Friday 29 April 2016

Compare And Contrast

First, a quick personal take on the published minutes of the 25 April Fans Forum meeting. Overall you feel a sense of Meire trying to be rather more contrite than before, which is to be expected from the CEO of an outfit that has failed to achieve its stated objectives. But just when you think she might at least actually be striking the right note something slips out.

Q: What are the current figures for season ticket sales? Meire: "We are ahead of sales target ... figures are lower than this time last year, but that is expected with relegation. The figures are commercially sensitive so we can't share at this stage." I guess you can always be ahead of target - even substantially ahead of target - if the target is bugger all. To try to suggest that lower sales than a year ago is all to do with relegation and nothing to do with fans' attitude towards the regime is simply misleading and fools nobody. Commercially sensitive and can't share at this stage? I'd be a pound to a penny there will be no stage at which there is a sharing (if the Fans Forum continues I hope the representatives will keep asking if the information is still 'commercially sensitive').

Better than that, a section on club senior management turnover/departures. Question (from Craig Parrett again) regarding high turnover and was this anything to do with the (crazed) statement on the website was parried in reasonable fashion: "unable to comment on internal HR matters, but it was down to a combination of things". Then the follow-up. Q: Why are so many leaving? Meire: "it is normal when a club is relegated that people look for positions elsewhere". Head of communications walks after statement published? Due to relegation of course. It's as if when pressed she loses patience with people (perhaps just an inability to deal with pressure, perhaps just inexperience) and just blurts out something to try to close the door and move on and can't backtrack (exactly the same with the silly every head coach change assertion). If only the normality extended to the CEO.

You just have to shake your head and move on. But the upshot of Pinocchio's behaviour is that when she goes on to refute rumours that Chris Solly was not left out of the squad for the Brighton game for non-footballing reasons, that "at no point" did the regime try to send him out to Gillingham on loan, and that there are "no grounds" to the Paul Elliot story (on that one surely over to Voice of the Valley and its sources) we can't simply take her word, or give her the benefit of the doubt. She may be telling the truth on all counts (and she did manage to clear up the confusion over Duchatelet's recent 'meetings' with fans) but we can only say that if what she says is corroborated by others whose word we have reason to trust.

Now moving on, it's my habit from time to time to pull a programme at random off the shelf when retiring to the khazi for an extended stop. I assure my French partner Suzanne it's a male thing, perhaps even just an English male thing (just a south-east Londoner English male thing ...?). Perhaps this can be the first in a series: great programme excerpts read while on the can (I already know the next one, it features what Murray said about Varney and vice versa when they temporarily parted in 2008). By chance I recently took down the one for a game on 22 January 2011, at home to Plymouth Argyle. Just happened to be Sir Chris' first game in charge at The Valley, not long after the Jiminez/Slater/others takeover. Some may not believe me but I don't pen the following to hold up the man as a god, or to gloss over the shortcomings of our then owners. Rather just compare and contrast what was written in that programme, and what followed, with what we have now. Might provide a clue as to why the protests are about a lot more than getting relegated.

Powell starts off with "I'm honoured and proud to be the Charlton manager. I want what the fans want. I know what the club has been through over the years ..." On new signings, "there will be money available but it's a case of us being quite clever and a bit creative. When I'm ready and I've decided what we need to complement the squad I'll go ahead if the player is right for us and for the club, as a player and as a man". In other words owners setting the financial parameters, as they should, but leaving the manager to assess who he wants; and a manager understanding the constraints and planning in full knowledge of them. Murray used to talk of Curbishley spending money as if it was his own (ie keeping a lid on) and that generates trust between a manager and owner(s). In his notes Sir Chris goes on to say "we all know how tough it's been over the past few years, but I will endeavour, along with the players at this club, to just take it a step forward day by day. We will make mistakes along the way ..." and "I call upon our fans who are here today, and family and friends who haven't been for a while, to come back and make Charlton and The Valley a place to be feared once again" (and he didn't mean beach-balls and balloons).

Of course it's easier for a returning Charlton hero to get the tone right and to get a positive response to rallying calls. And nobody's pretending that we went steadily forward in the remainder of that season (a look at the squad would have been a clue): we had slipped but only to seventh in the league at that point and ended up midtable (despite Bradley Wright-Phillips being brought in). By the time of a Rochdale programme (25 April) Sir Chris is talking of next season and "building blocks and small steps" to get us where we wanted to go. But there is this idea of a manager, one well acquainted with the club and its modus operandi, its history, deciding where the team/squad needs strengthening and making transfer decisions based as much on the required character as outright ability (let alone what a spreadsheet calculation might say) - needless to say the squad at that point contained Jackson and Solly (plus Elliot and Harriott) - and the notion of building on what you have to progress provided the foundations for what came next.

It's all perhaps a bit old-fashioned, not that innovative let alone radical. It worked. Football isn't that complicated, more a matter of doing certain things better than your competitors (and let's not forget that when Sir Chris was brought back a certain Peter Varney came back too). I don't care if our club is the most forward-looking and creative in the country; if the end-result is failure the innovations were poor. Imagine being admitted to hospital for an operation and you've a choice: a veteran of the procedure with a steady hand or a rather scatty and self-appointed head surgeon who promises a much better way to do what needs to be done ('who cares if it's not been done before?'), with a youngster ('not actually a doctor but qualifications are a bit old-school') invited in to actually do the cutting.   

Perhaps part of the problem is that our current owner isn't really a visionary. It's not as if he was first with the network plan, his political ambitions and tax proposals were only taking the ideas of others. More a wannabee than a true trend-setter (which could also explain why he surrounds himself with sycophants). No matter, if the regime is serious about looking to learn from its mistakes and wants a template for what has worked before, it is staring them in the face: just pull out the programme.

Have to say that the two programmes gave me a few laughs as well. In the Rochdale one there was 100 to 1 with Dean Parrett, then on loan from Spurs. Question: what was the last book you read? Answer: It was Of Mice and Men at school ... everyone had to read a chapter in class - let's just say that my chapter was quite slow". Echoes of that bit in Porridge ('I had a book once, it was green'). I wonder if Dean's read one since. He now plies his trade for Stevenage (I had to check but we won't be meeting them next season). The same feature in the Plymouth programme was with Simon Francis; "I quite enjoy reading ..." We know where he is now.

That in turn encourages you get into Wikipedia to see where our then bit-part and loan players have ended up. The French connection kind of died out after that season with Youga and Racon - and before them Moutaouakil - moving on. All three now seem to be free agents; I still have more than a soft spot for Racon for the contribution he went on to make for Millwall; speaking of which the Rochdale programme squad also has Federico Bessone, then on loan from Leeds. After leaving them it was Swindon, Oldham, Kansas City, and then he hit rock-bottom: began career as a youth player with Barcelona alongside Messi, finished up with an appearance for the Spanners. When Sir Chris took over a worthy but shall we say limited Pawel Abbott hadn't yet been sent back to Poland. We had Nathan Eccleston of Liverpool: since leaving us and them he's turned out for Rochdale, Blackpool, Tranmere, Carlisle, Coventry, Partick Thistle, and Kilmarnock; he now plays in Hungary. The infamous Frank Nouble is also listed; apparently you'll find him in China now (of course possibly earning more dosh than all the others put together).

Thursday 28 April 2016

Protest Priorities

Let's start with an idle thought: I know there's pride in performance etc, but I challenge anyone to name a more irrelevant match in the history of Charlton Athletic than this Saturday's game at Leeds? We've been relegated (and promoted) before with games still to play (even stayed up in the top flight with one to spare, but that final match was a great day to be an Addick even though we got spanked at Forest). Previously there was interest in who we would want to stay and go, thoughts of preparation for the next campaign. This time around nobody can think in those terms given that we are, for now, owned by football's equivalent of Dr Strangelove (and run by his weird henchwoman).

Of course it's not good news for our club that the news/rumour mill has gone from citing an (albeit ridiculous) price at which Duchatelet would sell and the entry of a second possible consortium, to him letting it be known that he is not considering a sale at this point. But that changes nothing. We were always set up for a long haul, while hoping for a swift departure, and if it's to be that so be it. It is a fight, not one picked by supporters, and it is one that we cannot possibly lose; after all, most of us have a decent chance of outliving him.

Saturday may mean nothing but the final match is a different kettle of fish. There's understandably already been a fair bit of speculation and suggestions about the nature of the protests and I'm sure CARD is actively working through the possibilities (and keeping the decisions - which I'm not privy to - quiet to keep the regime guessing). As was the case for the Middlesbrough game and Sky, getting the balance right isn't going to be easy and satisfying everyone probably impossible. I think the message then applies now too: let's not lose sight of the objective. We're not protesting for the sake of it, because we want to show the world how angry and upset we are, or because we especially like it (I'd much rather be having a glass with mates discussing and looking forward to the game). We're doing it because we believe - on the grounds of all the evidence - that our club can only prosper with new ownership. So in my book there are no prizes for being the most disruptive, the most outrageous; I just want us to be the most effective.

Nothing that we do ahead of, during, or immediately after the Burnley game is going to prompt Duchatelet to change his mind and either actively look to sell the club or to pick up any offer that may be on the table. Clearly his ego and pride don't allow that at this stage, barring as they currently are any chance of intelligence winning out (when one of your babies - or adolescents - runs around shouting 'I hate you Daddy' you can think it will be a passing fad, although we're not exactly the first one). He might decide to sell if an outrageous offer is put down, but that's not something that the protests can influence. As things stand, him actively looking to sell the club right now would look as though he had lost, failed, and been hounded out in a glare of media attention. The message is that this is not palatable for him right now; and if you want a rat to leave a sinking ship you have to give it a means to do so, not block all exits.

That doesn't mean we don't protest - of course we do - or in any way slacken off. Neither does it mean that we should think for a minute that the protests are failing and that consequently a change of course is required; they merely haven't been able to prompt a quick positive outcome. But I'd suggest that all this, plus the circumstances of the Burnley game, mean that the emphasis should be on dignity and innovation over outright disruption to the game.

It is surely important to keep the rest of the football world and the media clearly on our side. We can't tell how their support will help us achieve our objective, but at some point it might; and I think we are getting the message across that we're not protesting just because we've been relegated. If we do anything to materially disrupt the Burnley game and make a farce of the end to the season, even influence through disruption who gets automatic promotion and the title, not just Burnley fans will feel that we've overstepped the mark, putting our entirely understandable grievances above the interests of the game and the legitimate interests of another group of supporters. We are supposed to care about football in general even if the future of our club is the overriding priority. 

I don't buy the idea that Middlesbrough and Brighton had to put up with disruption so it should be the same for Burnley. One of the reasons that all worked so well at the Brighton game was surely that the Brighton fans (perhaps the players too) knew in advance CARD's intentions and were comfortable with the prospect that only at the start of the game was there a planned disruption to events on the pitch (to the best of my knowledge the minor disruptions to the game later on were not planned and in my opinion achieved nothing). We surely have to afford similar treatment to Burnley and their fans, in our own best interests, including no desire to get the game called off or regularly interrupted.

I don't take this line because of feeling a need to toe the line (although anything the breaks the law or comes close to leaving us open to accusations of racism etc is out of the question), or in view of possible punishment from the football authorities. Rather it's because I don't think that serious disruption to the game would achieve anything positive for us - and would lose us a lot of goodwill, allowing the regime to portray us as hooligans (or spoilt babies).

The stress balls, beach balls and balloons have all been great and served their purpose (even though the balloons couldn't get onto the pitch they were terrific visually and lots of fun). But they have been done. Personally for Burnley I would favour (again, with absolutely no knowledge of CARD plans) a form of boycott. Imagine the effect for the cameras of a ground almost empty bar away fans, leaving the regime's representatives, stewards, and those Addicks who don't support the protests to watch the game. We could be outside singing to our hearts' content (or in nearby pubs doing the same), and then - perhaps after 30 minutes of the game or at half-time - slowly go into the ground, all singing 'We Want Roland Out' and continue to do so, building the noise inside as more come in (especially as under this scenario Burnley fans would probably join in). Alternatively we do the same in reverse, leaving with say 30 minutes to go and the noise progressively shifting from inside to outside the ground.

I'm sure the players at the club - the Jacksons, Sollys, Cousins and Hendersons - who actually deserve a round of applause would understand if this time there wasn't one. And at this point in time wouldn't it also be very welcome if Charlton legends and the like came out in support of the fans and the protests?

Once the season's over there's going to be plenty of protesting to be done. I'd imagine the focus will be on every one of the club's revenue streams: low-key but ultimately more likely to impact on Roland. Individuals will have to make their own decisions about season tickets but time to get across to sponsors that anyone extending current arrangements can be named and attract fan boycotts of their products/services; the same might apply to any company advertising in the programme. Would be good too to foster good relations with Greenwich council, to help block any regime plans to deform The Valley. With the probability of the regime looking to bus in schoolkids next season on freebies perhaps we can make contact with schools to try to persuade them not to play along, while I'd urge all those participating in the Fans Forum - a worthy grouping in normal circumstances but now just something being used by the regime to push the myth of meaningful dialogue with supporters - to follow the Trust and withdraw. And many, many more things. After all, so far CARD has not been short on bright ideas. For now, just look at the media coverage: Roland is toxic, let's not join him.

Sunday 24 April 2016

What's It Like To Watch A Game?

The exception that proves the rule. I actually went to the game yesterday. A fellow Addick couldn't make it, I was going to be at the ground for the pre-match demonstrations, he was keen that his seat be taken by someone who could be relied on to howl long and hard (before, during and after the game), and my attending involved no money transferred to the regime.

First off, as others have commented, that the away end should be filled with fans joining in and initiating chants called for the departure of our owner was a remarkable and much appreciated show of support, especially as the game was of considerable important for them. We won't forget either. They understand what it's all about, just as most football supporters do. We wish them well - and hope they won't take it amiss if we say we would welcome a similar show of empathy from the Burnley fans in the final match (and will understand if we end up handing them the three points).

I didn't think there was much point in me writing a match report as I couldn't put into context the performances of individual players (many of whom I'd never seen play before) and as assessing the level of commitment seemed a bit pointless as we're already down and have nothing except a bit of pride to play for, plus most of those in a red shirt won't be expecting to be here come August. But there were a few thoughts.

Overall to me, even allowing for the circumstances, we looked disjointed and less than the sum of the parts. At times we threatened when going forward; a combination of Vetokele, Lookman, Harriott and Gudmundsson ought to cause problems when in possession and with any sort of space. But possession in decent positions happened too infrequently for Brighton to be pressured and with Vetokele looking at best short of match fitness there wasn't a focal point. Cousins and Diarra worked hard but could never control the game. Defensively often we looked strong enough, yet gave away three awful goals: for the first - another from a set piece into the box - Diarra was clambering all over his guy but didn't get near the ball, a fairly innocuous cross ended up headed square to a guy unmarked for basically a tap-in; for the second our central defender, instead of holding up the play, allowed himself to get turned both ways to open up the space for a pass to a guy in space; and the third was a poorly conceded and blatant penalty resulting from a mistimed and rather tired tackle.

The surprise was that for long periods of the game Brighton were only one to the good, for them putting at risk a potentially crucial couple of points. If they had gone two clear they could have relaxed and coasted through the game. As it was, after they went ahead they seemed to tighten up when really we were there for the taking. Gudmundsson's equaliser might have been unexpected but he nearly repeated the trick after we'd gone 1-2 down. For much of the game he looked like he was playing within himself but he took his chance, nearly scored a second, and when given the ball in space he showed what a good player he is. That his priorities are now staying fit for Euro 2016 and securing a good move away are entirely understandable. He caused Brighton's defence most problems; let's just say that Sanogo did not and leave it at that.

It is worrying to read Chicago Addick citing rumours that Solly was dropped from the squad and Jackson from the starting XI for what they said at Thursday night's sponsors' dinner and at the instigation of Meire. I have no idea whether this is true. If it is, shame on Riga for bowing to the unacceptable demands of his boss (or of course bosses in the event that Duchatelet while in London had a word or two in his ear). It would have been better for him to walk away and state why. If it isn't true, I would welcome a denial of the rumours from Riga, Solly and/or Jackson. We only want the truth. We don't need additional reasons to want a change of ownership and I don't want to immediately believe the rumours - including that Meire wanted to loan Solly to Gillingham - because they feed into an anti-regime narrative.

Suffice to say that I would believe what Solly, Jackson and Henderson might say on these issues and the causes of our relegation, would listen to but not necessarily take at face value anything Riga might say, and would take with a pinch of salt anything from Meire or Duchatelet. Just as I believed (and continue to believe) the accounts of Sir Chris, Dyer and Kermorgant (disgruntled ex-employees all) over the contradictory accounts given by Meire. This isn't the result of bias or some form of prejudice, it's just based on the evidence of what we have seen and heard and decisions over whose word you trust and why.

All of which leads us back to the protests. They were pretty good yesterday, especially the pre-match march and as the release of balloons came a little earlier than the whistle to start the game, giving us all a few fun minutes with them bouncing around before trying to get them on the pitch with the beach balls. The confrontation in the West Stand seemed within the bounds of acceptability. The later throwing onto the pitch of some of the balloon pumps and balloons filled with water were over-the-top (and the flare at best questionable), especially as they often came close to the Brighton goalkeeper. How would our cause have been helped if he'd been hit by something? Full marks to those who made the fresh trip to Belgium to bring the protests closer to Roland's home.

One fixture left this season before we all go our separate ways for a while. Meire and Duchatelet may be thinking just one more home game to get through and the protests will lose impetus. If so, they are once again fooling only themselves.

Friday 22 April 2016

Support the Protests And Red, White and Black Day

I see the club has announced that tomorrow's game will be the 22nd Red, White and Black Day. Apparently there will be the presentation of a couple of Community Achievement Awards on the pitch, while pupils from Plumcroft Primary School are to be ready to welcome the players out of the tunnel.

This could of course have been planned for weeks/months and it's just coincidence that the designated day coincides with what the world and his dog know will be extensive protests organised by CARD. Just as it could have been coincidence earlier this season when an announced protest was followed by a designated family day at The Valley. If it is coincidence, fair enough. Just that nobody would put it past Ms Meire and any cronies left to try to muddy the waters. Too clever by half yet again? If this is the case it isn't clever, it is shameful.

No matter, this is a good opportunity for us to demonstrate that there is absolutely no conflict between fully supporting Charlton's long-standing involvement in the Kick It Out campaign - which began long before the current regime arrived and will continue long after they have gone - and full support for CARD and the desire to accelerate a change of ownership.

I hope that I can get another Kick It Out sticker to go with my collection from previous years, that the representatives from the Community Trust, the Charlton's women's team, and the representatives from other groups are given a warm and well-deserved welcome and show of appreciation. Of course I also hope that each person on the pitch is introduced separately, so that Ms Meire can appreciate the contrast between our backing for their work and our desire to see her leave our club (not because of personal animosity, or some other unacceptable reason, but because of who she represents and what she has said and done).

I also hope that all those invited turn up wearing black and white scarves. If this is a ploy by the club to try to drive a wedge between protestors and non-protesting Addicks, by trying to present the former as driven by unacceptable motives, let's not fall for it. Instead let's use the opportunity to drive home the point that the protests are driven by what we see as the interests of our club, nothing else.

Wednesday 20 April 2016

Nothing Much To Say

There's not a lot to be said today. To really appreciate what has been thrown away since the takeover, in such a casual, careless and indifferent fashion, you would have to have been an Addick through most if not all of the period since our relegation from the Premiership. Five seasons of miserable failure (relegation, failure to rebound, relegation, failure to rebound, then just misery in the third flight) and then some light with the appointment of Sir Chris, greater hope with the putting together of a new team, delight as that time stormed to the title, in a fashion which had us all singing 'we've got our Charlton back', and confirmation of success as we cemented a place back in the Championship - and kept the spirit reinjected into the club, epitomised by that night against Cardiff - and started to dream of better (sooner or later). To have thrown all of that away is unforgivable.

We can of course accept that the turn back down began with the previous owners' cutting off of funding, leaving Powell and the team to struggle on manfully, on a swamp of a pitch. We can also appreciate that any new owner might have seen the club at the time of the purchase as failing and in need of fundamental change, being around the bottom of the Championship and cash-strapped. If they had bothered to ask and to listen they would have learnt better. The crime is that they didn't care and subsequently pressed ahead with hairbrained schemes that were highly unlikely to succeed, in the process discarding all that was positive, including the goodwill of supporters which was theirs in abundance when they bought our club. That's gone, and there's no shared future.

Ms Meire's statement following last night's game is only relevant to the extent that she did not avail herself of the opportunity to announce her resignation. I would only add that to say "we apologies for our mistakes and NOW need to learn from them ..." is appalling. The time to learn from them is long gone, you have shown you are not capable of doing that. As for "we want to work together with our supporters ....", you have had ample time to do that and have consistently opposed meaningful exchange, the chance for input from people who had only the club's best interests at heart from which you could have benefited. Instead your first 'too clever by half' attempt at deception was that post-Sir Chris sacking statement promising dialogue when there was the time only for the promise to be broken. That she can issue statements on behalf of Charlton Athletic is an ongoing insult.

Johnnie Jackson's statement does indeed strike the right tone, talking about the need to "recreate some of the spirit" that we had in the promotion season. However, that simply isn't possible with this owner - unless there is the sort of real U-turn that might suggest he is after all capable of learning from mistakes. We need some reason to believe in that. Jackson talked of trying to give us some hope for next season in the final three games. Quite frankly we could win all of them 9-0 and it wouldn't mean a jot as the team on the pitch is hardly going to be similar come August. In any event the remainder of the season is all about what more can be done to nudge our owner in the direction of selling up.

I'm not privy to inside information regarding the club and have no idea if there are genuine potential buyers, if there are such buyers and negotiations are ongoing, or if the asking price being circulated reflects less an acceptance on the part of Duchatelet of a need to move on than a statement of 'I'll only sell if someone pays a truly absurd price, one that means I can walk away without failure written across my back'. Of course I hope there is a sale, then we can start to look forward again (and get a season ticket).

In the interim, come Saturday it will be time to ensure that the voices calling for a change in ownership are fully supported. As ever, protests within the law and within the boundaries of decent behaviour; we want our Charlton back. But louder than ever. Of course if we were just customers we wouldn't be that bothered, we could always find another place to watch football. 

Wednesday 13 April 2016

What's It Like To Stay Away?

If our owner is correct, there will have been celebrations in the homes of some Addicks late on Saturday afternoon, when stoppage-time goals for Fulham and QPR saw the trapdoor all but closed on us. We know there weren't any, none of us want our club to go down or to fail in any way. There was instead a depressing feeling as the chances of a miraculous escape took another nosedive. I think that Forest not winning during the week means we cannot be relegated on Saturday (as they are up against Rotherham), but with another round of matches on Tuesday the axe could fall then, heralding the fourth spell in the third flight in my lifetime.

What could brighten the mood (apart from focusing on anything but football)? Top of the list of course would be news that our owner has decided to abandon his ill-conceived experiment and is actively seeking a buyer for the club. Then I could start to dream again of balmy autumn afternoons inside The Valley cheering on my team. Would I return with Duchatelet still the owner? Albury Addick penned a piece recently titled 'Roland Can Stay' and it made me stop and think. Yes, if there was a real U-turn on the part of our owner, a believable mea culpa accompanied by the obvious and necessary dismissal of Ms Meire (retaining her is sufficient evidence of a continuing refusal to face facts), a pledge that the one and only priority for next season is to secure a return to the Championship (over and above breaking even - which remains an elusive pipe-dream in any event - and getting young players into the first team, which is desirable but secondary), and a promise to engage seriously with fans (which would be tantamount to admitting that the repeated claim that this is already being done is a lie). As ever, I'm not holding my breath.

It would after all be nice to think that Meire's absconding on holiday was prompted by a need to get a bit of distance and perspective for the time needed to consider her options, rather than a sun tan and some duty-free. She must know deep down that she has no attractive future at Charlton. Perhaps she will learn that trying to be too clever by half rebounds sooner or later, that being feisty is not enough, and that her management skills are seriously deficient. Perhaps not. Either way confirmation of relegation is the obvious cue for her to be moved on (anywhere, I don't care, just out); no change would tell us all we need to know about our owner's plans for the next campaign.

If it is to be no change, of strategy, tactics or personnel, all Addicks will be left to personal choices over whether to renew season tickets and to continue to go to games. So how has staying away been for one lifelong, committed Addick? Fundamentally nothing has changed. I still consider myself a diehard supporter, will never contemplate switching allegiance to another club, and regard this as a temporary break. I can't say I've settled into an alternative pattern for Saturday afternoons as I still meet up with fellow Addicks for pre-match (and sometimes post-match) drinks, while the emergence of CARD means time given over to assisting with the handouts and more trips to The Valley than I had anticipated. I had intended to take in some Blackheath rugby matches to fill the gap, but just don't seem to find the time.

Of course it's weird at the moment to be at the ground before home games and to walk away. Weird, but obviously not impossible. I've considered whether 'support the team, not the regime' means going to away games, even returning for the relegation fight run-in (which is pretty much what I did after walking away in disgust for a while following the dismissal of Sir Chris for not agreeing to the terms offered to him). But every important decision involves rejecting something with attractions - and for me the priority is trying to contribute in some small way to the departure of our current owner, in the interest of the club. Ensuring no money flows from my pocket to his is, for the time being, the least I can do, in the hope that the combined effect of what is being done to squeeze revenues will persuade him it's time sell up.

I guess my message is that a season away hasn't affected my feelings for the club and I don't think there will be an issue about returning when the necessary changes happen, as they will. Whether that remains the case in the event of two, even three, seasons away I can't say for sure. Those who stopped going to games after the dismissal of Sir Chris could comment better than I. Neither can I say whether staying away is the best option. Of course in addition to actually missing games there is the concern that if many boycott games and end up not returning when Duchatelet has gone what sort of club will be left to rebuild?

It's a risk, one that I feel is worth taking but others may not. As ever, whichever decision supporters make does not make them more or less of an Addick. I do have to end this post on a downbeat note. When handing out CARD programmes before the Birmingham game one man came up and told me, quite calmly, that his wife was assaulted by Charlton 'fans' blowing whistles at the Middlesbrough game. I can't give exact details and this is all second-hand, but he (and his wife) sounded perfectly credible and described these whistleblowers swearing at other fans and threatening them. The guy concluded by saying that he wasn't going to renew his season ticket and wouldn't be coming back to football period. Two Addicks (probably) lost for good. Great work guys. Well, who needs supporters like them? Isn't that just what Duchatelet and Meire are thinking about us?

Friday 8 April 2016

Walk A Mile In Our Shoes

Two comments stood out for me following Tuesday night's game. First, how about this excerpt from an Ipswich fan's account of the match and their prevailing mood? "The entertainment value in Suffolk has been sub-standard for most of the season and Mick McCarthy's men have now produced three dire home displays in a row to leave many fans questioning whether to renew their season tickets for next season." Walk a mile in our shoes.

Second, McCarthy himself was quoted as saying "why they are in the bottom three heaven only knows". He is of course perfectly well aware why we are where we are, it doesn't require omniscience. But beyond stating the bleedin' obvious (our habit through much of the season of conceding a lot more goals than we scored) it's perhaps worth stressing that the team Ipswich played last night was only assembled through January and February under a new manager and is perhaps only starting to gel.

Just compare the squad for our last couple of games with that which played our final game of 2015 (a 0-2 home defeat to Wolves). I'm not going to games and can't comment on the merits of many of our current squad (there are a number I've never seen play and never will), but the former contained recent incomers Fanni, Teixeira, Sanogo, Yun Suk-young and Motta, recently returned from loan Harriott, and recently returned from injury Vetokele. The latter contained Sarr, Ba, Ghoochannejhad, Holmes-Dennis, Vaz Te, Ahearne-Grant, Charles-Cook, Ceballos, Moussa and Muldoon. To be fair, at the end of 2015 Cousins, Diarra plus I think Bauer and Gudmundsson and obviously Vetokele, were unavailable through injury, while Watt (now apparently back with us and out for the season) was either injured or already out of the door, I don't really remember. But the only players common to both squads - and we are talking only a few months apart - were Henderson, Pope, Solly, Fox, Lookman, Jackson, Manienok and Lennon. That's eight out of an 18-man line-up.

So we began this season with a new team, one that looked competitive on paper - especially as Cousins and Gudmundsson had been retained - but rather threadbare. We saw it progressively decimated and as results and confidence deteriorated there was too much denial for too long. I remember the comments about us 'underperforming' and that we 'shouldn't' be near the foot of the table; even in his recent rambles recorded on his inspiring visit to London, Duchatelet commented that it hadn't occurred to them that we might end up in a relegation fight (I can't be bothered to find the exact quote). Obviously the spreadsheets said the outcome would be different; we all know football doesn't work like that.

The regime's assumption presumably was that any change of head coach would do the trick. So in comes Karel Fraeye in October as Guy Luzon was appearing to lose it, like Bob Peeters before him. Not surprisingly people are citing that change (ie the decision on who to replace Luzon) as the key reason for our probable relegation; and a record of two wins in 14 games has to be right up there. But just consider what resources were available to Fraeye, with an incoming brief probably along the lines of: 'use the youngsters, whether they're ready or not (we need to beef up their sale value), get a new head coach bounce (because all our changes are the right ones), and if we're still in the merde in January we'll throw a few new players at it to ensure we stay up (as we never fail)'.   

By the time that Fraeye was disposed of, to go for another new head coach bounce, the question wasn't whether we were in a relegation fight but rather whether we were already down. Jose Riga returns (after the unbelievably daft option didn't come to pass), the brief presumably being 'keep us up and if you're lucky we'll keep you on for another year, as long as you pick the kids and don't object to who we bring in/sell'. A manager seemingly at least a bit more interested in getting results than prioritising the youth fish-farm strategy. He did seem to be given a bit of licence when it came to who should come in to try to rescue us. Let's not attribute the 0-6 drubbing at Hull to him, but just consider his record over 11 subsequent games in charge. Overall, it reads played 13, won 4, drawn 4, lost 5 - kind of mid-table form. Split it into the first seven games to the end of February and the six since then and it's a different picture: for the former its played 7, won 1 (the remarkable victory at Rotherham), drawn 2, lost 4; the latter reads played 6, won 3, drawn 2, lost 1.

Sure results are affected by who we've played against. But it seems reasonably clear that there is a turnaround in form and results as the changes made bed in (and of course as winning a game or two builds momentum of its own). With six games left a repeat of the results of the last half-dozen - no mean feat as three are against teams in the top six - would see us end the season with 47 points - almost certainly not enough unless someone else implodes or we win almost every game. Of course, if Meire really believed in what she says, the best thing we could do now to boost our chances would be to sack Riga, as our results have always improved with a change..

In short, this season the frailties of the Duchatelet approach have been laid bare by a combination of injuries, some inadequate spare parts and some factors that people who understand football take into consideration (momentum, confidence, partnerships in key areas, team spirit etc). It is encouraging, going on the reports, that the players are lately showing determination and character, which rightly has supporters behind the team. It is unacceptable that this seems not to have always been the case this season. And it is galling that we could end up going down with a reasonable Championship team which will of course then be decimated (just as the teams at the end of each season under this regime have been ripped up rather than built on). If we stay up - and next up on Saturday Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink will have yet another chance to finally do something positive for Charlton - Riga will deserve the freedom of SE7.

I didn't decide through the second half of last season not to renew my season ticket because expected us to get relegated (I'm not omniscient either, and there was the additional factor of finding the network concept utterly repugnant). But I did think on the basis of experience that given the nature of the beast (and there's nothing unique, even special, about our owner) he/we would sooner or later screw up. If your objective is to scrape by there's precious little margin for error (especially when you throw in incompetence and arrogance). Duchatelet got away with it by the skin of his teeth in his first season, having seriously undermined an already depleted squad, and learnt nothing. That expectation created (for me) ambivalence while watching games, such that in the later stages of last season I wasn't looking for reasons to not renew, rather for reasons to make me stay. Those reasons boiled down to whether or not the regime could change its spots, learn from its mistakes, the acid test being some signs of a switch from arrogant contempt for supporters to active engagement. Some chance. 

Friday 1 April 2016

Ball and Chain

I've been a bit dormant of late. Partly because of the extended break after the Sheff Wed game, 10 days in France, Easter etc; partly because of events: we all know that the nationality of our owner and CEO has nothing to do with our assessment of their capabilities as custodians of our club; that they are Belgian is a fact and in light of recent events our thoughts and sympathies of course go out to all people of that country, as they did to the people of France (and before that Spain), just as theirs were with us in 2005; and partly because each time I think about a possible post I realise it will end with the same conclusion: the sooner they are out of our club the better, a message being got across perfectly well by others and with an active campaign to that end acting with appropriate determination, balance and clarity.

I did get caught up in a discussion with friends over lunch as to what if anything could persuade me to vote for the lunacy of Brexit in June. I couldn't come up with anything at the time and was pretty confident that nothing could arise to make me change my mind. Then the Beeb goes and runs a piece on the potential impact of a vote to leave the EU on football in the UK, citing us in particular as a club which could be heavily affected if EU footballers in England found themselves needing work permits and having to meet current Home Office criteria. The piece suggested that currently 13 of our players would fail to secure permits.

This is all rather academic as regards us and EU players, given that even in the unlikely event of a UK vote to leave most if not all of our current crop of EU players will have been long gone before permits could actually be needed. But if there was any way of extending the requirement to EU owners of UK football clubs .... After all, on any assessment of quality and desirability our incumbents would surely fail any Home Office test.

Our two Belgians are clearly intent on doing everything they can to further alienate supporters. After Duchatelet's peeved rant we had to endure the media coverage of the embarrassing waste of police time which culminated in the 'joint statement': shock, horror, police intent on enforcing the law. Amusement at the stupidity of it all is qualified by disgust at the way the regime is prepared to try to drag the good name of our club through the mud for some warped purpose, to try to rebrand a group of supporters noted for their good behaviour (with regrettable exceptions of course), loyal backing of the club and team (until this unfortunate period in our history), and strong participation in initiatives such as kicking racism out of football. It doesn't wash because we know it isn't true - and so does the rest of the football world. We haven't changed overnight.

What the two developments do underline is that this regime is not just deluded when it comes to any strategy for our club (rather strategies as the first had to be abandoned and replaced by one even less attractive to supporters) and appalling when it comes to the tactics. When put under pressure it shows itself to be nasty and small-minded. Duchatelet's outburst made him sound like a spoilt brat, someone who is happy to pretend to be calm, considered, that he is motivated by paternalism and concern for the community etc but throws a hissy fit when people don't fall into line behind him and his daft ideas. Visionary my sweet fanny adams. We have to assume that the 'joint statement' was a club initiative, that someone thought it was a good idea.

Just what was the statement meant to achieve? It could hardly hope to influence whether or not CARD will continue the protests (of course it will and rightly so), it couldn't hope to influence the nature of the announced protests (which I believe have all been law-abiding and will no doubt continue to be so), and surely even the regime didn't think it might undermine support for the protests. We are left instead with the pursuit of lies (ie keep pretending black is white and some might still be persuaded; after all, this has been the approach to date over many issues) and perhaps the notion of trying to shift blame for our probable relegation. Possibly Meire and Duchatelet just feel that they are obliged to fight back, to show how feisty and determined they are. If so they have forgotten the rule about avoiding doing what your enemy wants you to do.

The only practical impact of the regime's actions is going to be an even stronger desire on the part of the vast majority of Addicks, myself included, to see the back of them. I don't know what CARD has planned for Saturday and the Birmingham game (and yes I'm sure that Michael Morrison will get the warm reception that he deserves) but I'll be there to join in. If I had a convict's outfit with ball and chain I would be wearing it.