I’ve been trying to catch up on the debate over the past week on the merits of the ‘Royal Oak Group’, whether or not Duchatelet and/or Meire should talk to them (and the CAFC Trust, the Fans Forum etc), and if so when. Of course there are differing opinions, for good reason, because we are guessing/inferring when it comes to what are for Charlton supporters key issues and because all this is happening in the midst of a battle against relegation.
Perhaps then the starting point is to put to one side who is right and who is wrong but acknowledge that there are Addicks, however many (clearly there’s more than just me), who have reacted with anything from antipathy/suspicion to outright disgust at the decisions made regarding the January transfer window and the circumstances surrounding the sacking of Chris Powell (not just because it was Sir Chris but also because of what these circumstances might suggest about the priorities/intentions/decision-making process of Duchatelet).
It’s fair to assume that Duchatelet does not want us to get relegated, that however it is quantified the chances of doing so are increased if everyone from supporters through the team and the board are united, and that he wants all Addicks to renew season tickets for next season (and to encourage others to come along and fill up The Valley to try to maximise club revenues). A successful head of an enterprise might consequently conclude that either these disconcerted clients are an insignificant few who can be ignored, and that any loss of revenue that might result can be easily accommodated or replaced, or that they amount to collateral damage as it is inevitable that not everyone will buy into his/her vision for the future of the enterprise. Alternatively, he/she might conclude that these elements’ reluctance to buy into the business model is a failure of communication on his/her part, a failure to allay what might be seen as understandable concerns related to what all would (I think) agree is an experimental and untested approach to the running of a football club.
Let’s also accept that those fans who are concerned over the future of the club are not troublemakers, or just disgruntled alienated elements looking to repeat former glories. They (and I include myself) are concerned because they care about the club and want nothing other than for it to prosper. I happen to believe that this is an asset for the club, one to be embraced, just as I have no issue with other fans who take the view that we should support the team irrespective of concerns over its direction, especially given our situation.
So to come back to the issue of whether to talk and if so when, if I were an advisor to said head of enterprise I would recommend meet and talk to all concerned, now. It’s impractical (or rather would be useless) to have one gathering, so prioritise arranging meetings with the Trust and the Royal Oak Group. Accept that however inconvenient and time-consuming it is a priority to allay the concerns they have as their backing is important. Of course, even if there are such meetings it’s unrealistic to think that everyone would walk away fully won over and content; it’s quite possible that some will leave with their concerns intensified. But you will have demonstrated that you value their commitment to the club – and even being cynical the chances are that you will receive goodwill from many other fans who (for good reason) have a ‘wait and see’ attitude to your plans for the club.
Consider the alternatives: talk at the end of the season or not at all. You are inviting these elements to make a negative interpretation of a reluctance to talk now as this might come across as at best indifference to their opinions (and their support) and at worse a desire to avoid discussing plans for the future because these plans should indeed be a cause for concern for many supporters. You risk compromising their support between now and the end of the season and beyond. If you don’t care about that, so be it.
On other (related) matters, I hope nobody interprets my scepticism/antipathy towards Duchatelet’s actions and plans (or at least what we might infer about them from what has happened) as any hankering for what was going on before. I don’t accept (but may be wrong) that under the previous owners we were headed inevitably for administration. I suspect rather that the longer their failure to find a buyer for the club continued, the lower their asking price would have fallen (arguably to a point at which going into administration was – for them – the better alternative compared with continued funding of losses). I don’t doubt they would have sold us to any Tom, Dick or Harry if the price was right, quite possibly on the basis of a plan to move away from The Valley and/or the sale of players (which is also an implied criticism of Richard Murray for selling the club to them in the first place, although there were obviously reasons for this).
New York Addick posted a comment concerning why some fans felt a need to protest against Duchatelet when the previous owners were a more dubious bunch. They were, but their objectives were (I think) reasonably transparent and until last summer they were in tune with the wishes of supporters. The only way they could make a return on their investment was to get us back to the Championship, possibly then into the Premiership. Fine by me (which is not to overlook their silly secrecy, failure to communicate, and treatment of club employees). To the extent that we have an owner who ensures our survival as an entity, with no plans to move to a new ground, the change is entirely welcome (and I did write as much at the time of the first statement following the takeover).
For what it’s worth I would have had no problems if we had been bought by an individual/group with it made plain that we needed to reduce losses. We have no right to expect any owner simply to pour in money (although that takes us back to whether in the Championship it is possible to survive without doing so). Just why the previous owners changed tack on the implementation of their ‘plan’ I don’t know (presumably they either ran dry of funds or concluded that the balance of risk/potential return didn’t justify continuing, or perhaps they always intended to look to sell us on as and when we were in the Championship). Such an outcome might not have filled me with joy, but it would not have compromised my feelings/support for the club. Rightly or wrongly, what we have been told and what we infer from what has happened since the takeover have. How many others feel the same way I’ve no idea. So I’d welcome the good sense of a decision by Duchatelet to endorse talks with all interested parties asap before some, however many, feel a need to move from a ‘wait and see’ approach.