In a month of various tales of club stability in the EFL, Ross Bramble focuses on the ownership problem at Charlton Athletic.
In the great and glorious saga of dodgy football club owners, we’ve seen a litany of silly, absurd and unbelievable incidents. From a plastic pig protest to fans being sued for libel, the bad owner trope is as deeply ingrained in the pantomime of modern football as cup upsets and late winners.
When it came to choosing a topic for this month’s EFL blog, I was awash with tales of ownership and club stability. In some instances, it was a case of salvation. Bolton have finally found a buyer and Blackpool have exorcised the Oyston’s – both announcements were a very long time in coming, and are great news for both fans of the clubs and the leagues they occupy.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, Notts County were issued a winding up petition, Coventry were threatened with EFL expulsion, and Charlton? Well, Charlton really took the biscuit, didn’t they?
Roland Duchâtelet has been persona non grata at The Valley for the better part of four years. Despite some early promise with an 18th and 12th-place finish in their first two seasons, Duchâtelet made the unprecedented move of accusing the fans of wanting the club to fail in 2016, and the relationship with the fans has been decaying ever since.
The club is reported to have lost £10m a year every season since Duchâtelet took control in 2014 – which incidentally is the last time the man came to The Valley to watch a Charlton game. A lack of investment on the pitch saw the Addicks sink into League One, and despite sitting fifth in the table at the time of writing, it’s clear the ownership has lost all interest in seeing the club move forward.
The more unbelievable controversies of Roland’s ownership have included the youth side not having enough water to drink during training, staff not being paid bonuses and office employees requiring permission to eat crisps at their desks, due to the lack of cleaners on the payroll.
Fans have certainly shown their displeasure – protests, mass walk-outs, fans flying to Belgium for joint-protests with Duchâtelet’s then-club Standard Liege and, more unpleasantly, the vandalising of Roland’s properties.
“Duchâtelet versus the world” has been the story five years now, and despite agreeing a deal with an Australian consortium last year, the club is still in the Belgian’s hands. What came this month, however, surely eclipsed everything in the sad and sorry tapestry we’ve explored so far.
In a blistering statement posted on Charlton’s official website (but wisely not shared on their official Twitter account), Duchâtelet took the unprecedented step of demanding the EFL purchase Charlton Athletic:
Now, obviously, such a proposition is ludicrous. Aside from the sensible criticisms, such as creating a conflict of interest and raising questions over the governing body’s impartiality, the idea is so crazy it could only have come from someone detached from the reality of his argument. There can be no simpler way to rationalise the suggestion than as a desperate attempt to shift the blame back to the EFL, and pressure the governing body to unblock the takeover agreed with the aforementioned consortium.
The sale was agreed just over a year ago, but both parties – and the fans – have been waiting for the finalising of certain documents and EFL ratification. If Duchâtelet’s demand was meant to help grease the wheels, he may be disappointed by the EFL’s flat and sensible dismissal of the idea last week.
Duchâtelet has taken bad ownership to new heights with this month’s absurd suggestion, and as the deal with the Australian consortium continues to rumble on without solution, the bad blood between the owner and the fans will only intensify.
But, as Bolton and Blackpool have found, it only takes a day to change a life. Duchâtelet’s reign at the top of Charlton Athletic is closer to its conclusion then it is to its beginning. If bad ownership is part of the pantomime of modern football, Charlton fans should take solace in the knowledge that pantomimes often offer one ludicrous moment of grandiosity before the villain finally falls.
The EFL won’t be taking control of Charlton Athletic any time soon, but with this one wild demand, Duchâtelet may have played his final and most outlandish card. The only thing left – one would think – is the eventual sale of the Addicks, and a return to the real world for a club left to rot for the past three years.
Follow Ross on Twitter at @rossbramble