Representatives from the club met with supporter group representatives on Thursday evening for the club’s quarterly Fans’ Forum.
A variety of topics were discussed and full meeting notes will be published next week.
The below topline notes prioritise the key subjects selected by the club and fan representatives and have been approved by fan representatives in the meeting.
Topics detailed below include:
- Rumours around sale of the club
- Follow-up from Monday’s open all fan meeting hosted by Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust
- Updates on the men’s first-team managerial search
- Further detail on the departure of Ben Garner
- January transfer plans
Rumours around sale of the club
HA (Heather Alderson – Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust) said at the last meeting TS (Thomas Sandgaard) was asked directly if he was selling the club and asked if he could give an update on that.
TS said his focus is still on the club playing better football, improving on the pitch and continuing to improve everywhere around the club. He said he is trying to get to break even and this is possible by increasing revenue and not through cost cutting. He said following the recent social media coverage Matt Southall had contacted him asking about buying the club. TS said he had ignored the message as he isn’t interested in talking to him.
HA acknowledged that TS was not talking to Matt Southall, which she said was good news. She asked if TS is intending to sell the club. TS said no. He said if someone shows up with an offer he can’t refuse, he will obviously look at it. He said it would be irresponsible not to. He said he always gets emails and other forms of communication about it.
HA said if he isn’t intending to sell the club is he looking at other investment beyond his own resources. TS said he looked at outside financing, which he doesn’t think will happen. He said it might be another way of putting himself in a better financial position because it is expensive. He said he is approaching the £18m mark which isn’t insignificant.
He said there was a fan that offered a very friendly loan on good terms for a few hundred thousand pounds a little over a year ago, which has been documented, and because the terms were good he did it. He said things like that are always helpful.
HA asked if there was a timeframe to explore investment or outside financing. TS said as a responsible businessperson he does that all the time.
Follow-up from Monday’s supporter meeting
HA said that from a fans’ perspective it feels like the club is at its lowest ebb. She said the club are sitting in a low league position, with no men’s first-team manager, and the club are now looking for manager number five on TS’ watch. She said the feeling from the supporter base is negative towards the way the club is being run. She said on Monday the Supporters’ Trust hosted an all fans meeting to discuss the future of the club. She said it included CAST members and other fans to articulate their emotional investment in Charlton Athletic – what is really important to supporters on a future and ongoing basis. She said the prototype is called the Addicks' Charter which came out of that meeting and they will continue to consult with fans, although there is a prototype out there now.
She said the Addicks' Charter is based on a core of Charlton values and the way the club is run on the footballing side and in the community. She said it was put to a vote in Monday’s meeting and 82% voted in favour of the statement being presented at the Fans’ Forum.
She said asked TS to:
- Sort it out on the pitch for the men’s team by appointing a manager to build a squad and play to win without family and ownership interference
- Sort it out in the boardroom - appoint a CEO to run the club from SE7
- Sort it out when it comes to club culture – put Charlton Values at the heart of the club. Sort it out when it comes to fan engagement – listen, learn and feedback
- Sort it out when it comes to community and business engagement – plan to bring the ground and training ground back into the club
- Sort it out when it comes to ticket pricing – make it affordable
- Sort it out when it comes to future investment and keep one club
She said that right now the supporter base feels if he can’t commit to these, they can’t commit to him and will campaign for him to sell the club.
TS thanked HA and said it was important to note what is going on with supporters. He said he is open to reading it and getting to understand it better and the purpose of it.
He said he could mention some things he is doing.
He said in terms of sorting it out on the pitch the club had begun looking to interview candidates when Ben Garner started a public discussion about whether he was backed or not. He said when Garner started the public discussion at that time he crossed a line that, nearly regardless of results, meant he had to go soon after. He said that at that time he set in motion that we needed to replace him. He said that Garner was maybe a little bit immature, getting yellow and red cards on the sidelines and being at the training ground you kind of learn when someone loses the dressing room and that was a perception he had. He said on top of that results were not going Charlton’s way, which was very disappointing. He said sorting it out on the pitch means we are already looking for a new manager. He said we haven’t found the right one yet but we are trying to. He said there is even more pressure to get someone to get good results and stay with us for a long time.
He said on the comments on family and ownership interference that an owner working with staff and management is not interference, it is running the club and necessary.
HA said to be clear on that it is about interference on the pitch. She said running the club as a business is a separate issue from running the football on the pitch. TS said it is important that the manager is allowed to manage the team. He said the manager has ownership of the team he picks and how he sets the team up for games. He said the manager is involved in recruitment and is a key part of recruitment structure, but not the only part.
He said he has heard in other meetings discussions of wanting to see the club run differently, like how football was run 20 or 30 years ago, before agents for example.
He said the manager had a lot of influence on the signings made this summer and the club didn’t get anyone in that he didn’t want. He said there is a lot of talk about not getting a striker. He said Garner wanted to spend the money elsewhere, in part because he didn’t want psychological competition for key players but also because he prioritised other positions. He said a few days before the deadline, probably because there was pressure to strengthen the striker position, Garner suddenly turned around and was looking for us to spend a lot of money on adding a striker. TS said, with just a few days, the club couldn’t get that done fast enough, despite trying. TS said at that time he couldn’t air that publicly.
HA began questioning if Garner crossed a line by saying he wasn’t backed. TS said it would be unprofessional of him to publicly debate that [at the time]. He said the playing salary budget this season increased by several hundred thousand compared to the season before. He said based on that you would expect the team to improve on the previous season.
HA said if that is the situation you found yourself in, to leave us without a manager, as opposed to a manager who has crossed a red line for criticising you in public, how would that leave the club in a better position.
TS said when it is one of your employees, along with all the other reasons, that makes a huge difference.
HA asked if it is better to have no manager than that.
TS said there were so many other things that contributed to the decision. He said had we been top of the division and other things were moving in the right direction, maybe we could have found a solution. He said he had a discussion with Garner relatively early on about the topic but maybe he could have had more discussions earlier. He said it wasn’t just that one thing but that public airing with incorrect information to make him look better impacted the timing of the decision more than the decision itself.
HA said that is the fundamental issue for supporters when they look at the situation and they see the owner has been criticised in public and so therefore the manager has gone but the team, which is what we support, are 18th in League One and without a manager, which is a worse situation for the team than before Ben Garner was sacked.
TS said the situation shows that we were not in a place that could last [under Garner]. TS said we didn’t see the team improving, we actually saw it deteriorating.
HA said when the supporters are asking you to sort it out on the pitch without owner or family interference, is that something you can commit to? TS said he couldn’t. He said if someone is reporting to him, like a manager, then he will have conversations with him. He said it isn’t interfering or about interference. The manager works for him. He said the set-up being talked about is something that resembles football 20 or 30 years ago. He said he has a different process when it comes to recruiting and running the football side than it was back then.
TS said he is frustrated too that he has not been able to find a CEO. He said he has had several recruiting firms on it and he has interviewed a lot of people. He said he hasn’t been able to hire anyone yet. He said he needs a CEO that is not going to be wasteful. He said he needs a CEO that is able to hire and manage in a way that makes staff productive, someone that can build a culture with staff quickly and respond to the need of supporters – which has been a problem in the past. He said they need to care about a better matchday experience and can build the additional revenue in front of us that can get to a better financial running of the club. He said in the meantime he has been doing this and probably been in London half his time.
HA asked if the job had been advertised.
TS said it had using recruiters but not on the club website. He said for that position he uses recruiters.
HA said there are plenty of senior jobs that get advertised. She said that would give evidence of public intent to hire a CEO.
TS said he doesn’t need evidence of public intent, he needs a professional CEO that comes through a professional process.
IW (Ian Wallis – Bromley Addicks) said when TS says things like he is trying to get a CEO - one of the main things people criticise him for - but he isn't doing anything to tell people he is doing that, he creates a problem for himself. He said those sort of things should be made clear to the fanbase. He said TS made out it is of no importance to make that public but actually it is important. TS agreed.
IW said if you have a disillusioned voice with unhappy supporters, what TS needs to do is, if he is doing the right things and he is working towards getting it right, tell supporters that in very simple language. He said if those sort of things become public then people will become more comfortable waiting on it. TS said he has been looking at it for about a year. IW said no one knows that.
HA said if fans know there may be a supporter that would apply for the job because there are people in south east London with business skills. She said by being public you might find a CEO.
TS acknowledged the point and said while he may be more comfortable with the other process, he’s listening.
IW said that TS may be more comfortable with that but he needs to carry the supporters with him otherwise his job will get more difficult.
TS said it was a good point and one he would take on board.
CL (Christine Lawrie – Reminiscence Group) asked why TS felt his performance hadn’t been a success so far. TS said most of it gets measured by performance on the pitch and it is disappointing to not get it right on the pitch. He said the club are still struggling to get the right people in place to lift the revenue side. He said sponsorship is doing well but tickets and hospitality sales are not taking off yet. He said the fact that we haven’t got to that has been problematic. He said a CEO and maybe a couple of experienced people in hospitality sales and ticket sales could go a long way.
CL asked if it was TS’ fault. TS said fundamentally everything is his fault for not having got those things in place. He said it has been a difficult job market but it is his fault that he hasn’t successfully got those pieces in place.
IW said an increase in hospitality and ticket sales will follow winning football matches. TS said that’s right and that’s why he has increased spending on the men’s first-team and kept the rest more or less the same.
CL asked if he was saying he has increased spending on the men’s first-team or if he will? TS said he has and that the team’s salary is significantly higher than last season, and he will invest even further. CL said it hasn’t worked. TS said it hasn’t or else we would be better placed in the league.
JW (Jon Whitfield – Fans4Fans) returned to the point that everything fundamentally is his fault. TS said that it is him that hires. He said everything comes back to how he get things structured. JW asked about the managerial and playing scenario being his fault. TS said even though he has people employed to do it, he is the one that has to make those decisions on whether people are in those positions or not.
JW said given all of that why would TS still be here? TS said because he is very passionate about it. He said there are thousands of things that need to get improved. He said there are some areas that have gone well, but there are many, many areas that need to improve. JW said that is fantastic and that there are an awful lot of people that want to believe in TS and that he should be heartened by that. He said TS’ passion, coupled with supporters who have been emotionally invested in this over generations... imagine that harnessed and that collected power if TS ceded an element of his ego and worked with supporters instead of seemingly against supporters. TS said he likes working with JW. TS agreed to have a coffee with JW next time he is in the UK. TS said he likes JW’s ideas.
HA said at the last Fans’ Forum TS listed Charlton values as only one of the things he was looking for in employees. She said for Charlton supporters that doesn’t show the right level of commitment to club values.
She asked if TS was prepared to commit to Charlton values being at the heart of the club, as opposed to business values and secondly if the answer to that is yes, what is his recommendation for the way we ensure that is the case.
TS said the values that he tries to instil in the club is taking care of the club’s fans. He said an example of this is the importance of the club getting back to them in a timely fashion. HA said those are part of the EFL supporters' engagement requirements. She said she is talking about things that make Charlton different from other clubs. TS said that it is important to him that Charlton is a family-friendly club. He said the club has spent time and money making The Valley a safe place to come. He said he has made investments in new cameras so that Charlton continue to be a club that is recognised as a safe family club. He said the club have amazing people running the safety part of the club that have a good relationship with the police.
HA asked if they were to poll fans now if they believe that TS understands the value of Charlton Athletic how would they vote.
TS said he wouldn’t know. He said there is a feeling from people on Twitter that the things TS does and the things he stands for are negative at the moment, so he couldn’t comment on that. He said he doesn’t know how deep that goes. HA said it does go a lot deeper than Twitter.
HA said she understands TS saying that being a family club and safety is important but that was unlikely to be the articulation that most Charlton fans would put as Charlton values. She said on the evidence of the answer given that his first thoughts aren’t aligned with the fans.
Future investment in The Valley and Sparrows Lane
HA said fans expect there to be a plan in place to commit to bringing The Valley and Sparrows Lane under club ownership. She said fans are clear it is a difficult road, however having a plan in place is what the fans would like to hear. TS said the club still have positive talks with Roland Duchatelet and his people. He said it is not moving even though the talks are positive. He said it is his goal to accomplish that and he’ll continue that negotiation. He said we know what we are dealing with and we will get to a reasonable amount and reasonable terms. He said it is still his goal to get the two pieces of real estate under the same roof.
HA said if it is the goal, what is the plan. TS said the plan is to keep negotiating with Duchatelet to come up with a number that works for everybody.
HA asked how long he gave that plan to work. TS said the lease is 15 years, there are 13 years left, and we have to get it sorted out before then, probably well before then.
HA asked how it is going. TS said it is positive and he is surprised at how engaged they are in discussions.
HA asked if Duchatelet has put a number on the table. TS said yes.
HA asked if it was close to one he would accept. TS said he would like it to be lower than the number on the table. He said instead of throwing numbers at each other he is trying to explain why it needs to be a different number. He said there may be a time when the local council can be helpful on that.
Summary of follow-up from Monday’s meeting
HA summarised that fans are feeling at their lowest ebb. She said that TS has said that this is down to him and that the club sit 18th in League One because of the management, investment and decisions made. She said it is up to TS to commit to the way to get out of this situation. HA said right now the fans are in a position where they don’t trust that to happen because there has been a lack of engagement – not feeding back on ideas, the request for a Q&A with CAST since November that hasn’t happened.
She said she doesn’t think TS is committed to the way supporters would envisage management of the teams on a day-to-day basis because in his mind that represents a view that is 20 or 30 years out of date. Supporters would not agree with that because it happens in the Premier League.
HA said TS is committing to finding a CEO.
HA said TS has demonstrated that he doesn’t understand Charlton values and these values haven’t been actively explored with the supporter base or elsewhere.
HA said the engagement levels are not what they should be, especially with TS out of the country a lot.
HA said the property investment is a goal and a conversation but is not a marked out plan.
HA said supporters need commitment to a different way of doing things, things that put the values of supporters at the heart of the football club. HA said it would be better off if this club is under different ownership. She said that is the position of fans as it stands.
TS thanked HA for the summary. He said he agreed with some things. He said he doesn’t agree that he is out of the country more than he isn’t. He said he is in England more than America. He said on the manager situation, more and more football clubs are turning to running the football side in a collaborative fashion – he said that is what he has put in place. He said he is not there to interfere. The manager doesn’t run the whole club, it is more of a collaborative effort. He said he will keep learning from supporters about Charlton values.
JW said in an open letter when TS took over “We are Charlton Athletic” - including himself in that. JW said he is gauging TS wants to be part of that but he is slightly distant from it. He said there is an ideological disengagement. He said he gets the impression TS wants to be a fan but is finding it difficult. TS said he thinks there is a lot of good critique there tonight but that is going in the opposite direction and he is actually more passionate today than he was a couple of years ago.
HA said formally that because TS can’t commit to the things the fans have mandated them to say, they can’t commit to him as owner. She said they will campaign for him to sell the club. TS said they and supporters are already doing that.
AP (Alan Pledger – Maidstone and the Weald) said the sale of the club is the last thing we want. He said we had all that a few years back and that is the last thing we want. He said better the devil you know than the one you don’t.
DW (David Wood – Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Club West Country Branch) said all fans want is stability.
JW said the managerial changes is hardly stability.
IW said under TS there have been four managers, with changes every six months. He said what worries him is the next person coming in will have their own ideas and that the whole thing goes into turmoil again. IW said pick the right person and give him time even if it doesn’t work immediately. TS said that was the goal here. He said we got the playing style right but didn’t see the other things coming. He said we lost the entire kit department because of it. He said we will do everything we can to do better.
As the policy was discussed, he reflected on previous managers, referencing that Lee Bowyer left for a Championship opportunity with Birmingham City. Nigel Adkins ended the 2020/21 season well but things started badly in 2021/22. Johnnie Jackson, who he referenced as a club legend, did well as Caretaker Manager but results and performances dropped off.
He said in the summer the club were looking for playing style, and we got there and got better. He said we got there but there is more to management, for example dealing with people and we did not get that. He said that is why where we are where we are today and that we have to be extremely careful that we get it right. He said he wants to get someone with the right personality that can get this team going from a footballing and mental perspective.
IW asked what time period we can expect a new appointment. TS said the club have interviewed a few already. He said agents and attorneys get into it. He said it could be several weeks but he is hoping it is days.
JW asked if it is several weeks how will they be involved in the January transfer window? TS said that is another incentive to get it done sooner rather than later.
IW asked about plans to avoid relegation? He said the club are playing the weaker sides in the division and not winning and if Charlton carry on playing like the Stockport game they will end up in League Two. TS said the plan is to show up with the right mentality and Stockport was maybe an extension of where the team was left. He said Anthony Hayes is a talented, young coach. He said longer term we need to get someone with experience and the right man-management skills into position so we can leverage the talent and make sure they play as a team and give their all.
CL asked how TS plans to improve the squad to avoid relegation. TS said there are three or four positions that are pretty critical we get improvements in. He said the club have to focus on that.
CL said can we do business early to give us the best chance of avoiding relegation. TS said the plan is always to do good business early and avoid deadline day, and that it is not good for anybody other than the agents.
IW said he understands recruitment is like a chain buying a house, which is why stuff gets left to the end. He said that’s why we want the manager in. He said the fear is that if we keep losing to the sides below us then we will be dragged into a relegation battle. TS agreed and said the league is compressed, and Charlton are only seven points away from the play-offs but it has to start kicking immediately to have a chance of that.
HA said given the financial cost of relegation is it worth getting a temporary manager in? TS said he had someone lined up from outside to be a caretaker but negotiating didn’t play out as soon as the club started talking to the agent. He said that didn’t work out and he quickly lined up Anthony Hayes. He said we will see how quickly we get through the interviewing and negotiating.
HA asked what the consequence of relegation is. TS said the same as any fan - huge disappointment. He said he would do everything he can to avoid it. IW said it would be a huge financial hit too. TS agreed.
CL asked if any players are sold will proceeds be invested in new players? TS said yes - in players or elsewhere in the club. He said he intends to continue being aggressive with money spent on the men’s first-team.
DW asked about the long-term ambition for the club. TS said the ambition hasn’t changed, he said he still wants Charlton to play in the Premier League. He said he also thinks there are opportunities to make the club more financially healthy. He said those two things are still the same.