Saturday 20 June 2020

The Charlton Run-In

Today we face Hull on a TV stream away from home. It's a real six-pointer given they are only two points above us. A victory would see us move out of the drop zone and potentially climb above Hull, Middlesbrough and Wigan which would be a massive confidence booster. Lose and Hull move out of easy reach and we could also fall further behind Boro (Swansea at home) and Wigan (away at Huddersfield).

I would say that today is our best chance of securing a route to safety. In the remaining matches we have three London derbies which are notoriously difficult to win and three away fixtures at Cardiff, Birmingham and Leeds. Away games may be slightly less stressful affairs given we don't have the home fans breathing aggressively down our necks but you still have to play and beat the opponents in front of you on their pitch.

Hull suffered bad news this week in that half-a-dozen of their players have said they won't risk playing again as their contracts end at the end of the month. This more than levels the playing field with us missing Taylor and possibly Solly. However, I am hugely conscious that we have only managed two wins all season when Taylor hasn't featured. These were were both home games (Leeds and Derby) and without our fans the job won't be any easier against QPR or Millwall. Reading could be a game we might expect to win (they look safe) but the other home match against Wigan is also likely to be a six pointer.

A huge responsibility falls now on Macauley Bonne and I suspect that may be an even harder task if we play with him in a lone striking role with Williams or another in behind. My heart always says Charlton but the head is saying Hull (a draw isn't a good result today). Yes, there will still be 24 points to play for after today but if we lose I suspect we will be looking down the barrel of the gun. The fact that we still face the possibility of a points deduction just adds to the risk.

Relegation is a painful and haunting experience under normal circumstances but given the absolutely car crash that surrounds the ownership of the club and which seriously threatens our existence, fans are understandably more concerned about survival than relegation. I was out walking for a few hours with a couple of fellow Addicks yesterday and the conversation involved the notion of not being overly concerned if we ended up having to leave the Valley to get away from the curse of Duchatelet. Personally, another experience like 1985-92 would be too much for me and starting it in League Two would be catastrophic. No pressure today then lads....

Monday 15 June 2020

Ticket Office Malfunction

It seems that the Charlton Ticket Office has finally been jump-started into action after several months of Furlough. News that the club is finally moving to address the question of monies owed to season ticket holders for the curtailment of the season was broken in a message clearly aimed at minimising the amount of money that is actually refunded. I think we can all appreciate the logic but the way they have chosen to go about will only make things worse.

The bottom line is that they are hoping to 'break even' here or even make a few quid. The club offered a number of options, the first of which caused me to laugh out loud. I wish had been at the brainstorming session where someone shouted 'a donate option!' Yes, in a message offering you credits against the streaming of the remaining 9 league games or a credit towards next season's tickets or a club shop voucher, the first option was to donate your credit to the club! This from an ownership not long divorced from Matt Southall and which is still trading under the brand-damaged East Street Investments monica.

Moving swiftly on, I was interested in the remaining streaming option as I'd quite like to see the relegation battle played out to a conclusion. However, the messaging was confused and it quickly became clear that some season ticket holders (those in the cheapest seats) wouldn't have enough credit in their accounts to cover the cost of screening the five remaining home games. This took a bit of thinking about. How on Earth could anyone suggest to a season ticket holder that they would have to pay more to watch the remaining games on a stream than they had already paid for a season ticket to be there in person? This is completely nonsensical and a very obvious mistake. To add to that, there appears to be the imposition of booking fees on these transactions. A £1.50 penalty we cannot avoid and reminds us of the worst excesses of Katrien Meire.

The situation is easier for those who have bigger credits but the pricing at £10 per game for the stream is clearly intended to ensure they get enough cash to cover any refunds and, hopefully, give them some profit. However, at least one of the games will be on Sky (Millwall) and it's very likely the Leeds one will be too, if no others. Given families will be able to watch a stream together or even share with those in their bubble or those who aren't, this plan is beginning to look like it has lots of holes in it. 

As if to underline their determination to make a Pig's Ear of this, the option of a complete refund of your owed money was also covered but instead of simply honouring the obligation, the website spoke of including a form at some point in the future and an expectation setting that processing wouldn't be swift. I hate to be provoked, so this immediately got my back up and changed my initial pan from 'stream' to 'bloody-minded refund.'

Today I see that pricing has been launched for next year's season tickets. I have skimmed through the options but can't get beyond 'this is half-baked wishful thinking.' They appear to be offering season tickets on similar 'early bird' pricing to last season eg £260 but then the story gets weird. The best deal apparently is a full season ticket that offers 'compensation' at the end of the season for games played behind closed doors! The other genius idea is a 'two stage' ticket whereby you pay for a half-season ticket which means you can watch the second-half of the season if the first half is behind closed doors. 

Who in their right mind is going to buy a season ticket any time soon? The default position is that all games will be behind closed doors. There may be talk of gates in 2021 if the virus dies out but anything approaching a second wave will kill that we are unlikely to have to wait much before the approach of Winter if that is to happen. There is no mention of a streaming alternative in the event that you can't actually use your season ticket to see games, so I suspect they will expect you to pay for that too in the meantime! The final killer is the statement that early bird prices will go up if you don't renew by 31st July and we are relegated to League One! That's right, more money not to be able us to watch us in Division Three....ha, ha, ha!

In the circumstances, I fully intend to go through the trial of wills needed to get my money back this year and wait until it's very clear what I will be getting for my money. The other elephant in the room, is who will be getting my money? I bought a half-season at the end of December because I fell for the ESI 'lock, stock and barrel' takeover when 'Arab money' had us all dreaming of better times. When I discovered Matt Southall had used my money to fund an all-extras Range Rover for him and Bimbo, and that all my mates season ticket money was going on a luxury riverside pad for the grasping Southall, I wanted my money back after being sick. Coronavirus has thrown me a lifeline and I intend to take it unless our next owners happen to be people I know and can trust (sorry but that's not you Paul Elliott).

Thursday 11 June 2020

Last Chance Saloon

Following on from Tuesday's post about the interim sale of ESI (Charlton Athletic Football Club), it is now clear that the club is effectively drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. After two years of failure to agree a sale of the club with various interested parties, Roland Duchatelet finally thought his determination to get every penny he had lost on the club over five/six years had proven successful. None of the interested parties could accept his valuation for the 'assets' (The Valley and Sparrows Lane) until along came the Fake Sheikh and Matt 'Mouthall.'

Nimer and Southall proved to be potless chancers who had clearly accepted the long-term purchase obligations based on the simple premise that they wouldn't be around long enough to honour them and they knew that, even through the Courts, Duchatelet couldn't get blood out of a stone. Chris Farnell couldn't even get Southall to pay his legal bill through the Courts and Nimer also had the benefit of being a Syrian floating around the Middle East - he wasn't going to be easy to bring before the UK Courts.  

The 'interim owner' Paul Elliott is so anonymous, no-one even knows what he looks like and if he had even an ounce of interest in running Charlton Athletic, he would surely have introduced himself and not remained hidden away and silent. Absolutely nothing, which tells us all we need to know, if it wasn't already pretty obvious, that he is playing a part-time role to enable Nimer and Farnell to ensure Southall doesn't gain even more money from the sale of the club. As I said on Tuesday, the plan must be to leverage a decent fee for ESI now that Southall's had his 35p back and to do it quickly to avoid incurring operating costs for the club.

It would appear that Huw Jenkins' interest in the club has waned. He has quoted the risk of relegation in connection with the price of the club but presumably also now understands the intricacies of the former-Directors debt claims as well as the onerous £50m asset obligation that ESI signed-up to. That may also have scared off the other rumoured interested parties. All of course except Andrew Barclay and Peter Varney.

Varney knows the detail inside out and Barclay will have been strongly advised against paying over the odds and that would mean not accepting the £50m asset clause as is. Whilst not referring to any takeover specifics, Barclay has taken to Twitter to express his shock to find a professional football club with a strong history over 115 years in such a parlous state, largely enabled by a woefully short regulation regime that means the governing body (EFL) have no say over the sale of clubs, whose Owners & Directors Test (Fit n Proper persons) clearly fails repeatedly (RIP Bury FC, Nimer & Southall etc) and whose slothfulness only aids the fleet-footed wrong-uns who prey on the game.

By all accounts, Duchalatet is standing firm by his £50m price for the assets and is now playing chicken with Barclay and Varney. Whilst this plays out, Elliot and Farnell may well have a Plan B which could be to flip the club again onto more unscrupulous characters. 

In conclusion, having exhausted all the credible would-be investors in Charlton Athletic Football Club, Duchatelet now finds himself possibly dealing with the last realistic buyers. I say this because Varney has, until now, kept his interests in taking control of the club (albeit via third parties with the money) largely quiet. We know he has made an approach before (Meire blanked him for ages and then refused to connect him with Duchtalet and Duchatelet then bounced him back to Meire when he went direct) although he never acknowledged that was a takeover proposal, but I am a betting man and my money was on it. The fact that he had to break cover like he has done at the eleventh hour suggests it's a last throw of the dice. I am sure he wanted to see how it played out with the others and that Administration might have been his best option given he would be dealing with someone you could trust and when the club would be free of debt and a bargain - not that he would want to have started with a points deduction.

We have to hope and pray that Duchatelet finally sees that he won't get a better opportunity to wash his hands of the club and recoup a large chunk of his losses. I don't accept that he wants a property play without the club because planning permission would be a huge risk at the Valley and Sparrows Lane and the likely scale of any permitted development would be minimised which would severely restrict the size of the opportunity i.e. he would struggle to make more than he would selling now for a realistic price without all the risk and time involved.

Andrew Barclay can fund the acquisition and running of the club - I am confident of that - but no-one pays ten or twenty million pounds over-the-odds when they can simply walk away or looking elsewhere. Especially when it's clear no-one else has been prepared to do it and no-one else will either. As I said at the start, this looks like our last chance of proper ownership capable of restoring the fortunes of the club and giving future generations of football supporters in south-east London and Kent a club they can be proud of as they continue family traditions of generations. Let us hope that Barclay and Varney can articulate their position fully and get Duchatelet to finally see it's also his best opportunity too. 

Wouldn't it be brilliantly reinvigorating to get back to the halcyon days when all we worried about was the football and when we trusted the owners to do their job and keep us informed. A time when we were all proud of our club, it's Community Trust and the football we aspired to play. Peter Varney ran the club then too....

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Interim ESI sale of Charlton Athletic prepares the ground for new ownership

Long awaited and much-anticipated news that East Street Investments, the vehicle used to acquire Charlton Athletic for a Pound in December, have finally acknowledged that they never intended any investment or proper ownership of the club and have passed it on. The mainstream media appear to be having trouble keeping up with events at Charlton because practically all the stories coming out from them are half-arsed, poorly researched and are misleading the nations football fans about what's really happening in SE7.

The facts are that ESI have sold on to 'Paul Elliot.' No, not the former Charlton Player and Blackheath Bluecoats pupil known as "Tek" but an otherwise unknown 'Manchester Businessman.' The phrase 'Manchester Businessman' now conjures up an uncomfortable feeling that thieves and crooks are once more afoot, but it does appear that this guy is just a convenient person to take temporary ownership of the club to ensure Matt Southall is removed at nil cost. For that we should all be grateful to lawyer Chris Farrell for arranging it and the fact he's another from Manchester may just be because he knows Farnell and not because he is a dodgy low-life like Matt Southall.

You have to assume that the sale price to Paul Elliott has been precisely £1 so that Matt Southall gets no more than this money back for his 'shareholding' in the worthless East Street Investments. His Excellency the Fake Sheikh may also end up 65p in profit but the sooner we forget about that nonentity, then frankly the better.

So what next for Paul Elliott? Well you can be reasonably sure that Paul Elliott isn't going to be holding the baby for too long. He won't want to be paying June's wage bill and he definitely won't want to be beholden to the asset purchase inherited from ESI  or the potentially costly debt repayment to the former Directors whose case against ESI he may also face next if he can't pass the parcel quickly enough.

So why would he have put himself in the frame? I think it's fair to say he is an associate of Chris Farrell and has agreed to assume the title as part of The Phase 2 Sale. This is where the club will be sold again, this time for considerably more than a Pound and where the sale price can be shared by those who have 'managed' the sale. May I be so bold as to suggest that Paul Elliott will pick up his fee, Chris Farrell will do better out of it than he does, given he's done most of the work and, finally, the grubby Fake Sheikh will have his palms crossed with yet more funds that he will be unable to provide satisfactory proof or source of.

So what have the real new owners got to be able to do? Very clearly it needs to be someone with money. In addition to paying off 'Paul Elliott,' the club is going to soak up £3-4m more in operating costs in 2020 without materially investing in the squad and there is unlikely to be any significant supporter income until 2021 at the earliest. Investment in the squad is likely to use up any EFL and TV money that may come into the club. The new owners are also going to have to settle Duchatelet's asset obligation and they will also need to pacify the former Directors. 

So who can do this? The bottom line is anyone with deep enough pockets and who is prepared to take the risk. I would also suggest that getting an agreement with Duchatelet is going to be tough, given I cannot see anyone accepting the ridiculous terms that ESI accepted willy-nilly because they had no intention of ever going through with the asset purchase. Hopefully Old Wooden Top will have realised this by now and may finally be ready to concede to Common Wisdom, The Reality of the Marketplace and for his own Peace of Mind. I am also convinced that the former Directors will also put up a £7m line of resistance to anyone they are not absolutely convinced has the club's long term good health foremost in their plans.

So who is the next real owner? Of all of the names already floated in terms of potentials, Andrew Barclay and Peter Varney would look like favourites. I am sure they have the money and that they would be the preferred option of the former Directors. The key question is, can they get through the thick outer shell of Roland Duchatelet's Noggin and agree an acceptable price for the assets? That remains the fundamental issue.

I sincerely hope they can so our football club can be taken off life-support and given the chance once again to thrive. If this comes to pass, us supporters will owe a huge debt of gratitude to the former Directors whose love for Charlton Athletic remains undimmed and whose action to protect their debt position has been used magnanimously to try to protect the club against the charlatans who have had control and also, hopefully, to get Duchatelet back onside and perhaps ready, finally, to see sense and complete a realistic deal and exit stage left. Frankly, if it's to be anyone other than Barclay and Varney, I will be very suspicious of their real motives. Hopefully, there's very little left to steal from the club and also fewer people willing to pay a ransom just to save the club from Administration. That being the case, Barclay and Varney might be the last real hope we have of scoring the future of Charlton Athletic Football Club. 

Wednesday 3 June 2020

At last, the White Knights

Finally, finally, after tears of ownership neglect, rotten conmen and salivating wannabes, we may finally have an interested buyer who ticks all the boxes. A Tweet from Rick Everitt this evening finally gave us the news we have all been waiting for years - the promise of decent ownership. Men we can trust and who have the wherewithal to sort out the mess our club now is. 'White Knights' probably isn't an acceptable metaphor any longer, so forgive me if you are offended, but it feels right to me in the circumstances. 

The good news is that Andrew Barclay has been working with ex-CEO Peter Varney for several months at least on a rescue deal. Varney needs no justification from me but for the record he presided over the golden age of our Premiership years and he was the architect behind the redevelopment of the Valley, the Target-Umpteen Thousand initiatives, Valley Express, the attractive ticketing and marketing propositions the club became famous for (Kid for a Quid), the development of the Community Trust and generally a time when all Charlton supporters felt especially proud of what our club stood for.  I should also include Rick Everitt in this as he held several key club positions during this era and would have been the font of much of the data and intuition about our fan-base that made the club so successful during these years. Rick gets a hard deal from some because he speaks his mind and can be prickly, but never doubt his loyalty to CAFC and his professionalism as a journalist throughout.

Andrew Barclay is the grandson of the Barclay Brothers, the owners of the Ritz Hotel and the Daily Telegraph. They are worth c £3bn but we need to be careful here as they are currently sueing their sons (including Andrew's father) over the sale of the Ritz, so we shouldn't jump at implied wealth. Andrew was part founder in the online estate estate YOPA and has clearly made decent money from its sale. I am not convinced he has money to throw about but if Varney has hitched his wagon then I am satisfied he can pay his way. 

The key pointer for me this evening is why break the news now? They are telling us that ESI have yet to fully engage and we know there are vultures circling. Sky reported interest of a Portugese consortium today which looked powder-puff and perhaps like an attempt to have been considered an interested party? We know Huw Jenkins has made a bid and I am sure, given his background, that it will be realistic. So why now? Hopefully it's because they want to go in for the kill and not because they are worried this may have moved away from them. 

The tragedy, of course, is that the deal needs to be concluded with men who clearly have failed already to live up to the aspirations of good investors, serious owners or, indeed, who can be considered trustworthy. We need to rely upon the over-riding contractual clauses Duchatelet has with ESI to keep people honest as well as the complexities of the ex-Directors claims. 

The belief that 'good will out' and natural justice gives us hope that Barclay and Varney will prevail and we should all hope and pray that it comes to pass.

Monday 1 June 2020

Taylor and Solly abandon ship

As Charlton fans wait nervously to find out who the latest Scooby-Doo villain owners are, the EFL have confirmed that the Championship season will resume on 20th June. The immediate good news is that we are going to be given a chance to fight for our Championship place and not face the ignominy of arbitrary relegation based upon our league position when Coronavirus brought a sudden halt to games in March.

No sooner has that been announced then we hear that Lyle Taylor and Chris Solly have decided that they have played their last Charlton match and won't be risking injury before their current contracts expire at the end of the month. Solly hasn't been a regular starter for awhile and arguably wouldn't have featured anyway but Lyle Taylor might have been expected to help us to victory in the crucial Hull game which is our first game after the interruption. 

This is a sorry state of affairs and Charlton fans have taken to social media once again to berate Taylor and tell him just how little they think of him. I am disappointed too but it's hardly a surprise. Taylor was forced to stay on last August when we couldn't secure a last minute replacement in the transfer window and he was thereby denied a lucrative move to Brentford. He threw his toys out the pram at the time but quickly buckled down to business once he realised the decision had been taken. To his credit he scored some vital goals but it was very clear to me that there would be no holding him once his contract finished. I don't think we can really blame him for deciding to miss the last game or two. Obviously I don't expect him to be paid for June but his next move will likely be his last at 30 years of age and gives him the opportunity for really good money for arguably the first time in his career. Sure he's earned more than most of us but a largely journeyman career through the lower leagues won't have set him up for life by any means and he only really has one last chance. If he did play for us and suffered an injury, it could materially affect the rest of his life. 

Chris Solly's case isn't nearly so strong. He will be 30 in January but has been on a reasonable contract at Charlton for most of his career. He may have decided he needs a move to ensure first team football but it's unlikely to be a bigger move or involve the sort of money Taylor has a chance of. Chris may not have played anyway and maybe didn't need to tell us he wasn't prepared to play to the end of his contract. After an exemplary one-club career he has managed to diminish his reputation needlessly, after a testimonial season too.