Thomas Sandgaard meets the fans

An estimated 550 or so Addicks tuned in over Zoom on the evening of Thursday 10th December to join Thomas Sandgaard's first official fans' Q&A, hosted by CAST.

It was a hugely enjoyable and informative evening which began with Thomas serenading everyone with Valley Floyd Road on his guitar and then explaining the importance of football in his life and how he had continued to play for fun into his 50s. Then we proceeded to the many questions....

Q:  Why were you so determined to buy the club?

TS:  There’s this whole Danish connection. A lot of Danish players have played for the club, and made the club well-known in Denmark. Not only that, I went into it looking at a number of different clubs. It was a process of elimination. Certain clubs pretty much deselected themselves. Pretty much the only one with the fanbase, the history, the infrastructure and something to build on was Charlton. Even though the players had been decimated, I felt that we could quickly put something together. There was an amazing training ground as well, and a fantastic location in London. I started negotiating with the various characters, and I’m not one to give up once I start on something. That’s more of a personality trait that probably made it all happen at the end.

Q: Even with the relegation ?

TS: That’s okay, because I think it would have been more of a rough start, with everything having been decimated. It’s better to take it slowly. I think it was actually a blessing. We didn’t have too much pressure, and could slowly start putting the pieces in place. I’m putting those pieces in place behind the scenes to create a structure for success in the Championship and eventually in the Premier League.

Q: What has surprised you most?

TS: The first thing was the loyalty of the staff, after everything they’d been through. The second thing is the fan base. It’s surprised me how powerful that is. I won’t call it a movement, but the infrastructure around the club, if I can call it that, is amazing.

The negative is that I’m spending half of my time on legal battles, most of them involving the characters who were involved in the club before, including their friends and family, who asked for extreme amounts. I’m spending a lot of time and money on multiple law firms to try to explain to these people that it’s not just a big smorgasbord and you can’t just take whatever you like. You’re not messing around with Charlton any more.

Q: What reassurance can you give us that you will be patient with Lee Bowyer when the (inevitable) slumps come? The ignorant seem to be the loudest on social media and far too many managers are not given the time they need.

TS: I think the answer comes from my background. I’m a fairly patient business leader, but also very stubborn, in business anyway. A football club is a business, and you have to apply the same kind of patience there. We have the right man in the job. I have no ambition to replace Lee Bowyer. He’s the right man for the job. Other teams obviously have a say about who comes out as the winner, so we can’t win all games, and there are going to be slumps and difficult periods as we go. The way I look at those things is that it’s about statistics.

Q: Is it feasible to do what is necessary to attain Academy Category 1 status before you own the Sparrows Lane site?

TS: Yes, I believe so. The time from today to when I eventually own those facilities is an unknown. What is known is that it’s my plan to get to a Category 1 academy. In order to make our long-term plans and goals come true is to have a Category 1 academy. I will slowly put the building blocks in place, and we’ll be there, possibly even before I own it. It’s a long lease, so I’ve got fifteen years to work that out. We’ve got plenty of time and stability to figure all that out.

Q: It looks like you’ve noticed that we might have an issue with the number and type of injuries suffered. How do you assess the current situation on the medical/fitness side, and what plans might you have to get better outcomes in that area?

TS: I noticed exactly that and was aware of it even before I took over the club. We’ve just hired a new head physio, and the press release will probably come out today or tomorrow. They have an incredible resumé and are a familiar face within the club. We’ve also worked a lot on those injuries. Our new technical director realised that we didn’t have any equipment to measure muscle strength to prevent hamstring injuries, and it’s the kind of equipment that all Premier League clubs and MLS clubs are using, so I immediately purchased one of those, and it got installed a couple of weeks ago. Those are all things that, over time, will help with the health of our players.

Q: What are your plans for getting The Valley and training ground back under the ownership of the club? These should never be not be one and the same organisation.

TS: It’s obviously a very strong objective of mine. I expect to get there by applying what I’ve become so good at through my life which is negotiating. I can’t really give any specific timelines, but during fifteen years I’m sure there are going to be some openings. Hopefully we’ll be playing at a much higher level of football when that happens, and the economics might make it a little easier to make an offer that’ll be acceptable over in Belgium. I’m sorry that it’s a very vague answer. Like anything else I’ve done in life, I’ll figure it out!

Q: You’ve talked about ambitions for Charlton getting into the PL and Europe. Let’s pop the poll up and see what the reality is among the fans. (The majority answered 4-6 years, so clearly the ambitions of the owner are rubbing off!)

TS: It’s about probabilities. What I’m doing right now is everything I possibly can to maximise the probability that we will get promoted to the Championship this year. I can’t guarantee it, but everything I’m doing is geared towards that. It’s a season where we play a total of 69 or 70 hours of football, and one goal can decide whether we get promoted or not, so there’s that kind of uncertainty. The same thing goes for building a foundation on the assumption that we will get promoted so that within 4 or hopefully 5 years we will get promoted to the PL. I’m already talking to people in the club about being ready for preparing for the Championship, so that if we have a good run there, we’ll be ready for life in the PL. If we get there, we want to be prepared for it. I’ve got to be true to myself and put it out there.

Q: Are you considering in the future at all inviting other investors such as Andrew Barclay or Andrew Muir?

TS: Yes. I have had direct approaches from other consortiums around the globe that have all been very interested in Charlton previously, and under my leadership they’re more interested. I have a good relationship with Andrew Barclay, for instance, and I intend to keep those dialogues going. It depends on how successful we are, and could depend on my own personal financial situation. Sometimes when you add financial backing from others, you don’t just get money, you also get the know-how. Short-term it would make life easier if I do it without too much outside influence.

Q: You have already appointed two key figures in Wayne Mumford and Ged Roddy, do you have any other appointments you expect to make?

TS: Other than the new head physio, which isn’t as high profile but is as important, no, there’s really nobody else. We have everything in place that we need. Between Wayne, Ged, Lee Bowyer, and Steve Gallen, it’s an incredible team around the players. It’s a perfect set-up. We also have Steve Avory running the academy, doing an amazing job under very difficult circumstances. We’ve got a team of people who have Charlton at heart.

Q:  When we get promoted to the Championship, what’s the plan, and will Bowyer be backed by a large budget?

TS: Obviously we will know about that in April or May. It will be about using transfer money to put together a team that is ready for the Championship. There might be some players playing really well now, but who might not be right for the Championship, so there might be a lot of changes to be made. The minute we know about getting promoted, all the brains will obviously have to come together and we’ll have to be smart about that transfer window. The Championship is one of the toughest leagues in the world, but we’ll be putting together something that’s sustainable.

Q: I’m assuming that you’re not doing this for the good of your health. So, quite simply, what is your motivation for becoming the owner?

TS: Actually, I would say it is good for my health! When you do something you’re having fun with, it’s good for your heart and your brain. Between the football and the music, that’s what I want to spend more time on. It makes me feel good, and it’s exciting – not just the 90 minutes but throughout the whole thing. It’s exciting to see everything coming together and slowly build on the platform that’s already there. Do I believe I can run this club in a financially sustainable way? Yes, and I felt it was possible for me to do this without making all the mistakes that other clubs make, so I felt that it would be financially tough but not financially stupid. I’m probably healthier now.

Q: What’s the plan for January? A striker is paramount.

TS: A striker is paramount. I think we have such a strong defence. We have the best goalie in the league. We have some of the best defenders in the league. I don’t need to do anything to strengthen our defence. The wage cap is the problem, but we’re good there. We can do better in our midfield. Assuming that we have the striker position covered, we need more offensive midfielders, people who can surprise the opposition, and more strength on the wings. Alfie Doughty is out for months, and we may not even see him this season. Maatsen can come forward sometimes. A striker is a given, but also the midfield and some wingers. We’re already working on that.

CAST: I was a big Dennis Rommedahl fan, and we’ve got a poll about Danish players.

TS: Dennis Rommedahl is up there, but probably not my favourite, because he would have been faster than me in my best days! It was brilliant to watch him. Claus Jensen was another great player. But I’m so old, it’s got to be Alan Simonsen. Watching him play for the national team, his moves were brilliant, and the way he read the game was unbelievable. (Claus Jensen won the fans' poll with 67%)

Q:  What are the plans for improving the scouting set-up and the academy?

TS: We’re still talking about that. It’s part of a bigger discussion we’re having on the footballing side. Everything we do on the academy side, we want to make sure it’s consistent with the playing style of the first team. Part of that is also recruiting. It’s not just getting data on players and having a good network, it’s also the whole scouting process. A lot is provided by scouting services where you get access to a lot of data, but not everything is buried in a number. You’ve got to see how a player moves. A human eye and a human brain can quickly work it out. You need the soft input as well as the hard data.

Q: You have outlined a very ambitious target to get to the Premier League. How do you plan to succeed where many Championship clubs have failed, even with parachute money?

TS: To me, it’s not about parachute money or anything like that. It’s just about being smart about it, and creating a foundation so that we have the right kinds of players, are smart about what players we buy, what players we put out on loan, what players we sell. If we start today, in a few years we might have some really great talent coming up from the academy. It’s about grooming all those parts, and improving the odds and the probability. It’s not one smart move or the flick of a switch. I’m not sure I’m going to do everything the same way, but what they’ve done over at Brentford, with very little money, is very impressive.

Q: What are the Club’s intentions regarding season ticket holders from last year who did not renew because the club was not in such safe hands, shall we say?  Will we be able to buy half a season ticket and not be disadvantaged in the ballot?

TS: That’s a good question. You’re right, there’s going to be half a season left, and that’s one issue we haven’t considered. This Covid issue has taken up a lot of time, and we’re prioritising season-ticket holders in that. A half-season ticket might be a good idea. I’ll take that up.

Q: After last weekend’s events at Millwall how can Charlton show that we are the real and indeed ONLY champions of diversity in SE London and how can we get more BAME supporters involved in the club which will have a positive knock-on effect for our academy too?

TS: That is obviously a very real issue, not just in England but all over the world. It’s something I didn’t really grow up with in Denmark, but certainly in the US where I live now it’s a big issue, and also in England. It’s not just one thing. It’s not just kneeling before a game. It’s a multitude of things. It’s an attitude. It shouldn’t be like that, so everything you come across in life, you either correct or ignore. At some point, hopefully all human beings can live in an equal world with equal opportunities. As the Charlton owner, I will do whatever I can to make sure we support any kind of effort in that direction.

Q: When is Metallica coming to the Valley? Sell out crowd!!! Great money spinner for the club?

TS: They keep saying that they don’t want me on stage with them, and I’ll be playing too loud. When they finally give in, we’ll get them on. That would be amazing.

Q: As your neighbour here in Kansas, how can American Addicks help you expand the club's profile here in the US - Do you have a vision for our profile here? And when the pandemic is over, can you host us American Addicks to a Rocky Mountain watch party for a big Championship match?

TS: Why not? It’s actually part of our preliminary thinking, which is why we’ve made some changes to the live stream, and we’re calling it the Charlton TV Experience. We want it to be such a great experience that anyone around the globe gets that experience. It’s going to be a high-quality experience, which is somewhat similar to watching Sky Sports, with a panel. My goal is to develop a huge fanbase internationally. For you guys in Kansas, let’s do it! Invite your friends, even if they don’t like soccer, buy a Charlton TV pass, and let’s make sure we get a huge international following, too.

Even the NFL over here, it’s not sport, it’s entertainment. There’s absolutely no incentive to do anything out of the ordinary, because nobody can ever get relegated. The worst team gets the best college graduates, so the teams are always equal. It’s very profitable, but it’s not exciting. It’s the same concept in the MLS and it doesn’t make for good football. It’s not my cup of tea.

Q: What are your plans for the women’s team?

TS: I’m finally going to meet with the women’s team manager and watch their game on Sunday. I want to make sure we bring that part of Charlton football much closer together, if not under the same roof.

Q:  Other than the usual supporting the team, which when The Valley is full, the atmosphere and support is fantastic, what do you want from us supporters? How can we specifically work with you to enhance your vision for the club?

TS: Keep it up! Let’s fill the stadium as soon as we can. I’ll try to do everything I can in terms of ticket pricing and promoting it, but more than anything, I’m very clear that it’s more important for us to fill the stadium than optimise the revenue. That will come in due course. I want the whole world to be Charlton fans! Some of that is buying TV passes, and some of it is filling the stadium. Be active! Very early on, I talked about creating a fan’s advisory board, and we’re finally putting some things together. Starting tomorrow I’m going to put the first little piece in place, which is to see if we can have someone from fans all over the world to apply to become our fan liaison officer, to coordinate that effort, so that we get it put together, so that everybody gets heard, and we have meaningful meetings and messages that the club and I can discuss with the fans. If we don’t find the right person, I’m willing to pay for it and make it an official job. We’ll kick off that process tomorrow. When the first meeting will be and what format it’ll be in is yet to be seen.

Q: What percentage of your time are you currently committing to focusing on CAFC? How do you balance that with your other responsibilities?

TS: I spend about two days a week working on my company. Getting up at 3am is a change! I’m still spending a lot of time dealing with people who think that just because they know Chris Farnell, they’re entitled to a lot of money. Of my awake time, I probably spend 20-30% on Zynex, about 50% or more on Charlton, and about 5% on music, and then various things, going out to restaurants and things like that.

Q: There are rumours circulating regarding moving out of Sparrows Lane. Can you confirm anything about that?

TS: Absolutely not. I’ve got a fifteen-year lease and that’s perfectly fine. We already have a good relationship with the University of Greenwich, and we are talking more with them about using their facilities as we keep growing, but we’re not moving anywhere. We’re putting better offices and training facilities in place at Sparrows Lane so that we can get through the winter with decent facilities.

Q: A smaller thing, but something that would improve the match day experience is better food and drink. Has this been considered? London is awash with great breweries and eateries, it would be great to support local businesses whilst also improving the overall match day experience.

TS: Let’s get over Covid first! I’ve heard a lot about it, so I’m sure we’ll be looking at that. The stadium is big enough to make sure we’ll have a decent offering that fits a variety of the fan base.

Q: You have spoken about your wish for stability, which is something the club desperately needs. Is there anything in the pipeline for a new contract for Lee Bowyer to reward his loyalty and allow him to build long term? Our greatest modern success came from Alan Curbishley’s 15  years in charge of the team.

TS: There’s still a year and a half left on his contract I think. He’s the right man for the job, so there’s nothing to worry about there.

Q: A slight vanity question in regards to the team kits.  Hummel have done a fantastic job the past few seasons with all the kits they have made for Charlton, and their contract runs out this summer.  Would they be kept on as kit supplier for next season?

TS: They’re Danish, but I’m Charlton. It’s a matter of where we can get the best deal, and the best deal is not just in terms of money, but also what it’ll give us more generally. They are doing a good job now and we will review at the end of the contract.

Q: With Ronnie Schwartz one of the names linked to signing for Charlton in the summer, will we potentially be looking to Denmark for signings - and on that note, do you have a relationship or want to foster one with any particular Danish side?

TS: Not necessarily. I’m beginning to build relationships with clubs all over the world right now, and they come fast and furious! I’m learning a lot. I was minutes away from signing a contract with the top scorer in the Danish league. It didn’t happen, and that was sad, because we’ve obviously had an issue on the striker front. I have a very close connection with Ronnie and a good relationship. He’s got everything that a club could need in League 1, the Championship, and that instinct for goal-scoring. He fights for every ball and works hard. He’s got every attribute that we could need.

Q: Are there any plans to overhaul and expand the merchandising operation?

TS: It’s one of those longer-term projects. When I get over there at the weekend, one of my plans is to get over there and experience it physically. It’s definitely something we’ll be reviewing in time.

Q: Thomas, you've mentioned in previous interviews you are confident in future success through 'simplification'. Can you expand on what this looks like in footballing terms?

TS: We’re focused on promotion. That is one of many examples of simplifying things. There’s been a lot of problems with the experience with the Valley Pass. We’re going to cut right through it, simplify it, and put our own Charlton TV in place, so it’s much simpler to control.

Q: Are you enjoying your journey with Charlton? Best and worst bits?

TS: I think I’ve mentioned, to start with, of course I’m enjoying it. I think I’m healthier as a result, and my life is a lot more fun. Every interaction I have, it’s exciting. How else could I force myself to get up at 3am every morning? It’s because it’s exciting. The best parts have been how dedicated people are. It’s been such a relief. The worst bit is these idiots who still think they have something to do with Charlton. It ain’t happening. You’re not messing with Charlton any more.

Q: Hi Thomas, this is something I’ve wanted to ask you. About 6 years ago the club did an initiative where 5 young fans got to have board meetings with board members as part of the junior council. I think it was a great initiative which gave the young fans a voice at the club. I was personally one of the lucky fans part of it and I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, Roland scrapped this which was a real shame. Would you consider in the future giving young fans a chance to have a voice at the club?

TS: Absolutely. It’s part of the work on the advisory board we’re putting together. If you look at the demographics, it’s not exactly the youngest fan base. I expect to grow the fan base a lot in the future, so naturally there will be more young fans coming into it. Hopefully this forum, led by a fan liaison officer, will be the right forum, but we’ll learn as we go. As you can probably imagine, I plan to be somewhat involved in that going forward. More often, the people who know what’s really going on, whether it’s the match experience or at the grass roots, are much more valuable than what a business person puts on the table.

Q: Do you feel now that you are a fan that’s the owner or does it still feel like a business? Is it a head or heart thought process for you or a mixture of both?

TS: It’s probably 50/50, because there’s so much business stuff that hits me. This morning I got an email with a long spreadsheet showing the bills that have to be paid this week, and I go through and approve them or not approve them. Emotionally, the way I go through the day, I’m at least as much a fan as a business man.

Q: You said recently that in the next 10 years you would like us to be playing regular European football. How do you think this goal will be achievable?

TS: If we are in the top half of the PL, it’s just a few positions away. We’ve got to make it happen here in England first!

Q: Hi Thomas as you love rock and football, what would you prefer a top ten hit or to score at the valley?

TS: [Longest pause of the evening!] That’s a good question! I’d need to get in shape, but if I could get over that hump, I’d have to get a trial at Sparrows Lane and see if Lee Bowyer appreciates what I can do. If I get through that I’d have to make sure I didn’t just sit there on the bench, but actually get on the field. And it’ll probably be a bit faster than I remember it being! A lot of things would need to come together. (At this point CAST suggested to Thomas that he could always hire the pitch at the end of the season and put on his own match without the need for Lee Bowyer's approval.)

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about Charlton Athletic Community Trust and its relationship with the club?

TS: I developed a great relationship with Jason Morgan (CEO) pretty much from day one of owning the club. I’m supportive and listening to them, and that means a lot. One of the first things I did was make sure Jason got a desk at the Valley, so he’s more closely connected to what’s going on, and we’re more closely connected to them. They had not been getting any support from the club. The charity side of things is something that means a lot to me.

Q: Thomas, many moons ago I was a shareholder in CAFC and still have the framed share certificate. Do you have any distant plans to allow fans to acquire shares once again? Is some form of fan ownership on the agenda?

TS: It is one of those things I’ve been thinking about. In the short term, let’s make sure we get through the turbulent days of previous owners, and get on a sound footing again. It could be important not just for financial reasons, but for the connection with fans. It’s something I’ll be looking at, alongside some more significant investments that would be needed at some point in time. It’s something I’ve thought about, but it’s obviously not for now.

Q: There are a lot of international supporters and there were an international support club about 15 years ago. Any interest to get that started again? I think we can contribute in a very positive way.

TS: That’s right. It’s our plan to really develop international support to a much higher degree. It would be beneficial for the club to become an international brand name.

Q: An excellent move on the Valley Pass today; A very good market while things are as they are! My question is:  Have you already got ideas/plans on areas of the real matchday experience when we can all finally be back?

TS: We probably have a list of more than 50 things that we’ll take a look at which aren’t the priority for now, but mascots are definitely one of the things we’ll look at. We were talking earlier today about a dedicated Wi-Fi capability for fans, just improving the quality of the experience overall.

Q: You’ve shown a fantastic commitment to the club and fellow fans. Do you think there’ll be an opportunity for us to repay our faith in you and commitment to the club by looking at 5-year season tickets again?

TS: Another great idea! From half a season to a five-year season. We’re taking notes!

Q: I’m sure that you aware of the importance of The Valley to the club. Are there plans to develop the ground in the future rather than moving the club away? It hasn’t worked out for clubs like West Ham and Coventry.

TS: Let’s say I’ll eventually acquire the Valley, then obviously we have the South Stand, the Jimmy Seed Stand, that can be expanded in line with the rest of the stadium. That will give us many thousands more fans. The stadium otherwise is in such good shape. It’s much better than Crystal Palace or Fulham.

Q: What about the rumour of Floyd and Harvey coming back?

TS: It’s something we’re discussing. Right now, we’re keeping the mascots hidden because they’ll get exposed to Covid, but once that’s over we’ll take a look at the mascot situation.

CAST:  Thank you so much for your time.

TS: Thank you for putting this together, it’s been amazing.