It’s difficult to know what goes on in Addicks owner Roland Duchatelet’s head at the best of times, but even more bizarre than usual to find him referencing this writer, former Charlton chief executive Peter Varney and ex-chairman Derek Chappell over a 2015 takeover approach in an official website message headed “updates on takeover and 2019/20”. It’s useful, nonetheless, because it provides a timely reminder not to believe a word that Duchatelet says.
“It is debatable whether the first candidate for buying the club, who was pushed, with the very best intentions, by ex-CEO Peter Varney, ex-director Derek Chappell and Rick Everitt (VOV from 29 12 15), the current owner of Ebbsfleet football club, would have been the right fit for Charlton,” Duchatelet writes.
That has nothing to do with 2019, it's simply inserted in an attempt to link Varney, Chappell and me to the current troubles at Ebbsfleet, but the important thing is that it never happened. It’s a lie - and not just the clumsy implication that I am the owner of Ebbsfleet.
It's a more explicit variation of the same lie that his puppet chief executive Katrien Meire told at the press conference to welcome Russell Slade as manager in the summer of 2016, when she gratuitously inserted the claim that as part of Varney’s 2015 approach he planned to move the club out of The Valley.
By that she meant to Ebbsfleet’s Stonebridge Road, a non-league stadium which could not even accommodate Charlton’s League One season-ticket holders.
Duchatelet never found out who that approach was from because Meire first obstructed the discussions, as shown in the email chain published in VOTV124, and when that was publicised her patron refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement to enable a face-to-face meeting with the potential buyer to take place.
What hasn’t previously been revealed is that on his own initiative Chappell subsequently travelled to Brussels to meet Duchatelet in an effort to persuade the Belgian that he was being seriously misled about Varney and what had happened previously at Charlton by then chairman Richard Murray, a situation which he and others believed was damaging the club.
Where Duchatelet got the idea that the purchaser being lined up was Ebsfleet owner Abdulla Al-Humaidi and whether that came from Murray is unknown, but neither Chappell nor I were ever aware of the interested party’s identity, so we could never have been involved in pushing for a takeover by Al-Humaidi. And Varney has always been adamant that it had nothing to do with Ebbsfleet, where he was executive vice-chairman at the time.
“The person involved wasn’t even Middle Eastern,” he told me this afternoon. “That it wasn't the Ebbsfleet owner could be proven in court, if necessary, but I didn't even tell my wife who it was."
In 2016 Varney threatened to take legal action against Meire over her claims, but was advised by his lawyer that she could not have damaged his reputation because Charlton fans did not take her seriously.
Chappell is also targeted in the latest statement as one of three loan holders blamed by omission for delaying a takeover of the club following Charlton’s victory at Wembley. The others are his fellow former directors Bob Whitehand and David Sumners. By contrast, Murray, Sir Maurice Hatter, David Hughes and David White are thanked "for their coperation in this process".
This claim was quickly undermined by White, who tweeted: “I don’t understand it. I have had one conversation recently asking if I would be happy to discuss my loan and I said yes. That is all. I haven’t discussed anything else, been offered anything or agreed anything.”
It should also be noted that the trio not named are between them only owed a total of £2.65m, which does not carry interest and is not repayable outside the Premier League.
By contrast Voice of The Valley has learned that Duchatelet rejected an approach last season to buy the club for £45m, which would have included settling the £7m total loans at whatever figure was negotiable. It did not involve renting The Valley or the training ground, another claim now being made by the Belgian against unnamed interested parties. Indeed, Duchatelet himself proposed this a few months ago when he demanded the EFL buy the club.
Via his point man Lieven De Turck Duchatelet subsequently named the asking price as £72m. That compares with the £18.6m Duchatelet paid in 2014, based on figures published in the annual accounts, a sum which still sits on the books as debt rolling up interest to the Belgian and consequently adding to the amount he is trying to recoup. It’s hard to see how the relatively minor amount owed to Chappell, Whitehand and Sumners can be a significant obstacle alongside that scale of foolishness.
Duchatelet justifies his exorbitant asking price on the basis that “the value of land and buildings is high because the stadium and the training ground are located in London”, although it seems to escape him that the previous owners were property speculators who would presumably have reflected such an inflated value in their own sale price or secured the backing to develop the land themselves.
With no planning consent for full residential development granted or likely, the practical limitations of the site being squeezed between a cliff and a railway line, as well as the awkward alignment of Floyd Road itself, and the cost of removing the stadium, a more realistic total valuation of both sites is around £20m.
As with the Belgian's assertion that using the increased Championship revenue to reduce the operating loss instead of funding the playing squad at a higher level won't mean the club has “no chance” of winning promotion to the Premier League, he is simply engaged in more wishful thinking - at best. Clubs that spend around the current Charlton figure of £10m on salary costs in the Championship are highly likely to be relegated, as recent history shows.
Fans are more likely to be interested in his apparently contradictory explanation about manager Lee Bowyer’s immediate future: “There is a trigger in his contract for a contract extension, which we exercised in May, and he needs to agree to this for his contract to be extended as per the current agreement.”
With Bowyer having rejected out of hand an initial offer which was based on a complicated metric involving the number of youth players in the first team, attendances and league position, the Belgian now seems to want him to continue in post on League One wages with a League One budget.
While Duchatelet does go on to talk about "improving Lee's contract" in further talks next week, the Charlton boss is rumoured to be on around £100,000 a year, compared to a Championship expectation of three times that.
Few fans would blame Bowyer for taking issue with Duchatelet over finances. Indeed, it’s not in their interest that he settles for such a disrespectful approach to both himself and the club.
Neither is it true, as Duchatelet claims, that he has personally "continued to pay everything at the club", because a signfiicant proportion of revenue comes from supporters via tickets, EFL central payments and other commercial deals, as well as player sales. In 2016/17 sales were so substantial that Charlton reported a profit. Staff denied the bonuses they expected in 2018 - and which the EFL said it would support them over - will note that the owner's generosity didn't extend to them.
This Duchatalet statement may have been polished up for him so as to be couched in more reasonable terms than usual, but the lie about 2015 gives it away.
It is about blaming other people, and no doubt if Bowyer does leave there be another one to follow which will explain why that isn’t the Belgian’s fault either. Nothing ever is.
VOTV167, the final issue of the 2020/21 season, was published on May 1st (see front of website). There are three pricing options - for UK (first class), European and worldwide delivery.
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