Having before the end of last season decided not to renew my season ticket (I do still meet up with fellow Addicks for pre- and sometimes post-match drinks, was at The Valley for the protest after the Forest game, and plan to be there after Blackburn) I thought I was done with blog posts, at least until something changed - ie either I have a Damascus moment and come to believe that our club will prosper under our visionary owner (rather than be driven into the ground), Mr Duchatelet has one of his own, or we are sold on. I did over the summer toy with the idea of putting up a new blog under the title of 'Orphan Addick - a lifelong Addick but not one of Duchatelet's babies' but genuinely don't enjoy writing negative stuff about the club I love and support. However, in light of recent events I feel less reluctant about resuming ranting - against a regime that through the arrogance and stupidity of Duchatelet and the willingness of others to fall in behind him is turning our club into a laughing stock.
I do appreciate that some Addicks will feel that not going to games when I am able to do so means I shouldn't be laying claim to still being a supporter. A part of me feels the same, no serious decision can be 100%. And through the Duchatelet era we have had players, obviously epitomised by Johnnie Jackson, who deserve our full support. All I can say is that I chose to go to Selhurst Park but never felt that anyone who didn't was any less (or more) of an Addick than me; and that I look forward to the day when I'm back watching and fully supporting my team, whatever division we are in. I know I will never support another.
So the rationale for reactivating? First, to underline to those who fear that Charlton fans may start to boycott games that some of us have been doing so for a while now (I've no idea how many but can't believe I'm alone). Second, to provide a regular reminder to our owner (no, I don't imagine for a moment he is out there paying attention) and to any potential purchaser of the club that there are more Addicks out there ready to return than current and future bums on seats would indicate. Third, to provide some sort of informal monitor concerning whether at least this Addick is ready to return to the fold, or moving further away. And fourth, to add my sixpenneth-worth when we get served up the sort of alienating nonsense/distortions/half-truths as contained in Ms Meire's recent embarrassing stage show and Richard Murray's depressing 'candid, wide-ranging interview', all compounded by the shabby treatment of Peter Varney and the implications of his approaches being treated with disdain.
I don't intend the blog just to be a vehicle for anti-Duchatelet rants (although if he carries on as before I feel they are inevitable), let alone as any kind of attempt to encourage others not to attend games. There can't be any match reports, even comments on players; but perhaps it will provide a bit of an outsider/insider's view as we stumble along, with maybe some tales of old thrown in for good measure.
To get going again here are a few thoughts, hopefully not going over too much old ground and complementing rather than just replicating what has already been written by others. Sorry if it goes on a bit but nobody ever accused me of brevity and I didn't have time to write something shorter.
Mr Duchatelet and his strategy. I don't mind admitting that once the (genuine) welcoming of him had given way to the stunning stupidity of what was done in that first January transfer window he has managed to press just about every negative button I have. The reference to his clubs as his 'babies' still sticks in the throat. Many years ago I sold a company I started to a 'visionary', staying with it as CEO. Routinely on a Friday he would suggest lunch, during which I would have the unenviable task of listening to his latest idea (which because it was his was obviously a brilliant one) and then to (as tactfully as I could) point out why it wouldn't work (and had been thought of and rejected years before). Needless to say the relationship did not end well. Coincidence perhaps, but he installed in the office a minion he could rely on to tell him all that she overheard. Duchatelet's selected representative got off to a bad start by stating that we 'had to accept' our new owner's decisions. We don't, whether we are supporters or customers.
We were told a while back by Murray that Roland's two objectives were to break even and to get promoted (with no indication then which of these two incompatibles would take priority), and that the network model (and the strengthening of our academy) would give us a competitive advantage (as and when the Financial Fair Play rules created a more level playing-field in the Championship). On that basis we might expect to at least be competitive in the second flight. Wasn't much of a strategy - apart from Standard Leige and us the network (and with this available movable assets) was pants and faith in FFP was always a pipe dream. But at least it was a rationale, for those content to see our club as just a part of our paternal visionary's consortium.
That has changed. Championship clubs have acted in their own interest and had the FFP rules changed - I actually burst out laughing when watching the Meire Dublin event and she called on the football authorities to come to her assistance re FFP ('please, it's not fair ...') - and Duchatelet has sold Standard Leige. There is no network worth speaking of and no prospect (if there ever was one) of FFP producing a Championship in which a club running a modest loss can expect to have a realistic hope of promotion (quite clearly the balance has shifted in favour of such a club going down). So we have to have a new one, that unveiled by Ms Meire. If she didn't already understand the difference between producing young players for the benefit of the club and to help it progress and fish-farming them to sell on as soon as a decent bid - and cash to use to contain our losses - comes in, hopefully Valley Gold's entirely praiseworthy decision to withhold funding will have driven home the message.
Murray in his interview said that "Roland's strategy is to have a mix of academy-produced players, young overseas talent, with some experienced British players" and that "as a long-term strategy I think that's a good one". First, this is not a strategy, it is a tactic (one which is based on the resale value of the first two categories of player and minimising the cost of the third). The strategy is the real basis/objective on which decisions are based, ie minimising losses. Murray actually labels that as Duchatelet's "philosophy", so the misuse of terms continues. Apparently "we should try and keep our losses to a reasonable level". It's not my money and we have no right to demand/expect any owner to spend any amount, but I can't see the moral imperative.
If someone buys a Championship football club on the basis of a strategy which has fallen apart, there would appear to be only three options: accept that a higher-than-desired/planned level of losses has to be funded in order to be competitive in this league; accept relegation if it happens and cut costs further; or sell the club. From the wasting of Varney's time we know that the third option is not on the cards and from what we have been told can infer that neither is the first. I don't believe that Duchatelet wants us to be relegated, but if we are it is reasonable to suppose that nothing (in his eyes) will have changed. After all, it cannot amount to failure ....
If I have any sympathy for Duchatelet it is that when considering a purchase he may have viewed Charlton as just a club in crisis: languishing around the bottom of the division, owners with no money to invest (or willingness to invest it), and an embarrassment of a pitch. All true (whether he 'rescued' the club remains a matter of opinion'; Murray says he did and he of course has far more knowledge of the finances than me, but the suspicion remains that if Duchatelet had not stepped in too soon and overpaid for the club others would have come in at a substantially lower price before administration and points deduction). But it's also true that after five successive years of failure (relegation, failure to bounce back, relegation, failure to bounce back, stagnation in the third flight) we had had two of undoubted success (promotion and consolidation in the second). We saw a club with a decent and committed core group of players, a hero of a manager, and an enthusiastic fan base - ie a good structure in need of some fresh investment (gambling if you like) to build on what was already there. Perhaps he thought he would be welcomed as the loving parent come to put everything right, and ready to accept whatever it took. If so, it was the first of his mistakes.
Murray strays into Meire's realm of half-truths when in the interview he talked of us having become "financially stable" and of other Championship clubs having owners "willing to gamble heavily" to get to the Premiership. We are not, to the best of my knowledge, financially stable. We remain loss-making and dependent on our owner continuing to fund the shortfall. Perhaps we are less financially unstable than many other Championship clubs, but that's not the same. And what is the difference between gambling and investing? They are both forms of calculated risk-taking, just that the former has negative connotations and the latter positive ones. Our owner is gambling with our Championship status, as maintaining it is not the primary objective. Owners of other clubs may take a calculated risk in running relatively high losses, in the knowledge that the value of their asset would rise considerably if promotion is achieved. Bolton face possible administration not because they have a massive debt but because they no longer have an owner willing and able to fund ongoing losses.
Ms Meire? Sorry, but if she had some self-respect she would quit. It must be obvious even to her that she has burnt every bridge she had with supporters (organisations such as the Trust have shown remarkable patience in continuing to press for meaningful dialogue when every action of the board underlines that such contact has been and remains unwanted, viewed as a waste of time) and does not have the skills to succeed in her role (which does beg the question whether anyone could make a success of being Roland's public face and apologist for inanity).
I am of course of an age which renders me unimportant to the club in her eyes (not going to cite numbers but my first game was apparently in 1961/62 and memories date from the mid-60s); like that third category of Charlton player, my value only further erodes with time. All I can say to that is that I have a daughter (for the record it is her in the photo, taken during the wilderness years; she will not thank me for it, but I think the danger of her being outed is minimal). I knew I had done my job as a parent when her mother read her a bedside story: 'and the queen lived in the palace', which prompted an automatic response from my daughter of 'Palace, uurgh'. Next month it seems I will have a grandson. In other circumstances, his first outfit would be a Charlton kit and as soon as his parents would allow he would be taken to The Valley and welcomed to his life as an Addick.
'Support the team not the regime'? It's a catchy phrase and one with entirely honourable sentiments behind it. Quite frankly I wish I could, but when you believe (again, rightly or wrongly) that the long-term interests of our club are best served by the regime leaving the scene asap what can you do, other than act like a customer not being well served? I do support the efforts of the Trust, Voice of the Valley, and others to try to secure change and to coordinate protests. But where will they lead to if there is none? If we stay up, nothing changes. If we go down, nothing really changes (except the club's costs and revenues base). I truly hope that others will come up with some innovative form of protest that might lead to change.
'We want our Charlton back'. All Addicks understand what is meant by this. It doesn't necessarily mean we want an owner to come in and pour money into a promotion bid, let alone actually getting promoted (which would of course be welcome). We were singing 'we've got our Charlton back' not so long ago and we had no Premiership ambitions at the time. Football isn't religion but shares some of its characteristics (just as darts isn't a sport etc). We, I think, want a club to be proud of and something to believe in. Through most of my years being an Addick has been a genuine source of pride (contrast that with the inevitably short-lived, shallow illusion that Palace fans are currently labouring under). The Back to The Valley campaign and subsequent success under Curbishley did make us a bit special, for a while. But there were many years before and have been many after which saw us still happy to be Addicks. We are not trying to regain past glories, perhaps rather wish for the reinstatement of the values and attitudes that served us so well before - and which would hold out the promise of progress and a bright future (and with this enjoyment of the present), in contrast to what is currently on offer.
The comments by Varney in the 11 Jan South London Press article on the nature of the relationship between supporters and a club, from both an emotional and business point of view, strike exactly the right chord. He concluded that "like many reading this, I am just a supporter at heart. And whatever the outcome of the current fracture between club and fans, at least I will be able to look back in the future and say that I tried". I am just a fan and for me what Varney calls the "near-unbreakable emotional bond" hasn't gone because I no longer go to games. I want nothing more than a packed Valley, everyone - including me - singing in support of the team, and a club that makes us proud (again, whatever division we are in). I just don't believe - and haven't for some time - that this can happen under the auspices of our owner, who has had more than enough chances to show that he is capable of learning from mistakes.