Will Charlton’s pitch problems flush out ground move?

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There’s a new owner at Charlton Athletic – but the scale of the rebuilding job facing Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet became apparent yesterday when the team’s match against Barnsley was postponed less than two hours before kick-off due to ongoing problems with The Valley pitch.

But Charlton fans should be vigilant that the current problems with the pitch aren’t used as a pretext to move the club out of its historic home.

Last year, it was reported that the club was in talks with Greenwich Council about moving out of The Valley for a new stadium, to be built at Morden Wharf on the west side of Greenwich Peninsula, on land currently owned by developer Cathedral Homes. The club’s old site would become social housing, under this scheme.

What’s been unclear, though is where the impetus for the scheme has come from – whether it came from within the club, or from outside.

But what is known is that Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts was a frequent visitor at matches under the ownership of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, where he could be seen enjoying hospitality in the directors’ box.

Slater and Jimenez took over at Charlton at the end of 2010. They installed Chris Powell as manager, and secured the funds to secure promotion back to the Championship in 2012. But after that the funds dried up.

The pitch problems at The Valley are a symptom of that trouble. The club admits part of the drainage system has collapsed, and this can’t be rectified until the end of the season. No significant work has taken place on the pitch for years – and the end result of that neglect was Saturday’s fiasco.

Now Slater and Jimenez are on their way out, to be replaced by Roland Duchâtelet, owner of Belgian sides Standard Liege and Sint-Truidense, one-time East German giants FC Carl-Zeiss Jena and Spanish second division team AD Alcorcón. Quite a collection of clubs. He also fronts a small liberal political party in Belgium.

Greenwich Council press reelaseDuchâtelet has installed aide Katrien Meire onto Charlton’s board, but before they could get their feet under the table, a little charm offensive was launched from Greenwich Council.

“Royal Borough welcomes new Charlton Athletic owners,” trilled a press release on 3 January, adding ominously: “The borough will work with the new owners to further strengthen the Club.”

Oddly, Chris Roberts seems to be in a very small band of people who believes that Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez helped Charlton “progress”.

Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “The Council would like to welcome the new owners of Charlton Athletic Football Club to the Borough. At the same time, we would also like to place on record our thanks to the previous owners for the progress made by the Club during their tenure in which they secured promotion to the Championship.”

It’s a very, very odd statement – yes, Slater and Jimenez helped Charlton return to its natural level in the Championship. But the club haemorrhaged senior staff under their regime, and by all accounts was facing serious financial problems before its sale. Hopefully yesterday’s events will encourage football journalists to investigate their record a little more thoroughly.

So what exactly was Roberts thanking Slater and Jimenez for? For being receptive to a proposal to move ground, perhaps? We don’t know, but previous chairman Richard Murray (who returns to his role under Duchâtelet) didn’t get that kind of herogram when he sold up, despite all his achievements.

Neither did the council make any noise when it declared The Valley an asset of community value last November, which would put a six-month block on any sale. Why was that?

Charlton Athletic, 9 January 2014

If Roberts is putting pressure on Charlton to move, then he’s now got to start again with Roland Duchâtelet and Katrien Meire. Will they be receptive? Nobody knows, but Duchâtelet did refer to The Valley as “a cherished stadium” in a statement to fans last week.

Greenwich Council has denied any formal discussions have taken place over a move. An answer to a Freedom of Information Act request made last year would only say:

“Occasional discussions have taken place between representatives of the Council and CAFC going back over many years. These discussions have included reference to the Club’s aspiration to stay in, or return to the Premiership, and as a result have included reference to the size and capacity of the existing stands and constraints on expansion posed by the physical limitations of the existing site. The discussions have been informal and conversational in nature, and have not been of a substantive nature.”

It’s very easy to make an educated guess that Greenwich Council is encouraging Charlton to move under the pretext that the ground is knackered. It then gets a high-profile occupant for a stadium on the peninsula, while social housing which would otherwise have been built up there gets shunted into Charlton. It’s a conspiracy theory, but with the lack of anything on the record, it’s one which makes sense.

Typically, not even those connected with Greenwich Labour know quite what Roberts’ intentions are towards Charlton. Even those who support the club seem hazy on the plans.

But a conversation I had with one yesterday worried me. “If there’s a continuing sense The Valley is awful, it makes the argument to move easier,” I was told.

Yet there is nothing wrong with The Valley. The pitch hasn’t been maintained properly, but that’s a management failure, not a failure of location. Indeed, The Valley was known as one of the best pitches in the country a decade ago. And it can be that way again.

If there’s an argument for moving, it surrounds the The Valley’s limited room for expansion. But with The Valley not even two-thirds full at present – and Greenwich Council having previously backed past expansion plans – that isn’t an issue.

Fixing the pitch should be relatively cheap. But perhaps the embarrassment of the postponement, and the way it was mishandled by the club might prompt Duchâtelet to show his hand on the long-term future of Charlton Athletic.

It’s 24 years since Charlton fans formed the Valley Party to fight Greenwich Council on the issue of the club playing at its traditional home. Nearly a quarter of a century on, it may well be time for a new generation to become just as vigilant and proactive towards the council’s intentions for Floyd Road.

13 comments

  1. fromthemurkydepths

    I can’t think of any argument in favour of moving. The plans from 10 years back to increase capacity to 40k are perfectly possible if needed in the future. The Valley, being right next to the rail station, is great for away fans generally coming from central London on the train and Charlton fans coming from SE London and Kent. A stadium on the Pensinula would be a bit of a walk from the Jubilee, and not serve the many fans coming from Kent.

    And who would pay for it? The land the valley is on would not cover construction costs, and the Belgian doesn’t appear to splash much cash. Then there’s the problems of shunting all social housing there so the Peninsula is full of un-affordable housing.

    I’d suggest the council focus on why it has taken 15 years, since Peninsula land was expensively cleaned up by public funds, for private developers to build so little.

  2. Darryl

    Any plan to move to that spot on the peninsula would rely on dangerously outdated thinking. Public transport links are poor (it’s a long schlep from North Greenwich) so you’re dependent on easy road access – a regressive and dangerous way of going about things. The Valley is much better located, particularly as it offers easy rail access to/from Kent. Granted, CAFC could do more to encourage more fans to use public transport, but that’s a failing shared by all London clubs and one that could be solved at another level.

    And any solution which saw Charlton as a tenant runs its own risks, as anyone who’s followed the Coventry City fiasco will know.

    That said, though, Greenwich councillors have already socially-cleansed the new Peninsula Quays development by the Dome (a peculiar kind of reverse gerrymandering which will haunt them some day) – so they’d hardly be against doing the same at Morden Wharf.

    (Incidentally, I’m not publishing comments about the decision to postpone the match – there are plenty of CAFC sites on which to do that.)

  3. Peter Cordwell

    A new breed of fans to defend The Valley is definitely necessary but they still need to be led by the individual who brilliantly master-minded the return to the hallowed ground in 1992 – Rick Everitt, who also knows the inner workings of the club after working for them and doing a great job. His recent articles in Voice of The Valley and online are of a level that would have even Chamberlain gasping. One of the timeless rules of football is: keep it simple. The golden rule with The Valley is: start with Everitt.

  4. ThePirateKing

    Great article, Darryl. Time is of the essence then with local elections in May this year. What better timing for all to put pressure on all local councillor candidates to say exactly where they stand on this issue.

    Starting – surely – with the three Charlton Ward councillors.

  5. Sacha

    Roland Duchâtelet press statement on Friday made it clear he gets the Valley and its importance.

    Don’t think a move is on his radar at all.

  6. Clare

    Calling a stadium “cherished” is hardly a sign of wanting to keep it. He could just as easily be saying something like “well of course the Valley is cherished but it’s time to move on…”

  7. Sacha

    Duchâtelet motives for buying are more about shifting and increasing the value of players around his network of clubs, of which Charlton and SL are top of the pile. With that in mind he’ll probably spend on improving what the Valley has, and improving the club’s playing side. He’s by accounts pretty calculating in his business decisions, and I suspect he’ll see a 27,000 seat stadium which needs filling first, more then a move elsewhere. at Liege he’s working on a refurb and upgrade of the current stadium

  8. fahy

    There has been no discussion within Greenwich Council about Charlton Athletic . Of course everyone welcomes the new owners bringing long term sustainability for the Club. In the event of the council being asked to express any views ,there would be a need for the widest possible consultation.

  9. Chris

    Sacha is on the ball here (sic). I think you’re possibly seeing conspiracies where there are none.

    As we’ve discussed before the transport factor quickly nixes any proposals for a ground on the peninusula.

    Also, if they play like they played tonight, we’ll be talking about a ground share with Welling rather than a move to a new stadium…..

  10. Peter Cordwell

    And Welling lost at home to hapless Hyde, who turned Dr Jekyll for the evening. Everitt’s the man to ask.

  11. Sciurus Carolinensis Nemesis

    Everitt’s achievements 24 years ago can not be disputed but is it not likely he’d consider that Duchatelet & Meire will want him back in the fold using his vast experience of Charlton operations rather than fighting plans that only might exist? RBG statements or their lack of them are hardly a sound basis for a theory of any kind. Roberts was a regular in the charlton directors box during the Jimenez/Slater era. But that in itself doesn’t mean a move to the peninsula was everybody’s real aim. On the subject of the immediate past owners: at the time of the recent sale charlton were in the bottom third of the 2nd division losing money at an unsustainable rate, when spanish tony et al took over charlton were in the 3rd division losing money at an unsustainable rate. The progression in 3 years was by no means meteoric but unquestionably the club moved upwards and no amount of revisionism will change that Darryl.

  12. Sacha

    Add to this, that Duchâtelet is about to spend around a million quid on a new playing surface with undersoil heating at the Valley this summer if the stories coming out are true

  13. Peter Cordwell

    If that’s all true it’s great. On the subject of Rick, he was sacked for “gross misconduct” which, as I understand it, was keeping fans more or less in the loop. His case, predictably, never got past the top step outside the court. All I’m saying is that if you could get Nye Bevan on your side to defend the NHS, with Charlton it’s Rick Everitt.

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