Rochdale at The Valley always seems a little poignant to me, but never more so than now. I was still knee-high to a grasshopper (OK, a nascent, probably spotty with daft hair, teenager, albeit not one being employed by a batty old owner of football clubs to find players) on a very cold 6 Jan 1973 evening. We'd been relegated to the third division for the first time in my life the previous season and now I was one of 5,048 lonely souls in a vast stadium trying to keep warm as we hosted Rochdale. Bloody hell, 43 years ago. No shortage of water under the bridge since then but - and no disrespect to Rochdale intended - that night always stayed in my head as a real low point, for the crowd and the mood. A King Arthur goal gave us victory but we were to have two seasons of third flight mediocrity before a combination of the emergence of Killer and the installation as manager of Andy Nelson saw us promoted at the third time of asking.
A low point indeed, but now an impression of things having come around full circle, as all Addicks struggle to come to terms with life back in this division (yes I know, for the fourth time in my lifetime) and real concerns about the future of our club. Back then expectations were lower and without social media all we could do was grumble with mates over a pint (I was of course too young for that and with no laptops I couldn't spend the time devising ways to persuade daft old football club owners to make use of an adolescent's services). It was a time of questioning whether Charlton could survive on such low attendances, rumours even of a move to Milton Keynes. Fast forward to now and it seems eerily similar.
A longstanding fellow Addick now living outside London decided to take in Tuesday night's game, giving some of us the opportunity to meet up. Five in the pub and another two who couldn't make it. Go back some years and we were all season ticket holders. Sure, one is no longer in London. But not one of the other six now have season tickets, I'm into my second season of boycotting games, another has stopped going this season, one more who has been attending on a game-by-game basis decided at least this time around he'd prefer to stay in the pub as, in his words, this dreadful regime is sucking all the enjoyment out of going. He currently plans to switch to going to away games, like many others. So three of the seven went to the game.
One sent me the following comments today. "The only good thing about last night was getting the chance to catch up with ..... Rarely (if ever) have I spent so much time chatting at a match rather than watching the game. Probably only about 6,000 in the ground despite the official attendance. No atmosphere at all - like a pre-season friendly. Thoroughly outplayed by Oldham for about 75% of the match." The non-Londoner replied with: "Yes an awful match in an atmosphere which wasn't hostile but just resigned to failure. Only one bit of class and that was Lookman's effort which hit the bar. But good to see you all. Let's do an away match and not care about the football."
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the stated goals of the regime in its early days was to improve the matchday experience. Does it sound as though they're succeeding? Of course we have had the cheerleaders and the sofa, but perhaps they didn't quite balance the utter ineptness of the regime and its contemptible arrogance, resulting in lamentable and completely avoidable failure on the pitch. There are many aspects to owning a football club and being a supporter that the regime just 'doesn't get'. But in this context one of the most striking, for me, is the idea that they can happily kill off dreams and ambition, for many the very rationale for being a supporter. We are offered by Meire the 'unique experience' of being able to see stars of the future, for a short spell, now Duchatelet muses about why football can't be more like rugby. Going to the game then becomes an opportunity to meet up with friends (undeniably a major element) and to stroll along to enjoy watching a bit of a kickabout as the youngsters hone their skills, perhaps josh the ref a little if he makes a mistake, to applaud if we win and collectively shrug our shoulders if we lose, then everyone goes merrily back to the bar for another glass or two. A sort of local social club. I don't need to outline why this is complete cobblers; every supporter already knows why.
So we've had something of a stand-off of late, a period of phoney war. The regime pretends that attendances are not as dire as they are by giving away freebies and not caring whether or not the tickets are used, pretends that it values supporters (it was embarrassing to hear the stadium announcer at half-time in the Wimbledon game declare 'great support in the first half ...' when everyone there knew it was poor), and pretends that it is communicating with the fans, even that it wants to improve communication (if they were serious they would know what to do). CARD for good reasons had suspended protests inside the ground. And with more protesters staying away and fewer inside for the home games, of course the balance of regime opponents to at least tacit backers has shifted.
This period offered the regime the opportunity to take the initiative and to win over more supporters. It was always going to fail to take it. The unwanted brief visit by Duchatelet was only notable for his disgraceful attempt to justify why he fails to meet his responsibilities (it really sounded like another attempt to shift the blame for failure without addressing why, if he cannot spare the time, he keeps in place an incompetent embarrassment), the absurd comments made by Driesen in his press interview only serve to show how well he fits with the regime (he does lie/distort/mislead like the best of them) but not the real world. So CARD has announced a resumption of protests, starting with the Coventry game. This is bound to annoy some Addicks but the status quo is unsustainable, the regime is slowly squeezing the life out of our club and is incapable of changing its spots.