Thursday 28 December 2017

Puppet Departs, What Of The Puppet-Master?

Right to the bitter end she couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth. “I believe I need a new challenge”. We believe you Katrien, nothing to do with the prospective sale. The news that Ms Meire “has decided to stand down” and will leave our club at the end of the month is of course going to be welcomed by the vast majority of Addicks. Indeed, assuming that the end of the month means 23.59 on Sunday, the entire country will join us in counting down her final moments of involvement with Charlton, Big Ben may chime, followed by howls of joy and fireworks to mark the moment of her formal departure. Quite a send off.

It is perhaps a pity that her departure is not to be put back by a day, to give a Valley crowd the opportunity to say goodbye, even a formal presentation. I thought that the burnt embers of a sofa would have been appropriate. No matter. No doubt there will be some sentiments expressed in any event, maybe even the opportunity for some tribute photos in the programme to mark her time with us, involving some people wearing masks and a certain bedsheet being moved along the West Stand into position. And perhaps it is better to wait for the real celebration, when there is confirmation that we have new owners, when the puppet-master departs rather than just the puppet.

Let’s get one thing straight though. There is absolutely nothing personal in any of this. I’ve never met her, she may be absolutely charming, kind, considerate etc. She is clearly intelligent and, as long as she cuts the apron strings, will presumably go on to have a rewarding career. It is that she had no experience or understanding of what it would take to succeed as a CEO of a football club (and made no attempt to learn), and that her incompetence would have resulted in any sensible owner replacing her before long such that her stubborn retention only served to strengthen the view that the best interests of our club were not what motivated Duchatelet. A trustworthy sycophant was the requirement of the job and she made that bargain. And any periodic sympathy for her plight went out of the window as she either oversaw another gaffe or insulted fans with her statements.

Meire’s departure is good in itself for the club but obviously the fact she is not being replaced can I think be seen as a fair indication of how advanced the takeover talks have become. If the stumbling block is as indicated elsewhere the asking price, I just hope that for once business sense will win out. The fact that Duchatelet paid well over the odds for us when he did is no-one’s fault but his own. If he is trying to secure a price that enables him to claim he has not lost out, why bother? We will never know the full terms of any deal. Claim you made a small fortune, just please don’t let it get in the way of a sale. Meire’s time is up – and should have been a long time ago. Same applies to you.

For me personally the window of opportunity, to be able to return to The Valley 
in the near future at least, has closed. For reasons that have nothing to do with 
football, on Monday I have a train to Lyon and no return ticket. The plan is for 
three months but what happens after that is unclear: return to London, stay in 
Lyon, or try to split the time. We shall see. So my intention was in any event to 
mark the end of the year with a hearty Bonne Année to all Addicks 
everywhere. That stands. And who knows? Perhaps I won’t be the only one 
claiming a love of Charlton taking the Brussels Eurostar on Monday. Now that 
would be funny. 

Monday 4 December 2017

Celebrations Still On Ice

Into December and no confirmation of a sale. I suspect I’m not the only Addick who was hoping that a deal would be struck, at least in principle (and announced), before the Back to The Valley anniversary. That would have enabled all of us to celebrate a wonderful day in the history of our club (and enable many of us to drone on endlessly about what a day it was) and to look ahead to a bright future under new owners (of course there are one or two assumptions here, given that we can be sure that Duchatelet is not going to be bothered who he sells to if the price is right for him). That is not to be. No matter, it is only a question of time.

That does leave the question of whether to mark the anniversary by attending the Portsmouth game; indeed, whether there is a sufficient case for shelving non-attendance. I did note a recent piece on Doctor Kish attributed to The Godalming Gourmet. I kept a part of it: “Why wouldn’t true, but presently absent, Charlton supporters, want to be part of all that when it could lead to us playing at a higher level next season? Forget for the time being any existing animosity one might have to our owner – he’s still bankrolling the club and does not ... appear to be interfering in Robinson’s plans, more encouraging them I would say. Come back and see and feel again, the atmosphere of a packed Saturday afternoon at The Valley, or a Tuesday night under the floodlights. These are exciting times at Charlton – be part of it!”

I don’t know the source but it’s a reasoned appeal and one that deserves consideration by all of us who are staying away, one that should not be influenced in any way by a subsequent dip in results/performances. Personally I did give it a lot of thought. No question we all want to see us promoted, little doubt the chances of that are improved if The Valley is regularly packed and behind the team. And it would be churlish to suggest that nothing has changed vis-a-vis the regime. Meire is keeping her mouth shut and we have a manager who at least for now seems able to maintain good relations with the regime while keeping it at arm’s length as far as matters on the pitch are concerned. I suspect there are a number of reasons for that, including the line that Duchatelet has sold himself: that he is far too busy to devote the time to making a success of us, time to leave it to others. It’s nonsense of course, self-delusion, but if that means he is prepared to leave things to people who have some idea of what needs doing (a group which does not include Meire), so much the better.

To the mix has to be added the credible rumours of a sale, encouraged by the most recent garbled comments from our owner. There’s no point in repeating them here, but the tone of the remarks can I think be taken as confirmation that the club is up for sale. In my experience once you start to consider seriously a sale you have already crossed the Rubicon and it’s down to the details. I’ve no idea whether anything will be confirmed shortly (and as ever have no inside information), or whether the current interested parties will walk away over price or terms. But I’d be surprised if Duchatelet was still our owner at the end of the season and before year-end – to allow new owners the January window – would be a deadline of a sort. Duchatelet bought us in early January 2014 and three/four years seems to be his maximum tenure when it comes to football, the sort of timespan for him to try his brilliant ideas, see them fail, for animosity towards him to have the draining effect, and for him to come up with a silly line of argument which he can use to justify to himself a sale.

That in turn leads back to: if we’re confident that Duchatelet is about to exit left why not end boycotts now, in light of the above (ie the promotion imperative)? I have to admit the argument is not, for me, that far short of sufficient – and I have no truck with anyone who finds it compelling (or indeed with others who have already returned). After all, stubbornness is not a good reason to continue if the campaign has already been won (and if Duchatelet sells nobody can realistically say that CARD was not instrumental and successful).

Nevertheless, for me it’s still a ‘no’. Some time back (I think at the start of last season) among others I outlined what would persuade me to return: the departure of Meire (basically nobody who has the best interests of our club at heart could retain her) and an apology to the fans for the series of unacceptable and unwarranted insults (never mind the damage to our club’s standing under his tenure), at a time when daddy was unhappy at the naughty behaviour of one of his children. Alternatively, a clear declaration of an intent to sell the club. Arguably we’re close to the latter but there’s no sign of the former.

So I’ll be foregoing the coming anniversary celebrations, or rather keeping them on ice. It might sound a bit French Revolution, but one way for me to square the circle is to consider that the Charlton calendar stopped when Duchatelet bought the club, it is frozen at 3/1/14. When he sells the clock starts ticking again, which means that a little less than four years after that day we can properly celebrate our return to The Valley.

I shall nevertheless raise a glass tomorrow in memory of the day and hopefully on Saturday meet up with other Addicks before the game to talk about that great day. In fact one of them over the weekend circulated a video of us on the march from Woolwich, arriving at the ground, having a glass before the game etc. I was struck by how little I’d changed in the intervening years (although this does not seem to be the consensus view) and kept wondering why I was doing some sort of Harpo Marx impression: I kept appearing but saying and doing nothing (in contrast to my compatriots). I think I spent the entire day – aside from howling inside the ground – in a kind of blissful fug with a daft grin on my face. What a day indeed.