Over the years I have enjoyed friendships with many personalities who have earned a chapter in Charlton’s history — the late Sam Bartram, Les Gore and Andy Nelson, Theo Foley and Lennie Lawrence. Recently against Manchester City I enjoyed a skilful game there with a terrific atmosphere and a full house. Charlton have defied the odds — 10 years back at The Valley with Alan Curbishley an intelligent leader.
This season there has been a crucial change with the finances of clubs coming under increasing scrutiny. The value of the stocks of UK listed clubs has fallen over £500million within a year with a loss of four clubs, Gillingham, Bradford, Forest and Leicester City.
Even Manchester United, a club with approximately three times the turnover of any other British club, watched their shares fall by around 40%.
In Europe our footballing friends have caught more of a fever than a cold. The combined debt of German clubs is something like £400million. The situation in Italy is as bad with clubs being demoted and we all know the debts of the biggest clubs in Spain.
Fantasy football has been an unrealistic ambition for most clubs, fuelled by media hype they have been driven to pay millions to players and agents who had no thoughts for tomorrow and cried ‘Eureka’ when their contracts were completed.
Football is now paying for that and we, as a Board, are very aware of prudence at this time.
The most important thing, as always, is to ensure that the future of our club is well secured.
Certainly the performance against Arsenal augurs well. With a totally committed group playing at a fine tempo it made for one of the best North London derbies for years and Arsenal can count themselves very fortunate not to have departed with a clear defeat by two or three goals.
There will be much media speculation about us signing various players ahead of the transfer window and I would ask that you do not believe all you read in the newspapers.
Even on that morning speculation in many of the papers was attaching ourselves to players that we may sign in the new transfer window. Rest assured there will be very little business by any clubs. Indeed, Arsene Wenger has already said that Arsenal, regular Champions League performers, will not be making any wild investments during this period.
Multiply this by the other clubs and you will see that there will be mainly swap and loan deals during this period. One wonders whether the reality of the game has escaped the press.
We also keep reading that players at many clubs are surprised that they haven’t had contract talks with their agreements due to expire this season. The wind of change has already occurred and certainly players over or around the age of 30 will not be engaged in talks until the end of the season. Some of these players may be requested to continue but at much reduced salaries, with the emphasis on far lower basic wages but with an element of appearance money and clauses for possible relegation. Only in this way will clubs be able to sort themselves out financially.
Closer to home we need to put right supporter concerns over the length of contract of some players. There is a lot of guessing in this area but we feel we should correct the misinformation on our popular right-back Stephen Carr, who got into gear in super fashion against Arsenal now he is getting really fit. Stephen has two-and-a-half seasons to go on his contract and is a highly rated and respected player at Tottenham. We wish to keep Stephen here and banish all the gossip surrounding him and moves to Arsenal.
Only Stephen Clemence, of our younger more experienced players, has a contract expiring this summer. Simon Davies, Anthony Gardner, Matthew Etherington, Gary Doherty, Ben Thatcher and Neil Sullivan, all subject to transfer gossip, and purchases within the last four seasons, have contracts that do not expire this season.
It takes players time to settle at any new club, whether they come for little money or for large fees. Our two major investments in the last 18 months, Dean Richards and Robbie Keane, are now settling in well and have become vital team components.
Let us hope that we click into gear smoothly over the next couple of weeks of congested games and that we can move forward in the league and advance in the FA Cup. We are optimistic that 2003 will be a year of continuing improvement.
Enjoy the game today and have a wonderful New Year with everything that you wish yourself.
A warm welcome to our friends from South East London who have proved that dreams can come true with determination, careful budgeting and shrewd management.