Updated story: Two councillors are applying for Charlton Athletic’s training ground in New Eltham to be made an asset of community value, after Danish-American businessman Thomas Sandgaard confirmed that he had managed to buy the troubled football club – but not its properties.
The deal appears to end months of uncertainty about the club’s future – but both The Valley and the training complex at Sparrows Lane remain in the hands of its eccentric former owner Roland Duchâtelet, whose botched attempt to offload the side a year ago brought it to the brink of administration.
Sandgaard has bought the club from East Street Investments (ESI), which in turn purchased it from Duchâtelet nearly a year ago. The ESI deal unravelled in March after a public falling-out between its principals Matt Southall and Tahnoon Nimer, with the two trading insults on social media. Promised investment did not appear, contributing to the Addicks’ relegation last season. It also emerged that, contrary to statements at the time of sale, the pair had not bought The Valley or the club’s training ground at Sparrows Lane in New Eltham, instead taking a five-year lease on them from Duchâtelet.
ESI was then “sold” to Manchester businessman Paul Elliott, however, the English Football League blocked the deal and the club’s future was then dragged through the courts. Last week, an injunction prevented the sale of ESI while the ownership wrangle was resolved. The club would have run out of money within a week if the deal had not been done; in July it was effectively been warned it risked expulsion from the league.
Sandgaard – who owns hospital equipment company Zynex Medical – emerged as a potential bidder for the club last month, and this morning dodged the injunction by buying the club itself rather than ESI. There were suggestions this afternoon that Elliott may seek to challenge the sale through the courts. The EFL, which had put a transfer embargo on the club, has passed Sandgaard as a director – a test which Elliott failed.
Duchâtelet, whose four-year tenure at The Valley led to a supporter boycott, seemingly held on to The Valley and Sparrows Lane to recoup the money he lost during his disastrous tenure. Sandgaard, who called the day “one of the best in my life”, said he had agreed to extend the lease on the two sites to 15 years.
“When I started negotiating with Duchâtelet, I wanted to buy the stadium, but the conversation quickly turned into a rental agreement and it seems for now that is the best for all parties,” he told Talksport radio. “I’m renting the stadium and training ground for 15 years and have got rid of all the weird side deals so everything’s cleaned up.”
📢 “I’m so happy to announce I’m now owner of Charlton!”
🙌 “This is one of the best days of my life! It’s history in the making.”
🙏 “The support from fans has been unbelievable.”
Here’s the moment Thomas Sandgaard announced on @JimWhite that he is the new owner of #CAFC 🔴 pic.twitter.com/e22z1EoHXu
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) September 25, 2020
Ownership of The Valley is a sore point with Charlton fans; not having control of The Valley led to the club’s disastrous seven-year exile from SE7 in 1985. But the fate of Sparrows Lane has also caused concern at Woolwich Town Hall, especially as the council lost an appeal on an application for housing on the nearby former Gaelic Athletic Association ground at Avery Hill Road in 2016.
Conservative leader Nigel Fletcher, one of the local councillors for Sparrows Lane, and colleague Charlie Davis said this afternoon they would be applying for Sparrows Lane to be made an asset of community value – which means the community is able to bid for the site if it comes up for sale. The Valley already has this status.
They said: “We will be seeking early engagement with him to clarify aspects of the deal, and to urge him to give assurances on a number of outstanding issues. Specifically, we want much greater support to be given in future to the elite women’s team, along with other commitments to support the club’s loyal staff and partners. As the ownership of the stadium and Sparrows Lane training ground remain with the club’s previous owner and have not been transferred in this deal, we are today beginning the process of applying to have Sparrows Lane formally listed alongside The Valley as an asset of community value.”
Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook said the takeover of the club was “outstanding news”, while Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe joked “a freedom of the borough is in order ASAP!”
Sandgaard said on his own website: “With the club about to run out of funds this month, it was important that I moved quickly to complete the acquisition and put funds in to the club to ensure its survival.
“I have always had two passions – rock music and football. I was a bit of a nerd when I was 13 so decided to go out and buy a guitar because I loved music and wanted to be one of the cool kids – and become a rock musician. I ultimately ended up playing in lots of rock bands in the seventies and early eighties.
“My love of football started when I played at an amateur level in Denmark and then really fell in love with the English game when I watched the FA Cup finals on Danish television in the 1970s. In the last few years, I’ve reached a point financially where I can really do something like this. Four months ago, a friend asked, ‘Have you thought about owning an English football club?’ And I thought, wow, that could be one of the most positive things that I could ever be a part of.”
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