Friday 28 October 2022

Planet Sandgaard!

CAST have today put out the notes from a conference call with Thomas Sandgaard aimed at clearing up a number of glaringly obvious questions about the direction of the club in recent months given the change in strategy from promotion to financial break-even. The verbatim can be read here -

The responses given are, frankly, insulting. Unbelievable in places, obvious waffle in others, largely patronising, it does nothing to smooth the waters as was the intention of CAST. Thomas Sandgaard doesn't get CAST in the same way he refuses to seek advice from those who have a previous track record of having achieved many of the things he is failing to do. He must, by now, have realised that football isn't as easy as he initially told it was but stubbornly refuses to change.

Sandgaard maintains that his ambitions for promotion haven't changed but fails to justify that. Instead he focuses on breaking even and repeats the mantra of "increasing revenue significantly" but declines the invite to provide any detail on how that will be achieved. He actually goes further by acknowledging he can't get to break even by cost cutting (agreed) and also discounts any "imminent player sales." Laughably, he tells us that "we won't do deals (on Academy players ) that are less than optimal," forgetting that he did just that with Burstow. You have to wonder if this is a another sound-bite aimed at potential Leaburn suitors, so he might get a few hundred grand more come January?

He went on to say he wasn't interested in "external investment" which leaves everyone wondering what his grand plan is? He tells us he has "other sources of income he could leverage" but again declines to enlighten us. Hopefully this will all become apparent before the January transfer window and I am sure the rest of the footballing world will be watching with intense interest to see what they can learn. I am pretty sure it won't be achieved by moving our prices back £4 to the most expensive in League One.

Questioned about the playing squad, we got a load more guff that will have supporters spitting feathers. He believes the current squad is better than last season and claims he has increased the budget! He is entitled to his opinion of course on the payers but I don't believe for a second that we are spending more than last season. Indeed, he has already told us that break-even would see the budget trimmed in each of the next two seasons (I recall a figure of £400k per season being mentioned). Recruiting a rookie League Two managers and four League Two players is all about cutting wages, not increasing budgets. We moved on the most experienced and biggest earners last year (eg Gunter, Pearce, Watson, Matthews, Purrington, Souare) and shortened the squad size in the process.

In looking ahead to the January window he was quick to say that we haven't utilised so many loan players - so that's clearly where his head will be at - and indeed it was the poorly negotiated deal he tried to do for Bonne at ten to midnight on deadline day. Remember too, we haven't been paying for the likes of Famewo, Lee, Arter and Co this year either. 

He also had the audacity to try and spin the striker situation. He seems to believe that Chuks Aneke's return from injury somehow strengthens our options from last year and tells us Conor Washington wasn't a pressing player or a goalscorer. I was critical of Washington's goalscoring but he would have scored more at the club than not being here - he certainly had more pace than we are left with and he made goals as well as scored them. He has scored three for Rotherham in the Championship so far - have Stockley and Aneke managed three between them yet? Plenty of time, obviously, and he also thinks that we have found what has been causing Aneke's long list of injuries. I can almost see poor Chuks limping off on Saturday for another couple of months just to prove him wrong on that too. 

Rightly, he was also asked about the culture at the club on the non-playing side. There has been a lot of change and more staff are speaking out about the treatment they have received working at the club. Bullying is a recurring theme and even today another employee looks ready to speak out. Sandgaard's unsatisfactory response was "you don't need to worry about that, just turn up and cheer the team!" Maybe that hit a nerve but the issue won't go away with wishful thinking. 

'Culture eats strategy for breakfast' is a business truism that Sandgaard is no doubt aware of, even if he doesn't believe or care about it. The organisation of the club has been a mess since he took-over. Steadfastly refusing to appoint a football-experienced Chief Executive was his first big mistake but he has also failed to build a senior management team around him. Everyone he has brought in has left in quick fashion and he has even found himself reliant upon his partner to do some of the heavy lifting when it's widely believed she had no visa to do so. 

Sorry Thomas, but this doesn't wash. We all want you to be successful but your refusal to address your shortcomings have put you in the situation you find yourself. The change of strategy is just that - a change of strategy. You aren't going to convince anyone that promotion ambitions still burn brightly when breaking-even is now your declared priority. You have trimmed the squad, cut the playing budget, left the side dangerously unbalanced and don't have a logical plan even for break-even.

As I said back in September, you cannot achieve break-even in two years (I note you told CAST now that it might be two-an-a-half) and certainly without players sales which would be counter-productive in terms of promotion or trying to make supporting Charlton Athletic successful or more appealing. Your losses will not improve and given that the assets you hold are limited, I expect you are actively looking to pass the responsibility onto someone else. Hopefully they will be able to get off to a flyer by avoiding the traps you have fallen into and have been unable to acknowledge properly or to climb out of.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Charlton Athletic 0 v MK Dons 2

It happened once again last night. A seemingly guaranteed home win against struggling opposition turned into a poor showing and a humbling defeat. It ends our three game winning run and our unbeaten home start to the season. 

Sadly, we just failed to get going. MK were defending deep and were superbly marshalled once again by Lewington and McEachran. But it was their midfield that kept us at bay and forced us back into that depressing C-shaped passing manouevre across the back four and keeper which has typified so many of our poorest performances in the last two seasons. Playing out from the back is great when you can quickly find space and opportunity but when there is little to aim for and you are quickly pressed it becomes dreadful to watch and you wonder why you bought a season-ticket or paid £30-odd quid for the privilege. At times like these, you need to vary the game and we didn't do it.

Once again we also lacked leadership. Fraser had a poor game against his old club and, for me, has fallen back from the levels he was reaching a few weeks ago. He is again seeing much less of the ball, not finding positions and failing to exert pressure or find players further forward. Dobson has had to do even more work to keep it going but is typically ten yards behind Fraser. 

Last night we tried to play down the wings but the Clare-Campbell and then Clare-Kirk combinations weren't working. Campbell did ok in the first-half, although he fluffed our best chance when firing into the side netting when Stockley was free in space in the centre. Cramp ended his game at the break. Clare was in at left-back for Sessegnon, who eventually replaced him. He is a utility player but left-back is his weakest position and he has no left foot so can be got at. I really don't see much future for Kirk. He flatters to deceive and apart from one tidy low ball across the box last night, he did nothing once again. He receives the ball and can play it back or lay it off when under no pressure but when space runs out he tends to panic. I have forgotten how many times this season he has been given a shooting opportunity and failed to get the shot off or when he has only had a five yard ball to play a colleague in and has over-hit or misplaced it. For a taller lad he also doesn't jump and his heading is poor. 

We were stronger on the right with Egbo-Rak-Sakyi but MK tripled up on the Palace youngster and limited his chances but he did well to make ground and invariably managed to beat two of them before being closed down or losing possession. Jayden Stockley is struggling as the lone striker. He looked better with Leaburn but make-shift partners aren't helping. When he goes right, we play him a left and vice-versa. If he drops back we play it too long etc. He has looked exasperated in recent games and over-critical of the youngsters around him when things have gone wrong and that's not helpful.

Joe Wollacott was my Man-of-the-Match with two very decent saves to keep us in it but he could do nothing with the Will Grigg penalty or the unstoppable 25 yard free-kick which killed the game. 

I am also calling Inniss out once again for another red card. It might have been outside the box and possibly not worthy of a booking ordinarily but he made it easy for the referee. He let his opponent get a yard on him and in his desperation to make up the gap used his left arm and then swerved left to collide with his opponent whose pace carried him several yards into the box as he went down. Like on Saturday Inniss was already carrying a routine early yellow card and he knew it was game over for him and for us. It wasn't one of his red-mist moment assaults on an opponent but it was careless once again and ended any remote hopes of victory. Great on his day but his temperament is such that the logical thing to do when he picks up a first-half yellow is to sub him. You can't afford to carry players like him if you want to be successful. 

We have done very well against the better sides this season and will hope for a repeat of the comfortable home victory over a strong Ipswich side on Saturday at the Valley, just like last season. However, I can see this recent run ending in another defeat and a return to midtable where this team belongs. 

Sunday 23 October 2022

Shrewsbury Town 0 v Charlton Athletic 1

Well, well, well. Win, win, win. Grin, grin, grin. A strong team performance at Montgomery Waters Meadows saw Ben Garner and his team win for the first time on our travels this season and, somehow, slide into 7th (seventh) in the table.

Nine from nine built on a back four of Sessegnon, O'Connell, Inniss and Egbo. The four man midfield looks better as does two up front, even if they are Stockley plus anyone else. Not to denigrate the full debut of Tyreece Campbell. "Tupac" earned his money and deserves another go after proving a handful for the Shrews defence. Marosi in the home goal denied him twice with good saves. 

The game was open in the first half. Shrewsbury missed two sitters early on from good crosses and Rak-Sakyi fluffled two great chances as the Addicks pressed. Dobson was outstanding once again mopping up and keeping the kettle boiling - he is already a strong contender for Player-of-the-Season again if he keeps this up. Stockley missed a back-post chance he would have buried last season and as the whistle went you felt we might pay in the second-half for our misses.

When Rak-Sakyi missed an even easier opportunity after the restart I called for Payne to replace him but knew the debutant Campbell would make way. I should also have known that Rak-Sakyi would make amends and he did after 67 minutes when he finished off a cut-back from Jack Payne from six yards out. 

After that Garner used his substitutions well and we managed the game nicely and limited the Shrews as they desperately sought another late goal against us after one in each of the last two visits. Chuks Aneke even managed a blistering shot on the charge which Marosi did very well to keep out at his near post.

If I am being critical, and I am, I thought Sessegnon was caught in possession too often going forward and I honestly didn't see anything of Kirk bar another failure to get an attempt in on goal when he had a decent chance second-half. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention because I got a stat-based Tweet later saying Kirk had set-up five goal-scoring chances - really? Fraser had a better second-half but he was anonymous in the first. Inniss did well to survive a second booking for 80 minutes and O'Connell once again showed what Garner has seen in him. Finally, Joe Wollacott deserves a shout out for two excellent saves which we have almost come to expect from him.

The mood in the camp must be good and on Tuesday we face bottom-of-the-table MK Dons at home in what should be a romp. Ipswich will provide stiffer opposition next Saturday, again at the Valley, but we have performed well against all the better sides so far. It would have been a great time to drop the prices and encourage a couple of thousand fans to return but I am guessing Sandgaard will stubbornly stick with his £4 off deal and that sales-prevention, £3 Meire Tax which continues to rub salt in the wounds. I received a message from the club yesterday reminding me of the new pricing which unhelpfully points out again that it's only until New Year. When will the wooden tops doing this realise that this is a sales message and no-one is going to decide to come now just because it will be more expensive after Christmas, so why threaten it?

Saturday 22 October 2022

Thirty Years...

It was thirty (30) years ago that we returned to the Valley. Thirty Years! In actual fact, it was 37 years ago that we left and what quantifies just how long ago it was that the suffering began.

This evening, I was delighted to attend an event organised by the Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust (CAST) to celebrate that. It was fitting that CAST had organised it and that it was at the Valley in the Fans Bar. It was perfectly organised. Richard Wiseman was a brilliant MC and took us through the timeline with which most of present were intimately familiar. 

Every seat was taken and the line up was near perfect; Rick Everitt, Middle Class Steve Dixon, Martin Simons, Roger Alwyn, Simon Webster and Bob Bolder.

Simons and Alwyn were very humble about their roles and the money that they provided. Keen to acknowledge the contribution of others and the VIP Scheme in particular. As a donor to that I was pleased to hear that it was so important at a key time. Like everyone else, I am sure, we all contributed for the good of the club and were unsurprised or not really bothered when our 'investment' was cancelled. Roger Alwyn doesn't always get the credit he truly deserves for his leadership (with Mike Norris) that brought the club back and changed our fortunes. It was good too, to hear Simon tell us that at some point he was "earning money that he would later be able to lose on Charlton" with a smile and a laugh. I regularly see him in Sainsburys deliberating over his wine choices and it cheers me enormously.

Bob Bolder played the fall guy perfectly. A brilliant keeper who never takes himself too seriously and who is delighted to still be involved at the club and doing a matchday hosting role he loves at the Valley. Webbo was the perfect player-foil. Providing relevant assessments of where we were at times during the Lennie Lawrence era and the run-in towards the return to the Valley. He is a smashing bloke and a down-to-earth local.

That left Rick Everitt and Steve Dixon, two fans who have transcended all of the professionals involved at the time. Steve Dixon has moved on with his career but Rick has very much been here throughout as we know.

Rick is the most dedicated fan this club has ever had. As a callow youth, I sometimes thought that was me! I'm sure we all have at some time. Nothing could keep me from watching Charlton. I went go to Blackpool on a night game in 1980 and returned home at 4am before my mock A-levels. I was 24 x 7 Charlton. I missed only 17 games in the 1980's - four and a half years without missing one. I bought a house in the area be closer to the ground and I still live here today. But Rick was there too, all the time. His fanzine gave us a voice and a record of what was happening at the club we could trust. His work at the Mercury kept the fires alight when we moved away and it was a no-brainer that he should one day work for the club. His knowledge, passion and qualifications stood out and his record as an employee speaks of nothing but success. Target 10,000, Valley Express, innovative supporter engagement that fuelled our rise to the Premiership and the peak for our club in our lifetimes. 

The timeline for the evening was also based on Rick's 'Battle for the Valley' which recorded every twist and turn in those final years when we fought tooth and nail to bring the club back to it's proper home. It is criminal that he and those around him (most obviously Peter Varney)during the most successful period in our history have been ignored by consecutive owners - what have they had to lose? Oh yes, money and the reputation of the club.

It makes me angry too that some supporters have had their pops over the years. The ignorant who think his motivation for producing the Voice or being involved at the club has been money (get real) and the naive who think they could do better. He has been a loyal supporter for decades now and we are very fortunate to have someone who cares so much the club and who has been able to add so much value and who continues to. 

It really was a good evening, cathartic in many ways and I am so pleased I went. The heads were largely grey and it appealed to an older audience but no great surprise - for those of us who lived through it, they were momentous times. CAST did us proud. 

Monday 17 October 2022

Charlton Athletic 3 v Portsmouth 0

I have to say, I really didn't fancy it tonight. Two and half thousand noisy Portsmouth fans, live on Sky, one upfront, their decent start, our stuttering form and I could see us slipping to a two-nil defeat.

Well, what a pleasant surprise. We started well and took the ball to them. Blackett-Taylor on the left and Rak-Sakyi on the right. Fraser and Dobson keeping the kettle boiling and our back four solid enough. Jayden Stockley posed no serious threat but with Ryan Inniss ghosting in to monster Michael Morrison and dunk a header in from six yards, he wasn't needed. Before the half was up, Kirk picked up an intercepted ball and ran through the middle. Two of the three covering defenders went with Stockley which left Blackett-Taylor in space on the left and a perfect through ball from Kirk released him to run in on goal. He took one touch and then another before poking a shot below the charging keeper and into the goal for two-nil. The visiting supporters had already been quietened but this shut them up.

The annoying Sky commentary team were clearly all routing for Pompey and we had to suffer the over-focus on a penalty appeal when O'Connell took a handful of shirt but from a player who was in an offside position. The bias continued but when O'Connell ran in unopposed to repeat Inniss' first-half feat, it was game over for Pompey. In between times Rak-Sakyi had seen an effort beaten out and the Portsmouth keeper did brilliantly to get a hand to a Blackett-Taylor pile-driver after he had woven his way into the box. 

In the end Portsmouth were lucky to only concede four and I felt sorry for them in the end looking at three ex-Charlton players on their bench who never made it here - Piggott, Minghi and Hackett-Fairchild. They really weren't very good.

The win lifts us to tenth and despite the game in hand over a number of sides, we are somehow only two points off sixth. I genuinely don't believe we are better than mid-table but we have arrived here from nowhere and suddenly there might be a bit of belief amongst the team. It will be a welcome relief for Ben Garner and goes someway to removing any serious concerns about a relegation battle. We remain unbeaten at home (W4, D3) and that form should secure our season.

Sunday 16 October 2022

Welling United 0 v St. Albans 3

Welling's bright start to this season has been stuttering in recent weeks and yesterday it stalled. In front of a thousand hopeful supporters the Wings failed to really get going and were strangely subdued. 

Unbeaten away from home, Welling have struggled at Park View Road to find the same spark. Aside from the 5-0 demolition of Oxford City, it's now been one other win, two draws and three defeats. From the outset yesterday Welling were lack-lustre. Cox and Kassarate played well down the right flank in the first-half but there was precious little end product. The visitors settled into the game and look increasingly comfortable as the half wore on without threatening much themselves. 

Unfortunately, Taylor Maloney then handed them a life-line from a woeful back pass that was horribly short and seized upon. Roberts did everything he could but he was rounded and easily beaten. Before the break another defensive error left St. Albans in again. Roberts managed to block the first shot but the ball rebounded to one of their men in space and he lofted it into the empty goal.

Even after the Feeney half-time talk there was still no response from the hosts. No    leadership, no voices, nothing. They looked content to settle for 0-2 and the match petered out as a contest. I don't remember their keeper making a save. I can't comment on the late third goal as I was on my way home by then.

Friday 14 October 2022

Thomas Sandgaard trashing his reputation

It's reached that stage unfortunately. After the initial euphoria of his takeover two years ago, Thomas Sandgaard's grand plans for taking Charlton Athletic back up the leagues and bringing the good times back have failed. It looks increasingly likely that he has run out of ready cash required to continue investing in the club and is now looking to cut his losses by finding someone else to take on the responsibility of running the club. The Zynex share price remains well down on the price when he bought us and the business continues to limp on in the wake of accusations of mis-selling and loss of their largest single customer.

His latest 'break even' plan has seen us fail to start the season with a balanced squad and performances have since confirmed that the freebies brought in from the lower leagues are not going to make us highly competitive in League One. Blunt cost-cutting around the club has not been handled well and staff have been alienated as loyal club servants have been sacked and treated shabbily. 

The latest noises suggest that Sandgaard is also scrimping on the Academy having failed in his flawed bid to get Category 1 status. Tales of families having to wash their own kit and coaches being asked to provide their own balls harks back to Duchatelet's own cost-cutting when bottled water was removed. 

Comms and marketing have been absolutely dire under Sandgaard. He either took very poor advice when he came in (from Duchatelet?) about who to trust, or his ego was so big that he thought he knew better. "Football is easy" remember. Either way, we have got just about every decision wrong since he arrived. The u-turns, the apologies and the 'we've learnt lesson' messages have continued throughout, proving that he has not been listening or learning. Even yesterday, when the club is still trying to flog £30 seats for Monday's televised Sky game, bundles of freebies are again appearing on social media.

Those willing to defend him are disappearing as fast as the actual gates in recent weeks. The next step will be outright opposition and public humiliation at matches. I don't think he's too naive not to see that coming and he really won't want it. In the circumstances, he must be working furiously in the background to find another buyer. The sort of petty cost-cutting being made around the ground is, ironically enough, not sustainable and he will know that. It's simply expedient because he knows he has to take a bath on the cost of his failed ownership as he writes off debt to pass the club on and wants to save what he can whilst that happens. 

Once more, as Charlton supporters, we face an uncertain future. Almost certainly there is active interest which will again not be straightforward because of the involvement of Roland Duchatelet, who has cursed the club since 2016. My guess is that the attraction of getting involved in an English football club on the cheap will be far greater than anyone prepared to meet Duchatelet's high price to acquire the assets and attempt to control the future of the club fully. 

It looks very much to me like we will see another Sandgaard throw their hat in the ring and effectively say what he did two years ago. US interest in investing in English football is strong and I can see Sandgaard preferring to do a deal with a like-minded American. 

Whatever happens, we have to hope that the next owner has the money and gets it right. There is certainly a growing body of evidence and case example of how not to do it and I think the honeymoon period for the next owner will be even shorter if they start to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

Wednesday 12 October 2022

Charlton Athletic 4 v Exeter City 2

Huge relief amongst Charlton supporters last night as we finally won again. In the end it was a convincing win against a decent Exeter team who were limited by their small squad and a second game in four days. For a change, Ben Garner was able to make good use of his stronger bench and everything paid off.

The recent switch to 4-4-2 proved critical last night as Stockley a Leaburn held the line and our midfield pushed up to support them. Mandela Egbo (my Man of the Match) was prominent down the right flank and allowed Rak-Sakyi to run at their defence. 

Dobson had another strong game in front of the back four as did Scott Fraser. Each made one of the first-half goals. Dobson spotted Leaburn in a large gap on the left and chipped a ball over the top to him which he controlled brilliantly with his first touch, shaped to shoot with his left which was well disguised and allowed him to push it onto his right peg and fire a shot to the keeper's left which took a slight deflection but whistled in nonetheless. You have to keep reminding yourself that Leaburn is still only 18. He has unusual composure and touch for one so tall at his age (more so than his father) and is growing in confidence steadily. Last night was one of his best yet so it was a pity to see him limp off early in the second-half. Hopefully just a heavy knock which will benefit from a few days added rest before Pompey on Monday.

Fraser's assist came after another right-wing attack from Rak-Sakyi that broke down but was quickly picked up by Fraser on the right. He drove past the full-back and whipped a cross into the box at head height. It was perfect for Stockley and any touch would do. Stockers somehow failed to connect but the covering defender didn't and it flew in off him. With 30-odd minutes gone there were shades of Plymouth Argyle again but instead of finding a third before the break, Exeter gone one back with a superb half-volley from distance from Stansfield which flew into the top corner.

Exeter had been getting forward and matched us in the stats all night (Caprice looked a real player by the way) but they lacked a cutting edge and Inniss and O'Connell did well alongside Egbo and Sessegnon to restrict them. When Leaburn limped off it was Albie Morgan who replaced him and Clare was also brought on for the tiring Sessegnon. I thought this was a bad move, not replacing Leaburn with Chuks who was back on the bench and wondered that perhaps he wasn't 100% ready. 

However, Morgan's energy kept us upfield and Clare was more dominant on the left-side than Sessegnon had been. Garner also bought Blackett-Taylor and Payne on for Kirk and Rak-Sakyi in another move that I thought was premature after their poor showings in recent weeks. Both also proved me wrong. They were only on for less that 20 minutes but Blackett-Taylor had the right-back on toast and Payne was on hand to head home the fourth but not before Chuks scored within two minutes of his return (for Stockley) with a close finish off the keeper.

Mandela Egbo conceded a late penalty after a strong challenge on the wing was waved on by the ref but not when a second bite at the cherry in the box put his man down. As Pete said, he may have got away with the strong shoulder further upfield.

The win lifts us into an artificially high place of eleventh with so many others playing this evening but we got the points and spirits will be lifted ahead of Monday night's Sky game against Portsmouth.

The home gate looked the smallest of the season although Exeter had a decent vocal midweek following of c 800-900. Laughably the official attendance was given out at 11-something. 

Finally, what a good pundit Ali Maxwell is. His analysis was excellent and insightful and a perfect foil for Curbs. I know he is a journo and does something for the EFL highlights programme but assume he is also a Charlton fan - certainly came across as he was enjoying the win and he called it right at half-time when I had fears we might lose 3-2.

Saturday 8 October 2022

Lincoln City 0 v Charlton Athletic 0

Not one for the purists this. Another draw but at least it is a point away from home. We have now earned more points from draws than from wins this season.

In a refreshing change Garner put out a 4-4-2 and we looked better for it. Innis and O'Connelll were rarely troubled and we had more possession in midfield though it didn't result in more chances. In fact the game was short on goalmouth activity. 

In the first-half, Myles Leaburn came closest to scoring after springing the offside and cantering in on goal. His low near post shot was spilled by Rushworth and looked like it would creep in before a last-gasp claw from the City keeper pulled it off the line. The game was then disrupted after the referee injured himself after colliding with Mandela Egbo. After a restart, he decided he could not continue and we had to await the fourth official. Just before half-time Joe Wollacott was called into action to stop a snapshot from eight yards out which he did brilliantly well to get down to and push out with one hand.

After the break, the game remained as scrappy and goalscoring opportunities were limited. Lincoln seemed to get the majority of the fifty-fifty decisions and Charlton were unlucky not to get a penalty after an offside was flagged in the move.

Garner used four substitutes no little effect and the game eventually petered out.

The point saw us drop to 18th, worryingly only two points above Forest Green in the drop zone. The next two are both at home but we are up against 8th placed Exeter who won at Barnsley today and the 4th placed Portsmouth. I feel more confident with a 4-4-2 but scoring goals remains the biggest problem. 

Self-harming Charlton

First, a positive - Thomas Sandgaard has been persuaded to reduce ticket prices at the Valley for the remaining matches of the season. When I saw the first messages yesterday, I read it as £19.92 for every ticket for the rest of the season. That would have made so much sense and, I believe, would have been there or thereabouts on the optimum price x volume combination to increase gates and overall revenue (Twenty's plenty etc).

Unfortunately, the £19.92 price is only a promotion for the annual 'back-to-the-Valley' game against mighty Cheltenham Town. The actual ticket price saving that the Fans Advisors appear to have won from Mr Sandgaard is a £4 reduction. Those buying irrespective will gladly take the £4 but it's nowhere near enough to get others (like me) to consider it good value for League One and get off our backsides and get to the Valley, especially with the current dire performances.

Hopefully the take-up for the Cheltenham game will help make this point. I will be there for this game irrespective of where we are in the table by then.

Secondly, more annoying rumours that Sandgaard has cut another £140,000 from the Academy budget. More questions for the Fans Advisors (punctures their balloon) and I am sure the Supporters Trust will again be looking for an explanation. Once again this is another case of very naive decision-making and communication. It is impossible to make cuts in an operation like a football club without people noticing and asking questions. If you are going to do this, you need to plan the comms and control the narrative. Explain what you are doing proactively and you have half-a-chance of taking the audience with you. Instead. we now have Valley Gold members again questioning where their donations go and the point of it when the owner himself is cutting back.

As I have said before, I really don't understand what is driving Sandgaard. His stake in the club is worth zero because of the club's debt and ongoing operating loss is more than the value of its assets (primarily the playing staff). On the basis that all he can realistically do is trim the size of the loss, the sale price is still zero. 

The recently published full accounts from 2020-21 don't tell us much we didn't already know.  It was a distorted year given Covid and games played behind closed doors. However, it looks like Sandgaard paid ESI a £1.1m ransom to get control. That's depressing to learn but I guess it was a necessary evil. Perhaps he feels he can negotiate something similar in passing the club on but timing must be key given the size of the operating losses - £1m will be eaten up every couple of months at present.

In summary then, still no way out of the vicious circle we are in and Operating losses will be mounting as actual attendances continue to decline. Unless Sandgaard is prepared to be radical, his only hope is Ben Garner who is now under mounting pressure himself because of results. Replacing Garner would also add to the debt with no surety that anyone else could get a bigger tune from what looks increasingly like a League Two squad of players. 

Tuesday 4 October 2022

Evolution of the Perfect Protest

The "Sandgaard Ownership Discussion" on Charlton Life has been moving slowly but steadily towards open revolt in the last month. Incredibly naive Non-Executive, Leo Rifkind, stirred the hornets' nest last month by suddenly piping up on Twitter and suggesting that the club was not dependent on "ownership funding" and that fans were somehow responsible for balancing the books. Thomas Sandgaard was forced to apologise and say that he was unaware that Rifkind was going to suddenly appeal to the fans. However, the comments were made on the back of Sandgaard's new 'Break Even' policy in which ambition has taken a back-seat to cutting his operating losses. 

Since then things at the Club have continued to slide, both on and off the pitch. The owner and his partner appear to have managed to alienate the entire club staff so much, that we have an anonymous employee telling tales on Twitter which would appear to be on the money and are adding colour to a Summer of cost-cutting and a cull of loyal servants.

Things are no better on the pitch where we have not won in seven league games and seem unable to score more than a goal-a-game. We don't seem to be able to play for more than one half in any match and look content with draws. We have dropped down the table and are only three points above the drop zone despite being in 12th. 

Manager Ben Garner still retains the support of the majority of the supporters but even he has been sounding a tad defeatist in his recent post-match interviews when clearly he is struggling to explain what's going wrong in games.  Indeed, on Saturday he named and shamed a player for the first time. Corey Blackett-Taylor was dropped from the squad and called out after the game for his lack of application at Barnsley the previous week. For the record, I agree with the manager here and have said as much about CBT myself, however, when a manager begins publicly blaming players, it's often a sign that there is trouble in the dressing room. Hopefully he has done it in a supportive way and we can all move on but he also focused praise on his enforced substitutions on Saturday because the eleven he selected to start were so abysmal in the first-half. 

Dismay amongst fans is spreading and Sandgaard is being called out openly for his lack of ambition, failure to support his manager adequately and for the nonsensically high cost of attending matches at the Valley. There is no chance of Sandgaard getting to break even in two seasons unless he can find £10m worth of player sales. In the absence of that, he needs to do something different but appears to be ploughing on in his 'I know best' fashion which has not worked at all well for him since he took over the club.

Given the apparent stalemate, fans are once again raising the prospect of protest and what can be done to encourage the owner to find someone with more money and ambition to take it on. Fair to say too that we love a protest at Charlton. At times, sadly, during the last five years protesting was the highlight of supporting the club and attending matches. 

However, when you look at where we have come from and where we find ourselves, I think we have evolved sufficiently that we are now delivering the perfect protest without trying too hard.

The facts are that whilst Sandgaard dreams about doubling and trebling revenues, our supporters are actually stopping attending matches. For non-season ticket holders, the prices represent bad value-for-money and, unforgivably, we still have the salt in the wound of the Meire Tax for those unable or unwilling to commit to purchase several days in advance. He can't say he hasn't been warned either...

Season ticket holders may have paid upfront but even tangible numbers of them are not bothering given that the actual attendances at recent games has been less than the numbers of season ticket holders we have (7,000 v 8,000).

All those stay-aways don't spend money on club gear, food, drink or hospitality either. Revenues from those lines must also be parlous. The Club Shop stocks nothing now but replica kits and track tops. Castore, who run the stop now, look like they are far too big to be bothered with a struggling League One club and the contract we have signed with them doesn't appear to give us any levers. Oh dear.

The price of hospitality packages too has been whacked up in line with admission prices and doesn't have fans queuing up. £170 for deal that involves a match ticket, 'free' drink, a programme and three course meal isn't packing the lounges and at Saturday's game, the club closed the bars and outlets serving the East Stand. 

Thomas Sandgaard's break even plan would appear to be succeeding only in exacerbating the losses. So what should we do? The answer, I believe, is keep calm and carry on. Sandgaard may be stubborn but he is no fool and he is caught in the perfect storm. Only a dramatic improvement in our style of play and results is going to improve his outlook from here and that looks as unlikely as the £10m transfer fees from this squad of players. 

Protesting under Duchatelet often boosted gates as fans came to protest and to try to get things off their chests. The current loss-of-interest is actually the perfect riposte to Break Even. 

Personally, I haven't been to a game yet this season (I do watch most live on TV). That's not a deliberate decision but just a week-to-week one and I really resent coughing up £34-37 for what I fear will be another poor show. I have felt much happier at Welling where they are making it affordable and enjoyable and where they understand football fans and run rings around our marketing and comms. 

Saturday 1 October 2022

Charlton Athletic 1 v Oxford United 1

Before the game we heard Paul Mortimer and Alan Curbishley both saying that today was a potentially pivotal game and that we desperately needed to win ugly to break the run of poor results we are in. Sadly, we didn't manage to do it and it was another troubling watch.

The first half was absolutely woeful. As bad as any we have seen at the Valley in League One. Not a single attempt at goal and we were one-down after ten minutes as our defence parted to allow Marcus Browne a shy at goal from 25 yards.

It was easy to see the three at the back, Lavelle, Innis and O'Connell, as they struggled to clear their lines. The real problem was what was in front of them. Nominally a four man midfield of Sessegnon, Dobson, Fraser and Egbo with Payne, Stockley and Rak-Sakyi upfront. Unfortunately, there was no shape whatsoever. Fraser went missing and Dobson was forced into 30 yard hopeful balls every time he got possession. Egbo was playing too far forward and Sessegnon was tucked in front of their right back. Payne and Stockley were lost. It really was a hard watch. Oxford looked every inch like a side below us in the table but still looked very comfortable.

We strolled off to boos but the lack of numbers meant the noise wasn't satisfying enough for the angry home fans, so the Covered End gave a rendition of "effing useless" just to reinforce the point.

These were the players who were given a tour of the Charlton Museum in the week and whom we had to suffer hearing them saying how much it meant for them to understand just what supporting this club meant to its fans and how it would put fire in their bellies for Saturday etc. It was absolutely pathetic.

Garner stormed off down the tunnel before his troops and our players were sent out early with Leaburn and Kirk on for Sessegnon and Lavelle. Our players stood in groups talking and you could feel them saying "well, let's get a goal and shut the fans up." Within ten minutes of the restart Stockley headed home a back post chip from Kirk after we had forced several stabs at goal. Suddenly it looked easy but despite more obvious effort we didn't really look that comfortable. 

There were a few more chances at either end but both sides seemed happy for a point. I might be wrong but we are in a world of trouble if that was the case. In the last seven we have lost 3-1 twice and managed five 1-1 draws. It's two wins from 11 and that is relegation battle form. It might also have been worse. Inniss committed yet another atrocious tackle and you felt that another red might be in the offing before the end. That really would be it for me if he manages it again.

The pre-season guff from Sandgaard and Garner about attacking football and 'high press, low block' has been completely exposed. We don't have the players for it and it was only a second-half switch to a basic 4-4-2 that allowed us our first chances of the game. I suppose Sandgaard can probably still dream about this if he still believes his son is qualified to be our judge of incoming players based upon his supposed hard shot.

Everyone knows there are very few goals in this side and that by the time we get to the January transfer window the most likely options will be to strengthen to avoid a possible relegation or to hold onto our money until the Summer. That pre-supposes, of course, that Sandgaard will have been shocked into opening his wallet and U-turning on 'break even.' It also assumes he won't have found another buyer and scuttled back to America with his tails between his legs.

The Club Shop is empty but for replica shirts and a couple of track suit tops. The prices are still ridiculously high and interest continues to decline everywhere. Sandgaard thinks he can double revenues in this climate which is even more laughable than his 'high press, low block.' The official attendance was given as 12,806 (1,058 Oxford) which confirms that Sandgaard is once again inflating the figures with ghost comps. as the actually home support was probably very close once again to 7,000. The train strike and heavy A2 traffic won't have helped but the idea that we would have sold anything like 3,000 matchday tickets to home fans in the current environment is for the birds.

It's really hard to see what changes. Ben Garner keeps talking about "hard work" but that's because there is nothing else he can say. Chuks Aneke aside, we don't have an injury crisis and he is injured more often than not. I'd also say that we don't have a lot of evidence for "hard work." These 'one half performances,' suggest quite the opposite. It's almost as if the players believe they are better than they are and that they can always get back into a game having lost the lead. There is some evidence for that at home but we don't seem to have enough momentum or desire to win matches and it makes us a soft touch away from home and the ire of our home support.

Everything now points at Thomas Sandgaard. there really is only one way out for him from here, particularly given his 'break even' strategy. He is in desperate need of someone to take on his losses.