A New Year Brings New Challenges for Charlton

As the end of the year approaches, and with uncertainty in the air about the future of CAFC, it's a good time to take stock of the progress and direction of the Trust

In late 2013 CAS Trust begins it’s second year in existence, and below we discuss some of the key issues and various comments we have encountered a long the way.

As we recently reported Trust membership has grown steadily and we now have over 900 paid up and junior members. How strong a Trust is that? The famous Swansea Trust currently has less than 1,000 paid members, despite the fact that membership of that Trust gives voting rights for a supporters' director who represents a 20% equity share. Within the Charlton Trust team there are various views about our membership target, which was initially set at 1,000, but we all understand that only a minority of fans are actively interested in how a club is run in financial terms.

What is the Trust's purpose?

Broadly most supporters’ trusts seek to ensure that fans are informed about the overall direction of the club - which means having an understanding of the financial situation. Trusts of course hope also to have an influential voice on this direction. How does a Trust gain such influence? There are many ways a trust can influence however probably the only guaranteed way, is a seat at the Boardroom table, ideally representing an equity stake. We believe that this should be the ultimate  goal of our Trust (and indeed of all Trusts). So far trusts tend to achieve this by being around to help when things go wrong - Swansea fans had to raise £50,000 which left them with a 20% stake as a consortium partner. If reports of potential sales and valuation are to be believed we would have to raise several million pounds for such a stake in CAFC. It’s worth noting however that Charlton fans had a Supporter’s Director without such a stake in the past.

In the meantime we have assumed that the fans need a group which can understand and explain the financial realities of the Club's situation, and that the Club wants to be able to communicate with a group which is capable of understanding the situation and helping to improve it. This position has been described as that of the "critical friend".

But how critical should we be? How friendly?

This is one of main challenges the Trust has encountered - how to manage it's relationship with the football club. Our approach so far has been very positive one so far because by and large we are here to help the club and that approach has been supported by fans who completed our various earlier surveys. But as time has gone there have been and will continue to be areas where we don't agree, or where our interests differ.

Clearly if we are overly antagonistic towards the Club, a working relationship would prove difficult and we will never get the dialogue necessary to developing an understanding of the Club's situation or the goals of its owners and management. In order to be effective in our criticism, we need to know what we are talking about! From our research we know that a portion of fans (3% of those who answered our most recent feedback survey which included members, subscribers and non members) want us to be more overtly critical than at present. All fans can be reassured that we will remain independent despite attempting to build a relationship with CAFC, and are not afraid to speak out, once we are sure of the facts which warrant such criticism.

In addition during the year we saw the re-emergence of Voice of the Valley -which takes a critical editorial line towards the current owners. But the Trust website is not a fanzine, and so has a different editorial approach. It must focus more on facts and figures; nevertheless we will do our best to make them interesting to read.

We believe that we should try to help the Club wherever possible to increase revenue with one eye on keeping prices affordable for fans. This is the "friend" element. Again research show us that a minority of people are uneasy about this. However we believe our activity helps CAFC in the long term, and not just the current owners. We learn more about what fans want (beyond success on the pitch of course); we are slowly rebuilding the knowledge base which may have been lost with the departure of so many long serving employees; and this will provide continuity - there is no guarantee if we had new owners they will not bring in new people and replace the current "new" team too. We have studied the wider issues around the finances of English football, and how other clubs deal or fail to deal with them; this allows us to make what we hope are intelligent and informed proposals for investment by owners in the Club.

We do all this because our goal is to safeguard the long term future of CAFC, a future which can survive a change of ownership. We believe our most important success this year was to have the Valley registered as an Asset of Community Value. We took this step firstly because it provides a very important symbolic first step in giving fans a say in the future of their club; secondly it provides advance notice of a possible sale of the ground; this might allow for, at the very least, rational debate between fans and Club owners about the pros and cons of such a move. The Trust doesn't have an inbuilt resistance to such a move. However it believes that the arguments for such a move versus staying at the Valley should be fully explored and the fan base consulted. The pros may not be as clear cut as was the case for most clubs which have recently moved, because the Valley has been renewed and appears to be fit for purpose for at least the next five years. The financial case for staying put and developing the Valley should also be explored, and it is hoped that ACV status puts the impetus on both owners and Greenwich Council to properly explain both options. Many in the Trust are veterans of Selhurst Park and the fight to return home, but it's worth remarking that there are a number that aren’t indeed the Trust board member who first championed ACV is too young to have experienced the wretched Selhurst exile.

As we write this, we are in a period of rumour about takeover bids and very little clarity about the future. We cannot choose the owners of CAFC. However we believe that in the last year we have built on the existing reputation of Charlton fans as those that have as much if not more affinity with their club than others - fans who are ready to do more than most to make it a brilliant club, no matter what happens on the pitch. We hope the Trust has built sufficient respect with current and former directors to be work well with the current owners, or if it happens be recommended as partners to new owners whose main goal is to make CAFC more successful.

We started this article by discussing our membership. We are delighted with our numbers up to now; but we do not know what the future holds for CAFC. Yes we have a strong base, but the more members we have, the greater our legitimacy. If you care about Charlton, if you want it to be there for your children and grandchildren to enjoy, don't sit on the sidelines, please join us. And if you would like to be "active", please tell us how we can involve you. There are already a number of people who cannot commit to being on the Board for various reasons, but who are making a big contribution to our "knowledge base" and other work. We would love to have in our active team more fans who have experience with mergers and acquisitions, commercial property, local government, to name but a few areas.

This is the time of year when our families come first, but in England, football has never been far from our thoughts at this time, with such a full fixture programme. In the case of our Club, we will be there at The Valley, but also gathering information on events off the pitch. We will do our best to establish the facts and present the implications of any ownership changes as soon as possible; and we will be the umbrella under which all true Charlton fans can gather, if the weather turns stormy.

Happy New Year and here's to a successful 2014 for our Club!

The Trust Board