Greenwich’s two leading Conservative councillors have appealed to the sports minister to intervene in the battle to save Charlton Athletic, whose future is in doubt following its botched sale by former owner Roland Duchâtelet.
The 115-year-old football club was relegated to the third tier of English football last month after defeat to Leeds United on the last day of the season. But its existence is in peril after an attempt to take over the club by businessman Paul Elliott and lawyer Chris Farnell was rejected by the English Football League last week.
Elliott and Farnell had hoped to take over East Street Investments (ESI), the company that bought the club from Duchatelet last year. ESI’s takeover, while approved by the EFL, unravelled within weeks with its two principals, Matt Southall and Tahnoon Nimer, trading insults on social media and the club placed under a transfer embargo, limiting its ability to buy players, because the duo could not prove they had the funds to run the club.
The saga has worrying parallels with the fate of Bury, who were thrown out of the EFL last year when its owners could not come up with proof that they could fund the club. Farnell was involved with Bury at the time, and last week Charlton fans confronted him in his office in Hale, Greater Manchester, where they found him with the former Wolves manager Dave Jones – who worked alongside Farnell at Bury. Farnell has now left the club, reportedly after being sacked by Marian Mihal, a club director and representative of Nimer, who remains the majority shareholder.
To make the situation more complex, Duchâtelet still owns The Valley and the club’s training ground at Sparrows Lane, New Eltham, on the understanding that ESI will later buy them from him – essentially refunding him the money the Belgian lost during his own chaotic tenure.
Fans want Duchâtelet and Nimer to end the shambles at The Valley by selling to its former chief executive Peter Varney and businessman Andrew Barclay, who have expressed an interest in buying the club and its land. Yesterday a new contender, a Danish-born medical entrepreneur, said he was also interested.
Two weeks ago, Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe told 853 that the town hall would oppose any attempt to move the club out of the borough; Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has been in contact with the EFL while Eltham MP Clive Efford raised the club’s plight in the House of Commons.
Now the deputy leader of Greenwich Conservatives, Charlie Davis, has written to Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, to ask for a meeting to discuss Charlton’s plight.
“The individuals involved [in Charlton] have done little to prove that they would be responsible custodians for the football club, or that they possess the necessary funds to ensure the club continues its current Football League status and can return to the Championship at the earliest opportunity,” Davis writes in a letter signed with Nigel Fletcher, the opposition leader.
“Charlton Athletic play an important role in the local community, not least through the work of the Charlton Athletic Community Trust. The trust worked together with the Council to create the Greenwich Community Hub, supporting the most vulnerable residents in our borough. The hub received over 105,000 calls and delivered over 4,200 food boxes to vulnerable residents.
“We are therefore extremely concerned that Charlton’s future as a Football League club is under imminent threat. This concern is amplified by the fact that our community would not be the first to suffer as a result of the poor management and governance of the EFL in the last twelve months. The community of Bury have lost their club due to the failures of the Football League, whilst Bolton Wanderers narrowly held onto theirs. How many more clubs need to be in this situation before genuine reform and change happens?
“Once we have been able to save Charlton, the focus needs to turn to reform to ensure no club or community is in this situation again.”
Davis, a West Ham season-ticket holder, added: “We seek your support and intervention, working with the EFL and the wider football community, to ensure that the club has a future in the borough, and that our community does not suffer the same fate as Bury in losing an asset at its heart.”
This is what we are fighting to save. Tonight at 6pm again! #SaveCAFC #ESIout Be wary of us @EFL we are noisy like this, we won’t go away! pic.twitter.com/k1iBlBR8MC
— Dave Lockwood #SaveCAFC (@BigDL) August 13, 2020
Fans have been using social media to draw attention to the club’s plight, with Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker offering his support last night, saying: “Another of our great football clubs being messed with.”
A generation of local politicians will be well aware of Charlton fans’ campaigning power – in 1985, a land dispute led to the club leaving The Valley for Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park ground. Greenwich Council refused planning permission for a new stadium at The Valley in 1990, prompting fans to set up their own Valley Party, which managed to oust the chair of planning and bring the council back to the negotiating table. The club returned to The Valley in 1992.
While fans have been pressing for Varney and Barclay to be allowed to take over the club, stadium and training ground, Thomas Sandgaard, whose US-based company makes medical equipment, revealed to the South London Press yesterday that he was also interested in the club but had not been able to talk to Duchâtelet.
Sandgaard later said that he used to watch Charlton in the 2000s when they were a top-flight club with Danish international Dennis Rommedahl on their books. “Charlton Athletic has a formidable fan-base and a strong history. I remember watching Rommedahl charge the wings and I want Charlton supporters to know I am committed to first and foremost winning and returning the club to the Premier League,” he said.
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