Monday 29 February 2016

Sint-Truiden 20 For Supporter Of The Year?

I'd of course like to belatedly add my congratulations to the Sint-Truiden 20 for a well-conceived and well-executed protest. Good, positive coverage both sides of the Channel. I'd only point out that the Football League is now inviting nominations for the Capital One Supporter of the YearWhy don't we vote for Joe Read (or any one of the 20) and encourage disgruntled fans of other clubs to back him too, as a representative of fans that care in the face of owners that don't?

The Football League statement calling for nominations suggests someone who has "gone above and beyond the call of duty and added that extra special bit of devotion to their club". Rather than the gong going to the usual (entirely laudable) fan who's got up two hours before he went to bed to crawl the length of the country for every home and away game, we could galvanise a vote in favour of a fan who demonstrates devotion to his club by not simply accepting that fans have no role to play other than paying their money and cheering.

I was going to do the necessary myself, but the website does say that it will be important in determining which nominees are shortlisted (the closing date for nominations being 9 March) that as much information as possible is given about the supporter (how long a fan etc). Perhaps if it's not already been done someone who can answer the questions can nominate Joe. 

Friday 26 February 2016

Wear The Scarf With Pride, Yann

I did intend when resuming posts to try to come up with alternative themes to avoid falling into the trap of this blog being just an endless stream of anti-Duchatelet rants. But it's hardly my fault that he and his board are the only game in town and keep providing ample ammunition for any sane person not to be able to let pass without criticism (or without an ever-deepening desire to see the back of them).

One of the themes was going to be some recollections of moments or games, perhaps not the obvious ones, involving upcoming opponents. A wizened old git like me should have enough stored. But for the life of me - and it's no reflection on them - I can't think of anything much with respect to us and Reading, except perhaps that we sold Richie Bowman to them (now there was a midfield terrier). If there have been great moments/classic encounters, even strange incidents, I can't recall them. All of which leaves me with the thought that perhaps the most memorable incident has yet to happen but may take place tomorrow, for obvious reasons.

I could never bring myself to wish for anyone to score against us (I did come dangerously close last season when Scottie Parker was coming in for crazy booing at The Valley, apparently repeated recently), or cheer any opposition goal. But as others have already commented, if Yann buries one (just the one then, when we've already won the game) the reaction of the crowd will be at least sympathetic. I'd happily settle for an iconic image of Kermorgant on a lap of honour wearing a black and white scarf, just as we cheered him to the rafters at the promotion/champions celebration game when he wore his Breton beret. In the interim, I hope the crowd, in addition to dreaming of a team of Kermorgants, will pick up on the "deluded" tag for our owner (and his board).

If Duchatelet and Meire don't understand why the man is held in such high regard by supporters, I'm not going to explain why. They should ask someone, and listen. That way they would learn something they didn't previously know, something which might help them to do their jobs better .... Whistling in the wind. When Duchatelet talks about learning from mistakes he means himself and his lackeys discussing amongst themselves what aspect of their masterplan might have been undermined by some external factor. Suffice to say that in the years to come we will still sit around and talk with affection about the time that Yann got clattered and was back up again, when he was harshly sent off just for accidentally kicking someone, or whether he really meant that volley as a shot or an attempt to square it, when anyone mentioning Duchatelet or Meire will get blank stares and be told to go and wash their mouths out.

Deluded does just about sum it up. I remember that when a valued employee informed me that he/she was resigning to take another job (usually for a much higher salary than I was paying them, the ungrateful bstards) I would feel lousy, thinking about how long it would take to find and train a replacement, how much extra work would be involved etc. But after a day or two, when you've come to terms with it, I'd have persuaded myself that the person leaving was a waste of space, that the next in would be a marked improvement, and that I couldn't wait for the change to come. So when Duchatelet describes Kermorgant as a player who "wanted to leave" he may simply have persuaded (ie deluded) himself that this was indeed the case, nothing to do with him (Duchatelet) screwing up and making an awful decision based on ignorance and arrogance. The difference is that even at the time I knew I was kidding myself and just trying to make the best of a bad job; I'm not sure that our owner is capable of distinguishing fact from his own fiction.

We all know the significance of tomorrow's result; Riga and the players may with justification talk of positives from a performance but as each round passes and the gap to safety either widens or gets no narrower the need for a win and nothing else increases. I am in the 'stranger things have happened' camp, not out of any sense that we are likely to avoid relegation (let alone will avoid it) but that it is still feasible. I wrote back in January, following Riga's return, that in light of the fixtures if we are still in the bottom three after playing MK Dons on 8 March we would surely be set for the drop. I guess now even as the eternal optimist we would need to win our next three games, including the MK Dons one, to have an outside chance of being out of the bottom three by then. Adjust and adapt. The gap by then just has to be materially narrower than it is now. Starting tomorrow.

Sunday 21 February 2016

New Charlton Book and a Community Club Doing Well

There have been many splendid books written on and around our club, from the reference works (to which we are often indebted in the rush to scribble something) to the accounts and biographies of former players. And they continue, with Steve Bridge's 'Charlton Athletic In Pictures 1975-2015' (and now £10 goes to CARD for each additional copy sold). But I have heard that another of more questionable merit is in the pipeline. It's working title is apparently 'The True History of Charlton Athletic' and is set to form the third tomb of incomparable wisdom from our owner. I am led to believe that the contents will surprise many Addicks (and football historians) and will correct many misunderstandings about the club.

The book sheds light on the uncertain details of the formation of Charlton Athletic, with the claim that it was in fact the work of extraterrestrials, who set in motion the whole thing safe in the knowledge that one day there would be another coming, of one much greater than them, to save the world of football from its sins and to show us all the true path. The book reveals that contrary to popular belief, Sam Bartram never actually played for Charlton (too old), Derek Hales came through the Charlton youth ranks, Curbishley was Belgian, Sir Chris was "certainly wrong" if he said he was told who he should pick to play, and Yann Kermorgant was a player who "wanted to leave" Charlton.

In all seriousness, these latest comments from Duchatelet in the SLP interview are beneath contempt - unless he really is so self-deluded to actually believe that them (if so, he must be the only person in any way connected with Charlton that does). It seems quite apparent at whose knee Ms Meire learnt how to pretend that black is white with a straight face. We've seen Powell's recent comments regarding being told who to pick. For the record here are some excerpts from an interview with Kermorgant in the SLP back in February 2014. 'Yann goes on to explain in detail how the club offered no form of negotiation with regard to agreeing personal terms, how the club quickly accepted a bid from Bournemouth and allowed him to talk to them, and how on the Thursday evening he was still trying to negotiate a stay with the club. Despite Katrien Meire telling him earlier the club still wanted to keep him, according to Yann she came back later that evening and said after speaking with the owner that he wanted to sell him'. Kermorgant is then quoted as saying "Charlton wanted to show people they had tried to do something when in reality they had done nothing special".

Just disgruntled ex-employees of course, just as so many of us will be getting labelled as disgruntled ex-supporters - except that we're not going anywhere and, as the poster says, will be around when you have gone, whatever state the club is in. In the interim, let's not allow deliberate attempts to rewrite history, or at least to try to muddy the waters with some, be viewed as anything other than (more) lies. If there is some comfort to be taken, it's that we have no good reason to believe Duchatelet when he says he is not prepared to sell the club. Why should we assume he is telling the truth over this when he is so obviously content to lie on other matters?

On a lighter note, would anyone like an update on a football club working well within the community and enjoying a good season? I'm sure that during recent months everyone has been doing their own checking up on France's CFA Groupe B to see how Lyon Duchere have been getting on. But in case not, after an indifferent season last time around - when they spent most of the campaign in the lower reaches of their regional division but came through it unscathed (ie they didn't get relegated) - this season have been on a splendid run pretty much from day one.

In the 16-team (ie 30-game) league after 18 matches La Duch have recorded 10 wins, seven draws, and a solitary defeat, scoring 26 and conceding 13. There's only one fly in the ointment: the fact that Grenoble have done even better: played 19, won 13, drawn four and lost two. Both teams stuttered in the latest round, with Duchere held to a 0-0 draw at home by Monts d'Or Azergues, while Grenoble went down 1-0 away at Yzeure. So as things stand Duchere are seven points behind Grenoble but with a game in hand - which comes with a point for turning up, so the gap could be narrowed to three points. Duchere have a five-points lead and a game in hand over third-placed Auxerre B (a team which I believe cannot be promoted whatever happens).

Next Sunday will see the fixture that will go some way to determining which team tops the league and gets automatically promoted to France's national third division as Duchere make the short trip to Grenoble. Clearly a win for Grenoble and a 10-points gap and with 10/11 games left would leave Duchere dependent on their rivals - who I think would consider themselves the 'bigger' team and have fans with a poor reputation - blowing it. A draw and it still looks tough, but if Duchere can get the victory it really will be game on for the title.

It does get complicated (for me at least) if Duchere finish runners-up. I asked my French partner Suzanne to look at the wording on the Foot National site to try to explain to me the precise rules determining who goes up from the various regional leagues and who gets relegated from National. It does seem you can finish second in one of the four regional leagues and get promoted. I am led to believe (but with no certainty) that at the end of the season the four bottom teams in National will play against each other, as will the four CFA teams which finished second in their leagues. The two victorious teams would then have a play-off final to decide it all. But I'm still a bit confused. The Foot National leagues show the bottom four National places highlighted as relegation spots, and the top place in each of the four CFA groups highlighted for promotion. I don't know how another place might come into the equation.

Suzanne promises me she will have it all clarified by the time I next get to Lyon. I expect to be there in mid-March, and the timings will allow for a Duchere home game against Le Puy. It's been while for me since my last match in anger, much longer since I last saw a Duchere goal (let alone a win), but I have high hopes that this time around Duchere will do their bit to lift my footballing spirits. I remember not so long ago being in Lyon and agreeing to eat some cheese if we beat Leicester - and of course Kermorgant did the business for us. Happier days indeed.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Selective Recognition

The theme of the day seems to be selective recognition, the ability we all have to embrace any facts or opinions that suit our way of thinking and to ignore/downplay/reject those that don't. The Beeb was at it in the context of the upcoming EU referendum, citing Simon and Garfunkel's 'The Boxer' ('still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest ...'), and it's been a feature of email exchanges I've had with a friend who I would in most circumstances consider to be intelligent but who sometimes expresses Ukip sympathies (and is even contemplating voting to leave the EU). Just how is it that when the best economists and analysts can struggle to come up with confident assessments of the economic implications of leaving the EU, every Tom, Dick and Harry who is a long way from being either feels quite content to express 'their opinion' (even to think that the opinion is their own)?

Bear with me, there is (I think) a bit of relevance for us. I'm frankly staggered by our owner's recent interviews, not so much for what he actually said, daft as it was, but rather for the fact that he clearly thought that by coming over (briefly) and publishing the mix of the incoherent and the unacceptable that he did, he might actually be helping the situation. These weren't off-the-cuff remarks but planned responses to prepared questions, possibly edited before being put out. 'Ah,' thinks Roland, 'I'm not good at communication but, heh, I will make an effort'. There is a theme through what we know of your time with us, Mr Duchatelet, and it is not really that your communication skills are lacking (they are) but the fact that the message you are trying to get across is shocking, unacceptable. I hope the interview clips on the club website are left there for all time, just so that people can periodically check to remind themselves of the curious world of our former owner; at the least they will serve as comedy classics.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I went to help hand out masks and stickers before Saturday's game (as I'm not actually going to games I did have to pass on the post-match protest this time; my partner Suzanne was over from France for the weekend and on effectively Valentine's Day going to the ground before the game, coming back, then going off again would have been a tough sell). I tried to keep a rough mental tally of those fans we encountered and to group them as follows: clearly up for the protest (those wearing the scarf being an obvious giveaway), more ambivalent but willing to take a sticker and express support, politely not in favour (ie those who said nothing but declined the offers), and vocally (or otherwise clearly) against. For the purposes of this survey I have excluded the children bussed in on freebies (who were happy to have stickers and masks but looked as though they thought it was some sort of school plaything), the police and ambulance workers, those who looked very much like they worked for the club, and of course Ms Meire herself (who took a sticker and mask from us before going on for her encounter with Rick Everitt; it's hard to say which category she would have fallen into, or whether if asked she would have told the truth).

It did ebb and flow, and of course the numbers cannot be precise. But I'd say that the first category (clearly anti-Duchatelet) made up around 35% and the second (those who took a sticker but less readily) a further 35%. Of the 30% or so (being generous I would put it at 35% maximum, if there was an element of wishful thinking on my part) who declined, only one person actually took issue with us, expressing his opposition to the protest. No doubt others who said nothing felt the same.

In short, nobody's in any doubt that the overwhelming majority of fans are, to varying degrees and perhaps for different reasons, not happy and prepared to lay the blame at the door of our owner. The weekend results obviously won't have eaten into that majority. There is every reason for the protests to continue, even though the views of a Charlton hero such as Curbs of course have to be taken into consideration. He did say on the TV highlights show that it was time for the fans to shelve protests until the summer and get behind the team. I can't say whether it was a throwaway remark or a considered opinion, people can view and judge for themselves. But to the best of my knowledge he hasn't since retracted the comments.

I'd agree with Curbs to the extent that protests are kept in abeyance when games are ongoing. As mentioned before if the mantra is 'support the team, not the regime' let's do everything for the former and nothing that might confuse the two, which is why I think the banner protest inside the ground might have been ill-considered, inviting their display during a game. But just how are we to put off protests until the summer? How is it possible to organise any meaningful protest once the season is over? And in the interim supporters have in any event to register their opinion when it comes to decisions over early renewal of season tickets. If there was any good reason to believe that our chances of avoiding relegation are increased by shelving protests completely, or reason to see how post-season protests might achieve anything, I'd be with Curbs.

Of course there was something at least incongruous about Meire's Pinocchio Day: if she is just a puppet why make a thing about her opinions/lies? No matter, it was a bit of fun. Having her in situ may not be great for the day-to-day operation of the club, but the real poison comes from the owner, she is just carrying out his 'strategy', however ineptly. I can't imagine her being replaced by anyone from outside Duchatelet's trusted circle, so the chances of something positive from any change are slim.

I'm frankly well past caring what really motivates our owner, why he is involved in football etc. I'm not a psychiatrist and have precious little interest in what childhood traumas and/or adolescent fumblings may have helped shape his personality. I don't even care just why he seems to focused on youth, inside and outside of football. I suspect there are two reasons: first, he may well have some altruistic tendencies which mixed with arrogance lead him to believe that he can be a force for good in others' formative years; second, the young are impressionable (Ms Meire and her need to be loved/desire for a father figure .. but all that's another story) and less likely/able to point out to you just why your 'revolutionary' ideas are unworkable (of course many who have made money from being ahead of the curve in a certain area then tend to disregard the views of experienced people in another area when they disagree with you).

What I am convinced of - and have been for some time - is that our club cannot hope to prosper (in any sense of the word) under this owner. I believe this is based on the evidence of his actions to date and what he has said about his strategy for the club. How on earth can he really believe that Addicks are in any way attracted (and not completely disgusted) by the notion that our club, fresh from being subsumed into a low-quality network, is to become a fish-farm? Of course the answer lies in forgetting the past and what the club has been, accepting that supporters like me will never buy into the Duchatelet 'vision' and have to fall by the wayside, and try to play the long game: bus in a new generation with free tickets and get them Addickted and indoctrinated. In that context, 'Building a Better Future Together' comes across less as the inane first-year marketing student project slogan that it probably was and something more akin to the Hitler Youth.

Will it work? We can't rule out that our owner will be prepared to hang on through one relegation, possibly another, and the annihilation of the current fanbase, by funding the losses, selling anything that moves to limit the financial drain, giving away tickets to all and sundry to try to maintain a pretence of a crowd, and taking other actions to raise revenues. He talks of having empathy with the fans but other than the fact that we are unhappy and he is too that is a lie (or at best a misuse of the word), he doesn't care, or at least doesn't care enough to consider real change, he doesn't empathise with us. He talks about the community and the club within it, but he knows nothing of the area and what the community really is (and has made no effort to find out, yet is still happy to talk of how great a club we are), rather than what he believes, from a distance, one should be.

So I guess with the Trust issuing an invitation to talk, this is a sort of plea, one that no doubt will fall on deaf ears: we welcomed you when you bought the club, what you have since said and done (and continue to say and do) have turned us against you; we are the Charlton community, if you care about the community (rather than just a part of it) you will realise that the best thing you can do is pass on ownership of the club, or at least talk to potential partners who may help with the funding needed to get Charlton back on track as a football club, not a prospective social centre/glorified youth club. That is not the function of a football club within the community. 

There is also an associated warning: if we are relegated this season the blame will lie with you (you may say that you could not have imagined us being in this situation - ie our league position - but plenty of others could and did). More seriously, if - whether or not as a result of relegation and a need to cut costs/raise revenues - anything is done by you to despoil The Valley it will not be forgiven, or forgotten, ever. We have seen the reports of possible property development. You must be aware of the pride we take in the stadium, even the nice pitch that you paid for, and our spiritual home. Destroy that and protests will go to a new level and not stop.

On that front, perhaps there is one angle for moving the protests closer to the home of our owner. I had assumed that Duchatelet's political vehicle in Belgium, Vivant, had come to a complete end in failure having been subsumed into another party. Not so. No longer just a party, Vivant has actually morphed into a movement (albeit not one seemingly blessed by numbers) and has a site - - promoting its thinking. It seems that undaunted by being rejected by the Belgian electorate, Vivant now looks to be a pan-European grouping with the focus on influencing policy at the EU level. On the site there is an invitation to join and perhaps we can all sign up, get a majority of membership, and vote to bury the project - ie do to his movement what he's doing to our club.

Friday 12 February 2016

The Song, Not The Singer

Seems we have the first installment of the South London Press' interview with Roland Duchatelet. We look forward to more, but the headline message is his support for Katrien Meire, plus backing for Richard Murray. That's bad news for anyone still out there hoping for our owner to show evidence of learning from errors, of compromise and accommodation with supporters. It's good news for those who see no option other than a change of ownership if our club is to prosper, as Duchatelet digs an ever-deeper hole. I was toying with the thought of penning something along the lines of 'please stay Katrien' before there were the blog postings heralding the SLP article, on the grounds that retaining her provides continuing evidence of the delusions of our owner. It really doesn't matter whether she stays or goes, she is not important except as an acid test of our owner's intentions (ie nobody in their right mind would believe she had the skills necessary to run a football club in the first place, or cruelly keep her in her job when all the evidence shows she is not fit for purpose). To distort a very strange Dirk Bogarde film, it's the song, not the singer.

With allowances for anything lost in translation, here's some of the Duchatelet quotes with comments:

"I'm very sorry some people may have misunderstood what she said". Nobody has, this is not about failure to communicate, it is about the message.

"I can certainly say she never meant to hurt anybody and she really is working for the club. It's a pity because she is a fantastic lady and she has a huge heart for Charlton". This may all be true but is irrelevant. It's not about commitment and dedication (I do take some issue with the idea that she was in love with the club from day one; Slater was better at that, everyone knew he was a Man City fan but he talked in terms of a growing affection for Charlton), it is about competence.

I'm not going to repeat the garbled attempt to justify what she said in Dublin, we all watched the performance and understood well enough what she said.

"She is a fantastic woman, extremely dedicated. She has done extremely good work so far in all sorts of things. I'm very happy with it". First, please give us some examples of this 'good work' because I'm not aware of any (at least none that provide much counterbalance to the long list of errors). Second, it is a big relief to us all, Mr Duchatelet, that you are 'very happy with it', we can sleep easy now. After all, this is all that matters.

The defence of Murray that follows was going OK, until we came to this: "It's painful to say so, because he supported also Katrien, that some fans are starting to see him as an enemy - which is crazy". It is precisely because he seems to be supporting Katrien, and you Roland, that some fans are moving this way. I do think that some of the criticism of Murray may be going too far, at least at this stage. The past does give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to wanting the best for Charlton. But we can only go on what is said and Murray has commented that he thinks Duchatelet can be a good long-term owner of the club, so he could have good intentions but just be wrong. I would like to hear whether he still believes that and, if so, just why. It is of course possible that Murray regards Duchatelet as off his rocker but a necessary - for now - writer of the cheques to keep the club in existence. But that leads us back to the club's refusal to talk to Peter Varney.

I've only ever met Murray in an arranged meeting with some bloggers at the club, when (if I remember and interpreted correctly) having failed to bounce back into the Premiership he wanted to get across the message that the priority would be balancing the books. So I cannot claim any insight into his thinking and motivation. Which is just an excuse for regurgitating this little gem concerning Murray from Gary Nelson's Left Foot Forward. "There was a real 'up' feeling as we trained this morning. Richard Murray, our recently installed managing director, caught the mood as, emerging from his top-of-the-range Merck he drew in a deep breath. "What a wonderful day to be a footballer!" he exclaimed. "And a bloody sight better one for being a millionaire!" Alan Pardew instantly retorted. It was by some way his best strike of the season."

So, from Duchatelet no grand gesture to try to reconstruct some bridges with the fans, at least not yet. So be it. The fans, the manager and the players move on to the Cardiff game tomorrow, which has taken on much extra importance after the lame showing against Bristol City. I thought before that the Rotherham and Bristol games were primarily 'must not lose' rather than 'must win'. Cardiff, I'd suggest, is a 'must give the supporters reason to believe with a committed display' - although an indifferent display and a fluked win would be quite acceptable.

Thursday 11 February 2016

Thank You, Mr Moore

Sad news that Graham Moore has died, aged 74. No doubt he will be better remembered and celebrated in Wales, Cardiff in particular where he started his professional career. But he fully merits honourable mentions in dispatches from us too. His time with us spanned four seasons (1967/68 to 1970/71), having been signed from Northampton after they were relegated to the third division. He may have arrived at Charlton in the later stages of his career (reflected in the values: Chelsea paid £35,000 for him in 1961, Man Utd also £35,000 in 1963, before Northampton picked him up for £15,000 in 1965 and we paid £6,000 in 1967) but he made a total of 110 league appearances for us, chipping in with eight goals from midfield, and was near ever-present in the 1968/69 and 1969/70 campaigns (before being sold to Doncaster for £4,000 in 1971). I'm sure that all our condolences go to his family and friends.

I can't say I remember too much about his actual performances on the pitch, being knee-high to the proverbial grasshopper when he arrived (or so I like to think). But he was a key player in the glorious 1968/69 season when we - having for all my time until then hovered around the lower end of the second division table, sometimes barely staying up - suddenly under Eddie Firmani became a force in the league, played great football, and only just missed out on promotion by finishing third (Derby and another team actually went up). For reasons I'm not entirely clear on in the area my father used to congregate with his pals he was affectionately referred to as Mrs Moore. My memory tells me that he had no pace, would stroll through games at his own tempo, but couldn't be knocked off the ball (I believe stocky is the polite term, more a Molby figure than a racehorse), played a decent pass, and had a venomous shot (it's possible I only remember the good ones). He obviously slotted in well in a team that had more drive around him (Alan Campbell, Harry Gregory, and a certain Keith Peacock) and two front men (Matt Tees and Ray Treacy) who were my real heroes of the time.

Neither can I say that I distinctly remember meeting him, but I did - as I have his autograph to prove it. The club used to have open nights for supporters and I went to one of these, no doubt open-mouthed and with autograph book in hand, thrusting that at the various seated individuals who, with notable exceptions (especially Charlie Wright), looked as if they would rather be somewhere else. I can make out most of the scribbles: on the page with Graham Moore are the signatures of Theo Foley and Charlie Wright; on the next page you find Peter Reeves, Len Glover, Ian King and two others I have yet to decipher; and on page three there's Eddie Firmani, Cliff Hall, Luciano Masiello, Les Burns, what looks like a certain A. Fagan (but I could be wrong) and a Lenny something (definitely not Glover). The pages are proudly displayed on the wall, along with some from my father's autograph book. Those that I can make out include Don Welsh, Harold Hobbis, George Tadman, John Oaks, Jimmy Trotter (who splendidly wrote under his signature 'trainer' just to be on the safe side). There are many others that I should spend a bit of time working out, but Mrs Moore is in good company.

Of course the glory of that 1968/69 season did not prove to be a launching pad, rather the exception that proved the rule (for a long time to come). It all went pear-shaped after a particularly daft transfer out of a forward, Matt Tees, a decision that just goes to show it isn't only Belgians who stupidly dispose of talisman forwards. The ageing Ray Crawford proved to be a disaster, we scored 35 goals in the 1969/70 season (compared with 61 the previous season) and after sacking Firmani under Foley we somehow scrambled enough points at the last to end up third from bottom (a position we were to retain the following season before the first relegation in my lifetime in 1971/72). But all that's another story, you will be fondly remembered in SE7 Mr Moore.

Tuesday 9 February 2016

Wind Out of the Sails and a Victimless Crime

I had to think hard to remember a result - and by the sound of it a performance - that left us feeling so deflated. Of course with a little effort they do come back to mind (Operation Ewood back in 2007, the failure to get past Swindon at The Valley in the third-tier play-offs in 2010 ...), those games/results that you just prefer to leave in their long-buried box. I can't comment on the match itself (although a fellow Addick was more forgiving than some of the reports I read, suggesting that Bristol City deserved more credit than they've been given for a very disciplined performance - perhaps they still had a bee in their bonnet over our equaliser at their place); but perhaps there was a general feeling after Rotherham that with the return of Riga and with two more faces coming in that with better organisation we had enough ability and character, plus gathering momentum, to get out of the bottom three and stay out.

I wouldn't call it complacency but would guess that a straw poll of supporters before the game would have seen most predicting a win or draw at worst. Instead no Vetokele, no sign of the new guys, a depressing home defeat which can't be explained away simply as the result of a ref's decision (what mattered was how we reacted to going behind), seemingly a bad reaction from the crowd, and Bolton leaving us on the bottom. Now, instead of being on something of a roll we (and the players) have to draw another line in the sand (after the one following the rout at Hull) and hope: that the loan window produces further strengthening, that all those already with us are match-fit and available asap, that the players show the necessary commitment, that Cardiff turn up on Saturday already on their summer hols .... (and of course that our owner puts us up for sale and in the interim - or in conjunction - Ms Meire really does head off to pastures new).

I'm not a lawyer and have no idea whether or not filing a false director's resignation, presumably one involving the forging of a signature, actually breaks any laws. If it does - and I notice the BBC's report suggests that "an individual found guilty of filing false documents to Companies House could receive a prison term of up to two years, a fine, or both" - I hope that in this instance good sense prevails, even if the person responsible is identified (CARD say not them). It's a good principle in law that for a crime to have been committed there needs to be a victim and some tangible ill-effects, some damage, to merit recompense. In this case, while nobody condones breaking any laws, there is no such harm, no real attempt to deceive or mislead (I occasionally say something to my partner Suzanne that clearly isn't true but deny that it's a lie as there isn't a bat in hell's chance of her falling for it) . If the board had any collective sense of humour it would take a step back and treat it for the (good) jape that was, I assume, the intention. This is after all the regime that tarred us with the tawdry 'score on the pitch' episode, which had no wit and just left us embarrassed. The fact that the club takes the matter "seriously" means nothing; it was funny. Perhaps the perpetrator is a potential investor who was looking to establish some means of communication.

That said, for what it's worth I didn't really favour the nature of the 'banner protest' for Saturday's game. I back the campaign, accept that it's not easy to keep the protests novel and the board off balance, and can see the appeal of responding to the club's heavy-handed approach towards visible expressions of discontent inside the ground. But this was a bloody important match and the nature of the protest couldn't help but divert attention from the game while it was going on, with the players no doubt aware of it all. It worked against the idea of giving the team full support while games are being played. Nobody can say if there was an adverse effect on the pitch, but equally nobody can say with certainty that there wasn't one. Why take the chance?

With hindsight might have been better to have had fans with the posters outside the ground before and after the game, with the other focus of the day's protest being the excellent poster in Anchor & Hope Lane. Or perhaps something that might have fitted better with the planned demonstration by Liverpool fans against their rise in some prices, emphasising the theme of 'supporters not customers' (admission prices is probably the one area where the regime deserves credit).

After all, while the level of unrest has clearly gone up markedly and there is now a focal point for it in the form of CARD, we shouldn't pretend that every Addick is fully on board (ahem, it is above 2%). Let's leave distortions and half-truths to the regime. I've walked to the ground for post-match protests outside the West Stand twice now and on both occasions was a bit struck by supporters - quite often ones wearing black and white scarves - leaving early (and given that both games were draws not because of events on the pitch). Sure some people have good reason not to wait behind, even not to wait for the end of the match; but I think this and other comments following the call to boycott purchases inside the ground suggests there is still work to be done to convince some supporters that our club will only have a decent chance to prosper with new owners (and of course that there are such people out there). In the interim, doing anything that might be labelled as increasing the chances of us being relegated, before the outcome is decided, can sow seeds of disunity when all Addicks want us to stay up.

Our owner and CEO apparently don't care about our club's history, and they are ignorant of most things football. So perhaps we need to emphasise some truths from time to time: League One is horrible and we desperately don't want to go back there. If we do go down, there will be no shrugging of shoulders, acceptance of our lot etc. We might feel inclined to attribute 5-10% of the blame on the Slater/Jiminez regime, for obvious reasons (including who they sold us on to). But relegation this season would be seen as an unnecessary failure laid squarely at our owner's door.

Like many other Addicks I've seen us relegated to the third flight three times. First time around was a shock (we'd been in the Second Division all my life until then) but was ultimately manageable; I was young and we got back up in the third season, before life in the third division became entrenched. Second time around I was away at university for the most part. Third time was pretty bad but in essence a hangover from relegation from the Premiership and an inability to adjust. And just when despair might have set in after two failed campaigns along came Sir Chris and the team that he put together. Never more than three consecutive seasons in the third flight but also an awareness of just what a miserable slog that division is.

Rightly or wrongly I think most Charlton supporters would say they loved being in the Premiership/Division One as was (even if first time around in my life was soiled by being away from The Valley) and would of course embrace returning, can accept life in the Championship (probably even suggest that we are at home in the division, not punching above or below our weight), but view the third division as beneath us, being in it an unnatural state of affairs (just as is Palace being temporarily in the top flight). There are of course clubs in that league now that would feel the same (most obviously Sheff Utd). We all accept that there are no divine rights involved, the point is that if Duchatelet thinks for a moment that getting relegated, going back to a league that were in not so long ago, would be seen by supporters as a modest setback, one likely to prompt a similar reaction to last time around in terms of attendance, he really should think again.

Friday 5 February 2016

Nothing Changed Off The Pitch

Let's get the important stuff out of the way first (and a much-needed explanation for the above photo). This is not some out-of-date joke, already dealt with by Addicks in their thousands, but a belated attempt to educate. I am reliably informed by my partner Suzanne that the French veer towards the US rather than the British use of the word 'fanny'. Apparently it is a term used in boules/petanque, that if someone loses 0-13 (which evidently amounts to an humiliating defeat) he/she has to 'kiss fanny' (as per photo). I can only suppose that if our new signing had been around for the Colchester/Huddersfield/Hull experience (technically the aggregate was 1-13) there would have been some puckering up required, with the queue headed by an ex-head coach whose name begins with 'F'.

Obviously we welcome Rod Fanni, along with Yaya Sanogo, and hope they both go on to become Charlton legends. Are we left stronger or weaker at the closure of the transfer window (and before the next loan one opens)? Can't be certain but I'd say we are probably stronger, perhaps not because of who has actually come in - Fanni and Sanogo to add to Jorge Teixeira, plus Poyet, Johnson and Williams (who is now of course also added to the departures list) - and who's gone - Watt (whatever the rights and wrongs of this one we have got used to life without him), Vaz Te, Moussa, Pigott, Parzyszek - but as there wasn't a major sale (Lookman, Gudmundsson) to help cut this season's loss. Such a move (which does of course require a concrete offer, which may or may not have been received) might have seriously undermined Jose Riga's efforts to haul us out of the doo-doo (by the way another word which has a different meaning in French, something that a baby holds onto, presumably not while filling its nappy), especially on the back of the splendid victory at Rotherham.

There has to be a special mention in dispatches for Polish Pete. I've seen plenty of players come and go over the years but not many that I can state with confidence that I witnessed every minute that they played for the first team. I can think of one other, the goalkeeper Ron Willis (I do remember the occasion but am indebted to 'The Valiant 500' for the details). He managed more time on the pitch for us than Parzyszek, lasting more than the first half of his only game in 1967/68. I still remember him coming off badly in a collision of bodies and subsequently wandering around his box vomiting repeatedly before having to depart. At least I remember something he did on the pitch. I'm sure there are others, but Parzyszek must also be right up there when it comes to our most disappointing signings, given the circumstances around his arrival. Perhaps he will go on to carve out a glorious career, perhaps even as a footballer. For us he can serve as the shining example of the fact that buying young, promising and foreign is no guarantee of a higher resale value.

I don't think it's surprising that over the past couple of weeks the 'Duchatelet out' campaign(s) have been off the front pages, given the return of Riga, the tremendous Rotherham result and the approach of another vital match tomorrow. Every Addick wants us to avoid relegation. But I hope our owners/board don't get the notion that anything's changed as regards whether or not we want them out. Others may feel differently but if we won every game left I'd still want them gone. It isn't about just the results, that after all would make us just customers. And the time for talking to Duchatelet/Meire (other than to help smooth a change of ownership) has long passed.

They have had ample opportunity, repeated chances, to learn/change and taken none of them. I still get the impression that these two regard consultation with fans' representatives as a chore to be undergone if really pushed rather than an useful asset to help them to do their jobs better, as if fans were motivated by the idea of a cup of tea in the boardroom and a pat on the head rather than wanting to see our club thrive. Personally I'm rather fed up with these periodic halfhearted apologies from the board for past mistakes, as if these were somehow unavoidable, par for the course for any Championship club etc. It struck me as significant that there was no great reaction from Addicks to Sir Chris' latest comments in the News Shopper; they only confirmed what we already believed to be true (ie we already believed him, along with other ex-employees such as Kermorgant and Dyer, rather than Meire).

Riga does continue to impress. I very much liked the way he dealt with the curveball in his interview on the club site after the Blackburn game. The question was 'there was a protest outside the ground after the game; is that affecting the players at all?' He dealt with the potential banana skin very well, just stressing that the fans wanted the same thing as him and the players (which is true) and that he felt that during the game "they were with us" (again true). In other words the silly and provocative question was sidestepped. There will after all be more of the same to come from the fans (both the support and the protests).

Others do not. I was disappointed with the accounts of MP Matthew Pennycook's meeting with Ms Meire. His statement outlined "four key points of particular concern". These began with "while the club does have a positive vision for the future ..." and that "there is a widespread perception that it is being poorly executed". Sorry, but it doesn't, it has a vacuous and utterly unappealing 'vision', one which was put together after the (predictable) failure of the first; and if you have a crap strategy it really doesn't matter whether how it is executed. The other three 'concerns' were equally vapid. It came across as just a bit of showboating in the wake of the protests. Perhaps next time he could pretend to be a potential investor and then at least he wouldn't have to actually meet Meire.

Meire herself, rather than accept that a strategy to rely on financial fair play to deliver a level playing field was doomed to failure, continues to bark at the moon. In the recent MailOnline piece (yes, I was obliged to check something from that awful rag) she described the change to FFP rules as "ridiculous"; they are not (and they were entirely predictable). The piece commented that she had been "a target of personal abuse"; anything personal or offensive should be condemned, but I've not heard anything chanted during protests that come into that category. It is simply unfortunate that she is in a position that she does not have the skills for.

I'll end on what I regard as an optimistic note. We knew from the start that a few protests weren't going to result in Duchatelet deciding to sell. It probably will be a long haul. But for all the bluster that comes from the board right now, the evidence suggests that when confronted with his failures Duchatelet does eventually give up, as long as he's given a path out which might not look like failure.

My research is never extensive, I'm far too lazy for that. But I was intrigued by an extract from 'The Vivant Experiment in Belgium'. This noted that in 1998 Duchatelet expected his new party to win 5-15% of the vote. After the June 1999 election, with Vivant having registered 2.10% of the vote for the Chamber of Representatives (and 2.0% for the Senate) he announced "a dramatic reduction in the level of his financial involvement, closed down most of the party local offices, and introduced a membership fee". In the conclusion section three lessons were highlighted, two of which seem relevant to us. First, that (as Duchatelet seemingly acknowledged) it was a mistake to try to attract a sizeable share of the vote with an "innovative" message and that Vivant's programme "should have been researched more thoroughly", in order to appeal to 'innovators' (ie the youth and intellectuals). Second, while the previous election in 1995 had focused on social security/taxation, the next one did not, which meant that Vivant had little or nothing to say on the perceived pressing policy issues.

In short, the party's focus was out of date, the strategy fatally flawed, and the tactics employed failed. Duchatelet's response was to cut costs. Does all of this sound vaguely familiar? Vivant did stagger on for some years, winning 1.20% of the vote in the 2003 federal election, but eventually it sort of backed itself into the VLD. In other words, Duchatelet withdrew from the whole project rather than continuing to get nowhere in the polls.

When it came to selling Standard Liege, Duchatelet found what he called his "perfect solution". He was quoted at the time as saying that "the situation was a complicated one as the fans don't like me". We don't like you either (here too it's not personal, we've never met you, it's just about what you are doing to our club), so it seems we have in place one necessary but not sufficient condition for us to get new owners. I'd suggest there are at least two more required.

The money is quite rightly pivotal. We can't say whether or not Duchatelet made or lost money out of owning Standard Liege. I've seen reports saying that he paid either EUR34m or EUR41m for the club in 2011; I've seen it reported that he sold it in 2015 for EUR30m but there is also the issue of the EUR20m reportedly withdrawn from the club in 2013. Perhaps there are verifiable and accurate numbers somewhere but I've not seen them, so it doesn't seem possible to say categorically that he lost money on the investment over a four-year period (ie he failed).

According to Meire in the Mail piece, Duchatelet has invested a further GBP20m in us since the purchase (I'm assuming GBP14m here). We are still loss-making and absent material (and regular) player sales will remain so. I struggle to think of anyone in their right mind being ready to fork out for us a sum that could mean a profit for Duchatelet, which does look like a serious stumbling-block.

But perhaps there's one more factor, a less tangible one, which might help explain why Duchatelet was prepared to sell Standard Liege but is not ready to even talk to potential investors in Charlton. He owned Standard for almost exactly four years and ended up selling on to the person who had become deputy chairman of the club. Leaving aside the money, it creates an impression of responsible stewardship, with Duchatelet talking of it being a "comfort" to know that the club that he loves (or professes to, just as Meire seems to think she loves Charlton) is "in good hands". In short, whether or not he made money, and whether or not Standard Liege fans will remember his time as owner with any affection, he could leave with at least the facade of having been a 'good daddy' possibly intact.

If Duchatelet sold us now, after just a couple of years and under pressure from the fans, he would look like either a failure (through almost certainly losing money) or someone just interested in the money (which may or may not be the case). Also, when he sold Standard he said he was staying in football, just not in Belgium. Sell us and it's hard to see him as still being in football with the few he would have left dotted around Europe. No chance of returning to politics, all but out of football, what does he devote his remaining 350 weeks to (his reference, not mine, to some sort of average for his time left with good mental and physical health)? Family for sure (and rightly so), business interests also. But what else? Perhaps someone can come up with some suitable projects away from football to give an elderly visionary a fresh focus.