In a wide-ranging interview, Richard Murray, Non-Executive Chairman of Charlton Athletic, speaks to cafc.co.uk about the challenges of this season in the Championship and how the board will not gamble with the future of the club. He candidly addresses errors made by the ownership but details the long-term commitment to progress.
Question: Richard, what is the strategy for Charlton Athletic?
Richard Murray: “Our strategy for Charlton Athletic is that we are a financially stable club, who can be competitive in the Championship, but has Premier League ambitions.
“Through Roland Duchatelet’s backing we have become financially stable. The second two elements are a bigger challenge.”
Q: Why is it a challenge to stay competitive in the Championship and reach the Premier League?
RM: “These are difficult and interesting times in football. The Premier League has got much richer since we were last in it nine years ago and it will see stratospheric wealth next season.
“The Championship is one of the most difficult leagues in world football to operate in. There are three clubs a season who come down with their sizeable parachute cash and several others who have owners willing to gamble heavily to reach it. The problem is that not everybody can win.”
Q: Shouldn’t all clubs aspire to be in the Premier League?
RM: “They should, but they also shouldn’t gamble with their future. If you look around the Championship just now there are clubs in danger of administration, several with triple figure debts, others falling foul of the Financial Fair Play regulations and subject to transfer embargoes.
“I fear that if this gambling continues then there will be more clubs at risk. I don’t think we should be gambling with the future of Charlton Athletic again. It’s only two years since Roland stepped in to rescue the club. His philosophy is that we should try and keep our losses to a reasonable level.
“That ensures Charlton Athletic will be here in the future as a football club and that we continue to be a hub of the community. I’m not sure every club in this league can say that right now.”
Q: What does keeping losses reasonable mean?
RM: “It means keeping a handle on your outgoings, and in particular your biggest one, which is player transfers and wages.
“Roland’s strategy is to have a mix of academy-produced players, young overseas talent with some experienced British players. As a long-term strategy I think that’s a good one because you have to look at your wage bill, especially if you are going to charge reasonable prices to get in.
“However, I think it’s fair to say – and he admits this – that he has underestimated the challenges of the Championship.”
Q: Can you detail what has been underestimated?
Q: “We have put a little too much faith in our overseas players to suddenly come in and play 46 games a year.
“This is a very competitive league where the games come thick and fast. If you look at many of the overseas purchases we’ve made historically, they have not played a lot of games. Even in the Premier League you find many of the overseas players take a year before they become accustomed to the British way.
“I think we underestimated how long it would take them to get used to the Championship. Hopefully the players brought in this year from overseas will be even better next year but it’s clear there hasn’t been the right balance this season.”
Q: Was this not something that should have been identified in the summer?
RM: “It could have been better but you also can’t legislate for injuries to some of our key players like Stephen Henderson, Igor Vetokele and Ahmed Kashi.
“That, added to the squad imbalance, gave us a problem in December in particular. People can see that the players are trying their hardest but we are probably falling just a bit short.”
Q: What would you say is missing and what can be done now?
RM: “The obvious strand missing has been the number of experienced Championship players. The first time we have been able to address this is the January transfer window. Of the two transfer windows it’s the trickier one because everyone is looking for players who can make a difference.
“But we have acted quickly and got in players like Roger Johnson, Diego Poyet and Rhys Williams, all of whom have a lot of Championship experience.
“I’m pleased something has been done because when we were in this situation in 2009 we didn’t have any money to add two or three new players.”
Q: What difference do you hope the new signings will have?
RM: “It’s amazing what new signings do. Players look around and see there is some new blood here to help.
“You have to keep spirits high because this is a game of confidence and I’ve been impressed by the attitude of coaching team in doing that. Now it is about hoping that the players are good enough and believing it will turn. I believe it will turn.”
Q: What role do fans have to play between now and the end of the season?
RM: “A vital one. Patently there are some supporters who don’t like the ownership, but what I have been pleased about is that the fans have got behind the players during the 90 minutes.
“Good performance or not, the players really appreciate the fans getting behind them. If anyone wants to express negativity, the time to do is after the final whistle, not during it. On the whole I think the Charlton fans have been very good in that area."
Q: Are there other areas you think the club needs to improve?
RM: “I think we need to communicate with supporters better. The Board accepts it’s not been as good as it could and they are taking a number of steps to improve that.
“But it’s important to realise that no football club gets all things right. Under the Iain Dowie and Alan Pardew eras we spent a lot of money on transfers and many of them either didn’t work out. All clubs have their issues that they must address, we all know that, but it’s very easy with hindsight.
“Equally, by being financially prudent, we’re not in the situation where we have to sell a player to pay the wages next week. I’ve been in that situation before with Charlton Athletic when I was one of the owners, and that was also the case with the previous regime.”
Q: How do you respond to those who say the owner does not care for the long term of the club?
RM: “No owner wants to run down a football club, it defies logic. What I know has happened is that there has been a 40% increase in the player budget, our players are on longer-term contracts, he has invested £2.5m to improve a stadium in need of renovation and made a multi-million investment in the academy’s facilities. These things could have been done before but weren’t. I know he is committed to the long-term future of this club and is determined to see that through.
“We also have very affordable ticket prices. I still get questioned by other clubs how a London club can be charging £34 for a family of four to come. The main reason is because our own owner subsidises the club. He wants to get as many families, as many youngsters as possible so that we have an ongoing supporter base which will support us in the future when Roland, myself and others are long gone from this football club.”
Q: How important is it for Charlton Athletic at the heart of the community?
RM: “We are proud of our reputation as a family club and the tremendous work the Trust do within the community.
“The Community Trust has just had another award-winning year. The depth and breadth of their work in the Royal Borough of Greenwich is amazing. There are 26 different community partners using the Youth Hub at The Valley alone, so we truly are a hub of the community.
“Add to that the tens of thousands of people they support in the areas of social inclusion, education, health, equality and diversity, it’s clear that Charlton Athletic are an amazing community asset.
“For families, we do everything to ensure that they feel welcome. Facilities, atmosphere and pricing are what families are looking for and with the introduction of the Family Stand, the creation of the Family Activity Zone on matchdays and affordable tickets means that we’re ticking most of the boxes.
“But you also can’t get away from the fact that families want to see a winning team as much as anyone else.
“So we need those new players to perform, players to come back from injury and, as I know from being in football for 25 years, you need a little bit of good fortune. Everyone at the club is working hard to make the second half of the season a better one.”