In the end it all comes down to trust, a commodity in shorter supply where Charlton directors have been concerned than toilet rolls at Tesco in the spring of this year.
On the face of it, the club’s decision this week to sell its joint leading scorer last season to Queens Park Rangers on the eve of a big game when the squad is already short of striking options would normally be expected to spark an outcry.
If the club was still owned by Roland Duchatelet or Tahnoon Nimer and Matt Southall - or even, heaven forbid, Paul Elliott - the anger would be visceral, especially after Bonne notched a last-gasp equaliser for his new club in his debut against Sheffield Wednesday, while Charlton eked out a goalless draw with Sunderland. But it’s not.
There are still questions that can be asked about Macauley Bonne’s departure, some of which won’t be answered until the season hits its stride and we see who arrives to take his place. The League One salary cap will limit any opportunity to invest the reported £2m fee, which impressed many. The debate about whether Bonne was as good a prospect as his double-figure haul last season suggested, and whether his head had been turned by a greedy agent, will continue.
For now, however, there could be no clearer indication that trust has been restored in the club than the absence of any such outcry. That is not just down to the fee or Bonne or boss Lee Bowyer. It is because the context has been transformed by Thomas Sandgaard’s arrival.
There has long been confidence in manager Lee Bowyer and recruitment chief Steve Gallen. What’s changed is the certainty that they are calling the shots. Fans know Bonne’s departure will be a football decision and therefore they can respect that, as they do Bowyer.
It has been a long and painful road to this point. Some would put the starting point in the summer of 2012 when respected executive vice-chairman Peter Varney and chief executive Steve Kavanagh were shown the door, others with the sacking of Chris Powell in 2014.
In reality the long decay in the faith fans had in the club hierarchy probably began with Richard Murray’s decision to appoint Iain Dowie as manager in 2006, after being turned down by Preston North End's Billy Davies. The belief that Murray had been partially motivated by a desire to put one pn over Dowie’s previous employer, then Palace chairman Simon Jordan, never went away – probably because it was shared at the highest levels of the club.
But Dowie was a disaster, as was the brief tenure of his successor, Les Reed, and ultimately Murray’s own reputation was destroyed as he first oversaw a slide into League One and then stood alongside and spoke up for a succession of discredited successors. Finally, he played a part in persuading Duchatelet to sell up to East Street Investments in 2019, even though basic research would have uncovered that they were neither fit nor proper owners of the club.
Despite this, many fans did put their trust in Southall, perhaps out of sheer desperation, which could make it all the more surprising they are ready now to embrace the latest owner.
That is also, however, a credit to Sandgaard, who has arrived not just with sound credentials and an encouraging personal backstory, but an engaging positivity and openness that is more than simply refreshing. It has the potential to reinvent the culture of the club. We've already seen initial evidence of his commitment to the playing side in terms of credible signings like Ben Watson and Marcus Maddison.
As with the board in the 1990s, the circumstances of Sandgaard’s arrival give him a hefty advantage. Fans are rightly grateful to him for rescuing the club from a perilous position.
But there are no fairytale endings in this game, only passing triumphs, fresh starts and new hope and enthusiasm. We will learn more about him, and he will learn more about us, as the months and years roll by. There will be setbacks and disagreements, and even well-established trust can break eventually if repeatedly tested by hubris, as Murray tested to destruction.
But at this point there is simply huge and justfied goodwill. It will be a long honeymoon, regardless. And if the club and its supporters are at last reunited by a common ambition that is about football success, not personal enrichment or mad experimentation, and a proper strategy to achieve that is put in place as well, then Charlton will flourish again.
The fact that fans trust Sandgaard to make that happen is why Bonne’s departure barely raised a ripple. It feels like the club is finally back on track. Thank Thomas for that!
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