I must be getting a bit slow on the uptake in my old age. When someone posted a comment to say that the promised meeting(s) with supporters groups (or group) would be held on 3 August I thought ‘fine, rather late, not the best of times (as the comment mentioned), but at least progress’. When I saw the piece on the club site about the ‘day of fun’ at The Valley I thought ‘good idea, chance to showcase the improvements to the ground (which deserve praise), chance for fans to mingle with the players etc’. It didn’t immediately occur to me that the two are somehow supposed to be related. I hope they’re not, as what is being offered up on the day – a question and answer session with Meire, Murray, Peeters and Jackson – is, while laudable, not in any way shape or form delivering on the statement released in March.
A cynic might be tempted to conclude that some management course ‘graduate’ came up with a wheeze, to turn around a perceived negative into a positive. (For the record I used to have a policy of immediately binning a CV from anyone who’d been on a management training course and have seen and heard nothing since to make me change my mind.) ‘We have a problem. We issued a statement in March to try to head off criticism and buy time and it seems some still expect us to deliver on the contents. Why not have a fun day, open to all fans, give away some freebies, include an informal chat with two board members, the head coach and the skipper, which should be broad enough to ensure that the real concerns, like those pesky Trust questions, can be glossed over? We are seen to be keeping our word, we should generate some goodwill, and we’ve got around a problem’. If that (or something like it) is the thinking, it is treating fans with contempt, regarding their views as potential problems to be circumvented if possible.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely no reason why contact between the board and the supporters should be exclusively through the Trust, and/or the Royal Oak group. The more the merrier. The March statement (which I printed out and kept; it is still on the club site if you go back far enough, to 28 March) said ‘be assured that we will be making plans to meet with as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible’. A fun day as outlined is a very useful element in delivering on the promises. But it is only that. I don’t think anyone back in March would have believed that this alone was what was intended to address the very real and heartfelt concerns raised by the Trust and others.
Perhaps the ‘board’ wishes to stick to the letter of the statement rather than the spirit. So let’s go through it. ‘Since we arrived at the club in January we understood the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters’. To back that up, the video of the new board, a Q&A session with VIP supporters by Meire and Murray, and the recorded interview with Duchatelet were cited. Sorry, but stage-managed events/recordings are not a substitute for what – in March and still today – is the real issue, Duchatelet being quizzed, unscripted, by fans’ representatives on his plans, vision, and motivation. That would be interaction, not an attempt to pay lip-service. The statement goes on. ‘Understandably, given events on and off the field over the past few weeks, we have received a number of requests from supporters’ groups for a meeting to discuss our approach to running Charlton and our vision for the club’s future’. The Duchatelet recorded interview is then cited as a ‘first step’, before the excuse for delay was outlined.
To be fair, nowhere in the statement is there an actual pledge to hold meetings with one or more of the groups that had requested them. It is carefully worded to avoid that. Instead there was that ‘as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible’, which if you are a lawyer you may feel is satisfied by the fun day Q&A. I don’t think there is any doubt that anyone reading the statement at the time believed it amounted to a commitment to hold meetings with the groups that had requested them, or at least just with the Trust. That was the spirit of the statement.
Sometimes even a lawyer’s statement inadvertently gives it away. The statement included: ‘we understand the current requests for dialogue and are keen to meet with supporters to hear their views and discuss a shared vision for the future of this great club’. What is the point of ‘discussing a shared vision’? If it is shared, both parties are in agreement and the ‘dialogue’ is mutually-supportive and quite frankly pointless. What is wrong with discussion about a vision for the club, to listen and perhaps take on board the views of those that might not agree with it? That, again, would be interaction rather than paying lip-service. The March statement said that we ‘are keen to meet with supporters’. Prove it.
What infuriates me is that – absent any fresh news regarding real meetings – it amounts to a missed opportunity. A ‘problem’ is something to be dealt with, even learn from, rather than circumvented (which usually means it doesn't go away). The Trust and others are people who care about Charlton and have nothing but the best interests of the club at heart. They devote time and effort to that end. They are people to be embraced by the board, to be listened to seriously. People like myself who view with a mix of disdain and concern what we understand of Duchatelet’s vision and motivation (which is inevitably limited) would be ready to amend views in the event that people who we know have Charlton’s interests at heart came away from a meeting with Duchatelet (I mean no disrespect to Meire but the only question I would ask her is exactly what her decision-making capabilities are) either reassured or at least appreciative that he has taken time to truly listen to what they have to say and to have answered their questions honestly, even if there is still disagreement.
Again, don’t get me wrong. Duchatelet owns the club, he is under no obligation to have meetings with supporters groups, it is not something that they have any right to. We were told early on that communication isn’t one of his strengths. So be it, I don’t know what he might be scared of. Absent such meetings just please don’t in any way pretend to ‘understand the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters’. They become empty words.
On a brighter note (or at least a mix of the positive and negative), Peeters does continue to impress with his openness and attitude. The comments regarding Ghoochannejhad hit the right note. I don’t know yet whether he’s staying or going, but agree that unless his attitude is better the latter is fine. I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. His diving in and around the box was an embarrassment, as was his obvious delight at having contributed mightily to the cause when he managed to fall over around the centre-circle and win a free kick. He clearly has talent, but I’d genuinely rather watch Dickie Plumb honestly plying his trade.
So there we have it. I hope everyone who attends the fun day has a great time. No doubt the club site will be hailing a success whatever happens. I shall of course have swanned off to France before then, so will not have the opportunity in the Q&A to ask the only question that really matters: when will there be the proper meeting)s)?