Greenwich Council says it will oppose any attempt to move Charlton Athletic out of the borough as the club’s future hangs in the balance following its relegation from the Championship last week.
Supporters had rejoiced last October when the Belgian electronics magnate Roland Duchâtelet sold the club after five turbulent years to a group called East Street Investments (ESI). But promises that the new owners would invest in the side were not followed through – wrecking hopes it would stay in football’s second tier – and ESI collapsed into acrimony last March, with leading figures Matt Southall and Tahnoon Nimer trading insults on social media.
To make matters worse, Duchâtelet – apparently attempting to recoup the millions he lost during his time in charge – has held onto The Valley and the club’s training ground at Sparrows Lane in New Eltham. Last month, the club claimed ESI had been sold to Manchester-based businessman Paul Elliott, but that deal has yet to be ratified by the English Football League.
Tonight, the EFL confirmed it had not received sufficient information to approve the takeover. “The club is aware of the consequences of not meeting those requirements,” the EFL said, effectively warning Elliott and his lawyer Chris Farnell, who sits on the ESI board, that the club risks expulsion from the league.
Last year, a similar situation led to Bury being expelled from the league. Farnell was also Bury’s lawyer. The Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust has warned the club could be thrown out of the league in less than seven weeks.
Last week, the Eltham MP Clive Efford told the House of Commons that the situation was “undermining the future of the club”. Both he and the Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook have written to the EFL to demand action.
Supporters fear The Valley could be redeveloped, but Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe has told The Charlton Champion the authority wants to see the club remain.
“Generations of Greenwich residents have supported Charlton Athletic and they would have been devastated by their relegation last week. The council has very close ties to the club, especially its Community Trust which has worked with us to coordinate over 1,000 volunteers to deliver food and other vital support to residents during the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
“I wrote to Mr Duchâtelet two years ago when there were protests about his ownership and had hoped that winning promotion last year and new ownership would bring about some stability to the club. Sadly that hasn’t happened, and relegation could make things even worse.
“The stadium and training ground sites are designated for specific uses and we would not be interested in any proposals that involved a change of use. Charlton Athletic belongs in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and we will oppose anything that could lead to them being moved out of the borough.”
While The Valley is generally thought to be a difficult site to build on – a large sewer runs underneath it and road access is limited – fans have feared development proposals for many years. Duchâtelet’s predecessors as owners, Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, had explored the idea of moving to Greenwich Peninsula and striking a deal to have The Valley used for social housing, a court case in 2017 revealed.
Further back, a separation in the ownership of club and ground led to Charlton leaving The Valley in 1985 for Crystal Palace’s ground at Selhurst Park, leading to a damaging seven-year exile from the area. Greenwich planning policies designate it as “community open space”.
However, there is also concern at Woolwich Town Hall about the fate of Sparrows Lane. While it is designated as Metropolitan Open Land – giving it one of the strongest protections against development – councillors fear a planning inspector could still allow building there.
A Premier League side as recently as 2007, Charlton were relegated back to League One last week after a 4-0 defeat at league champions Leeds United. Fans fear the relegation and off-field drama will lead to the departure of manager Lee Bowyer as well as several key players.
The club said tonight: “Getting the change of ownership approved is the top priority of everyone at the club and there is no delay on the part of the club.
“The club will be in touch with the league on Tuesday morning with aim of getting this process concluded.”
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