Nothing like a dome
Charlton only moved back into The Valley in the 1990s, so why are they looking at uprooting again? Brian Cowen reports
The campaign by Charlton Athletic fans to bring the club back to The Valley in the late Eighties and early Nineties is rightly regarded as one of the most successful attempts by an organised fan group to bring about substantial change at any club. Outsiders may be astonished to learn, therefore, that less than ten years later, the club may be on the move again.
The proposed new development is an arena next to the Millennium Dome on the Greenwich peninsular, about two miles from The Valley. The site will include leisure, conference, banqueting, concert and Olympic facilities. Charlton are the leading players in a consortium assembled to develop the area incorporating BSkyB, the British Olympic Association, bankers Morgan Stanley and builders John Laing.
The club have successfully come through the first stage of bids whittled down by English Partnerships (the land regeneration agency set up by the Department of the Environment) from 58 to 12. Three proposals will be put to the government in the new year, but inside information has it that Charlton’s is the favoured bid. Charlton have invited Blackheath rugby club and Kent CCC to share the stadium.
When the club made the announcement in April, the Voice of the Valley (now an official club publication) invited letters on the subject. The editor said the response was 60/40 against the move. There were more objections following an article in the London Evening Standard about BSkyB’s involvement. The local paper, the Mercury, had championed The Valley during the seven years in exile and has been canvassing fans for their opinions. The response has been almost unanimously opposed to the club’s proposals – so much so that the paper had to appeal for someone to write in to support the move.
There are only two things that are going to stop a move happening. One would be the club’s final proposals not being accepted by English Partnerships. The second would be the fans giving it the thumbs down in a referendum. The club have claimed all along that everything is being done openly and that the fans will be consulted “at the appropriate time”. However, it now appears such a poll would only take place once the club’s proposed development had been accepted – by which time it would be mighty embarrassing to back out.
The club claims the benefits of a move would be substantial, but just because you have 45,000 seats does not mean you are going to fill them. If the club had retained its Premiership status I believe the directors would be saying that a move was vital. If Charlton were promoted, they would be in the same position as last season – stuck with a 20,043 capacity stadium and missing out on revenue for the visits of the biggest clubs.
The fans were told work would have begun on increasing the capacity behind one goal if Charlton had stayed up last season. Although the club claims it is pursuing this option as vigorously as it is the Dome application, planning permission has not yet been granted. The South Stand could also be upgraded, raising the capacity to 30,000.
Other clubs who have moved have done so from antiquated terraced arenas. In Charlton’s case, 30,000 seats would be more than adequate in the First Division, and would put the club on an even footing with most Premiership sides.
Everyone remembers Charlton’s disastrous move to Selhurst Park in 1985, but this was already history repeating itself. In 1923 an ambitious board of directors instigated a move from The Valley to Catford. The club played 14 matches there before returning after crowds slumped to under 1,000. The current board are hoping for third time lucky.
I feel a move from The Valley would be more disastrous than relegation from the Premiership. The team can always regain its status but this time a move from The Valley would be for ever. The fans played an enormous part in getting the club back home in 1992, famously through setting up the one-policy Valley Party which got more than 15,000 votes in the 1990 local elections. They have also contributed financially and physically to the redevelopment of The Valley.
If it came to a referendum, the fans would be likely to reflect on what makes their club unique. Many would feel success away from The Valley would be meaningless.
From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month
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