CAS Trust members attended a question and answer session with Katrien Meire, Tony Keohane (Chief Operating Officer) and Tom Rubashow (Communications) before the match against Swindon on Sunday.
Please note - the following is NOT a verbatim report. It is an attempt to convey the broad content and tone of the meeting from written notes. Some things will inevitably have been missed and neither questions nor answers should be taken as direct quotations.
Q: The vast majority of fans believe that the current ownership has been an abject failure. How bad do things have to get before the owner sells? With an absentee owner you are the focal point of the protests. You are well qualified for a job outside football. Why do you stay?
A: I love the people I work with and I love the club – there is something special about it. I feel privileged and I don’t take for granted being in an environment where I like coming to work. The owner is not physically here but he calls at various times. It is the way he runs all his businesses – by delegation.
Q: You really enjoy your job – with the club and attendances falling?
A: I’m not happy with the performance. Our aim is still to return to The Championship.
Q: Would he sell the club if we were in League 2 with zero attendance?
A: The development of the training ground shows the mindset of the owner.
Q: Can you confirm that there are no plans to develop the Valley to include non-football related developments. Has anyone from the club visited Leyton Orient to look at their model with flats? We have heard rumours about the Jimmy Seed stand.
A: I spoke to some fans recently. I didn’t say the Jimmy Seed stand was unsafe but that it will need renovation. We want to add value to the fan experience – we are conscious for example that there is no covered concourse for the East Stand - but, because of relegation and the training ground development, this is not on the table.
A: (TK) Two years ago we commissioned architects to look at different plans. Over a three day period we visited a number of venues – mostly training grounds. We went to Wolves, Derby, Ipswich, some venues in Europe, the community hub at Arsenal and during this process we went to Leyton Orient. But since then, our focus has been on the training ground.
Q: Can you confirm the Jimmy Seed stand is safe?
A: (TK) In order to achieve the various certificates and licences we have to have an external check carried out every summer. I can confirm the stand is safe. Previous checks have noted that the stand has an asbestos content but this would only pose a risk during demolition. There is potential for The Jimmy Seed stand.
Q: Katrien, are you employed by Charlton Athletic?
A: Yes I am. I am remunerated as Chief Executive so my salary is included with all the other salary costs.
Q: But company law states that the highest paid director’s remuneration must be declared. Your predecessor Steve Kavanagh’s salary was declared. Where’s the transparency?
A: We are a private company. My salary doesn’t concern anyone. It is irrelevant. I am accountable to the board of directors.
Q: But it is surely relevant in regard to performance?
A: I think a football club should be treated differently to a private company. I think it is a mistake on your part not to be open. Do you believe that in any other job you would still be in a job?
Q: The situation is shambolic. Do you truly believe that you are going to turn this around?
A: We know we have a long way to go to reverse our mistakes. We have an important summer ahead. We are looking for a different style of play and player. Karl knows what he wants and has big knowledge of this division. We are pleased with the success of our academy. Our academy has such a good reputation that we are competing with scouts from other clubs and sometimes it is hard to get young players to sign up.
Q: There have been too many young players used before they were ready like Ahearne-Grant because the club wouldn’t sign proper players.
A: When I arrived we couldn’t keep Diego Poyet because he was out of contract. My objective has been to get young players signed up on long term contracts. I agree some others were not good enough. We did overpay. Our biggest investment didn’t work out but Ricky Holmes has been a success.
Q: Who decides on transfers? Wasn’t Ajose signed before Slade was appointed?
A: Russell Slade really wanted Ajose, Novak and Holmes. He actually wanted four players and we managed to get three.
Q: But don’t you think that agents see you coming? You’ve thrown money down the drain. They think you are a soft touch and add 10%. Does the toxic nature of the club make it more difficult to attract players?
Q: Some of the players the club has signed have not been fit to wear the shirt so we must question someone’s judgement. Some of them must laugh all the way to the bank. Where is the passion? Paulo di Canio had 100% commitment. What are you going to do in future to get a better deal?
A: That is true. We will undertake more due diligence and seek to find out if they really want to come to Charlton. Desire will be a key characteristic we will look for. This season has been strange. Somewhere we got lost in February but we are confident we have a core group which can succeed. We have lacked leaders for two seasons.
Q: Poor judgment of players has meant that we have loaned some out and are paying them for not doing anything for us.
A: Ideally we want players to meet six requirements and a minimum of four. Karl knows what it takes to get out of this division. We look at players in all leagues including The Premier league and non league. We receive 100 player reports a month. Karl looked at two players yesterday. We are now much better linked with our scouts. Our biggest mistake was signing players without English experience. Decisions are up to the manager and scouts. We speak to physios to get background about players responses to injury. If four or five out of seven transfers work out well that is a good percentage. We are in a good position. It is early doors but I am negotiating 10-12 player contracts for next year.
Q: You say you love this club but I’m not sure you understand the emotional connection of fans. You and the owner have shown disdain for fans. Your record has been a disaster and people have been alienated by your comments about customers and 2%. Will you apologise for this?
A: I do understand the emotional passion. I supported the club my grandfather supported and I am a passionate supporter of Charlton. I may have underestimated what it means specifically at Charlton but by no means did I want to offend anyone. I do apologise if things I have said have upset fans and these face to face meetings are part of that process.
Q: These sessions are appreciated and it is good that mistakes have been acknowledged but mistakes cost money. The debt is now over £50m and fans are concerned. Why doesn’t the owner write off the losses?
A: This sort of loss is the reality in the Championship. It was not only us. The average loss last season was £15m. Look at Bolton. Owning a club is cash-draining. The EFL has the responsibility to make it more viable. Charlton voted against the FFP changes which allow it. If we get back to the Championship there will be £5m more income but it will all go in salaries to attract players.
Q: But Roland isn’t paying for his mistakes. Why is he charging 3% interest?
A: It’s not about making money. That interest wasn’t paid. There is no way you get the money back.
Q: So why not write off the loans?
A: It’s not an issue until the club is sold.
Q: Can you guarantee that the Valley won’t be separated from the club?
A: Its not up for discussion