Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Unrealistic Expectations

When you’ve taken a break to try to recharge the batteries, and catch up on a little work, you can’t help feeling that you need to deliver something punchy, insightful and original, like New York Addicks’ piece on our owners. But after a while I realised that for me at least it’s never going to happen, so I might as well dive back in with the sort of aimless nonsense that will probably continue through the coming season. No point in raising unrealistic expectations.

If anyone’s looking for some angle on or assessment of the players we are signing please look elsewhere. In the Premiership I occasionally noticed an opposition player; at this level after a quick scan through the team sheet to confirm I don’t recognise any lining up against us, my only interest in them amounts to hoping they fall over. Many moons ago I went to a game with a friend and his then girlfriend, a rather erratic if spirited young lady over from the US (I’d drawn the short straw as her friend promised much but ended up giving me only a bad case of the flu). She claimed credit for having ‘white-lighted’ Don McAllister, who popped up in the last minute to score the winner. I’ve tried many times since to master the art, or perhaps the black art of putting the mockers on the opposition, but the results have been inconclusive. So while others may talk with knowledge of the attributes of Alonso, Evina, Hayes, Hollands, Pope, Pritchard and Sullivan (OK, I’ve seen a little of him), all I can say is I hope with every fibre they all overachieve and become legends.

My ignorance does mean that when they (and presumably other new arrivals) trot out at Welling on 9 July they have a clean slate as far as I’m concerned. No doubt after a couple of games we will all have formed at least our initial prejudices, which will be hard to shake off thereafter (and I’ve already got a good feeling about Pritchard as this is my mother’s maiden name; nice to have one at the club, although I’m not sure he’s one of the Bermondsey Pritchards).

As for the departures, Racon I’m just gutted about, for a number of reasons. First, it means the Covered End will never be able to adopt (as it should have done) David Essex’s Rock On as a tribute song (‘Racon ... ooh my soul’). Second, it threatens an end to our French connection (which for me counts for something as my partner Suzannne would delight in shouting ‘allez Therry’ from the East Stand), unless Youga does manage an unlikely comeback with us (I know he’s not French but he hailed from Lyon). But most disappointing was the manner of his departure, the sort of missed opportunity that probably summed up his time with us. I remember the dramatisation of Eamon Dumphy’s autobiography, the moment when he was consoling a youngster who’d just been released from Millwall (unlike the fans he had served his sentence) with the words that “it could be worse, you could have had to go to Charlton like me”. I suppose I can’t blame Therry for perhaps not being aware of the opportunity to square the books, but instead of saying what he must have been feeling (something along the lines of ‘I’m heading for the toilet but they’re paying me more’) he felt obliged to offer up the nonsense that “Millwall are a big club”.

It was clear that the midfield (and the defence and the attack) had to be remodelled and that for me meant Sir Chris either deciding that Racon was the lynchpin (and bringing in partners to complement him and adopting a style of play best suited to him) or that it was time for him to go. He departs with my best wishes and regrets, the overall impression being that he flourished in a fluid midfield five but couldn’t hold his own in a four and in that formation having to have his minder, Semedo, alongside him just left us short in most aspects. It was good to see the comments from the club about the nature of Jenkinson’s exit and the terms secured. He got his fans’ telling off when his name was read out among the substitutes at the end of the season and that’s fair enough. Good luck to him now. No doubt we’ll be making similar assessments as confirmation comes through that others have departed.

So, that’s enough of the bonhomie, now for some gripes (some justified, others perhaps not). The fixture list didn’t send tingles down my spine (all I ever hope for in this division is the last game to be away at Carlisle); rather it confirmed that for me at least my first chance to see a game in anger will have to wait for early September. I just knew there was a good reason for telling Suzanne that I needed to return from holiday early on a Saturday, but for some reason it escaped me when I booked the tickets. So I’ll be heading off shortly before we take to the field against Bournemouth, checking the texts for Notts County and Colchester away, and returning to London just after we’ve played Scunthorpe at home. I can’t see me getting to Bury the Saturday after, which means it’s Sheff Wed up first. Just something for the owners to bear in mind when setting April deadlines for season ticket renewals. Paying four months ahead of being able to use it – and having to write off 8.7% of its face value – doesn’t fill me with joy (I still haven’t sent in my renewal, but it will be done).

It’s perfectly understandable that the Reading friendly has been called off; I think even for me it might have been unreasonable to point out that some of us are going to miss the Carling Cup game against them in any event. Hopefully Barcelona can fill the breech; if no-one does I’ll just have Welling to keep me going (although trying to stay on top of whose on the pitch during that one is usually the biggest challenge).

Finally, and not least following NYA’s post about the owners, I have to say I found the reported comments of Michael Slater and Peter Varney in the BBC Radio Kent programme a little strange. Slater has impressed to date, saying the right things and seeming genuinely enthusiastic about his role. But the claim that “fans are saying, regardless of results, we are playing better football”. Even if we’d finished last season playing like worldbeaters it would have been irrelevant – both because the campaign was already lost and because we knew the team would look completely different come August. He previously been reported as saying that fans might have viewed last season as an “opportunity missed”. It wasn’t. It was a case of false dawns – at the start, in November, and after Powell took over. Those periods raised our hopes, as it turned out unrealistically; at the start of the campaign, given the position we were in and signings we were making (for which Parkinson can’t be blamed, given the constraints), I suspect most of us would have predicted mid-table.

More serious was Varney’s claim that the club came very close to administration. I don’t suggest for a second he was being misleading, but if that sort of claim is made it needs to be backed up by more information. You don’t simply go into administration, somebody puts you there. I might still be missing something, but the club’s debts – according to the annual reports we used to receive as shareholders – were overwhelmingly to the bank (secured against The Valley) and to the directors. If we’d started not paying the taxman, all experience with other clubs shows that you can drag that out for ages after the first court summons – and I’m not aware of that first threat having been lodged. If not the taxman, who else? While welcoming the takeover of the club, for obvious reasons, we do have to accept not being privy to the full details of the new ownership and the likely absence of any meaningful information on the state of the club’s finances. Just making the statement about administration isn’t good enough in itself.

Things could be worse. We could be QPR supporters. Their rise in season ticket and match prices, without concessions for those who continued to turn up through recent years, is, as Paul Finney of the Independent Rs website reportedly said, “an absolute disgrace”.


New York Addick said...

BA, I have just started to write a follow-up piece titled "The Administration Conundrum" and you've only gone and stolen my thunder :-)

I think you're being kind to Varney - I believe his radio comments referred to the period after the Baton transaction when the directors loans had already been written off, leaving only (as I recall it) the secured loan on the North Stand and the overdraft. As you imply, why would either of these creditors seek a restructuring via administration, when they can instead be supportive so long as steps are being taken to improve cashflow (as they were)?

Blackheath Addicted said...

Look forward to your thoughts NYA. I didn't hear the radio programme, neither do I subscribe to Charlton player to listen to it now, so felt a little reluctant to comment just on the basis of reported remarks. They have the facts, we don't - and don't have a right to them. But yes, just dropping in a remark like in my view isn't enough.

Mike BARRY said...

Your outlook is similar to mine BA.
I never seem to be able to focus on each of the players in the oppoing sides and generally they mean nothing to me after the game. There are some that leave a lasting impression as being excellent and underrated (e.g Hoolahan in his first game at the Valley for Norwich) or a future talent to track (Adam Johnson when he had a rare outing for Middlesbrough at the Valley (twice the player that Downing was at the time).
Therefore, I jave little knowledge and perception of most of the new boys to date, but like you they will be in the firing line of my objective beady eyes when they take to the field. Reputations mean little to me.
LIke you I hope the French connection can be kept alive with Youga, what a tonic if it could, though I long ago doubted whether it would ever happen.
NYA's post on the "Funder" was great stuff, it's naturally his field and was a great insight even though it was heavy going for me facing it straight after a couple of weeks in Italy. I look forward to his take on Administration and thank you for your own intersting input on the matter.

Chris said...

An enjoyable and interesting read. I shall look forward to NYA’s article on "The Administration Conundrum". I tend to agree with him that you are being a little generous to Peter Varney. For me the Null hypothesis, at a very high level of confidence, is that the Club was not going into administration last season and I’d need some very clear evidence, perhaps including a statement from Richard Murray, before I changed my mind.

I’d add to the points you’ve already made that when the Club affairs were restructured at the beginning of last season Richard Murray made it very clear that he had committed to fund the Club’s operating loss for the remainder of last season. I had understood that this was an integral part of the deal in which all shareholders had written off their equity with the Directors [including Murray of course] also writing off £15m of convertible bonds and rescheduling some £9m of personal loans. Given the situation you correctly describe, administration could only have come about had Murray simply changed his mind or run out of money. As you say, were this imminent we’d have been reading stories about late tax payments and player’s wages not being paid. We didn’t and I’d have been very, very surprised indeed if Richard Murray had simply walked away. Let’s not forget either, that post the EGM he spent [and I mean he] £250,000 on Paul Benson and as part of the takeover he’s now agreed to invest yet more money, albeit at a rate of only 10% of whatever total funds are committed!!

If I were trying to be generous to Varney, I’d say that in trying to convey the seriousness of the financial position to supporters and hence the importance of the takeover, he’s dramatically oversimplified the situation, and then got completely carried away by linking his catch all “administration” headline to a ten points deduction and relegation!! In his favour, two things probably are true;

1) Almost certainly, Murray was covering the operating loss on a “pay as you go” basis. I can think of lots of reasons why putting, say, £2m in the Club’s bank account in December would have been very sub optimal for him. Since Murray would have had no legal, contractual obligation to fund the loss in January, February etc, the Club would have been in a position where an accountant would have been unable to say that it was “a going concern” [or whatever the terminology is]. The banks may also have been nervous. But just as my kids need me to write the next cheque so that they can continue their University educations, provided Richard ponied up everything would have been fine. Do we have any reason to believe he wouldn’t?

2) Without the takeover, this summer would almost certainly have been grim. Murray had also made it clear that he couldn’t carry the “Baton” for long. Without new investment, this summer would no doubt have seen more heavy cost cutting. The expiry of the remaining Championship contracts, i.e. Racon, Semedo and Youga would have helped; there’s a £1m p.a. saving right there, but the academy may have been closed, for example, and the squad further pruned. Getting back to the Championship may well have become even more difficult.

If I’m right here, it’s perhaps not hard to see where Varney was coming from and why he felt it was important that the fans understand the real value of the takeover, especially given the very disappointing performances on the field in the second half of the season. However, simplifying all of this into “administration would have been inevitable” on the grounds that this was the best way to get the message across is insulting and misleading. It does the Club no credit whatsoever.

Blackheath Addicted said...

All seem fair comment to me. The accounts for the year to June 2009 contained the note about support from the directors and the banks, plus potential player sales, allowing the accounts to be prepared on a going concern basis (ie without that continued support we weren't a going concern).

I just don't know if Varney just chose the wrong words to emphasise a point or if there was something we aren't aware of.

Chris said...

You are right of course and, as ever, your comments are very balanced.

Perhaps I'm suffering from having spent well over 30 years in the investment management industry [and I'm still there sadly!] where I've learnt to rely on the information I have available and what I can infer from it rather than on what anybody actually tells me!!!