Given that there had been a universally negative reaction on the part of other Addicks bloggers to the statement released by the regime shortly after Sunday’s game, I did think I’d try to see if perhaps there was a more positive and encouraging interpretation. I tried; heaven knows I tried. There wasn’t one. The statement wasn’t really aimed at Charlton fans, rather it seemed some nonsense served up for the media, in the hope that some lazy journalists would fall for it (and true to form a Standard piece claiming that the FA is to investigate Sunday’s events reproduced it). Just another attempt by the regime to pretend that it is what it is not (and to paraphrase Sartre is not what it is).
I thought yesterday that we could be kind and reserve judgement. The Trust had repeated its offer to Duchatelet of talks; there’s plenty of time before the next home game for a busy Belgian businessman to find a slot, if he actually cared (although along with everyone else I wouldn’t be holding my breath and another absence of a meaningful response would say all that we need to know). Then today we awake to see the regime’s ‘letter to fans’.
Let’s assume that it was either written or at least endorsed by Duchatelet; it is reasonable to infer the former as it clearly wasn’t penned by someone for whom English is their first language (and we should make allowances for that) and as it contains an attempted defence of Meire it is unlikely that she is the author. Also, there is an amusing focus through it on ‘disorder’, ‘logic’, which rather smacks of an unimaginative engineer’s narrow focus on what is right and what is wrong. It has the tone of the world according to Roland, of daddy reprimanding some of his babies.
“Last Sunday, some individuals did not come to The Valley to watch the game and support the team, but came to create disorder on the pitch and interfere with the players and the game. Disorder which is, allegedly, needed to drive change in ownership and management.” Garbled, but also misleading. Note that these protesters are referred to as ‘individuals’, not supporters, nor members of supporters’ organisations. Malcontents, subversives obviously. They are not. They are loyal supporters who have concluded, based on the evidence since the club was purchased, that the regime is destroying our club and will continue to do so, not necessarily out of malicious intent but through a toxic mix of incompetence, hopelessly flawed strategies (the first was bad enough, the second dire), and arrogance, with a disdain for fans thrown in for good measure (except when it comes to their invaluable input on the price of Bovril). Nobody wants to protest, but the disorder stems from your stewardship of our club. Fact is we don’t know what is ‘needed to drive change in ownership and management’, so all options need to be explored. If, Mr Duchatelet, you were to let us know just what it is that would persuade you to sell we would, I’m sure, be happy to focus just on that.
“Whom would they expect the club to be sold to? How long would a sales process take? Is it easier to sell the club when it is in League One rather than Championship?” And just what are you trying to say here? We have been told that the club is not for sale, that inquiries are turned away. And we have seen that the regime is happy to waste the time of potential investors by stringing them along over months with suggested meetings while all the time having no intention of actually meeting. It is farcical to talk of how long a sales process might take as one could have been initiated (and concluded) well before now, and as for who might buy us you recently informed us that there are plenty of inquiries (some of which may indeed come from timewasters). Be assured, Roland, if you state that you have changed your mind and are intending to sell the club the protests will cease immediately (even though your board duped supporters before with the promise of engagement once a relegation fight was over). In the absence of such we have to assume that you stand by your previous statements regarding selling up, in which case the protests will continue and will intensify.
“Some individuals seem to want the club to fail. This is a confused approach, since following this logic leads to exactly the opposite of what we all want: staying in the Championship”. Now that is written by someone who never actually studied, or has an elementary grasp of, logic (of course someone can study logic and simply fail to understand it). That aside, the first sentence is wrong: there is not a single Charlton fan who wants the club to fail. There are plenty of us who have come to the conclusion that as a result of your stewardship it is failing and will continue to fail. We want our club to succeed. Ergo it is better that you leave the scene. Success or failure here isn’t ultimately determined by whether or not we stay up. Of course we want to remain in the Championship; we have seen League One and it isn’t pretty. But under you we are headed there sooner or later, quite possibly lower, and along the way we will suffer. The greater good is that you are out as success is not possible with you at the helm. It isn’t personal, just based on the evidence. You are a scientist, take a detached look at the evidence yourself.
“Allegations regarding the CEO are misrepresented (with a note) and are continuously used as a method to discredit and fuel personal abuse, hatred and with a risk to personal safety”. Now I’m not sure that an allegation can be misrepresented, it is what it is, true or false. The fact that the excerpt from Meire’s conference is reproduced suggests that these ‘misrepresentations’ annoy both our owner and Ms Meire. Good. We were annoyed (and stunned) by what she said, up to and including some new ‘vision’ for the club (ie the youth fish-farm) unveiled not to supporters directly but on a couch at an overseas conference. You can reproduce all the excerpts you want to, you will not change the facts of what was said, how it was said, or the perfectly understandable reaction of fans. There is no excuse for any threat to personal safety, but as far as I’m aware Ms Meire has been able to walk to the ground on matchdays, take masks and stickers from protesters, all with no suggestion of threat. There has been personal abuse, but there’s only so long you can sing ‘Meire Out’ without getting bored. The real cruelty, Mr Duchatelet, stems from you, for appointing someone without the skills for the job and keeper her in the post well past the time when any sane and humane person would. Again, consider the evidence.
“Although certain individuals tell you it does not happen, in recent weeks Roland Duchatelet has met the fans, the CEO has met with several different groups of fans and the communications team have attended several fans meetings. We will continue these meetings and constructive dialogue with fans”. In other words, more discussions on the price of Bovril, nothing more. How many times does it need to be shouted at you: this is not real dialogue!! You do not decide what is a fans’ group, the fans do. The Trust is the most obvious representative body of the fans. You studiously refuse to have a dialogue with the Trust. Ergo … Basically this part of the regime’s letter is another attempted lie, or at best further evidence that the regime does not understand what dialogue means.
“We have 9 games left in which we have to get 6 points more than our competitors. The team just got 7 points out of 3 games. We still have the chance to make it happen with the support of the fans until the very last game. We must believe it is still possible. Every football fan knows the 12th man is a crucial factor in the success on the pitch”. If the 12th man is indeed ‘crucial’, why start this letter by attempting to sew divisions by talking of ‘some individuals’ as if they were not fans, not an element of this factor?
Let’s acknowledge that the letter does address some issues which do indeed trouble all Charlton fans (myself included). It isn’t easy to decide to boycott, to protest, to walk out etc. By definition any difficult decision involves rejection, rejecting something that is desirable (or by the same reasoning embracing something that is not desirable). Some fans clearly do not back the protests, it is apparent that some on Sunday who may back the protests did not want to walk out of the game. Again, nobody wants to protest, whether or not this involves some disruption to a game. And it is disturbing to read that there were after Sunday’s game some less than constructive exchanges between Charlton fans who did and did not walk out. Do people think that any insult aimed at the latter might encourage them to participate next time? There is no moral high ground on this issue and the protests if they are to have the desired outcome (increasing the chances of a change of ownership) need to take account of the views of those Addicks who either oppose the protests per se or are reluctant to participate in each manifestation.
Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that Sunday’s protests were, overall, a success and entirely praiseworthy. Those who may be sympathetic towards Roland’s letter to fans may perhaps take a moment to look at the March 2014 regime statement, issued at a similar time of the season and with us in a not entirely dissimilar situation, and consider whether the promises it contained have been delivered. I’ll be back in the UK for the next round, unless of course in the interim there is a real change of heart on the part of our current owner. Come on Roland, consider the evidence: you’ve lent a good deal of money to the club which you will not get back, as long as you own the club you will have to lend more, the overwhelming majority of the club’s fans want you to sell (and will continue to protest and to explore all options for persuading you to come to that decision), and the longer you hang on the more the label of ‘failure’ will apply, whether or not we stay up.