Thursday 17 March 2016

Win Double Still Possible

After the protests and the dip into the eerie world of Roland, the focus does switch back to matters on the pitch. Now I can’t comment on just why we seem to have performed a good deal better on Sunday than against MK Dons (and other recent games), just offer up possibilities. Of course Middlesbrough had problems of their own, which may have taken the edge of their commitment (and they may have been less prepared mentally than us for the disruptions during the game). It is also possible that a group of players still getting to know each other may be on an improving trend just through greater familiarity. And my favourite possible reason is that the players knew there would be a good deal of media attention on the game not least in light of the protests; the cameras were watching them, which may have encouraged some of the less committed to make the extra effort, which then rubs off on those around them.

Whatever the cause, may it continue. For once of late the weekend saw the gap to our relegation rivals narrow rather than widen; and it seems you can now get only 9/1 on us avoiding relegation, shortened from 16/1 before (although not surprisingly we are by a distance second-favourites to go down and the odds you get backing us to stay up are somewhat different from those available if you want to put money on us going down). Staying up is a little more realistic than before the weekend, but still improbable. It is tempting (as Roland did in his letter) to focus on seven points out of nine closing the gap, but it’s probably more telling to look at Riga’s 10 games in charge (leaving aside the Hull debacle): won three, drawn three, lost four. Extend that over a full season and you’ve got 55 points and just about mid-table mediocrity. Extend it over the remainder of the season and we’d have 43 points, which is highly unlikely to be enough (teams have gone down with over 50, apparently the average points total for 22nd place in recent years is just shy of 46, while not long ago Birmingham stayed up on goal difference with 44 points).

So it would seem that staying up requires something approaching promotion form from us in the remaining games – possible if we are indeed on an improving trend but not likely. Already under Riga this time around we have had false dawns, most obviously the win away at Rotherham followed by home defeat to Bristol City, then victory away at Brentford and the MK Dons draw at home. If we are to stay up this one simply cannot prove to be another, with some momentum and better confidence hopefully to assist us.

Each game as it comes is the only way, especially given the opposition we face in the remaining rounds and the fact that for us staying up is now as much down to the results of those above us as our own. This time around, Rotherham travel to Ipswich, MK Dons are at home to Brighton, Fulham are away at Birmingham, while Bristol City are at home to Bolton. Bolton by sacking their manager would seem to be preparing for life in the third tier, but hopefully they can at least prevent Bristol from securing three points. Otherwise we are all up against teams with promotion hopes. The onus is on us to do better than our rivals and close the gap further; just a failure to do so would see our odds on survival lengthen again.

No doubt everyone is eager to hear about the weekend outcome for my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere. I’ll end the suspense right now: we did see a Duchere goal and a Duchere win! But it wasn’t quite the game my partner Suzanne and I had hoped for. Fresh off the back of winning 2-0 away at Grenoble to narrow the gap at the top, there was a mood of optimism at the Stade de Balmont, perhaps even a touch of complacency as the game against lowly Le Puy began. And Duchere did start in good style. They have a number nine who it is fair to say is a big guy, and one of those who can be deceptively capable with the ball at his feet too. Alongside him was a number 10 who seemed able to beat players at will. The two of them linked up well and Le Puy basically had no answer. In the first 10 minutes Duchere were denied one of the most blatant penalties I’ve seen, only to go ahead when a wicked inswinging corner came off the top of a Le Puy defender’s head and found its way inside the far post.

It seemed that would be the first of many. However, as we know football just isn’t that simple. Duchere actually sat back a bit and then the number 10 picked up an injury and limped off. A number 11 moved inside to take his position and he spent more time remonstrating with the (admittedly poor) ref than affecting the game, getting yellow-carded and to add insult to injury getting dumped unceremoniously into the athletics sandpit by the side of the pitch. Le Puy gained a measure of control, with the number nine increasingly isolated (and knackered).

Into the second half and the Duchere fans (have to say I thought the crowd was a bit disappointing, given the season they are having) were getting restless, questioning how Grenoble could be beaten so well and then this to follow up, with some suggesting it was the worst game of the season. Le Puy, having nothing to lose, sent on an extra forward and in the space of five minutes they had one header from a corner come back off the bar with the keeper beaten and then the Duchere keeper beating away another effort. Duchere were hanging on, but with Le Puy gambling they did have the chance to seal the points. A breakaway and the substitute winger was clean through with only the keeper to beat but a way to go. He had the pace to stay free of defenders, but perhaps too much time to think about it. He ended up shooting rather lamely and the effort was smothered. Into the final minutes and Duchere’s task did get a little easier. A Le Puy defender had been yellow-carded in the first half and he was penalised for a challenge when it looked as though the ball had already gone out. He reacted by slamming the ball into the ground; out came the second yellow and off he went.

So Duchere managed to see it out, with Le Puy feeling justifiably hard done-by at the end. Good teams win ugly and this win was pretty ugly. No matter, we later discovered that Grenoble could only draw 0-0 away at Villefranche. That means for them three games in a row without scoring, two defeats and a draw. For a team still top of the league and a record of 13 wins and five draws from 21 games that’s quite a blip, at just the right time for Duchere. They are now just two points behind Grenoble with a game in hand; draw the game in hand and the teams are level (with a very similar goal difference), Duchere win it and they go two clear.

Looks like it’s going to go to the wire – and we did get clarification that for this league it is a case of just the top team getting promoted. The next round sees Duchere travel to Jura Sud, while Grenoble are at home to Mulhouse. Those two are fifth and sixth respectively in the league but with really nothing but pride left to play for. Us to stay up and Duchere to get promoted? Just need to find a bookies able to give me decent odds.

Wednesday 16 March 2016

The Rat Squeaks

Given that there had been a universally negative reaction on the part of other Addicks bloggers to the statement released by the regime shortly after Sunday’s game, I did think I’d try to see if perhaps there was a more positive and encouraging interpretation. I tried; heaven knows I tried. There wasn’t one. The statement wasn’t really aimed at Charlton fans, rather it seemed some nonsense served up for the media, in the hope that some lazy journalists would fall for it (and true to form a Standard piece claiming that the FA is to investigate Sunday’s events reproduced it). Just another attempt by the regime to pretend that it is what it is not (and to paraphrase Sartre is not what it is).

I thought yesterday that we could be kind and reserve judgement. The Trust had repeated its offer to Duchatelet of talks; there’s plenty of time before the next home game for a busy Belgian businessman to find a slot, if he actually cared (although along with everyone else I wouldn’t be holding my breath and another absence of a meaningful response would say all that we need to know). Then today we awake to see the regime’s ‘letter to fans’.

Let’s assume that it was either written or at least endorsed by Duchatelet; it is reasonable to infer the former as it clearly wasn’t penned by someone for whom English is their first language (and we should make allowances for that) and as it contains an attempted defence of Meire it is unlikely that she is the author. Also, there is an amusing focus through it on ‘disorder’, ‘logic’, which rather smacks of an unimaginative engineer’s narrow focus on what is right and what is wrong. It has the tone of the world according to Roland, of daddy reprimanding some of his babies.

“Last Sunday, some individuals did not come to The Valley to watch the game and support the team, but came to create disorder on the pitch and interfere with the players and the game. Disorder which is, allegedly, needed to drive change in ownership and management.” Garbled, but also misleading. Note that these protesters are referred to as ‘individuals’, not supporters, nor members of supporters’ organisations. Malcontents, subversives obviously. They are not. They are loyal supporters who have concluded, based on the evidence since the club was purchased, that the regime is destroying our club and will continue to do so, not necessarily out of malicious intent but through a toxic mix of incompetence, hopelessly flawed strategies (the first was bad enough, the second dire), and arrogance, with a disdain for fans thrown in for good measure (except when it comes to their invaluable input on the price of Bovril). Nobody wants to protest, but the disorder stems from your stewardship of our club. Fact is we don’t know what is ‘needed to drive change in ownership and management’, so all options need to be explored. If, Mr Duchatelet, you were to let us know just what it is that would persuade you to sell we would, I’m sure, be happy to focus just on that.

“Whom would they expect the club to be sold to? How long would a sales process take? Is it easier to sell the club when it is in League One rather than Championship?” And just what are you trying to say here? We have been told that the club is not for sale, that inquiries are turned away. And we have seen that the regime is happy to waste the time of potential investors by stringing them along over months with suggested meetings while all the time having no intention of actually meeting. It is farcical to talk of how long a sales process might take as one could have been initiated (and concluded) well before now, and as for who might buy us you recently informed us that there are plenty of inquiries (some of which may indeed come from timewasters). Be assured, Roland, if you state that you have changed your mind and are intending to sell the club the protests will cease immediately (even though your board duped supporters before with the promise of engagement once a relegation fight was over). In the absence of such we have to assume that you stand by your previous statements regarding selling up, in which case the protests will continue and will intensify.

“Some individuals seem to want the club to fail. This is a confused approach, since following this logic leads to exactly the opposite of what we all want: staying in the Championship”. Now that is written by someone who never actually studied, or has an elementary grasp of, logic (of course someone can study logic and simply fail to understand it). That aside, the first sentence is wrong: there is not a single Charlton fan who wants the club to fail. There are plenty of us who have come to the conclusion that as a result of your stewardship it is failing and will continue to fail. We want our club to succeed. Ergo it is better that you leave the scene. Success or failure here isn’t ultimately determined by whether or not we stay up. Of course we want to remain in the Championship; we have seen League One and it isn’t pretty. But under you we are headed there sooner or later, quite possibly lower, and along the way we will suffer. The greater good is that you are out as success is not possible with you at the helm. It isn’t personal, just based on the evidence. You are a scientist, take a detached look at the evidence yourself.

“Allegations regarding the CEO are misrepresented (with a note) and are continuously used as a method to discredit and fuel personal abuse, hatred and with a risk to personal safety”. Now I’m not sure that an allegation can be misrepresented, it is what it is, true or false. The fact that the excerpt from Meire’s conference is reproduced suggests that these ‘misrepresentations’ annoy both our owner and Ms Meire. Good. We were annoyed (and stunned) by what she said, up to and including some new ‘vision’ for the club (ie the youth fish-farm) unveiled not to supporters directly but on a couch at an overseas conference. You can reproduce all the excerpts you want to, you will not change the facts of what was said, how it was said, or the perfectly understandable reaction of fans. There is no excuse for any threat to personal safety, but as far as I’m aware Ms Meire has been able to walk to the ground on matchdays, take masks and stickers from protesters, all with no suggestion of threat. There has been personal abuse, but there’s only so long you can sing ‘Meire Out’ without getting bored. The real cruelty, Mr Duchatelet, stems from you, for appointing someone without the skills for the job and keeper her in the post well past the time when any sane and humane person would. Again, consider the evidence.

“Although certain individuals tell you it does not happen, in recent weeks Roland Duchatelet has met the fans, the CEO has met with several different groups of fans and the communications team have attended several fans meetings. We will continue these meetings and constructive dialogue with fans”. In other words, more discussions on the price of Bovril, nothing more. How many times does it need to be shouted at you: this is not real dialogue!! You do not decide what is a fans’ group, the fans do. The Trust is the most obvious representative body of the fans. You studiously refuse to have a dialogue with the Trust. Ergo … Basically this part of the regime’s letter is another attempted lie, or at best further evidence that the regime does not understand what dialogue means.

“We have 9 games left in which we have to get 6 points more than our competitors. The team just got 7 points out of 3 games. We still have the chance to make it happen with the support of the fans until the very last game. We must believe it is still possible. Every football fan knows the 12th man is a crucial factor in the success on the pitch”. If the 12th man is indeed ‘crucial’, why start this letter by attempting to sew divisions by talking of ‘some individuals’ as if they were not fans, not an element of this factor?

Let’s acknowledge that the letter does address some issues which do indeed trouble all Charlton fans (myself included). It isn’t easy to decide to boycott, to protest, to walk out etc. By definition any difficult decision involves rejection, rejecting something that is desirable (or by the same reasoning embracing something that is not desirable). Some fans clearly do not back the protests, it is apparent that some on Sunday who may back the protests did not want to walk out of the game. Again, nobody wants to protest, whether or not this involves some disruption to a game. And it is disturbing to read that there were after Sunday’s game some less than constructive exchanges between Charlton fans who did and did not walk out. Do people think that any insult aimed at the latter might encourage them to participate next time? There is no moral high ground on this issue and the protests if they are to have the desired outcome (increasing the chances of a change of ownership) need to take account of the views of those Addicks who either oppose the protests per se or are reluctant to participate in each manifestation.

Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that Sunday’s protests were, overall, a success and entirely praiseworthy. Those who may be sympathetic towards Roland’s letter to fans may perhaps take a moment to look at the March 2014 regime statement, issued at a similar time of the season and with us in a not entirely dissimilar situation, and consider whether the promises it contained have been delivered. I’ll be back in the UK for the next round, unless of course in the interim there is a real change of heart on the part of our current owner. Come on Roland, consider the evidence: you’ve lent a good deal of money to the club which you will not get back, as long as you own the club you will have to lend more, the overwhelming majority of the club’s fans want you to sell (and will continue to protest and to explore all options for persuading you to come to that decision), and the longer you hang on the more the label of ‘failure’ will apply, whether or not we stay up.

Friday 11 March 2016

Time For Legends To Back Campaign?

Can’t help thinking there is a material missing element to the campaign to get our owner to sell. I may have missed something, but as things stand I’m not aware of any Charlton legend coming out publicly in support of CARD. It has reached the stage whereby silence amounts to acquiescence and there are important figures who could have a significant impact, not least on Addicks still reluctant to back the campaign.

Any hopes that Richard Murray might have revised his thinking on the potential merits of Duchatelet as a long-term owner have gone out of the window. Curbs’ media pundit comments recently about it being time for the fans to shelve protests until the summer may have been ill-considered and at the least need updating, but unless and until he says more they have to stand. It’s not pleasant to name names, especially as individuals may have good reasons of their own to remain silent. But there are Charlton heroes who presumably continue to act as hosts on matchdays who could publicly walk away for the duration (and be welcomed back when we have new owners, assuming they are not even worse), plus others not involved with the club but whose opinion would carry weight and get media coverage. Also, wouldn’t it be great if Sir Maurice Hatter announced that he was suspending his position as honorary life president of the club (which he took on well before Duchatelet arrived on the scene) until such time as we have back a club worthy of being honorary life president of?  

CARD has the tacit or active approval of most (but not all) fans and I do think it could use such additional backing. These aren’t easy decisions to take. Does anyone think I was happy (or indifferent) when it came to not renewing my season ticket and not attending games, or that anyone actually wants to walk out during a game, or even hang around in the cold and wet after one rather than sloping off for a glass? Any Charlton figure coming out in support of the campaign would not be turning their back on the club they love; like many/most supporters they would be taking action to defend and preserve that club.

Let’s end a short (for me) post with a joke. “It is the board’s strategy to continue to reduce these levels of losses over time and move towards a breakeven position whilst remaining highly competitive in the Championship”. It truly beggars belief and is a worthy comedy classic follow-up to Duchatelet’s recent interviews for our consumption. Some time back Murray said in response to a question that Roland had two objectives for us: to break even and to get promoted to the Premiership. It didn’t need pointing out then that the objectives were incompatible, financial fair play or not, and the same applies now as regards Meire’s statement (which rather curiously has not – yet at least – appeared on the club site). I want to win the euromillions lottery without having to spend money on a ticket. It’s just not fair. Of course, given that our club is now in debt to Baton 2010 Ltd to the tune of £40.1m (and rising each day) you can say they are spending money on that ticket. Equally true is that they have failed so far to achieve or even move materially towards breakeven (the loss for the year to June 2016 will presumably depend on whether Lookman, Berg Gudmundsson and others are sold in time) and are failing miserably with regard to on the pitch objectives.

Wednesday 9 March 2016

Protest Needs Dignity As Well As Passion

The outcome of the past two games was always going to condition how we approach Sunday's game and the TV cameras. Win them both and irrespective of attitudes towards the regime there's a strong desire not to upset the momentum or to do anything inside the stadium/during the game that might work against our slim chances of avoiding the drop (or to put it another way why provide an excuse for the assembled media to question how and why we are protesting?). As it is, having bagged the points on Saturday we were unable to follow up last night, which along with other results means that two rounds of games have gone by with no narrowing of the gap to safety - ergo it has widened in terms of what we need to do to stay up.

Of course we're not down yet, with 30 points still to play for and a need to make up 7/8 on the two above us. Stranger things have happened; but we are in the territory of very strange things being required. It's not as if Rotherham and MK Dons (or Bristol City and Fulham) are on a slide; and we're not on a roll (when you can't win at home that's pretty much impossible). Last night wasn't a six-pointer only because they didn't have to win. We did. You can get 16-1 on us staying up, which says it all. And whereas a fluked last-minute winner would have changed a lot, our focus today is on questionable team selection and substitutions (if you tinker it helps to be lucky, as Riga was last time around, which gives the 'Midas touch' impression), apparently miserable team spirit, individual and collective inadequacies, the injury list, and a truly inane act (from all accounts) and the red card - ie all negatives. Staying up is possible, but there isn't a single good reason for backing it happening.

Riga obviously has a tough task for Sunday, to put out on the pitch the team that he believes is best equipped to win the game. He doesn't need to consider preparing for next season. But this does mean looking hard and long at each individual and assessing who from those available is still up for it, who has at least the pride and character we would consider the bare requirement for 'our Charlton'. Anyone who doesn't match up on that front should be training separately or if on loan sent back.

The decisions facing CARD are not easy. I'm not privy to the thoughts and preparations so I'm not going to get into the realm of predicting what might be done, just to express some thoughts on the nature of the protest.

First, let's accept that coming down in favour of this or that option, and rejecting others, is not easy and the decisions cannot please everyone. These decisions with the benefit of hindsight may come to be seen as errors in judgement, either too strong or too mild etc. CARD may get the balance wrong. But decisions will be taken for good reason at the time, with no doubting the motivation, and as such deserve our full support right now (assuming of course that what is called for is legal).

Second, I'll have no truck with those who may suggest that the priority is to demonstrate to the world how angry we are at what is being done to our club, protesting for protesting sake. Of course we're angry and upset, if we weren't there would be no protest. I'm only interested in what is likely to have the outcome we want. And that is twofold. First, we want our owner to reach the conclusion, as quickly as possible, that it is in everyone's interests, including his own, for him to sell the club. Clearly easier said than done as we cannot know what if anything we might do to achieve that end. I happen to believe that the things already being done - the call for no season ticket renewals, the targeting of club sponsors/partners, boycotting purchases inside the ground etc - are more likely to work on Duchatelet over time than some more dramatic televised incident. He went through some lively Standard Liege demonstrations without being pushed into a quick response. What ended up working for them was time and an already partially integrated purchaser, such that Duchatelet could pretend, to himself and his entourage, that his stewardship of that club was not bad.

If someone can come up with a protest option that they had good reason to believe would work in favour of Duchatelet selling, I'm all ears (as no doubt CARD would be). Barring that, the focus has to be on the second protest objective - to keep media/football/popular opinion on our side. That for me means ensuring the protest(s) is as noisy (or silent), as committed and as disciplined, as possible. Those advocating dramatic protest should keep in mind that not all Addicks are in favour of CARD, which cannot speak for all supporters. There is a risk of further alienating genuine fans and giving an impression of disunity. And treating Sky viewers to a lengthy series of abusive singing is not going to win friends and influence people, especially as there are those who despite all the evidence to the contrary still look to portray protestors as xenophobic/racist/sexist etc (an accusation which I find personally totally offensive). That Ms Meire is a woman and Duchatelet is Belgian are just facts. Does anyone truly believe that an English owner who behaved as Duchatelet has done and/or a male CEO would not now be the focus of fans' protests? Let's just not give anyone the opportunity to misrepresent us. The pair have shown themselves to be utterly unfit to own/run our club but both have every right to walk to the ground (should they choose to do so) and around it in complete safety.

Nobody is pretending that the splendid Sint-Truiden 20 banner, or whatever happens on Sunday, is likely in isolation to prove decisive in Duchatelet's eventual decision to sell the club. We will be arguing for many years to come with the benefit of hindsight over just what it was that enabled us to get our Charlton back. Let us hope that the club is not in too bad a shape when that happens, and that the protests were in keeping with rather than compromised just what it is we will be getting back. That may sound bland and inconclusive to some. Can't be helped.

Now personally, I shall not be there for Sunday's protest. Just coincidence but I booked my next trip to Lyon some time back and shall be watching events unfold from France, where all being well I shall be getting a dose of football. Lyon Duchere on Sunday did indeed secure a potentially season-changing win (2-0) away at Grenoble. They are now four points behind them with a game in hand (a win would mean four points) and after that 10 left to play. I shall be there for the home match against Le Puy, currently in a relegation spot (third from bottom). It's been a long time since I saw Duchere win, since I saw them score even. If they don't do the business on Saturday I shall have to draw the obvious conclusion, that my partner Suzanne is some sort of Jonah.