Exclusive Mumford interview: “When I walked into Charlton I felt at home.”

CAST board member Heather McKinlay recently interviewed Charlton's newly-appointed Commercial Director, Wayne Mumford, to find out more about the man and the plans. 

"When I walked into Charlton I felt at home. I got it – what the place is all about.”

Wayne Mumford grew up in Coventry, with a strong allegiance to his local team. He identifies significant similarities between the Sky Blues and the Addicks, from the battles over their historical grounds, the troubles with recent ownership through to the demonstration of latent support: both have taken followings of 40K plus to Wembley finals in the last few year – for us the Play-off in May 2019, for Coventry the Checkatrade / EFL Trophy in April 2017.

Although not present at the encounter between Charlton and Coventry at the Valley in October 2016 when pink pigs flew and global headlines were made, Mumford recognises the underlying sentiment: “I’ve never been part of the protests, but I get it and why it was going on. As a Coventry fan, what I never understand from a personal point of view and a fan point of view is how these things are never fully investigated. How did these people get hold of the money in the first place, where did the money go? The rumours I’ve heard about Coventry City are quite frightening – like directors owning the players, not the club. There are so many different rumours. I’ve asked questions at quite senior levels but they just shy away. Even the local press don’t seem to want to dig into it. It goes back to the whole story about how are people like this getting involved with the game? It’s frightening.” I spoke with Wayne prior to any knowledge of the recently-announced Range Rover giveaway but the consistency in his and Sandgaard’s views on the need for reform to prevent “dubious characters” getting their claws into clubs is plain to see – and very welcome as a Charlton fan.

Welsh by birth, Mumford confesses that he loves walking past the boardroom at The Valley and seeing the Welsh representatives of Charlton, though without any hint that he had any involvement in the recruitment of his countrymen into the present day squad. His late father, previously a miner, moved to the Midlands when Wayne was very young, to take a job in the car industry at Standard Triumph. “Dad loved football and rugby. The first thing he did was to take me and my brother to watch Coventry at Highfield Road. And look, like any Charlton fan, you go and it stays with you.” He talks warmly about the stadium, drawing many parallels with The Valley: “Why didn’t we redevelop Highfield Road, when the fans didn’t want to leave there? The Ricoh is a great stadium but we ain’t even playing there now. Ask any true Coventry fan and they’ll say why did we ever leave – it was such a nice stadium, 25K capacity, very similar to The Valley.”

Bald statistics show that Mumford made a handful of professional appearances as a player. The reality could have been quite different. “I was a typical kid who loved playing football. I got picked up at the age of 10 – this was a long time ago so it was unusual – just scouts back then. I was captain of the school team and of Coventry Select.” He was snapped up by Manchester City, where he would go to train for every school holiday, before signing schoolboy forms then apprentice forms at the age of 15. “Every club only took on six apprentices. I don’t know why, I think it was standard back then.” Initially Malcom Allison was the Maine Road supremo, then John Bond took over. Mumford recalls the 1981 FA Cup Final replay – when Ricky Villa of Spurs danced his way through a despairing Manchester City defence: “I was on the bench that day at Wembley – not as a player – like a kit man, one of the crew.” He thought all was going well, with the City Youth team reaching the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final: “I played alongside Tommy Caton. The semi-final was at Upton Park but we got beat.” Then a shock: “John Bond called in all the apprentices and said if you can find another club you can go - we’re focussing on the first team.”

If anything, this was an accelerant to the right back’s career. Already on the radar of scouts at various clubs including Aston Villa and Leicester, Birmingham City were first to move: “They called me and offered me pro forms straightaway at 17. I joined them in July/ August and made my debut in the October.” Thrown in at the deep end barely does justice – young Mumford found himself facing John Robertson of Brian Clough’s European conquering Nottingham Forest. “Ha, my memory of that is ‘do I really want to be there?’ I remember thinking, ‘you work so hard to get somewhere, then, do I really want this? To be at the City Ground marking John Robertson?’” But he overcame the initial stage fright: “I think I got 8/10 in the News of the World – I’ve still got the scrapbook somewhere.”

Mumford went on to captain the Birmingham City youth team and made several more first team appearances but as is often the case, injury curtailed his promising career. “I went to Swansea with the reserves and snapped my cruciate ligament. It’s not reported but I can show you my knee to prove it – it’s a mess. I’ve had three operations, got carbon fibres, the lot. My game was about pace in them days. In that era many a player lost their careers because of cruciate injuries.” He talks in a very matter of fact manner about what must have been a heart-breaking time of his life, admitting that he probably tried to carry on playing, even at non-league level, when he should have given up sooner. “I’m paying for it now with my knee.” But he looks back positively on his brief spell in the top flight: “I played at Highbury, played in front of 45,000. It kind of gives you a bit of inner confidence when you can go and do that.” Looking back now his one main regret is that he never made a professional appearance on the hallowed turf of Highfield Road: “I played all over for the reserves, but never there.”

So in his early 20s the Welshman had to find a new career, bringing the work ethic of a sportsman with him. “I had a very good friend who worked for Puma Sports – he’s now MD in Australia. He lined me up with a sales trainee job. It was the start of my commercial career. One of first companies I worked for was Hummel - in them days they were owned by Tottenham.” Based out of Wandsworth, he describes a different type of apprenticeship: “It was really good training for 5-6 years – FMCG standard [Fast-Moving Consumer Goods, the type of training graduates receive at companies such as Unilever and Proctor & Gamble these days]. It was a tough environment – it gives you a good grounding. Now people take degrees in it. In them days you did the courses then went out there, doing your presentations, making it happen.” He moved on to Wrangler, progressing to be their youngest National Account Manager responsible for sales into their largest account, the Burton Group. Mumford is at ease describing a genuine career, naming names, without a whiff of bullshit – once again refreshing to hear as a Charlton fan.

Mumford progressed to set up his own business – Tri Co and Tri Distribution – in the field of sport licensing. “We got to a turnover of £25M at one point.” The business designed, produced and distributed apparel and merchandise under licenses from among others Manchester United, England FA, England Rugby, Wales Rugby and the Rugby World Cup. “Every four years, we’d negotiate the contract, distribute the product. On the field the kit was Adidas, but off the field – in Tesco, Aldi, Sainsburys, CostCo – it was from the company I’d set up.” Of course, England Rugby winning the trophy in Australia in 2003 was a real boon for the company, with product flying off the shelves. The underlying philosophy was simple: “We’d take the product to the people – not everybody could afford a £50/£60 Nike or Adidas tracksuit or polo shirt. It was to make the product accessible to everybody and it really worked.” For 15 years or so this was Mumford’s focus. “My love was always to get back involved in sport – world cups, the Olympics. If you’ve got a passion for it, it helps with the job on a day to day basis.”

Then four years ago, through connections in the Chinese market, where much of Tri Co’s production took place, Mumford was approached to join All Football. “It is a Chinese-based app,” he explains, “with 80M members, 40M outside China – it’s downloadable, football information. I still use it.” He stepped back from Tri to focus on building the company’s sales in Europe, linking up with a string of top players including Aguero and Eden Hazard, plus multiple top clubs – Liverpool, Juventus, Real Madrid, all experience which he believes stands him in good stead for his role at Charlton: “It put me in front of all the big commercial departments – I got a feel for the big clubs and how they do things. Thomas has ambitions to reach the Premier League. Everything we’re planning now and putting together is for when we move up the leagues – that’s where my experience is. I already feel confident about what I can do with Charlton.”

This seems like the right juncture to understand more about how Mumford and Sandgaard first crossed paths. Sandgaard ideally wanted to speak to someone who knew football but wasn’t entirely caught up in the small world of football. Thomas’ son asked for a recommendation from someone senior he knew at West Ham. They suggested Wayne. So out of the blue Thomas phoned up. This was back in June. “We had a long conversation. He told me what his plans and thoughts were. We immediately got on, on the phone. He came over and we had another long chat – we talked about football, I talked about myself, he talked about himself. We agreed – a bit of old school attitude – that we would see how it goes – see if we could get a club – let’s not make any plans – let’s see what works.” A gentleman’s agreement of sorts.

Mumford was instrumental in Sandgaard’s choice of club, starting from a shortlist of six or seven. “He looked at Wigan. I kind of nudged him out of that – it’s a rugby town. Of course, I mentioned Coventry to him but when we looked at it, it was not the right fit with all the issues. Front of my mind was always Charlton because of what was going on.” Mumford had past connections with Charlton through work for Joma, and although he didn’t make a big thing of this with Thomas, his gut feeling was always leaning towards the Addicks. “Because I’d had dealings with Charlton in the past – during the glory days of Alan Curbishley, Peter Varney, Steve Sutherland, where everything was in harmony – I remembered them days. I’d not been part of Charlton’s torment years. When I presented Charlton to Thomas it was always with a warm glowing feeling. It was a nice easy presentation for me to do in that way.” The clandestine visit to SE7 sealed it: “We drove round in a taxi, I gave him a leg-up to peer in.…I was trying to describe to him what The Valley was like inside. It’s not a League One club – you go to some grounds at the moment, then turn up back at The Valley – it’s not a League One club.”

I ask whether Charlton’s last gasp relegation nearly caused a stumble in the selection process. “In the early days it was a concern. When we started talking, we were looking for a Championship club but once Thomas had got the bug of Charlton he said, ‘Wayne, I’m not interested. We can build this back and, you know what, it’ll be more fun building it back.’ That was his kind of attitude. And I got that. We’ve come in - we’re performing great already on the pitch – maybe it was meant to be that way for Thomas. It didn’t deter him. As soon as he arrived and got the feel of Charlton and what it was all about it didn’t become a major factor in his decision – he just wanted to make it work. My opinion is the same – take it as an advantage – it gives everybody a bit of a breather. The pressure of staying in the Championship might have been too high – think of the pressures Steve Gallen has had with who he can recruit, when he can recruit, how much he can pay. It’s going alright at the moment – maybe it was meant to be!”

In just a few months, the two men have formed a strong and like-minded relationship. “Thomas appreciated the way I worked, the way I did things. There were a lot of background things going on between us – someone like Ged Roddy [Charlton’s new Technical Director] doesn’t just turn up. We had a lot of private discussions and meetings. Thomas is a very smart guy – he keeps things close to his chest, takes it all in, doesn’t make quick decisions, he’s very rational. At the end of it all he basically asked me if I’d like to be involved and with my background on the commercial side it kind of felt like a good fit. It was a choice I had to make. I was in quite a good position from a business point of view that I could pick and choose what I wanted to do and when I wanted to do it.” I get the impression the gut feeling came into it again: “There is something about a football club - being involved - that just grabs you. Even now when watching a game, it’s a funny feeling – you’ve got the emotions involved and the business side of it. We know there will be some downs and we’ll just take it, roll with it.”

In terms of the commercial future for our club, Mumford describes how all the clubs - and players – are focussed on building their profiles in China and the States, “for obvious reasons – the size of the markets, the huge exposure for merchandise sales and the reach of social media”. And he is quite animated at the Addicks’ potential to reach into the Far East, and not without reason. He recounts a surprising twist on a call to Sponsor Force, partnered with Focus Media – the biggest media company in Asia – with a turnover of £5BN. “I called the CEO, Shoto – he’d wanted me to help him with his business so I called and said, ‘no, no, I’m taking on the Charlton Athletic role’. He said, ‘wait, Charlton? Wow – Zheng Zhi! Everybody knows Charlton in China because of Zheng Zhi.’ So I immediately called the [CAFC] commercial team and said I need all his photos, what kit he was in, etc.” Mumford found out from his contact that Zheng Zhi is still playing in the Chinese league for Evergrande, and he’s also got hold of his mobile number. “I need to think about it and get my head round it!” He goes on to describe the impact of a brief appearance by a Chinese player for Espanol – make up your mind about his ability by the brevity of his time on the pitch: “He played 40 minutes and there were 40 million downloads to watch him, paying £10! Imagine the commercial value – if I get Zheng Zhi back to play for 10 mins – I’d cover the year’s commercial budgets in no time!” We laugh at this, and I wish him luck getting it past Lee Bowyer. While this is - probably - not a serious suggestion, Mumford is nevertheless excited at this nugget from our history: “There have hardly been any Chinese players in the Premier League since Zheng Zhi – Korean and Japanese, yes. We need to be creative on how we can make this work – watch this space!”

It’s the only time in the interview when I feel a slight sense of unease, worrying about the idea that Charlton could be turned into some kind of cookie-cutter global brand, all glitz and no substance. But the ongoing conversation with Mumford rapidly dispels the feeling. “I share, I don’t keep things to myself. By sharing I get a lot more information back. I make it my job to. Yesterday we had a call with Peter Cousins [Charlton Athletic Community Trust Head of Trustees] and Jason Morgan [CACT CEO] with Thomas. We were on the Zoom call for an hour on how we can really develop what we’ve got. Make our brand international but keep the values. It will happen from the football side.” He goes on to explain an embryonic vision of how the Football Club and Community Trust can work together to spread the Charlton approach globally for mutual benefit. “The Community Trust is what makes Charlton unique. It is part of the brand - it is the brand. We had a conference call with East Benghal in India who are looking to partner with a club. They are about the biggest club in Asia, with something like 40 million fans and 5,000 coaches. I then sat down with Ged and Thomas to look at how we could send young Charlton coaches - with their badges - to India to coach the coaches.” This joined up approach fuses football and social issues. Mumford is already aware that CACT used to run a programme in South Africa. “It’s how we manage this and share this. I’m chipping away, bringing these ideas back. Let’s be honest, if we can get our badge in front of 40M fans that brings the club closer to their commercial sponsors as well. With East Benghal, that is Shree Cement – they are huge – if they want to get involved, tap into our social inclusion, then it’s a good brand message for them too.”

Sandgaard has already ensured that Jason Morgan now has a desk at The Valley, and the intention is that he will work closely with Mumford. “There are many ways we are trying to expand but it is off the back of what we already have - a great club with great heritage with a great community. The football will talk for itself but I don’t think enough people know enough about what the Community Trust does.” He goes on to describe a recent meeting with Royal Borough of Greenwich council leader Danny Thorpe, who told them: “When Charlton and the Community Trust send out a message, whether it’s about knife crime or drugs or alcohol or whatever, that message is delivered with so much more impact than any other kind of campaign.” Mumford sees this as key, not only for the social good the club can be involved in but also in creating a virtuous circle to attract corporate sponsors. “Our strategy is that if we can be seen to be engaging with the community and doing the right things, things will change naturally – we’ll get the corporates because we’re doing the right things as a club.” He emphasises the importance of the club putting out a consistent message and everybody trusting and believing in that message. “It’s already starting to happen - with some of the corporates who have made contact with me – we are on the right path already. It’s not rocket science. Be true to your word. Be accessible. Thomas will keep helping Lee, Ged and the team. We’re looking at the women’s team, the Academy, how we use the community to help us identify talent. Every day we tick a little box and move on to the next challenge.”

I’m interested to get a bit more insight into the man by understanding who he admires. His favourite footballer surprises me. “I’ve just finished reading his autobiography – Roy Keane. I know he can be a bit controversial. But I love his attitude. Reading about how his management career went at Sunderland and how he made mistakes at Ipswich. I kind of like the honesty about the guy. He admits he makes mistakes. And he obviously played every game as though it was his last.” I suggest to Wayne that he might get a rather different opinion on the Irishman from our former goalie Dean Kiely, who famously volunteered to take over in midfield when Keane walked out on his country at the Japan World Cup. “Don’t mention why, just tell him to come and have a chat with me!” Mumford quips.

In terms of business role models, he highlights Liverpool Football Club. “I got close to the people they have working in London. They invited me to a conference in Bangkok where you get to see what they do from a commercial point of view and how they do it. They’ve got a massive following in Asia but they never forget who they are, the Liverpool commercial team, they never forget who the club is and what it’s all about. Other clubs which I won’t name feel a bit sterile, a bit black and white. With Liverpool you feel like you are talking with the soul of the club. This is a value I’d like to carry with Charlton – always remember who we are, what we represent and certainly where we’ve come from. That’s what football is all about – from grandparents to grandkids, passing it on and why you pass it on.” It’s just as well I was conducting this interview over the phone, so I could hide the tears welling up in my eyes at this point.

Mumford gets football and he gets Charlton Athletic. He shares a final quick story. “So we’re Coventry, we’re Sky Blue. A kid turned up at my house and I said to him, ‘You’re not allowed in that Manchester United kit in my house. You have to leave it at the doorstep.’ And he took it off!! My kids still remember that. You say it tongue in cheek but it’s true. That was 30 years ago – but why are you wearing a Man United kit when you live in Coventry? I want every kid to wake up in the SE7 area” – and Kent, I interject – “and know it has to be red – Charlton red.”

The new Commercial Director is buzzing with enthusiasm: “I love the characters here – the people in the Community Trust – they’ve made me feel very welcome. Let’s be honest, after what they’d been working with, Thomas coming in, it must have been like Father Christmas turning up.” Especially now he is giving away a Range Rover I would have said if I had known! “The club’s been great. Everyone’s just taking a deep breath and wanting to see where the club can go with a genuine owner. We had a little giggle on the conference call yesterday – Thomas was saying three years to the Prem…After six wins we’re all allowed to get a bit carried away. You hear Lee Bowyer - he didn’t expect the signings to gel so quick. It’s the feel good factor – the players believe it – they read the fans’ reports and Thomas’ tweets – the whole club is in harmony, it works. If it all feels good and we’re all pulling the same way, you’re going to get better results.”

As we wrap up, we agree that we’ll do all we can to ensure a full house at the Valley for Thomas’ first visit once restrictions are lifted. It’s really tough that Sandgaard has yet to experience a properly rocking Valley. He has already put heart, soul, talented individuals and millions of pounds into our club, without the reward of playing his guitar in the centre circle. “With Thomas, what you see is what you get,” Mumford stresses. “There’s no agenda. I really think it’s a great mix, I really do. After everything that’s gone on, Charlton needed an owner that they can feel and touch and trust. We’ve got that in Thomas – the only agenda is to make this club what it can be. I got involved for that reason – I wouldn’t have done if I didn’t think he was genuine. Spread the word – let people know it is real.” In my case – and I reckon for most Addicks - he was already preaching to the converted.