By Rick Everitt
The future of The Valley’s Jimmy Stand Stand is in doubt, after Voice of The Valley discovered that Charlton are in preliminary discussions about redeveloping the south end of the stadium to include residential use.
The man behind the idea is Tony Keohane, who was quietly rebadged as the club's chief operating officer in December, having joined the staff in 2014. However, we have long understood that he is a prominent internal influence on chief executive Katrien Meire.
We have learned that Keohane is already working with a Belgian architect on a scheme that would see The Valley’s oldest stand replaced by a more modern and redesigned facility that would also accommodate leasehold flats for public sale.
The potential significance for the future of The Valley is that once lengthy residential leases had been sold it would become virtually impossible to reclaim full control of that area of the ground, which has by far the biggest potential for future spectator expansion.
A previous outline scheme developed by former chief executive Peter Varney would have seen up to 10,000 extra seats built at this end of the stadium, lifting capacity to a more viable Premier League size of 40,000.
With the new plans still at an early stage, it is unclear what the effect on the current 27,111 limit at The Valley might be. The existing stand holds 3,400 supporters and against well-supported opposition can generate revenue of £50,000-plus from a single match.
However, the prospect of such large away attendances will decline sharply if the team is relegated to League One, where average away attendances are nearer 600 than the typical 1,500 in the Championship. The sale of 20 or more flats could potentially generate several million pounds for owner Roland Duchatelet, as well as covering the cost of any new spectator accommodation. But extra seats are unlikely to be seen as a priority.
Since the stand sits at the foot of a large chalk cliff and is adjacent to the Valiant House towerblock, there is potential to build higher than the existing structure. However, there could also be significant unanticipated structural costs, given the history of the site.
It seems likely that Metropolitan Police would oppose any plans to relocate away supporters permanently to other areas of the ground, although the club might opt to provide a smaller away seating area with the possibility of overspill into the east or west stands when demand required it.
An additional obstacle might be that Greenwich previously required that flats proposed to be built as part of a stadium extension in the south-east corner of the ground could only be occupied by people connected to the club. It is uncertain whether the council would seek to impose such a condition again, or indeed if it is legally robust.
While the Charlton Athletic Supporters' Trust gained Asset of Community Value status for the whole site in 2013, this offers relatively weak protection and the six-month moratorium it entails could easily be absorbed within the process of redevelopment and sale.
The Jimmy Seed Stand was built in 1978-79 at a cost of £120,000, using the club lottery proceeds. It was controversially seated along with the old Covered End in 1980/81 and is the only one of The Valley’s stands to remain largely unchanged from when the club left the ground in 1985.
It was initially used by home supporters when Charlton returned in 1992 and did not become fully allocated to away fans until the east stand opened in 1994, although home supporters have been accommodated there occasionally ever since, especially in the Premier League.
Despite the development of more modern external toilets and refreshment facilities in the 1990s, the stand is now showing its age. However, the fact that it provides fully segregated access to Valley Grove and the ability to contain away supporters in that area is important to the police.
Voice of The Valley has taken the decision to disclose the club's discussions about the Jimmy Seed Stand ahead of its next issue on February 6th in order that supporters on the club’s Fans’ Forum can have the opportunity to question Meire and Keohane about such a significant subject at Thursday’s scheduled meeting, which is due to be recorded on video and made generally available to supporters.
Keohane appears to have been charged by the club’s Belgian ownership with maximising other revenue from the Valley site, having been identified on the club’s own website as responsible for the handover of the former ticket office to a public health advice centre.
His background is in corporate hospitality and he previously worked for Valley caterers Delaware North at Wembley and Arsenal from 2005 to 2013, before apparently negotiating their link-up with Charlton from the club’s side in 2014. He has also been heavily involved in the plans to redevelop the Sparrows Lane training ground.
Meanwhile, the club has performed a U-turn over the short-term future of the Valley Superstore. Having confirmed to fans at a public meeting a year ago that the retail section would come back in-house at the end of its current franchise contract this summer, the club has now agreed to extend its current four-year deal with Just Sport in the short term.
We can therefore announce on Charlton's behalf that the team will continue to wear Nike kit next season.
Meire and chief finance officer David Joyes had claimed last February, albeit somewhat implausibly, that bringing the Superstore back in-house would be part of reducing the club’s operating loss. However, we understand the move was blocked by Duchatelet.
The club has also reversed its plan to evict the Charlton Athletic Community Trust drop-in centre from the adjacent Valley Central facility, which had been mooted as a new home for the shop, confirming on Friday in a largely unrelated website story that the lease would now be extended.