Saturday 29 April 2017

Duchere v Dunkerque

There was a much better than usual crowd in the stand at Stade de Balmont when we arrived for the match between Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, and Dunkerque. Actually, that’s not true. There was absolutely nobody in the stand when we arrived. But that was before we discovered that some idiot, who relies on an English-time site for such information, had made a mistake over the kick-off time. When we arrived for the match the second time there was indeed a decent crowd, we couldn’t even get the posh padded seats in the central area, There was music playing, cheerleaders for the emergence of the two teams onto the pitch, and an atmosphere that reflected the importance of the game for both sides.

Just in case anyone didn’t read the preview, or could somehow be unaware how things stand in France’s third division, Duchere went into the game in fourth place, two points behind Dunkerque in second (and Chateauroux in third, with Quevilly Rouen six points clear at the top). Four games left, top two automatically promoted, third place goes into a play-off with the team finishing third-bottom in Ligue 2. Given the situation, it seemed fairly apparent that Duchere would need to win to keep alive their hopes of promotion, in their first season at this level, while Dunkerque could be reasonably content with a point.

As the teams lined up for the start it was evident that Dunkerque enjoyed a height (and weight) advantage over Duchere, especially as there was no sign of the big centre-forward I remember from a match earlier in the season (things are improving but there are no programmes yet and I don’t know the names of any of the players). No matter, I’d imagine that Duchere are used to that.

The opening minutes were not surprisingly rather cagy as the two teams tested each other out. But it wasn’t long before Dunkerque gained the upper hand. A couple of crosses into the box had Duchere’s normally composed defence rather flustered, while it was soon apparent that in their small but ridiculously fast left-winger Dunkerque had a dangerous weapon, a touch of the Rommadahl about him. He got clear once and was tugged back, the referee producing the first yellow card inside the opening 10 minutes. You worried for the Duchere full-back for the rest of the game, knowing that the guy could do him for pace at will (to be fair he would have done the same to anyone else on the pitch) and that a similar offence would see him dismissed. The resulting free kick from the edge of the area caused fresh mayhem as a Dunkerque forward was first to it only to head over.

Duchere had weapons of their own, including an effective right-sided midfielder, who seemed to have licence to roam and who manged to link the play well. From what I’ve seen this season Duchere don’t tend to dominate teams, don’t look especially good from set-pieces, and struggle to break down massed defences. But from breakdowns in open play they counter-attack quickly and with numbers. And it was from such a situation that after 12 minutes completely against the run of play they opened the scoring. Dunkerque were moving forward in Duchere’s half when the midfielder managed to intercept a pass and as Dunkerque’s defenders were moving forward it broke beautifully for a Duchere forward just onside going in the opposite direction. Suddenly he was in the clear, a one-on-one but with plenty of distance to travel and time to think about it. The pressure didn’t get to him. As the keeper came out to the edge of his area the forward drilled it past him into the net. By its standards, the Stade de Balmont went crazy.

That goal stung Dunkerque and for the next 15 or so minutes they truly pummelled La Duche. Balls came into the box from both sides. One sitter was missed, another couple of headers went close, the Duchere keeper pulled off a couple of decent saves, there were some desperate blocks, the referee gave Dunkerque some questionable free kicks outside the box but denied them what looked to me a nailed-on penalty as a forward was bundled over, the defender getting nowhere near the ball, and one low cross already going past the keeper into the net was turned in by a Dunkerque forward in an offside position. In addition Duchere had to reorganise as an injury led to a substitution, with the rangy centre-forward I remembered entering the fray.

However, the game, as they say, is about putting the white, round thing into the stringy cage thing and Dunkerque didn’t manage that. Duchere rode out the storm, their defence seemed to get a better grip, and in the final stages of the first half they managed to create one or two moments of their own, including a decent shout for a penalty as their guy was about to shoot only for the defender to take him and the ball. Just which came first was hard to tell.

At the break Duchere were undoubtedly fortunate to be ahead. You felt that they’d need to score again if they were to win the game. And they seemed to tempt fate a little during the break by announcing that as things stood Duchere had moved into second place in the league, with Chateauroux not winning in their game away at lowly Epinal. I couldn’t help thinking about us at Old Trafford singing ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ at half-time after Peter Schmeichel had been sent off; they didn’t then – and they didn’t this time around.

Dunkerque kicked off, moved the ball forward down the left, their pacy winger cut inside and passed into the box, their forward shot on the turn, and with a deflection from a defender it looped over a wrong-footed keeper. Caught cold indeed.

In one moment it was a different game. But if Duchere – and the crowd – were subdued, Dunkerque really failed to take advantage of the situation. In truth the Duchere substitution was now working to their advantage as the centre-forward was working hard, held the ball up well, and generally provided an out ball than they had before. Perhaps Dunkerque were too happy with a point, perhaps they were confident of nicking another before the game ended.

The next 30 minutes saw both teams create half-chances but nothing decisive, with neither side dominating. The Dunkerque keeper did pull off a blinding save to turn a fierce drive over the bar, while Duchere were just about managing to keep the speedy winger under control; he did once pick up the ball with space all around, just inside the Duchere half, and looked set to push it past the back four and run onto it, only to be alerted to a Duchere player on the ground injured. The manner in which he sportingly kicked the ball into touch reflected how he felt about having to pass up the opportunity.

Duchere were getting some joy down the flanks and with 15 minutes left on the clock they broke the deadlock. A cross from the left went over defenders and attackers around the penalty spot but found the Duchere right-sided midfielder just inside the area. He brought it down and then hit it low and true beyond a diving keeper into the far corner. The stand erupted again and this time all the bench were out to celebrate.

Now the question was whether Duchere would get a nose-bleed, with Dunkerque having no option but to go for it (and a double-substitution made plain the intent). Perhaps the game’s decisive moment came not long after as a Dunkerque shot across a crowded area was headed for inside the far post, only for the Duchere keeper to get down superbly and turn it around the post. Because with about 10 minutes left thoughts of a nervous final period were greatly eased as Duchere extended their lead. Of course Dunkerque pressing forward left spaces and a break saw three Duchere players bear down on goal. They kept their cool, exchanged passes and eventually delivered another well-placed shot that gave the keeper no chance. The enormous sense of relief sparked huge celebrations on and off the pitch, surely the game was won.

All that was left to do was run down the clock, which Duchere managed successfully. Indeed, into three minutes of stoppage time, with most of the Dunkerque team in the Duchere half, a long ball out found the centre-forward with a long run-in on goal and a defender on his heels. It was like watching Leaburn in action, never did the ball seem really under control. But he kept going, the defender obligingly slipped over and he rounded the keeper and put the ball into an empty net. Cue pandemonium. By the time all had settled there was only time for the kick-off before the ref brought proceedings to a close. 4-1 to Duchere and a deserved standing ovation.

The scoreline for sure flattered Duchere. But they’d taken their chances very well and, while riding their luck at the other end, had managed to limit Dunkerque’s chances after the very trying period in the first half. They were worthy winners.

There was no post-match announcement of Duchere’s standing in the league, which told its own story. Unfortunately Chateauroux scored twice in the second half without reply, so Duchere moved up to third, not second, still two behind Chateauroux. It probably doesn’t matter for Duchere but there was a surprise result today as top-of-the-table Quevilly Rouen lost 0-2 at home to Marseille Consolat, which means that they are now only three points clear of Chateauroux (and five of Duchere).

Three games to go – and there are many permutations, especially as the round after next will see Duchere host Chateauroux and the same day Quevilly Rouen at home to Dunkerque. If Duchere win their final three games, they will be automatically promoted. But if Chateauroux avoid defeat at Duchere and win their other two, they will at least get second place; Duchere may just have to win all their remaining games if they are not to miss out even for the play-off position. Quevilly Rouen will get one of the two top spots if they can take at least five points from their final three games, but again one of these is against Dunkerque, who aren’t out of it yet. And you can’t ignore Paris FC, currently fifth, two points behind Duchere, four behind Chateauroux, but on a strong run of form and three final games against teams around the bottom of the league (they must be the most boring team in the league to watch, having scored 27 goals in 31 games and conceded just 17).

So it’s still a daunting task for Duchere to secure promotion to France’s second division at the first time of asking. But last night they gave themselves a chance, and it’s arguably in their own hands. If they can win away at mid-table Chambly in the next round, that home game against Chateauroux is going to be a corker.

Friday 28 April 2017

French Presidential Election

There seems to be a fair amount of interest, for good reason, in the outcome of the French presidential election. As I’m sitting here in the midst of it, doing my bit by pulling down a poster or two, getting a reasonable feed from the local media (helpfully converted into Franglais by my partner Suzanne), and as this sort of stuff is my background, thought I’d add my sixpenethworth. Please forgive the indulgence. There’s nothing Charlton-related (no doubt there is a link if you look hard enough), other than the fact that it's written by an Addick. And while impartiality is always the objective, it is written by someone who would recoil in horror should Marine Le Pen win.

For supporters of the EU (I’m one of those too, but that’s another story) and those who view the Front National as racist and well and truly beyond the pale, the first round on Sunday went as well as could realistically have been expected. It was always too much to hope for that Le Pen would not make it into the second round but there was no late increase in support for her and her actual share of the vote, 21.3%, will have been at the lower end of her expectations. Although French TV’s first post-polls reports said they were neck-and-neck, centrist Emmanuel Macron came through, taking 24.0%. That was important as all the headlines were all about him, rather than ‘Le Pen wins first round …’

I happen to be a big fan of the French electoral system. Nothing is perfect, but the basic principle is that until someone secures over 50% of a vote they are not elected – and if they do, they are, no need for a second round. As most of the contests do go to a second round, it allows people to vote in the first round for who they really support. Then in the run-off, if their preferred choice hasn’t made it through, they vote for who they dislike least. Why not just have a transferable vote? A run-off after a couple of weeks allows people to make a fresh choice between the two remaining candidates, for those candidates to make their case. I find the system – in direct contrast with our own – inclusive and fair (which is not to say that the French don’t whine about it, having to go out to vote twice etc). A turnout of 77.8% perhaps speaks for itself.

The two other main contenders in the first round – the candidate of the right, Francois Fillon and hard-left Jean-Luc Melenchon – came close to Le Pen, with 20.0% and 19.6% respectively. The official Socialist Party candidate, Benoit Hamon, was squeezed out almost totally, winning just 6.4% (basically everything was against him: President Francois Hollande’s unpopularity, the fact that no-one had heard of him before he won the PS primary, plus many traditional PS voters switching to former PS government minister Macron or Melenchon, who came across well in the campaign). For them it was a case of what might have been: Fillon, despite his misdemeanours, might still have made it through were it not for Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, founder of and candidate for Arise France, which sort of sits between the Republicans and the FN, winning 4.7%; Le Pen might feel that without him she would have come first.

For the second round, forget the idea that Le Pen has 21.3% and cannot win. This is completely different from 2002, when her father came second in the first round with 16.9% of the vote and only managed to increase that percentage to 17.8% in the second, when he was trounced by Jacques Chirac, who took 19.9% of the vote in round one but then 82.2% in the second. Le Pen making it through then was an accident, a mistake by the PS and its supporters. There was little enthusiasm for its candidate, Lionel Jospin, and many PS voters didn’t bother to turn out, assuming that it would be a second-round contest between Chirac and Jospin. They were aghast when Jospin, with 16.2%, was eliminated, and the national shame of Le Pen making it through translated into just about every non-FN supporter voting for Chirac.

Le Pen senior – an unabashed extremist - could never win, the system ensured that. His daughter – more amenable to doing and saying what might be necessary to woo voters, on the left as well as the right – can. She probably won’t, but she might. And unlike her father she is virtually certain to take a substantially higher share of the vote in round two than in round one.

The polls before and after the first round have tended to put Macron above 60% (up to perhaps 63.5%) and Le Pen below 40%. Again unlike in 2002 this is not a case of totting up the non-FN vote. Perhaps rather quaintly it does still seem to count here how a defeated candidate advises his/her supporters to vote in round two. Macron has been endorsed by Fillon and Hamon (as well as Hollande, Nicolas Sarkozy and others), but there is more talk of at least some Fillon voters opting for Le Pen, while Melenchon – who in contrast with the charm of his campaign delivered what was a nasty, bitter post-election speech – has singularly not backed him. It’s perhaps not surprising, given that Melenchon’s manifesto arguably had more in common with that of Le Pen. And although he has not yet backed Le Pen, Dupont-Aignan may well do so.

So unlike in 2002 there is no outright anti-FN coalition, voters of the left being prepared to hold their nose and back Chirac. The FN now has deeper roots in France, it has contested and won some elections, it has mayors, and more people who (rightly or wrongly) would not describe themselves as racist are prepared to at least consider voting for Le Pen. She is making every effort to appear ‘presidential’, standing down from the leadership of the FN, and has begun the second-round race better than Macron. His post-election speech was far too complacent, sounding like an acceptance of the presidency. Bottom line is Le Pen is a seasoned campaigner, Macron is something of a novice. Just how he shapes up in the week ahead will be crucial. Just like Remain and Hilary Clinton, he cannot (rather should not) assume that victory is going to fall into his lap.

Of course there are parallels with the UK referendum and the US presidential election. Garnering the votes of the disgruntled, those who feel neglected (whether for good or bad reasons), those who want to register a protest, when added to a core support base, can produce a majority ‘coalition’. When on the streets campaigning for Remain (yes, I am a proud Remoaner and regard staying in the EU as in the UK’s national interest) I was told by some that they would vote Leave because the EU is a ‘failed socialist experiment’ and by others because it is a weapon for capitalism. So much easier to vote against something, especially something which can never be exactly what you want it to be.

And of course there are differences. Being anti-EU cost Le Pen votes in the run-up to the first round vote (the outright candidate for ‘Frexit’ was Francois Asselineau, who won 0.9% of the vote). Although some UK newspapers may tell a different story, Macron would be happy if the second round were to be all about whether or not France remains in the EU. Le Pen wants it to be about terrorism and immigration. And Macron is himself an ‘outsider’, so many feel they are registering a protest by backing him rather than the traditional and selected candidates of the left and the right.

It is normal in a two-horse race for the gap between the contestants to narrow during a campaign. I could be wrong (and hope to be) but would not be surprised if coming polls show Macron slipping below 60% and Le Pen moving above 40%. In that event you would get more speculation that Le Pen can after all win, which can encourage momentum, especially if the 3 May TV debate goes in her favour (and no doubt the rabid sections of the UK press will be interpreting everything in an anti-EU fashion, as they have for decades). Of course that can work both ways. At present one of the dangers for Macron is an assumption of an easy win and, with the second round taking place around a French holiday (when many will be away), a low turnout. And we know who that would favour.

You’d be crazy to take an even bet on Le Pen winning, but if someone gave me 5-1 – which seems to be the bookies’ offer at present - I’d take it, if only to be able to pay for the cognac I would need if she did win. If you want a punt, my advice is to do it now as you probably won’t get better odds. I’d be very (pleasantly) surprised if Macron ends up polling over 60%. If it turns out at say 55-45 you’d have the conclusion that France has one presidential term to turn things around or, other factors being equal, Le Pen waits for next time in confident mood, especially if Macron gets a difficult National Assembly to work with.

How the outcome is seen in the UK will depend on whether you are for or against Brexit: the former will highlight Le Pen’s increased share of the vote (and turn their attention to Italy, Greece and all and every problem that the EU confronts), the latter that just as the Dutch put Geert Wilders back in his box so the French have rejected extremism, including anti-EU extremism (as will the Germans), leaving the UK as the isolated case rather than the vanguard of some ‘unstoppable trend’.

Thursday 27 April 2017

AFC Site Changed Again

Apologies if someone else has picked up on this already and I’ve not seen it. But as things have gone very quiet on the mooted Australian Football Consortium bid I thought I’d have a fresh check on their website ( And it’s changed again. 

When we were first alerted to AFC the site – which has always amounted to a one-page tempter to encourage potential investors to get in touch – stated that the company “is in final negotiations with the current owner of the club”. Not long after that wording was dropped, which was not unreasonably taken to suggest either that any such ‘final negotiations’ had run aground, that they had never begun and AFC was getting ahead of itself, or that an actual deal was awaiting confirmation that AFC had the necessary funds.

The AFC site now outlines the same basic plan – to acquire an underperforming English football club, introduce their superior sporting know-how and invest funds, and to get that club promoted “back to the Premier League”. Do think it’s worth highlighting that the wording refers to a return to the top flight for the club acquired, which at face value would seem to rule out any club that hasn’t already been there (so we still fit the bill). But the statement now concludes with a rather ambiguous “we remain hopeful of being able to conclude a deal in due course but we will not be making any statements or comments until a deal is completed”. Does regularly changing the wording amount to a fresh statement? There is no longer any mention on the AFC site of a target for fund-raising, just two email addresses for further information. But perhaps significant for us is what has been added.

First, “a critical component of AFC’s strategy will be to invest heavily into the training facility so that the club can attract and develop local talent and provide them with the opportunity to represent their club at a senior level”. If they’d said ‘… with the opportunity to flog them on at the first available opportunity’ it might have been a statement from the regime. At least it suggests that their target club is prioritising youth development and even the completion of an as yet uncompleted training ground scheme. We tick the boxes again.

Second, “it is also important to note that AFC is keenly aware and understands the importance of the fans in English football. We are committed to our responsibility to honour and respect the history and tradition of the club and ensure that the fans are respected as key stakeholders in the process”. Now that couldn’t have come from the regime with a straight face, but would seem to reflect the issues raised in the letter sent to AFC by the Trust. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to infer from the addition of this wording that Charlton is and remains AFC’s club of choice and that it still hopes to buy us.

I’d guess that the changes overall underline that no deal is imminent but that one remains on the table, ie that any actual talks have not broken down irretrievably, and that the reports were not just kite-flying. Whether AFC has some period of exclusivity to get its finances together I have no idea. So basically we don’t hold our breath, we take a little reassurance from the AFC comments regarding the importance of fans as stakeholders (not customers), and focus on/fully support the protests on Sunday.

Tuesday 25 April 2017

Allez La Duche!

I was in a rush last time around and having come up with a bad Shakespearean pun to end the post didn’t take the time to look at the potential importance of a Lyon Duchere v Dunkerque fixture in the French third division (National). And as I know fellow Addicks will be without any meaningful football this weekend (if Walsall send down Port Vale tonight we lose any chance of the dizzy heights of 13th place, leaving us to finish either 14th or 15th), having just some praiseworthy protesting to occupy themselves, I thought I’d do a (hopefully) short preview from Douce France.

I had taken my eye off the Duchere ball as results of late had been poor. Things were going well until late March, but then they suffered a 0-1 home defeat to lowly Sedan. No matter, perhaps a blip, these things can happen. After all, we all remember 1999/2000 when we were storming to the Championship title and had won 12 in a row, with Swindon – who were in financial difficulties and were to finish the season bottom of the league - up next.  Predictably we pummelled them but for once couldn’t score, while Deano managed to spill a nothing cross into our net (leaving us to suffer the indignity of having to listen to Willie Carson thanking us for the points). But then the lost by the same score away to Paris FC and next up could only muster a 1-1 draw at home against Marseilles Consolat.

As a result, with five games left, Duchere had slipped to eighth place in the 18-team division, with the top two automatically promoted and (as I am reliably informed from a previous comment) the third-placed team going into a play-off against the one finishing third from bottom in Ligue 2 (for the record that place is currently occupied by the splendidly named – not least as the name is not a translation - Red Star). So be it, I thought, it’s been a splendid effort for a first season in the third flight, a national league, with Duchere punching well above their weight in terms of crowds. (On that front, I had been a little surprised and disappointed that despite plying their trade at a higher level I’d seen no material rise in attendances; it seems that some people in Duchere feel that they shouldn’t have to pay to get in – it costs EUR5 – and instead go to watch the Duchere youth team for nothing.)

However, on Friday evening Lyon Duchere came away from mid-table Beziers with a 3-2 victory, one which has lifted them back up to fourth, just two points behind both Dunkerque and Chateauroux (although things can change quickly in this tight league it would seem that Quevily Rouen have sewn up the title, being six points clear). So suddenly it’s game on again.

This coming Friday Duchere will be at home to Dunkerque while Chateauroux travel to Epinal, who need points if they are to avoid relegation (they are currently fourth from bottom with four going down). If Duchere can beat Dunkerque – who haven’t won for four games, perhaps feeling the pressure - they would at worst be third with three to play, possibly second. (Of course lose and it probably is all over, but we can’t think like that, can we?)

In round 32 the three contenders all have winnable games: Duchere will play away at Chambly, who are mid-table with nothing to play for; Dunkerque will be at home to Les Herbiers (much the same); and Chateauroux are at home to Pau (who by then could be all but down). Then in round 33 it gets really interesting: Lyon Duchere v Chateauroux and Quevily Rouen v Dunkerque, ie the current top four play each other (fourth at home to third, first t home to second). The final set of games, on 19 May, will see Duchere travel to Epinal (who by then could be down, safe, or desperately needing the win to stay up), Dunkerque at home to Bologne (who by then will probably be on their hols), and Chateauroux are at home to Les Herbiers (ditto).

Things can change quickly in this tight league; it wasn’t so long ago that Concarneau seemed to be running away with it only to fall away and of late only Quevily Rouen have been delivering the sorts of results you’d expect from a team at the top of the league. Duchere can of course only take it a game at a time. You get the impression they really have to beat Dunkerque to get into the mix (there are others just below Duchere who could yet get into the top three); but if they can do this the tension is really going to mount for the final three games. There will be a Londoner in Stade de Balmont on Friday night cheering them on all the way.

Thursday 20 April 2017

'Once More Onto The Beach ...'

And so it came to pass that victory over Gillingham and Bury’s failure to win at Bolton meant that the Addicks survived in the third flight with two games to spare. This much we now know. The rest, the important stuff (personally I don’t care whether or not we set a new post-War/lifetime low for the final placing; what matters a great deal more is that in my time we’ve never spent more than three consecutive seasons in this division), has to remain speculation as the chances of any Australian purchase in the near future at least have clearly diminished. Until there is more on when and to whom Duchatelet is going to sell, on what basis, and whether Karl Robinson and all the squad will form part of a new owner’s plans we are back to guessing. At least it keeps up the Mail’s record of never having printed anything true.

The regime’s expensive PR team either failed to prevent another gaffe or fell into line with Duchateletworld with the ‘anonymous club spokesman’ apparently stating that “the rumours and speculation regarding the sale of Charlton Athletic are unhelpful”. You just put your head in your hands and laugh. Surely it doesn’t need to be said that if they are unhelpful and not true, they could have been – and should have been – ended, which was easily done; if they are unhelpful but true, well tough. The Australian Football Consortium Investment Opportunity statement at the time said that the company is in “final negotiations with the current owner of the club”. Either we are/were that club or we are not. A club which cared at least a little about a major stakeholder, the fans, might want to clear that up. Now that our league status for next season is assured, there can no longer be anything ‘unhelpful’ about not giving supporters/stakeholders more information. But of course there will be silence. They will keep on treating supporters with contempt to the bitter end while claiming to want dialogue.

We’ve all seen that the AFC statement has now been altered to remove the wording about being in ‘final negotiations’. Presumably either AFC and its advisors were being misleading about how far down the line they were, or they were in final negotiations and these talks either broke down or are on ice while AFC raises the money it is looking for (whether or not the sum they are raising, AUD55m, would be the total in AFC coffers remains to be seen). For now at least, AFC falls into the category of potentially interested parties rather than owners-in-waiting (of the club if not The Valley).

I had written something along the lines of there being plenty that supporters can do to protect the best interests of our club while we wait for concrete developments. But the Trust quite rightly stepped in and rattled off a letter to AFC which pretty much fitted the bill. No matter, I’ve tried to update the thoughts.

Just why any company would want to pay £20m for the club - a loss-making outfit which needs further investment to get promoted and would then require a higher operating loss to compete in the higher division as a platform for any further investment to try for the Premiership – is beyond me. No matter. You can see the rationale – for a purchaser and for Duchatelet – of separating out The Valley, by making acquiring an English football team more affordable for the former and by allowing the latter to retain an asset which can presumably generate an annual profit while ridding himself of the ongoing losses of running the football club. But it is clear that the other party in any transaction, the fans, have legitimate concerns, especially as the interests and intentions of our deluded owner need to be watched; he needs to be muzzled and for supporters to ensure that the muzzle remains firmly in place.

It is quite possible that the obstacles to developing The Valley involving the sale of private property will ensure no desecration of our spiritual home, whatever Duchatelet has in mind. If he does really just want to improve The Valley, with the promise of increased revenues for him, fair enough. We just need safeguards. The first I’d assume would come in the length of a lease for the football club to use the stadium. A 50-99-year lease would be reassuring; anything less than 20 and you would question why. And to be acceptable to supporters I’d suggest the lease would need to include guarantees of no reduction in crowd capacity.

Any material unwanted development of The Valley would of course require planning permission and it shouldn’t be beyond the wit of the Trust and other groups to get the message across that anyone on Greenwich council voting in favour of development opposed by the supporters can expect to be ousted at the ballot box at the first available opportunity. Shouldn’t need a history book to remind them what happened last time around.

Also, a full AFC document for potential investors would have to outline both the means to achieve returns for investors (which have been outlined in brief: basically get the club acquired into the Premiership and then take the dosh) and the risk factors involved. The latter would have to include the possibility that under AFC’s ownership Charlton don’t get into the Premiership within the envisaged time period (that they could even get relegated from where we are), that more funds will need to be raised to achieve objectives than currently planned for (which would involve at least dilution of the eventual return), and other issues. And here’s where we come in.

If I was a potential investor in AFC I would want to know why the target club has been underperforming. Answer: it was bought by a deluded, rude and arrogant old man who had some strategies which anyone with an understanding of football could have said would not work – and they haven’t – and who managed to further alienate the fan base by installing incompetent staff whose mistakes and lies compounded problems, while all the way through regularly insulting said supporters. OK, fair enough, sweep him away and AFC should succeed with a modicum of common sense and especially with their superior Australian approach to sport.

However, I’d also want to know, as a potential AFC investor, how will the fans respond if this crazed owner retains ownership of the stadium and messes with it? Is it a potential risk factor that the fans, instead of getting fully behind the new set-up and helping it to outperform, will feel obliged to oppose ‘development’ of The Valley in ways which would seriously reduce the chances of AFC achieving its goals and returns for investors? Well of course it is. Any sensible investor would be considering the possibility and would want any deal involving Duchatelet retaining ownership of the stadium to involve material constraints on what he may do with the stadium, up to and including no development being able to proceed if the supporters oppose it. This is after all just an investor protecting his or her interests; not to do so would be irresponsible.

Finally I do have to thank our hub Forever Charlton, for all the good work in general and for giving me a laugh this morning. There is a headline link to a piece entitled ‘EFL teams of the year revealed’. What on earth is the relevance for Charlton? We already have our well-deserved gong, for having English football’s worst owner (although Orient, Coventry and Blackpool surely ran us close). Ideally if there is a supporters-run Player of the Year dinner Roland would be invited along to receive his award. If by then he is no longer the owner of our club, so much the better.

Barring actual takeover news that could be it for the season for me. I’m off to Lyon ahead of the weekend and, having not done my homework, expect to be back too late to help with CARD-organised protests for the final game. I will be there in spirit. I do hope to take in a Lyon Duchere game while away. Some disappointing home results of late have seen them slip down the table, to eighth. But they are still only two points off third with five games to go; and I think the top three are automatically promoted (for sure the first two are, the third spot is a different colour in the site I use but Wikipedia says three go up). So all still to play for with Duchere away at mid-table Beziers on Friday evening. Just checked for the following round and the game I should get to see. I kid you not, Duchere will be at home to Dunkerque. Seems rather apt for a citizen of a country planning to try to run away from the rest of Europe (assuming of course that France doesn’t do something equally stupid with a vote of its own). So perhaps for me, rather than flying pigs it will be a case of 'once more onto the beach, dear friends ...’

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Dancing Shoes At The Ready

First off if such confirmation were needed I have no inside information regarding the report in the Daily Fail that Duchatelet is selling us to Australian Football Consortium. Ordinarily I wouldn’t believe anything printed in that vile rag, but on this occasion and at this stage we have to take it at face value, especially as the only rebuttal so far has come from a “club spokesperson”, which sounded as convincing as Karl Robinson’s recent comment that he’d been assured that the club is not for sale. It is reasonable to suppose at least that negotiations are ongoing and have reached an advanced stage. The AFC’s published ‘investment opportunity’ states that the company “is in final negotiations with the current owner of the club” and as AFC’s stated target is “an underperforming English football team” we do fit the bill.

So it’s a bit too soon for celebrations; we’re not getting out the dancing shoes just yet, but they are ready and waiting. Inevitably there are questions and concerns: will a deal simply collapse over money (the price to be paid and AFC’s ability to pay it)? Will AFC prove to be a stalking horse if it is clear we are for sale? And are we jumping (or being pushed) out of the frying pan into the fire if the talk of us becoming an Australian feeder club comes to pass?

The reported sum for the club seems to be around £20m. The figure is almost meaningless until it is clear what would happen to the £54m owed to Staprix (and presumably the debt to Richard Murray). It would appear that AFC doesn’t yet have the funds necessary to complete any deal; its Investment Opportunity document outlined a “confidential capital raise” of a total of AUD55m (which if my quick calculation is correct is around £33m). Not necessarily a problem if investors are close to committing and waiting for more details over the club to be bought. But has to be a worry that AFC is an investment vehicle raising a set amount, one which if the purchase price is £20m doesn’t leave a lot left over for investment in the club and the covering of ongoing losses. Of course AFC could go back to ask investors for more further down the line.

I’d suggest that finances would be a concern in the event of an actual sale to AFC, but no more than that. I find it strange that people say that we are financially secure under Duchatelet. He only has to wake up and decide that he doesn’t want to spend another penny on us and won’t sell unless the debt is repaid for us to be bankrupt. Sure, there’s no reason to suppose that he would treat a saleable asset in such a fashion, but we are nevertheless at the mercy of an old man’s whim. Not exactly stability in my eyes, so the fact that AFC wouldn’t come with unlimited finances needn’t be a powerful negative.

Of more concern to all Addicks will be the suggestion that we might become an Australian feeder club. Personally I hated the network scheme from the start, when it was clear that the best interests of Charlton Athletic were not paramount. Something akin to that, to help foster the development of football in Australia and perhaps even the Australian national team, would be equally unwelcome. However, subject to further information from AFC about their plans if they buy us, I’d only point out that it is only the Mail that has used the word ‘feeder’ and that may be just supposition; the report says that AFC “have their sights on making Charlton the breeding ground for talent from Down Under”. But there is nothing in the AFC investment proposal to that effect.

What the AFC proposal to investors does outline is the potential for “attractive returns on investment” through taking said underperforming club and, as a result of a five-point strategy, get it promoted to the Premier League. Here too in the published AFC document there is no time period specified but the Mail suggests a five-year plan. Have to go back to the finances here as raising £33m and spending £20m buying the club does not leave enough for five years of losses including two planned promotions. After achieving the stated objective, an IPO would follow to provide investors with their return (or presumably the club would be sold).

There’s been no shorted of daft or worthy but failed five-year plans in football. I seem to recall that Icelandic owners of West Ham had such a plan. So we’d be right to be concerned. However, it is at least a plan, one which if it fails to achieve its objective might still very well leave us in a much better place than we are now, to be sold on again. Also, I find it hard to square AFC’s stated objectives and the means by which it envisages rewarding investors with turning Charlton into a feeder club – unless that is seen as a short-cut to rapid promotion. Don’t forget Duchatelet’s network was supposedly a means to outperform once financial fair play rules kicked in (ie never). I think there is a difference. AFC’s investors will only be happy if Charlton are moving towards the Premiership – and on that front there would be clear unity of purpose with the supporters.

And when all’s said and done, we have to embrace any change of ownership – barring of course asset strippers. Our club cannot turn around under Duchatelet, for reasons that don’t need to be stated yet again. It is almost inconceivable that AFC or any new owner would go out of their way to insult and alienate the support base. From what we read it seems that the AFC people are experienced in sport, if not the demands of the English third division. If so, they will understand that outperformance – and achieving success – is not possible without the necessary role played by supporters. It gives me confidence that if a sale does go through there will be common purpose once more, or at least more likelihood of such than can ever be possible under Duchatelet. For that reason alone, if a deal goes through get those dancing shoes out for a new chapter begins, one that we can help make sure results in our club succeeding.

Wednesday 5 April 2017

How Bad Does It Get?

Not going to go for a full match report; I’m rather out of practise, rather late in any event, and I don’t want to deepen anyone’s misery by raking over the coals. Suffice to say that if that were the standard for a full season we would have already been relegated. As it is other results sort of went our way (if you can view a Millwall win from that perspective) and a four-point cushion, better goal difference and four teams between us and the fourth relegation spot with only five games to go mean we are still likely to avoid the drop; but the odds are obviously shortening given our current form and Saturday’s round of matches will produce fresh shifts.

I was left asking fellow Addicks who have been attending at least some games how our performance last night compared with what else they had seen this season. The answer seemed to be perhaps not the worst but if not very close to it. And as we head towards the lowest end-season league position in my lifetime I was trying to remember if I’d seen a worst performance at The Valley. Of course there have been heavier defeats. A 1-5 capitulation against Rotherham in the early 1980s comes to mind (it was also a rather odd time for our club on the ownership front); but that was in a higher league and we scored. I can remember three occasions from last night when it seemed we might score, against a team that was hardly outstanding. MK Dons defended well, dominated midfield, and with any sort of composure in the final third could have run up a cricket score given the space they were afforded.

It’s been suggested that MK Dons were better than us from start to finish. I don’t agree. We had by far the better of the first minute. Watt flicked the ball past their defender and ran around the other side, only to be cynically hauled back. A yellow card after 43 seconds, a free kick in a promising position, an indication that we might have the weapons to beat the opposition. That was as good as it got, for Charlton and Watt in particular.

We went behind after seven minutes and I’m afraid that for me Solly has to take most of the blame. A fairly routine cross from their right was going to be contested by a forward and a central defender when for some reason Solly left his man at the far post to challenge for the ball. Nobody won it cleanly and it dropped to the guy Solly had left unmarked. He took a shot which was deflected, Rudd twisted well to keep it out with an outstretched palm but only for it to sit up for their guy to score from a couple of yards out. It was a horrible goal and the collective effort which followed was well short of what we would expect – and what any set of supporters would expect from a team which should be fighting to avoid relegation.

Seemed to me that we had plenty of fluidity up from, with Watt and Holmes moving around either side of Magennis. But also a total lack of understanding as to where they might crop up and consequently, with our midfield largely static, nothing productive resulted, especially with any ball chipped forward to Magennis dealt capably by their centre-halves and anything played up to Watt leading to either a failure to repeat his first minute trick and lost possession or poor control and the ball bouncing into touch.

By contrast, what turned into a very narrow formation from us enabled MK Dons to enjoy all the time and space that they could want down the flanks. The quality of their balls into the box and decision-making in the final third really let them down, otherwise the game would have been over as a contest before the break. However, with no change to the pattern in the second half it was only a matter of time before they got one right. Watt gave the ball away once more and they sprang forward. A simple pass and this time their guy advanced and really passed the ball into the side of the net without a tackle made. I’m not sure if it was before or after that decisive strike that we saw one of the worst examples of our collective defending. On this occasion we had numbers behind the ball but when MK Dons switched the ball from their left side to the right every Charlton player followed suit, leaving utterly unattended their players on the left. Schoolboy is an understatement.

Our three moments? A Holmes shot towards the end of the first half which was always going wide but showed some attacking intent. A defensive cock-up of MK Dons’ own saw two defenders and their keeper, plus Holmes, go for a ball just inside their box. Their guys collided and Holmes seemed ready to plant the ball into an empty net, but the linesman flagged, presumably for some infringement by Holmes. I can’t say for sure, would have to see it again, but at the time it just seemed that their guys had run into each other. And then most lamentable of all a decent cross from the left and Watt rose unchallenged, only to put in an utterly unconvincing sort of header well wide. With around 10 minutes left I was thinking please let there be another goal: if it’s for them there would be a mass exodus and we can get an earlier night, it it’s for us it would at least mean an interesting finish, conceivably an utterly undeserved point. But they hit the post with their final real chance and there was never a realistic prospect of us mounting a comeback.

Did anyone emerge with credit? I thought that we improved with the introduction of Byrne and Botaka, their threat helped free up more space for Holmes and it looked as though the pair did at least know how to control and pass the ball. Holmes himself would probably have been our man of the match for me, without much competition. Niggles and lack of match fitness may have affected others’ displays, but Watt was worse than inept. In his final 10 minutes or so on the pitch he was more intent on provoking their players than playing football, being taken off before his yellow card was added to, and his glaring miss summed up the night. I would shudder to think of the percentage of his touches which resulted in immediate loss of possession. Magennis was indeed a shadow of the player I saw earlier in the season bully central defenders. Collectively our midfield was static, unimaginative and easily bypassed by them.

If Robinson is right and the players are on trial for next season, their level of determination and ability displayed last night would suggest that they really don’t want to be here, at least not if he's still around. After the well-conducted tributes to PC Keith Palmer the mood in the stadium turned increasingly toxic. We are a club in steady decline and real crisis. I hope Duchatelet was watching a live stream but don’t have confidence that if he was he could finally see the wood for the trees.

Tuesday 4 April 2017

The Sadim Touch

For a time the regime merited a little goodwill, as acknowledged by a number of its critics (ie the majority of Charlton supporters), with its reaction to the murder of PC Keith Palmer. The initial tribute, then the announcement that the club will be donating 50% of ticket sales to Mr Palmer’s family, with the players adding their match appearance fees, struck the right note. I’m in my second season of boycotting games (I have attended a couple when given a ticket which no-one had paid for, having been outside on CARD duty) but will be there tonight, for obvious reasons. I won’t be wearing a protest shirt or scarf, not because anything’s changed on that front but because the night is about paying tribute to a man, one who was also an Addick. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll be going despite the disgraceful comments posted on Facebook by Sue Parkes in the wake of Saturday’s defeat. I’d guess that by now everyone’s seen them and they certainly don’t merit being repeated, for whatever purpose, or given the dignity of any sort of detailed reply. They echo the previous deplorable attempt by Katrien Meire to label protesting fans as motivated by racism and sexism (an easier explanation for them than protests being a reaction to their stupidity and incompetence), which amounted to an unjustified slur on the good name of our club, one which has not yet (I believe) been apologised for. But they go further; to say that they were in poor taste is an understatement.

We’ve all said and done (and written) things we wished we hadn’t, perhaps in the heat of the moment; when we do an apology is in order. I hope Ms Parkes has the intelligence and decency to acknowledge that what she wrote was entirely inappropriate. Just that I suspect from the sanctimonious and schoolmarm-like tone of what she wrote this is unlikely. In the absence of an apology I would hope that the regime would go out of its way to dissociate itself with her remarks. But given that the club site’s ‘Media Watch’ page had a link to a couple of Kent Live pieces but not the one titled ‘Charlton Athletic secretary’s wife Sue Parkes provokes Twitter storm’ we may be waiting in vain. I appreciate that Ms Parkes was not writing in any official capacity, but she is hardly an unaffiliated casual observer.

I have no doubt that all Charlton fans will rise above Ms Parkes’ insults and not allow them to interfere with tonight’s proper tribute. Just that they add to the impression that any time there’s some area of possible rapprochement with the fans the regime and its cohorts manage to screw it up. It’s happened so often you start to believe it’s deliberate policy rather than ineptitude.

Could say the same about the club’s recently published results. The statement on them on the club site read as though the regime was trying to stress that they did all they could to avoid relegation, spending well above budget in a desperate attempt to stay up. All that comes across is more evidence of mismanagement, with an emphasis on ‘desperate’. You came away with the impression that they could have run up double or treble the loss and the outcome would have been the same.

Of course we hope that the tired and resigned appearance of Ms Meire in the aftermath of Saturday’s final whistle amounts to further circumstantial evidence that, despite having assured Karl Robinson that they will never, ever sell and his job is safe for life, honest, the regime is in its final phase before we can welcome in new owners, just as we welcomed Duchatelet at first. It is the only viable way forward, perhaps even the regime is coming around to that view, which only leaves them to look for and accept a realistic offer. I’ve no inside info on this, just stand ready, with dancing shoes to hand, to join those returning following a change.

In the interim there is no good reason for CARD to let up and the reports from Belgium over the weekend and the calling for another joint protest with Coventry fans are both welcome (in the sense that they are necessary and appropriate, not that we like protesting for its own sake).