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.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Acid Test For Roland?

See that the South London Press is reporting that Lee Bowyer is “hoping to hold talks” with Duchatelet over his caretaker manager status now that the loans window has closed. Seems to me like our absent and absent-minded owner could face something of an acid test.

If I’m an owner of a club that I’m about to sell I’m not really in a position to offer a change of status/new contract to an employee; indeed, if there is a real process of due diligence going on, or even one completed prior to a sale, it is likely I would be prevented from doing so, unless I have the express consent of the prospective buyer (and it should be kept in mind that it was with the agreement of the Australians that Bowyer was kept on to the end of last season). It is possible that is the case and that Duchatelet will be obliged either to tell Bowyer that he cannot change his status at this point in time, or that he will go away and ask the Australians if he can have their permission to do so. After all, a permanent appointment would involve a term and a cost to new owners if they wanted to make a change. I’m guessing that the latter would rather stick in his throat.

At the same time of course if the answer for Lee is not in the positive, there has to be a risk that he will simply walk. From his reported comments – when asked if he saw any problems with his status being changed Bowyer replied “I can’t see why there would be” – it is clear that Bowyer feels he has kept to his side of the bargain (and we have every reason to believe that to be the case) and now the onus is on Roland.

Any owner who had as a priority the good of the club, including getting Charlton promoted back to the Championship, would surely do the necessary. Any owner who places greater emphasis on trying to avoid any reduction to an ‘agreed’ sale price (a phrase which does now have to be taken with a generous dose of salt) would be prepared to let Bowyer walk. It should be a no-brainer, but our owner has a track record of getting no-brainers wrong, for obvious reasons.

We just have to wait for the outcome and draw our own conclusions. In the interim, a most enjoyable weekend was spent in the capital of Europe, Strasbourg, including a visit to the splendid European Parliament there, a walk over the Rhine to say hello to Germany, and availing myself of the opportunity to get better acquainted with the cuisine of Alsace (which while splendid is perhaps better suited to winter than summer).

This all followed a Friday evening watching Lyon Duchere dispatch bottom-placed Drancy 3-0 to strengthen their position at the top of National, France’s third division. It has to be said that unlike one at Roots Hall the game was not a nail-biter. We arrived five minutes after kick-off and before the match clock had reached 12 Duchere were 2-0 to the good. A corner was horribly missed by the Drancy keeper, leaving an open net to head the ball into, then a badly misplaced pass in midfield and a slip by a defender opened the path for Duchere’s central striker to take the ball to the edge of the area and slip it past the keeper.

Most of the rest of the game was spent with Drancy pluckily trying to get back into it, which included leaving a large number of players up front at times. Duchere couldn’t even be bothered to punish them on the break it seemed. Instead the Duchere keeper made one superb save to turn a free-kick around the post and there were one or two more near misses, before with about 20 mins left a throw-in from an innocuous position was allowed to run and Martin Robinson-style the Duchere guy dipped his shoulder, ran onto it, and scored from just outside the box. There was time left for Drancy to miss a penalty but the truth was they’d given up goals far too easily. It wasn’t a night to draw any conclusions about Duchere’s ability to stay around the top, but did seem apparent that Drancy will struggle to stay up.

Onwards and upwards for both of us.

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

He May Be In No Hurry But We Are

Is there anything useful to be gleaned from the latest interview given by our distant and departing owner, in the context of his singular failure to be able to sell our club (ie ignoring the drivel he spouted on other matters)? Nothing decisive obviously as he’s still in situ and no real indication of how close/how close to collapse a sale might be, given that nothing he says can be taken at face value. The most relevant quote (using others’ translations) could be that he is apparently “not in a hurry” to sell the clubs he still owns, but he’s not going to suggest otherwise if he is in a price stand-off with at least the Australian consortium regarding us.

We have to accept that he can try to wait it out if he chooses to, he has the cash. The implication is that we have to increase the cost to him of prevarication, not necessarily in purely monetary terms (ie boycott) but by upping the ante when it comes to his profile and reputation. The CARD protest on Saturday may not have been supported by all Addicks, but the publicity generated in the wake of Duchatelet’s decision over staff bonuses was entirely positive (which is not to say that continued protests at The Valley would be a good idea) and the way is clear for ROT to take the protest to where it will hopefully have the greatest effect.

Those involved in that initiative deserve our full support. We know he gets prickly when he attracts bad publicity (the timing of the latest managed interview is no coincidence) and downright annoyed when it is close to home, when it exposes his shortcomings (you can’t make a fool, only expose one) and is geared around correcting his version of events. He may at least publicly be indifferent to how long a sale takes, we cannot be because we have an interest to defend: the wellbeing of our club.

On the face of it Duchatelet’s other relevant comment, that his investing in football was a “mistake”, is to be welcomed. At least it suggests that he is not having second thoughts about getting out. And when he says that supporters’ protests don’t bother him it rather flies in the face of the evidence: he said before that he sold Standard Liege because the fans didn’t like him (and let him know it). What he really means is the protests don’t affect him because he doesn’t care about what happens to Charlton and because they are distant. Hopefully that will change.

Now although we should just ignore the rest of what he said, you’ve got to love his references to rationality and emotions, as if he embodies the former. “My conclusion is that the recipes from the business world do not catch on in football”, or “the parallels with politics are striking; they are two worlds where emotions win from logical thinking”. What delusional garbage! Football is a business, part of the business world. Any logical person would try to understand a little about a business before deciding to invest in it. A rational person would understand that to succeed in this particular business you need the support of stakeholders (ie fans) and therefore not go out of his/her way to insult and alienate them. And the protests against his ownership are, at their heart, entirely rational: our club cannot succeed under his stewardship, ergo ... When politics is added to his ‘mistakes’ (ie failures) all you are left with is a guy who made a lot of money in an industry he understood and was around in the right place at the right time.

As for the takeover, I’ve no insights/information. Only one comment regarding the Australians as some have expressed surprise at their hanging on rather than switching their attentions to another club. Seems to me that, assuming the Australians are the Australian Football Consortium, they have rather painted themselves into a corner. Their webpage says that their rationale – wording which is presumably repeated in their prospectus – is “to acquire an underperforming English football team with a view to elevating the club back to the Premier League”. So the club has to have been in the Premier League (arguably just the top flight) before and to be clearly considered to be underperforming.

The latter has to rule out any Championship side as they are either outperforming or are just one good season away from the promised land (or both). From the bottom two divisions which clubs have been in the Premiership and are underperforming? Sunderland for sure, but they are not on the market having only recently changed hands. Portsmouth too, but they are on the way back and also were bought recently, in 2017. With due respect to Barnsley and Bradford, they may be disappointed with their current third-flight status but cannot be said to be clearly underperforming (unless like with Peterborough’s owner there are inflated expectations). I’d suggest only Coventry might seem to fit the consortium’s bill following their promotion.

So I don’t think the Australians have many options available to them if they are to stick to their requirements, which I’m assuming they have to (or tear up whatever investment commitments they have secured and start again). Perhaps they are just out to show Duchatelet that others can be as stubborn as he can.

In the meantime I will be able to take in a game on Friday night. Lyon Duchere’s campaign in France’s third division (National) began quite quietly with a couple of draws (2-2 at home to Rodez, 1-1 away at Quevilly Rouen). But then they won 1-0 at home to Boulogne in the third round of matches and followed this up with a 3-2 win away at Bourg-en-Bresse Peronnas. That win has lifted them to top of the table. And on Friday evening they will entertain Drancy, who having been promoted last season currently sit bottom of the table with one point from four games.

It’s far too soon even to suggest that the game is a potential banana skin for Duchere. But a good performance in front of the massed ranks of contented home supporters and a victory might get something of a buzz going.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Back In The Merde

Bloody hell. We’re back well and truly in the merde if this quote from Lee Bowyer is to be believed. “On Saturday I had an email from the owner saying that Pat (Bauer) is staying. He said that Pat is a massive part of our defence and we need to keep him because he improves our chances of promotion”. There haven’t been many positives over the last 18 months or so, but Duchatelet pretending that he’s far too busy to be involved with Charlton has been one of them. If the extended delay to a takeover, and the absence of a CEO, is leading to the daft old buzzard taking more of an interest again and expressing views on footballing matters past experience indicates we can expect a debacle.

Don’t get me wrong, if Bauer stays that will indeed be great news. If he’s up for staying then together with Pearce it’s a well above-average centre-back pairing for this division, especially as they have had a season playing together. If the two full-backs Solly and Page can stay fit, and if Phillips makes the shirt his own, we would have a first-choice defence to match against most if not all others in League One. But of course there are plenty of ‘ifs’ involved, including whether Bauer is tempted by the new offer on the table and whether Roland would accept a fresh, higher offer (even a repeat one if he changes his mind after another month of losses). Plus there is the issue of the number and quality of the back-ups who will undoubtedly be needed.

Surely at this stage, given the position we’re in, it is nothing more than wishful thinking to talk about a promotion challenge. To say we can mount one is fair enough, but there’s every reason to expect more sales – the current talk seems to be of Ajose going overseas – and no knowing the quality of who may be brought in. And if there’s one acid test at present it’s surely that no club in this league with promotion on its mind would accept a bid of £200k for Magennis just because its cash up front (reportedly). Bowyer may have been expecting him to go but if the details are correct Bolton have got an absolute snip – and we have been fleeced, or rather our owner just doesn’t care.

After all, while the first-choice defence looks decent, the options up front clearly do not. Not long ago, even though we knew there would be changes, we had on paper Taylor and Magennis in the frame as target men, Vetokele and Ajose to compete as the goal-scoring accompanying forward, with the renamed Grant perhaps available. It was competition for places and options available, which is what you need if you are planning to get promoted. Have to say I don’t understand Bowyer’s comments on this front, when talking about Taylor being a straight swap for Magennis and what more needs to be done: “We have to bring in someone who is a bit more versatile – it won’t be another out-and-out striker. It will be someone who can play that position like Karlan Grant – out wide or up top. Otherwise I could have four strikers for two positions.”

I think having four strikers for two positions is entirely desirable. Plus we now have the small matter that Vetokele is injured and unavailable for some weeks, Ajose is rumoured to be off if Roland can find anyone with cash in the bank for him, and Taylor himself is a doubt for the start of the season at least. And if we’re relying on the goals coming from deeper positions Fosu, Clarke and Reeves are all apparently out for varying lengths of time.

Injuries of course happen (although the implications of players losing time when fitness levels are expected to improve are worrying), we don’t know yet who may be brought in. Suffice to say this is not ideal preparation if a club has promotion as its objective. For Charlton, while of course we have no divine right to be higher than the third flight, I hope I never see the day when we view a season in League One in which we are not promoted as anything other than a failure. If we don’t get promoted this campaign we will set the unwanted precedent of four consecutive seasons in the third flight, for the first time in my lifetime.

In that context, it is surely blindingly obvious to every Addick that our only realistic prospect of mounting a real challenge is for a takeover to finally go through. If Duchatelet stays it is of course his right to sell anything that moves, he owns the club, he pays the bills. Just don’t insult the intelligence of the supporters by mentioning promotion while you do it. Sorry, I forgot: ‘Duchatelet – insulting the intelligence of supporters from the start’.

This all of course leads to whether or not to support CARD’s call for a boycott or the Trust’s polite decline to do so at this stage. Nobody wants to protest but the decision has to be down to whether there is sufficient reason to believe that doing so will help to accelerate a sale (heaven forbid he actually decides he wants to keep us; in that event all hell will quite rightly break loose). If yes, we do it, despite the short-term implications; if no, forget about season tickets and spending inside the ground but turn up. There’s no right or wrong decision, just a personal assessment of the pros and cons.

As things stand, to the best of our (collective) knowledge the Australians are still trying to buy us (by the absence of evidence to the contrary I think we can now assume that the supposed second bidder does not exist but apparently there might be another one emerging), Duchatelet still wants to sell (albeit at a daft price, seemingly based on a spurious revaluation of the property involved), and we really don’t know exactly why it hasn’t happened yet but hope that it will soon. Simples.

Any decision by me on a boycott is pretty academic for now. I’ll be in Lyon until end-September, by which time perhaps, just perhaps, a sale will have been concluded. No question if I was in London I would not be buying a season ticket until new owners were installed, that’s easy. For individual games right now, tough call. Let’s perhaps focus not on whether CARD is right, on decisions individuals take, but on us being united in our desire for Duchatelet to be gone.

Friday, 22 June 2018

The Art of the Deal

I honestly can’t remember a time since starting this blog when I’ve had so many times of starting to scribble only for something to get in the way, or just to realise that whatever the motivation for starting I’m going to end up with the same conclusion: back in March I was looking forward to a return to London at the start of April coinciding with confirmation of a takeover and a return to The Valley; we’re now in June, World Cup in full flow, close to pre-season gearing up, I’m back in Lyon, and it still hasn’t happened. For a Belgian and a bunch of Australians not to be able to organise the proverbial piss-up in a brewery has to be seen as a reflection of serious shortcomings.  

Along with everyone else I’ve been trying to keep up to date with the comments from those in the know (of which I am not one). We were warned not to expect anything dramatic from the statement and in that sense were not disappointed. True to form, even something so bland managed to sound confused. “The current ownership would like to assure the club’s supporters that the running of the club will remain its priority throughout this process.” Come again? ‘This process’ has been going on for at least six months, while the ‘current ownership’ was previously happy to remind us that our club is only a small percentage of his business interests and cannot be expected to take up much of his time. Add in that we are happiest when he isn’t actively involved in the running of our club, given his unerring ability to screw things up, and the only sensible response from Addicks is ‘please don’t get involved in running the club, sell as quickly as possible, and in the interim keep paying the bills with money you will never see again’.

It would have been out of keeping with the regime’s ownership of our club were it not to end in farce. I can’t say to what extent the actions and possible shortcomings of the Australian consortium might have contributed to this, if at all – the latest suggestions that they don’t have the money to buy the club lock, stock and barrel would, if true, put them in the dock alongside a seller asking a daft price. And the process hasn’t smelt right from the time that Richard Murray was pressed into commenting on it. No potential purchaser of a business would embark on due diligence if there was another buyer, one which apparently had also agreed a price, doing the same. And if you have agreement on a price in February and no deal has been done in June either there is gross incompetence involved – not brinkmanship - or one or both parties is not acting in good faith. Complexities? All deals are complex, with various interested parties; it’s only when there is bad faith involved that complexities actually scupper deals. If agreement can’t be reached, if say one side has promised something it cannot deliver, you walk away.

There’s a lot of nonsense said and written about making deals. Donald Trump apparently considers himself to be a gifted deal-maker (that is of course an understatement, he evidently considers himself to be a brilliant deal-maker). Only problem is if you look at his track record it’s obvious he is a lousy deal-maker. He can’t accept this because of his absurd arrogance: he believes that making good deals requires high levels of intelligence (which is true): ergo he must be a good deal maker because if he is not (which is true) he is not intelligent (also true).

As for deals being like poker, utter nonsense. In a game of poker you are playing the odds when knowledge can never be complete, you don’t know for sure what your opponent has in his/her hand, or exactly how he/she will play it; you are playing the odds and sometimes bluffing. One person will walk away with the other’s money, there is a winner and a loser, nothing else (when it comes to each hand). It is a game to be won or lost. Any corporate or bilateral deal on such terms would have no chance of being concluded unless one side had just lost a war – and even then it would prove a recipe for later disaster, as history has demonstrated all too often.

Poker requires certain skills, not ones which are required to cut good deals (plainly daft to suggest that deal-making involves ‘balls’; it doesn’t). If you are bluffing in poker, that may be the best course of action. But how do you bluff when your ‘opponent’ has been allowed to go through the books and knows all that there is to know about what is being bought or sold? In that context ‘bluffing’ is to negotiate in bad faith and to run close to fraud by concealing certain facts. When a deal is done, just as when we might buy a house, clauses in the agreement are included to cover certain unpredictable or unforeseen eventualities, other information coming to light etc. Now there wouldn’t be much point in playing poker if you win a hand by bluffing only to have your opponent ask for his/her money back because they were misled.

Some people can’t cut deals because they fear that if the other party is agreeing to their terms/price they must be ripping them off. So they try to squeeze (or perhaps sell a part of the business or one of its assets and hope to get away with it) or to bluff (perhaps suggest that there is another buyer willing to agree to his/her terms). Usually any such efforts prove counter-productive. After all, if an asset is worth say £1m, based on its full potential being realised over the next 10 years, why on earth would anyone want to pay £1m for it? There would be no upside, no profit motive. So the seller either accepts a lower price or has provisions in the deal which mean that he/she will also benefit if the value of the asset rises in the years following a deal.

The only good corporate/bilateral/multilateral etc deals are those which involve all parties benefiting, depending on their interests (of course if there is a seller in desperate need of quick money there is scope to beat him/her down in price – but that’s not a bluff, just taking advantage of information to hand). It’s (one reason) why Brexit negotiations are especially difficult as the sides are discussing how to limit the damage from something with no upside (over the medium and long term as well as the short term), which is a much more difficult calculation than agreeing a division of future benefits. Add in that in our case it’s even possible that Duchatelet is so twisted that he would want us to fail under new owners; after all, a sale now and promotion next season would leave nobody in any doubt (except Duchatelet himself) who was to blame.

Where does this leave us? In a truly absurd position whereby a caretaker manager – and Lee Bowyer certainly deserves our thanks and appreciation for taking on the task – is looking to shape a squad in the most testing of circumstances. We wish him well and in the interim try to enjoy the World Cup and hope we are in a better position by the time it ends.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Roland Finally Says Goodbye

Personally I’m absolutely delighted with the interview given by Roland Duchatelet to the News Shopper. Not for what he said – which it goes without saying is insulting, mean-spirited and reflects either a total disregard for the truth or a deeply delusional mind – but for the fact that it amounts to a valediction. If there was a slight disappointment that apparently Andrew Muir has returned to Australia for a couple of weeks, suggesting no long-awaited confirmation of a sale for a little longer, it has been balanced by the fact that Roland has publicly said goodbye.

You’ve got to love the final quote in the article, when Duchatelet admits to having made a mistake. Not for the debacle which followed shortly after he bought the club, which nearly resulted in us being relegated that season, nor for the failure which his daft ideas and the those he kept around him brought on our club. Rather his error was not to rebut the “lies” told by former members of staff, which were apparently sparked by their discontent at a stop to their free tickets. Consequently the fans were “misguided” and “missed a big chance” which was that he “would have been able to bring the club into the Premier League”.

It’s either completely laughable or very sad. I prefer the former. I suspect that it will become a standing joke between Addicks in the future. Whenever we lose a game (it will probably happen) we will turn to each other and say ‘if only we hadn’t believed those lies and given Roland and Katrien the support that they deserved we’d be in the Premier League now’ and then collapse in laughter.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Jackson Goal Ensures Duchere Suvival

I do appreciate all this rather pales into insignificance in the context of tomorrow’s game and what looks like the impending confirmation of the takeover. But perhaps it will provide a diversion as we wait for the main events, especially as the outcome of the final round of games in National, France’s third division, attracted some attention given the end-result.

To recap, in this ridiculously tight division of 17 teams (usually 18 but with one, Bastia, missing this season) with one game left Red Star were confirmed as champions with one of Grenoble or Beziers taking the second promotion spot, the other going into a play-off against the team finishing third-bottom of the second division. At the other end Creteil had been relegated some time ago, they’d just been joined by Marseilles Consolat, but then any one of eight teams – including Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team - could have taken the final relegation place. No need for nail-biting if the team going into the final game in that last relegation place, Entente SSG (otherwise called Sannois Saint-Gratien), lost their game, away at Grenoble, who still needed a result if they were to hold onto second place and automatic promotion.

Duchere, who sat in 12th place on 39 points, went into the last game knowing that a win at home to Chambly and they were safe for sure. A draw would probably be enough, given all the other teams involved, but a defeat and they’d be relying on at least one of the three teams below them to lose to stay up. Chambly themselves, on 40 points, were not guaranteed safety.

So nobody was especially surprised by the cagey start to the game, with a bumper crowd of 572 (just over double this season’s average attendance, the lowest of the league) having taken advantage of free admission for the game. But Duchere were looking more threatening going forward and nerves were eased after 12 mins as they took the lead. A cross from the right to the far post was headed back into the middle. There didn’t seem to be a real threat, but the appropriately named Jackson Mendes – who had indeed been running down the wing for us – managed to get enough on his header and to divert the ball into exactly the right spot, into the corner of the net just under the bar.

After that Duchere had a purple patch and four or five good opportunities to add to the lead and ensure a reasonable cushion. They didn’t take any of them, and did have a reminder of the danger they were still in as just before the break Chambly hit the post with a header from a cross of their own. No matter, La Duch were still winning and with half-time came the opportunity to see how the other results were shaping up.

Staring out from the mobile screen was Grenoble 1 Entente 2. Wow. Surely it wouldn’t end like that, but what did it mean for the placings? Grenoble’s rivals for the second promotion spot, Beziers, were at home to Les Herbiers. Remember them? The team that had won the previous week, to allow them we all thought to enjoy the French Cup Final on Tuesday evening against PSG without fear for their place in the third division. Plenty of deserved attention as a village of 15,000 took 15,700 to the game. There was no miracle, PSG winning 2-0, but plenty of plaudits for Les Herbiers’ plucky performance and wonderful cup run. But it wasn’t exactly ideal preparation for another game on Friday evening, especially given the opposition. So no surprise that Beziers were 1-0 to the good. Although Pau were also losing (at home to champions Red Star), with Cholet a goal to the good at home to Creteil and Concarneau winning away at Laval, remarkably Les Herbiers had dropped into the final relegation place.

Tough on them for sure but by no means done and dusted. Surely Grenoble – who had actually scored first in their game - wouldn’t actually lose at home to Entente. Still 45 minutes to go.

For Duchere, and Chambly, this meant that their game took on a rather different complexion. For Chambly, as long as Les Herbiers lost they were safe. For Duchere, as long as Les Herbiers lost a draw was good enough to survive, but a defeat and I really don’t know; they would end up on the same number of points as Les Herbiers – and simple goal difference doesn’t seem to cover placings in this division. So although they game didn’t descend into a players’ deal not to try to score, both teams were content to keep things as they were – as long as the picture elsewhere didn’t change.

There were more goals. Early in the second half Les Herbiers conceded another at Beziers, making them increasingly dependent on Grenoble turning it around. But incredibly it was Entente who scored again, to go 1-3 up at Grenoble. Then Les Herbiers’ chances of anything from their game all but disappeared as they went 3-0 down. With around 20 minutes left Les Herbiers did actually get one back but there was to be no comeback. Nevertheless, their hopes of survival were boosted as Grenoble scored a second with a little less than 10 minutes of normal time to go. At the time it looked as though one more goal for Grenoble and they would get automatic promotion and Entente would drop back into the bottom three/four, Les Herbiers surviving. To add to the drama, Creteil had equalised at Cholet and if they scored a winner it would be Cholet who went down; Pau had managed an equaliser at home to Red Star, taking them a point above the bottom teams; and Concarneau had been pegged back to 1-1 at Laval, leaving them on the same points as Pau.

Heaven only knows what the atmosphere was like at Grenoble for those final 10 minutes. We at Duchere were enjoying following the scores – but not with indifference. If Chambly had equalised – and they did have one or two chances, as did Duchere – it would only require one more for them and it could after all be La Duch facing the drop. But that was not to happen. Both teams settled for what they had and were able to celebrate survival when the final whistle blew.

As it happened there were no more important goals – although Beziers added a fourth to add to Les Herbiers’ misery. Entente somehow held on to their 2-3 lead and took the three points, lifting themselves to 11th place on 40 points, the same as Pau (10th), Chambly (12th) and Concarneau (13th). Cholet held on to their home point to finish on the same number of points (39) as Les Herbiers but placed above them in 14th. And Les Herbiers, having enjoyed the attention and glory of a cup final and with a celebration at their ground planned for Saturday, found themselves relegated.

Duchere? Would you believe that the win lifted them to sixth place in the league. Anyone in the future looking at the final league placings would have no idea that going into the final stages of the last game they could still have been relegated. The celebrations at the end in front of the home fans were genuine and well-deserved. Last season had been Duchere’s first in this league and they enjoyed it, coming close to securing promotion at the first time of asking. This time around it had been tough, very tough. It would have been easy to have fallen away and gone back down; instead in recent weeks they pulled out wins away at Grenoble and Laval and a draw at Red Star, plus that vital home victory over Boulogne. They displayed character and resolve and can look back on the campaign with pride as they plan for next season.

Les Herbiers? No doubt it hurt last night and today. But I suspect that when they’ve had the chance to reflect if they’d had a choice between a cup final and relegation versus staying up they may well have gone for the former. They can tell their grandchildren about the day they took on the mighty PSG long after a relegation has been forgotten.

Us? Needless to say another Jackson goal (or three) tomorrow would be very welcome.