Sunday 27 July 2014

Promised Meeting(s) Cynically Circumvented?

I must be getting a bit slow on the uptake in my old age. When someone posted a comment to say that the promised meeting(s) with supporters groups (or group) would be held on 3 August I thought ‘fine, rather late, not the best of times (as the comment mentioned), but at least progress’. When I saw the piece on the club site about the ‘day of fun’ at The Valley I thought ‘good idea, chance to showcase the improvements to the ground (which deserve praise), chance for fans to mingle with the players etc’. It didn’t immediately occur to me that the two are somehow supposed to be related. I hope they’re not, as what is being offered up on the day – a question and answer session with Meire, Murray, Peeters and Jackson – is, while laudable, not in any way shape or form delivering on the statement released in March.

A cynic might be tempted to conclude that some management course ‘graduate’ came up with a wheeze, to turn around a perceived negative into a positive. (For the record I used to have a policy of immediately binning a CV from anyone who’d been on a management training course and have seen and heard nothing since to make me change my mind.) ‘We have a problem. We issued a statement in March to try to head off criticism and buy time and it seems some still expect us to deliver on the contents. Why not have a fun day, open to all fans, give away some freebies, include an informal chat with two board members, the head coach and the skipper, which should be broad enough to ensure that the real concerns, like those pesky Trust questions, can be glossed over? We are seen to be keeping our word, we should generate some goodwill, and we’ve got around a problem’. If that (or something like it) is the thinking, it is treating fans with contempt, regarding their views as potential problems to be circumvented if possible.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s absolutely no reason why contact between the board and the supporters should be exclusively through the Trust, and/or the Royal Oak group. The more the merrier. The March statement (which I printed out and kept; it is still on the club site if you go back far enough, to 28 March) said ‘be assured that we will be making plans to meet with as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible’. A fun day as outlined is a very useful element in delivering on the promises. But it is only that. I don’t think anyone back in March would have believed that this alone was what was intended to address the very real and heartfelt concerns raised by the Trust and others.

Perhaps the ‘board’ wishes to stick to the letter of the statement rather than the spirit. So let’s go through it. ‘Since we arrived at the club in January we understood the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters’. To back that up, the video of the new board, a Q&A session with VIP supporters by Meire and Murray, and the recorded interview with Duchatelet were cited. Sorry, but stage-managed events/recordings are not a substitute for what – in March and still today – is the real issue, Duchatelet being quizzed, unscripted, by fans’ representatives on his plans, vision, and motivation. That would be interaction, not an attempt to pay lip-service. The statement goes on. ‘Understandably, given events on and off the field over the past few weeks, we have received a number of requests from supporters’ groups for a meeting to discuss our approach to running Charlton and our vision for the club’s future’. The Duchatelet recorded interview is then cited as a ‘first step’, before the excuse for delay was outlined.

To be fair, nowhere in the statement is there an actual pledge to hold meetings with one or more of the groups that had requested them. It is carefully worded to avoid that. Instead there was that ‘as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible’, which if you are a lawyer you may feel is satisfied by the fun day Q&A. I don’t think there is any doubt that anyone reading the statement at the time believed it amounted to a commitment to hold meetings with the groups that had requested them, or at least just with the Trust. That was the spirit of the statement.

Sometimes even a lawyer’s statement inadvertently gives it away. The statement included: ‘we understand the current requests for dialogue and are keen to meet with supporters to hear their views and discuss a shared vision for the future of this great club’. What is the point of ‘discussing a shared vision’? If it is shared, both parties are in agreement and the ‘dialogue’ is mutually-supportive and quite frankly pointless. What is wrong with discussion about a vision for the club, to listen and perhaps take on board the views of those that might not agree with it? That, again, would be interaction rather than paying lip-service. The March statement said that we ‘are keen to meet with supporters’. Prove it.

What infuriates me is that – absent any fresh news regarding real meetings – it amounts to a missed opportunity. A ‘problem’ is something to be dealt with, even learn from, rather than circumvented (which usually means it doesn't go away). The Trust and others are people who care about Charlton and have nothing but the best interests of the club at heart. They devote time and effort to that end. They are people to be embraced by the board, to be listened to seriously. People like myself who view with a mix of disdain and concern what we understand of Duchatelet’s vision and motivation (which is inevitably limited) would be ready to amend views in the event that people who we know have Charlton’s interests at heart came away from a meeting with Duchatelet (I mean no disrespect to Meire but the only question I would ask her is exactly what her decision-making capabilities are) either reassured or at least appreciative that he has taken time to truly listen to what they have to say and to have answered their questions honestly, even if there is still disagreement.

Again, don’t get me wrong. Duchatelet owns the club, he is under no obligation to have meetings with supporters groups, it is not something that they have any right to. We were told early on that communication isn’t one of his strengths. So be it, I don’t know what he might be scared of. Absent such meetings just please don’t in any way pretend to ‘understand the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters’. They become empty words.

On a brighter note (or at least a mix of the positive and negative), Peeters does continue to impress with his openness and attitude. The comments regarding Ghoochannejhad hit the right note. I don’t know yet whether he’s staying or going, but agree that unless his attitude is better the latter is fine. I wasn’t impressed with what I saw. His diving in and around the box was an embarrassment, as was his obvious delight at having contributed mightily to the cause when he managed to fall over around the centre-circle and win a free kick. He clearly has talent, but I’d genuinely rather watch Dickie Plumb honestly plying his trade.

So there we have it. I hope everyone who attends the fun day has a great time. No doubt the club site will be hailing a success whatever happens. I shall of course have swanned off to France before then, so will not have the opportunity in the Q&A to ask the only question that really matters: when will there be the proper meeting)s)?

Friday 18 July 2014

Not Up For It Yet, But Will Be

As others have commented, it really ought to be the time of year when we start to get geared up and enthusiastic for the campaign ahead, rested and raring to go. Perhaps it’s the skinfull last night, the storm during the night, the two weeks-plus of builders (for some very necessary repairs), or the prospect of a late afternoon basking on the heath (which I hope won’t involve falling asleep and waking up in the middle of the next storm). Perhaps it’s the weeks of additional footie handed to us on a plate (we will gloss over my previous outstanding prediction that having luckily got past Chile, Brazil will go on to win it; I didn’t plan for the absence of the two key players or the fact that the rest of them, plus the manager, proved to be pants). But I’m not up for it yet.

I passed on Welling on Saturday as the front wall needed painting and after years of going to a glorified training session didn’t really fancy another. You can’t infer anything from the result or the players’ contributions. In recent years I’ve come away thinking that Mambo might be ready to make the first team (I hope he’s thriving at Ebbsfleet and does go on to have the career he promised) and that Pigott might make a major contribution to the campaign (again, hope it’s only a case of delayed a year). It isn’t malaise, or even antipathy towards the new owner, rather the usual prospect of being away for the start of the season and so mentally some way off getting prepared. As things stand, due to the rigidity of the French holiday season, it won’t be until the Derby game on 19 August that I get my first taste of it, and that’s a long way off.

I may be against us being consigned to Duchatelet’s consortium for a period of time (and may have been tempted to contribute for the Valley wall the fact that my favourite memories were all before he bought the club and will resume after he’s handed it on, but that would have been churlish), but I’ll readily acknowledge that a good sum has been spent on the ground and that the past few weeks have seen us bring in players that at least on paper look as though we can have confidence in being competitive (I’ve no comment on any of those brought as regards their abilities as I know no more than I read, but of course they are welcome and we trust they go on to be heroes, or at least make a more material contribution to satisfying our desires than Polish Pete has managed to date).

Of course it’s going to be a challenge for Peeters to get them to gel, work out the best partnerships and formation to play to strengths (assuming of course he picks the team). But the missing parts are getting filled in, so who knows? It’s daft at this stage to be making any sort of predictions for us, but whereas a few weeks ago it was a case of expecting decent players to be brought in, now it’s one of setting our doubts against those of other clubs and feeling that at worst there will be others facing a tougher challenge than us. Poor Jose (whose gone from being instructed to get the best out of a disparate bunch thrown together by someone else to being asked to create a new team almost from scratch but reportedly not from buy a new team but reportedly not having the backing for his choices), poor Fuller.

On other matters, we still wait and see. Still no news that I’ve seen regarding the promised meetings with supporters groups (no, it won’t be forgotten), some interest in the outcome of Standard Liege’s Champions League third qualifying round in late July and early August (if they make it into the competition proper, does the pendulum swing back to other elements of the consortium supplying decent players – and vice versa?), and now it seems the possibility of the Red, Red Robin being dropped.

On that one I’m in agreement with Wyn Grant (which hasn’t always been the case over recent months) that the song is part of the Valley experience. If it doesn’t suit the players and the manager (what the owner thinks is irrelevant) and fans are not strongly in favour of its retention for when the players come out, shift it to another slot. It isn’t the most rousing of songs, but it is fun and does get us singing and clapping, if not in a rabble-rousing manner. The argument that we’re not Robins so it should go doesn’t hold water. The club badge is an even more recent creation (of the 1970s I think), from a miserable effort to rebrand us as the Valliants. I’d be happy to see that one go, but it would mean more spend on a new crest (and let’s face it incorporating an ‘Addick in some way shape or form wouldn’t be easy). Perhaps Glenn Tilbrook can get the necessary permission to record a version of Mull of Kintyre which would be fit for purpose.

One more acid test of the new regime’s intentions might become apparent when we get to sample the new facilities at The Valley. Prices are for me an issue. I hope we’re not fed some line about the cost of a bottle of water being commensurate with those in airport lounges. It is a cartel approach. I expect (but of course don’t welcome) to get royally legged over if I want to buy some water in that sort of environment; I’m in a captive environment buying something from a company that doesn’t give a monkeys about my interests (which of course means I don’t buy, bar in extremis). At Charlton fans deserve to be treated as welcome guests playing their part rather than exploited to the max. We shall see.

So that may be it from me for a while. A Eurostar to Lyon awaits at the end of the month, by which time my partner Suzanne will have expected me to have finished the post-building work complete redecoration of my place (I have very limited abilities on that front but happily slosh around some paint) and to arrive ready to sort out her shower, washing machine etc before we head off on hols. By the time I return I expect Peeters to have us purring along like a well-oiled machine, rolling over all and sundry. Blimey, perhaps I am getting ready for it after all.