Thursday, 20 April 2017

'Once More Onto The Beach ...'

And so it came to pass that victory over Gillingham and Bury’s failure to win at Bolton meant that the Addicks survived in the third flight with two games to spare. This much we now know. The rest, the important stuff (personally I don’t care whether or not we set a new post-War/lifetime low for the final placing; what matters a great deal more is that in my time we’ve never spent more than three consecutive seasons in this division), has to remain speculation as the chances of any Australian purchase in the near future at least have clearly diminished. Until there is more on when and to whom Duchatelet is going to sell, on what basis, and whether Karl Robinson and all the squad will form part of a new owner’s plans we are back to guessing. At least it keeps up the Mail’s record of never having printed anything true.

The regime’s expensive PR team either failed to prevent another gaffe or fell into line with Duchateletworld with the ‘anonymous club spokesman’ apparently stating that “the rumours and speculation regarding the sale of Charlton Athletic are unhelpful”. You just put your head in your hands and laugh. Surely it doesn’t need to be said that if they are unhelpful and not true, they could have been – and should have been – ended, which was easily done; if they are unhelpful but true, well tough. The Australian Football Consortium Investment Opportunity statement at the time said that the company is in “final negotiations with the current owner of the club”. Either we are/were that club or we are not. A club which cared at least a little about a major stakeholder, the fans, might want to clear that up. Now that our league status for next season is assured, there can no longer be anything ‘unhelpful’ about not giving supporters/stakeholders more information. But of course there will be silence. They will keep on treating supporters with contempt to the bitter end while claiming to want dialogue.

We’ve all seen that the AFC statement has now been altered to remove the wording about being in ‘final negotiations’. Presumably either AFC and its advisors were being misleading about how far down the line they were, or they were in final negotiations and these talks either broke down or are on ice while AFC raises the money it is looking for (whether or not the sum they are raising, AUD55m, would be the total in AFC coffers remains to be seen). For now at least, AFC falls into the category of potentially interested parties rather than owners-in-waiting (of the club if not The Valley).

I had written something along the lines of there being plenty that supporters can do to protect the best interests of our club while we wait for concrete developments. But the Trust quite rightly stepped in and rattled off a letter to AFC which pretty much fitted the bill. No matter, I’ve tried to update the thoughts.

Just why any company would want to pay £20m for the club - a loss-making outfit which needs further investment to get promoted and would then require a higher operating loss to compete in the higher division as a platform for any further investment to try for the Premiership – is beyond me. No matter. You can see the rationale – for a purchaser and for Duchatelet – of separating out The Valley, by making acquiring an English football team more affordable for the former and by allowing the latter to retain an asset which can presumably generate an annual profit while ridding himself of the ongoing losses of running the football club. But it is clear that the other party in any transaction, the fans, have legitimate concerns, especially as the interests and intentions of our deluded owner need to be watched; he needs to be muzzled and for supporters to ensure that the muzzle remains firmly in place.

It is quite possible that the obstacles to developing The Valley involving the sale of private property will ensure no desecration of our spiritual home, whatever Duchatelet has in mind. If he does really just want to improve The Valley, with the promise of increased revenues for him, fair enough. We just need safeguards. The first I’d assume would come in the length of a lease for the football club to use the stadium. A 50-99-year lease would be reassuring; anything less than 20 and you would question why. And to be acceptable to supporters I’d suggest the lease would need to include guarantees of no reduction in crowd capacity.

Any material unwanted development of The Valley would of course require planning permission and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the Trust and other groups to get the message across that anyone on Greenwich council voting in favour of development opposed by the supporters can expect to be ousted at the ballot box at the first available opportunity. Shouldn’t need a history book to remind them what happened last time around.

Also, a full AFC document for potential investors would have to outline both the means to achieve returns for investors (which have been outlined in brief: basically get the club acquired into the Premiership and then take the dosh) and the risk factors involved. The latter would have to include the possibility that under AFC’s ownership Charlton don’t get into the Premiership within the envisaged time period (that they could even get relegated from where we are), that more funds will need to be raised to achieve objectives than currently planned for (which would involve at least dilution of the eventual return), and other issues. And here’s where we come in.

If I was a potential investor in AFC I would want to know why the target club has been underperforming. Answer: it was bought by a deluded, rude and arrogant old man who had some strategies which anyone with an understanding of football could have said would not work – and they haven’t – and who managed to further alienate the fan base by installing incompetent staff whose mistakes and lies compounded problems, while all the way through regularly insulting said supporters. OK, fair enough, sweep him away and AFC should succeed with a modicum of common sense and especially with their superior Australian approach to sport.

However, I’d also want to know, as a potential AFC investor, how will the fans respond if this crazed owner retains ownership of the stadium and messes with it? Is it a potential risk factor that the fans, instead of getting fully behind the new set-up and helping it to outperform, will feel obliged to oppose ‘development’ of The Valley in ways which would seriously reduce the chances of AFC achieving its goals and returns for investors? Well of course it is. Any sensible investor would be considering the possibility and would want any deal involving Duchatelet retaining ownership of the stadium to involve material constraints on what he may do with the stadium, up to and including no development being able to proceed if the supporters oppose it. This is after all just an investor protecting his or her interests; not to do so would be irresponsible.

Finally I do have to thank our hub Forever Charlton, for all the good work in general and for giving me a laugh this morning. There is a headline link to a piece entitled ‘EFL teams of the year revealed’. What on earth is the relevance for Charlton? We already have our well-deserved gong, for having English football’s worst owner (although Orient, Coventry and Blackpool surely ran us close). Ideally if there is a supporters-run Player of the Year dinner Roland would be invited along to receive his award. If by then he is no longer the owner of our club, so much the better.

Barring actual takeover news that could be it for the season for me. I’m off to Lyon ahead of the weekend and, having not done my homework, expect to be back too late to help with CARD-organised protests for the final game. I will be there in spirit. I do hope to take in a Lyon Duchere game while away. Some disappointing home results of late have seen them slip down the table, to eighth. But they are still only two points off third with five games to go; and I think the top three are automatically promoted (for sure the first two are, the third spot is a different colour in the site I use but Wikipedia says three go up). So all still to play for with Duchere away at mid-table Beziers on Friday evening. Just checked for the following round and the game I should get to see. I kid you not, Duchere will be at home to Dunkerque. Seems rather apt for a citizen of a country planning to try to run away from the rest of Europe (assuming of course that France doesn’t do something equally stupid with a vote of its own). So perhaps for me, rather than flying pigs it will be a case of 'once more onto the beach, dear friends ...’

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Dancing Shoes At The Ready

First off if such confirmation were needed I have no inside information regarding the report in the Daily Fail that Duchatelet is selling us to Australian Football Consortium. Ordinarily I wouldn’t believe anything printed in that vile rag, but on this occasion and at this stage we have to take it at face value, especially as the only rebuttal so far has come from a “club spokesperson”, which sounded as convincing as Karl Robinson’s recent comment that he’d been assured that the club is not for sale. It is reasonable to suppose at least that negotiations are ongoing and have reached an advanced stage. The AFC’s published ‘investment opportunity’ states that the company “is in final negotiations with the current owner of the club” and as AFC’s stated target is “an underperforming English football team” we do fit the bill.

So it’s a bit too soon for celebrations; we’re not getting out the dancing shoes just yet, but they are ready and waiting. Inevitably there are questions and concerns: will a deal simply collapse over money (the price to be paid and AFC’s ability to pay it)? Will AFC prove to be a stalking horse if it is clear we are for sale? And are we jumping (or being pushed) out of the frying pan into the fire if the talk of us becoming an Australian feeder club comes to pass?

The reported sum for the club seems to be around £20m. The figure is almost meaningless until it is clear what would happen to the £54m owed to Staprix (and presumably the debt to Richard Murray). It would appear that AFC doesn’t yet have the funds necessary to complete any deal; its Investment Opportunity document outlined a “confidential capital raise” of a total of AUD55m (which if my quick calculation is correct is around £33m). Not necessarily a problem if investors are close to committing and waiting for more details over the club to be bought. But has to be a worry that AFC is an investment vehicle raising a set amount, one which if the purchase price is £20m doesn’t leave a lot left over for investment in the club and the covering of ongoing losses. Of course AFC could go back to ask investors for more further down the line.

I’d suggest that finances would be a concern in the event of an actual sale to AFC, but no more than that. I find it strange that people say that we are financially secure under Duchatelet. He only has to wake up and decide that he doesn’t want to spend another penny on us and won’t sell unless the debt is repaid for us to be bankrupt. Sure, there’s no reason to suppose that he would treat a saleable asset in such a fashion, but we are nevertheless at the mercy of an old man’s whim. Not exactly stability in my eyes, so the fact that AFC wouldn’t come with unlimited finances needn’t be a powerful negative.

Of more concern to all Addicks will be the suggestion that we might become an Australian feeder club. Personally I hated the network scheme from the start, when it was clear that the best interests of Charlton Athletic were not paramount. Something akin to that, to help foster the development of football in Australia and perhaps even the Australian national team, would be equally unwelcome. However, subject to further information from AFC about their plans if they buy us, I’d only point out that it is only the Mail that has used the word ‘feeder’ and that may be just supposition; the report says that AFC “have their sights on making Charlton the breeding ground for talent from Down Under”. But there is nothing in the AFC investment proposal to that effect.

What the AFC proposal to investors does outline is the potential for “attractive returns on investment” through taking said underperforming club and, as a result of a five-point strategy, get it promoted to the Premier League. Here too in the published AFC document there is no time period specified but the Mail suggests a five-year plan. Have to go back to the finances here as raising £33m and spending £20m buying the club does not leave enough for five years of losses including two planned promotions. After achieving the stated objective, an IPO would follow to provide investors with their return (or presumably the club would be sold).

There’s been no shorted of daft or worthy but failed five-year plans in football. I seem to recall that Icelandic owners of West Ham had such a plan. So we’d be right to be concerned. However, it is at least a plan, one which if it fails to achieve its objective might still very well leave us in a much better place than we are now, to be sold on again. Also, I find it hard to square AFC’s stated objectives and the means by which it envisages rewarding investors with turning Charlton into a feeder club – unless that is seen as a short-cut to rapid promotion. Don’t forget Duchatelet’s network was supposedly a means to outperform once financial fair play rules kicked in (ie never). I think there is a difference. AFC’s investors will only be happy if Charlton are moving towards the Premiership – and on that front there would be clear unity of purpose with the supporters.

And when all’s said and done, we have to embrace any change of ownership – barring of course asset strippers. Our club cannot turn around under Duchatelet, for reasons that don’t need to be stated yet again. It is almost inconceivable that AFC or any new owner would go out of their way to insult and alienate the support base. From what we read it seems that the AFC people are experienced in sport, if not the demands of the English third division. If so, they will understand that outperformance – and achieving success – is not possible without the necessary role played by supporters. It gives me confidence that if a sale does go through there will be common purpose once more, or at least more likelihood of such than can ever be possible under Duchatelet. For that reason alone, if a deal goes through get those dancing shoes out for a new chapter begins, one that we can help make sure results in our club succeeding.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

How Bad Does It Get?

Not going to go for a full match report; I’m rather out of practise, rather late in any event, and I don’t want to deepen anyone’s misery by raking over the coals. Suffice to say that if that were the standard for a full season we would have already been relegated. As it is other results sort of went our way (if you can view a Millwall win from that perspective) and a four-point cushion, better goal difference and four teams between us and the fourth relegation spot with only five games to go mean we are still likely to avoid the drop; but the odds are obviously shortening given our current form and Saturday’s round of matches will produce fresh shifts.

I was left asking fellow Addicks who have been attending at least some games how our performance last night compared with what else they had seen this season. The answer seemed to be perhaps not the worst but if not very close to it. And as we head towards the lowest end-season league position in my lifetime I was trying to remember if I’d seen a worst performance at The Valley. Of course there have been heavier defeats. A 1-5 capitulation against Rotherham in the early 1980s comes to mind (it was also a rather odd time for our club on the ownership front); but that was in a higher league and we scored. I can remember three occasions from last night when it seemed we might score, against a team that was hardly outstanding. MK Dons defended well, dominated midfield, and with any sort of composure in the final third could have run up a cricket score given the space they were afforded.

It’s been suggested that MK Dons were better than us from start to finish. I don’t agree. We had by far the better of the first minute. Watt flicked the ball past their defender and ran around the other side, only to be cynically hauled back. A yellow card after 43 seconds, a free kick in a promising position, an indication that we might have the weapons to beat the opposition. That was as good as it got, for Charlton and Watt in particular.

We went behind after seven minutes and I’m afraid that for me Solly has to take most of the blame. A fairly routine cross from their right was going to be contested by a forward and a central defender when for some reason Solly left his man at the far post to challenge for the ball. Nobody won it cleanly and it dropped to the guy Solly had left unmarked. He took a shot which was deflected, Rudd twisted well to keep it out with an outstretched palm but only for it to sit up for their guy to score from a couple of yards out. It was a horrible goal and the collective effort which followed was well short of what we would expect – and what any set of supporters would expect from a team which should be fighting to avoid relegation.

Seemed to me that we had plenty of fluidity up from, with Watt and Holmes moving around either side of Magennis. But also a total lack of understanding as to where they might crop up and consequently, with our midfield largely static, nothing productive resulted, especially with any ball chipped forward to Magennis dealt capably by their centre-halves and anything played up to Watt leading to either a failure to repeat his first minute trick and lost possession or poor control and the ball bouncing into touch.

By contrast, what turned into a very narrow formation from us enabled MK Dons to enjoy all the time and space that they could want down the flanks. The quality of their balls into the box and decision-making in the final third really let them down, otherwise the game would have been over as a contest before the break. However, with no change to the pattern in the second half it was only a matter of time before they got one right. Watt gave the ball away once more and they sprang forward. A simple pass and this time their guy advanced and really passed the ball into the side of the net without a tackle made. I’m not sure if it was before or after that decisive strike that we saw one of the worst examples of our collective defending. On this occasion we had numbers behind the ball but when MK Dons switched the ball from their left side to the right every Charlton player followed suit, leaving utterly unattended their players on the left. Schoolboy is an understatement.

Our three moments? A Holmes shot towards the end of the first half which was always going wide but showed some attacking intent. A defensive cock-up of MK Dons’ own saw two defenders and their keeper, plus Holmes, go for a ball just inside their box. Their guys collided and Holmes seemed ready to plant the ball into an empty net, but the linesman flagged, presumably for some infringement by Holmes. I can’t say for sure, would have to see it again, but at the time it just seemed that their guys had run into each other. And then most lamentable of all a decent cross from the left and Watt rose unchallenged, only to put in an utterly unconvincing sort of header well wide. With around 10 minutes left I was thinking please let there be another goal: if it’s for them there would be a mass exodus and we can get an earlier night, it it’s for us it would at least mean an interesting finish, conceivably an utterly undeserved point. But they hit the post with their final real chance and there was never a realistic prospect of us mounting a comeback.

Did anyone emerge with credit? I thought that we improved with the introduction of Byrne and Botaka, their threat helped free up more space for Holmes and it looked as though the pair did at least know how to control and pass the ball. Holmes himself would probably have been our man of the match for me, without much competition. Niggles and lack of match fitness may have affected others’ displays, but Watt was worse than inept. In his final 10 minutes or so on the pitch he was more intent on provoking their players than playing football, being taken off before his yellow card was added to, and his glaring miss summed up the night. I would shudder to think of the percentage of his touches which resulted in immediate loss of possession. Magennis was indeed a shadow of the player I saw earlier in the season bully central defenders. Collectively our midfield was static, unimaginative and easily bypassed by them.

If Robinson is right and the players are on trial for next season, their level of determination and ability displayed last night would suggest that they really don’t want to be here, at least not if he's still around. After the well-conducted tributes to PC Keith Palmer the mood in the stadium turned increasingly toxic. We are a club in steady decline and real crisis. I hope Duchatelet was watching a live stream but don’t have confidence that if he was he could finally see the wood for the trees.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

The Sadim Touch

For a time the regime merited a little goodwill, as acknowledged by a number of its critics (ie the majority of Charlton supporters), with its reaction to the murder of PC Keith Palmer. The initial tribute, then the announcement that the club will be donating 50% of ticket sales to Mr Palmer’s family, with the players adding their match appearance fees, struck the right note. I’m in my second season of boycotting games (I have attended a couple when given a ticket which no-one had paid for, having been outside on CARD duty) but will be there tonight, for obvious reasons. I won’t be wearing a protest shirt or scarf, not because anything’s changed on that front but because the night is about paying tribute to a man, one who was also an Addick. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll be going despite the disgraceful comments posted on Facebook by Sue Parkes in the wake of Saturday’s defeat. I’d guess that by now everyone’s seen them and they certainly don’t merit being repeated, for whatever purpose, or given the dignity of any sort of detailed reply. They echo the previous deplorable attempt by Katrien Meire to label protesting fans as motivated by racism and sexism (an easier explanation for them than protests being a reaction to their stupidity and incompetence), which amounted to an unjustified slur on the good name of our club, one which has not yet (I believe) been apologised for. But they go further; to say that they were in poor taste is an understatement.

We’ve all said and done (and written) things we wished we hadn’t, perhaps in the heat of the moment; when we do an apology is in order. I hope Ms Parkes has the intelligence and decency to acknowledge that what she wrote was entirely inappropriate. Just that I suspect from the sanctimonious and schoolmarm-like tone of what she wrote this is unlikely. In the absence of an apology I would hope that the regime would go out of its way to dissociate itself with her remarks. But given that the club site’s ‘Media Watch’ page had a link to a couple of Kent Live pieces but not the one titled ‘Charlton Athletic secretary’s wife Sue Parkes provokes Twitter storm’ we may be waiting in vain. I appreciate that Ms Parkes was not writing in any official capacity, but she is hardly an unaffiliated casual observer.

I have no doubt that all Charlton fans will rise above Ms Parkes’ insults and not allow them to interfere with tonight’s proper tribute. Just that they add to the impression that any time there’s some area of possible rapprochement with the fans the regime and its cohorts manage to screw it up. It’s happened so often you start to believe it’s deliberate policy rather than ineptitude.

Could say the same about the club’s recently published results. The statement on them on the club site read as though the regime was trying to stress that they did all they could to avoid relegation, spending well above budget in a desperate attempt to stay up. All that comes across is more evidence of mismanagement, with an emphasis on ‘desperate’. You came away with the impression that they could have run up double or treble the loss and the outcome would have been the same.

Of course we hope that the tired and resigned appearance of Ms Meire in the aftermath of Saturday’s final whistle amounts to further circumstantial evidence that, despite having assured Karl Robinson that they will never, ever sell and his job is safe for life, honest, the regime is in its final phase before we can welcome in new owners, just as we welcomed Duchatelet at first. It is the only viable way forward, perhaps even the regime is coming around to that view, which only leaves them to look for and accept a realistic offer. I’ve no inside info on this, just stand ready, with dancing shoes to hand, to join those returning following a change.

In the interim there is no good reason for CARD to let up and the reports from Belgium over the weekend and the calling for another joint protest with Coventry fans are both welcome (in the sense that they are necessary and appropriate, not that we like protesting for its own sake).

Friday, 3 March 2017

Tests Of Character

Been trying to pen something for a couple of days now, to try to say something about our recent form, Karl Robinson’s outbursts in the wake of the Shrewsbury game, and the coming weekend events. But none of it came together, except that I kept coming back to one abiding thought: what’s coming up will be a test of the character of all of the main players in our own tragic-drama.

I don’t know whether or not a number of players haven’t been pulling their weight. My suspicion is that morale can’t have been helped by Robinson’s open dissatisfaction with the overall transfer window moves and then, with each passing game in February that we didn’t win further diminishing our outside chance of making the play-offs, everyone ended up rather tired and irritable. 

Equally I still don’t know whether Robinson will prove to be the bright, engaging and successful manager with us that we all hope he will be, or whether he really is all mouth and no trousers. I may not like the fact that he talks gibberish but that’s irrelevant if he has the players busting a gut for him and the results come through. For me he deserves credit for talking to the Trust representatives, although we don’t know yet whether he learnt anything, while we still need an answer to the question of whether his financial interest in an agent’s company was a one-off. It does matter given the Duchatelet vision that he supposedly bought into.

As far as footballing matters are concerned I’d just draw a contrast between comments made by Kevin Nugent after he briefly took over from Russell Slade. He said then that “the dirty work has been done” and that “this is a great job to get now for someone”. Perhaps tellingly he added that “I love coming in to the football club every single day; I really enjoy working here ... the players we have in now, I enjoy working with them every single day”. Fast forward and we have “too many people have been getting away with things for too long and some of the players don’t deserve the Charlton Athletic shirt” and that “I wish I could be honest and speak about how big some of the problems are”. Then compare the results.

No matter, Robinson and the players have the opportunity to show their character. I don’t want to hear any musings about next season, comparisons with the situation that Sir Chris found himself in towards the end of the 2010/11 season (and if you're going to do that might help if you get the position we ended the season in right). Fact is we are in danger of getting relegated. Six points above the team fourth from bottom and a game in hand for sure, but one in the bottom four, Port Vale, has played two or three games less than the rest. If they were to win one of those, the real gap from the relegation places becomes much too small for a team on a dire run to be comfortable with. Sure, we have enough talent in the dressing room to stay up. But as we have seen through the Duchatelet years – with the exception of the second half of the first season, when the players that Powell brought in had the character and ability to keep us up despite the regime’s idiotic decisions - we perform less than the sum of our parts, for a number of reasons.

Getting relegated again is unthinkable for us but in the wider football world there would be just an acknowledgement that far stranger things have happened. We have the players and the manager that we have, they’d better start showing they have what it takes and can get the best out of each other.

The other players in our set-up are of course the fans and our owner. We know the former don’t lack character, it’s been shown in the past and it’s being demonstrated again this weekend. I didn’t manage to help in the clearing up of The Valley and now not going to Belgium will be the second event I regret missing. Their actions and the commitment and love for the club that they show are there for all to see.

What they are doing throws down a gauntlet to our owner, a challenge for him to show his character. He could choose to be absent and to say nothing, fuming in isolation about a ruined weekend and swearing not to be pushed around. He could choose to repeat previous insults and attempt once more to label protesters something that they are not. Or he could, if he wanted and had the character, rise to the occasion. The fans are going there to tell you something, Mr Duchatelet, so listen to them, even meet them. If I was an expensive PR person at the club it’s the advice I’d be giving. Of course, talking to them would be tantamount to accepting that they are stakeholders and an essential element in the success of the clubs that you own rather than customers, or representatives of an interesting social experiment. 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Fiddling While Rome Burns

We know now that Hollywood’s portrayal of Nero may have been an exaggeration, but you get the point. In fact if you look for some of the background – in this case lifting from - on the phrase ‘fiddling while Rome burned’ the parallels become even more apparent.
The expression has a double meaning: not only did Nero play music while his people suffered, but he was an ineffectual leader in a time of crisis”. But Nero was only rumoured to have sung about the destruction of Troy while watching Rome burn, with no eyewitness confirmation. “When the Great Fire broke out, Nero was at his villa at Antium, some 35 miles from Rome. Though he immediately returned and began relief measures, people still didn’t trust him. Some even believed he had ordered the fire started, especially after he used land cleared by the fire to build his Golden Palace and its surrounding pleasure gardens. Nero himself blamed the Christians (then an obscure religious sect) for the fire, and had many arrested and executed.”

So we don’t really know whether the great fire, which destroyed 70% of Rome, was instigated – even ordered – by Nero, whether it was a plot by a group of zealots intent on seeing the city fail, or whether it was just an accident. What we do know is that by the time the fire happened Nero had already so burned his bridges (as it were) by his previous actions that nobody believed him, that the people he tried to blame for the disaster went from being an active minority to dominating the Western world for a long time, and that Nero’s experimental efforts to recreate Rome in his own image, including a 100ft-tall bronze statue of himself, ended in abject failure. And just four years after the fire Nero’s incompetence and arrogance saw the Pretorian guard and the Senate turn against him, declaring him an ‘enemy of the people’. Nero opted for suicide rather than arrest and execution. Apparently his last words were “what an artist dies in me”. Fast forward and we could instead have “what a scientist, politician and football visionary ...”

We read that the regime is to “begin consultation with fans on a potential restricting of the club’s Fans Forum”. You have to admire the efforts of our expensive PR team to justify their existence. The statement declaring this dramatic initiative refers throughout to ‘the club’, with no mention of Meire. It claims that at the start of the season the club made a commitment to engage with the fans “more than ever before” and that after “well-attended” meetings with “points noted and changes made”, apparently unbelievably “despite this, some supporters don’t feel fully engaged and some supporters have raised questions about the Fans Forum”. Don’t feel fully engaged. Only a PR person could write such BS when considering the situation of our club.

It’s been said many times before. The Fans Forum is a worthy and well-meaning body, albeit one with limited objectives, which has been usurped by the regime to support the pretence that it fully engages with the fan base. Because of this, for the time that the regime remains it is better discontinued and its meetings not attended. The statement says that at the latest Forum meeting the options of an independent chair and a fully elected group were discussed. It’s the regime that has devalued the Forum, not those who have given up their time and effort to help our club. Tinkering with it now will serve no purpose, just ask Nero.

On the subject of asking Nero, to my lasting shame I don’t think I can make it to Belgium on 4 March. Those who do will in the years ahead be able to look back with pride on their contribution to the ending of the Duchatelet years and the subsequent rebuilding of our club. I doubt that Nero will be around for their visit, but that’s fine. If he’s chased out of attending his home town club’s matches and events, just where will he go for his post-match dance?

As a philosophy graduate, I always have the upper hand (morally and intellectually) in discussions with friends of a more scientific bent. After all, when scientists are not scrabbling around to try and come up with some thesis based on empirical evidence which makes what we know loosely explainable and (possibly) predictable, only for that theory to be replaced when other facts contradict it, and instead embark on theoretical work they are actually doing philosophy. Some might suggest that scientists have made a more meaningful and practically beneficial contribution to humanity than philosophers, but that is a discussion for another day. The point here is evidence and what a good scientist makes of it.

Football is a zero sum game: our success is someone else’s failure (or rather vice versa). To succeed you have to outperform your peers. There are many ways this can be achieved: pouring ever-larger amounts of money into buying the best players, having an outstanding manager, a great team spirit etc. The contribution of fans can be said to be necessary but clearly not sufficient. It just goes without saying that if you have an alienated fan base you cannot succeed as a football club. All the available evidence supports this. Any intelligent scientist would consider the evidence and draw the necessary conclusions, follow the argument as they say. ‘If I want my club to succeed I need the fans on board; the fans are not on board, can I get them on board?; yes, but only by making real changes (getting rid of Meire, apologising for the mismanagement of the club etc). So if I don’t want to make the changes I can’t succeed, so should I end the experiment? It is one option, or perhaps otherwise I just really don’t care after all.’

Just a hunch on my part, but I doubt that Karl Robinson’s position is under threat despite recent results, our current standing, and our owner’s propensity to look for Christians to blame for his failings. After all, Robinson seems to have bought into (or rather been bought) the youth fish-farm approach, whether or not he has any personal financial interest in the on-sale of our players (that issue of his shareholding in Deli Ali’s agent’s company seems to have gone cold but will no doubt resurface unless answers are given). So unless for some reason of his own Duchatelet really wants to get Chris O’Loughlin in charge I can’t see the benefit in getting rid of Robinson. Only cost more money to pay him off, attract yet more ridiculing of the club, and won’t impact on which division we will be playing in next season. Of course, this is to apply logic rather than to look at the empirical evidence, so we shall wait to see just what is Nero’s pleasure.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

How Not To Do It

Just had the opportunity to listen to part three of Getting To Know The Network. As with parts one and two we should both praise and thank Jimmy Stone and all those who contributed to a project which will no doubt form the basis of doctorates and university courses in sports administration, under the heading of 'how not to do it'. And while we have the fourth and final part to look forward to (in a strange, depressing sort of way), let's not forget that this isn't a history lesson. The play is still going on.

There are insights but for me the most important aspect of part three is just the overwhelming impression left of the utter incompetence of Duchatelet and Meire, how ignorant they were - and from all the evidence in front of us still are - of what it takes to succeed in running a football club. Positions of advantage not exploited, assets not utilised, behaviour almost designed to fail. And to those who might respond by saying that from Duchatelet's point of view things are not that bad, sell young players and minimise the financial drain, it should be said that this is only the latest 'objective' thrust upon him because the others have not worked.

Take a simple example, the treatment of Michael Morrison (and to a lesser extent Simon Church and Polish Pete). Just listen to the accounts of how a guy who had given sterling service to our club and proven his quality was pushed out. OK, they wanted him off the wage bill. But how dumb to do it in the way they did, nastily and with no respect. Add to that stupidly, because everyone could see how they behaved. Players would start to conclude there's no point busting a gut for this club, the mood in the dressing room sours, etc etc. Why is it that arrogant buffoons don't seem to stop for a second to consider the consequences of their behaviour and whether those consequences are sufficient to mean it is in your best interests to behave differently - never mind of course questions of ethics? The answer I guess is because they are stupid, or to be kind have a skills set which is not suited to making a success of team enterprises. How long do we have to wait before our owner realises this?

Anyway, I hope all Addicks listen to the podcast and draw their own conclusions. It is after all rather timely for it to be released on transfer deadline day and to contain testimonies to support fans' views that Duchatelet's attempts to do things on the cheap are not a recipe for success, or perhaps that we can only expect success despite the actions of the regime. (Of course, this was penned before confirmation of the signing of Messi.)

On that front, the splendid victory at Bolton must give us grounds for hope as those sorts of results are seldom fluked. They usually require good team spirit and if Robinson is succeeding in that area - and continues to - I will try to stop laughing at what he says.

Finally, I'd only offer my belated sympathies to the family and friends of Big Dave Shipperley. He is held in affection by all Addicks who saw him play. My favourite memory of him - leaving aside that own goal, which did have rather more style about it than Darren Bent's recent classic - is what seemed to be an entirely predictable but utterly unstoppable tactic from corners. Big Ship goes to the far post, ball hung up there, he heads back across goal, Killer puts it in the net. Ah, football was so much simpler back then.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Shun Forum/Q&As For EFL-Required Dialogue

My apologies to anyone who thinks this may all already have been said and done many times over. But I think the coincidence of the Trust announcing a prospective Q&A with Meire for its members and the Trust itself issuing a statement clarifying its position on contacts with the regime merits some comment.

Feel obliged to start by reiterating a basic ground rule, one that really shouldn’t be necessary. As far as I’m concerned anyone who goes around shouting or writing about ‘real’ supporters, ie ones who agree with them, and ‘others, not genuine Addicks’ is either a regime troll/employee or someone who needs to go on a basic training programme on what it means to be an Addick. Of course there are Addicks who support the regime, who tolerate it and are anti-protest, who would welcome a change of owner but feel the protests won’t help achieve this, and those who believe that only with a change of owner can our club prosper, regain its self-respect, and consequently back and/or participate in the protests.

It should be clear to all which group I fall into. But I hope It is also clear that there’s never been any suggestion from me that those Addicks of a different opinion are not real supporters. We all want the club to do well, to enjoy our matchday experience, and to be part of a full and vibrant Valley. Nobody wants to be protesting, those of us who do believe it is necessary. There will be an end to Duchatelet’s ownership, sooner or later, and that will be the cause for the celebration (even with a little dancing) of a reunification of all Addicks, something which I hope even regime supporters accept is impossible as long as he is the owner and doesn’t change his spots (unless of course you want unity among a few). And for every one Addick who complains that the protests are spoiling his/her matchday and is feeling forced away, I’d point to those who have been forced away since the regime showed its colours and incompetence and well before the protests began. They all, young and old, count equally and we want them all back when circumstances change.

Anyone who claims that they speak for real Addicks, the majority, the overwhelming majority, the silent majority, a rising majority etc is bullshitting. I don’t know how the numbers stack up and nor I imagine does anyone else. We can only go on anecdotal evidence, not what the bloke next to you says in support of your views, and it’s been a while since the last pre-match protest. If anyone might know it is the Trust.

There’s an intriguing start to its statement: “with the arrival of a new year and the recruitment of a number of new members …” Does that actually indicate that regime-supporting Addicks have indeed been taking up the suggestion that they join the Trust to get their voices heard? I’ve no idea but if they have it is entirely welcome news. I’d urge all Addicks to join, to make the Trust as representative as it possibly can be. It’s entirely up to them of course but the creation of separate pro-regime groups would be, in my view, divisive and counter-productive. And if as a result it ended up that a majority of Trust members were against the protests, it is absolutely right and proper that the Trust would then separate itself from CARD. I would expect no less. I’d also expect that unless and until it is clear that a majority of Trust members are against the protests the Trust maintains a line that reflects its members’ views as previously expressed and remains a part of CARD.

With this in mind, while I’d agree with most of the views and positions outlined by the Trust in its statement, I would advocate both that the Trust withdraws from the Fans Forum and declines to participate – and urges its members to decline to participate – in the latest planned staged Q&A with Meire.

The two relevant factors here are the Trust’s constitution and the English Football League’s new rule requiring clubs to enter into a defined process of dialogue with supporters. The Trust justifies its continued participation in the Fans Forum on the grounds that it remains “committed to communication” and that its primary purpose is “to be the vehicle through which a healthy, balanced and constructive relationship between the club and its supporters and the communities it serves is encouraged and developed". The Trust goes on to acknowledge that the Fans Forum is the regime’s “preferred vehicle” for dialogue with fans.

I would suggest that the Fans Forum, however worthy and well-meaning as far as the Addicks who have participated in it may be, has been and remains an entirely inappropriate ‘vehicle’ for the sort of dialogue which the EFL now requires of football clubs. The regime has from early on deceitfully and wilfully attempted to give the impression that it values supporters, that it values supporters’ opinions, and that it wants constructive engagement with supporters. The only honest line I’ve seen on that front came in the recent Duchatelet interview when he said that “supporters can have a say in the logistics, like how the beer should be served”. Many moons ago in a piece on the Fans Forum minutes I joked that dialogue with fans had to be about more than the price of Bovril, but it seems not.

I would ask whether Duchatelet’s comments on the sort of dialogue with supporters that he feels is appropriate, and the sort of dialogue that we have witnessed to date, meet the EFL’s requirement that meetings (which should be held at least twice a season) should discuss “significant issues relating to the club” and are compatible with both the spirit and the letter of the EFL’s wishes. I would suggest that the regime does not currently comply with the new EFL rule and has no intention of doing so. Consequently I’d urge the Trust to contact the EFL to take the matter up with the club, to force compliance. This proper dialogue could take the form of scheduled meetings between the club and the Trust, an agreed agenda, and details minutes published by the Trust.

In the interim, the Fans Forum and the utterly pointless and counter-productive Q&As merely serve as vehicles for undermining the possibility of meaningful dialogue, allowing the regime to try to pretend that there is ongoing dialogue. I would urge the Trust to turn its back on both in pursuit of the goals outlined in its constitution – unless and until it is clear that a majority of its members support a different position. I’m a member of the Trust but have no interest in attending an event at which Meire will pay lip-service to communication and no interest in her answers. It’s not as if she is able to regain any shred of credibility and when it comes to ‘significant issues related to the club’ she is only the mouthpiece for our absent and indifferent owner.

Oh, and by the way, lest we forget Karl Robinson. Each passing day without a response from him, positive or negative, to the Trust’s invitation for talks lowers his standing in my estimation. He may of course be preoccupied with injuries and suspensions ahead of the weekend of course, or perhaps the piece yesterday about his shareholding in the company of Dele Ali’s agent. I’ve read the report and some of the comments around it, but seems to me there are two questions to be answered. First, did Robinson buy the stake (albeit a small one) and, if not, for what services was he given it? Second, although the regime has said there are no Charlton players on the books of the company involved, Impact Sports Management, are there any deals with any agents which mean that club officials, including the manager and board members, might benefit financially from the sale of players? If I thought there was any chance of honest answers that could be a reason to attend the Q&A.

Have to end with a ‘Robinsonism of the day’, I really like this one. On the club site, talking about Scunthorpe, he says: “It’s a long season, it’s hard to stay up there for the duration and we all have dips. That’s not to say that they’re going to have one.” Actually Karl, yes it is.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Duchere's Derby Getting Closer

Local derbies? Who needs them? Saturday’s result does of course mean that the run without a win against our nearest neighbours will be extended at least until next season. But I find that only a minor irritation, especially in view of other, more pressing concerns. I’m not suggesting that matches against the Spanners are not passionate, intense affairs, just that we’ve never judged our standing by the outcome of them. If we’re in the same division as Millwall something is fundamentally wrong, we’re having a period of underperformance (unless it’s that freak season when they somehow managed to join us in the top flight). While joining those expressing the hope that they don’t get pushed into leaving their ground, I’d happily accept not beating them for the next 50 years if it meant we didn’t actually play them. Some things are just written, like the rule that Palace never survive a season in the Premiership; that’s still in place, the current aberration is merely the exception that proves the rule.

I may not be in attendance at The Valley for the time that Duchatelet remains in charge (or becomes more intelligent, which is frankly too much to hope for) but I did manage to take in a game on Friday night. I find myself installed in Lyon for 10 days (possibly longer if the threat of Arctic weather proves a reality) and my partner Suzanne and I had the opportunity to see our first Lyon Duchere game in National, France’s third division, after last season’s promotion (their second in about five seasons).

It was the first game back after the Christmas break, on a cold, dark night (National games are normally played on a Friday evening), with Duchere taking on Pau. Now Duchere have been playing a blinder so far in the higher league. They won their first two games of the season and three of their first four, heading the league early on, only losing to Concarneau, who are now top. A bit of reality (or complacency) set in after that, and of the next eight matches only two were won, two were drawn, and four lost. Still not bad for the new kids in town.

In those first 12 games Duchere had conceded some 17 goals, a relatively high total for the league. As unlikely as it may seem, I can only conclude that they then had an email or some form of contact from our beloved owner, it is the only reasonable explanation for what followed. He must have informed them that if you don’t concede a goal during a game you won’t lose; that if you actually score one and don’t concede you will win the game, giving you three points; and that not losing and winning some games is a positive combination whereas not scoring and conceding goals is not. Clearly Duchere acted on these invaluable insights as they went on a run of four clean sheets in five games, winning three of them.

As a result going into the game they’d pulled themselves back up to sixth in the 18-team division. Pau went into it fourth from bottom, occupying a relegation spot (as far as I can tell four go down, two go up automatically and the third-placed team could). However, they were only six points below Duchere with a game in hand, so nobody was expecting an easy win for La Duch (at least we weren’t).

The first half proved to be an even and rather cagey affair. Pau shaded it by virtue of passing the ball better, more crisply, and having a dangerous Lookman-lookalike playing behind the front two, with Duchere looking more to the ball over the top and lacking precision. Actual chances were few and far between and for all the approach work the closest both sides came was when in quick succession both goalkeepers came for high balls from set pieces they had no chance of getting, only for the headers to go over the bar. Just before the break Pau did get a forward played in but his shot was well parried by the Duchere keeper. Goalless at the break – and at the time I’d have put money on that being the eventual outcome.

However, Duchere improved markedly in the second half, on the solid foundations of a strong defence, and Pau wilted. Duchere began to get more joy from quick passes out wide rather than through the middle and the Pau defenders struggled to cope with the pace and low balls driven across the box. Pushed back, Pau now struggled to make any impression going forward and the chances for Duchere started to materialise. One ball squared from the left saw the Duchere forward get on the end of it at the far post, the goal at his mercy. But instead of bundling everything over the line he tried to place an effort on goal and a defender somehow blocked it; the ball didn’t go dead and was pulled back only for the rasping drive from outside the box to go inches over. Next time around Duchere did put the ball in the net from another low cross but the linesman cut short the celebrations. Add in a blinding save by the Pau keeper and it was increasingly looking like one of those nights.

Indeed, Pau seemed to have weathered the storm going into the last 10 minutes. They’d made changes seemingly to tighten up, with their Lookman taken off, while Duchere made a switch up front to introduce a nippier guy. The most remarkable passage of play saw I think four consecutive fouls, including one pretty bad one by a Duchere guy arriving late, all let go by the indulgent ref with the result that we were playing on with two Pau and two Duchere players on the ground. By now it was snowing and both teams could have been forgiven for taking an honourable draw and getting to the warm baths. But with the clock running down one more low ball into the box was to prove decisive as this time Duchere’s nippy sub managed to get something on it from an onside position. It wasn’t pretty but it counted.

Pau didn’t have it in them to mount an effective riposte in the time remaining (five minutes of normal time and three extra) and so Duchere made it three wins and a draw from their last five, deservedly on the second-half performance. With a couple of games in this round called off because of the weather, they have moved up to fourth in the table, with 28 points from 18 games. But their good form will be put to the test in the next round as they travel to take on for a second time Concarneau, who are on 31 points from 17 games, two clear of second-placed Quevilly Rouen with Boulogne in third.

Rather strangely, as far as I can tell three of the top four in National are currently teams that were promoted to the league last season (by coincidence the fourth is Pau), the exception being Boulogne. So it’s not just Duchere that have adapted well to the higher standards. Nevertheless, that La Duch are punching well above their weight is apparent from attendance figures.

I was rather disappointed on Friday to see no evidence that their promotion has led to stronger support but thought numbers might have been affected by the weather. Not so. The stats show that Duchere have to date averaged 239 in nine home games, putting them at the bottom of this particular table. I’m not privy to the club’s finances, but I’m guessing that unless they get a decent pay-out from the French league it is hard to make ends meet. They’re still charging just EUR5 to get in (meaning an average gate receipt so far this season of EUR1,185), there’s no sign of any away fans lifting numbers (we did hear one shout for Pau but it could have been their coach driver), and it’s quite possible that without the local ‘derby’ they enjoyed against Olympique Lyonnais B in the lower division Duchere’s average attendance will be lower this season than last. And now they have to travel around the country for games (the lower divisions are regional).

The idea that a club with an average attendance of 239 might be challenging for promotion to a country’s second division did prompt me to indulge in a little research. The average crowd for a National game is only 1,120 (the highest this season being 3,022, for the splendidly-named La Berrichonne de Chateauroux; heaven only knows what they sing), with 10 of the 18 clubs failing to reach 1,000. Yet the league includes for example Paris FC, the third club of Paris (after PSG and Red Star FC 93) with an average attendance of 561, and GS Consolat Marseille, the second-biggest team in that city, average 284.

Of course overall attendances in France are materially lower than England. Ligue 1 has PSG (44,507), OL (40,618) and Olympique de Marseille (33,933) but the numbers fall away after that, with an overall average of 20,378 (compared with 36,452 for the Premiership in the 2015/16 season) and only nine of the 20 teams above 20,000. In Ligue 2 the average drops to 7,021 (17,583 for the Championship), a total that would be much lower without the top two (RC de Lens on 26,862 and RC de Strasbourg on 15,408); no other team averages over 10,000. But whereas the average for France’s top division amounts to around 56% of that for the Premiership, the percentage drops to around 40% for Ligue 2 against the Championship, and to just 16% comparing the third flights.

And the reason(s)? The size of France has to be one. Heading off from Middlesbrough to get to Southampton for a match would involve a trip each way of around 295 miles. Quite an effort, but nothing to match around 622 miles if you wanted to get from Lille to Marseille. I’m assuming that away support is much lower in France than England, in all divisions. Also, as is evident from the above, there are very few local derbies in France. According to Wikopedia this is due not least to the Vichy regime’s decision to create new football leagues with just one team from each region, prompting many to merge, plus the fact that public subsidies for football clubs have over the years encouraged mergers rather than funds being spread around. The last top-flight game between two teams from the same city was apparently in 1989/90.

However, there does seem to be something else, less tangible. As a generalisation – but one which Suzanne puts forward, not me – the French are just not interested in football (or much else) unless they are winning. The national team is usually ignored or lambasted except when winning the World Cup/European Championship. If France are down 0-1 with 10 minutes to go Suzanne will usually shrug her shoulders, say ‘it is done’ and go off to do something else. I kid you not, she did that for the 2016 Euro final. It’s the same for rugby. As a result it seems there is just precious little interest in supporting the small second or third team in a city.

Ever the optimist, I’m hoping that Duchere buck the trend, that the area, which would not be listed among Lyon’s most chic, really gets behind its team. Like us a few years ago they are on the up. Just two more promotions and Duchere would have a truly famous local derby to look forward to. 

Sunday, 8 January 2017

No Fool Like An Old Fool

I was going to let this all pass. After all, it is going over old ground yet again, people will have had ample time to read the translations of the latest Duchatelet interview(here) and to draw their own conclusions. And nobody's going to be surprised that my comments are not especially positive as regards our owner. But it had been written, just overtaken by events (news of the death of Paul Went and confirmation of the sale of Ademola Lookman - and on that front Morgan Fox goes with similar best wishes for his future career). And it really isn't our fault that our owner continues to provide ample evidence to support the view that he is delusional, grossly ignorant when it comes to football, painfully arrogant, and disturbingly stubborn in clinging desperately to any line of thinking that might make him appear otherwise. So here we go again.

When questioned about interfering with managers' decisions, Duchatelet opened up with fresh blinding insight: "if you concede two goals per game, you can never finish in a good position". He went on with: "At Charlton ... we were at the bottom of the table and I have tried to help the manager. Suggested other options to him. Which is logical, I think. Apparently, he thought this was not done. That says a lot about the intellectual level of that manager. And also about the intellectual level of all activists who think that this is not done. They think that I should just get behind the wheel of a car and drive blindly." He went on to say that "managers that do not take into consideration advice by others, are stupid managers." 

So, Roland, you did indeed suggest other options to Sir Chris, gave him some advice (while of course also questioning his decisions and at the least pressuring him to pick certain players). He quite rightly did not act on that advice as it was bloody stupid, as is plain for all to see from the published emails. Powell would have been stupid to have followed Duchatelet's advice, or rather he put a higher value on what was good for the team/club than pandering to an owner's ego and had enough common sense not to tell our owner just what he really thought of the advice (which with hindsight is rather a pity).

As for Duchatelet getting behind the wheel of a car and driving blindly, perhaps if he tried that the outcome would be better as we have witnessed his abilities when it comes to him actually trying to drive a football club. There is a worthy organisation which provides advice for elderly drivers (here) and perhaps our owner can get some useful tips. I'm just suggesting other options to him, trying to help him you understand ... 

Now we move on from the duplicitous to the imbecilic. "For us, football is a place where people gather every fortnight and have fun. That’s the mission of football and in fact also the essence of a football club. The function of football is to have a great evening with friends and to sometimes also meet new people." He added for good measure that "supporters need to realise that this is the essence". Quite frankly, as a lifelong football supporter I don't take very kindly to being told just how I should view football and I don't doubt that very few football fans would agree with his sentiments. We can again just fall back on the evidence. Duchatelet added that "the main thing is that we fulfil a social function. That people meet in the stadium every two weeks". Far fewer people now meet at The Valley every two weeks than was the case when Duchatelet bought the club, despite the promise to improve the matchday experience. Now just why is that, Roland? Does it amount to failure to deliver on your part? 

Then the interview moves more into the world of fans' protests and delusion and contradiction. Duchatelet commented that "when I was still the president of Standard it was already clear that the people who would cause all the misery were actually not supporters. It was people that were attracted by the fact that they could easily run riot." And of course Charlton protesters are disgruntled former employees, a faction which wants the club to fail etc. It is of course much easier for him to believe that protesters aren't real fans, just isn't the truth. 

Then after acknowledging that the interruption to his recent birthday lunch was "very unpleasant" (thanks Roland, confirmation if we needed it that demonstrations in your home town make you uncomfortable) Duchatelet continued with "supporters can have a say in the logistics, like how the beer should be served" (how very kind of him; I used to make a joke about the Fans Forum being restricted to input on the price of Bovril but seems that was close to the truth) but that "if they want to choose instead of the board or the manager, then things go wrong". Of course no Addick has ever actually suggested that the board or manager should not make the decisions. Rather there's a lot of accumulated experience and know-how among supporters, all of whom want the best for our club. They would have happily given advice and insight on many issues if consulted (ie if there had ever been meaningful communication between the regime and the supporters). Such advice has been ignored by Duchatelet. Now didn't he say earlier something about people who don't take advice being stupid? Not really contradictory, just that what he really means is that his advice is valuable and should be acted on, the advice of others is worthless. 

Duchatelet's partner Marieke Hofte chipped in with "there is not much we can do about it. It has started to live a life of its own. Roland is the scapegoat. It does not matter any longer whether he does something well or something bad. He is the symbol of their protest."  Well of course he bloody well is! We are protesting because he has shown himself to be an unfit custodian of our club; he isn't a symbol of the protest, he is the essence of it if you like. 

Back to Roland and "they first picked on Katrien Meire (general manager at Charlton). When I continued to back her up, they turned against me. A sort of witch hunt. Sociologically very interesting, but it has gone too far. Especially because they are bothering me personally." For the record we didn't first pick on Meire, she just laid herself open to being the object of some early themes through telling porkies. And it really wasn't clear for a while whether our owner was being misled by an incompetent CEO or whether he himself was really responsible for the daft decisions and strategies. Not surprisingly, we have concluded that your decision to retain Meire is evidence of your failings and that things will only really turn for the better when you are gone. 

The interview concludes on a rather disturbing note. The interviewer asks Duchatelet when he does not 'simply give in and leave Charlton for what it is'. The response is typically blind. "I never give in to blackmail. I can determine myself what is good for the club." Now blackmail involves an attempt to extract money or some other reward in return for keeping quiet about something you know. Not exactly an accurate portrayal of the protests, is it? And Hofte comes back with "at Charlton protests are still playful. At Standard, it was really aggressive." Duchatelet should thank his lucky stars that CARD has been keeping the protests within acceptable bounds, as it rightly should. There is no excuse for any element of racism, xenophobia or aggression in the protests. As for Duchatelet being able to determine himself what is good for the club, we beg to differ. He is not. 

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Farewell Went and Lookman

A belated Happy New Year to all Addicks! May we get what we want for 2017; for all of us that's promotion, for most of us it's a new owner and a return to being proud of our club. This was indeed going to be another rant in response to the latest offensive, deluded and duplicitous interview given by Duchatelet, but that's been overtaken by events and will have to wait for another day. Not as if we'll have to wait long for fresh ammunition.

Have seen the sad news that Paul Went has died. He tends to get overlooked when people put together their best-ever Charlton XIs: he played a decent but not memorable number of games for us (174, over five seasons, would have been more but for injury which restricted him to only 16 appearances in 1969/70), he notched a reasonable number of goals for a centre-half (16, including seven in 1971/72, only beaten by three others that season) but no memorable ones (he did get two in a game against the Spanners but we still lost), he didn't feature in a promotion-winning team for us (if you assume as I do that a top-flight spot is always going to be wasted on Palace it was an especially gross injustice that he didn't), and his final season with us - before being sold on at a handsome profit - ended in disaster and relegation on the final day. But he does merit being put right up there, he was very, very good.

I can't add more to the words of Keith Peacock on the club site. I will have seen just about all of his appearances at The Valley (plus some elsewhere) and just can't remember him having a bad game. He must have done as he was ever-present in 1971/72 and in addition to getting relegated we conceded 77 goals, the highest total in the league. I can't recall any particularly amusing or exceptional anecdotes; basically nothing has stuck in my mind other than that he was a reliable and highly competent defender and, like Graham Moore, was a member of the only Charlton side in my youth which suggested that more could be achieved than scrapping around the bottom of the second division.

Thanks for the contribution to our club Mr Went. All our condolences for sure go to his family and friends and I'm sure the news will be marked by the club and/or the fans at the next available opportunity.

In obviously very different circumstances today we also bid farewell to Ademola Lookman, whose move to Everton has been confirmed. He goes with all our best wishes for the future. Of course his going puts our daft owner's 'strategy' for our club in the spotlight, even if no Charlton fan is really going to carp about the decision to take what appears to be a reasonable price (of course the details have not been disclosed by the regime). The use of the funds will at least allow us to better assess the balance of priorities for our owner, between getting promotion and trying to balance the books.

I've never been comfortable with the idea that Charlton have 'always been a selling club'. I think there are only a few clubs worldwide who have never found themselves in situations where a player is sold to a club in a higher/better condition. For sure we are more of a 'selling club' than say Arsenal. After all, I've seen us sell players to pay the wages, even let one star go for nothing because we couldn't pay him, and make more routine sales of progressing young players. But both of us ended up accepting offers for star players when around the top of the Premiership, in these cases because the player wanted the move. Basically any club outside the top flight and without a reasonable prospect of promotion to it in a short space of time is going to find itself hard-pressed to hold on for long against a determined Premiership suitor. For once there's no good reason to disbelieve the regime when it indicates that offers for Lookman were turned down in the summer and taking up one now can't in itself be viewed as asset-stripping or youth fish-farming.

Trouble is the sale only makes sense for us if we use funds to strengthen elsewhere and go on to get promotion. There is a world of difference between selling a good young player when it is in the interests of the club and that player and the rationale of a club being to find, develop and sell young players, in order to balance the books or at least minimise the financial drain on our owner. Karl Robinson said after a recent game that Charlton fans can be 'very excited' about the young players coming through. I'd like to be, but I can't, if the sole purpose is to put them in the shop window. Meire's sterile offering of the chance to see Premiership stars of the future is as utterly unappealing now as it was when she outlined it. I wish Lookman well, would undoubtedly applaud him if he ever played again at The Valley. But he has gone and I will take little pleasure in his progression unless our club also thrives. I don't care one jot whether or not I've seen a future Premiership star, I did care when he scored for my club.

I'd be tempted to say anyone who knows anything about football would understand this. But that would be interpreted as another insult to our owner. He is doubly stupid as not only does he not understand the rationale, indeed essence, of football, he makes no attempt to educate himself, even when what he does patently doesn't work.

But I digress. Let's end with a little note to Mr Robinson. Well done to him and the players, life and the league table obviously look better after seven points from three games than after no win in six and getting turned over by the Spanners. But now we've no game for another 10 days, only one in well over two weeks. Sure it's an important one and yes there is plenty to be done during the transfer window. But nobody's forgotten that pledge about wanting to meet the fans and learn more about the protests and the Trust's as yet (I believe) unanswered invitation. As before, if you don't take it up we will have to assume that either you weren't serious or you've been told by the regime who you can and can't meet.

And sorry Karl, the protests aren't going to stop, even if we win our next home game. Understandably there is an element of ebb and flow about them influenced by our league position and form, none of us want our club to fail. But if you do meet the Trust, and listen, you should be convinced that the issues run much deeper and that the protests are not the frivolous actions of serial complainers but rather a result of the regrettable but unavoidable conclusion, based on the evidence, that our club cannot thrive under the current ownership.