If the fresh speculation proves correct and it is to be the Australian Football Consortium, how do we feel about that? First and foremost, we dance. Barring unlikely developments today, the next opportunity for all Addicks to mark the end of the Duchatelet era will be the home game against Scunthorpe on 14 April. Assuming a deal is confirmed before Easter, I hope that CARD will switch from planning a protest for Easter Monday’s game to turning the match at The Valley into a celebration – and a welcome to the new owners. CARD can take a bow for its role in helping to bring about the change (it still beggars belief that Roland can talk in terms of selling because you can’t succeed if the twelfth man – ie the supporters – is not with you, having done so much to alienate him/her).
There are inevitably plus and minus points arising from what we know or believe about our assumed new owners (and we await confirmation that it will be a ‘lock, stock and barrels’ purchase). But just for the record (it really shouldn’t be necessary), I couldn’t give a monkey’s that they are Australian rather than Belgian. Like every country, Australia has its problems, its share of morons. The fact that we broadly share a language, or that the UK and Australia have historic ties, mean absolutely nothing; arguably if you buy into the idea that Australia has a pro-sport approach there could be something to be said in that an understanding of sport might work against surrounding yourself with – and backing the views of – those who do not. But really, we are talking about individuals here, not countries. And it’s not as if Australia has accumulated expertise in football.
Like just about everyone else I welcomed Duchatelet’s purchase of our club at the time – and there were some early positives (in addition to bills being paid), such as no plan to move from The Valley and initial expressions of support for Sir Chris. It was only when we started to learn about the character that the flags really went up, with concerns then cemented by what he actually said and did. So please, let’s not have any talk about welcoming our new owners because of their nationality (if they were Russian, Chinese etc it would be an issue for discussion given track records elsewhere, goals and expectations etc). It is all down to individuals.
So let’s try a loose pros and cons assessment:
(+) Yet to be confirmed but fair to assume that the AFC has no plans for a move from The Valley. That would be a material distraction from their stated goals and, since they have been raising funds on the basis of a prospectus, would surely need to have been disclosed.
(+) The objectives of the AFC are surely in line with the wishes of all Addicks: “to acquire an underperforming English football team with a view to elevating the club back to the Premier League”. Yes please. Some may not like the comparison, but the benefit of the Jimenez/Slater period was that the only point of their involvement was to get us promoted from the third flight, so they and the fans had common interest.
(+) Others may not agree, but from the wording of the AFC it seems clear that they will not be going for some ‘quick fix’ but will invest and accept that achieving their overall objective will take time. That suggests that even if they fail they would sell the club on in a reasonable state rather than a ‘boom or bust’ resulting in the latter.
(+) I found it significant that when there was first talk of us being the AFC’s target and the Trust (if memory serves correct) contacted them, the AFC website wording was changed to incorporate that they accept a responsibility “to honour and respect the history and tradition of the club and ensure that the fans are respected as key stakeholders in the process”. Only words for now of course, but the right ones.
(-) Under Duchatelet we were an experiment. With the AFC as owners we still will be. There is no precedent for a Football League club succeeding (or failing) on the back of a venture to “incorporate the very best local, Australian and global sports leadership ...” Just how far the AFC will go in prioritising ‘Australian’ over ‘the very best’ remains to be seen, as does whether there proves to be any tangible benefit from Australian input.
(-) AFC is a purely financial venture. It has raised money in the expectation that it will make money. If it fails the consortium can simply be wound up, investors in it accept that they took a punt and it didn’t work out. Just what happens to Charlton Athletic is, in that context, irrelevant, there’s no sentiment or emotional tie – and the chances are that if further down the line AFC goes bust it will be with a long list of creditors, so investors will probably not be bothered about the chances of getting some money back from a sale of the club. May be nothing, but for me a concern.
(-) Money. Enough has been written elsewhere about whether AFC has sufficient capital to fund getting us back into The Championship and then The Premiership. Of course if things are going well after a few years they would have the option to raise more if necessary, so we can’t make assumptions based on their current balance sheet (even if we had it). But this has to be a risk factor.
Harry Kewell? No more than a gut feeling at this stage but I’d view him coming in as manager as a positive. He seems to talk a lot more sense than Robinson (which is setting the bar rather low) and to have more about him. Of course, if an AFC takeover is confirmed early next week, would he be brought in now? Perhaps that depends on Saturday’s result. We beat Plymouth under Bowyer/Jackson and promotion this season is back on the cards and bringing in a new manager from outside would make no short-term sense. If we lose, it might make more sense but then we will be planning for next season and there would seem to be no rush. So that would be a decision for AFC to make, another with pros and cons.
There will no doubt be other issues, but while keeping the negatives in mind we should focus on the positives. If we are bought by AFC it will be a fresh chapter in the history of our club, one which will follow a very dark one, so we welcome it and stand ready to play our part in making it succeed. If we get the news we are waiting for, I’ll be buying a ticket for Scunthorpe (of course if we don't writing this - and reading it - has been a complete waste of time).