• Robert Gammon

Charlton Athletic: Relegation, Misinformation and Disaster Capitalists

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Following a lacklustre 4-0 defeat on 22nd July, Charlton Athletic ended their brief stay in the Championship, thanks to a late Barnsley goal at Griffin Park. You could be forgiven for believing that the worst thing to happen to Charlton this week was relegation. You would be wrong.

Despite a seven game run without a win, you’ll be hard pressed to find an Addicks fan who has a bad word to say about Lee Bowyer, Johnnie Jackson or a team filled with youngsters and returning injuries. Players like Albie Morgan had become first team regulars after being recalled from non-league Ebbsfleet. Hardly any performance looked without fight and most losses came down to one agonising goal. The staff, on and off the field had given it their all amongst one of the most concerning stories in football.

Story of the Season

The beginning of the 19/20 season began as many seasons had for Charlton Athletic under infamous owner Roland Duchâtelet The team had been filled with last minute loans and freebies after a turbulent summer of uncertainty.

Only about a month prior, Lee Bowyer had been released following his miraculous play-off final win just to be re-hired the following day. Quintessential players such as Joe Aribo were allowed to leave on frees. It looked like relegation was certain as Duchâtelet let Charlton limp on in the Championship. It was obvious he wanted out from his investment but a hefty touted figure of £50million had put many would-be owners off.

August began in earnest, however, and Lee Bowyer remained to have a bit of magic dust up his sleeve leading Charlton to 2nd in the first month and a steady mid-table season looked likely. Top scorer Lyle Taylor had hit form in the league and loan players such as Gallagher and Culllen looked to create a dynamic midfield.

Then things went south, a few injuries to key players such as Taylor, showed a familiar problem to most Addicks fans. There was no depth to the match-day squad, untried youngsters and recalled loans flooded the starting line-ups and Charlton slipped down the table. It had happened many times under Roland Duchâtelet in the past and fans were screaming for investment in the squad. Nothing special, Steve Gallen (New Head of Recruitment), had worked wonders with the free transfers of Taylor, Adam Matthews and Tom Lockyer. Fans hadn’t expected millions pounds to be spent, just some shrewd back-up players in some key roles.

ESI Take Over

Supporters were then obviously delighted to hear that on 29th November 2019 that Roland Duchâtelet had agreed to sell Charlton Athletic to a consortium under the name East Street Investments (ESI). Not much was known about ESI but the names touted as key players were His Excellency Tahnoon Nimer (sometimes Nemer), Jonathan Heller and Matt Southall who would also act as chairman for the purchased club.

This news was subject to EFL (English Football League) approval and fans would be waiting until January 2nd in the new year before that approval was gained. This should have rung alarm bells for any football club, but the reign of one notorious owner seemed to silence most fans who were busy rejoicing an end of an era where the club had been treated as an experiment. But there were already problems undergoing at ESI.

The EFL’s policy to not discuss ongoing proceedings had meant little information had leaked to the general public about why it had taken so long for ESI to get the EFL’s approval and for Nimer and Southall to pass the infamous Owners and Directors tests.

The January Transfer Window

ESI had been welcomed among the fanbase and the hope to solidify Charltons place in the second division in the January transfer window was ripe. Despite all this noise, nothing really happened. Jonathan Leko was sent back to West Brom following his season ending injury and was replaced with a like for like loan of Andre Green. All month fans waited for more players but it was bad news that was announced first, Conor Gallagher, who had an explosive first half of the season in SE7 had been recalled by Chelsea and then loaned out to Championship rivals Swansea. The future that fans had been promised wasn’t panning out. On deadline day, then chairman Southall promised to get on his super-duper phone and get some signings. Two came in, both loans.

It had turned out that Charlton were actually under a transfer embargo. Although Southall and Nimer may have passed the owner and director tests, the company hadn’t supplied adequate evidence of their finances and therefore were not given the go ahead from the EFL to register players. There was an exception for players replacing the lost loans of Gallagher and Leko as the finances effectively hadn’t changed.

The EFL couldn’t stop a business changing hands, and the ownership of Charlton switching from Duchâtelet to ESI was out of their hands. Most companies wait until they pass EFL tests to carry out any deal, this wasn’t the case for ESI. The EFL have no power to stop the deal but could only pose sanctions on a club that fails to meet their standards. This is not limited to transfer embargoes however and could result in expul;sion from the football league altogether.

The Public Falling Out

What was also a worry for Charlton fans was that ESI didn’t own the stadium. The Valley was still in the hands of the controversial owner, Roland Duchâtelet’s hands. It has been stated that there is an agreement for ESI to buy the stadium from Duchâtelett at a future date, the figure being speculated again is £50million. Any football club should be wary of separation of the ownership of their stadium, we can see the problems that have occurred at Coventry and Bolton, and Charlton knows this more than anyone having been away from the Valley from 1985 to 1992. It took the work of dedicated fans, who even set up their own successful political party, to force the return.

Questions of ESI’s credentials were coming to forefront and as Charlton continued their slide towards relegation, things were unfolding behind the scenes. I say behind the scenes fairly loosely, as Nimer and Southall began a very public feud with Instagram, Twitter and TalkSport being the major battlegrounds. In short their argument stemmed from Southall using club accounts to pay for his flashy lifestyle and Southall stating Nimer didn’t have the money he said he did.

Southall had indeed received a Range Rover on company expenses and was leasing a flat for an alleged £12,500 a month. Long serving staff at Charlton were getting fed up and were answering to Nimer instead of Southall, this led to a stand off at The Valley. Staff were seen to be filming his reaction before he was escorted off the premises. Later on the Range Rover was listed as stolen and taken back by the authorities.

This shambolic management behind the scenes was not aiding the already depleted squad and a 1-0 loss to Middlesborough on 7th March made the Addicks finally slip into relegation zone. It would be the last match for nearly three months, as the Covid-19 pandemic forced the league to pause.

Take Over Part Two

It couldn’t seem to get any worse. Talk of points per game would see Charlton relegated amongst a spat of infighting and they didn’t even own their ground. New appointees were made to the board, Claudiu Florica and Marian Mihail, all with questionable resumes for their involvement in other failing football clubs.

An end to this tumultuous era was suggested when ESI was sold by Nimer to Paul Elliot in June, just before the restart of the season. But this has the Addicks with more questions than answers. For one it seems that ESI are perpetuating Paul Elliot as the leading figure to the public but stating this is not the case to the EFL.

One of the biggest questions revolves around Chris Farnell who had been on the board for ESI and was still acting as lawyer to the football club. The main question revolves around his connection to other dodgy football owners and him representing both ESI and the party who bought ESI. This discrepancy has met the threshold to be investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority as it clearly seems to represent a conflict of interests.

If this didn’t paint Farnell in the best light going through his history doesn’t do him any favours either. Farnell’s CV paints him like a disaster capitalist, a lawyer for clubs in turmoil.

He was the lawyer for Bury FC during their fall from the EFL last year. He was accused of bullying another board member when he acted as Swansea’s lawyer. Chris Farnell was a lawyer for Salisbury City when the century old club shut its doors. He has worked for the controversial Venkys who own Blackburn as well as representing another notorious football owner Massimo Cellino. There are plenty of other examples, too many to list. Farnell seems to be around in times of crisis representing those with less than stellar reputations. His name, especially when sitting on a board, should ring alarm bells for the EFL.

The End?

The goal of those involved with ESI is uncertain, though it seems like they are betting on failure. Like the vultures who peck at a carcass, the self imposed failure of Charlton Athletic seems to benefit those who orchestrated its downfall. There are plenty of interested parties we are led to believe, with successful businessman Andrew Barclay publicly claiming his interest. However these attempts to save the club are being rejected for what seems like ulterior motives.

At this time, EFL has yet to announce the future of Charlton Athletic Football Club, or whether it will be entitled to play within the football league next season, having not passed financial sourcing tests since late 2019.

Essentially Farnell could oversee two clubs removed from the football league in two years; it seems unlikely that a club that is projecting to be owned by one person to the public yet another to the football authorities will have a future in league football.

Follow up: EFL Statement

Why Football Clubs Matter

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