Sunday 25 September 2022

Ten game marker

The old adage that you can predict your season after ten games isn't looking good for Addicks fans. Following yesterday's dismal defeat at Barnsley, we sit in 16th position and a few sides beneath us also have a game in hand. We have only won twice so far this season and the football we are serving up (Plymouth match aside) doesn't have the pulse racing.

I didn't see the match yesterday, but once again our failure to recruit goals in the Summer cost us again as we wasted the chances we did create. Barnsley scored three goals despite Ben Garner saying they "failed to open us up." For once his post-match comments sounded hollow and cliche-riddled. Those Charlton fans present were not enamoured with our defending either and we look a bit of a mess right now. All the tosh of "Garnerball" is coming home to roost and the manager is coming in for some stick too. 

Thomas Sandgaard has gone from Hero to Zero and his hopes of break-even in two years is looking increasingly laughable. The actual gate on Saturday for the visit of fellow-strugglers Oxford United looks likely to be small again and those cash tills won't be doing overtime. 

Sandgaard will surely have realised by now that his cost-cutting recruitment has left us with a very average League One side and that we have more chance of going down than getting promoted. His options to change things are limited and involve significant expenditure he doesn't want to make. He must already be looking to sell us as an established League One club now rather than watching our value drop further this season. You really have to wonder what he really thinks he can get for the club. Cutting the losses will make us more attractive obviously but there is precious little value in what he bought without the Valley or Sparrows Lane. Any prospective buyer will understand that he has been cutting costs and has tried to get by with a makeshift squad. Changing that will cost money so seeing even a slight improvement in the losses is hardly going to be a deal clincher. 

He is going to have to do a deal similar to the one Duchatelet sold to him and that was pretty much, 'take the football club losses on and it's yours.' We can only hope that it comes sooner rather than later and that the next owners have genuine ambition as well as money. It would good to bring in a non-Bonne goal-scorer in January even if it takes new ownership.

Welling United 2 v Havant & Waterlooville 2

A high quality game  yesterday at Park View Road as The Wings took on second-placed Havant & Waterlooville in front of over 1100 fans. It was 'Non-League Day' and there were plenty of Addicks about. Welling took the lead twice but had to settle for a point as the visitors' persistence paid off late on.

Welling rode out an early storm as they were penned into their own half for twenty minutes. Joe Newton, the Hawks left-back was rampaging down the Welling right flank and creating opportunities which Welling did well to contain. Keeper Myles Roberts had a fine game (my MOTM) and pulled off a stunning save high to his left when he stopped a shot heading for the top corner. When Welling  did manage to break out after 30 minutes, Ade Azeez was on hand to finish a fine right wing raid when he did well to hold off a covering defender before beating ex-Addick, Ross Worner. Within minutes Havant were level after a Jamie Sendle-White own goal as he attempted to cut-out a raking cross. It was bad luck for Welling whose defence had dealt so well with the visitors up until then.

The first-half ended with Welling re-taking the lead. Another break down the right flank had Havant & Waterlooville in trouble and Taylor Maloney managed to beat Worner having taken a touch from the centre and making a yard to get his shot in.

The second-half was a more cagey affair and we saw a bit less of the visitors although Roberts made a few more critical saves to maintain the lead. Welling were comfortable in defence and it looked very much like ending 2-1. In the 87th minute Chi Ezenholim did brilliantly to get past the last man and cut into the box. He slid a terrific ball across the face of goal and there was Stefan Payne at the back post to surely wrap-up the three points. Somehow, he managed to hit the woodwork and as the inquest started on the terraces, Havant & Waterlooville showed why they are unbeaten by storming down to the other end and heading an equaliser.

It was a real kick in the teeth but probably a fair result. Warren Feeney will be disappointed but he will know that the performance showed continuing progression and Welling are sitting deservedly in fifth. Dover visit on Tuesday night when the Wings get a chance to consolidate a good start to the season.

Friday 23 September 2022

End of the line for the Fans Forum?

The notes from last week's fans Forum were published today. They make for fairly depressing reading and I am left thinking that the bell is tolling for the Fans Forum.

Thomas Sandgaard was very gung-ho when he took over the club and took every opportunity to engage with supporters in his bid to get up to speed with following the club and trying to better understand what makes us tick. He supported the continuation of the Fans Forum and there was good early engagement. However, he has been here two years now and all the evidence suggests that he hasn't really listened to what fans have to tell him. The club have made mistake-after-mistake, many of which they have unwound after negative reactions from supporters - most of these could have been avoided if they had listened more carefully in the first place.

As time has passed, the value supporters derive from reading the notes of these regularly postponed or delayed meetings has diminished. Perhaps they were never that successful but they at least gave supporters an opportunity to ask awkward questions and record verbal answers. They also ticked a box for the owners with the football authorities who make some form of supporter engagement a condition of ownership.

Fitting then, that last Thursday's meeting should have started with the apologies of those who couldn't be there, including Clive Harris (Armed Forces Addick) who also requested that an email from him be read out. It informed us that he considered the forum "a futile, box-ticking exercise" and is presumably no longer attending. I know Clive fairly well and he loves the club like I do and both since we were boys. He is a regular bloke with an in-built sense of duty which has come through in everything he has done in his life. He is also one of those pragmatic and positive people who believe anything is achievable. A 'people person,' saying that the Forum he was part of was a waste of time wouldn't have come easy to him.

I then noted that the only Club Representative present in the room was long-suffering Tom Rubashaw, the Comms Manager. Thomas Sandgaard and Raelyn Maloney joined-in via Zoom (on Tom's laptop I believe) - can't have been easy all 'round. Ian Wallis (Bromley Branch) questioned why there weren't more Club Representatives present. Tom Rubashaw gave the stock corporate answer that he had chased up on all the action points with the various Club Reps and was covering for everyone. Thomas Sandgaard asked that all the senior staff be invited in future. 

I am sure we have been here before and all-of-a-sudden it felt very much like "a futile, box-ticking exercise." It was hard reading through the notes after this to see anything of much substance and many of the same responses from the Club that don't satisfactorily answer points or simply kick the can down the road, to coin a phrase;

- the club would learn from the recent Leo Rifkind Tweeting PR Disaster.

- confirmation that the club's strategic focus was now on financials, not footballing success.

- TS doesn't have plans to sell the club - but he wouldn't be saying he was in any event.

- advice was again offered from all of the supporter groups present but again was answered unsatisfactorily. TS said that supporter input was important and aided decision-making but history tells us it's usually ignored. 

- questions were asked about the large staff turnover this year and the loss of very experienced individuals who have done good work for many years. TS refused to be drawn on individuals (understandably) but also gave some very general statements about hiring and firing in an attempt to make it look like business-as-usual, which it simply hasn't been.

- he did pretty much the same in relation to questions on the current pricing policy. Everyone knows it isn't working but TS told us that there hadn't been complaints at the ticket office! Perhaps because they see very few fans nowadays. He also didn't believe the late buying surcharge (Meire Tax) impacted sales. I was left wondering if he really thought there was a problem beyond us being 14th in League One.

- it didn't get much better after that when he claimed our latest 'pack-of-3' deal (£59-93) would help improve affordability. He really doesn't get it that £3 off an already expensive ticket doesn't feel like a bargain, especially when you are being asked to pay for three upfront. It's not going to make you sit up and think about ringing friends or family for a day out at the Valley. It was pointed out that Ipswich's similar deal was £45 for three tickets or £20 to sit anywhere. His answer to that was that "Ipswich is in a different part of the country" which was another cop-out. He did agree to "look at" the additional telephone and online surcharges (£2.50 and £1.50 respectively) but I won't hold my breathe.

- the fan enforced U-turn on the poorly conceived Generous Robots sponsorship was also raised but TS didn't want to elaborate on that either beyond saying the deal "came to an end in a way that suited both parties" and confirmed we had been paid. Presumably only a fraction of the original deal which I don't believe was that much in the first-place. 

- he got a kicking on the Club Shop too, the stuttering supply of replica kit, the extortionate cost of a few other items that are stocked and the lack of availability of anything else. Again, we have been here before and the promise was that Castore was the answer to all the problems. Raelyn Maloney expressed disappointment and said they had applied what pressure they could. We were then given a Castore statement which ticked the 'pandemic, supply-chain, working hard and as-soon-as-possible boxes,' which was weak. Probably only as weak as our contract with Castore.

Thinking about doing away with the Fans Forum begs the questions, how to do it and what to take it's place? How to manage that with fans and to keep onside with the EFL regulations?

One way would be to beef up the Fans Advisor role. A couple more bodies to help filter the fans questions and feedback answers from the Club's owner and his senior team - Lucy Bishop is already the Chair. I noted that Lewis Catt, a new Fans Advisor was introduced at the start of the meeting...

One of the original ideas at the birth of the Fans Forum was a fan in each stand so that they could take complaints about the number of chips of the size of the queues. Perhaps they could reinvigorate that but with more Club control? A sort of Fans Engagement Team if you like. Lo and behold, the next news item on the official site today was just that! Three new fans representatives for matchdays. 

You have to wonder don't you? They could also claim to be responding to Clive Harris' criticisms...

Thursday 22 September 2022

The cover-up?

I started something of a storm yesterday by posting a shot of the large Covered End club badge being covered-up. That wasn't my intention. Just curious as to why the badge was being covered and I suggested a "YouTubers takeover" as the most likely explanation.

The Sidemen v Youtube Allstars match on Saturday is very obviously a revenue generation opportunity for the club and I assumed Thomas Sandgaard is making something out of it that will go towards his primary objective over the next two seasons of "break-even." If using the club badge as a platform to put up a temporary promotion was going to bring in decent additional revenue, I personally, wouldn't have complained. It was a bit odd that the covering going up was blank but perhaps that was just step one, although why go to the cost of a cherry-picker and not finish the job in one day?

This morning the covering has been removed. Hastilly, it appears, and the club's Charlton Fan Advisor has tweeted that the removal was on "instruction from Thomas Sandgaard." That puts to bed any suggestion that the event or the agreement to cover the club badge could have been at the landlord's (Duchatatelet) say-so.

It now begs the question, why? A fair number of the more vocal Charlton Twitterati were unimpressed that our badge should suffer this indignation but there were enough other voices who weren't at all concerned and quite happy if it was earning money. Given that Thomas has been upfront about the Break-Even imperative, I would have expected a simple defence that it was good business and we would have moved on. The covering would presumably have come down after Saturday and most Charlton fans would be none the wiser. It leaves me wondering why he has moved quite so swiftly to have the blank covering removed if he had a half-decent justification for it in the first place?

Scratching my head over this one....

Sunday 18 September 2022

Welling United 0 v Fisher 0

F A Cup Qualifying fixture at Park View Road yesterday. The visitors from Rotherhithe are currently playing in the Southern Counties East League but they handled the step-up well yesterday and earned themselves a replay at St. Paul's Stadium on Tuesday evening.

On a bright and mostly sunny afternoon, the Wings laboured to create the chance they needed to win this game. Stefan Payne and Ade Azeez were ultimately shacked by two fine centre-half performances from the visitors. Welling enjoyed the lion-share of possession and looked fairly comfortable at the back but Fisher still managed to create a couple of chances that could have seen them nick it. 

The eighty or so Fisher fans who made the journey over Shooters Hill will be confident of going one better in the replay but it may suit the Wings to play on the counter. A Cup run could be a well-deserved money-spinner for Welling, so I hope they can progress. There were just shy of 700 at the game and the Wings will be hoping to break 1000 on Saturday when high-flying Havant and Waterlooville visit.

Meanwhile, at Fleetwood, Charlton managed another point courtesy of a second-half Myles Leaburn finish after a dire opening forty-five minutes when we went one down and looked beaten. Switching to 4-3-3 and bringing Leaburn on for Stockley changed things in the second-half as the home side tired visibly.  Corey Blackett-Taylor saw an effort hit the cross-bar and Jesurun Rak-Sakyi might have done better with a couple of chances that came his way.

The diehards who made the trip yesterday face another next Saturday when we head to Barnsley who won 3-0 at Cambridge United yesterday. We will need to be much better than yesterday and compete for both halves if we are to get anything there.

Friday 16 September 2022

Sandgaard squirming

The Club website this evening carries an interim update of the Fan's Forum meeting last night - "Tweets, Club Ambition and Summer Transfer(s)." Sandgaard wasn't present but joined via Tom Rubashaw's laptop which can't have been ideal. The initial statement here begs more questions than it answers and some of it is very wishful thinking.

First, Sandgaard apologised for Leo Rifkind's Tweets this week which angered many Charlton fans. Sandgaard said he had known nothing about Rifkind's intentions and that he didn't believe Rifkind meant to offend supporters. That is really half the problem - a Non Executive Director who obviously knows so little about football, the club or its supporters that he would have Tweeted what he did. In a now-familiar line, Thomas told us that he intends "to improve and avoid mis-steps like this in future."

The notes then reference Heather Alderson questioning why the Club was conducting its own research on Twitter when CAST had just completed an extensive survey with a large number of supporter responses. They don't mention what it concerned, but I am fairly certain it mainly referred to the current pricing policy which practically everyone knows is horribly wrong. Perhaps we will find out more when the minutes are published next week (why does it always take a week?) but it suggests mistrust from the club or an attempt to get a more sympathetic response.

We were then informed that the "men's first team budget increased this season and is around fourth largest in League One." I find this very hard to believe and I am fairly sure we have already been told that the playing budget was being trimmed this year and next (£800k over two years at the back of my mind) as part of the plan to break even. A quick look at the outgoing and incoming players this Summer doesn't support Sandgaard's claim of an increased budget.

Wollacott - aged 25 on average League Two wages at best - replaced Stephen Henderson (34), an experienced keeper who has played at a higher level.

Egbo - aged 25 on average League Two wages at best - replaced Adam Matthews (30), who has played for Celtic, Cardiff and Sunderland as well as Wales.

O'Connell - aged 27, started at Celtic but his league experience has largely been Bury and Rochdale. Replaced Jason Pearce (34) who has vast experience at Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Leeds and Wigan. We also let Famewo go back to Norwich (and subsequently sign for promotion favourites Sheffield Wednesday).

Steve Sessegnon - aged 22, 14 appearances for Fulham but loaned out at Bristol City and Plymouth. Replaced Ben Purrington (26) with league experience at Plymouth, Rotherham and Wimbledon. I can believe Sessegnon might be on better money than Purrington but he is a loanee and Fulham may well be part-paying his wages. I would also argue that the money we saved from left-sided loanee Papa Soare more than covers Sessegnon's wages.

Conor McGrandles - aged 26 with League One experience from Lincoln and MK Dons. Effectively replaced Chris Gunter and Ben Watson, both vastly experienced at higher level (Gunter record Welsh cap holder) and both of whom would have been on comfortably more money that we are paying Conor.

Jack Payne - aged 26 and another signing from Swindon but with a better CV than his counterparts (Huddersfield, Blackburn, Lincoln). You can take your pick but let's say he replaced Elliott Lee and Jonathan Leko. Two loanees but who would both better him for wages.

Jesurun Rak-Sakyi - aged 19, on loan from Crystal Place but with only two first team appearances. His wages would be dwarfed by Conor Washington and Josh Davidson.   

I think you can see where I am coming from on this but in case you are still in any doubt, remember that we were also paying for Mason Burstow as well as Nile John and Juan Castillo.

Moving on and Sandgaard also told us that "we had some early signings which was an improvement over several transfer windows before." I assume he is talking about the timing of these transfers rather than the quality and in that respect he is correct. However, the elephant in the room is the absolute horlicks they made of the end of the window when we aimed very low and missed out on Bonne and have left us hobbled upfront. He really can't claim to have learnt the lesson from last Summer despite saying they were "in control of recruiting" and to have not spent a bean on acquiring any of them screams 'no ambition.' 

The Trust's Richard Wiseman looks to have tried to nail him regarding the contradiction between ambition v break even. Eventually we got that his "longer term goal is still to play in the best division, but I expect to take two seasons to get financial sustainability." Interesting that he couldn't even say 'Premier League' but perhaps I am reading too much into that. What I am absolutely convinced of though, is that break-even within two seasons is impossible without a sustained promotion push or the sale of a couple of players for say £5m each. Not sure which is least likely of those but I won't be betting on any of them.

Sandgaard reiterated that he was here for the long term and even said he wouldn't be spending so much time here if not. That's a fair point, but break-even may be time-consuming and so would looking for a buyer. 

As I close, I remember that the acquisition of Ben Garner was one of the early signings and they were hardly in control of that. From memory it was announced here and in Swindon by the local press and it took a further two weeks before he was confirmed. That was haggling too, I believe over terms and I don't believe Garner is costing us any more than Jackson.

Wednesday 14 September 2022

Charlton Director blames fans

Hard to believe, but Non-Exec Director, Leo Rifkind, has this morning tried his hardest to show just how little he knows (or cares) about football, Charlton Athletic or it's supporters.

In a Tweet of epic naivety and colossal delusion, Rifkind tells us the owner is not responsible for funding and we, the fans, own the decision-making at the club. 

It's the first I have heard from this corporate superstar and, I suspect, you too. Left wondering why he's felt the need to break his duck and go public with something as obviously inflammatory as this?

Perhaps he has been the one whispering in Sandgaard's ear on the pricing policy or the change in strategy from 'promotion and fill the Valley' to 'break even at all costs?' That might explain his outburst this morning when he saw the result from last night and the fans reaction to it - if the bottom-line numbers aren't already causing much anxiety.

He can say that Sandgaard is not responsible for funding but he must know that he will be responsible for all financial losses. Harsh facts Leo.

As for fans owning the decision-making of the club? Oh, were though it were true!

We wouldn't have made some of the short-sighted savings decisions like replacing experienced staff with apprentices to save sixpence and alienate supporters in the process. 

We also wouldn't have recruited in Poundland this Summer and left the squad shorn of goal-scorers. We would have set realistic and attractive Season Ticket and Matchday prices that would have brought more fans in and grown additional revenues. We might also have felt more connected with the club again and resumed spending in hospitality and sponsorship if the pricing of those wasn't designed to make you shout "how much!"

We might even have made a better start to the season, encouraging more supporters to return.....

Communication at the club is clearly all over the place having sacked Olly Groome and evidently alienating other commentators in the process. Sandgaard has stopped tweeting (probably a good move on balance) but large questions are going unanswered and Sandgaard's initial promises are falling by the wayside one by one.

He really needs to come clean and tell us what his game plan is because he has next to no hope of break-even in two seasons. He really is in a vicious circle and needs to break out, even if that involves cutting his losses and selling the club. 

Charlton Athletic 1 v Forest Green Rovers 1

The glaring weakness of our Summer-recruitment-on-the-cheap was there for all to witness last night. Against what must be one of the division's weaker sides, a team that has just bobbed up from League Two, we failed to beat a team who were there for the taking despite taking a tenth minute lead and dominating play in the opening forty-five minutes.

Ben Garner rang the changes following the limp loss at Bolton and handed three full debuts to Leaburn, Payne and Chin. He also brought McGrandles in for new Dad, Scott Fraser and Corey Blackett-Taylor returned as Kirk was rested. 

We bossed the early stages. CBT was all over their right-back, with Payne quick to attack through the centre and Rak-Sakyi lurking on the right-side of the box. It was all a bit rushed but CBT managed a Rak-Sakyi-style shuffle and shot to open the scoring and it looked like it would be all over by half-time. However, we didn't find the composure the goal should have given us and instead our attacking became even more hurried and more error-strewn. CBT has pace to burn but he overhits too many crosses and his shooting is wild. Leaburn, playing the Stockley role, like Stockley, didn't see much of the ball. He ended up dropping back, like Stockley, to look for touches and consequently wasn't there when the one or two decent crosses we did manage were played in. 

Payne managed a low shot at McGee from distance and Rak-Sakyi made a fine downward header from one decent CBT cross but McGee got down quickly to push it out at his back post. In between that, Rovers did try to get forward and managed to squeeze a shot in from a narrow angle which Wollacott failed to hold and it trickled over the line. What looked like a late flag for offside saved us but the replay showed he was a yard onside when the ball was played out to him.

The injustice was righted on the stroke of half-time when a cross from the left was fluffed by Wollacott who stretched over O'Connell to reach it but succeeded in only in letting it slip to the deadly Conor Wickham who doesn't miss when presented with gifts and the chance to get one of his two goals a season (I should have known). 

The chorus of boos as the whistle blew told you what to  expect second-half and they didn't disappoint. Rovers emerged emboldened and for twenty minutes they tore into us and exposed our defensive frailties as they created a succession of opportunities they couldn't finish. The ball whistled past the post and across the face of goal but we survived. McGrandles, who had been booked and done little else was hooked on the hour for Albie Morgan and that helped stop the rot. On 72 minutes, Dickie Chin (who had a decent game) was brought off for Charles Clayden and Myles Leaburn made way for Jayden Stockley. 

The game moved back in Charlton's favour and we put Rovers under a bit of pressure before the end. Stockley managed a snapshot at McGee but also put a header over the bar when he should have had it on target at least. The last main action of the game saw us play a free-kick to the back post which Innis went for but was too far from the ball and succeeded only in stretching to head-butt the covering defender who was pole-axed. In the scramble that followed, the ref flashed a second-yellow and then red as Inniss was sent off once again. Some may have sympathies but not me. I remember reading his contrition after that shocker last season when he nearly crippled a defender with a late and dangerous tackle that only had one intention. He said he had somehow matured after the game and was now confident that it was now out-of-his-system. Suddenly I have some hope for the arrival of Tyrrel Thomas.

The crowd weren't happy and gave full vent at the end. Garner and Sandgaard will have been pleased that the gate was so small. Given as 10,579, there were probably only 7-8000 actually present. 

Such a sad but predictable evening. We now sit 14th after eight games and this season is now mapped out. Ben Garner's post-match reactions are going to become very interesting. So far he has been very honest with his assessments and has avoided excuses. It will be hard to talk about last night's performance without commenting on the contradiction of trying to play a quick pressing move and pass game with strikers who are predominantly aerial threats or lurkers and lack pace. That is a real conundrum for Garner. How long does he persist and avoid the temptation to go more direct in a traditional 4-4-2? Maybe it won't make much difference with the players he has but it would be a huge statement to Thomas Sandgaard that he hasn't been given all the players he needs to play the style of football they both promised. 

It's so depressing but at least the matchday pricing policy has meant I haven't suffered it in person yet this season - I haven't yet been persuaded to cough-up thirty-odd quid when I can watch it indoors. Welling won 1-0 at Eastbourne last night and moved into fifth place. They entertain Bermondsey-boys Fisher Athletic in the F A Cup on Saturday for a tenner and then hold their prices for Non-League Day the following Saturday when at home again to second-place Havant and Waterlooville which promises to be a cracker. It's not difficult to get onside with your fans and really get their attention but Sandgaard and Co have absolutely no idea how to do it. As I said, so depressing.

Monday 12 September 2022

Garner to rely on youth upfront have Ben Garner this evening confirming that Charlton Athletic will not be making any free agent striker signing. Having picked up unattached centre-half Tyrrel Thomas last week, Garner today said that "there is no-one who springs to mind in the free agents" as far as a striker is concerned. 

Personally, I didn't want to see another striker with a poor CV join us. After the likes of Joe Dodoo, Josh Parker and Omar Bogle, we really haven't the time or space hoping we can get something from strikers with a track record of not scoring goals. 

Garner added that "Academy players need to be pushing to give us greater competition in the squad," so it looks like Daniel Kanu and Myles Leaburn will get their chances this season. Leaburn has two league goals so far and is one behind top scorer Scott Fraser. Garner has spoken about the need to get more goals from midfield before and he said as much again today, although I think to expect significantly more from midfield than last season is akin to expecting the same from the strikers from whom we have lost 11-goal Conor Washington. Stockers has come in for a lot of stick lately but his aerial strengths don't play to a fast, slick passing game that Garner is looking for, so he has my sympathies. Garner has suggested that our injury situation is improving but declined to say who. Perhaps Chuks Aneke is ready for another cameo after 11 games out injured but is more like Stockley than a Gary Lineker.

It really does beg the question why we have failed to bring in any strikers who can play to Garner's system, especially when we sold the only one who might have excelled at it. There really is a danger if we can't find the goals we need playing 'Garnerball' that he will have to try to accommodate his two big men with a more traditional attacking style. Oh the irony if that comes to pass!

Tomorrow night's game with Forest Green Rovers will go ahead following the cancellation of the weekend fixtures as a reaction to the death of the Queen. I expect us to win against a side who need to punch above their weight in League One although it could be another slog. They are down in 21st place with seven points and have been beaten by Ipswich, Plymouth, Sheffield Wednesday and Shrewsbury. They have shipped 15 goals so far, so look like a softer target for us in terms of goals. A quick look at their squad doesn't give me too many clues but I note Conor Wickham upfront - another striker in the mold of Dodoo, Parker and Bogle - someone who can boast only 12 goals in seven years. 

Hopefully the gate may be a bit larger and more vocal after Saturday's cancellation, although I fear the actual number present will be less than the number of season ticket holders we have given the continuing disincentive of matchday pricing. With everyone screaming at the madness of the current pricing policy, the club last week announced a three-game deal for the season which knocks about £3 off a ticket. I don't know if it's those advising Thomas Sandgaard who just don't get it or whether it's him holding out for Championship prices in League One, but I know it won't improve until someone sees the light.

Sunday 4 September 2022

Times-up for Thomas Sandgaard

Yesterday's 3-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers capped a crap week for Charlton fans and signposts the end for Thomas Sandgaard's reign in SE7.

The glaring failure to leave Ben Garner with the tools to do the job following the closure of the transfer window on Thursday looks highly likely to condemn us to another season of mediocrity in the third tier of English football. The fact that it's the second season in succession that we haven't addressed our goal-scoring weakness is unforgiveable. It leaves us with the down-and-outs of London football with Wimbledon and Orient. Even the "but he saved us" brigade now see the writing on the wall and condemnation has been quick and widespread.

It comes on the back of a hyped Summer where he spoke about transforming the style of our play if not quite the "blowing the league apart" guff of last pre-season. We may yet see the transformation in our play and get to see far more attacking football but the bar was so low after last season's horror show that it would be hard not to imagine any improvement under a new manager. 

The 'recruitment team' of Sandgaard, his son Martin, Steve Gallen and Ben Garner has failed to strenghten the squad from last season which finished in 13th (thirteenth) place. We haven't spent a penny on transfers and the wage budget has been cut from last season. Steve Gallen must be fearing joining the growing list of those sacked/made redundant given he has been unable to add anything to the Summer recruitment and you can't see that changing a whole lot going forward. 

Sandgaard has been upfront about his new plans to get the club to break-even over the next two seasons. Owning it has cost him £8m a year and he clearly doesn't want to be on the hook for that going forward, either because he can't afford it (cash-flow?) or he simply doesn't want to be funding it. The trouble is, it is a very difficult thing to achieve when your losses are c 50% of your turnover and your largest costs are contracted players and staff needed to operate your football club. Growing your top line can only really be done with a successful side and as we have already established, we are well short of that and the odds are stacked very heavily against us on that front. Cost-cutting has been going on all Summer. He may be close to trimming £400,000 from the player's wage bill but that is coming at a cost on it's own and that is only 5% of the gap he wants to close. The saving on the replacement costs of experienced staff with new recruits or job shares will save precious little in the scheme of things and we will see things like Comms suffering as a result. The official site updates from yesterday's game were noticeably poorer and it looks like the guy at Welling has been given the job in addition to what he does for them!

Meanwhile, season ticket prices were amongst the highest in the division and the match-by-match pricing options look designed to kill the walk-up gate. I am not paying £34 a ticket with the penalty of the £3 Meire tax on top if I don't or can't commit two days in advance to watch a side struggling to score goals.

So, Sandgaard has no hope of break-even in two years unless we unearth another Ademola Lookman and even then, a continuing selling policy will still leave us languishing in League One. He is the founder and CEO of a large, multi-national business in the US, so he will know the reality of 'break-even' better than I do, so you have to ask yourself what is really doing?

The most obvious thing is that he has to continue running the club in the short-term - he has appointed a new manager, set the expectations that we won't be throwing money around (to be fair he has always been clear about that) and told us about his plans to reduce the club's operating losses. None of that is bad in itself but the failure to leave Garner with a competitive squad writes this season off and looks like condemning us to our sixth season in seven in League One. It's not what he promised when he took-over and a club of our size (we are shrinking at a rate of knots) deserves better. 

On top of keeping the club operating, he has to be looking to get out. When you no longer have ambitions for your club or, more likely, the where-with-all to pursue them, it's time to move on. In some ways he is fortunate that his cost of acquiring the club was so relatively small. Duchatelet was content to let someone else step in and run the club at their expense whilst he retained the heavy assets of the Valley and Sparrows Lane. Ideally any ambitious owner would want full control, which would mean the assets too, but we remain attractive opportunity for anyone who has ambitions to own a London football club but without having to sink £50m+ into the club upfront. The risk here, as we know, is that leaves the club susceptible to individuals who don't really have the money but want control so they can extort a payday from someone else.

On the basis that Sandgaard must know his break-even plan isn't going to get even close, why hang about for two years? I am sure he won't - he must be looking for alternative buyers now and active cost-cutting may look akin to re-painting your house before selling. 

Ben Garner must be feeling a bit cheated at the way things have turned out. He clearly hasn't been backed as he might have expected and despite staying onside with his owner in the first couple of months, there are clear signs he has no intention of carrying the can for a less-than-successful season. He began to allude to the wage budget weeks ago and then was explicit that Harry McKirdy was a non-starter as he had zero transfer budget. After the transfer window closed with no-one joining us, he was quick to put a brave face on things but also clear that building a successful side was a work in progress "and may take one or two windows more." In other words, it aint happening this year folks. I am sure Garner will hang on and make a fist of it. He can see the strength of our Academy and will be hopeful of bettering what we did last year, even if promotion looks beyond us. He may also know that there is the prospect of new ownership and perhaps more support in the not too distant future. 

I am left feeling disappointed for Thomas Sandgaard. He did save the club at the time he stepped in but I can have little sympathy for him if he didn't really have the readies to do what he promised. The share price of his newly floated company was tanking and a selling scandal has left the shares depressed and him being criticised for indulging himself with a UK football team. He tried very hard to win fans over but ultimately, owners have to deliver success on the pitch to be considered successful in the Boardroom and Thomas Sandgaard has failed to do that.

Welling United 5 v Oxford City 0

A fine performance and a convincing win at Park View Road yesterday that has been coming for awhile now. Manager Warren Feeney has been given licence to bring in 18 new players and he has transformed the squad at the same time that the ground is finally receiving some love and attention. The new-look Wings have been finding their feet but yesterday's emphatic victory was four from five and they have moved up to sixth in the table.

The game was won on a tight defence which sat deep and worked hard. Oxford City have had a decent start themselves and would be sitting in third place this morning had they managed to nick three points themselves. The visitors hadn't conceded in 400 minutes but the burst here. Welling took the points courtesy of some fine counter-attacking football. Ex-Addick Ade Azeez did the damage in the first-half with a spirited hat-trick and Payne added a fourth to end the match as a contest before the break.

In the second-half, Welling played possession football and began to get more men forward. Payne added a fifth on 70 minutes with a fine header to put some gloss on the result after Oxford had been reduced to ten men. He had hit the bar as well in the first half, so there was a prospect of a double hat-trick before the whistle finally gave the visitors a break. 

Welling go to old  enemies Dartford next week in unusually confident mood.

Friday 2 September 2022


Well, even I thought we would sign a striker. Anyone really, just to tick the box. Indeed, when Macauley Bonne's name appeared, it looked just like us. The chance of another cheap loan deal that might rekindle the form he hasn't shown since we flogged him to QPR two years ago, but in the end we couldn't even manage that. No defensive cover either that Sandgaard alluded to. 

The pathetic sight of Steve Gallen being wheeled out to explain that it wasn't our fault looked desperate. We are blaming QPR for trying to turn it into a last minute sale rather than a loan. That in itself tells it's own story. So desperate to move him on that they tried to leverage us at the last moment. That, though is our fault once again. Our fault for leaving everything to the last minute on the last day.

Sandgaard acknowledged the mistake of last season was not strengthening our striking options sufficiently either in the Summer or the Winter and told us he had learned from it. We only managed 54 goals and that killed it. Since then we have sold Washington and moved Davison out. Chuks Aneke is crocked once again and we are relying on the aerial threat of Stockley to finish off a high pressing ball game that we are still trying to master. 

The young players have done very well this season so far. We have had to rely on them increasingly because of gaps in our first team squad and have used them effectively in the little cup competitions so far. It is a huge and unrealistic expectation that they will carry the season and lead a promotion campaign we are not equipped for.

No, what is now even clearer is that Sandgaard's ambitions have changed. He has now had his 'Duchatelet moment' when he has realised that football isn't easy. He has lost another £8m and is facing similar losses again this season. That is why he has stopped spending on transfer fees. That is why he has cut the squad size. That is why we have brought in a League Two manager and more League Two players. That is why he is cost-cutting around the club. That is why experienced people have been fired and replaced with volunteers or new recruits. That is why our season tickets are pricey and why matchday tickets are extortionate. 'Fill the Valley' my arse.

Sandgaard's new plan to break even in two years is a pipe dream. You cannot cost-cut your way to profitability when your losses are such a large percentage of your turnover. You certainly cannot cost-cut your way to promotion. So what does he do next?

The logical next step is that he will look to sell players to shorten his losses. The easiest way he can do that is to find the next Mason Burstow and why, I believe, we are seeing the youngsters being relied upon. This is a lose-lose scenario though, because any success on the pitch, will be sold as quickly as possible. 

Ben Garner has made a decent start - only one defeat so far and we should have been in front in that one (no cutting edge). He is making a good fist of his aim for playing the same style of football throughout the club, even if the youngsters seem to have found it easier than the first team so far. Like us, Garner will be feeling short-changed this morning. He has been alluding to his squad shortages and his inability to spend any money, so yesterday will have been a smack in the face for him too.

It's a long season, as we know. We are already carrying injuries and there will be more. Last year we lost Stockley and Washington at the same time and the few goals we were scoring dried up. It did for Johnnie Jackson. Chuks Aneke can't play more than half a dozen games without injury and can't do 90 minutes. 

We are woefully short out wide. Charlie Kirk flatters to deceive. DJ has gone so far off the boil that we have been looking at offloading him and CBT, who has all the pace in the world, struggles to cross the ball or make the most of the positions he gets into. 

Our hopes this season really do rely on youth coming through in a big way quickly but as I said, I don't trust Sandgaard not to sell them on at the first opportunity. You have to then ask yourself why is he continuing? I can't think of anything other than he is trying to buff the numbers so he can sell the club and get out. How depressing is that?