for Charlton supporters who grew up during the club’s most recent spell in the Premier League, the past 15 years have not been kind. A series of disastrous takeovers after relegation in 2007 sent the Addicks into freefall that has them languishing halfway down League One and facing an even more uncertain future under potentially yet another group of owners.
“Charlton is the most underperforming club in the country,” says Rick Everitt, the editor of fanzine Voice of the Valley since 1988. “That’s not to say that it should automatically be in the Premier League, although obviously it has that potential, but it should certainly be mid-table in the Championship, if it was decently run.”
The Danish-American owner Thomas Sandgaard, who bought the club in 2020 from East Street Investments, is believed to have granted a period of exclusivity to a consortium led by the former Sunderland executive Charlie Methven a few days before the surprise shootout victory over Brighton in the last round of the Carabao Cup on 21 December. That was the first time Charlton had beaten Premier League opposition since March 2007 and set up Tuesday’s trip to Manchester United in the quarter-final, with 9,000 fans expected to make the journey.
Methven – who has been spotted at Charlton’s past two matches with his consortium partner Simon Lenagan, the son of the Wigan rugby league chairman, Ian – is understood to have recommended the appointment of the manager, Dean Holden, until the end of the season after December’s sacking of Ben Garner. However, the technical director, Andy Scott, has been given only a six-week contract until the end of the January transfer window.
Sandgaard, criticized by supporters for appointing his son, Martin, as director of analytics, is aiming to sell 80% of his Charlton shares for about £11m, although they do not include freeholds for the Valley or the club’s Sparrows Lane training ground. Both are owned by the previous owner Roland Duchâtelet, with the Belgian charging £500,000 a season for his former club to rent their home and the training ground under the agreement he struck with ESI.
“The biggest problem is that ESI in early 2020 allowed Duchâtelet to separate the liabilities of the football club from the assets, namely the Valley and Sparrows Lane,” says Everitt. “It is a return to the same problem we had in the 1980s and that was always going to be dangerous. Duchâtelet has no particular incentive to cooperate in any bid to put the football club back on a sound footing – he wants £50m and people that are seriously interested in Charlton won’t buy them without the freehold and they are not worth half that.
“Duchâtelet wasted a lot of money. And he wants that money back. The fans humiliated him and some people think he wants revenge. I don’t necessarily think he does.”
Sandgaard’s Colarado-based business Clear Ocean Capital is believed to have provided up to £12m in loans to Charlton since his takeover, with the club expecting to post a £6m operating loss this year. There remains skepticism among supporters that he will simply walk away from his investment or that the prospective new owners can provide a long-term solution.
“I think the experience of the last 10 years has beaten the Charlton supporters into a position where they’re going to be skeptical about anyone coming forward and probably wisely,” Everitt says. “But equally there is a risk that people get too cynical about other people’s motives.”
Everitt feels Sandgaard has been unrealistic from the beginning: “I think he’s a decent enough guy. I think he was well-intentioned but he was naive and like all of the people who have come in, he thought having had success elsewhere he would be able to turn the club around relatively easily and he’s been sadly disillusioned.”
Sandgaard was not at the Brighton game having flown back to the United States that day after speaking to staff. It remains to be seen whether he will be at Old Trafford as a youthful side led by the teenage striker, Miles Leaburn, son of Charlton legend Carl, attempt to lighten the gloom amid all the uncertainty.
“It’s great for the younger fans – Charlton haven’t had an opportunity to go to one of the more famous grounds for many years,” says Everitt. “Everyone at the club needs this kind of occasion just to remind ourselves what it’s all about and to take 9,000 to Old Trafford on a Tuesday night speaks to the fact that there is still a very solid fanbase if we get things right on the pitch in the medium term.”