The theme of the day seems to be selective recognition, the ability we all have to embrace any facts or opinions that suit our way of thinking and to ignore/downplay/reject those that don't. The Beeb was at it in the context of the upcoming EU referendum, citing Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Boxer' ('still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest ...'), and it's been a feature of email exchanges I've had with a friend who I would in most circumstances consider to be intelligent but who sometimes expresses Ukip sympathies (and is even contemplating voting to leave the EU). Just how is it that when the best economists and analysts can struggle to come up with confident assessments of the economic implications of leaving the EU, every Tom, Dick and Harry who is a long way from being either feels quite content to express 'their opinion' (even to think that the opinion is their own)?
Bear with me, there is (I think) a bit of relevance for us. I'm frankly staggered by our owner's recent interviews, not so much for what he actually said, daft as it was, but rather for the fact that he clearly thought that by coming over (briefly) and publishing the mix of the incoherent and the unacceptable that he did, he might actually be helping the situation. These weren't off-the-cuff remarks but planned responses to prepared questions, possibly edited before being put out. 'Ah,' thinks Roland, 'I'm not good at communication but, heh, I will make an effort'. There is a theme through what we know of your time with us, Mr Duchatelet, and it is not really that your communication skills are lacking (they are) but the fact that the message you are trying to get across is shocking, unacceptable. I hope the interview clips on the club website are left there for all time, just so that people can periodically check to remind themselves of the curious world of our former owner; at the least they will serve as comedy classics.
It was with these thoughts in mind that I went to help hand out masks and stickers before Saturday's game (as I'm not actually going to games I did have to pass on the post-match protest this time; my partner Suzanne was over from France for the weekend and on effectively Valentine's Day going to the ground before the game, coming back, then going off again would have been a tough sell). I tried to keep a rough mental tally of those fans we encountered and to group them as follows: clearly up for the protest (those wearing the scarf being an obvious giveaway), more ambivalent but willing to take a sticker and express support, politely not in favour (ie those who said nothing but declined the offers), and vocally (or otherwise clearly) against. For the purposes of this survey I have excluded the children bussed in on freebies (who were happy to have stickers and masks but looked as though they thought it was some sort of school plaything), the police and ambulance workers, those who looked very much like they worked for the club, and of course Ms Meire herself (who took a sticker and mask from us before going on for her encounter with Rick Everitt; it's hard to say which category she would have fallen into, or whether if asked she would have told the truth).
It did ebb and flow, and of course the numbers cannot be precise. But I'd say that the first category (clearly anti-Duchatelet) made up around 35% and the second (those who took a sticker but less readily) a further 35%. Of the 30% or so (being generous I would put it at 35% maximum, if there was an element of wishful thinking on my part) who declined, only one person actually took issue with us, expressing his opposition to the protest. No doubt others who said nothing felt the same.
In short, nobody's in any doubt that the overwhelming majority of fans are, to varying degrees and perhaps for different reasons, not happy and prepared to lay the blame at the door of our owner. The weekend results obviously won't have eaten into that majority. There is every reason for the protests to continue, even though the views of a Charlton hero such as Curbs of course have to be taken into consideration. He did say on the TV highlights show that it was time for the fans to shelve protests until the summer and get behind the team. I can't say whether it was a throwaway remark or a considered opinion, people can view and judge for themselves. But to the best of my knowledge he hasn't since retracted the comments.
I'd agree with Curbs to the extent that protests are kept in abeyance when games are ongoing. As mentioned before if the mantra is 'support the team, not the regime' let's do everything for the former and nothing that might confuse the two, which is why I think the banner protest inside the ground might have been ill-considered, inviting their display during a game. But just how are we to put off protests until the summer? How is it possible to organise any meaningful protest once the season is over? And in the interim supporters have in any event to register their opinion when it comes to decisions over early renewal of season tickets. If there was any good reason to believe that our chances of avoiding relegation are increased by shelving protests completely, or reason to see how post-season protests might achieve anything, I'd be with Curbs.
Of course there was something at least incongruous about Meire's Pinocchio Day: if she is just a puppet why make a thing about her opinions/lies? No matter, it was a bit of fun. Having her in situ may not be great for the day-to-day operation of the club, but the real poison comes from the owner, she is just carrying out his 'strategy', however ineptly. I can't imagine her being replaced by anyone from outside Duchatelet's trusted circle, so the chances of something positive from any change are slim.
I'm frankly well past caring what really motivates our owner, why he is involved in football etc. I'm not a psychiatrist and have precious little interest in what childhood traumas and/or adolescent fumblings may have helped shape his personality. I don't even care just why he seems to focused on youth, inside and outside of football. I suspect there are two reasons: first, he may well have some altruistic tendencies which mixed with arrogance lead him to believe that he can be a force for good in others' formative years; second, the young are impressionable (Ms Meire and her need to be loved/desire for a father figure .. but all that's another story) and less likely/able to point out to you just why your 'revolutionary' ideas are unworkable (of course many who have made money from being ahead of the curve in a certain area then tend to disregard the views of experienced people in another area when they disagree with you).
What I am convinced of - and have been for some time - is that our club cannot hope to prosper (in any sense of the word) under this owner. I believe this is based on the evidence of his actions to date and what he has said about his strategy for the club. How on earth can he really believe that Addicks are in any way attracted (and not completely disgusted) by the notion that our club, fresh from being subsumed into a low-quality network, is to become a fish-farm? Of course the answer lies in forgetting the past and what the club has been, accepting that supporters like me will never buy into the Duchatelet 'vision' and have to fall by the wayside, and try to play the long game: bus in a new generation with free tickets and get them Addickted and indoctrinated. In that context, 'Building a Better Future Together' comes across less as the inane first-year marketing student project slogan that it probably was and something more akin to the Hitler Youth.
Will it work? We can't rule out that our owner will be prepared to hang on through one relegation, possibly another, and the annihilation of the current fanbase, by funding the losses, selling anything that moves to limit the financial drain, giving away tickets to all and sundry to try to maintain a pretence of a crowd, and taking other actions to raise revenues. He talks of having empathy with the fans but other than the fact that we are unhappy and he is too that is a lie (or at best a misuse of the word), he doesn't care, or at least doesn't care enough to consider real change, he doesn't empathise with us. He talks about the community and the club within it, but he knows nothing of the area and what the community really is (and has made no effort to find out, yet is still happy to talk of how great a club we are), rather than what he believes, from a distance, one should be.
So I guess with the Trust issuing an invitation to talk, this is a sort of plea, one that no doubt will fall on deaf ears: we welcomed you when you bought the club, what you have since said and done (and continue to say and do) have turned us against you; we are the Charlton community, if you care about the community (rather than just a part of it) you will realise that the best thing you can do is pass on ownership of the club, or at least talk to potential partners who may help with the funding needed to get Charlton back on track as a football club, not a prospective social centre/glorified youth club. That is not the function of a football club within the community.
There is also an associated warning: if we are relegated this season the blame will lie with you (you may say that you could not have imagined us being in this situation - ie our league position - but plenty of others could and did). More seriously, if - whether or not as a result of relegation and a need to cut costs/raise revenues - anything is done by you to despoil The Valley it will not be forgiven, or forgotten, ever. We have seen the reports of possible property development. You must be aware of the pride we take in the stadium, even the nice pitch that you paid for, and our spiritual home. Destroy that and protests will go to a new level and not stop.
On that front, perhaps there is one angle for moving the protests closer to the home of our owner. I had assumed that Duchatelet's political vehicle in Belgium, Vivant, had come to a complete end in failure having been subsumed into another party. Not so. No longer just a party, Vivant has actually morphed into a movement (albeit not one seemingly blessed by numbers) and has a site - www.vivant-europe.eu - promoting its thinking. It seems that undaunted by being rejected by the Belgian electorate, Vivant now looks to be a pan-European grouping with the focus on influencing policy at the EU level. On the site there is an invitation to join and perhaps we can all sign up, get a majority of membership, and vote to bury the project - ie do to his movement what he's doing to our club.