Why Charlton fans should be VERY worried about a Charlie Methven takeover
By Michael Graham,2023-02-07
Why is prospective new Charlton owner Charlie Methven so unpopular at Sunderland?
They say a bad smell hangs around, and that certainly appears to be the case for Charlie Methven and football. Latest reports have him on the verge of a takeover at League One side Charlton.
Sunderland do not have a rivalry with Charlton, but there is certainly a storied past that connects them. For fans my age, the mental scars of the 1998 play-off final have never healed. For everyone else who saw it, the sheer spectacle has probably never been bettered.
Since the news of the impending takeover broke , Charlton supporters have been reaching out to Sunderland fans to get an idea on just why Methven is truly despised on Wearside. Well, for their benefit, here it is.
I’d actually like to start by saying this only the highlights, too. I’m not sure the internet in general has the bandwidth to tell the full story of Methven’s various wrongdoings at Sunderland.
Methven was a public relations guy, and he came into Sunderland all-guns blazing on that front.
He boldly declared ‘the p*ss-take party was over’ in relation to players taking the club to the cleaners by taking large wages and contributing nothing. That even extended to some players, including record signing Didier Ndong, being sacked for misconduct. That was ironic, because, as it turned out, in my opinion at least, no one took the p*ss out of Sunderland as relentlessly as Methven did.
Back then, Methven was also a regular visitor to The Colliery Tavern, the pub across the road from the Stadium of Light. Before and after matches he was often in there, often accompanied by a nervous member of the club communications team, and mingled with fans and posed for photos. It was just a charm offensive.
That charm ran out the second his plan failed. Methven and majority owner Stewart Donald thought Sunderland would be a quick flip. Role in on the cheap with the former owner happy to pay off the debts, spend nothing, get promoted from League One quickly and cheaply, then sell a debt-free Championship club a year later.
There was even a buyer lined up, with Mark Campbell attending the 2019 League One play-off final with Methven at Wembley. That all fell apart, though, when Sunderland lost to an injury-time goal, ironically to Charlton. The sale was put on hold, because the plan was to sell a Championship club for a quick profit, not a League One club for no profit.
Mind, the very fact they were happy to pass the club on to someone like Campbell, who has been accused of sexual harassment , was appallingly reflective on Methven and Donald in the first place.
Immediately, while the play-off wounds were still gaping, Methven and Donald put the pressure on the club. There was to be no healing, no coming to terms.
“You’ve got to think about it being a 100 point season next year,” he said. “There’s no point trying to squeak 90 points again because you’re running a risk of a bounce of a ball or a couple of injured players derailing you."
Of course, those ambitions were set for other people, not Methven. There would be no investment from the owners to help deliver on the ambitions he had placed upon others. Quite the opposite, in fact.
That summer, club captain George Honeyman, was sold. So while Sunderland failed to get into the Championship, Honeyman did, and he is still a fine performer at that level now. Methven just saw a chance to make a quick buck on a player he wrongly didn’t rate.
Demand ambition from others and then sell the club captain, one of the few Championship quality players in the team. That was very much Methven’s style.
By then, though, the mask had already started to slip. Days before the 2019 League One play-off final, questions were raised about how Methven and Donald had purchased the club.
Because, let’s face it, the numbers didn’t tally up with the reality. Sunderland had fallen through the Championship from the Premier League. That meant they went into their first League One campaign receiving more than £20million in Premier League parachute payments. It should have given Sunderland an insurmountable advantage to spend their way out of the third tier. The debt had been paid off by Ellis Short, so where had that money gone?
It turned out that Metvhen and Donald had used that money to buy the club in a similar way that the Glazer family used Man Utd’s own money to buy them. The figure goes on the club’s books, the buyers get the club.
It was not illegal in any way, it must be said, but it was exploitative. Not only had they not invested in the club, but they had taken money directly out of the club. Money that should have financed a rebirth.
By now, the trust was destroyed and it was so clear that nothing was as it seemed with Methven especially. Although he was a minority owner at Sunderland, he was incendiary and his influence always seemed to outstrip his stake.
Reports circulated that the club was being taken over by FPP, a group backed by three billionaires including computing giant Michael Dell. That soon changed to ‘investment’ in the club, but the truth came out soon enough. It was a loan, and a loan with terms highly unlikely to be favourable to Sunderland.
Caught out – again – Methven resorted to his nature and turned aggressive in his comments.
When challenged by supporters at a fan-group meeting, Methven said people in the south would not question the loan, because they ‘understand business better.’ Remember we are talking about an Eton-educated public relations executive here. His contempt for supporters was clear, cutting and probably very deliberate.
“It was a private meeting at which all matters of the club were discussed,” Methven explained. “I was repeatedly pressed on the negative implications of a £10million investment I'd secured for the club.
“Exasperated, I reacted intemperately and one of those present subsequently took me to task.
“I apologised to him because the comparison I made does not accurately reflect my real views. It was an off-the-cuff riposte which I regret.”
Even Stewart Donald distanced himself from it, with a club statement saying: “It goes without saying that any such views are not representative of our chairman and Sunderland AFC as a whole.”
That wasn’t even the first time Methven had directly attacked Sunderland fans. It wasn’t the worst thing he had said about the supporters either.
During the League One years, the fans were the only thing left about the club about which it could feel any pride. Excluding the season in which fans were not allowed to attend due to the Covid pandemic, Sunderland averaged more than 30,000 fans every year. A truly remarkable effort and show of support for the club at literally the lowest point in its entire history.
Their reward? Methven calling them ‘parasites.’ It wasn’t subtly, either. It wasn’t misunderstood and in the heat of the moment. It was direct.
“If you’re a fanatic of your football club and you decide, actually what you’re going to do is you’re going to spend your money on a few pints of lager and watch an illegal stream of the match rather than contributing that money to trying to help your club to be the best it probably can, you’re not a fan, you’re a parasite,” he said.
Again, 30,000 average gate for three straight seasons in League One. ‘Parasites.’
That beforementioned FPP loan that caused so much trouble was taken out because, again, the initial plan to get Sunderland promoted in a year had failed. Methven and Donald had no intention to spend their own money on the club.
The longer Sunderland failed to get promoted, the more they obsessively penny-pinched to protect their long term plan to flip the club on other people’s dime.
The Sunderland academy, the jewel in the club’s crown that had produced England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League-winning captain Jordan Henderson was decimated.
Key roles were cut back to save money, and an exodus of young talent allowed to be lured away as they had no reason to stay. Jordan Hugill and Logan Pye went to Manchester United. Sam Greenwood, who now plays Premier League football at Leeds, went to Arsenal. Methven and Donald got compensation for them, so it was money for nothing as far as they were concerned. For everyone else, it was clear asset stripping.
When the Covid pandemic hit, they appeared to hit full panic mode. Being able to leech off the undying passions of the Sunderland supporters was what made Methven and Donald think buying the club was such a sure-fire winner.
The cancellation of a large part of the season, though, meant the club owed supporters refunds on their season cards. Bali Mumba, a richly talented youngster who made his debut for the club at just 16-years-old, was sold for just £350,000 to pay for it.
Methven is long gone from Sunderland (although he also lied about that for a long while) and I think everyone can see how much better the club is for that.
He will be remembered as an especially derided figure on Wearside. He displayed nothing but contempt for supporters and the club, and brought the club to its very knees with cost-cutting in an attempt to line his own pockets.
Maybe he has learned something from the experience, and I hope so because Charlton are a club who have had some rotten luck with owners before. However, he displayed such levels of arrogance at Sunderland that it left many question his capacity for learning anything at all.
Should he complete a takeover at The Valley, it will be an interesting spectacle to watch. Seeing him happen to someone else will certainly bring intrigue for Sunderland fans. Charlton supporters have nothing but my sympathy though, because his charge sheet at Sunderland is extensive and damning.
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