Sunday 21 January 2018

Time To Fill The Valley Again

Life’s full of little ironies as they say. Was it so long ago that the regime was refusing to treat The Trust as a suitable partner for ‘meaningful dialogue’ with supporters, insisting instead – for duplicitous reasons - that the worthy but compromised Fans Forum was the chosen vehicle? Meire does a runner before finding herself out of a job and suddenly first up it’s The Trust that Richard Murray turns to in order to communicate information on the takeover.

It’s taken a while for the club to shift in the direction of sanity when it comes to dealings with a major stakeholder – and always potential partner. The regime was never interested in dialogue with fans, for Roland would do it his way and we had to ‘live with it’. It’s taken the departure of Meire and the progressive distancing of Big Daddy for change to come, even if the club and its expensive PR team rather missed a trick by waiting until CARD’s threatened protest before agreeing to communicate. No matter, let’s not split hairs.

I think it’s fair to say that the meeting produced all that was realistic in terms of updates on where we stand. It’s been suggested that Murray might have been pushed more on the price that Duchatelet is asking for us. But Murray apparently told The Trust that he is “not party to negotiations at all” and surely such information would be viewed as confidential. Chances are it’s going to be some time after any sale before we have an inkling of the terms and price, if we ever do.

For me the most important point was in the first line of The Trust’s account: “He (Murray) began by emphasising that the most significant point was that Roland has made up his mind to sell the club”. Of course he could change his mind, but that's not likely. The decision not to replace Meire was surely indicative in that respect. So whether a sale happens before the transfer window closes, in February (Murray's "most likely month"), or "at the latest by this summer", it is on. There's just no reason to suspect any double-dealing. 

So what do we, the fans – especially the boycotting fans – do about it. And here comes today’s second little irony. If I were not living in France (at least until end-March) I would resume going to matches. Sure, there’s been no actual change of ownership yet, but that’s only a matter of time. I don’t think there’s anything more that boycotting can achieve in terms of encouraging Duchatelet to sell (whether or not it did anything is a moot point), so now surely it’s just down to what we want: we want new owners (almost achieved) and we want to get promoted.

We are after all in a play-off spot! What’s to be gained by waiting another month or so until an actual sale? We have the opportunity both to give potential new owners a glimpse of what The Valley can look and feel like when there’s a good crowd. And surely a fuller stadium getting even more behind the team will only help Robinson and the team. The season looked like floundering a few weeks ago but the team eeked out a couple of ugly wins and momentum can count for a lot. After all, we’re now within striking distance of fifth. I can’t comment on they way the team is performing on the pitch, but just how we’ve got to where we are is surely less important than taking advantage of it.

So I’d suggest that the time is right for The Trust, in collaboration with CARD, to issue a joint call to all Addicks who have stopped attending to come back, to help in a promotion push. This wouldn’t mean any change in attitude towards Duchatelet (or prevent a resumption of boycotts and protests if there are reasons to do so further down the line). All along protesters have been acting in what they believe to be the best interests of our club. Perhaps now the downside of giving the regime a little gate money (no, not season tickets) are outweighed by the possibility of ending the season under new owners back in The Championship. 

Thursday 18 January 2018

Meeting Means Demo Off; Roland Daft To The End

I’ll bet a pound to a penny that Roland doesn’t believe in ‘rules’ when it comes to investments. They are for ordinary people and he is a visionary, so rules don’t apply to him. Stuff and nonsense of course, so here’s a rule that was drummed into me from an early age: when considering whether or not to continue with a venture you pay no account, absolutely none, to how much you have invested in it to date. Letting emotions (whether they be down to pride, stubbornness or just arrogance) interfere with the decision is a recipe for disaster.

I’ve no idea whether Duchatelet has been trying to engineer some sort of bidding war for us by having more than one interested party, to try to get the price as close as possible to his unrealistic demands. Neither am I sure that the mooted asking price is a reflection of his desire to come out of this with a profit (or at least a washed face). But from what we’ve learnt of the guy they are not outlandish assumptions. Perhaps he still hopes that some Chinese (or Russian) group with more money than sense will come out of the woodwork and afford him a dignified (in his eyes, not ours) exit.

Personally I’m surprised that anyone would pay more than £1 to acquire us, with everything else wrapped up in ‘if and when’ clauses. We are a loss-making company in League One and as such the only way to balance those losses is through player sales, which of course works against the goal of promotion. Barring some exceptional circumstances (which do occur), whereby a team with modest resources comes together under an influential manager and outperforms to the extent of getting promoted, getting back up to the second flight requires investment. And in the Championship you can expect to run materially higher losses just to hold your own. Perhaps the best way to handle this now is the approach adopted by Bournemouth – to get promotion to the Championship and then throw money in quickly to make the promised land in one or two seasons (and to hell with FFP requirements). That contrasts with Ipswich, who have been in the Championship since 2002 – and have as a result racked up substantial losses (I did see a figure quoted recently but can’t find it now).

Roland’s dream that FFP would create a more level playing field and that this, together with a network approach to move players around and contain costs, went out of the window a long time ago. All he is left with is a third-division football club. So just why anyone would consider paying the sort of price that has been suggested is beyond me. I would want to take over a debt-free company (with the debt parked only to be repaid if we get into the Premiership) with the purchase price reflecting an estimate of how much investment would be required to get into the Championship and then to cover say a couple of seasons there.

Of course the other way to value an asset is to use as a benchmark the price for similar recent sales (while accepting that no two football clubs are the same). This isn’t helped by the fact that it seems the norm not to disclose anything these days. The price for Barnsley wasn’t disclosed (nor was that for Northampton) but the talk was of £10-20m. We may consider them to be a ‘smaller’ club than us but they are of course already in a higher division.

I guess the bottom line is that so far at least none of our potential purchasers has budged sufficiently from realism into Duchatelet-pricing for a deal to be struck. That suggests that either he does materially lower his asking price – or we are stuck with him for a while longer, until he finally lowers his asking price.

All this is of course supposition and we now have a planned meeting of Richard Murray and the Trust before Saturday’s game, news of which has quite rightly prompted CARD to call off the planned protest outside the West Stand. I think it’s appreciated that there are issues of confidentiality involved and we are not going to get chapter and verse on who are the interested parties, what prices have been offered etc. But we will I hope get an insight into whether Duchatelet is really now just casting around for the highest price he can get and will indeed sell in the near future, how advanced are the negotiations, with some hint at least of the likely purchaser and their ambitions.

Because even to the last Duchatelet’s actions make no sense. Before we ground out a couple of 1-0 victories against poor sides our season looked like it was slipping away, especially with the transfer window expected to see the sale of another youngster. Now, with Holmes having departed (and I was sad to see some criticism of his actions, you can hardly blame the guy) but us clawing our way back into a play-off spot, I’d be looking to sell the club on the basis of promotion being a real prospect rather than trying to squeeze the last pips. Turning off the taps right now is obviously counter-productive for our promotion chances and this has to feed through to a sale price, as does any player sales. But we gave up on Roland acting rationally a long time ago.

Monday 8 January 2018

For the love of an apple terrine

A new reason for missing a football match has been added to the list: 
a desire not to ruin an apple terrine. Doesn’t sound compelling, does it ? 
But give me a bit of leeway here. Having landed in Lyon late on New 
Year’s Day for a minimum three-months stay my partner Suzanne and I 
are in the early phases of establishing a pattern of living together (this 
process so far seems to comprise her telling me that some habits which 
have gone unremarked for almost 20 years are apparently not 
acceptable for outright cohabitation and me apparently going out of my 
way to difficult, something I normally manage with ease). So when 
Suzanne informed me about an hour before the 8pm kick-off that her 
lovingly-crafted first attempt at an apple terrine could be endangered by 
us going to the game discretion became the better part of valour. 
If truth be told I was less than totally committed to the game – and a little 
more conviction on my part and Suzanne would have risked an 
extended break between the part where the ever-compressing apple and 
caramel/calvados concoction goes from being stuck in a sort of bain 
marie to being put in the oven. I was feeling lazy (a natural state but 
encouraged by still getting over one of those bloody annoying colds that 
won’t disappear), there was a good Crozes-Hermitage ready and waiting, 
while going to the game would have meant bolting down a very nice 
poultry dish (I still don’t know exactly what it was as Suzanne could only 
describe it as ‘the wife of the duck’) rather than treating it with the respect 
it deserved.  
So we passed on Duchere’s potentially important home game against the 
splendidly named Red Star (France’s second-oldest football club, 
founded by Jules Rimet). Potentially important because going into the 
match La Duch sat in eighth place in France’s National (third division), 
really in need of a win against a better placed rival to get involved in the 
promotion race. It’s been a decent start to the season for a side still 
adjusting to life in a national league and in terms of support base 
punching well above its weight (Saturday’s attractive fixture was played 
out in front of 377 spectators). But unlike last season the division is quite 
stretched out, with what look like some strong sides at the top (including 
Red Star, relegated last season from the second tier). For their part Red 
Star were looking for a win to enhance their promotion prospects, no 
doubt keen to get back up at the first attempt. 
From the highlights of the game it would appear the first half was a very 
dull affair (one shot each deemed worthy of showing, both tame efforts). 
But it perked up in the second, with Duchere seemingly having the best 
of it based on chances. This seemed the case right to the end, when in 
stoppage time Red Star had a player sent off (seems he was given a 
yellow for holding onto the ball to delay a restart then must have called 
the ref a Trump/Duchatelet as another followed), Duchere went up the 
other end and a shot just past the post proved the final kick. 
A 0-0 draw sees Duchere either stay eighth or edge up to seventh, 
depending on which site you look at. Basically with 21 points from 16 
games (and a record of won five, drawn six, lost five) they are joint sixth 
with Pau and Dunkerque. But the top three (there are two automatic 
promotion spots and a play-off for the team ending third) are looking 
solid : Rodez on 31 points (despite having lost their last game, at home 
to Marseilles Consolat), Red Star and Grenoble both on 28 points. This 
division does seem to ebb and flow, but it’s going to take a storming 
second half of the season and a sustained run of good results for 
Duchere to launch a real promotion bid and get into the top three. A 
late winner on Friday could have made all the difference, but wasn’t to be. 
Progress will nevertheless be monitored - and reported on. Next up on 
Friday they travel to Pau, which might be stretching it as far as being 
there is concerned. A week later and it should be at home to relegation-
threatened Les Herbiers. Not quite the glamour of a match against Red 
Star (the town is apparently twinned with Newtown in Wales and it’s 
claim to fame is hosting an annual bicycle time trial), but I’ve pencilled 
that one in. 
In the interim, having seen the back of Pinocchio we wait impatiently 
for concrete takeover news. The signs are encouraging : Meire not 
being replaced, Duchatelet seemingly so self-deluded that he was 
reportedly ‘stunned’ by her jumping ship, plus his evident focus away 
from January window signings, and if the reports are to be believed 
Robinson calling Duchatelet what we have known him to be for some 
time now – and not being shown the door. All of this smacks of a man 
ready to walk away, presumably if his inflated pride can be sufficiently 
assuaged by the price. That what he does is not driven by the best 
interests of the club, something now apparent to Robinson, will be his 
legacy, right to the end. That only underlines how inadequate a 
custodian of our club he has shown himself to be, whether or not he 
sells up in the near future.