I wanted to take a bit of time after last night's Trust meeting to mull things over, get warm again, and to watch the video of the VIP meeting to compare/contrast. Those things have all been achieved. I don't want to give a detailed account of the Trust meeting as no doubt that is being put together by them (but would add that the way the event was arranged and handled only serves to demonstrate why the club should be fully embracing the organisation), rather to focus on a few issues/questions arising from both gatherings and to perhaps use them to suggest something positive.
Should Katrien Miere and/or Roland Duchatelet talk to the Trust, either as a one-off or on a regular basis? Her line from the VIP meeting is that she views the Fans Forum as the "best tool" for communicating with fans, along with VIP or open Q&As, and that any other approach is to favour some fans over others (while adding that she has had previous meetings with the Trust). She was adamant at the end of the VIP gathering that all dialogue should be through her as that is part of her job (ie don't think about trying to go direct to Roland or try to coopt Richard Murray).
So is the Fans Forum the best and sufficient structure for communication with the fans? After all, the Trust does have a representative. I can't comment on the workings of the Forum from a position of knowledge and I'm certainly not knocking it, or belittling the efforts of those involved (they give their time and experience for the good of the club), but would suggest that it is barely sufficient for normal circumstances and inadequate for the exceptional situation we find ourselves in (if the owner/board does not consider the situation exceptional they are simply turning a deaf ear to the many expressions of alienation, sticking to the head-in-the-sand 'oh well, if we do better on the pitch all will be well' line).
In its favour, the club on the site says that it encourages fans to contact representatives and to put themselves up for inclusion "if you are a member of a significant supporters group". Perhaps we as fans have not fully availed ourselves of these opportunities. Why not have a Royal Oak Group representative put him/herself forward for inclusion? And why not lobby the current representatives to get issues of real concern tabled at the next meeting (apparently scheduled for 2 April)? Such actions might either make the Forum a more active outlet for supporters or reveal more about its limitations (unfair I know but a glance at the minutes of the last meeting dealing with any other business concluded with a note that the East Stand keeps running out of Bovril).
Against it, look at the minutes of the April 2014 meeting, the first following the January transfer window debacle and the sacking of Chris Powell. The headings of the minutes read: 'season ticket update', 'Crossbars and Millennium Lounge packages for 2014/2015 season', 'The Valley pitch update', 'CAFC player', 'CAFC website', 'the club shop', 'group rail travel', 'Valley Express and Valley Away', 'Charlton Athletic museum update', 'Player of the year dinner', 'Fans Forum email address and communications received', and 'any other business'. All important ongoing issues, but I suspect hardly those that were paramount for fans at the time. Note also this from the September 2014 meeting minutes: "KM reiterated that this was a confidential meeting and that minutes would be published to reflect the discussions at said meeting. KM asked that until the minutes were published that this was not discussed on public forums or with anyone outside of this meeting". A forum is not a confidential meeting.
In short, whether by accident or design the Fans Forum is not set up to provide true engagement with fans on anything other than day-to-day issues. Either change that or accept that it is not a sufficient tool for meaningful communication with the fans on issues that concern them. To pretend otherwise is either to be mistaken or to be willfully misleading.
Do the VIP and other Q&As compensate for the shortfall? Sorry, but there's a world of difference between such events and structured, regular meetings at which proposals can be made, decisions taken or promised, progress monitored with accountability, and with no restrictions on the passing on of information to fans over what was discussed and said. The former, as with the VIP meeting, involves questions which can be answered fully when there is a desire to pass on information or side-stepped when there is not. The VIP meeting ended, not surprisingly, with no promises made on issues of concern (there were of course promises and information on some important matters such as training facilities, Academy status). There is absolutely no accountability involved.
The line that meetings with fans groups might favour some more than others is quite frankly absurd. It's a little like a prime minister/president declaring that he/she no longer wishes to hold cabinet meetings or attend parliament as that would amount to favouritism, instead opting to 'engage with' all voters equally. The analogy may not be exact as MPs are (usually) involved in the process of selection and themselves have a mandate. But I'd suggest that fans are stakeholders, given their contribution to paying the wages (yes, one outweighed by the owner's funding of the losses), and that groups such as the Trust have a form of mandate too, as last night fully demonstrated.
Are there issues to be discussed by the Trust and Miere which have not been adequately covered in the Fans Forum and the Q&As? Of course there are, and they relate to the owner (his strategy, vision, priorities, and involvement in key decisions), not Bovril. They would involve going over issues that Miere may feel have been dealt with, and/or would rather avoid, but that is part and parcel of meaningful engagement. The question I would have asked at the VIP meeting (with no expectation of an insightful answer) is just why does Duchatelet believe he knows who is and who isn't a good/excellent coach/manager (which of course would lead back to the issue of his involvement in head coach/transfer/team selection)?
Is there a way forward on this issue? Yes, if Miere takes on board Von Clausewitz's advice on not confusing strength of character with stubbornness (as things stand, in addition to her telling us that we simply have to accept the way that Duchatelet does things we are also invited to simply 'have faith in her'). That last night's Trust meeting included an overwhelming show of support for continuing to try to engage meaningfully with the board. That in itself was an astounding display of restraint and common sense, supported by most of those who have already concluded that the chances of success are slim-to-non-existent. So, Ms Miere, surprise us! Take the positive decision to change tack and agree to the Trust's request for a(nother) meeting. I suspect you would receive more applause for that, for acknowledging a difficult situation - one which threatens to dent your ambitions for increasing the club's revenues streams in the years ahead - and acting to try to address it, than accusations of a U-turn. I hope the Trust is now preparing a renewed approach in the wake of the meeting.
I hope that Richard Murray will be encouraging her to take that approach, but would caution against the suggestions at last night's meeting that he might be utilised in support of the Trust. To be contacting him with that in mind would - irrespective of his opinions - put him in an invidious position and quite possibly end any influence he currently has. He is a member of the board and as such has responsibilities and duties (for the same reason I don't support calls for a reinstatement of a fans' director). Also, he stated at the VIP meeting that he believed Duchatelet to be a good long-term owner, adding that if he did not believe that/stopped believing it he would leave the board. Whether or not we agree with him, that has to be taken at face value.
What should the Trust do if there is stony silence? That's not an easy one as the Trust is constituted to represent Charlton fans, all of them. That for good reason includes everyone from those already in favour of whatever it takes to engineer a change of owner through to those backing Duchatelet's approach. And it is 'fully affiliated to and committed to the democratic principles set out by Supporters Direct, the umbrella organisation for Supporters' Trusts'. In other words it has no mandate for a campaign to oust our owner, unless and until its members (of which I am one) conclude that this is 'for the benefit of Charlton Athletic Football Club' (a bit like the ECB having no mandate for the sort of action needed to help avert crises but being able to act when there is a crisis).
It could well be a tough decision for the Trust whether to accept impotence and bide its time or to morph into a vehicle for outright opposition to Duchatelet. If (for good reason) it proves the former, I would expect those members who favour the latter to group together (if they have not already done so) with the clear objective of seeking out other interested parties prepared to make an offer for the club, in the belief that this is in the best interests of the club. In the interim, if there is no response from Miere in the wake of last night's meeting I would expect the Trust to withdraw from the Fans Forum and to adopt an approach of non-cooperation with her specifically, to the point of being in favour of her removal (and yes, I read the piece by Wendy Perfect in the latest Voice). The ball is in her court, I just hope she is aware (as she has to be if she watches the recording of the meeting) that for a significant number of fans it is getting close to breaking point and that inaction will speak for itself.
In the interim, personally it's a case of nothing off the pitch interfering with avoiding relegation and making decisions at the end of the season (ie whether or not to renew my season ticket, a decision that as before will not be down to which division we are in). That means giving Sir Chris the reception he deserves when he comes back to The Valley (barring exceptional cold I will be wearing my 'Chris Powell Charlton and England' T-shirt) but not using him as the fulcrum for any enduring protest that might affect the game.