Thursday, 7 February 2019

No More Cup Glory For Duchere

In the event Lyon Duchere played a part in creating the story for the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France, but not in the fashion we would have wished. Away to Vitre of National 2, the regional fourth divisions a league below them, it all began very well. After 22 minutes Duchere were 2-0 ahead courtesy of a brace from Jonathan Rivas. But Vitre pulled on back after 32 minutes and just before half-time drew level with what was described as a ‘superb free-kick’ (I’m going to have to wait a little for the highlights).

I’m guessing it was a tense affair through a goalless second half. But in the third minute of stoppage time, with extra-time looming, Vitre were apparently awarded a penalty. Awful decision obviously (apparently there’s talk in the local papers about Duchere having been robbed). And with what must have been just about the last kick of the match Vitre converted it to take their place in the last eight. Cue delirium in Brittany, despair in this part of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps.

So in the quarter-finals Vitre will line up alongside six teams from France’s top-flight (including PSG, who were taken to extra time by Villefranche but came through, and probably Olympique Lyonnais, who play tonight). Orleans from the second division will also be there, but depending on the draw of course it’s reasonable to assume that it will be Vitre attracting the underdog attention. Just a pity it’s not Duchere, who return to the bread-and-butter of league football at the weekend. C’est la vie.

We don’t need reminding what happened to Les Herbiers last season: in the same division as Duchere they made it to the cup final and held out for some time against PSG but having focused on that ended up getting relegated on the final day due to an unlikely combination of results in a tight league. Only a remote risk for Duchere but after their match last Friday was cancelled – apparently by a town official to avoid excessive damage to the pitch but a cynic might speculate on the need to rest up before the cup game – they’ve slipped to ninth in the 18-strong league. Still a 10-points cushion above the bottom four (with the same gap to the play-off place) but would be good to get going again and on Saturday they are away at bottom-placed Drancy, who have amassed 10 points from 19 games (including a 4-0 drubbing at Duchere).

So anything less than a win for Duchere at the weekend would be a cause for concern. I just knew there was a link with Charlton in there somewhere.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Time For New Partnerships To Emerge

At one level Lee Bowyer’s absolutely right to say after Saturday’s disappointing defeat and performance that “we’ve got two home games coming up and we have to win them both”. Nobody’s giving up on automatic promotion at this point and for sure, as we are into the final third of the season, the team should be approaching each game with that mentality.

At another level he’s wrong. Arguably for the month ahead at least performances are more important than results (of course the two are not exactly mutually-exclusive). It doesn’t take a genius to see that there are four teams above us and if their games in hand are played out the gap between us and the top two spots it likely to be substantial. Closing it would require a team firing on all cylinders, aware of how it wants to play and how to play together – and of how to play to its strengths. Nobody would say that’s us at this point in time. I’m certainly not suggesting either that a play-off spot is assured and we can just experiment. But the chances are that it will be the play-offs for us at best and if we are to have a good shout in them we would need to go into them in a much better shape than we are now.

Any team is likely to suffer some problems when there material changes, in our case both forced and unforced. We’ve coped pretty well with the departure of our then first-choice keeper, as Dillon Phillips seems to have done little wrong; and in the absence of Lewis Page the introduction of Ben Purrington has made us stronger (including being able to avoid the unsettling need to play guys out of position). But that’s pretty much where the good news ends.

Losing Jason Pearce was a big blow, irrespective of how well others have contributed. His partnership with Patrick Bauer was the cornerstone of the defence, our first-choice pairing, and of course now we will also be without Bauer for one game. But I think most would agree that the defence/defensive midfield isn’t the area of concern.

From what I can glean from match reports we are some way from getting the best out of our possible midfield combinations. I can’t make any suggestions for obvious reasons, but most partnerships take time to bed down and we don’t have anyone who is a nailed-on first choice in midfield – preferably a ‘bedrock’ pairing. Leaving aside Jake Forster-Caskey of course, and accepting that Joe Aribo is only just returning, let’s not overlook that also available to us are Krystian Bielik, Mark Marshall, Tarique Fosu-Henry, Ben Reeves, Darren Pratley, Albie Morgan, Jonathan Williams (who may be considered a forward), Josh Cullen, George Lapslie, and Anfernee Dijksteel (who may of course be considered a defender but is listed on the club site as a midfielder).

Now that’s 11 names for a team that can cite only one fit, first-choice striker – who happens to be suspended. Unbalanced undoubtedly, but surely even allowing for the needs of the modern game there’s a blend of available talent that will work. It doesn’t look as though Williams has hit the ground running for us, but that may be down to any number of reasons, including him not being sure of his role or others not being used to playing with him.

Bowyer understandably talks of the squad getting stronger as players return. Midfield is the area where we do now have an abundance of options and surely, given the situation up front, the one we have to make our real strength if we are to get promoted (one way or another). So for me if anything the priority for the games ahead is that we know how we want our midfield to function and what combinations work best for us.

We can of course gloss over the forwards as everyone knows the position. We are operating on the proverbial wing and a prayer, hoping that Igor Vetokele can get match-fit very quickly and strike up a partnership with Lyle Taylor and/or that Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and/or Josh Parker – neither of whom by the way are as yet blessed with a first-team ‘full squad’ profile on the club site – come good quickly. We all hope Parker proves to be an astute signing. He no doubt will be aware that response to the news of his arrival has been, shall we say, underwhelming, which is no reflection on him. Hopefully that will translate into an extra desire to succeed. Equally, Hackett-Fairchild will be aware that Bowyer is not confident that he is ready to step into Grant’s position. So as the boss says, it’s an opportunity there to be taken, for him to prove to people that he is ready.

Equally there’s no point in howling once more about what recent events tell us about our sad owner. Really they reinforce what we already knew about him and where his priorities lie. For sure in other circumstances getting around £2m for a player who might walk in the summer, one who during the summer was looking more at risk of seeing the inside of a Spanish jail than appearing in the Premiership and one who over the past few years no Charlton fans would have cared much if he had left for nothing. But the circumstances are that we are pressing for promotion and the partnership that Grant had formed with Taylor was central to that effort.

If promotion was the owner’s objective (after selling the club of course, which we are regularly told is the priority, as it has been for a year now), either Grant would have been told, before clubs were encouraged to sniff around, that he was going nowhere, or it would have been made clear that the funds received would be made available to Bowyer. Instead there seemed to be a half-hearted effort to offer a new contract as an attempt to save face and a failed attempt to secure a forward on loan, which seemingly depended on the other club involved bringing someone in and so was destined to go to the final stages of the transfer window, even though it was acknowledged that the club knew Grant was off for some days. We even had to wait until the end for news that Parker has signed from Gillingham, on a ‘permanent’ six-month contract (now I’ve never heard a six-month deal described as permanent before, leaves you guessing what a short-term deal might be).

Some may just shrug their shoulders over Grant’s departure and use the cliché that we’ve always been ‘a selling club’. I’ll confess I really don’t know if that means anything. Arsenal were pushed into selling Robin van Persie to Man Utd. Does that mean they are a selling club? If they are, there are precious few in the world which are not, in which case the phrase is pretty meaningless. But either way there’s a difference between being a ‘selling club’ and a ‘player farm’. And under Duchatelet we are the latter, as Meire so kindly informed us. So be it. We avoided relegation in 2013/14 despite the inane actions of our owner; let's get promoted this season despite them. 

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Where Do The Priorities Lie?

Keep coming back to those words from Richard Murray (I paraphrase) not long after the takeover. ‘Roland has two objectives: to get us into the Premiership and to break even’. There was widespread incredulity at the time of course, given the evidence, and when predictably the financial fair play rules were scuppered the chances of the former taking precedence pretty much went out of the window. The fact that Roland has also failed miserably to achieve the latter we shall gloss over for now.

Let’s be kind and attribute those January 2014 transfer window moves to just utter stupidity, the sort of actions undertaken by someone who knew nothing about football and who had a seriously flawed strategy to implement. It would seem that this time around Roland has another transfer window decision to make. We’ve all seen the speculation regarding Karlan Ahearne-Grant and are aware of his contract situation. Take the money on the table for a player who could walk in the summer (even if the prices quoted are very low if the player in question does have the potential to thrive in the Championship at least); or recognise that selling one of our only two fit forwards when the other is not going to be available for three games is not exactly compatible with a determined promotion challenge, even if a replacement is brought in?

Just depends on your priorities. Of course Roland’s have apparently changed since early 2014. We are led to believe that selling the club is his number one objective now. If that’s the case, it really doesn’t matter to him whether or not Grant is sold as either way it would feed into the price – and surely any actual purchaser of our club would at this point want some flexibility on that front depending on whether or not we get promoted this season.

However, if Roland has effectively given up on a sale this month, in which case the odds on him clinging on until the summer have to shorten, he could have a real decision to make. Now Roland isn’t very good at making real decisions. It’s one thing to have a strategy (which is of course a brilliant one because it is his) and to make decisions based on implementing it; it’s quite another to respond to changing situations and conflicting requirements. That requires thinking on your feet, which is not easy when they’re wrapped in gaffer tape.

All we can do is wait and see. Perhaps Roland’s job here will be made easy for him, if for example Lee Bowyer made it plain that if Grant is sold he is off too (that is of course pure conjecture, I’m never ‘in the know’).

On other fronts, many will be desperate to find out whether or not Lyon Duchere progressed to the last 16 of the French cup on Tuesday evening. They did! At half-time away at Andrezieux (to recap the team from a level below Duchere which had dumped Marseille in the previous round) it was 1-0 to the home team, but Duchere turned it around to triumph 2-1.

For acceptable reasons my partner Suzanne declined the option to drive to Andrezieux and back to watch the game, so I have only the highlights available on the Duchere website to go on. And from those it looked like a classic case of a game of two halves. In the first Andrezieux, presumably fired up by a large crowd, ran Duchere ragged. Their goal was a beauty, good movement by a fast winger to go around his man and deliver a cross to the near post which was met by a forward more alert than his marker. It looked as though they had the chances to put the game to bed. But didn’t.

As the snow fell the game turned when early in the second half Duchere fashioned an equaliser. A well-worked move which led to the ball being delivered to the left side of the box, from where their guy, Franck Julienne, slotted it across the keeper and into the far corner of the net. And eight minutes later they did the same thing. Same set-up, same shot, same scorer. Given that the highlights showed no Andrezieux chances after that, I’m assuming that Duchere saw out the game in decent fashion without scares, and the final shot shows them celebrating in front of perhaps 30 of their supporters, so some did make the trip.

Now here I have to confess to a simple mistake on my part. In my previous post I said it seemed the framework for the cup draws was already determined, but that was just me misreading a graphic. Instead it seems that tonight will see the draw for the last 16 involved. Really there are just two options to set the pulses racing: a home tie against either Olympique Lyonnais (they do have yet to get past Amien), to give the city a real derby match, or at home to PSG (who are through). I say ‘at home’ but in either eventuality I’m led to believe that the game would be moved from Stade de Balmont, which is said by Wikopedia to have a capacity of 5,600 but which would struggle to cope with the logistics of anything like that number.

As with the situation regarding Grant, we await further developments.

Friday, 18 January 2019

To Andrezieux And Back!

It’s difficult to pick up a threat when you’ve not posted for a while. Thoughts on the ‘takeover’? Afraid long ago it reached that stage when I want to know that it’s done, nothing else. Boycott or not? Nothing new on that front either – and personally having divided my time between London and Lyon late last year I’m based in France for a few months now (even though there are pressing reasons on the home front to make it back now and then), so the issue is for me at least on hold.

I thought that as a wizened old git (in body if not in mind) I might resume with a series on memories of previous games against our next opponents. Then you look at the fixture list and up next is Accrington Stanley. Others can wax much more lyrically than me about the club’s history, but unless another Addick has some anecdote about an afternoon in Lancashire last August this isn’t exactly a rich vein of potential material, at least not yet.

All of which leaves me, by default, to bring everyone up to date on the fortunes of Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, and to flag a big game coming up next week. So far this season I’ve managed to drag my partner Suzanne to three Duchere home games: a 4-0 win early in the season against Drancy (who have gone on since to support my conclusions over their prospects – they are seven points adrift at the bottom having taken nine from 17 games), a 1-0 victory in early November against Avranches (which was a bit of a struggle after Duchere had a player sent off in the first half), and most recently in mid-December a 0-0 against Villefranche (a match so dire I’ve been trying to forget about it ever since). So if you feel positive you conclude that I’ve not seen them lose as yet, not even seen them concede a goal; alternatively you can say that the results of the games I’ve seen have shown a consistent deterioration.

After 17-19 games of a 34-game season Duchere are in sixth place, having tailed off rather of late after a very good start, with 27 points from 17 games (won 7, drawn 6, lost 4). It’s a decent position (as a reminder Duchere have by a distance the lowest average attendance in the French third division, National, and punch well above their weight), but it’s hard to see them putting in a serious challenge for promotion. Two go up automatically and currently Le Mans and Chambly occupy those positions, on 35 points, with Rodez in the play-off spot on 32.

From what I’ve seen Duchere have a good defence, helped by an exceptionally good goalkeeper, but seem to be struggling to decide how to play, with a very big centre-forward who could be Carl Leaburn when he worked out what he was supposed to do or the previous version. He’s not been an automatic first choice from what I’ve seen – and I don’t know if that’s been a result of injury, form, attitude, or style of play. When he doesn’t start it seems Duchere miss his presence but also tend to rely on him when he does; and at times he looks unplayable and at others rather disinterested.

No matter, the big game coming up is not in the league. It seems the French cup has much in common with the FA Cup, in that a team from outside the top divisions, if they take it seriously (a sub-sector which hasn’t included Charlton for some years), can cause an upset against big teams with a poor attitude on the day. In the last round (64 teams) Duchere were drawn at home to Nimes, currently mid-table in France’s top division. Good opportunity for some publicity, decent crowd (Suzanne went, with one of her many cousins), and the chance of glory. And glory there was as Duchere trounced them 3-0, rounding off the win with a penalty in the last minute.

That result would have made the headlines from the round, if it were not for Andrezieux-Boutheon. They ply their trade in National 2, the regional divisions one level below Duchere. And they were drawn at home to Olympique de Marseille. Now I’ve more time for Marseille than before, not because of Chris Waddle (who still wins the award for the least articulate man on radio) or even Gene Hackman running along the quay of the old port trying to stop the Frenchman, but because Suzanne and I spent a few days there for new year. Although the bouillabaisse was ridiculously expensive and avoided, I can heartily recommend the sunset over the Isle d’If (of Count of Monte Christo fame), the old quarter, and especially La Maison du Pastis, where the delightfully abrupt lady offers her contempt for ‘industrial pastis’ and some truly delicious alternatives (as an extra aside she said that contrary to popular belief pastis did not originate in Marseille but rather in Jura, when absinthe was made illegal and an alternative was needed).

Now Andrezieux did indeed get the footballing headlines over here, winning 2-0. Marseille are apparently going through a tough spell and are not the force they have been in the past. But it was still the equivalent of a conference team turning over if not Arsenal then perhaps West Ham.

So, the next round? You are of course ahead of me. Next Tuesday, 22 Jan, Andrezieux will indeed host Duchere for a place in the last 16. Doing a little homework, it seems that Andrezieux is quite close to Lyon, just a little north of St Etienne (which is considered the local derby for Olympique Lyonnais) and some 77km away. Now the game kicks off at 18.30, so if we left at say 17.00 we could make it in time – and be back by around 22.00 at the latest. Now it was only doing this post that I found this info, I haven’t yet suggested the idea to Suzanne (who is after all the chauffeur). That may require some careful timing.

I get the impression, from the way the competition is presented, that there is no draw for the next round, that instead the framework is set from the start. If that’s the case, the winner of Andrezieux-Duchere would be at home to either Bergerac or Orleans for a place in the quarter-finals. Now it is jumping the gun rather, but the former is – perhaps surprisingly, given the size of the town - another in the regional divisions below Duchere, while Orleans are in the lower half of the second division (ie the one above Duchere). So, beat Andrezieux, then Bergerac at home, and we would be looking at Duchere in the last eight of the cup.

I trust that the prospect will not be encouraging the Duchere management and players to take their eyes off the league. After all, last season we saw Les Herbiers, who were also in National, get through to the final against PSG, putting in a splendid display, only to find themselves as a result of a very tight league and an unlikely combination of results relegated on the final day of the season, the matches played a few days after their cup final exertions. Duchere do after all have a match this evening, away at Boulogne, before they can prepare for Tuesday’s game. But once it’s over perhaps we can dream a little over the weekend – provided Accrington Stanley don’t put a spanner in the works.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Give Lennie His Due

It really has come to something when there's so little inclination to comment on our aged owner’s latest deluded utterings. We know he’s talking nonsense (yet again), everyone else in football knows it too (blimey, even Simon Jordan can see through him). I suspect Duchatelet knows it himself; even he can’t be so self-delusional, just not brave enough to acknowledge the truth and do something about it – ie sell the club. But we live in an age when truth and facts sometimes count for little and perhaps even a little publicity which isn’t entirely negative might for him make taking the time to give the interview worthwhile.

I haven’t listened to the interview. Just don’t have the time to waste; and quite frankly we’ve heard it all before. TalkSPORT have an obvious interest in playing up the piece, but just how it can be presented in the fashion it has been is laughable. “After many years of silence ...” The silly old codger doesn’t actually know how to zip it, just look at the stream of embarrassing interviews over recent years (and throw in his various insults to Charlton supporters published on the club site). ‘... to discuss the ongoing turmoil at The Valley and the backlash from angry fans since he purchased the club in 2014”. Let’s get it right, the fans became angry not when he purchased the club – just look back at what was written then, he was almost universally welcomed – but in response to what was done subsequently.

That’s already too much time wasted on him. The days when we were anxiously awaiting takeover news are long passed. We applaud those who are behind ROT and back their efforts, stand ready to support any fresh protest(s) organised by CARD, and in the interim would suggest that if the words are anything other than ‘I have sold the club’ there’s nothing we are interested in hearing from Roland, just keep writing the cheques.

That pretty much sums up my feelings at present as I flit back and forth between London and Lyon. Certain more pressing events on two Saturdays ensured no appearance from me at The Valley in October and as things stand I can’t see any change on that front.

On a happier note, I had been thinking about recent comments by Chris Solly covering his opinions on the difference between this season and recent years, and others’ thoughts on what Lee Bowyer has brought to the squad (this was before our recent blip in results but of course still stands). Then by chance the subject of Birmingham cropped up: basically for my sins when back in the UK I’d been coerced into going there for an event on a Saturday and mentioned to a colleague this would mean that having managed to avoid the place since 1987 I’d have gone there twice in the past year (I’ve since remembered that’s not strictly true - I nipped there and back for Birmingham v Charlton in 1998, before the play-offs, when Sasa was immense and got us a point with a 0-0 draw – but no matter).

The colleague made the fatal mistake of asking me what was the event in 1987? And like Arlo Guthrie I proceeded to tell him about the play-off play-off against Leeds in four-part harmony with tales of Peter Shirtliff and the others including John Sheridan, the free-kick that never was and the seven minutes of extra time to go with us one down and the glorious ending and shouting and howling with delight. That led to me watch again the Yorkshire TV coverage of the game.

I’m pleased to say that it’s still not possible to watch those highlights without reliving the emotions. But that’s not really what I was going to talk about. What struck me now was the team that Lennie Lawrence had compiled. If you wanted a dressing room full of guys with character and determination you could rely on when the chips were down could you do better than one containing Bolder, Humphrey, Reid, Shirtliff, Miller, Peake, Walsh and Gritt (add in Melrose for good measure)?

That in turn got me thinking about the Charlton teams that have truly succeeded in recent times – Lennie’s team which won promotion and stayed in the top flight that night, Curbs’ play-off heroes, Sir Chris’ record-breaking promotion team, now just possibly – and hopefully – a side put together by Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson. And if that proves to be the case you can make a strong case for a chain that runs through the whole time – and the person who can claim some responsibility for starting the whole process.

Lawrence was in charge when Curbs was first brought to The Valley in 1984 and when he was brought back again in 1990. Only Curbs himself can say to what extent he benefited from watching at close quarters how Lawrence selected players he wanted for the situation the club was in, putting an emphasis on hunger and character. But he learnt that from somewhere and was something that he carried through as manager of our club. During that time, while back at The Valley but before the Premiership years, Bowyer was coming up through the ranks and, although it isn’t evident that he always benefited from wise counselling at that time, perhaps some of the lessons learnt then are standing him in good stead now.

Of course some years later Curbs brought in Sir Chris. Fortunately he had already had some years at Southend and Derby to rid himself of the bad habits he would have picked up early in his playing career and then had the opportunity to see at close hand what Curbs had to teach to an aspiring manager. And when his turn came one of the players brought in to turn things around on the pitch was of course JJ, who has now taken a place in the Charlton managerial structure.

Now for sure there have been others before and since who would deserve a special mention in any account of our recent years (and plenty who would get a mention for less positive contributions). But in terms of a clearly-defined Charlton baton being passed on you involving players to managers I think have to start with Lawrence and continue with Curbishley, Powell and now Bowyer/Jackson. The first three won promotions, may the fourth do the same.

And on that note, it’s right and proper that the 1998 Play-off Final is commemorated and those players and manager honoured, as mentioned in the latest CAST email. But we seem to have allowed the 1987 Play-off Final to have gone unnoticed. Better late than never, I’d like to see a suitable gathering for Lennie and as many of his promotion and Play-off teams as possible. When you add in the fact that Lawrence was in charge when (thanks to Killer) we staved off relegation on the final day of the 1982/83 season, at a time when relegation then could have finished us off, and through the subsequent bankruptcy and closure of The Valley, it would I think be a good opportunity for us to recognise in particular his contribution to our club, not least since his legacy may well be continuing.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Why Does Club Statement On Bonuses Avoid Facts?

Yes, Roland’s done it again. No wonder his shoes need duct tape, he shoots himself in the foot so often. The statement on the club site related to the staff bonuses issue could have kept to facts, to inform supporters of the owner’s side of the story and his understanding of it. But no, there’s an unsubstantiated attempt to portray the club employees who are aggrieved at their treatment as “an employee or small group”, a silly attempt to insult CARD, and a truly daft attempt to suggest that the affair might have impacted on the sale of the club.

According to the statement, “the ownership believes the fans and the EFL deserve to know what really happened as the truth has been misrepresented”. (As an aside, isn’t it laughable to talk of ‘the ownership’ as if it was some sort of entity, or consortium, and not just a deluded individual.) When it’s added in that apparently Roland has changed his mind and will now meet the EFL (sometime in October), perhaps it’s reasonable to conclude that after all the EFL has some teeth as Duchatelet is clearly rattled. We can but hope.

If the purpose of the statement was to inform, it might have been better to stick to facts. I have absolutely no idea if the club employees are or are not entitled to a bonus. To determine that you would need to read the relevant job contracts and to talk to the individuals concerned to ascertain whether or not they were given verbal or other assurances that bonuses would be paid, and on what basis. The club statement refers to them as ‘discretionary bonuses’. If they are indeed that, they cannot be tied to performance targets, they are indeed paid (or not) at the discretion of the employer. However, CARD, in its piece on 24 August, stated that Duchatelet “has reneged on promises to staff concerning bonus payments”. The Daily Mail piece of 20 August stated that “Sportsmail understands that the controversial Belgian has reneged on a promise to pay 10% of salaries if specific targets were met across all areas of the club”. If bonuses were indeed related to the meeting of 'specific targets' they are no longer discretionary. 

So perhaps the club statement could have provided clarity on matters of fact. Do the employees’ contracts contain clauses on bonuses and, if so, are these bonuses indeed entirely discretionary? Did Duchatelet make promises to club staff regarding bonuses, whether discretionary or not? If the answers – ie facts – are that any bonuses are entirely discretionary and no promises were made by the owner, Roland is in the clear and the club statement should have said as much, if the goal was to inform. As there are no such statements, you have to conclude that the goal was something else, to muddy the waters and to try to shift blame. Not as if there isn't form on that front. 

The statement also notes that the Mail piece was published on 20 August, “before the decision not to pay a discretionary bonus was communicated to the employees”. I assume this is intended to cast some doubt over the motives of those who fed the news to the Mail. Instead it highlights at best appalling staff management. Clearly at least some staff believed they would be paid bonuses. Instead it appears they heard ... nothing. The owner didn’t think they merited being told of his decision, nor did any club official (if they had been informed of the decision). Communication only came after staff had put the issue in the media, forcing a response.

If the ownership was indeed bothered about the reputation of the club the situation would not have been allowed to arise, employees would have been informed of a decision on bonuses in advance of their expected payment. If the ownership cared one jot about the people working for the club the situation would not have been allowed to arise. A kind interpretation of events is incompetence, for which the ownership could apologise. A statement which studiously avoids dealing with the facts of the matter and instead looks at misrepresentation and shifting blame should be taken up by the EFL in the October meeting.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Emperor's New Shoes

Life’s a bitch. I’d half-written something reasoned and considered (and long-winded of course) ahead of Friday’s planned protest at the EFL offices, about whether fans are true stakeholders in a club and, if they are, whether we have been and are being treated as such by the interested parties (Duchatelet, potential purchasers of our club, and the EFL). Then we see the South London Press articles covering Lee Bowyer’s comments about our owner, so made some adjustments. Then we get the fresh incoherent outburst on the club site, which does have all the hallmarks of being written by our absent owner. So sod it, he’s had his latest rant, I’m in the mood for one too.

We have collectively wasted so many hours trying to peer into the dark recesses of our owner’s mind. All been a waste of time, there’s not much there. Someone who believes himself to be rational and intelligent concludes after years of owning several clubs that football involves emotion? Does he seriously think that this deep insight is something fans are unaware of? I picked up one of those little message signs for my partner Suzanne some years ago which said: ‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’. One of the saddest aspects of his stewardship of our club (leaving aside the mess his daft ideas have left our club in) is that he clearly has derived no enjoyment from involvement in football (‘ah, but it’s all been a valuable social experiment ...’). Every fan of every club has. His loss.

Couple this with the suggestion that it’s all really been a ‘problem of communication’. From the statement: “One of the key factors that has played a role in the differences between the fans and the ownership has been around communication. Therefore the club has written to the EFL ... once they have analysed the past communication and have a broader awareness of all the facts ...” Is he serious?

Let’s recap. We were told from the start that we just had to accept how Duchatelet does things, when supporters first raised real concerns we were fobbed off with the promise of communication once relegation had been avoided only for this to amount to a summer ‘open day’, and since then any real meetings – other than those to discuss the price of Bovril inside the ground – have been extracted through the regime’s gritted teeth and have never involved Duchatelet. Our role from the start of his stewardship has been to pay our money, cheer to the rafters (before a little post-match dance), and worship the ground that Roland walks on, however much doo-doo that involved having to wade through. Not realistic. I just hope that the EFL read between the lines and, being fully aware of the facts, conclude that Duchatelet’s decision to send a lackey to the meeting with them says all they need to know about communication.

Let us not forget – and don’t laugh, or point out the grammatical and language mistakes – that there is a ‘Club Charter’ on the official site. This says that “our fans are the heartbeat of this club they are what makes it so special and we want them to feel that this is their home” (we’ll gloss over the fact that it is our home, if our owner was not such an idiot we would have made it feel like it was his too). Given actual experience of Duchatelet’s stewardship, up to and including the current treatment of club staff, this just underlines how cheap words can be if nobody is held properly and consistently to account.

One fellow Addick recently told me that for him the stupid and utterly unacceptable £1.50 ‘transaction charge’ for the privilege of printing out matchday tickets at home was the final straw and behind his non-attendance this season. I’m actually reading a Bill Bryson book in which he praises British humour, citing when he bought a ticket for a train to Manchester and asked for a receipt only to be told ‘the ticket is free but it’s £18.50 for the receipt’. What was a joke in 1995 has become a reality – and I really don’t care if other clubs do the same, doesn’t make it acceptable.

And here I digress, because it’s got to go in somewhere. I recently received an email from Virgin Media, and I quote: ‘We understand that a price rise is never welcome. Yet with broadband usage increasing across our network by 31% last year, we need to continue investing in it so that you’re brilliantly connected to the stuff you love’. So let’s get this right, you’re planning to charge me more to fund the investment you need to make to cope with more customers? Are you telling me that if you had no new customers my bill would stay the same? And you expect me to go along with this? At one level I admire their honesty but it is utterly unacceptable and they have lost my custom. Add in a recent ISP renewal where at the last minute when making a payment they throw in a £3 ‘non-auto renew administration charge’ then send me an email pointing out the ‘key benefits’ of auto renewing. Number one: ‘You won’t have to pay our admin charge on your next renewal’. Don’t worry, there won’t be one.

Back to the issue at hand. I don’t think many Addicks expect much to emerge from the EFL meetings with the regime’s lackey and the Trust. I actually have, I think, more sympathy than most for the EFL (not forgetting the ill-informed and shameful comments made by the EFL chief after the Charlton v Burnley game). It is after all no more than a group set up to represent the interests of football league clubs (a majority of the board comprises club officials), it is not a regulatory authority. Arguably there is a need for the latter, one with actual teeth. Just that the EFL isn’t it.

Even so, it has intervened and if it is not to be made to look ridiculous it would I think be best advised to meet the Trust - which we can be confident will provide it with a ‘broader awareness of all the facts’ – and turn down the opportunity to talk to the mysterious ‘consultant’ Lieven de Turck, or any other club ‘representative’, and request that Duchatelet gives them his version of events (and solutions) direct. If he is too infirm to get to a meeting in the UK, go to Belgium to meet him – and charge him (not our club) the costs.

Not going to happen, is it? Duchatelet’s statement added that “we have also asked the EFL to consider: are the cost efficiencies helping the sale of the club? Are the protests helping the sale of the club?’ To save the EFL time, the answer to the first is that they are irrelevant to any sale of the club, to the second ‘yes’. That would allow the EFL to move quickly to the heart of the matter, namely whether or not there is a sale process, whether or not the statements made by club officials (primarily Richard Murray and De Turck) still hold true, and just why Duchatelet has been unable to sell the club.

Let’s be fair here and include the comments made by Lee Bowyer. Our new ‘permanent’ manager – who also stated that a contract to the end of the season was his idea, not Duchatelet’s – reportedly said that “after the recent protests he (Duchatelet) rang on the Sunday and said: “Are you OK? Is everything OK?” He cares. Probably a lot of people wouldn’t want to hear it but he said: “I’m not going to just sell to anybody, because I care about the club”, adding “he has backed me ... all a manager wants is backing from the owner and I’ve had that”.

Bowyer has said and done nothing since coming back to Charlton which might work against taking his remarks at face value. He can only speak from his experience. Fair enough. If Duchatelet had treated other coaches/managers in the same way we would almost certainly not be in the mess we are now. We know that he has not. If it indicates that Duchatelet and Bowyer get on OK at a personal level, so much the better. Does it suggest that Roland is finally learning from his mistakes? Perhaps. But it’s unlikely, Duchatelet’s word means nothing. And it’s all far, far too late.

At one level I hope the EFL will be kind to him. They will be dealing with someone who the evidence suggests just can’t make decisions, because his version of the truth, that which needs to be communicated and which is rational, involves such delusion. The most striking comments for me remains Murray saying early on that Duchatelet had two objectives for Charlton: to break even and to get into the Premiership. Irreconcilable from the start, especially after the FFP rules on which the network concept (one adopted by others well before Roland) relied were predictably ignored. So what next? Err ... He wants communication and rationality but can’t manage either. He wants to sell the club but can’t achieve that. No wonder he doesn’t buy new shoes. It’s not that he likes the pairs that are falling apart, he just can’t work out how to get new ones.