by RICK EVERITT
Marc Spiegel is a rubbish entrepreneur, and he wants to buy Charlton Athletic. Well, that figures. The club has been a magnet for owners who might fit that description in the last decade.
In fact, this latest American contender is in the recycling business and it is too soon to say what he might bring to SE7 if his interest progresses. It’s unclear, though, that he has the wealth that would be needed to turn the Addicks back into the shiny, optimistic role model of a football club that once existed in SE7.
What remains is a rusting hulk, spluttering down a road to nowhere with a blindfolded driver behind the wheel in Thomas Sandgaard, and his partner Raelynn, banned from the front seat for previous steering infractions, shouting advice from the back.
In fairness, the current registered keeper is not entirely responsible for the state of his vehicle. “Several careless owners” ought to be a mandatory advisory note on any bill of sale. Alongside them there have been the nearly men of the last five years, since Roland Duchatelet finally admitted that he was ready to sell the club and his trainee chief executive Katrien Meire quit to embark on her own journey back into richly deserved obscurity in Belgium.
To Matt Southall, Tahnoon Nimer, Jonathan Heller, Paul Elliott, Craig Freeman and an assortment of Romanians and Australians, with a walk-on part for lawyer Chris Farnell, we can now add December visitors Charlie Methven, Ed Warrick, Jim Rodwell and Simon Lenagan.
Excuse us, but we’ll assume - simply to save time, you understand - that latest apparitions ex-agent Jon Smith and interim chief executive Peter Storrie will soon be in the same recycling bin. One thing they all have in common is that none have Charlton in their hearts. It’s perhaps not a coincidence.
Methven isn’t happy and is threatening to sue Sandgaard for moving on to the next in the queue prematurely. But a man ostensibly under a non-disclosure agreement who put out more briefs than Marks & Spencer is not taken seriously, in these quarters at least. And this writer hasn’t even bothered watching his renowned performance in the Netflix documentary Sunderland Til I Die. There’s no need. We know who he is.
For those who choose to believe otherwise, let’s take a quick look at those January signings, which took place under the apparent supervision of Methven’s short-lived recommended appointee Andy Scott.
Left-back Matt Penney, anyone? The travelling fans at Peterborough United on Tuesday were singing: “If Penney can play for Charlton, so can I.”
Now, personally that’s a bit of a stretch. The crossbar challenge would be your corresponent's limit, and that's a stretch these days. But you get the sentiment.
There’s Macauley Bonne, a striker who would more properly belong in the Union of Democratic Mineworkers than the NUM (one for older readers there!). It’s sad, because Bonne exceeded expectations for Charlton in the Championship in 2019/20, but there’s nothing to see here now.
Defender Michael Hector and midfielder Gavin Kilkenny are no better than those who left. Right-back Todd Kane was injured soon after his arrival. None of these recruits represent anything more than stopgaps and some hardly justify that description.
The more significant feature of the window is that it brought in cash, including sending Jayden Stockley to Fleetwood and selling centre-half Eoghan O’Connell, a player only signed in the summer, to non-league Wrexham, and cutting the wage bill generally. Charlton’s better players used to move on to better things. Now they go to non-league Wrexham. Or, at this point, are they just the same thing?
Methven and his mates planned to own 25% of the club, via the Cayman Islands, or was it Neverland? On the face of it, their ability to fund a quarter of the ongoing operating losses looks a bit like those Yogic flyers from the Natural Law party who once contested elections – no visible means of support, but it looked like fun while it lasted for the participants.
No doubt it would all have come back to borrowing against future success. How’s that gone previously, does anyone know?
It’s not all been bad news. No, really! The fifth Charlton manager to serve under Sandgaard in two and a half years, Dean Holden, has managed to grub out 17 points from 12 games, which gives the team a decent shout of avoiding relegation. Youngsters Ashley Maynard-Brewer, Lucas Ness and Miles Leaburn have regularly shone amid the gloom. Enjoy them while they last.
But the football, generally, is dull, as teams that can't score tend to be. The club, like the season, is going nowhere. It has barely any staff left who understand its soul and has become the playground of opportunists, big and small. Look on with envy at Luton Town and Millwall, who this week played out a dramatic midweek match at Kenilworth Road in hot pursuit of Premier League football via the play-offs.
Those who talk of an “entitled” perspective and accepting the status quo as if it was as inevitable as the weather should hang their heads because these are obviously smaller clubs that have simply been much better run than Charlton in recent years. Then again, so has almost every other club in England.
Millwall – managed and led by former residents of SE7 - have just launched their season tickets for next season, dangling the hopefully remote possibility of Premier League football. Charlton can’t announce theirs, because the response would be hollow laughter.
However he eventually departs, Sandgaard’s place in history is now set. He will be remembered as a buffoon, from his guitar-waving entrance and tuneless dirge of an anthem to his naïve and fatuous installation of his partner and son in the club hierarchy.
His mountain-climbing early rhetoric is rendered comic by his foothill-level of achievement, his judgement exposed as crass by the vindictive and pointless mistreatment of staff on his watch. His leaderless Valley has been a dark stage for bullies and provided an open door for opportunists only too delighted to take his money. The club has no voice because it has nothing to say. It doesn't know itself any more.
Sandgaard has to go because he is a busted flush, without the respect of his employees, the wider game or any faction of the support. He may still get a chunk of his money back. He’ll never regain the acclamation which was now so obviously what he sought to buy with it.
As for those of us who actually support Charlton, in the meaningful sense of giving it purpose by trekking up and down the country to follow the team, we will endure. Flashes of lightning, like the Carabao Cup experience and the 4-4 draw with Ipswich Town in October, still illuminate the gloom from time to time.
It feels like it may be some time before the lights come on again, though.
VOTV176, the final issue, was published on October 1st, 2022. It is sold out.
To order issues published between April 2013 and April 2022, please see the back issues pages. VOTV124 and VOTV127 are sold out.