Eltham MP Clive Efford wrote to EFL Chair Rick Parry by e mail on Friday (July 17th). This is what he said:
Mr Rick Parry
English Football League
I am writing to express my concerns about the current situation at Charlton Athletic Football Club. Although the stadium is not located in my constituency, the club’s training ground at Sparrows Lane is in the Eltham constituency and the club is vitally important to this community. I have worked very closely for a number of years with Charlton Athletic Community Trust which has done such amazing work locally.
You will no doubt be aware already that on 29 November 2019, Charlton Athletic was acquired by East Street Investments from its then owner Roland Duchâtelet, this takeover was subject to approval from the English Football League. It was widely reported that this approval was granted on 2 January 2020.
However, on 10 March 2020, a public disagreement between the new owners erupted along with reports that the main investor was pulling out. The EFL later stated that contrary to reports, the takeover had in fact not been approved. It seems that the new owners had passed the Owners’ and Directors’ test but the EFL were not satisfied with the source and sufficiency of the new owners’ funding.
It then emerged that the Valley and Charlton's training ground were still owned by Duchâtelet. The takeover deal was understood to have included an obligation for East Street Investments to buy the club’s properties outright from Duchâtelet after six months for £50m. However, some other reports suggest that this period actually extended to five years.
A transfer embargo was put in place as the new owners had not provided evidence of funding through to June 2021. On 20 April 2020, the EFL announced that the club had been placed under investigation for misconduct regarding the takeover.
On 10 June, Charlton confirmed that East Street Investments had been taken over by a consortium led by businessman Paul Elliott and said it had contacted the EFL to finalise the ownership change. However, the club remain in a legal quagmire as these disputes continue.
I have been in touch with the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust (CAST) and like them I am horrified at the ease with which ESI were allowed to take control of a 115-year-old football club for £1, despite lacking sufficient approved funds to secure the club’s future
It is extremely disappointing that the EFL have not been more transparent with supporters about the status of their investigation into the January takeover of the club and the delayed process to assess the eligibility of the proposed new owners of ESI.
The fans – the true custodians of any football club - have been left in the dark over the future of their club. Indeed, the fact that the Valley and the training grounds in Sparrows Lane had been separated from the club was only discovered through questioning by a local journalist and CAST.
The confusion and disputes over who owns the club leaves us all worried that Charlton could go the same way of other clubs like Bury and Wigan while fans are forced to watch powerlessly from the side-lines.
It is clear from talking to fans across the local community that most have given up hope that EIS – whoever its owners turn out to be – is incapable of providing the stability and investment that the club so desperately needs.
I fully support CAST’s calls for the EFL to punish the individuals involved rather than the club. It is vital that fans are involved in any further decisions affecting the club’s future and the Supporters’ Trust must have a place at the table while you attempt to resolve these serious issues and protect the future of the football club. Supporters are the lifeblood of football clubs and it is high time that the EFL went beyond paying lip service to such key stakeholders.
This case raises a number of vital questions about the way that the EFL operates which will affect many clubs aside from Charlton Athletic.
- Does the EFL track the activity of people who seem to move from club to club and leave after the club has fallen into financial difficulties, especially those who appear to have personally gained financially from their involvement?
- Does the EFL have the power to prevent owners from separating clubs form ownership of their assets, such as training grounds and stadiums? If not, what would give them that power?
- The dispute surrounding the club has been public knowledge since March 10 2020. What concrete steps have the EFL taken since then to resolve the situation?
- What steps have the EFL taken to reach out to fans to ensure they are part of the resolution of this process, rather than casualties of the fallout?
I will be pursuing these issues in Parliament to protect clubs like Charlton in the future. It seems to me that the most attractive asset of lower league clubs is often the property they hold – normally the stadium and training facilities. Often the club itself is a loss-making part of the enterprise. This encourages those who seek to profit from non-football related investment to separate clubs from their assets. Preventing future separations will remove some of the larger incentives that attract these sorts of predatory investors into the game.
Thank you for taking the time to look into this. I look forward to hearing from you as matter of urgency with regards to what steps the EFL will take to ensure a viable future for Charlton Athletic. I also look forward to hearing about your plans to ensure the involvement of the fans’ representatives. I would also be grateful if you could respond to my wider concerns about how to prevent situations like these occurring in the future.
Member of Parliament for Eltham