Friday, 20 October 2017

Roland, Be Gone

It is of course much too soon to be breaking out the bubbly – and please don’t look here for any inside information, I have none. No chance of any comment from the regime and there’s been no change of wording on the Australian Football Consortium site. Suffice to say that if the Voice of the Valley scoop proves to be correct and we have new owners in the near future, no-one will be happier than me. And as for many others, there will be a pledge to fulfil as regards attendance at our beloved Valley.

I don’t want to speculate at this stage how it might feel to be back to us all focusing on the team, complaining now and then about the manager and urging a sane owner to pour every penny he or she has into providing us with what we want. Or not having to look at nonsense written about who is and who is not a true Addick (the more the merrier). Just too soon to be contemplating a return to life as normal.

It is perhaps worth reiterating that when Duchatelet bought our club he was welcomed (don’t take my word for it, check the posts at the time). There was initial cause for concern, given reports from Belgium about his character. But he kicked off by making it clear that there were no plans to move away from The Valley and that he considered Sir Chris to be a good coach (he should have said manager but let’s not split hairs). That goodwill went out of the window before too long, for good reason, not because supporters suddenly changed but because of the decisions taken by the regime. Hopefully soon we can think about this period (which if it ends soon will be roughly the same length of time that he owned Standard Liege) in purely historical terms, perhaps with a lengthy debate over whether Duchatelet is the worst owner we have ever had, whether perhaps Mark Hulyer edges him out (at least his heart was in the right place).

Also, if we are indeed bought by the Aussies there are bound to be some concerns, on issues which any sensible owner would quickly provide reassurance. First and foremost would be The Valley, just confirmation that new owners’ plans do not include any new stadium. There is after all no need for a new stadium and we do have a fine pitch (I actually hope they rename it the ‘Roland Turf’, to serve as a permanent reminder for us of the only decent thing he ever did for our club). Also, given the team’s start to the season there surely wouldn’t be anything to gain – and potentially a fair bit to lose - from a change of manager and his staff. Hopefully there won’t be any impact on the team from the uncertainty that potential change inevitably brings. But you’d have to say if a deal happens small price to pay.

Rather than the immediate uncertainty I’d focus on the very real prospect of a boost to crowds and a strengthened drive to get us promoted. And although we can have no confidence in Duchatelet wanting to sell the club to a fit and proper new owner, there has to be comfort taken from the fact that no outfit buying our club can be ignorant of the events of the past few years (and of course the Back to the Valley campaign). Buying Charlton on the basis of taking an underperforming club back up is hardly compatible with moves that would alienate the fans from the off.

I really don’t care if Duchatelet comes out of it all with a profit, or what he might say to try to justify a sale (to himself and those around him). We will know the truth, that he proved himself to be an unfit custodian of our club.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Luzon Is Utterly Deluded

It’s always difficult to post something after a long break. There’s an understandably desire to say something original, insightful, or at least funny. But perhaps it’s best just to dive back in and take things from there. So we have to start with thoughts on the season so far.

There’s no denying that the last result, before the international break, was a setback regarding hopes and expectations for the full season. But it’s still early in the campaign and far too soon to see it as anything more than that. Far too soon to be writing off any thoughts of promotion or to turn against the manager. There’s the opportunity of a home game up next to get things back on track. And for all we know Rodez may end up running away with the league - although the norm for this division seems to be for things to stay tight all the way through.

That certainly seemed the case a few games into the season. As was the case last season, a strong start saw Lyon Duchere top the league (National, France’s third division) as they rattled off wins in the first two rounds. They then stuttered a little with a draw and a defeat in the next two, only to arrest the decline with a 3-2 win away at Concarneau. Two 1-1 draws were to follow, then in round eight Duchere came through 1-0 winners at home to lowly Avranches. Along with other results, that set up a situation of five or six teams tied at the top, two being Duchere and their next opponents Rodez. With their game put back to Saturday (most games take place on a Friday evening) and none of the others at the top managing to win, both teams knew that a victory would send them a couple of points clear at the top. That proved to be Rodez (2-0), with Duchere left in sixth place on 15 points (from nine games), only one less than the teams in second and third (Laval and Beziers).

Now I say that Duchere have a home game coming up next. Strictly speaking that’s true, but it is listed to be against a team called Exempt. Before turning to Wikopedia to try to find which corner of France has a town called Exempt it was worth taking a look at their season so far: played nine, won none, drawn none, lost nine. But a goal difference of zero. So I’m inclined to assume that for some reason this season only 17 of the 18 teams in the division made it to the start line and that rather than promote someone else there is a blank space, with each team scheduled to play the missing one given the points (and lowly Avranches would be in an even worse position had they not been given three of their four points). So unless I’m very much mistaken Duchere will register a ‘win’ on Friday and sit back to see whether that proves sufficient to take them back to the top.

My next Lyon trip will be some time in November, but I’m going to struggle to take in a game. Duchere are at home to Grenoble (something close enough to a local derby) on 4 November, but I can’t be in two places at once and my partner Suzanne is scheduled to be in London then. There’s another blank weekend after that (internationals again I suppose) before on 17 November Duchere nearly come to the UK with an away game at Dunkerque. Might have to give that a miss. So unless my trip happens a good deal later than I expect it will be stocking up at wine fairs for me rather than braving the elements at Stade de Balmont.

And what about Charlton you may ask (if you’ve got this far)? For me, plus ca change. I think CARD has taken a sensible decision to hold off from any protests inside the ground for the time being. Balancing ‘support the team, not the regime’ has to involve a bit of ebb and flow so as not to alienate supporters and we all want to get out of our own third division asap (in the right direction of course). Yes, we’ve been here before but the yardstick is surely that in my lifetime we’ve never spent more than three seasons in the third flight. Roland apparently likes to think that he breaks the mould, but if he sets a record for seasons outside the top two divisions we will find ourselves in a truly desperate state, however many ‘stars of the future’ we have been able to catch a glimpse of in the meantime.

Nothing fundamental has changed, but of course some things have improved. Basically Duchatelet, having persuaded himself that he just doesn’t have the time to divert his genius in our direction, is at least staying out of the way. Meire seems to be gagged, which is to be welcomed. But they are both there. Duchatelet has not apologised for his insulting of the fans and for the failures under his ownership, most apparent in the retention of a CEO who should never have been appointed. Have they really learnt anything material? If they had one would be working somewhere else and the other would be actively finding a buyer at a realistic price.

The most important change, which is to his credit, is that Robinson is so far proving adept at keeping Duchatelet at arm’s length and at least getting in players he wants to have (albeit not enough of them). He may sound daft but these are achievements that have been beyond his predecessors. It remains to be seen whether results will deteriorate and he will end up like the others, whether he himself will run out of patience with our owner’s seemingly endless desire to pursue incompatible goals (breaking even and getting promoted). But for now he seems to have assembled a group of players which with a fair wind could be in the mix for promotion, while the elevation of Jackson has further sidelined the regime and its cohorts and seems to have strengthened team spirit.

Any rational person might, based on the evidence, draw the obvious conclusions regarding the reasons behind the improvement in our situation. But I doubt that Duchatelet is capable. If we go on to win promotion the praise will be rightly go to Robinson and the players, while there might be a grudging acknowledgement that for the first time the regime hasn’t managed to screw things up. If we don’t, the clock really will be ticking as we look ahead to that fateful third season and draw our own conclusions.

And here probably lies the real motivation for the post. Luzon always had a slightly crazed look about him and his suggestion in the News Shopper piece that Addicks will be won over and start to love Duchatelet if we are promoted puts him in the ranks of the absolute barking. Is he angling for another network job? Or did the regime’s PR team use him to test the waters now that protests have been put on ice? Suffice to say that there is more chance of Brexit, if it happens, having some positive results, or me having a drink is a Weatherspoon’s pub. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

There's Always Next Season

Comes a time every season when you have to acknowledge that the fat lady has indeed sung, that the orchestra is across the road in the pub, and that all we are left with is either the elation of success, the disappointment of failure, or something in between, a sense of ‘fair enough, let’s go again in August’. For us it is failure, on and off the pitch as Duchatelet is still in situ. For our near neighbours it is something more than success. Palace somehow remain in a division well above their status, Millwall inconceivably will find themselves in the second flight. The world is indeed upside down. It will right itself sooner or later. But for those looking for an inspiring miracle from across the Channel. I’m sorry to say that Lyon Duchere didn’t quite manage to secure promotion to France’s second division.

Going into the final round, Duchere needed five results to go their way in order to move up from seventh to third and go into a play-off against the team finishing third-bottom in Ligue 2. One of the five was not surprisingly them winning their final game, away at Epinal. That didn’t happen, Duchere going down 1-2 against a team which needed to win to have a chance of avoiding relegation. Seems it was goalless at half-time, when the Duchere players perhaps saw how other games were going and accepted the inevitable. Epinal scored first, Duchere equalised, but Epinal scored another to secure the three points. It did them no good. With Pau winning 3-0 away at Concarneau – a team which earlier in the season looked like running away with the league only to fall apart – Epinal managed to get above Bastia but still ended fourth-bottom and drop into a regional fourth division. I hope the Duchere and Epinal players shared a glass or two in mutual commiseration.

With their victories in the previous round of games, Chateauroux and Quevilly Rouen had already guaranteed that they would take the top two places and automatic promotion. Seems they hadn’t stopped celebrating as the former only scraped a 1-1 home draw with lowly Les Herbiers to end the season while Rouen got turned over 4-0 away at Chambly, who like Duchere went into the final round with a chance of that third spot and promotion. As a result of their home point Chateauroux – who had defeated Duchere in the penultimate round – take the title of champions, but you get the impression that neither they nor Rouen could give a toss about that – and may still be celebrating.

So Chambly did what they needed to do. So did Marseilles Consolat, who beat Bastia 3-2 to consign them to relegation. And so did Paris FC, with what looks like a comfortable 2-0 home win against Creteil (which for the record meant that so far of the five games that Duchere needed to go their way four had not). The team that really blew it was Dunkerque. A victory at home to Boulogne would have ensured third place for them. But in what looks like the game of the round they went 0-2 down in the first 30 mins. They got back on level terms by the 72nd minute only for Boulogne to score again in the 79th minute. Dunkerque drew level again six minutes later, but couldn’t find the winner that would have lifted them from sixth to third. Consequently it will be Paris FC who go into the play-off for the chance to get up into the second division alongside Chateauroux and Rouen, despite managing only 30 goals in the 34 games (they conceded just 18).

In the play-off Paris FC will face Orleans, who went down 1-4 away at Le Havre in the final round but still finished above Red Star, who went down 0-1 at Auxerre (who could themselves have dropped into the play-off spot if they had lost and Orleans won). But the media not surprisingly focused on the top of the table, which truly went to the wire. Six teams going for two automatic promotion places and a play-off spot, with little between them. The stats will show that all six of them won their games. But even the BBC picked up on what happened, as Amiens scored a 96th-minute winner to move back up from sixth to second place. They go up with Strasbourg, leaving Troyes in the play-off place.

So La Duche have to content themselves with a first season in France’s third division which they surely would have taken when the season started. In terms of attendances and resources they are punching some way above their weight, over-achieving. They were top of the league early on and always in with a shout of promotion. At half-time against Dunkerque they were sitting second, with three-and-a-half games to go. But they just fell short, lost their last three games (and actually lost five of their last eight, winning only two). No matter, it was a fine campaign. They can consider themselves as a club on the rise. What I wouldn’t give to be able to say the same about us this time next year. 

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Duchere: It Ain't Done Yet

To those of you looking for solace in the wake of confirmation that thanks to Hull’s capitulation the English football world will remain upside down next season, first the good news. Going into the final round of games for National, France’s third division, Lyon Duchere still have a chance of promotion. But I’m sorry to say that’s about as far as it goes. If you get to the bookies ahead of Friday’s matches you would get pretty decent odds.

Having in the previous round slid on the banana skin that was away at Chambly, Duchere last Friday went down 0-2 at home to Chateauroux. It was always going to be a tough ask, with their opponents occupying one of the two automatic promotion spots. I don’t have first-hand details of what happened, but they’ve managed to get highlights of the game up on the official Duchere site rather sooner than usual, so the pain can be witnessed. Looked like a tight first half with little in the way of chances in a game which Duchere really had to win. Then on 50 minutes a decent cross from the right was met with a deft glancing header from a Chateauroux forward, with the ball going in off the far post. That probably knocked the stuffing out of La Duche and nine minutes later the game was effectively over as a bit of trickery down the left side sucked in defenders and when the cross went to the far post their guy was unmarked and headed in. Looks like after that Duchere could have conceded more before a couple of late opportunities from low crosses went begging.

As a result Duchere have fallen back to seventh. With the other top-four clash seeing Quevilly Rouen beat Dunkerque 2-0, Rouen and Chateauroux are now sure of the top two places and automatic promotion, both on 58 points, with Rouen first on goal difference. With Duchere and Dunkerque both losing, the way was clear for Paris FC, the form team, to come through. But they lost 0-1 away at relegation-threatened Bastia, while Marseille Consolat were beaten 3-2 at bottom-placed Belfort. Now those results have some significance for Duchere as a win for either of those two and the fat lady would indeed have sung. As it is, it’s stretching a point to say that there’s still all to play for in the final round, but it ain’t done yet.

It is still possible for Duchere to get back up to third and take the play-off spot (against the team finishing third-bottom in Ligue 2, currently Orleans). All that needs to happen is first, that Duchere win away at Epinal, who themselves need to win to have any chance of avoiding relegation (they sit second-bottom). That would take Duchere up to 53 points. Second, that Dunkerque do not win at home to Boulogne (OK, it probably requires them to lose as a draw would put Dunkerque also on 53 points and at present they have a goal difference of +14 against Duchere’s +4, so we’d need a sizeable swing). Third, that Paris FC, currently on 51 points, do not win at home to Creteil (who are safe from relegation and may already be on their holidays); a draw would be good enough for Duchere to be able to overtake them. And fourth, that Marseille Consolat, also on 51 points, do not win at home to Bastia (who need to win to be sure of avoiding relegation). Oh, and fifth, that Chambly, now a place above Duchere on 51 points, do not win their final game, at home to Rouen (who do still have the incentive of the title of champions to go for).

A long shot? You could say that. I am trying to persuade my partner Suzannne that it is still possible. But being French she thinks it’s all done if you’re 0-1 down with 20 minutes to go. It talk to her (at length) about a game that ended 7-6, one at Wembley when a team was behind three times and emerged winners, one when on a dark night in Birmingham a team scored twice in the final seven minutes of extra time to come from behind. Blimey, I even stretched to being 0-3 down at home to Barnsley and coming out 5-3 winners with Steve Dowman scoring twice; but by then even I was aware it was all getting a bit esoteric. Suffice to say that come the end of this week I expect to be telling the tale of how Duchere somehow made it into the play-off and after that how they saw off Orleans to take their place in France’s second division.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Mon Pauvre Duchere

You may infer from the headline that this is not going to be a tale of glorious success for my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere. Going into last night’s round of games they were in third place in National, France’s third division, with three games to go, with the top two getting automatic promotion and the third-placed team going into a play-off with the third-bottom team from the second division. And effectively there were five teams competing for the places. All five had what looked on paper like winnable games; three of them were to achieve victory and two were defeated. Regrettably Duchere were one of the two.

I’ve no details on the game but Duchere went down 1-2 away at Chambly. The other losers were league-leaders Quevilly Rouen, 1-2 away at Beziers. Before the previous round they were six points clear at the top with four to play but have now lost successive games. Of the others involved, second-placed Chateauroux beat lowly Pau 1-0 at home, Dunkerque – who Duchere had beaten 4-1 in the previous round of games and had as a result slipped to fourth – won 2-1 at home to Les Herbiers, and Paris FC – who had been coming up on the rails – secured a 1-0 home win against bottom-placed Belfort. As a result Rouen are now only top on goal difference from Chateauroux, both on 55 points with two games to play. Dunkerque have moved back up to third, on 52 points, Paris are up to fourth on 51, while Duchere have dropped to fifth on 50 points.

It isn’t yet game over for Duchere. But now it would appear they have to win their final two games and hope for some other results to go their way if they are to get back into the top three. Those who have been following avidly news of La Duche will be aware that in the next round they will host Chateauroux, while Rouen are at home to Dunkerque. Now well and truly in the mix, Paris will be away to relegation-threatened Bastia. Basically Duchere have to beat their promotion rivals and hope that Rouen beat Dunkerque and that Paris do not win their game.

That combination of results – not an impossible one but something of a best-case scenario – would see Rouen promoted with a game to spare on 58 points, Chateauroux second on 55, Duchere up to third on 53, with Dunkerque and Paris below them. In that event Duchere would know that a victory in their final match, away to Epinal (currently in a relegation spot), would put them into the play-off (as things stand against Orleans, who have moved above Red Star in the second division), with a remote chance of securing second, which requires Chateauroux failing to win at home to Les Herbiers (if it came down to goal difference Duchere would be above them).

At least for Duchere it is clear: anything other than glorious victory next Friday evening and it’s almost certainly done (you can come up with some very unlikely combinations if it’s a draw, even a defeat). Whatever happens it’s been a splendid first season in the third flight for Duchere; but we’re not ready to call time on it yet.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Duchere v Dunkerque

There was a much better than usual crowd in the stand at Stade de Balmont when we arrived for the match between Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, and Dunkerque. Actually, that’s not true. There was absolutely nobody in the stand when we arrived. But that was before we discovered that some idiot, who relies on an English-time site for such information, had made a mistake over the kick-off time. When we arrived for the match the second time there was indeed a decent crowd, we couldn’t even get the posh padded seats in the central area, There was music playing, cheerleaders for the emergence of the two teams onto the pitch, and an atmosphere that reflected the importance of the game for both sides.

Just in case anyone didn’t read the preview, or could somehow be unaware how things stand in France’s third division, Duchere went into the game in fourth place, two points behind Dunkerque in second (and Chateauroux in third, with Quevilly Rouen six points clear at the top). Four games left, top two automatically promoted, third place goes into a play-off with the team finishing third-bottom in Ligue 2. Given the situation, it seemed fairly apparent that Duchere would need to win to keep alive their hopes of promotion, in their first season at this level, while Dunkerque could be reasonably content with a point.

As the teams lined up for the start it was evident that Dunkerque enjoyed a height (and weight) advantage over Duchere, especially as there was no sign of the big centre-forward I remember from a match earlier in the season (things are improving but there are no programmes yet and I don’t know the names of any of the players). No matter, I’d imagine that Duchere are used to that.

The opening minutes were not surprisingly rather cagy as the two teams tested each other out. But it wasn’t long before Dunkerque gained the upper hand. A couple of crosses into the box had Duchere’s normally composed defence rather flustered, while it was soon apparent that in their small but ridiculously fast left-winger Dunkerque had a dangerous weapon, a touch of the Rommadahl about him. He got clear once and was tugged back, the referee producing the first yellow card inside the opening 10 minutes. You worried for the Duchere full-back for the rest of the game, knowing that the guy could do him for pace at will (to be fair he would have done the same to anyone else on the pitch) and that a similar offence would see him dismissed. The resulting free kick from the edge of the area caused fresh mayhem as a Dunkerque forward was first to it only to head over.

Duchere had weapons of their own, including an effective right-sided midfielder, who seemed to have licence to roam and who manged to link the play well. From what I’ve seen this season Duchere don’t tend to dominate teams, don’t look especially good from set-pieces, and struggle to break down massed defences. But from breakdowns in open play they counter-attack quickly and with numbers. And it was from such a situation that after 12 minutes completely against the run of play they opened the scoring. Dunkerque were moving forward in Duchere’s half when the midfielder managed to intercept a pass and as Dunkerque’s defenders were moving forward it broke beautifully for a Duchere forward just onside going in the opposite direction. Suddenly he was in the clear, a one-on-one but with plenty of distance to travel and time to think about it. The pressure didn’t get to him. As the keeper came out to the edge of his area the forward drilled it past him into the net. By its standards, the Stade de Balmont went crazy.

That goal stung Dunkerque and for the next 15 or so minutes they truly pummelled La Duche. Balls came into the box from both sides. One sitter was missed, another couple of headers went close, the Duchere keeper pulled off a couple of decent saves, there were some desperate blocks, the referee gave Dunkerque some questionable free kicks outside the box but denied them what looked to me a nailed-on penalty as a forward was bundled over, the defender getting nowhere near the ball, and one low cross already going past the keeper into the net was turned in by a Dunkerque forward in an offside position. In addition Duchere had to reorganise as an injury led to a substitution, with the rangy centre-forward I remembered entering the fray.

However, the game, as they say, is about putting the white, round thing into the stringy cage thing and Dunkerque didn’t manage that. Duchere rode out the storm, their defence seemed to get a better grip, and in the final stages of the first half they managed to create one or two moments of their own, including a decent shout for a penalty as their guy was about to shoot only for the defender to take him and the ball. Just which came first was hard to tell.

At the break Duchere were undoubtedly fortunate to be ahead. You felt that they’d need to score again if they were to win the game. And they seemed to tempt fate a little during the break by announcing that as things stood Duchere had moved into second place in the league, with Chateauroux not winning in their game away at lowly Epinal. I couldn’t help thinking about us at Old Trafford singing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ at half-time after Peter Schmeichel had been sent off; they didn’t then – and they didn’t this time around.

Dunkerque kicked off, moved the ball forward down the left, their pacy winger cut inside and passed into the box, their forward shot on the turn, and with a deflection from a defender it looped over a wrong-footed keeper. Caught cold indeed.

In one moment it was a different game. But if Duchere – and the crowd – were subdued, Dunkerque really failed to take advantage of the situation. In truth the Duchere substitution was now working to their advantage as the centre-forward was working hard, held the ball up well, and generally provided an out ball than they had before. Perhaps Dunkerque were too happy with a point, perhaps they were confident of nicking another before the game ended.

The next 30 minutes saw both teams create half-chances but nothing decisive, with neither side dominating. The Dunkerque keeper did pull off a blinding save to turn a fierce drive over the bar, while Duchere were just about managing to keep the speedy winger under control; he did once pick up the ball with space all around, just inside the Duchere half, and looked set to push it past the back four and run onto it, only to be alerted to a Duchere player on the ground injured. The manner in which he sportingly kicked the ball into touch reflected how he felt about having to pass up the opportunity.

Duchere were getting some joy down the flanks and with 15 minutes left on the clock they broke the deadlock. A cross from the left went over defenders and attackers around the penalty spot but found the Duchere right-sided midfielder just inside the area. He brought it down and then hit it low and true beyond a diving keeper into the far corner. The stand erupted again and this time all the bench were out to celebrate.

Now the question was whether Duchere would get a nose-bleed, with Dunkerque having no option but to go for it (and a double-substitution made plain the intent). Perhaps the game’s decisive moment came not long after as a Dunkerque shot across a crowded area was headed for inside the far post, only for the Duchere keeper to get down superbly and turn it around the post. Because with about 10 minutes left thoughts of a nervous final period were greatly eased as Duchere extended their lead. Of course Dunkerque pressing forward left spaces and a break saw three Duchere players bear down on goal. They kept their cool, exchanged passes and eventually delivered another well-placed shot that gave the keeper no chance. The enormous sense of relief sparked huge celebrations on and off the pitch, surely the game was won.

All that was left to do was run down the clock, which Duchere managed successfully. Indeed, into three minutes of stoppage time, with most of the Dunkerque team in the Duchere half, a long ball out found the centre-forward with a long run-in on goal and a defender on his heels. It was like watching Leaburn in action, never did the ball seem really under control. But he kept going, the defender obligingly slipped over and he rounded the keeper and put the ball into an empty net. Cue pandemonium. By the time all had settled there was only time for the kick-off before the ref brought proceedings to a close. 4-1 to Duchere and a deserved standing ovation.

The scoreline for sure flattered Duchere. But they’d taken their chances very well and, while riding their luck at the other end, had managed to limit Dunkerque’s chances after the very trying period in the first half. They were worthy winners.

There was no post-match announcement of Duchere’s standing in the league, which told its own story. Unfortunately Chateauroux scored twice in the second half without reply, so Duchere moved up to third, not second, still two behind Chateauroux. It probably doesn’t matter for Duchere but there was a surprise result today as top-of-the-table Quevilly Rouen lost 0-2 at home to Marseille Consolat, which means that they are now only three points clear of Chateauroux (and five of Duchere).

Three games to go – and there are many permutations, especially as the round after next will see Duchere host Chateauroux and the same day Quevilly Rouen at home to Dunkerque. If Duchere win their final three games, they will be automatically promoted. But if Chateauroux avoid defeat at Duchere and win their other two, they will at least get second place; Duchere may just have to win all their remaining games if they are not to miss out even for the play-off position. Quevilly Rouen will get one of the two top spots if they can take at least five points from their final three games, but again one of these is against Dunkerque, who aren’t out of it yet. And you can’t ignore Paris FC, currently fifth, two points behind Duchere, four behind Chateauroux, but on a strong run of form and three final games against teams around the bottom of the league (they must be the most boring team in the league to watch, having scored 27 goals in 31 games and conceded just 17).

So it’s still a daunting task for Duchere to secure promotion to France’s second division at the first time of asking. But last night they gave themselves a chance, and it’s arguably in their own hands. If they can win away at mid-table Chambly in the next round, that home game against Chateauroux is going to be a corker.

Friday, 28 April 2017

French Presidential Election

There seems to be a fair amount of interest, for good reason, in the outcome of the French presidential election. As I’m sitting here in the midst of it, doing my bit by pulling down a poster or two, getting a reasonable feed from the local media (helpfully converted into Franglais by my partner Suzanne), and as this sort of stuff is my background, thought I’d add my sixpenethworth. Please forgive the indulgence. There’s nothing Charlton-related (no doubt there is a link if you look hard enough), other than the fact that it's written by an Addick. And while impartiality is always the objective, it is written by someone who would recoil in horror should Marine Le Pen win.

For supporters of the EU (I’m one of those too, but that’s another story) and those who view the Front National as racist and well and truly beyond the pale, the first round on Sunday went as well as could realistically have been expected. It was always too much to hope for that Le Pen would not make it into the second round but there was no late increase in support for her and her actual share of the vote, 21.3%, will have been at the lower end of her expectations. Although French TV’s first post-polls reports said they were neck-and-neck, centrist Emmanuel Macron came through, taking 24.0%. That was important as all the headlines were all about him, rather than ‘Le Pen wins first round …’

I happen to be a big fan of the French electoral system. Nothing is perfect, but the basic principle is that until someone secures over 50% of a vote they are not elected – and if they do, they are, no need for a second round. As most of the contests do go to a second round, it allows people to vote in the first round for who they really support. Then in the run-off, if their preferred choice hasn’t made it through, they vote for who they dislike least. Why not just have a transferable vote? A run-off after a couple of weeks allows people to make a fresh choice between the two remaining candidates, for those candidates to make their case. I find the system – in direct contrast with our own – inclusive and fair (which is not to say that the French don’t whine about it, having to go out to vote twice etc). A turnout of 77.8% perhaps speaks for itself.

The two other main contenders in the first round – the candidate of the right, Francois Fillon and hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon – came close to Le Pen, with 20.0% and 19.6% respectively. The official Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, was squeezed out almost totally, winning just 6.4% (basically everything was against him: President Francois Hollande’s unpopularity, the fact that no-one had heard of him before he won the PS primary, plus many traditional PS voters switching to former PS government minister Macron or Melenchon, who came across well in the campaign). For them it was a case of what might have been: Fillon, despite his misdemeanours, might still have made it through were it not for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, founder of and candidate for Arise France, which sort of sits between the Republicans and the FN, winning 4.7%; Le Pen might feel that without him she would have come first.

For the second round, forget the idea that Le Pen has 21.3% and cannot win. This is completely different from 2002, when her father came second in the first round with 16.9% of the vote and only managed to increase that percentage to 17.8% in the second, when he was trounced by Jacques Chirac, who took 19.9% of the vote in round one but then 82.2% in the second. Le Pen making it through then was an accident, a mistake by the PS and its supporters. There was little enthusiasm for its candidate, Lionel Jospin, and many PS voters didn’t bother to turn out, assuming that it would be a second-round contest between Chirac and Jospin. They were aghast when Jospin, with 16.2%, was eliminated, and the national shame of Le Pen making it through translated into just about every non-FN supporter voting for Chirac.

Le Pen senior – an unabashed extremist - could never win, the system ensured that. His daughter – more amenable to doing and saying what might be necessary to woo voters, on the left as well as the right – can. She probably won’t, but she might. And unlike her father she is virtually certain to take a substantially higher share of the vote in round two than in round one.

The polls before and after the first round have tended to put Macron above 60% (up to perhaps 63.5%) and Le Pen below 40%. Again unlike in 2002 this is not a case of totting up the non-FN vote. Perhaps rather quaintly it does still seem to count here how a defeated candidate advises his/her supporters to vote in round two. Macron has been endorsed by Fillon and Hamon (as well as Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and others), but there is more talk of at least some Fillon voters opting for Le Pen, while Melenchon – who in contrast with the charm of his campaign delivered what was a nasty, bitter post-election speech – has singularly not backed him. It’s perhaps not surprising, given that Melenchon’s manifesto arguably had more in common with that of Le Pen. And although he has not yet backed Le Pen, Dupont-Aignan may well do so.

So unlike in 2002 there is no outright anti-FN coalition, voters of the left being prepared to hold their nose and back Chirac. The FN now has deeper roots in France, it has contested and won some elections, it has mayors, and more people who (rightly or wrongly) would not describe themselves as racist are prepared to at least consider voting for Le Pen. She is making every effort to appear ‘presidential’, standing down from the leadership of the FN, and has begun the second-round race better than Macron. His post-election speech was far too complacent, sounding like an acceptance of the presidency. Bottom line is Le Pen is a seasoned campaigner, Macron is something of a novice. Just how he shapes up in the week ahead will be crucial. Just like Remain and Hilary Clinton, he cannot (rather should not) assume that victory is going to fall into his lap.

Of course there are parallels with the UK referendum and the US presidential election. Garnering the votes of the disgruntled, those who feel neglected (whether for good or bad reasons), those who want to register a protest, when added to a core support base, can produce a majority ‘coalition’. When on the streets campaigning for Remain (yes, I am a proud Remoaner and regard staying in the EU as in the UK’s national interest) I was told by some that they would vote Leave because the EU is a ‘failed socialist experiment’ and by others because it is a weapon for capitalism. So much easier to vote against something, especially something which can never be exactly what you want it to be.

And of course there are differences. Being anti-EU cost Le Pen votes in the run-up to the first round vote (the outright candidate for ‘Frexit’ was Francois Asselineau, who won 0.9% of the vote). Although some UK newspapers may tell a different story, Macron would be happy if the second round were to be all about whether or not France remains in the EU. Le Pen wants it to be about terrorism and immigration. And Macron is himself an ‘outsider’, so many feel they are registering a protest by backing him rather than the traditional and selected candidates of the left and the right.

It is normal in a two-horse race for the gap between the contestants to narrow during a campaign. I could be wrong (and hope to be) but would not be surprised if coming polls show Macron slipping below 60% and Le Pen moving above 40%. In that event you would get more speculation that Le Pen can after all win, which can encourage momentum, especially if the 3 May TV debate goes in her favour (and no doubt the rabid sections of the UK press will be interpreting everything in an anti-EU fashion, as they have for decades). Of course that can work both ways. At present one of the dangers for Macron is an assumption of an easy win and, with the second round taking place around a French holiday (when many will be away), a low turnout. And we know who that would favour.

You’d be crazy to take an even bet on Le Pen winning, but if someone gave me 5-1 – which seems to be the bookies’ offer at present - I’d take it, if only to be able to pay for the cognac I would need if she did win. If you want a punt, my advice is to do it now as you probably won’t get better odds. I’d be very (pleasantly) surprised if Macron ends up polling over 60%. If it turns out at say 55-45 you’d have the conclusion that France has one presidential term to turn things around or, other factors being equal, Le Pen waits for next time in confident mood, especially if Macron gets a difficult National Assembly to work with.

How the outcome is seen in the UK will depend on whether you are for or against Brexit: the former will highlight Le Pen’s increased share of the vote (and turn their attention to Italy, Greece and all and every problem that the EU confronts), the latter that just as the Dutch put Geert Wilders back in his box so the French have rejected extremism, including anti-EU extremism (as will the Germans), leaving the UK as the isolated case rather than the vanguard of some ‘unstoppable trend’.