Thursday 20 August 2020

Blinding Start From Sandgaard

Like I suspect every other Addick I’ve been spending the period since the final whistles blew quietly hoping for a miracle and relegation to still be avoided, periodically fuming over the ‘decisions’ of the EFL and its independent groupings conspiring to prevent such a miracle (and still from time to time over the sheer bad luck when it came to stoppage time goals that put us in such a position), and racking my brain to try to fathom out – in the absence of any inside info but an overload of speculation and comment from those who may or may not currently own us - some viable path to our club having decent owners, whether or not this would involve administration (a price worth paying for such an outcome), and whether being kicked out of the league would be avoided (OK, too high a price).

In this situation best I think to start with what are the priorities. First and foremost, obviously enough, is for us to have a club to support. Not a given as the clock is ticking down to the start of the new season with no guarantee as things stand that we would be allowed to participate. Second, to have an owner/owners we can be confident aren’t in it for a fast buck (or a slower one involving getting us out of The Valley), or indeed some madcap (or worse) plan to show the world how clever they are. Until that is the case success on the pitch is almost bound to be short-lived - and let’s face it we’ve had more than a decade of justified mistrust through to outright anger at the owners of our club, even if that period has contained two promotions. To say that the chances of positive outcomes on these two fronts – after which all other objectives, including avoiding administration are decidedly secondary - have ebbed and flowed over recent weeks would be something of an understatement.

We know the situation and background, but just to underline the tragi-comedy has there ever been a case before of a football club which may currently be owned by any one of three different parties, two of which would like to sell it asap (and one of the two involving two individuals no longer talking to each other) and the third is incapable of securing EFL approval, while two parties (now presumably one as the Varney/Barclay option is at best on hold) stand ready to take on the club and buy its assets if a way through can be found?

Nevertheless, have we finally struck lucky with Thomas Sandgaard? The best evidence (for me) for believing that we indeed have is provided in the 17-minute Sky interview. For a number of reasons.

First, it’s clear from what he says he isn’t coming into football ownership on a whim, or to prove some theory, or has been sold on Charlton by some go-between. Somebody clearly did plant the idea in his head of buying a football club, which took seed, but Sandgaard indicates something of a selection process which involved looking at – and talking to - a variety of clubs (if memory serves correct he mentions Sunderland, Swansea, QPR and Wigan in addition to us). He comes across as someone who once he makes up his mind follows through on the decision and he has selected us, based on the opportunity potential (versus price). From the tone of his interview I’d be confident that despite all the obstacles to a deal he will only walk away if all avenues have been explored and exhausted. For that alone we have cause for optimism.

Second, it looks as though he finds ways to get things done. He’s managed to get Duchatelet involved and talking to him, something which others have been unable to do (most obviously Peter Varney, whether or not this is due to the work of Richard Murray). When he found the normal avenues not open he made his interest public and engaged with supporters, pushing open the doors, without alienating those involved. And whatever the real truth of the matter in the interview he talks respectfully of those other parties. Tells me he is more interested in cutting the right deal than massaging his ego.

Third, no question he’s sharp as a tack. One question in the interview was (deliberately or not) a little vague, dealing with the club’s current financial situation. Sandgaard was asked if being able to conclude a deal in principle (seemingly now the immediate objective, ahead of clarification from the courts over whether Paul Elliott did indeed take us over) might pave the way to him providing some funds. Straight off he replied that it would be normal to wait until the ink is dried on an actual deal (which indeed it would) while then not entirely ruling out the possibility under certain conditions. He could easily have slipped up and said something he might later need to clarify/withdraw.

Fourth, I don’t mind admitting I almost burst out with unbridled joy when in the interview Sandgaard talked of already learning so much from his involvement with Charlton. Contrast this with the approach of Duchatelet, who obviously knew everything there was to know before he came knocking at our door. With him our job was to turn up, cheer on the team, and provide loyal and unquestioned backing for his daft plans. He would never want to talk to fans as there was clearly nothing he could possibly learn (and in any event he had his boy with a laptop to tell him which players to buy and to select). Sandgaard gave the impression that he was looking forward to the challenge, that he will get enjoyment from it and benefit from it personally. I always found it rather sad that Duchatelet never seemed to derive any pleasure from his involvement in football, one reason I’d suggest that he is so bad at it.

If there was an area in the interview to quibble over it could be Sandgaard’s suggestion that our owners have fallen out with the fans as they failed to deliver on promises – and that by implication it might take some time for him to build trust. The level of anger and protests against Duchatelet were not based on results. They reflected his refusal to treat fans as stakeholders in the club, with an input that could be valuable, and the contempt he showed for our club by making it part of his ill-thought out experiments (along with several other related reasons). Such an attitude ensured that fans’ goodwill – of which there was plenty back in 2014 – rapidly evaporated.

In this context Sandgaard’s made a blinding start. We do want our club, and him, to succeed – which means progress, however slowly or rapidly. He’s made reassuring comments about The Valley, about Lee Bowyer and his team, about the club staff etc. The goodwill on our part is already there. We might quibble about prioritising getting back to the Championship (assuming we are no longer in it) over playing attacking football (obviously both would be great) and there are bound to be problems and areas of disagreement if he becomes owner. But I hope he doesn’t underestimate that Charlton fans are sick of protesting, we did it because we had to, for the good of the club and want nothing more than to be able to focus on matters on the pitch.

That said, were I in London I’d be at The Valley on Saturday to join in the Trust-organised protest. There is much as yet unresolved and, with our hopes having been raised again, were a deal for a Sandgaard takeover to fall through we would be in a very sorry situation (another understatement). It is still fingers-crossed for now.

I should perhaps add that unlike most other Addicks (I assume) I’ve been following recent events while tramping around the vineyards of Beaujolais and Burgundy. I timed my first trip to France since February to enable me to self-isolate if necessary and then head off with my partner Suzanne to places close enough to Lyon not to fall foul of any fresh travel restrictions. But all of that (including the attractions of certain Beaujolais appellations and the delights of a week in a windmill at the top of a hill with panoramic views of the Chalonnaise countryside, including the Givry and Mercurey vineyards) is for another day, probably one following my prospective two weeks of self-isolation on my return to the UK (another price worth paying). Stay safe.