of Shelvey, Murray stated that this time around it was different from the Internazionale and Valencia links and that “I think there will be some exciting loanees coming to the club in the future”. Now wouldn’t be a bad time, although it’s fair to assume that any developments would have to wait for Liverpool’s new manager to make his own assessments of his needs. I remember Murray a couple of years talking of the potential new stars we were nurturing outside of the country (due to work/passport restrictions). Have they moved on or come to nothing? All such deals can run aground, but if they do it’s reasonable for the club to confirm that they have.

All that leaves is to decide whether to go to Watford or do the seat-cleaning next week. Time constraints (yes, those hols are coming up and next week is a bitch for bank results) mean doing both isn’t possible. To my shame I missed out on helping clean up The Valley (I can’t remember why), so perhaps its time for the elbow-grease. I guess at least I’ll know the seats to be cleaned are owned by Murray (and HSBC).

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