Richard Murray: Stability is key, #CAFC will be inside FFP – CAS Trust AGM

CAS Trust are very grateful to Richard Murray for giving up an evening and joining us at our AGM on Thursday.

As usual, Richard spoke in an engaging manner on a number of matters of interest to Charlton supporters.

He began by reiterating his support for CAS Trust and explained how he had championed the Trust in the boardroom at CAFC. Katrien Meire was approached by various groups when she first arrived and remains wary about being seen to favour any one over another.  CAS Trust has a difficult balancing act to perform – it needs to be independent of the club, yet trusted by the club.  There might be circumstances when it needs to be openly critical but, in stable times, it can be a constructive adjunct.  An example of this is the work it has done with the EU about the unfair advantage gained by West Ham through the Olympic Stadium.

Supporter concerns were raised about the club losing autonomy and identity because of its network position, and the lack of a convincing narrative from the club to counteract this. Richard said that he felt this was gradually changing. He agreed that, in the early days, it was not unreasonable for supporters to feel alarmed. People were upset about Chris Powell; disappointed in network players not up to standard; disturbed by media reports (eg Martin Samuels) that we were a south London based Belgian club and a feeder club for Standard Liege. At that point, Roland and Katrien were keen to prove by their actions what they were about rather than try to persuade with words. Now, we can see that three outstanding players (Gudmunssen, Vetokele and Bikey) have been recruited from non- network clubs and the three from Liege (Buyens, Bulot, Ben-Haim) are excellent and clearly of a much higher quality than the January imports. Some Standard supporters now think they are a feeder club ! The Valley looks great.  Katrien is pretty communicative now (giving interviews)  and a narrative is emerging of a club seeking to be competitive in a financially responsible manner.

There was general agreement in the meeting that these are positive times with plenty to be optimistic about but some felt that there is still a credibility gap for some supporters who are concerned about foreign ownership, the network and player / manager turnover. Some thought this might help explain the drop in season ticket renewals.  Richard said that we shouldn’t read too much into Bob Peeters’ 1 year contract. He explained that few managers are paid more than a year if sacked even if they are on a five year contract so a 1 year contract doesn’t imply lack of commitment by the club. He noted that Chris Powell’s contract with Huddersfield is a 1 year rolling contract. He also said that players are more likely to move these days as, if they are “above our level”,  their agents will be encouraging them to seek deals at a higher level.

It was suggested that Katrien needs to engage with fans even more than she does and that, to reassure them that they are heard, she should attend fan meetings in an uncontrolled environment. Richard said that this was all very well but that the fans the club needed to reach were not only the ones who attended meetings, but the ones who had stopped coming to games. Therefore the relevant media vehicles had to be chosen. (At this point it was noted from the floor how refreshing it was to see a Chief Executive travelling home from away games on public transport with the fans)

What is the current goal of the club ? Top 4 ?  Richard stressed that the first thing is to be a stable club which will still be here next year.  Roland has brought the club financial stability and he wants to reach the Premier League by being intelligent, and he is used to being successful. If we compete towards the top it will be done on reasonable wages. We are a stronger squad than last year (Wilson, Morrison aren’t currently in the team) and we haven’t really seen Moussa or Bulot yet. We tried to sign two players on deadline day (sorry, no names). Igor Vetokele’s continuing fitness will obviously be crucial for us.

Richard said that the club would be safely within Financial Fair Play limits for last season and this season. He thinks well over half of Championship clubs will comply, but Forest, Middlesboro and others might not. In Charlton’s case the European connection is helping to keep costs down because players, staff and coaches all generally earn less in Europe (in the case of coaches, this is because there are far more of them).  He explained that, if a club doesn’t comply and isn’t promoted they face transfer and contract extension embargoes. If they are promoted they face a fine (estimated £40m in QPR’s case).  Although Championship clubs agreed fines should be shared between complying clubs, the Premier League said they should go to charity.  The Football League can’t collect fines from clubs in the Premier League but it could refuse entry to a relegated club.

To the question why owners can’t inject as much equity (as compared to loans) as they like,  Richard supposed it was to prevent an owner “buying” the championship.  He stressed the overbearing power of the Premier League. For example, the “solidarity” payments to Football League clubs are non-contractual so could be withdrawn. The change in the way clubs are compensated for youth players picked off by PL clubs was pushed through with the help of £300k paid to each club. Clubs like Charlton and Ipswich voted against, but for clubs like Torquay and Newport that is big money.  Manchester City’s sponsorship deal from Etihad is being investigated under FFP because it is clearly above the market rate.  In theory, if a player is loaned from another club at below the market rate that could be investigated, but Charlton are paying full wages at present.

Richard stressed the difficulty for clubs like Charlton to keep their star youth players. All we can realistically do is (1)  spot them early and give them good contracts (2) show them there is a route through the Academy to the first team.  He felt Diego Poyet would have left whoever the owners were and said that the club recognise that Joe Gomez is a great prospect who will attract interest but are doing all they can to keep him. He was sure that many big clubs already had their eye on him and his agent will be advising him.  Roland isn’t keen on paying agents’ fees but in that way he is no different from most owners.  Last season the level of our payments to agents was about in the middle for Championship clubs showing that we are not reckless but not totally averse to paying. He didn’t think that players’ agents had a negative view of Charlton as a club to sign for.

Paul Hart was an excellent youth coach. He left the club because, in order to reduce costs, the top two Academy posts were to be merged and, if, he had accepted the post, it would have meant a pay cut. He was one of the highest paid people at the club.

England - Richard thought the Switzerland game was a bit  more inspiring than usual. He enjoyed seeing Sterling, Delph and Welbeck and thought we should commit to youth. He wondered whether Roy Hodgson is inspirational enough, Maybe Tony Pulis would be better ?

Richard fully understood people’s frustration at paying for tickets for away games and then being unable to see because people in front were standing up. This may be part of the reason why our away support seems to be falling. Also, people are standing in a stand not designed for standing. He is in favour of designated standing areas and noted that the Hillsborough disaster was not caused by people standing.

Richard confirmed that he no longer holds any shares in the club but that he would be due certain monies if the club reached the Premier League within a timescale. He confirmed that Roland Duchatalet owned Sparrows Lane.

There were a number of questions which Richard was not in a position to answer. He reminded the meeting that he is very much a non-executive director now and that there are fewer board meetings these days. He agreed to look into the following and come back to CASTrust:

  1. The position with the land behind the East Stand (Lansdowne Mews)
  2. Why there were no free vouchers in the season ticket book this season.
  3. The reduced numbers in Crossbars vis a vis the crowded millennium lounge.
  4. Waiting lists for disabled parking
  5. The up to date situation re Sparrows Lane development.

The meeting was positive and enjoyable. Richard stressed that he was aware of the concerns still held by many about the safety of the identity of the club but he felt the club is in good hands. He will continue to do his best to ensure fans’ opinions are heard in the boardroom. We thank him again for his attendance and support of CAS Trust.

(we kindly request that this report not be copied, linking is permitted)

Thanks to all the members who attended, minutes of the AGM itself will follow shortly

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