Charlton Athletic saved from the brink – but Duchâtelet still owns The Valley

The Valley
Charlton fans now have something to celebrate

Danish-American businessman Thomas Sandgaard has bought Charlton Athletic, ending months of uncertainty about the troubled club’s future – but The Valley remains in the hands of its eccentric former owner Roland Duchâtelet, whose botched sale of the side 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. However, 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 and promised investment not appearing, contributing to its 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 in Sparrows Lane in New Eltham.

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.

Floyd Road graffiti - Save CAFC, our club, not yours!
Fans had left ESI in no doubt of their feelings

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.

The Valley and Sparrows Lane, however, remain with Duchâtelet. Sandgaard said he had agreed to extend the lease on them from five to 15 years. The EFL, which had put a transfer embargo on the club, has agreed the deal.

“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.”

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.

He added: “This is one of the best days of my life, it’s up there with when my two kids were born. The support I’ve had from fans during this whole process has been unbelievable.”

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.”

Charlton fans' protest
About 500 fans held a protest at The Valley five weeks ago

Fans held a protest against Elliott’s “ownership” last month, while a group invaded his solicitor Chris Farnell’s office in Hale, Greater Manchester.

Local 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!”

Greenwich borough’s Conservative opposition leader Nigel Fletcher said the news was encouraging but wanted to “seek assurances on some key outstanding issues”.

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Charlton Athletic mark 100 years at The Valley

Valley pitch invasion
Going up: fans invade the pitch after the play-off semi-final win over Doncaster Rovers in May

Today marks 100 years since the first Charlton Athletic match at The Valley. The centenary will be marked at tomorrow’s match against Birmingham City, with Lee Bowyer’s side hoping to continue its excellent start to the Championship season. The first match in what was then known simply as the Charlton Enclosure, a 2-0 win for Charlton’s “A” team against Summerstown, took place in the South Suburban League – league football was still two years away.

The Addicks were founded as a boys’ team at Siemens Meadow, by the present-day Thames Barrier, in 1905. They became a senior team in 1913 – capitalising on Arsenal’s move to north London – and took over a ground at Horn Lane, east Greenwich, roughly where Ikea is now. But the club closed during the First World War, and the Angerstein Athletic Ground was requisitioned as a petrol dump. After the war, a reborn club played friendlies at Charlton Park and the Rectory Field while the club’s board prepared for its future.

The earliest evidence of Charlton at The Valley is a letter found in Greenwich Council’s archives, dated January 18, 1919, asking to borrow a steam roller from the local council as the club was “engaged in laying out a sports ground in Floyd Road, Charlton”. On May 13, 1919, the club’s newly-elected president, the Conservative MP for Greenwich, Sir Ion Hamilton Benn, told a meeting at the Mission Hall in Troughton Road (now Rathmore Youth Club) that Charlton had been invited to join the Kent League and would be playing at the new ground.

Volunteers did the work of converting the Charlton Sand Pits – known locally as The Swamp – into a usable football ground. Sir Ion, whose influence greatly helped the fledgling club, offered to act as guarantor for £700 of the £1,000 needed to do the work – but all the money was raised locally.

Facilities were basic, as Jimmy Seed, the club’s legendary FA Cup-winning manager, was to write in 1958:

“What a dump it was in those days without a stand or dressing rooms. The players changed in a nearby house and took their meals in a local pub. I recall how dreary The Valley was in 1920 when I played there for the first time for the Spurs reserve team against Charlton in a friendly game… After a cold, wet and thoroughly miserable day we were unable to take a bath or a shower, but had to stroll to a nearby hut so that we could change into our dry clothes.”

The club finished fifth in the Kent League in its first season at The Valley, and went professional in 1920, joining the Southern League. The year after that, Charlton became a Football League club, when it elected ten clubs into its new Third Division South.

But the switch to League football – and the punishing cost of getting The Valley up to scratch – proved costly. An FA Cup run in 1922/23 brought in the crowds, with 41,023 squeezing in for a fourth-round match against Bolton – but fencing collapsed, injuring spectators, and the cost of compensation is said to have wiped out the profit. Crowds shrank again, and in December 1923 the directors wrote off any chance of Charlton being able to draw a decent crowd in Charlton itself – and upped sticks to The Mount, in Catford. That move was even bigger disaster, with even smaller crowds of just a thousand, and the club’s directors moved back home for the following season, tails between their legs.

In the decades to come, Charlton would rise to the First Division under Seed, and attract a record 75,031 to a 1938 match against Aston Villa. The club entered a slow decline after relegation from the top flight in the 1950s, with crowds falling away and the stadium starting to crumble – despite occasional initiatives like bringing camels to the ground…

By the 1980s, and the aftermath of the Bradford City and Heysel stadium disasters, the Greater London Council moved to close the ground’s vast East Terrace. That, and a property row, led the club to repeat its mistake of 1924 and move out of Charlton in 1985, this time to Selhurst Park, leaving The Valley derelict and overgrown.

After a lengthy fans’ campaign – first against the club, then Greenwich Council – the Addicks returned in 1992, and the rest is history. Each side of The Valley tells a particular part of the club’s recent history – the Jimmy Seed Stand, the away end, dates from the late 1970s and is the only surviving structure from the pre-1992 ground. The East Stand, completed in 1994, was the first permanent stand to be finished at the rebuilt Valley, the west stand came at the time of Charlton’s first promotion to the Premier League. The huge Covered End, finished in 2001, which faces Floyd Road, is probably the biggest reminder of the club’s spell in the top flight.

Around 2000, the club flirted with the idea of a move to the Millennium Dome site, and in the early 2010s a move to Morden Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula was mooted by the club’s then-owners. But despite the anniversary falling under the shadow of Belgian electronics tycoon Roland Duchatelet’s eccentric ownership, there are no plans for a third move away. 100 years after the first match, it is very hard to imagine Charlton without The Valley.

Come back on Monday morning for KEVIN NOLAN’s report from the Birmingham City match. Acknowledgements: The Jimmy Seed Story by Jimmy Seed (Sportsmans Book Club, 1958); The Story of Charlton Athletic, 1905-1990 by Richard Redden (Breedon, 1990); Home and Away with Charlton Athletic 1920-2004 by Colin Cameron (Voice of The Valley, 2003)


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Addicks fans get The Valley declared an Asset of Community Value again

The Valley
ACV status gives limited protection over The Valley

Charlton Athletic fans have succeeded in having The Valley declared an Asset of Community Value – meaning they can bid to buy the stadium if it is ever put up for sale.

The Valley was first made an ACV in 2013, and now Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust has successfully renewed the designation on the ground, which was first used for football 100 years ago. Charlton have played there ever since, apart from two near-disastrous spells away at The Mount in Catford (1923) and at Selhurst Park and Upton Park (1985-92).

With the club’s future up currently up in the air, the renewal of ACV status with Greenwich Council goes some way to asserting the importance of the Addicks to the wider community. Charlton’s absentee owner, eccentric Belgian electronic magnate Roland Duchatelet, oversaw the side’s relegation to League One in 2016 and a calamitous drop in attendances. His representatives have been in on-off talks about selling the club for well over a year.

Trust chair Richard Wiseman said: “Although ACV status might be viewed as largely symbolic it is nevertheless very important because it recognises the role of our historic ground and club in the community and offers some limited protection against worst case scenarios of asset stripping.

“I would like to thank the club, the Royal Borough of Greenwich and CAST volunteers who worked on this successful application. There is scope for strengthening the legislation to offer even more protection for historic football grounds, and we will continue to argue for this.”

Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook said: “I’m delighted that the council has re-listed The Valley as an Asset of Community Value. The ground and the club are an integral part of the local community and this decision reaffirms the right of the fans to be part of any discussion about their future.”

Charlton play Blackpool tomorrow in the annual Football For A Fiver match, with striker Lyle Taylor strongly criticising Duchatelet for authorising the signing of a new striker to add to the the team, who currently lie fifth in League One.

“I don’t know if he [Duchatelet] is even going to sell the club. He doesn’t seem to be that interested in anything Charlton, or anything helping Charlton at the moment,” he told the South London Press.


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