First, a quick personal take on the published minutes of the 25 April Fans Forum meeting. Overall you feel a sense of Meire trying to be rather more contrite than before, which is to be expected from the CEO of an outfit that has failed to achieve its stated objectives. But just when you think she might at least actually be striking the right note something slips out.
Q: What are the current figures for season ticket sales? Meire: "We are ahead of sales target ... figures are lower than this time last year, but that is expected with relegation. The figures are commercially sensitive so we can't share at this stage." I guess you can always be ahead of target - even substantially ahead of target - if the target is bugger all. To try to suggest that lower sales than a year ago is all to do with relegation and nothing to do with fans' attitude towards the regime is simply misleading and fools nobody. Commercially sensitive and can't share at this stage? I'd be a pound to a penny there will be no stage at which there is a sharing (if the Fans Forum continues I hope the representatives will keep asking if the information is still 'commercially sensitive').
Better than that, a section on club senior management turnover/departures. Question (from Craig Parrett again) regarding high turnover and was this anything to do with the (crazed) statement on the website was parried in reasonable fashion: "unable to comment on internal HR matters, but it was down to a combination of things". Then the follow-up. Q: Why are so many leaving? Meire: "it is normal when a club is relegated that people look for positions elsewhere". Head of communications walks after statement published? Due to relegation of course. It's as if when pressed she loses patience with people (perhaps just an inability to deal with pressure, perhaps just inexperience) and just blurts out something to try to close the door and move on and can't backtrack (exactly the same with the silly every head coach change assertion). If only the normality extended to the CEO.
You just have to shake your head and move on. But the upshot of Pinocchio's behaviour is that when she goes on to refute rumours that Chris Solly was not left out of the squad for the Brighton game for non-footballing reasons, that "at no point" did the regime try to send him out to Gillingham on loan, and that there are "no grounds" to the Paul Elliot story (on that one surely over to Voice of the Valley and its sources) we can't simply take her word, or give her the benefit of the doubt. She may be telling the truth on all counts (and she did manage to clear up the confusion over Duchatelet's recent 'meetings' with fans) but we can only say that if what she says is corroborated by others whose word we have reason to trust.
Now moving on, it's my habit from time to time to pull a programme at random off the shelf when retiring to the khazi for an extended stop. I assure my French partner Suzanne it's a male thing, perhaps even just an English male thing (just a south-east Londoner English male thing ...?). Perhaps this can be the first in a series: great programme excerpts read while on the can (I already know the next one, it features what Murray said about Varney and vice versa when they temporarily parted in 2008). By chance I recently took down the one for a game on 22 January 2011, at home to Plymouth Argyle. Just happened to be Sir Chris' first game in charge at The Valley, not long after the Jiminez/Slater/others takeover. Some may not believe me but I don't pen the following to hold up the man as a god, or to gloss over the shortcomings of our then owners. Rather just compare and contrast what was written in that programme, and what followed, with what we have now. Might provide a clue as to why the protests are about a lot more than getting relegated.
Powell starts off with "I'm honoured and proud to be the Charlton manager. I want what the fans want. I know what the club has been through over the years ..." On new signings, "there will be money available but it's a case of us being quite clever and a bit creative. When I'm ready and I've decided what we need to complement the squad I'll go ahead if the player is right for us and for the club, as a player and as a man". In other words owners setting the financial parameters, as they should, but leaving the manager to assess who he wants; and a manager understanding the constraints and planning in full knowledge of them. Murray used to talk of Curbishley spending money as if it was his own (ie keeping a lid on) and that generates trust between a manager and owner(s). In his notes Sir Chris goes on to say "we all know how tough it's been over the past few years, but I will endeavour, along with the players at this club, to just take it a step forward day by day. We will make mistakes along the way ..." and "I call upon our fans who are here today, and family and friends who haven't been for a while, to come back and make Charlton and The Valley a place to be feared once again" (and he didn't mean beach-balls and balloons).
Of course it's easier for a returning Charlton hero to get the tone right and to get a positive response to rallying calls. And nobody's pretending that we went steadily forward in the remainder of that season (a look at the squad would have been a clue): we had slipped but only to seventh in the league at that point and ended up midtable (despite Bradley Wright-Phillips being brought in). By the time of a Rochdale programme (25 April) Sir Chris is talking of next season and "building blocks and small steps" to get us where we wanted to go. But there is this idea of a manager, one well acquainted with the club and its modus operandi, its history, deciding where the team/squad needs strengthening and making transfer decisions based as much on the required character as outright ability (let alone what a spreadsheet calculation might say) - needless to say the squad at that point contained Jackson and Solly (plus Elliot and Harriott) - and the notion of building on what you have to progress provided the foundations for what came next.
It's all perhaps a bit old-fashioned, not that innovative let alone radical. It worked. Football isn't that complicated, more a matter of doing certain things better than your competitors (and let's not forget that when Sir Chris was brought back a certain Peter Varney came back too). I don't care if our club is the most forward-looking and creative in the country; if the end-result is failure the innovations were poor. Imagine being admitted to hospital for an operation and you've a choice: a veteran of the procedure with a steady hand or a rather scatty and self-appointed head surgeon who promises a much better way to do what needs to be done ('who cares if it's not been done before?'), with a youngster ('not actually a doctor but qualifications are a bit old-school') invited in to actually do the cutting.
Perhaps part of the problem is that our current owner isn't really a visionary. It's not as if he was first with the network plan, his political ambitions and tax proposals were only taking the ideas of others. More a wannabee than a true trend-setter (which could also explain why he surrounds himself with sycophants). No matter, if the regime is serious about looking to learn from its mistakes and wants a template for what has worked before, it is staring them in the face: just pull out the programme.
Have to say that the two programmes gave me a few laughs as well. In the Rochdale one there was 100 to 1 with Dean Parrett, then on loan from Spurs. Question: what was the last book you read? Answer: It was Of Mice and Men at school ... everyone had to read a chapter in class - let's just say that my chapter was quite slow". Echoes of that bit in Porridge ('I had a book once, it was green'). I wonder if Dean's read one since. He now plies his trade for Stevenage (I had to check but we won't be meeting them next season). The same feature in the Plymouth programme was with Simon Francis; "I quite enjoy reading ..." We know where he is now.
That in turn encourages you get into Wikipedia to see where our then bit-part and loan players have ended up. The French connection kind of died out after that season with Youga and Racon - and before them Moutaouakil - moving on. All three now seem to be free agents; I still have more than a soft spot for Racon for the contribution he went on to make for Millwall; speaking of which the Rochdale programme squad also has Federico Bessone, then on loan from Leeds. After leaving them it was Swindon, Oldham, Kansas City, and then he hit rock-bottom: began career as a youth player with Barcelona alongside Messi, finished up with an appearance for the Spanners. When Sir Chris took over a worthy but shall we say limited Pawel Abbott hadn't yet been sent back to Poland. We had Nathan Eccleston of Liverpool: since leaving us and them he's turned out for Rochdale, Blackpool, Tranmere, Carlisle, Coventry, Partick Thistle, and Kilmarnock; he now plays in Hungary. The infamous Frank Nouble is also listed; apparently you'll find him in China now (of course possibly earning more dosh than all the others put together).