Wednesday 30 September 2020

Does The World Follow The Fortunes Of Charlton?


We’re not far short of a week into the Thomas Sandgaard era and no indication yet of anything to rock the boat off the pitch, although on it the outcome at Lincoln wasn’t exactly what we had in mind – and even what I might have bet on until close to half-time. Yes, the result was infinitely less important than the ownership change, but nevertheless. Had hoped for a real spring in the players' steps, to reflect the enthusiasm of the interview with Sandgaard and Lee Bowyer. We sort of had it for the first half but Lincoln did a job on us in the second, having been gifted the lead, getting bodies behind the ball.

The lessons I’d take from the game were that first, it underlined that the loss of both Pearce and Aneka has really hurt us. We started the game with two debutants and introduced a third, with Amos and Barker still feeling their way in too. Hardly surprising that we are not as yet a cohesive operational unit aware of its strengths and how to play to them. I thought Oztumer took his rare opportunity well, he made things happen and when he and Levitt were pulling the strings in the first half we were looking pretty good. As they faded and were replaced we lost tempo I thought. Williams has different strengths and relies on some space to run with the ball. Against Lincoln that just meant coming up against a brick wall. And to be fair we’d run out of steam well before their late second goal (whatever happened to putting someone on the line?).

Perhaps the players are as mentally tired as the fans. It has felt very strange this week not having to contemplate what the next twist and turn might be (please let there be none), not to think about protests and how to register our dissatisfaction, not to have to follow the transcript of the latest court hearing. It doesn’t help of course that we can’t really meet up with fellow Addicks and raise an extended toast to our new owner before a lengthy ruby to round things off. Strange times indeed.

No matter, let’s focus on the fact that the Sandgaard/Bowyer interview was an absolute joy to listen to, to hear a Charlton Athletic owner talk credibly in terms of long-term goals on the pitch rather than an experiment, some desire to prove some point (guess who), or hollow pledges which nobody bought into (more recent). He sounded also as if he would enjoy the ride (I always found it rather sad that there was never any sign that Duchatelet actually got any pleasure from involvement in football). That, as Bowyer told him, Sandgaard will get a hero’s reception when the day comes for fans back inside The Valley is beyond doubt. Since the news broke I’ve been unable to get rid of the gravelly voice of Lee Hazlewood: “I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me”. I hope our rock start owner would approve.

And let’s face it, it’s really not just us Addicks who should be celebrating our upturn in fortunes. I’ve been working on a thesis, one in its infancy that I hope will prompt more detailed study in academic circles to establish its veracity and what we can learn from it. There does, however, seem to be a strong correlation between Charlton doing well and the world progressing/being optimistic. When either turns positive the other tends to follow, with some lag – and vice versa. Just look at the facts.

We can begin with most of the world celebrating the end of WW2 and what happens virtually in the same breath? Charlton lift the FA Cup. More recently, as we plummeted to near-bankruptcy in 1984 and left The Valley in 1985 Ronald Reagan was getting a second term in the US and the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl exploded. As we turned things around and secured promotion to the top flight later in 1986 (staying there until 1990), things brightened for the world in general, leading to the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 (and after that the Oslo Accord etc).

Fast forward to more recent times and of course we were relegated from the Premiership in 2007 (could argue that the turning point was appointing Dowie in 2006). What followed of course was the onset of the financial crisis – and as our fortunes soured further so the world went to pot as well. We get lumbered with Duchatelet and the world post-crisis recession, then the Brexit referendum, Trump and Covid-19.

Our fortunes have now undoubtedly taken a major turn for the good. I guess we have to see if the world follows suit, again, and if so the thesis gains more credence. While I’m not looking to fill in the obvious gaps as regards the next step, we will get a good idea in early November with the result of a certain election the other side of the pond. 

Friday 25 September 2020

Let It Be So

I may be the last to break out the bubbly, get out the dancing shoes, and echo every other Addick’s heart-felt welcome to Thomas Sandgaard. I’m ready and waiting, with a large glass of red (to be followed by several others and a cognac). And I can’t wait any longer (this is France after all and I'm an hour ahead). But there’s that nagging part of me that still wants confirmation, which basically amounts to hearing that Paul Elliot has either been paid off or is now taking legal action against his former legal team for gross incompetence, preferably the latter.

Yes, we’re well aware that TS has good people working for him; and just about everyone involved wants it to be a fait accompli. Perhaps acting quickly to make funds available and, with confirmation that the EFL’s tests are not a problem, to sign up some of those players waiting in line will help strengthen the impression that this is a deal that cannot be unwound. But I don’t put any store by the notion that because TS’ legal team is very good it necessarily means that the case is watertight. Legal teams offer advice and take instructions, they do not decide the course of action or the outcome, inside or outside court.

I find it astonishing that Elliot’s team might have left such a simple loophole, to allow TS to buy the club from ESI rather than ESI itself. I also don’t know how a court might react if told that some individuals gave testimony in court that they had no evidence of an imminent takeover (of ESI) while being well aware of a plan to buy the only asset that ESI owned. There is such a thing as the spirit of the law and it has bite, so does any suggestion of courts being treated with contempt by those being economical with the truth.

Just what TS paid to ESI for the club could, I think, also be material here. If he paid a material amount to ESI, Elliot could seek redress by seeking to get all or part of that money. It would be an utterly desirable outcome to see Elliot, Nimer and Southall tear themselves apart and blow all the money available to them on legal fees. If instead TS paid the notional £1 it could, to a court, smell.

So please forgive me for still having those concerns. Hopefully by the time I wake up tomorrow they will have gone. Then I’ll just have the hangover to worry about.


Saturday 19 September 2020

Performance In Keeping With Poor Week


No disguising the fact that it was pretty horrible. No complaints about the result. For five or so minutes early in the game we were on top and had three chances, culminating in the best of the bunch as Bonne headed wide. Once Doncaster scored they were pretty much in charge and we seldom got above scrappy to put them under the sort of pressure that might have turned things around. Two more goals in the second half and we were staring at embarrassment, before Washington headed in what proved to be a small consolation. Badly beaten by a decent enough team but nothing more, their coherence contrasting with our lack of understanding. 

The team saw Amos continue in goal, with Barker, Oshilaja, Pratley and Purrington making up the back four, Gilbey, Forster-Caskey, Morgan and Doughty in midfield, leaving Washington and Bonne up front, although as the club site indicated Washington was down the left rather than forming a front two. With Aneke missing from the bench, my thought before the start was that we might struggle if we didn’t score first.

In the event Doncaster had the better of the early exchanges, knocking it around well and probing, but in a five-minute spell we suddenly created chances. First Washington was able to hold off defenders and shot hard across the face of the goal, Doughty coming in at the far post was just unable to get there. Then Gibley cut in from the left and forced a decent save. And to round things off a corner was half-cleared then driven back in, finding Bonne on his own with what looked like the goal at his mercy. It did come to him hard, but he failed to control the effort, sending a header wide.

That proved as good as it got. After a mixed spell Pratley played a loose pass in defence and we were caught napping. There still seemed no great danger as their guy shaped up to shoot from a fair way out. But whether the shot swerved, got deflected, or came through players it deceived Amos, who failed to get near it.

It was a poor goal to give away and we responded badly, nobody seemed to step up. Amos looked a little unsettled, nearly making a hash of a back pass and spilling a ball in, although as half-time approached he redeemed himself with a good save to turn one around the post. It was in that spell pretty much all Doncaster. 

No complaints about the scoreline at the break and clearly we needed to play better to get anything out of the game. You hoped there might have been some choice words from Bowyer to gee things up and to get us on the front foot. But the second half was only a few minutes old when we went further behind as a hard, low cross was turned into his own net by Barker, who with a guy behind him reading to tap it in was unable to get the ball over the bar. Unfortunate but an early test of character you felt to see how he would respond.

In the event we didn’t really get to find out as Bowyer took him off to bring on Williams, presumably as a tactical switch. But although Bonne got in behind and from a tight angle had a shot blocked by their keeper’s foot, just after the hour we went further behind. Played across our box to one of their guys on the right side. He cut inside, took it on, and smashed it into the top corner. Poor defending again as he really didn’t have to do that much to get into a goalscoring position.

At that point there seemed no way back for us. But the door was prised open a little not long after as a corner was half-cleared, put back in, knocked back from the far post, and Washington headed it in. A lifeline, but could we capitalise on it? Quite frankly Doncaster were able to see out the game with no further alarms. There were moments and in stoppage time Bonne headed over again and Gilbey hit the bar. But it was all far too little too late.

Most games you take away some positives, but especially after the past week for the club a reminder that we are patching up and making good was not needed. Concede three goals and the game is usually up, while our midfield seldom functioned as a cohesive unit and Bonne missed the chances that came his way. Worse than all that, we didn’t really look up for the challenge. Too many put in what looked like peripheral performances, players struggled out of normal positions, and perhaps not surprisingly they looked as if they had only just met each other. There’s a lot of work to be done. 

Player Ratings: 

Amos – 5/10. Have to look at the first goal again but fact is he was well beaten from a long way out; some decent saves but also one or two other iffy moments.

Barker – 6/10. No sense dwelling on the sort of own goal that every defender concedes sooner or later. Unfortunate that Bowyer subbed him not long after, for what I assume were tactical reasons.

Purrington – 5/10. Seemed at least partly culpable for their third goal, bad day for the defence all round.

Oshilaja – 6/10. Can’t remember him doing anything wrong, but don’t remember that many key challenges either.

Pratley – 5/10. Curate’s egg of a game. Put us under pressure with the pass that led to their first goal, almost cost us a late one with a risky overhead kick out with no idea where anyone was. But also made some vital late interventions.

Morgan – 5/10. Just didn’t see enough of him, probably reflected the lack of understanding across the midfield.

Forster-Caskey – 6/10. Came more into things in the second half, but look to him to control a game and not enough of that.

Gilbey – 5/10. My first sight of him and not going to judge him on today in a bad day pretty much all round. Seemed to struggle to get involved, expect to see more of the box-to-box in the future.

Doughty – 5/10. Poor game by his standards. Didn’t seem involved.

Bonne – 5/10. Worked hard enough but when the chances came along he missed them.

Washington – 6/10. Not sure what he’s doing on the left side rather than forming a potent out-and-out front two, but did score and worked hard.

Subs – Williams (6/10 – did make things happen and control of the ball but others around him to shame); Lapslie (no mark, not on long enough).


Friday 18 September 2020

Not Exactly As Planned But Nil Desperandum


Just how serious a setback for our club yesterday’s court decision will prove only time will tell. Suffice to say that it was only Paul Elliot and his lawyers celebrating last night, everyone else involved with Charlton Athletic hanging their heads. And to compound the misery we hear that Thomas Sandgaard apparently will not deal with Elliot because it would go against his “personal integrity”. In other words, if that line is stuck to, for good or bad reasons, there will be no out-of-court payment to Elliot to walk away, ruling out one avenue by which Sandgaard might complete the takeover that we want to see – and which he has led us to believe was imminent.

I really don’t want to sound negative – for the record again we are very fortunate to have attracted Sandgaard’s interest and will rejoice if he emerges as our new owner, getting out those dancing shoes that we put on (prematurely it has proven) in January - but there’s that moment (one of many) in Lawrence of Arabia when Auda Abu Tayi turns to Sherif Ali and comments “he is not perfect” (with Lawrence having lied about there being gold in Aqaba). Let’s face it, Sandgaard has had his first slip-up since coming onto the scene as our saviour.

Everyone saw his expressions of delight at the first announcement that Paul Elliot’s case for an injunction on ESI selling us had been rejected by Judge Richard Pearce. When Elliot on 8 September won the right to go to the appeal court Sandgaard told the South London Press that “there is no reason for the fans to worry” and that his taking over was going “exactly as planned”. Then there were the reassurances ahead of the Appeal Court’s judgement that the outcome would have no bearing on his plans, which stoked the rumours that his people had indeed found a loophole to either take Elliot out of the picture or reverse the original sale by Duchatelet to ESI(1).

None of that squares with his comments after Elliot was granted his injunction until a November trial. “I’m working with some of the smartest people to figure out how we make that happen without dealing with certain people”. So the planning/figuring out is still going on, with no guarantee of a successful solution, however smart the people involved are. “What really matters to me now is we show the world that the fans want this deal done. That might actually have an impact – and obviously I’m hoping the EFL will take notice”. We do want the deal done, please believe us, but there is no real court of popular opinion; and if fans’ pressure on the EFL is likely to prove material to the outcome I find it hard to believe that all is going according to plan.

I suspect I’m more sympathetic than most to the position the EFL finds itself in. That doesn’t mean I think it is fit for purpose, it demonstrably is not (the Sheff Wed example being the most obvious). But rather I think it has been overwhelmed by issues that it is not constructed to deal with, involving areas of rules and regulations that are being shown to be inadequate. The problem is, just as courts are asked to make rulings on specific issues (and not necessarily the wider picture) the EFL can’t simply tear up these rules and regulations without due process. I don’t think it does us any good if we end up blaming the EFL for a dire outcome (a bit like a cyclist blaming the motorist for putting him/her in hospital – perhaps true but no help), we have to find ways in which the EFL can contribute to a positive outcome (for us).

So we have to live with the fact that, according to the Trust following its meeting with EFL representatives, there is no timetable for an appeal process for someone who failed their ODT. Seems astonishing unless you keep in mind that until the chancers currently involved with our club came along just about nobody failed the test. Why have a timetable for appeal when it’s reasonable to assume first, that anyone not actually banged up will pass, and second, that anyone who is disqualified would want an appeal to be heard as quickly as possible.

So I do think there is mileage in consultations with the EFL to pressure them to get a ruling on Elliot’s position asap. There may be no timetable, but there is a procedure - and surely if the EFL finds it has reasonable grounds for concluding that the appellant (Elliot) is not complying with due process (eg by not responding to requests for information, for the process of creating the independent panel to consider his appeal) it would be able to rule that this non-compliance is grounds for rejecting an appeal outright before a formal hearing. I suspect the EFL would need to be led to such a conclusion rather than reaching it itself. We learnt on 7 August that the EFL had rejected three ODT applications. Elliot has said that the problems are “technicalities”. So make him prove that. Quickly.

Seems that others want the EFL to give a quick ruling on whether Sandgaard has/would pass its tests. Might be good to know, but I fail to see how that would amount to a hill of beans in the current situation. Sandgaard is not the owner of Charlton and the means by which he might become the owner is not dependent on the EFL.

Barring an EFL ruling on Elliot, seems we either wait for the November trial or Sandgaard/Duchatelet do indeed find grounds for tearing up the original sale to ESI(1). The ex-directors remain an outside bet but presumably that too would involve the courts (unless perhaps Duchatelet comes out and admits that he broke contract law with the original sale and makes amends. For someone who can never recognise a mistake that is probably a step too far).

If there is a loophole, whether or not involving rent payments or share purchases, now is the time to act on it. Now we have the court ruling there is no reason to sit on something like this, if it exists. If it does not, come out and tell us. Sandgaard has to date made good use of communication with fans and the media (it was after all the means by which he forced open the door to a takeover).

No accurate update and no action in the days ahead and we will have to conclude that no loophole has been found, however clever those looking for one are, and at best some credibility will have been lost. Not the end of the world. With Varney/Barclay now joined by the Turkish consortium on the sidelines there is only one acceptable owner in play (have to say I thought the Turkish group let itself down with its obvious lack of suitable ambition for our club: “We had a 10-year project; first of all to reach the Premier League; and then reach the Europa League” – what’s wrong with the Champions League?).

For now it’s back to matters on the pitch for the Doncaster visit and fingers crossed that someone will be paying the wages and that the latest setback doesn’t usher in the departure of Phillips, Doughty or Bonne (albeit the situation with Phillips different from the other two).


Tuesday 15 September 2020

Wishin' and hopin'

Nobody’s in any doubt that we want Thomas Sandgaard to emerge as the owner of our club, including its associated assets, as soon as humanly possible, and for Duchatelet, Nimer, Southall, Elliot and all their actual or possible contacts/backers etc to disappear (we are I suspect willing to see the Varney/Barclay partnership still be in the picture, in case money runs out further down the line). Just that earnestly desiring such an outcome doesn’t make it happen – and there does seem to be some wishful thinking involved in some quarters. In the words of the immortal Dusty Springfield (or rather whoever actually wrote the song), “wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’, plannin’ and dreamin’ each night of his charms, that won’t get you into his arms.”

We do I think, however regrettably, have to acknowledge the fact that Elliot has a realistic case, not necessarily a winning one, as to date the courts have ruled (which is to say absolutely nothing with regard to his recent statement of intentions concerning our club). There is no doubt that Duchatelet sold us to Nimer/Southall, ie East Street Investments, and that ESI in turn readily acknowledged that it had sold us on to Elliot. It said as much – and for a period Elliot acted, without contradiction from any other party, as if the purchase had been finalised and he was the owner.

If indeed the deal between Nimer (dragging Southall with him) and Elliot took the form of a binding and exclusive agreement to sell subject to certain conditions, presumably Elliot and his people passing the EFL’s fit and proper person test, that agreement stands I assume unless and until Elliot’s appeal against the EFL’s rejection of him has been heard. In that context the fact that Elliot has not yet paid the £1 for the shares in ESI is I think irrelevant, as implied by the fact that the first judge did not throw out his claim for an injunction; after all, the original judge’s verdict was not that Elliot did not have a case, only that the case needed to be fully explored with a trial and that the risks involved with an injunction on a further sale in the interim outweighed the benefits of an injunction (the line that was overturned by the court of appeal).

We’ve subsequently seen the rumours that ESI has not made a scheduled rent payment and that on this basis Duchatelet could tear up the original sale of the club to ESI, rendering irrelevant whether or not Nimer actually sold us on to Elliot. Love to see that happen, but I find it hard to believe that Elliot would not have another case to put before the bench. I would imagine he could reasonably claim that as the shares in ESI have not formally been transferred and he is not yet formally the owner of ESI (the company) he is not yet liable for the rent payment (or indeed able to make it other than in the form of a loan to ESI) but that he stands ready to make the payment as soon as the EFL accepts his appeal and declares him fit and proper and he completes the purchase of ESI.

I would imagine (but I’m not a lawyer) that a court would be sympathetic to such a position, especially if Elliot can indeed point to his already having spent £0.5m keeping Charlton going. That Duchatelet may be furious that he hasn’t had his due dosh is his problem and his alone, one he brought on himself by pricing decent buyers out of the market for our club and dealing with chancers. I’m also inclined to believe that if the original sale to ESI could have been scrapped by this means it would already have happened.

That leaves us with the possibility that the ex-directors could still emerge as the white knights to contest/reverse the original sale by Duchatelet to ESI, which would I imagine take some time to work its way through the courts, or that for whatever reason/incentive Elliot agrees to stand aside and tear up his deal with Nimer, leaving the way clear for Sandgaard to pay Nimer his £1 and then cut a new, clean deal with Duchatelet, or for ESI to go into liquidation (which as things stand we assume Duchatelet does not want to happen). That too has not yet happened, which means that either no incentive has been offered to Elliot, no acceptable incentive has been offered to Elliot, or that he – and/or whoever is behind him - is not interested in walking away at any price.

Here too wishin’ and hopin’ doesn’t look likely to cut it, but the court’s ruling on Thursday will presumably change the picture for better or worse. If Elliot gets an injunction on a sale until a November trial at the least the price for him walking away goes up (and vice versa). So too would an EFL ruling on Elliot’s appeal. If he passes the test I imagine he pays the £1 for the shares, pays Roland his rent, and then argues the toss over whether or not he will after all sell. The only upside to that scenario is that at least presumably the EFL’s restrictions on our transfer spending would be lifted.

I’ve no idea of the chances of either or both decisions going our way. Presumably the EFL decision is the more important since if Elliot is blocked again by the EFL, which could not be down to ‘technicalities’, surely his purchase agreement with Nimer goes by the board, even if he gets his injunction. One day there will be clarity, but in the interim wishin’ and hopin’ is what we are left with – including of course when it comes to tonight’s game.