Saturday, 28 May 2016

Bravo Duchere (and Hull), Commiserations Sint-Truiden

It seems there is to be no final day drama for my adopted French team Lyon Duchere. They are promoted!! Bravo La Duch! Tonight they turned over Auxerre B on their own patch, 1-2, while rivals Grenoble were held to a 0-0 draw at home to lowly Montceau-les-Mines. Now with a game left it is still possible that the two can end the season on the same number of points. But the final ranking must be down to head-to-head results rather than goal difference as my partner Suzanne keeps sending me evidence of congratulations being sent around (I shall gloss over the fact that she's had weeks to find out what I needed to know). There is no doubt that Duchere are promoted, for the second time in four or five years, and Lyon now for sure has two football clubs.

Just how Duchere will fare in France's National, the country's third division, remains to be seen. Like many across the continent now getting promoted, no doubt they'll be among the favourites to come back down. We've been there. And there's no doubt they will be punching well above their (current) weight. National contains teams like Dunkerque, Boulogne, Beziers (I'd add Strasbourg, Amiens and Orleans but it looks like those three will get promoted). Duchere games I've been to sometimes have had crowds of a couple of hundred and only recently have ball-boys been a regular feature, rather than the players having to collect the ball. But who cares? Tonight Duchere can celebrate, I hope Lyon will celebrate for them, and planning for next season can wait until after what now should be a love fest against Olympique Lyonnais next weekend.

So Duchere join the ranks of those who end the season on a high. Add Hull to that list, given the outcome of the Championship play-off final today (and of course Barnsley, who confirm their promotion to the Championship tomorrow). Is there a lesson from the fact that two of the teams relegated from the Premiership a year ago kept their managers and have gone back up? Of course there is, just don't expect our owners to understand it.

Football is a zero sum game and as Duchere celebrate the fans of Grenoble will be crying into their Chartreuse (I will join them in a glass later). So will the followers of Sheff Wednesday, while supporters of other clubs have suffered even crueller fates. The news that Duchatelet has bought back Sint-Truiden only fills me with sympathy for their fans. They don't deserve him. Neither do we.

Of course if Ms Meire were to be transferred to them from us I'd be a little relieved. At least it would raise the possibility of greater competence in our neck of the woods. But overall I'm in the camp that believes it matters not. She has no business being involved in a senior position at any football club - obviously nobody else in football would employ her - and if the repurchase of a club rather closer to his heart actually encourages him to stay in the game it is a massive net negative, for us and Sint-Truiden.

We've seen the comments Duchatelet has made regarding "foreign owners" and understanding "football culture". It has been quite frankly sickening to read them. He has demonstrated that he doesn't understand football, what it takes to succeed in the industry. All he does with his words is drive home the message that he is incapable of learning why he fails, in football, politics etc.

Actually Albury Addick rather trumped me with a post about our owner being clinically insane. I had been considering the idea that if I was an offspring of Duchatelet, or a potential beneficiary of his estate, whether it would be possible to have him declared mentally incapacitated on the grounds that just retaining Meire is evidence of wilfull destruction of capital. What other reason could there be?

So tonight let's raise a glass to congratulate all those who have succeeded this season, to commiserate with those that have failed. And to bemoan the fate of those who, at least for now, have to live with the prospect of continued failure.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Regime Is Recruiting

Football in general may not yet be into the silly season - there remain small matters such as Man Utd lifting the cup, Walsall or Barnsley confirming a place in the Championship, and some international tournament soon to get underway in France - but as far as our club is concerned it began once the protests at the Burnley game came to a conclusion. It's always a dangerous time of thin news when groundless rumours can abound; sometimes it's necessary to knock these on the head before they gain traction.

I can for example confirm that contrary to speculation the regime is active and fully focused on filling key positions at our club. I know this to be true as I happened to see an ad for a work experience day for people to get a taste of being a steward at The Valley. We'll gloss over the cheap jokes, such as don't bother coming along if you're parents were married, but should be able to save some hopefuls' time: if you are happy to be instrumental in helping an appallingly-run company headed by near-universally despised (for good reason) senior management, one which needs as much protection as possible from law-abiding, peaceful and innovative protesting customers and which will probably not be around for much longer, get down there asap, it could be the career for you. Charlton Athletic may not have a manager, may have a plethora of unfilled positions off the pitch (and the prospect of plenty on it before long), but as long as we have enough stewards the Football League can continue to absurdly praise the regime, Pinocchio can sleep soundly, and our usually-absent owner can relax, knowing that his money is being well spent.

I do have to confess to moments of concern for Ms Meire in the wake of her comments from the audience at the recent London conference. People do crack up and nobody wants to see a young person with talents - albeit talents not suited to running a football club - succumb to the pressure of being in an invidious situation. But despite the embarrassment she herself must be feeling at what she said and the damage to the club's reputation that she caused, she has not resigned (or been sacked, as she should have been). There's been no public apology or retraction, so we can only assume that she actually believes what she said. Pinocchio In Cloud Cuckoo Land sounds like a particularly dire Disney concoction; but as this regime has turned our club into a laughing stock perhaps it is apt.

So no more sympathy, just a note of congratulations to CARD for the quick reaction to news of the planned 'networking' breakfast at The Valley featuring Ms Meire. The need to do all we can to facilitate and encourage a change of ownership of our club remains as pressing as ever and, although naturally protests will be more sporadic and probably less visible ahead of at least pre-season friendlies, this doesn't mean any change in attitude. That applies whoever the next manager/head coach proves to be, and whatever players leave and arrive. The regime pushed us into these obvious and necessary conclusions some time ago.

And so to the Lyon Duchere update as the fight for promotion from France's CFA Groupe B to National (the third division) saw round 28 (of 30) take place over the weekend. First up were Duchere, on Saturday evening. They did their bit, with what looks like a fairly routine 2-0 win at home against mid-table Mulhouse. It was a bank holiday weekend for France (please don't upset my partner Suzanne by suggesting that the French have holidays for everything as she may point out that, unlike in the UK, when holidays fall over a weekend, such as 1 May this year, there is no day in lieu) and the match for promotion rivals Grenoble didn't take place until Monday. Unfortunately they ground out a 1-0 win at home against (also mid-table) Monts d'Or Azergues.

So it's no change at the top. Duchere have a one-point lead with now only two games to go, just two more victories needed. The problem is that on paper at least they have by a distance the tougher of the fixtures: they will be away to Auxerre B, currently third in the league, in round 29 and then at home to Olympique Lyonnais B, currently fourth, on the final day; Grenoble will be at home to Montceau-les-Mines, who are placed 13th out of 16, and then away at Le Puy, who are 14th. Of course this is football, (unfortunately for our owner) it can't be reduced to an engineering equation or legal precedent. Grenoble's two opponents are both in a desperate struggle to avoid relegation (the bottom three of 16 go down), whereas Duchere's games are against the reserve teams of clubs which have already concluded their seasons, with most first-team players presumably either on the beach or preparing for the European Championship. Just how their reserve teams feel about still being required to be fit and ready for an extra few weeks (the final round of games is not until 4 June) is anyone's guess.

It could all be over on 28 May, if Duchere win and Grenoble lose in round 29, possibly even if Duchere win and Grenoble only draw (I'm still not 100% sure on the way teams on the same number of points are ranked - I sent Suzanne back to France on Monday with a mission to find out). This is after all a league in which the goals don't exactly flow; Duchere and Grenoble are the joint highest scorers but have only managed 38 goals in 28 games (while conceding 17 and 19 respectively). But the odds surely favour Duchere needing to win those final two games to go up. If they do, they will have earned it for sure - and while such an achievement may not match that of Leicester for pure delight (and publicity), in terms of resources and progress (it would be their second promotion in around five years) it will be something to celebrate, in this particular part of south-east London at least.  

Friday, 13 May 2016

Inferiority Complex or 'Go Away and Stay Away'

Can I add anything useful to what has been said by others in the wake of Ms Meire's regrettable breakdown yesterday? Always a first time. Start with the obvious: most of what she said was quite simply factually wrong. "I know what they're trying to do, to break me down ...". It's all been said before, by many Addicks, but she doesn't seem to listen or understand. Nobody means you any harm, we just want you to leave our club as with each passing day you are in situ you progressively ruin something we care deeply about. It's not because you are female, or Belgian; it is because from day one you have insulted and alienated us, ignored us, lied to us, and behaved in a fashion unacceptable for the head of any organisation, while at the same time you have made countless mistakes, related to matters both on and off the pitch, which along with the daft strategies and actions of our owner have resulted in our club progressively failing, with the prospect of more of the same. Just look at the evidence.

For the good of Charlton most (but not all) fans want the owner to sell and Meire is really just a bit part in the unfolding drama. It is sad that she does not have the insight to realise that she is utterly unsuited to be CEO of the club, which requires a very different skill set from a legal advisor. And for some time now it has been cruel of Duchatelet to leave her in the job. Many moons ago in a post I cited a comparison with the actions of the guy I sold a company to; he installed his PA and she told him everything that the employees, including myself, said and did. They in response shunned her, which led the new owner to complain to me that people were being unfair to her. The fault was his, he put her in place and kept her there for his own benefit, not the good of the company. No matter, Meire is ostensibly an adult and responsible for her own actions and career. We don't know if she has a contract (or who she is paid by), but if there is one the grounds for her dismissal on the basis of bringing the company into disrepute should be compelling. Unlike Ms Meire I'm not a lawyer so I can't tell if what she said constitutes grounds for charges of libel, but I hope someone is investigating that possibility.

You have to ask just what was Meire trying to achieve yesterday? To alert the world to her plight? Surely there's already been enough on that. To rally the media and football world to her cause? Now that is another area where CARD deserves praise for ensuring that these two groups remained on our side. Most if not all football fans who look at the coverage will, like us, be shaking their heads in bemusement. Besides bringing yet more humiliation on herself, all she achieved was to, yet again, drag our club's good name through the mud.

Of all that was reportedly said, there's two sentences that really stands out for me: "When I started supporting football 15 years ago, whenever there was a black player they would make noises. That has evolved, why can we not also educate fans ...." The first sentence is at best just clumsy (even glossing over the idea of starting to 'support football', as if the sport in general was graced by her benevolence) and at worst deliberately offensive; combating racism in football is an ongoing, serious matter and trying to associate that with peaceful, law-abiding protests against a regime is itself offensive. But really the insight is perhaps in the second sentence. 'Why can we not ...' Just who is the 'we'? Her and Duchatelet alone? Or perhaps she means all intelligent and successful people, or all people in authority, compared with the illiterate mob that constitutes football fans.

In addition to not being a lawyer I'm not a psychiatrist. I began by thinking that any good one could have a field day with what was said by Meire yesterday, but then perhaps not. Anyone whose studied psychiatry would take one look and point out the obvious. Just try Googling 'evidence of an inferiority complex'. The page I went to outlined seven signs:

1.  Hypocritical attitude: people who do not feel alright about themselves have problems feeling good about others;  
2.  Tendency towards blaming: some people project their weaknesses onto others in order to lessen and ameliorate the pain of inferiority;  
3.  Feeling of persecution: when carried to the extreme, blaming others can extend to believing that others are actively seeking to ruin you.
4.  Inappropriate response to flattery: some may refuse to listen to anything positive about themselves, others may be desperate to hear anything good and are constantly fishing for compliments;
5.  Sensitivity to criticism: although people who feel inferior 'know' they have shortcomings, they do not like other people to point this out;
6.  Tendency towards seclusion and sensitivity;
7.  Negative feeling about competition: not coming first is evidence of total failure.

Does it all sound familiar? I don't know what in Ms Meire's past made her what she is today and am well past caring. In the words of the immortal Debby Harry:

'Don't go pre-fab
'Cause you been had
Don't go be sad
Don't go away mad
Just go away (go away)
Go away and stay away'.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Just More Evidence Of Regime's Inability To Succeed

The khazi reading keeps throwing up timely gems. The front cover of Voice of the Valley No 56, which was published in the wake of the January 1995 board meeting which saw the removal of Roger Alwen as chief executive and chairman, with Richard Murray elevated to managing director and Martin Simons made chairman, has a photo of Murray and Simons and an apt caption of the former saying to the latter "well, at least no-one can say you couldn't organise a p***-up in a brewery!" I think it's safe to say that no current or future publication or report dealing with the Duchatelet regime will say the same about them.

This blog seldom if ever contains information not already published elsewhere and I have no inside track on exactly why Chris Wilder and the regime (sorry to be pedantic but I still balk at the regime being synonymous with my club) could not agree terms. From what's been written elsewhere it's reasonable to believe that the outcome was down to the latter refusing to put in writing assurances over control (presumably related to transfers, possibly also team selection) which he may or may not have been given verbally by our owner, and/or the possibility that Sheffield Utd would be coming in for him (as is now being assumed following the sacking of Nigel Adkins). If he ends up at Bramall Lane and a club that he obviously has a deep affection for (and an area that requires no family relocation), the spin will no doubt move in that direction. And unless Wilder comes out and says why a deal was not concluded we can only guess, as we cannot take anything said by Duchatelet or Meire at face value.

If it transpires that Wilder refused to accept what the regime was offering, we have to infer/guess which party was being unreasonable. Of course this is not the first time that the regime has offered a contract which has been deemed unacceptable. Sir Chris couldn't agree to the terms offered to him, and we know that had nothing to do with money. So it's not unfair to conclude that there are some aspects of the terms that the regime offers, aspects which relate to control, which Wilder and Powell found unacceptable yet Riga, Peeters and Luzon did not. Points towards the idea that if you're a network man you know and accept what this entails; if you're not, and you're not desperate, you don't sign. So far, to the best of my knowledge, under Duchatelet the head coach/manager job has been offered to only two non-network guys and they both refused the terms, while the regime did not feel able to alter the terms sufficiently to persuade them to sign.

What might constitute 'unreasonable'? I think it goes without saying that no head coach/manager, English or not, with any self-respect would accept any interference on team selection. Of course an owner, CEO etc might express an opinion, even call it helpful advice. But actually go beyond that? Unacceptable. On transfers, there are two sides of the coin. No manager can have any sort of a veto on sales; a (sane) owner/CEO acts in the best interests of the club and sometimes that means selling a player a manager would like to keep - in which case a manager may point out the consequences of the sale, what it could mean for the team, indicate whether a replacement needs to be brought in from outside, or indeed quit. But what is both optimum and acceptable when it comes to transfers in? I've never been involved in football so can't say from first-hand experience what is normal, but surely a manager has to have more than just a voice in decisions. A player the manager wants may of course prove to be more expensive than the budget allows, may not want to come etc. But if the manager can be overruled and have players he does not want forced on him, he is nothing more than a first-team coach. Some may accept that, others clearly do not.

Now take it from a different angle. Voice of the Valley No 95 contained a piece by Wyn Grant comparing the Charlton team then (April 2000) and the team of 1954. Towards the end he quotes Sam Bartram: "We at Charlton have the finest team spirit in the country, and it is to that grand spirit and understanding rather than individual merit, that I owe my success". Wyn added that "those remarks also apply today" (ie 2000). Please could someone explain to me how it can be possible to generate again that kind of team spirit (which by the way was also evident under Sir Chris) if players look at the head coach and think he might choose the team for Saturday based on what the owner wants rather than what gives us the best chance of getting a result, or that the coach doesn't really want me here - or that guy over there? I would suggest it is impossible.

I don't know whether the Wilder experience will push the regime back towards another network coach or whether there has been an irreversible decision to 'go English'. Either way, the choice is going to be fraught with potential fall-out - assuming that Powell and Curbishley are out of the equation. If it's the network guy, the howls of derision will (deservedly) reach new highs. If it's an Englishman currently out of a job, the assumption will be that he was truly desperate - especially if we have the fresh debacle of the next front-runner walking away. Quite frankly, if the regime is not going to shift and give the next guy the protection he needs from unwanted and what has so far proven to be utterly useless interference they might as well just get in another lackey prepared to try to coach a disparate group that he didn't choose; they are easier and cheaper to recycle. Just don't for a moment think this can lead to success.  

I honestly don't care if our next manager is English/British, Belgian, or from Timbuktu. I want him (or her) to be the best available, the one most likely to bring success (which is not to say that I have any confidence that the regime is capable of recognising the best candidate). Obviously any normal selection process would start with the assumption that someone with no experience of the English lower divisions, who may need to relocate to this country, and who may not have English as a first language (purely for communication purposes) would need to have superior skills in other areas to compensate (this does assume that there is more than one candidate, which has not necessarily been the case in the past). If before the process begins you set conditions that rule out a large number of the best candidates, and this happens regularly, either you revisit and moderate the terms or accept the chances of success with what you end up with - or ideally you conclude that your approach is not compatible with success in football and you withdraw yourself from the industry, never to return. 

(I had written the above before I saw the Rick Everitt article suggesting that a sale by Duchatelet is closer than many realise, but it rounds things off nicely; if Wilder's actions do bring forward a sale he should be viewed as a Charlton hero and given an appropriate welcome if he comes to The Valley with either Sheff Utd or Northampton.)

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Confused? I Am

Sometimes (but not always) how you feel, without necessarily knowing why, is a decent guide. And through yesterday and today, as the news unfolded that the club had been given permission to talk to Chris Wilder (to end any speculation I have no idea if he is coming), the abiding emotion is confusion. How could it be otherwise when we as supporters are once again having to try to delve into the unwired head of our owner to attempt reasonable explanations and possible interpretations? Ah, if only we could be babies for a while and just accept that our owner is almost god (omniscient, omnipotent, just not quite omnipresent).

For example, we have a decent guy opting to leave us, having failed to repeat his previous achievement, of taking the squad of another manager and being able to get enough out of it to keep us in the Championship (I do remember taking a fair bit of flack after we stayed up first time around for suggesting that Sir Chris deserved a good deal of the credit as the squad he had passed on had the character to outweigh the disastrous interventions of our owner; the one passed on to Riga second time around was, not surprisingly, deficient in that area). We don't know whether he was pushed to quit, whether there has been any settlement regarding the time left on his contract, or whether the decision was just his. The press conference given by Jose Riga, in which the use of the word 'liar' cannot have been accidental (not least in view of the splendid bedsheet), suggested he had no appetite to oversee an attempt to bounce back under the current regime.

Given that either side of his spells with us Riga was manager of Blackpool (there was as well another brief network appointment), I wouldn't blame him if he turned his back on English football. But I hope that he gets another job here, one where he is given the chance to create and mould a team of his own. We might then see whether or not he is a good manager. Either way, for us he did his best and merits a warm welcome at The Valley should he pass through again; unfortunately for him his tenure will always be inseparable from the lunacy of the regime.

As Riga walks away implying interference and the prospect of more of the same, in comes a relatively young manager who has come off the back of an outstanding season, seemingly being given a free hand over transfers (and by implication also team selection). Just why Wilder might opt to leave Northampton and join us in our current circumstances - if indeed he does - we wait to hear, but can we infer anything from it regarding the thinking and motivation of our owner?

It's reading between the lines again of course, but I'd offer two alternative - but not necessarily mutually exclusive - lines of thought. Which one proves closer to the truth (of course I'm not ruling out other possibilities, or that we may remain in the dark) may influence how at least this Addick responds.

First, Duchatelet's 'I'm still right and stupid' way of thinking: 'We put together a squad that should not have been relegated; a combination of circumstances - injuries, some customers wanting failure etc - conspired against us and we have a temporary setback to my grand and infallible plans. League One is beneath me and my associates and is not compatible with my vision. So I will select and appoint as head coach someone who has experience of the lower reaches of English football. I will bring in players that he wants, for now, and sit back to watch us get promoted. Once back in the Championship, Wilder will have done his job and may or may not be retained. He could stay if he accepts that we are back in charge now and the priority is once more to break even (huh, what do you mean this remains a pipe dream?). Of course if Wilder does not get us promoted he will have failed and will be replaced, there are still plenty of extremely talented network contacts that haven't yet had a go.'

Second, Duchatelet's 'I am learning' way of thinking: 'I cannot acknowledge it in public (I'm not yet that mature) but the decisions I have taken since buying the club have not worked out as I expected. I am now going to take a decidedly backseat role (ie not interfering as well as not appearing) and will give our new head coach the support he might reasonably expect to get us promoted back. He was selected not just because he understands the lower leagues but because he will be feeling confident and upbeat, can dispel any feelings of failure around the place, and from his record clearly values qualities such as character and team spirit (and anyone who draws any comparisons with my first head coach can leave right now).'

I don't know which might be closest to the truth. What I can say is that any normal owner would, in his own interest, provide some clarification, to at least attempt to get the fans back on board. For me, in itself bringing in Wilder is nowhere near enough to consider buying a season ticket or returning to The Valley on a game-by-game basis. However, we've discussed before what might be enough and if the move was followed by the dismissal of Meire and a mea culpa from Duchatelet - apologising for mistakes (including those arrogant statements), accepting responsibility for getting us relegated - plus a promise to look to sell the club when we are back in the Championship (and in the interim to at least discuss investment possibilities with interested parties), the picture changes.

We all want Charlton to get promoted back to the Championship. I want to be back watching games, with no thought in mind other than urging us to victory; I miss it. As things stand, it still isn't possible and I'll continue to protest and boycott as there is no evidence that Duchatelet can really learn, holding out the possibility of our club thriving under his stewardship. We've just been kicked out of the Championship and our club is currently a byword for abject failure for crying out loud!   

To round things off, belated congratulations to Burnley and their fans for their behaviour and support on Saturday, all the reports and photos show they were excellent. Congratulations also to CARD, for getting the balance pretty much right. On the other side of the coin I hope that Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey is hanging his head in shame for his awful (at best badly ill-informed) statement about the "safety operation" at The Valley on Saturday; and that West Ham owner David Gold chokes on his cornflakes for his attempt at justifying having fleeced London taxpayers; no criticism or ill-will at all towards West Ham, but when you've royally screwed the other side in a deal best to just keep mum about it and live on the proceeds. And my own personal award for hypocrisy goes to the lady in the tunnel before Saturday's game. She curtly refused my offer of a poster, advising me loudly and in no uncertain terms that she was "here to watch a football match", while clutching a CARD free programme.

And last is the post-weekend Lyon Duchere update: round 27 (of 30) of CFA Groupe B proved to be a setback but not a terminal one for my adopted French team. Duchere managed a 0-0 draw away at Villefranche, not a bad result in itself (with them fifth in the league); but title and promotion rivals Grenoble secured a 0-1 away win against Sochaux B. This means that Duchere's lead at the top has been cut back to one point (there's very little in it regarding goal difference but I have a feeling that if points are equal it goes on head-to-head results, which I think favours Duchere) with three rounds left. It really is getting into grinçant bum temps. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Duchere Update: Une Grande Finale?

I never did get around to finding a bookies to give me odds on a win double: us to stay up and my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, getting promoted (to the third division). Just as well obviously, but while it's done for us for the followers of Duchere the season won't end on Saturday. No doubt people have been keeping up to date with developments in France's CFA Groupe B, but in a case not there have been twists and turns of late, with the promise of more to come. A few weeks back, with Lyon Duchere having triumphed away at Grenoble, the battle for the one promotion place was well and truly on. The pendulum then swung back to Grenoble as they beat Mulhouse 2-0 at home while Duchere lost 1-2 away at Jura Sud. Duchere then won their game in hand and with eight games left were one point behind Grenoble.

Round 23 (of 30) saw Duchere comfortably beat Saint-Louis Neuweg (3-0) and, with Grenoble held to a 0-0 draw by Auxerre B (this is a league in which the top teams can field their reserves), went top of the league. Then they seemed to get a nosebleed. Duchere unaccountably lost 1-0 away at bottom club Sarre-Union. But for once Lyon's other club, OL (the one that usually makes the Champions League), came to Duchere's assistance, winning in Grenoble. In the next round Duchere's problems continued as they lost 0-1 at home to relegation-threatened Yzeure. But Grenoble were unable to take full advantage, drawing 2-2 away at Drancy. Seems both teams have been feeling the pressure. But now Duchere have pulled away, in round 26 winning 2-0 at home to Montceau-les-Mines (apparently rather luckily with a very late second giving a misleading impression) while Grenoble got turned over again at home, 1-2 by Moulins.

So with four games left to play Duchere are top with 78 points from 26 games (as you get a point for turning up it's really 52 from 26), with Grenoble three behind. Despite both teams' recent failures it remains a two-horse race, with the third and fourth places taken by Auxerre B and Lyon B (and if I understand it correctly the big clubs' B teams cannot be promoted). The next round this weekend will see Duchere travel to take on Villefranche (a town you have to have a soft spot for if you like a glass of red) while Grenoble are away at Sochaux B. After that, in round 28 Duchere will be at home to Mulhouse as Grenoble host Monts d'Or Azergues; in the penultimate round Duchere will be away at Auxerre B and Grenoble at home to Montceau-les-Mines; and if you want a potentially dramatic finale look no further: the final round of games (on 4 June) will see Grenoble play away at Le Puy but Duchere at home to ... Lyon B. Will it prove to be a case of civic solidarity or OL looking to send a message that the city contains only one real football team?

And I can't believe that I booked my next trip to Lyon to begin the weekend after the final game ....

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Forget 'Fit and Proper Person', Supporters Need Sustainability Contract

One line of argument re protests for the Burnley game has been why should we care about the interests of the Football League when the authorities are doing nothing to protect us (and others) from either asset strippers or oddballs with delusions of grandeur? Related to this, there's a piece on Football League World posing the question 'is the football league failing football clubs and football fans?', looking in particular at Blackpool, Leeds and us.

The usual issue raised is how can the Football League have a 'fit and proper person' test and still allow the Oystons and Duchatelets to buy clubs and run them in ways that end in failure, for whatever reason. Looking at the rule, I don't think it's appropriate to say that it isn't fit for purpose; rather it is fit for purpose but only with a limited interpretation and is badly named and worded. If it was called the 'not likely to suddenly go bust or get locked up' test nobody could complain. Perhaps like most laws and regulations it could use a rewrite in light of experience.

According to the Football League, the intention of the ‘fit and proper person’ test is “to protect the image and integrity of the League and its competitions, the well-being of the Clubs, and the interests of all the stakeholders in those Clubs, by preventing anyone who is subject to a ‘Disqualifying Condition’ being involved in or influencing the management or administration of a Club”. Reading between the lines suggests that the test is focused purely on financial sustainability and conflict of interest, with narrow guidelines. To fall foul of the test on financial grounds seems to require bankruptcy and/or a history of involvement with a club that has experienced an ‘event of insolvency’, while a potential purchaser of a club may fail on the grounds that he/she has insufficient financial backing. To fail on grounds of conflict of interest just considers the person’s involvement with another UK football club (I’d actually favour an extension of this to cover at least all European football clubs, which would hopefully put an end to unwanted ‘networks’).

However, calling it a 'fit and proper person’ test suggests a wider assessment of a person’s capabilities and plans for a football club - as does the Football League's talk of protecting "all the stakeholders" in clubs. If supporters are defined as stakeholders (rather than customers) the rule takes us into broader areas. As it stands, and I assume as it was intended, the test just about does what it is mean to do - filter out a few and possibly deter some more, on financial sustainability criteria. Even then it is hard to say that it has had a material impact (in terms of fewer clubs going into administration than before), given that it was introduced along with the change to dock a club 10 points for going into administration and in the wake of the collapse of ITVDigital in March 2002 owing the Football League some £180m and a spate of clubs subsequently going into administration.

If supporters are (quite properly) considered stakeholders, surely just a look at the varying degrees of protest from fans of clubs as diverse as Man Utd, Liverpool, Hull, Cardiff, Leeds, Charlton, Blackpool, Brighton, Wrexham – and many more – in response to the behaviour of the owners of their clubs is enough to conclude that the Football League is not doing enough to promote and defend supporters' interests. Fans of course like to moan and a period of a team underperforming can lead to calls for owners to sell up/move on just because sometimes unrealistic expectations are not fulfilled. Relegation alone is not exactly grounds for an owner to be reassessed by the Football League. But basically there is nothing in the League’s current tests to defend supporters’ interests when it comes to issues such as outright asset-stripping through to insensitivity to a club’s traditions.

So can anything practical and desirable be done, perhaps not in time to help us in the struggle to secure a change of ownership but to increase the weighting of supporters’ interests as stakeholders? I'd suggest that trying to rework the 'fit and proper person' test is a waste of time: rename it and keep it in place while looking to add new elements for supporters. There are of course already initiatives with good intentions; last year Labour was promising that if elected it would introduce legislation to give supporters trusts two guaranteed places on the board and the option to purchase a minority stake when more than 30% of a club’s shares was changing hands. And according to Wikopedia, more than 110 supporters trusts own equity in their clubs, while over 40 have board representation.

Personally I'm not a big fan of supporters having board representation (as we once did), however well meaning. It works well enough in Germany, but the corporate tradition is different there, it is normal for example for unions to have places on the board. I doubt whether having a place or two on the Charlton board would help us much if at all. Duchatelet would appoint a few more directors to ensure that the fans' representatives could never win any vote and board meetings would just become a rubber-stamping exercise with all the decisions taken in advance by the same people as now. Also, a kind of 'right to buy' a minority stake would take us into very uncertain territory, especially given the way most deals are now structured. And if supporters don't have the resources at a point in time not of their choosing are they then just denied a voice?  

Instead, I'd suggest an area that could be developed. When any company is bought and sold, or floated on a market, there is a detailed process of due diligence. And when we buy and sell properties we go through the process of solicitor's inquiries. I can't believe it's beyond the wit of the authorities (and their lawyers) to have some form of sustainability contract covering areas of concern for supporters that any purchaser of a football club has to sign up to. This would require organised bodies to speak for the supporters, but the Trusts are now fulfilling that role. It would also require the teeth to be meaningful, ie real penalties/sanctions for the owners as individuals if they break one or more of the covenants, up to and including a forced sale. That's one for the lawyers.

Supporters aren't daft (however much some owners may like to think so) and nobody would be suggesting an agreement detailing levels of financial bankrolling, transfer policy etc (tempting to think of a future contract for Charlton requiring any owner not to appoint another Belgian manager/head coach but that would - quite rightly - fall foul of at least EU legislation). But clauses on issues such as a change of ground, requiring any owner to secure the consent of supporters, would I think be desirable and practical.

I don't doubt that the football authorities will do nothing unless put under pressure. But I also don't doubt that such pressure will continue to be evident and will probably intensify as more dissatisfied supporters group together, a process made much easier by social media. How refreshing it would be if the authorities (in their own interest) took a step back and actually concluded that the interests of supporters as stakeholders are not being properly defended, the 'fit and proper person' test can't be modified to address the problem, and that alternative arrangements (whether board places, minority ownership, or something along the lines of a sustainability contract) need to be assessed and implemented. But I guess that would be like expecting the Bournemouth owner to be crying over a £7.6m fine for breaching financial fair play rules (or alternatively not laughing heartily at anyone dumb enough to have based a strategy for a club on the notion that FFP could produce a level playing field).

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

'They Still Don't Think We're Serious ...'

This time of the season you can't get away from the cliche about football (all sporting contests if you like) being a zero sum game. Leicester's delight, the despair of Aston Villa (add in Arsenal if you like). More to come this weekend and beyond before all is set in stone. Last night's results mean that Burnley are up; congratulations to them, we're still miserable. I'm really still struggling to believe that Brighton ambled through much of the game against us and could end up missing out on automatic promotion because of a couple of goals.

Enough of the side-issues. I don't think Burnley's promotion materially alters the dynamics for us on Saturday. It's a lesser issue for sure, and all the TV attention will be on Brighton/Middlesbrough, our game will be a footnote. But the title of champions is still up for grabs, and the Football League will want a showcase televised end to the season rather than scenes of protest and one game ending some time after the others. The threat of 'dire consequences' resulting from disruption to our game is still going to stand. Some (perhaps many) will not care about that (some may even welcome at least financial penalties) but the club of course will and CARD has to take it into consideration when assessing the options. Nobody cares about how the football authorities feel, but how we come across to other fans, and how the regime is able to portray us, do I think matter.

I suppose I come back to the line I took before: nothing that happens on Saturday is going to determine whether or not Duchatelet sells at this point in time. If I thought there was something to be done (within the law) to push him into a decision to sell I'd be all for it. And unfortunately there's no chance of him having developed a backbone and turning up for Saturday's game (he clearly prefers to creep in and creep out when he thinks nobody's looking while leaving his puppet to front up). If we want Duchatelet and Meire out (and we do) it has to be driven through the former's thick skull that nothing's going to get better (financially or otherwise) under his stewardship of our club. The latter? Does she really believe that she's going to morph into Karren Brady? And does she not yet realise that the damage she is doing to our club will follow her around for the rest of her working life?

After all, in recent weeks we've witnessed regular protests which now encompass the vast majority of Addicks, accompanied by various associated moves to target the regime's revenue streams, with the promise of no let-up, rather an intensification. We've seen the Trust, which has been the epitome of patience in waiting for meaningful dialogue with our owner, respond to the wishes of its members and inform Meire and Murray (and through them the always-absent-when-it-matters owner) that there's no way back. And then you see the piece in the South London Press suggesting that "there seems to be a thought process that if Charlton were to have a successful campaign and win promotion out of League One at the first attempt that it will assuage supporters ...".

Surely even they can't be that dumb. I'm reminded of the bit in Hamburger Hill when Doc sits down and in exasperation says "we've been up that hill ten times and they still don't think we're serious". I guess they don't get anything else when it comes to football, why should we think this would be any different? Put staff departures and season ticket sales down to relegation, protests just a sign of the times (after all, Charlton fans aren't alone in their current dissatisfaction), just get back up and all will be well. Laughable. And indicative of why they are not capable of learning from their mistakes as they are blind to evidence which doesn't accord with their thinking.

Let's spell it out for them. Some Addicks walked away in disgust early on in the process (Sir Chris and that January transfer window), others have since followed suit. More will walk away at the end of this season and of those that stay the majority want a change of ownership. If we bounce back to the Championship at the first time of asking those that stayed will be back again, along with some of those that opted to boycott. But basically the best case scenario (for an owner) is back in the Championship with a significantly reduced attending fan base and a continuing campaign to attack the club's revenue streams.

What are the chances of this best case scenario? You'd have to say some way short of evens. Football clubs that are not united can't realistically expect to succeed and come August, if there's been no change of ownership, The Valley is going to be a very sorry place. Can there be confidence that in the interim the regime will put in place the pieces needed to have a decent shot at bouncing back? Just imagine the board meeting to discuss 'learning from our mistakes'. Look at Leicester, even Burnley. Why are they outperforming, while we - having put together a reasonable squad and got relegated - underperformed badly? Every Addick could easily give them the answers (and could have given them at any stage through the past couple of years) but all roads lead to conclusions that are at odds with a daft pseudo-visionary's experiment. Either the owner or the experiment have to be ditched.