Having returned home from sunny Tenerife the news all seems to be bad on the Charlton front.
In no particular order there are further developments on the proposed takeover - or further 'leaked' stories that point to the conclusion that there is (and probably always has been) a gap between what the buyers want to pay for the club, and what the current board expect to 'receive' after the take over has been concluded. I am not going to debate what these differences could be, but the fact that the 'option' of administration has been 'leaked' would suggest that we are coming to the end of the mind games. If the situation is not resolved soon then I would expect there to be no change on ownership before the season starts. Once one side (and we don't really know which one) has 'threatened' the other with administration you can be sure that they are running out of negotiating tricks.
I have been rather critical of the current board in the last couple of months. I have, however, always made it clear that this criticism is based on some assumptions that may well turn out to be incorrect. I'm being deliberately generous to the current board as I am trying to build a case for suggesting that sometimes it is better the devil you know.
I have no real idea just how many people in the world are willing to 'invest' millions of pounds of their money in our failing football club. What I do know is that the current board have done just that, so I think we can assume that they (however bad their decisions have been) are in that group of people willing to invest their own fortunes. The potential new owners are unknown to me. I'm not saying I don't know them very well, I'm saying I don't know who they are. They could be genuine Charlton fans with too much money and a desire and willingness to swap millions and millions of pounds of their money to see our club succeed. On the other hand they could be far from that.
I'm not sure what would be worse, a group of Charlton fans with no real money but the offer of loans that they would use to acquire the club and then no working capital or, a group of wealthy men that have no real allegiance to our club but think it would be fun to own a Premier League football club and have no idea just how far away from that we really are. Either way the potential for us to be in further takeover talks (or worse rescue talks) in a year or two should not be underestimated.
Ultimately we managed to 'survive' in the Premier League for much longer than a club our side could genuinely expect to. This was achieved by spending more than the club earned each year until we fell out of the Premier League. Thus we fell into the Championship with running costs we could never hope to sustain and debts that were unserviceable. The rights and wrongs of allowing Pardew to spend something like £15m on players* (most of which we cannot now give away, or have left for free anyway) have been covered already. The point is that promotion to the Premier League was necessary to avoid the subsequent sell off and decline that I don't believe is anywhere near finished yet.
The news blackout has been very frustrating but even if the takeover was not in progress the only realistic news that could have been communicated was that we are actively seeking transfer fees for all our players while scrambling around for free transfers to sign.
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that even if we didn't know it at the time the Premier League years were providing us with football 'wealth' or 'status' that was being borrowed from the future. Thus the price of those seven years was a decade or two struggling in the lower levels of the second, third and potentially even forth tier of English football. It is difficult for the board to come out and say it (and I'm not saying they didn't enjoy the ride too) but the truth is that, ignoring the parts played by Curbishley and Varney, the board have bankrolled the good years with money the club just didn't have. Thus I can understand their disbelief when thousands of fans refuse to put their money where their mouths are when the board have put theirs in and are expected to do so again.
I could go on to list comparisons all day long, but the point is probably already made. We have no money, we have a football club that owes so much that it is debatable as to our ability to clear the debt if we sold everything (including The Valley), and we have fixed running costs that are greater than our income before we actually include the players salaries. I know that much of that debt is to the board members, but despite calls from fans it is unrealistic to expect them to waive it. Even if they did I'm not sure I would like someone to acquire the club and The Valley for a couple of million quid when the stadium could be sold for a lot more than that to a developer. Sunley Homes anyone?
My belief is that we have got to endure some medicine for a while. I know that is not what anyone wants to hear but, unlike Southampton, our Stadium is a few minutes walk to a main line train station that can have you in Central London in about twenty minutes. The Friends Provident Stadium is in the middle of an industrial estate and is probably just about worthless to anyone other that the Saints. Thus the threat to take it away was always pointless. If Charlton go into Administration it is likely that the best option for those that the business owes money to would be to close the club and sell The Valley to a large builder for it to be developed into housing. All the time the majority of debt is owed to our current board that outcome in unlikely. Sell (or give for free) the club to a group of 'local businessmen' and that outcome becomes, in my view, more likely.
A very long way of coming back to the initial point. 'Better the Devil you know'.
Most of the other news (including rumours) all stems from the vast chasm that is our financial shortfall. Every player that has a value must be considered for sale. Every player that is on large wages (particularly in relation to their value to the team) must be considered allowed to leave at all costs, i.e. for no cost or even for a subsidy.
The latest rumours that Andy Gray, for example, will be allowed to leave for free with us picking up part of his wages is probably good business for us. I have no real axe to grind with the player himself, but it is difficult to make a case for any other player providing such poor value for money in the 28 years I've been going to Charlton. I have some sympathy with his personal problems, but they have effectively become our personal problems now.
I read, and I accept that it could have been wrong, recently that his wife, who was ill and had a baby some nine months after he joined us never actually moved down south. Either way, the player is not worth what we are paying him, and probably never will be. If we have to pick up half of his wages for the next two seasons it means that we are saving half of his wages, and he is probably not worth that either. Thank you Mr Pardew!
I read that we are considering setting up a Supporters Trust, and a meeting has been scheduled for the 4th of August. I can see no harm in doing this, and, in fact, it will probably be a good thing with a new era of the fans working together in the best interests of the club while not under the umbrella of the club itself.
For probably the right reasons many of the leaders of the last group that stood up for the fans were employed by the club. I'm thinking of Roy King, Rick Everett, Steve Dixon and Ben Tegg. I'm sure that there were more but those four names come to mind instantly. It is probably just coincidence that the number of that group that are still associated with the club has diminished and the club has seemed to shut out the fans, but either way it is probably time for a new generation to take over.
My only reservation with these type of groups is that there is always a temptation for empire building, and it is going to be a necessity for those that are involved to avoid the traps that seem to have blighted the Supporter's Club in the past. I have to admit that this blog, along with others, often fails to unite opinion, and for that reason I accept that it will be a tough task. I may well go along to the meeting but I, personally, have little interest in public life, so will probably just sit at the back and see how it unfolds.
The Supports Trust, should one be set up, will probably negate the need for the Fans Forum, something I have been rather uncharitable about. In June 2008 I was invited, along with some other bloggers, to an audience with Richard Murray. The same didn't happen this year, and on the basis that I don't expect to see another one I'm happy to now disclose my true feelings about it. I was really excited about it. I didn't feel in anyway superior, but it was as close to a dream come true as you can get when you played football as badly as I did. The chance for a personal audience with the man that has been called "Mr Charlton"; the man that runs our club; the man that makes some of the decisions that have a huge impact on the Football Club that dominates my life. An informal meeting that would share information, some off the record, and the thoughts of where the club was going.
I was very careful to avoid describing the meeting like this as it could have potentially alienated some fans. For those of you that have been in a room with Richard Murray you will know that he often speaks his mind. This ensured that in the meeting things were said that could never be repeated in the public domain. This gives those in the room a feeling best described as a bond. It is a trust that you cannot break. It also makes you feel like you are inside some inner circle. When I came away from that meeting I felt (for a very short period of time) like I was some kind of club spokesman. I know this makes me sound like I had delusions of grandeur, but it is helping me to explain how I feel about the Fans Forum.
I write my own blog and I have no allegiance to anyone, but the Fans Forum are just that. The Forum of the Fans. If they were treated in anyway like we bloggers were than it would have been very difficult for them not to feel progressively more and more like a PR service for the club. I'm not criticising the FF or any of it's members, but it is difficult not to learn to like the intimate meetings with those in power. It's difficult to spend much time with these people and not start to like them, and see things from their point of view. The FF could never hope to be able to educate all fans to understand things that are discussed, particularly when some of the major issues cannot be disclosed.
Those members of the FF would almost certainly sense a risk that if they, individually or as a group, were to make these meetings hostile, or even spiteful, the meetings would stop. Thus the atmosphere becomes more and more friendly, and things like the statement of intent are discussed in a less formal setting and in the end the FF members lose some of the 'anger' that the average fan feels and comes away from the meeting happier even though nothing has really changed.
I should point out that Richard Murray is very good at running these meetings and in the end you feel like you would run through brick walls for him. I'm going to assume that all of those that have been successful enough in business to have a large stake in the football club are also well skilled at chairing these types of meetings, and it is not at attempt at criticism to suggest that the FF members are probably not used to 'handling' these type of people. Thus the FF becomes a PR tool by default.
Anyway, as I said the chances are that the Supports Trust will replace the FF as I cannot see any justification in keeping the FF going when it has been shut out over the summer at a time when it was needed the most. I doubt the old 'Fans Director' could have been shut out in the same way. I read that Dave Rudd (a FF member) emailed Steve Waggot and received a reply stating that the club would release a statement soon. Needless to say no statement has come out.
There is so much uncertainty at the moment it is difficult to know what will happen, but at least we all have some memories of playing in the big league. The Premier League might have ultimately been very costly, but at least it was good while it lasted.
Up the Addicks!
P.S. I notice that Alan Pardew has been given a three year contract at Southampton. I am staggered that they have taken him on. Good move for Pardew. He can stay there a couple of seasons and when it all goes horribly wrong he can claim that he had a 10 point penalty and that after two seasons in the third division it was "Always going to be difficult". Why the club would trust him with their purse strings, however, is a mystery to me. I sense their fortunes are going to get worse, much worse.
* £15m is an estimation from an earlier calculation I made plus a couple of other players. If I'm wrong I don't need loads of comments asking me where I got the total from it's a guess, and accuracy will not change the point if it's a bit less than that figure.