Wednesday 20 January 2016

Eyes On The Prize(s)

I've found myself in recent days checking the club site more often than I can remember. I wasn't entire sure why. It wasn't to stay on top of developments in the U21s' clash with the Spanners, nor was it to put in my belated vote for the January poll that's still showing ('Are you looking forward to this season's FA Cup campaign?' - yes, no or undecided; do you really want to know?). Instead it was probably the feeling that after Saturday's result and what had gone before, plus what is coming up, we might get confirmation of some material development, possibly related to Ms Meire. Nothing yet, so we're still in the dark regarding our owner's prevailing mood and thoughts (let's not ennoble these by labelling them a strategy). But is there some tentative evidence that he may finally be starting to listen?

My first reaction to the news that Nebojsa Vignjevic would not after all be replacing Karel Fraeye as interim/permanent head coach/bell-boy was that perhaps Duchatelet had indeed listened to others and changed tack. This was before the reports emerged that the switch back to Jose Riga may have been down to Vignjevic simply turning down the opportunity. Maybe it will all come out in the wash; perhaps Vignjevic saw enough of the immediate response from Addicks - and let's face it nobody in their right mind who gave priority to us avoiding relegation would have considered the man, unless of course the available talent pool is strictly limited to network employees - to realise that there was nothing in it for him, at least for now. But just possibly the implications (ie stupidity) of appointing Vignjevic were made plain to Duchatelet and he listened.

Then the new signing. At one level depressing and easy to dismiss, another Standard Liege reject about to make the switch to the US to milk his remaining career years and instead pushed in our direction. But that is unfair, at least until we've seen what the guy can do. We've only recently been told by Richard Murray of the three types of player that our owner favours (domestic youth, young overseas players, and domestic seasoned lags), which fits with his strange (sorry, visionary) thinking. Quite clearly signing Jorge Teixeira, a 29-year-old on a four-and-a-half-year deal doesn't fit. Now I can't rule out the possibility that the move to us is somehow entwined with Duchatelet's dealings with Standard Liege, just as whatever happens to Tony Watt may be, or that Teixeira just came top in the latest spreadsheet exercise from the player-selection cronies. But on the face of it, from what Teixeira and Riga have said, it looks like a case of an incoming manager pointing out an available player who he feels will do a good job for us and the owner backing that judgement and shelling out a not immaterial fee (especially in the context of two other centre-halves having only recently been brought in, albeit one on a short-term loan). Strange indeed if true - but welcome.

The benefit of the doubt as far as I'm concerned was lost some time back and at best it is premature to conclude that things have indeed taken a material turn for the better. No question that the move which would strengthen that feeling is if Meire is moved on (anywhere away from us). We know she's not the decision-maker and her departure could end up meaning nothing; but, especially if a change came in advance of this Saturday's protests, it might, just might, indicate at least a willingness to respond to the club's customers' wishes.

I guess my thinking is that although a change of ownership is probably the only positive eventual outcome for us, let's keep our eyes on the prize, ie just what it is that we want. I don't think it's an exaggeration to suggest that by early February we should know whether we are still in a relegation fight but with a realistic chance of success, or whether we should be resigned to another spell in the third flight. By then the transfer window will have closed (don't ask me about the timings for loan signings) and we will have played three crucial games: Blackburn at home, Rotherham away, and Bristol City at home. The former and the player moves in and out of the club should give some insight as to our owner's priorities and perhaps Riga's influence; the latter will tell us about whether the players are up for the fight (obviously last Saturday's outcome casts fresh doubt on this) and, depending on the results, whether there is still a fight to be had.

We do after all have a very hard run-in. After this coming series of three we have, through to early March, five games against middling opposition (Cardiff, Fulham, Preston, Reading and Brentford), then MK Dons. Thereafter in our final 10 games we are up against at least seven with promotion expectations/ambitions. Sure, in the closing stages it is even more the case that anyone can beat anyone; but if we're still in the bottom three after playing MK Dons on 8 March we would surely be set for the drop.

By this stage of the season no team is not where they deserve to be. Relegation is by no means nailed on, but obviously Riga/Fraeye  and Hull/Huddersfield (and Colchester) need to become the watershed if it is to be avoided. I'd suggest that the next three matches set the scene. I'm not convinced they are must-win games (or say two out of three), that may be asking too much too soon. Rather we cannot afford to lose to either Rotherham or Bristol City, need to pick up at least one win, and over and above all else need to show that we are turning a corner, laying the base for a real run at the following five games and then to be in with a realistic chance for the tough final 10.

If the players turn out not to be, collectively, up for it, so be it; the cause is lost. But in line with some of the comments after a previous post I'd agree that there's no excuse for the supporters not playing their part, for now at least, when it comes to the relegation issue. I'm not privy to the protest plans for Saturday and appreciate why some elements are being kept secret for now. But I would welcome CARD and all associated with it building on the pledge not to hold a pre-match demonstration on Saturday by calling on supporters to back the team 100% inside the ground and through the game, and to state this openly in advance of the game, so that the players can feel confident that the first mistake won't open the floodgates for protests.

Again in line with the comments, we can't look back on this stage of the season and conclude that we did not do all we could to help the team avoid relegation - and consequently for the second time in three years achieve that objective despite the actions of the board. There is after all still that dilemma at the heart of the protests, as evident from the recent Trust statement following the inaugural meeting of CARD. Those in CARD were described as having come together "to formulate plans to step up protests aimed at forcing the owner Roland Duchatelet to put the club up for sale". It went on to say that "the immediate objective for the group ... is to force significant changes in its (the club's) senior management", which I assume means the departure of Miere. Now that's fair enough, no contradiction in assisting in her going and the ultimate goal of a change of ownership, as long as there's no loss of focus regarding the latter.

The statement concluded with "at this stage, CARD simply wants to assure Charlton fans that they are working together to try to bring a swift and positive end to the current crisis at the club". Now that's a bit ambiguous. Does an end to the crisis mean avoiding relegation or getting new ownership (provided of course that the incoming is not an asset-stripper and/or advocates a move away from The Valley)? I'm inclined to assume it means the latter, as this is the root of the problem, the former just the symptom. But perhaps here too there is no contradiction. After all, if Duchatelet would not even deign to meet Peter Varney's potential investor, the chances of any actual sale of the club in the near future are pretty remote. And as outlined before it's quite likely that relegation would not force a sale, rather just more severe belt-tightening (and a marked downgrading of the players to complement the youngsters).

Arguably our best chance of being sold on is to stay up, and in doing so to confront Duchatelet with the continuing dilemma of having to fund a level of losses he isn't comfortable with (perhaps even over the medium term cannot afford) to try to compete, without a realistic hope of promotion and all that entails, rather than a possibly significantly lower running loss (I only say possibly as who knows if that could be achieved given the likely attendances) while we all wait for the tomorrow when financial fair play changes the picture (and in the interim bask in the delight at watching those Premiership stars of the future rather than support a team). Who knows, but it might be another argument in favour of driving home the 'support the team, not the regime/roar the team, roast the regime' message, making it absolutely plain that once inside the ground supporting the team is paramount.

There will be time enough to protest across the board in the event we lose the relegation fight. And surely it doesn't need to be added that however high the emotions run there is simply no excuse for aggression (let alone violence), or racism/sexism. None of that is a part of the Charlton we want back.

Friday 15 January 2016

Harder This Time Around

It's not unreasonable to infer that someone had a quiet word in Roland's ear and that for once he listened, a bit. In the hours following confirmation of the unlamented departure of Karel Fraeye (who now becomes the exception that proves the rule that every correct decision to change a head coach has made us stronger) the reports from usually reliable sources pointed to the drafting in of Nebojsa Vignjevic. Nobody can doubt that if that had been the choice the 2% could well have become 98%. Of course, Vignjevic might be a brilliant coach who could have gone on to become a Charlton legend, rather than just the first available network employee not already tried. We shall never know (unless Riga fails and ...).

Assuming that the return of Curbs or Sir Chris were not viable options (both too much of a climbdown for our owner and both with too much self-respect and ability to accept what might have been on offer), the only choice was to reappoint Jose Riga or embark on the sort of genuine canvassing and selection process leading to the appointment of someone with Championship experience that had been promised before - and never done. I think that unless Riga has recently had a change of mind over the pros and cons of working for Duchatelet the outcome was never in doubt. As a contract to the end of the season would have been absurd even by this regime's standards, he (notionally) gets 18 months (like Roger Johnson).

Reaction to the news among Addicks seems to be lukewarm at best, hostile from some. And here again lies the immediate problem regarding just what is it that we want if we have to choose: to stay up or help to hasten a change of regime (assuming that perhaps the ideal option of staying up and a real change of approach from the regime is not on the table)? If it's over and above all else the former, even I'm not inclined to carp (yet). Riga has some earned credit in the bank, the nature and speed of the change gives at least the possibility of an input regarding players before the transfer window closes, and we just might get a bounce from the 'sort of new broom' effect. I don't think it's that surprising that this happens as mentally a group of players can shed some negative baggage ('yes it was us on the pitch but the fault was really not ours').

That said, keeping us up this time around looks to me a harder task than before. Last time we were bottom of the league with 27 points from 30 games (ie 0.90 points per game). Bottom yes, but with three/four games in hand on those above us and four points from being outside the bottom three (with a better goal difference than most above us). Now we have 20 points from 26 games (0.77 points per game), no games in hand, and are effectively four points from 'safety' (given our goal difference). Also, the league looks more stretched this time around; somebody else may fall apart and get caught, but it would be surprising if the three relegated teams did not come from the current bottom five. In other words, we can afford only one of the other four to end above us (and one of them has a de facto five points advantage, another has just sacked its manager - please let them not appoint Sir Chris). And last time around we got lucky; we played away to teams in some disarray at the time (Forest and Leeds come to mind). Perhaps we will be as fortunate, perhaps not.

Most important, I suspect we all remember the key factor in Riga's success. If I remember the reports correctly, Alex Dyer said to Riga on his arrival that there was enough character and quality in the dressing room, if just about all of the network clowns drafted in were ignored (I paraphrase here), to keep us up. He would have seen Hamer, Hughes, Jackson, Morrison, Wiggins, Solly, Wilson, Cousins and Cort and, although he would also have seen Sordell and Reza, must have quickly agreed. Riga relied on the character, cemented by the man who went before him, and we stayed up, in spite of the new ownership's actions. This time around Riga will see Jackson, Solly and Cousins (and of course another familiar face in Poyet) but what else? I'm not saying the others lack the character to be up for the fight and to win it, just that we as yet don't know.

This does also lead us back to the reinvented Duchatelet/Meire 'strategy' (because it is relevant). I am still utterly dumfounded that anyone in their right mind could believe that the chance to watch some Premiership stars of the future is an attractive selling point for customers/supporters (I could get a Sky subscription for that and much more), be they young or old. But leaving that aside, imagine the conversations with the three categories of players that Richard Murray recently referred to as those favoured by Roland.

First, the promising youngster. 'Sign up with us and we will bring you along, give you the opportunity to play in the first team (sorry, can't be sure about the division) and to be in the shop window a good deal sooner than other clubs, and you will get that Premiership move as soon as a cash bid comes in for you'. You use us and we will use you; and those around you in the dressing room are less comrades than cannon-fodder for the greater good of your career. OK, you can see the appeal. But it doesn't exactly embed from the start any sense of loyalty or commitment to Charlton per se and with that a willingness to really give all you have to our cause. Second, the promising (but older) overseas player. Really it is the same argument except that this one can expect to go straight into the first-team squad and, without having spent some years at the club, has even less reason to have any affinity with Charlton.

Third, the seasoned lag with experience of the division we're in. I guess this one goes: 'Now look Roger (let's call him Roger for the sake of argument), you're chances of a switch to a higher division have gone, your chances of getting a deal with another club in our division are not great, you have little or no resale value, and all you're doing is managing the final years of your career as best you can. Join us and you'll get a wage, your task will be to help keep us up and to make the younger/overseas players look good so that we can sell them'. Now there's a fair chance that some such players will have self-respect, integrity and character and put all they have on the line. Just that when the chips are down, perhaps they won't.

In short, this 'strategy' cannot hope to create the conditions for a group of players to out- rather than underperform collectively. Team spirit is an intangible, it doesn't show up on spreadsheets, you can't put it in a microchip. But it can be the difference between success and failure. In the transcripts of the March 2014 annual VIP meeting Sir Chris was marked as saying that before he joined the club as a player Keith Jones told him that there is a difference about Charlton; he couldn't tell him what it was but "you will know it when you see it". We certainly do, our owner doesn't.

Will it prove significant that the club statement yesterday quoted Duchatelet rather than Meire? Possible, but I doubt it. If our owner was inclined to really listen and to consider change, to truly want to improve relations with supporters, Ms Meire would be moved out. It's nothing personal, she obviously has talents, they are just not those required plus an accumulated baggage of ill-will.

All of which does raise the question of just who is going to issue the rallying cry, Duchatelet, Meire, Riga, Jackson, or AN Other (oh would that it were Yann)? This will be the variation on 'yes we have made mistakes, yes we want a serious dialogue with supporters (but we're busy at the moment), but this is not the time for protests as right now the priority is avoiding relegation and we need everyone to get behind the team and play their part'. I honestly feel it would be best coming from our owner, after he has dismissed (or moved on) Ms Meire. Jackson has already done one this season, and a 'once more to the breech' from Meire would be rightly receive howls of derision. So I guess it will be Jose. After all, he only needs to pull out the one he used last time around: "the fans and the players (this evening) must have the same mindset. The sole focus can only be on Charlton and giving everything to the cause".

The first problem is of course fool me once, shame on you .... I don't mean Riga but the board. Let's not forget the 'message from the board' released on 28 March 2014. "Since we arrived at the club in January, we understood the importance of interaction with Charlton supporters" and then, after the 'we are extremely busy right now' bit, it was that we "are keen to meet with supporters to hear their views and discuss a shared vision for the future of this great club", supported by "we will be making plans to meet with as broad a spectrum of the fanbase as possible". Once we stayed up there was ... the Q&A session at The Valley fun day in early August. 'Ha ha, aren't we clever and aren't they stupid'. It's why, for me, the refusal of the owner and board through last season to actually begin a serious and lasting consultation with supporters, most obviously as represented by the Trust, for the good of the board and the club, was so important, perhaps as much for the keeping of promises than the direct outcome.

The second is that the call for supporters to play their part in securing an objective that we all want does, rightly, have an emotional appeal. Every protesting Addick wants us to stay up, as does every non-protesting/regime-supporting one.

Unearthing the print-out of that board message did involve wading through various bits and I thought I'd end with a competition: just what is the funniest actual quote since the Duchatelet takeover? A couple of personal favourites. First, the classic from Ms Meire, from the 'I'll swing from the crossbar with Sir Chris' annual VIP meeting: "it is an insult to suggest RD would consider relegation; even if such a clause exists (the question related to whether the price he paid for the club would drop if we went down) failure is not an option for him". Murray, on BBC London in February 2014: "it's just a matter of staying up this year and then we will reap the benefits" (of the takeover).

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Orphan Addick: Not One Of Duchatelet's Babies

Having before the end of last season decided not to renew my season ticket (I do still meet up with fellow Addicks for pre- and sometimes post-match drinks, was at The Valley for the protest after the Forest game, and plan to be there after Blackburn) I thought I was done with blog posts, at least until something changed - ie either I have a Damascus moment and come to believe that our club will prosper under our visionary owner (rather than be driven into the ground), Mr Duchatelet has one of his own, or we are sold on. I did over the summer toy with the idea of putting up a new blog under the title of 'Orphan Addick - a lifelong Addick but not one of Duchatelet's babies' but genuinely don't enjoy writing negative stuff about the club I love and support. However, in light of recent events I feel less reluctant about resuming ranting - against a regime that through the arrogance and stupidity of Duchatelet and the willingness of others to fall in behind him is turning our club into a laughing stock.

I do appreciate that some Addicks will feel that not going to games when I am able to do so means I shouldn't be laying claim to still being a supporter. A part of me feels the same, no serious decision can be 100%. And through the Duchatelet era we have had players, obviously epitomised by Johnnie Jackson, who deserve our full support. All I can say is that I chose to go to Selhurst Park but never felt that anyone who didn't was any less (or more) of an Addick than me; and that I look forward to the day when I'm back watching and fully supporting my team, whatever division we are in. I know I will never support another.

So the rationale for reactivating? First, to underline to those who fear that Charlton fans may start to boycott games that some of us have been doing so for a while now (I've no idea how many but can't believe I'm alone). Second, to provide a regular reminder to our owner (no, I don't imagine for a moment he is out there paying attention) and to any potential purchaser of the club that there are more Addicks out there ready to return than current and future bums on seats would indicate. Third, to provide some sort of informal monitor concerning whether at least this Addick is ready to return to the fold, or moving further away. And fourth, to add my sixpenneth-worth when we get served up the sort of alienating nonsense/distortions/half-truths as contained in Ms Meire's recent embarrassing stage show and Richard Murray's depressing 'candid, wide-ranging interview', all compounded by the shabby treatment of Peter Varney and the implications of his approaches being treated with disdain.

I don't intend the blog just to be a vehicle for anti-Duchatelet rants (although if he carries on as before I feel they are inevitable), let alone as any kind of attempt to encourage others not to attend games. There can't be any match reports, even comments on players; but perhaps it will provide a bit of an outsider/insider's view as we stumble along, with maybe some tales of old thrown in for good measure.

To get going again here are a few thoughts, hopefully not going over too much old ground and complementing rather than just replicating what has already been written by others. Sorry if it goes on a bit but nobody ever accused me of brevity and I didn't have time to write something shorter.

Mr Duchatelet and his strategy. I don't mind admitting that once the (genuine) welcoming of him had given way to the stunning stupidity of what was done in that first January transfer window he has managed to press just about every negative button I have. The reference to his clubs as his 'babies' still sticks in the throat. Many years ago I sold a company I started to a 'visionary', staying with it as CEO. Routinely on a Friday he would suggest lunch, during which I would have the unenviable task of listening to his latest idea (which because it was his was obviously a brilliant one) and then to (as tactfully as I could) point out why it wouldn't work (and had been thought of and rejected years before). Needless to say the relationship did not end well. Coincidence perhaps, but he installed in the office a minion he could rely on to tell him all that she overheard. Duchatelet's selected representative got off to a bad start by stating that we 'had to accept' our new owner's decisions. We don't, whether we are supporters or customers.

We were told a while back by Murray that Roland's two objectives were to break even and to get promoted (with no indication then which of these two incompatibles would take priority), and that the network model (and the strengthening of our academy) would give us a competitive advantage (as and when the Financial Fair Play rules created a more level playing-field in the Championship). On that basis we might expect to at least be competitive in the second flight. Wasn't much of a strategy - apart from Standard Leige and us the network (and with this available movable assets) was pants and faith in FFP was always a pipe dream. But at least it was a rationale, for those content to see our club as just a part of our paternal visionary's consortium.

That has changed. Championship clubs have acted in their own interest and had the FFP rules changed - I actually burst out laughing when watching the Meire Dublin event and she called on the football authorities to come to her assistance re FFP ('please, it's not fair ...') - and Duchatelet has sold Standard Leige. There is no network worth speaking of and no prospect (if there ever was one) of FFP producing a Championship in which a club running a modest loss can expect to have a realistic hope of promotion (quite clearly the balance has shifted in favour of such a club going down). So we have to have a new one, that unveiled by Ms Meire. If she didn't already understand the difference between producing young players for the benefit of the club and to help it progress and fish-farming them to sell on as soon as a decent bid - and cash to use to contain our losses - comes in, hopefully Valley Gold's entirely praiseworthy decision to withhold funding will have driven home the message.

Murray in his interview said that "Roland's strategy is to have a mix of academy-produced players, young overseas talent, with some experienced British players" and that "as a long-term strategy I think that's a good one". First, this is not a strategy, it is a tactic (one which is based on the resale value of the first two categories of player and minimising the cost of the third). The strategy is the real basis/objective on which decisions are based, ie minimising losses. Murray actually labels that as Duchatelet's "philosophy", so the misuse of terms continues. Apparently "we should try and keep our losses to a reasonable level". It's not my money and we have no right to demand/expect any owner to spend any amount, but I can't see the moral imperative.

If someone buys a Championship football club on the basis of a strategy which has fallen apart, there would appear to be only three options: accept that a higher-than-desired/planned level of losses has to be funded in order to be competitive in this league; accept relegation if it happens and cut costs further; or sell the club. From the wasting of  Varney's time we know that the third option is not on the cards and from what we have been told can infer that neither is the first. I don't believe that Duchatelet wants us to be relegated, but if we are it is reasonable to suppose that nothing (in his eyes) will have changed. After all, it cannot amount to failure ....

If I have any sympathy for Duchatelet it is that when considering a purchase he may have viewed Charlton as just a club in crisis: languishing around the bottom of the division, owners with no money to invest (or willingness to invest it), and an embarrassment of a pitch. All true (whether he 'rescued' the club remains a matter of opinion'; Murray says he did and he of course has far more knowledge of the finances than me, but the suspicion remains that if Duchatelet had not stepped in too soon and overpaid for the club others would have come in at a substantially lower price before administration and points deduction). But it's also true that after five successive years of failure (relegation, failure to bounce back, relegation, failure to bounce back, stagnation in the third flight) we had had two of undoubted success (promotion and consolidation in the second). We saw a club with a decent and committed core group of players, a hero of a manager, and an enthusiastic fan base - ie a good structure in need of some fresh investment (gambling if you like) to build on what was already there. Perhaps he thought he would be welcomed as the loving parent come to put everything right, and ready to accept whatever it took. If so, it was the first of his mistakes.

Murray strays into Meire's realm of half-truths when in the interview he talked of us having become "financially stable" and of other Championship clubs having owners "willing to gamble heavily" to get to the Premiership. We are not, to the best of my knowledge, financially stable. We remain loss-making and dependent on our owner continuing to fund the shortfall. Perhaps we are less financially unstable than many other Championship clubs, but that's not the same. And what is the difference between gambling and investing? They are both forms of calculated risk-taking, just that the former has negative connotations and the latter positive ones. Our owner is gambling with our Championship status, as maintaining it is not the primary objective. Owners of other clubs may take a calculated risk in running relatively high losses, in the knowledge that the value of their asset would rise considerably if promotion is achieved. Bolton face possible administration not because they have a massive debt but because they no longer have an owner willing and able to fund ongoing losses.

Ms Meire? Sorry, but if she had some self-respect she would quit. It must be obvious even to her that she has burnt every bridge she had with supporters (organisations such as the Trust have shown remarkable patience in continuing to press for meaningful dialogue when every action of the board underlines that such contact has been and remains unwanted, viewed as a waste of time) and does not have the skills to succeed in her role (which does beg the question whether anyone could make a success of being Roland's public face and apologist for inanity).

I am of course of an age which renders me unimportant to the club in her eyes (not going to cite numbers but my first game was apparently in 1961/62 and memories date from the mid-60s); like that third category of Charlton player, my value only further erodes with time. All I can say to that is that I have a daughter (for the record it is her in the photo, taken during the wilderness years; she will not thank me for it, but I think the danger of her being outed is minimal). I knew I had done my job as a parent when her mother read her a bedside story: 'and the queen lived in the palace', which prompted an automatic response from my daughter of 'Palace, uurgh'. Next month it seems I will have a grandson. In other circumstances, his first outfit would be a Charlton kit and as soon as his parents would allow he would be taken to The Valley and welcomed to his life as an Addick.

'Support the team not the regime'? It's a catchy phrase and one with entirely honourable sentiments behind it. Quite frankly I wish I could, but when you believe (again, rightly or wrongly) that the long-term interests of our club are best served by the regime leaving the scene asap what can you do, other than act like a customer not being well served? I do support the efforts of the Trust, Voice of the Valley, and others to try to secure change and to coordinate protests. But where will they lead to if there is none? If we stay up, nothing changes. If we go down, nothing really changes (except the club's costs and revenues base). I truly hope that others will come up with some innovative form of protest that might lead to change.

'We want our Charlton back'. All Addicks understand what is meant by this. It doesn't necessarily mean we want an owner to come in and pour money into a promotion bid, let alone actually getting promoted (which would of course be welcome). We were singing 'we've got our Charlton back' not so long ago and we had no Premiership ambitions at the time. Football isn't religion but shares some of its characteristics (just as darts isn't a sport etc). We, I think, want a club to be proud of and something to believe in. Through most of my years being an Addick has been a genuine source of pride (contrast that with the inevitably short-lived, shallow illusion that Palace fans are currently labouring under). The Back to The Valley campaign and subsequent success under Curbishley did make us a bit special, for a while. But there were many years before and have been many after which saw us still happy to be Addicks. We are not trying to regain past glories, perhaps rather wish for the reinstatement of the values and attitudes that served us so well before - and which would hold out the promise of progress and a bright future (and with this enjoyment of the present), in contrast to what is currently on offer.

The comments by Varney in the 11 Jan South London Press article on the nature of the relationship between supporters and a club, from both an emotional and business point of view, strike exactly the right chord. He concluded that "like many reading this, I am just a supporter at heart. And whatever the outcome of the current fracture between club and fans, at least I will be able to look back in the future and say that I tried". I am just a fan and for me what Varney calls the "near-unbreakable emotional bond" hasn't gone because I no longer go to games. I want nothing more than a packed Valley, everyone - including me - singing in support of the team, and a club that makes us proud (again, whatever division we are in). I just don't believe - and haven't for some time - that this can happen under the auspices of our owner, who has had more than enough chances to show that he is capable of learning from mistakes.