This is over a week old, but oddly, nobody has followed up a story which could have massive ramifications for both Charlton and Greenwich. According to Sky News’ City editor, Mark Kleinman, Greenwich Council is in talks with Charlton Athletic about the possibility of building a new stadium, believed to on the Greenwich Peninsula, and using the site of The Valley for social housing.
Plans for an open air arena to the west of the peninsula are already in the public domain, and featured in a council masterplan developed 18 months ago. At the time, the club denied any connection with the scheme. But Kleinman – a lifelong fan of the Addicks – reveals the club has been in talks over a move.
He writes in fanzine Voice of The Valley that the talks have been mentioned in a document drawn up for possible purchasers of the club.
“The document again raises the spectre of a new stadium on the Greenwich Peninsula, which would ‘include residential properties alongside and converting the existing stadium into affordable social housing’.
“While pointing out that ‘there are no finalised or agreed upon plans for this development and… it should not be considered as definite’, it begs a number of questions.”
One of those questions, Kleinman adds, is why a club which is isn’t filling its existing ground (The Valley holds 27,100) would want to move in the first place.
The notion of Charlton leaving The Valley again is a sensitive one – and the involvement of Greenwich Council in a possible move will bring back unhappy memories. In September 1985, the club moved to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park, with Greenwich Council blocking a later plan for the side to move back to The Valley. In response, fans formed the Valley Party to contest the 1990 council elections, unseating the chair of the planning board, Simon Oelman. Charlton finally moved back to The Valley in December 1992.
In 2005, planning permission was given to expand The Valley to hold 31,000 – and potentially 40,000 – spectators; but relegation from the Premier League in 2007, and reckless spending on players in the season leading up to the drop, sent the club into a financial tailspin, resulting in a humiliating three years in the third tier of English football.
In December 2010, the club was sold to a mysterious group of investors whose identities have still not been revealed, but fronted by chairman Michael Slater. While manager Chris Powell has steered the team to on-field stability in the Championship, the departure of several key figures at the club in recent months have led to fears among fans that the club’s off-field affairs are unravelling, as investment dries up.
Charlton’s financial woes are by no means unique, but if the club was to return to the Premier League, future owners may decide it’s simpler and more lucrative to move to a larger stadium rather than redevelop The Valley – particularly if someone else builds the stadium. But such an approach has its risks – as has been shown by the saga at Coventry City, which has exiled itself to Northampton after a rent row with the landlords of the Ricoh Arena. Those landlords include the local council.
It’s not the first time a move to the Greenwich Peninsula has been mooted – in the late 1980s, it was suggested that Charlton could move what was then the Metrogas sports ground on Horn Lane (land now occupied by the Millennium Retail Park, Peartree Way and the Royal Mail sorting office) while around 2000, the club considered bidding for the Millennium Dome. Greenwich Council’s involvement in this isn’t novel – Lewisham Council facilitated Millwall’s move to the New Den 20 years ago – but does put an obligation on the council as a public body to explain what it’s doing. Leader Chris Roberts is a frequent visitor to The Valley – “more of a regular in the director’s box than some of the board,” Voice of the Valley editor Rick Everitt notes.
So far, however, there’s been silence. Indeed, the story’s not even been followed up by anyone in the nine days since it first appeared, an indication on how poorly-scrutinised matters at The Valley are these days (Charlton were the only promoted or relegated team in 2012 not to feature on a local paper front page) – a far cry from the late 1980s, when the Mercury led the Valley campaign. Instead, it looks like fans will have to do it themselves, and a couple of Freedom of Information Act requests have gone into the council. And in October, fans who live in the borough will get a chance to put questions into the next council meeting. For now, whether you’re a fan or not, this is one to keep an eye on.
Voice of the Valley can be bought for £2 plus post/packing from the fanzine’s website.