We know the risk, that the cover comes off and there’s a pre-match downpour (or more during the game), resulting in another postponement. With that risk in mind, it’s quite possible that (depending on the weather) our pre-match gathering will be in Blackheath rather than at the Rose and, while I very much look forward to reading Wyn’s Grant’s thoughts on the Duchatelet strategy in the pending Voice of the Valley (and the rest of the publication), possibly discussing it over a pre-match glass, it may not happen today at least. So in the interests of clarification (within the context of my unavoidable verbage), let me outline my concerns over our new owner’s strategy – or to put it another way (which won’t fit in the headline space): ‘why might a committed Europhile balk at Charlton being part of a European scheme?’
To begin with Monsieur Duchatelet, let me stress I don’t suggest for a minute that he is a fool, or a crook, even an egomaniac. He may be none, one, or all of those things, I really don’t know. I’ve never met the man and know no-one who has. My recent allusions to Shakespeare were born out of our situation of trying to discuss/assess a person and a strategy with no real knowledge (allowing for the fact that things said may or may not turn out to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), so interpretations can reflect mostly our own inclinations. Some of the comments about him out of Belgium do worry me simply because in my experience people who ‘don’t like to be contradicted’ and believe that success in one area means they have special gifts usually fail in others. Events may prove my concerns groundless and I hope this proves to be the case.
Briefly why do I consider myself a European federalist? I happen to believe that, especially in a European context, the nation state should be consigned to the 20th century. It had its time and that’s gone, with enough reason to believe that would be a fine thing. For me, the quid pro quo (indeed, the prerequisite) of a true European federation, including us, is a substantial strengthening of regional powers. Considerable automony for Catalonia, the Basques, Scotland etc would for me be entirely welcome, hopefully allowing regional diversity to flourish in a positive fashion. Not least as we don’t even have a democratic voting system in this country, I feel no sense of identity with whoever we might elect to a house of parliament and am indifferent to whether general guidelines are set by London or Brussels (I actually feel that the independence of the judiciary and the media, plus the competence of the civil service, are far more important than who is in government). I don’t pretend these views are popular, but they’re here perhaps to underline that I hope my concerns over Duchatelet’s strategy have nothing to do with nationality or – in the right context – European integration.
Why am I a Charlton fan? Well, the inescapable truth is because my father was and he took me to games when I was knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper. Since then, it’s been a choice whether or not to continue to be a Charlton fan. Being an Addick has over the years given me considerable pleasure, and pride. Moments and experiences that I treasure. That doesn’t mean that I consider my identity to be tied up with Charlton. It’s a part of my life. It does mean that at one level – and I think it’s perfectly acceptable – Charlton exists for my pleasure, such that if the pleasure goes the club no longer (for me) has a purpose. At a basic level Charlton provides a framework for meeting friends, chewing the cud over a glass or two, taking mutual pleasure in the good bits, enduring the lows etc. Football, like most things, is ultimately pointless unless you care, to some extent, afford it value. If you don’t care, you may enjoy the game for its own sake. But then you don’t get the highs (and unavoidable lows) that go with supporting one club, just because it is your club, the one you continue to choose, for better and for worse.
Given that, what do I want for Charlton? Of course, I’d love to see us back in the Premiership. Getting back to the Championship was a necessary step in that direction. If it all goes pear-shaped, if we get relegated, so be it. Football is a zero-sum game. Success for us inevitably means defeat for someone else and hard times for people who care as much about their club as I do for mine. If we find ourselves in League 2, even the Conference, so be it (a friend is a Wrexham fan, ask him).
Now imagine that someone comes along and buys your club. It’s quite normal to think there will be an alignment of interests, even if their motivation is money. For them to succeed and have an asset worth more than they paid for it would, you’d think, require progress, advancement (or if you are in the Premiership just holding tight and milking it). So be it.
Imagine instead that someone comes along and buys your club, quite possibly also motivated by money, but this time there’s a different agenda/strategy. What if that person thinks he/she can make money irrespective of whether that particular club prospers? What if that person has a number of clubs which he can manipulate in order to maximise the net worth of the network? Then the priority of said owner is not what’s best for my club but what’s best for the group. So what if supporters of one club in the network complain? They will (probably) still turn up, even if the club is relegated. Why should he/she care if relegation means slashing costs? Why should he/she care if shifting players around hurts one of the clubs in the network for a period of time if the net outcome is positive?
In short (ha!), the best interests of something that I value might, just might, now be secondary to another objective. That’s tantamount to telling me, in no uncertain terms, that my commitment to Charlton means nothing. I don’t pretend that this commitment in other circumstances has any value at all for the owner of the club, but if it’s treated with contempt it becomes worthless and it goes, at least until something changes. Perhaps this amounts to me just throwing my toys out of the pram in a fit of pique, after being told that my toy isn’t really my toy.
In the early stages of the Duchatelet takeover, I wrote: “Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if a new owner opens up with ‘there will be no move away from The Valley and my first priority is to agree a new contract with Sir Chris, followed by signing extensions for key players; and by the way there will be funds made available to strengthen the squad in January if the manager feels this is desirable”. Well, we know how far off the mark that’s proven to be. Later I suggested: “Perhaps it does boil down to basics. I have no interest in the team I support being part of somebody’s network, for whatever ultimate purpose.” That’s why I fear that the identity of our club may be in question, if Duchatelet has an overriding goal which is not dependent on Charlton prospering.
It’s quite possible that others will be confident in the club’s identity being preserved by the fans, irrespective of whether we progress or regress and who owns us. It may even be a case of stringing along for the ride, let’s see how it turns out, it could be fun. It’s quite possible that at another time I might feel the same. Right now, I don’t and … (oh, bloody hell, we’re back to Shakespeare again).
My one extra hope for today (beyond the game going ahead and us winning) is that Thuram-Ulien plays a blinder (well, I really hope he doesn’t have anything to do during the game). He is with us now and it’s not his fault he’s been thrown into a situation where, even given the news about Alnwick and Orient, his arrival cast doubt over the intentions of our new owner.