Sunday 25 March 2018

Positive Omens (For Me) From Duchere

What a difference a win makes. Suddenly it’s game on once more, especially with both Scunthorpe and Peterborough failing to win at home. We are back, however bizarrely, in the position that if everyone wins all the games they have left we will secure a play-off spot. Of course there are going to be twists and turns, and one win doesn’t make for a real about-turn. But we’re back in the mix and with grounds for hope (assuming of course that because of the result Roland hasn’t just added another few million to the agreed asking price).

I can’t of course comment on the performance and mood as I wasn’t there (but all the reports are suitably positive). But I was at a football match on Friday night and, although the fortunes of my adopted French team Lyon Duchere are not going to be of interest to many Addicks, something quite pertinent happened, rather unexpectedly. Best start at the beginning.

Duchere have of later managed to stabilise results and their league position (in France’s third division, National). After a poor run of results through to early February saw them drop into a relegation place (four go down out of 18 – and this season it’s rather confusing as there are only 17 teams competing, someone pulled out or something else happened to the eighteenth team is ‘Exempt’, which on paper fulfils fixtures against the other teams but no points are awarded) and they stopped the rot with a 1-0 win away at Marseille Consolat, the following three games ended in draws: the 2-2 home game against Entente, which was notable for two outrageous goals flagged up back home in The Guardian (the second of which was a stunning stoppage-time equaliser for Duchere), a 3-3 draw away at Avranches (which featured another stoppage-time equaliser, but this time of the unwelcome variety), then a creditable 1-1 home draw against high-flying Rodez.

The next round saw Duchere notionally away at Exempt, so no points accrued. But going into Friday’s home game against Boulogne on paper Duchere were unbeaten in five rounds but with only one actual win. And in a ridiculously tight league they were still just one point above a relegation place. So, not unlike us yesterday, something of a must-win game. Boulogne were placed above Duchere in the league but only by three points, with no chance of promotion (it has tightened up a little at the top as Red Star have fallen away rather and Laval and Beziers have moved into contention, although Rodez and Grenoble still top the league and the battle for the two automatic promotion spots and the play-off place really involves the top five, with now a five-point gap to sixth).

The first 10 minutes or so were cagey. Boulogne moved the ball well and had a left-winger who looked dangerous, while Duchere looked confident and as though they had a plan, starting the game with their big centre-forward. He held play up well and others fed off him and through hard work Duchere began to get on top. It was clear that with the guy up front and tall centre-backs they had a height advantage from set pieces and the Boulogne keeper looked dodgy, spilling a couple of balls and not looking commanding in the air. You sensed a set-piece could be an opportunity for Duchere, but we were kept wondering as the first couple of corners they won were wasted, not even clearing the midriff of the guy on the near post. Corner number three after around 20 minutes and things changed. Good pace and elevation and one of the centre-backs made a run to the near post, was first to the ball, and planted the header into the net.

That seemed to settle some nerves and for the rest of the first half Duchere were well on top, playing decent stuff and creating chances, while Boulogne struggled to retain the ball. Duchere broke on the right side and while the first shot was parried by the keeper the defender muffed the clearance and was lucky to see the ball hit the bar and go over, then just before the break another ball into the box and another header, this one came crashing back off the bar.

At the break Duchere were good value for their lead and nobody could have complained if they had been two to the good. But at half-time they collectively had a nose bleed. They began well enough but it seemed to me that some early joy in sitting back and intercepting Boulogne’s forward moves to hit them on the break turned into a tactic which progressively backfired. Duchere began to go deep, very deep. They had put in a big effort in the first half and may well have been tiring, Boulogne of course had nothing to lose, and nerves may well have played a part. You actually had to go back to 24 November for Duchere’s last home win.

Whatever the reasons, the second half increasingly became a backs-to-the-wall job. Now balls were hit long and high out of defence to a knackered front-man with no support. They just kept coming back. Duchere’s packed defence coped well for most of the time, but there were moments, in particular when for once a guy was free and beat the Duchere keeper to the ball, only for his header to settle onto the roof of the net. Fine margins indeed. And late on an erratic referee (who received an earful in English walking off) developed a habit of ignoring rather blatant fouls only to whistle for the next contact. One end-result was a Boulogne free-kick just outside the area. In stoppage time there was a final drama as Duchere’s keeper came out to clear and was left stranded. But the blessed relief of the final whistle came shortly after and Duchere had the points. At the break they were deservedly ahead, at full-time nobody could have complained had Boulogne grabbed at least an equaliser.

Even now Duchere are only two points above a relegation place, it really is that tight. ‘Exempt ‘on paper occupies the bottom place and Creteil look as if they’ve gone, with just 21 points from 24 played and an eight-points gap to the team above them in 16th, Avranches. Chambly now occupy the last relegation place, level on points (29) with Avranches. To put things in context they won 6-2 on Friday. Above them are three teams on 30 points (Dunkerque, Marseille Consolat and Pau), then Duchere, along with Boulogne and Les Herbiers, on 31. Seventh-placed Cholet with 32 points are just three above the relegation places, that’s how tight it is. In the next round Duchere have a tough one, away to second-placed Grenoble. After that a six-pointer at home to Dunkerque, then away to currently third-placed Laval. So it isn’t going to be easy any time soon.

What was strange about Friday night was me. Now for sure I want Duchere to avoid relegation but in terms of emotional commitment they’re not exactly on a par with Charlton, whatever the effect of the past few years. We went to the game knowing it was an important one, and it proved to be tight right to the end, not exactly a classic but gripping in its way. And I found myself shouting out in exasperation over refereeing decisions, head in hands as a Duchere breakaway in the final minutes wasn’t converted, and genuinely anxious when Boulogne threatened. In short, I was involved and it mattered.

Now I can’t say what it’s going to be like for me and other boycotters assuming the takeover happens and matches at The Valley (plus the periodic trip away) become part of life again. Will we be able to pick up where we left off? If Friday’s anything to go it may be easier than we might fear.

Friday 23 March 2018

AFC Purchase Pros and Cons

If the fresh speculation proves correct and it is to be the Australian Football Consortium, how do we feel about that? First and foremost, we dance. Barring unlikely developments today, the next opportunity for all Addicks to mark the end of the Duchatelet era will be the home game against Scunthorpe on 14 April. Assuming a deal is confirmed before Easter, I hope that CARD will switch from planning a protest for Easter Monday’s game to turning the match at The Valley into a celebration – and a welcome to the new owners. CARD can take a bow for its role in helping to bring about the change (it still beggars belief that Roland can talk in terms of selling because you can’t succeed if the twelfth man – ie the supporters – is not with you, having done so much to alienate him/her).

There are inevitably plus and minus points arising from what we know or believe about our assumed new owners (and we await confirmation that it will be a ‘lock, stock and barrels’ purchase). But just for the record (it really shouldn’t be necessary), I couldn’t give a monkey’s that they are Australian rather than Belgian. Like every country, Australia has its problems, its share of morons. The fact that we broadly share a language, or that the UK and Australia have historic ties, mean absolutely nothing; arguably if you buy into the idea that Australia has a pro-sport approach there could be something to be said in that an understanding of sport might work against surrounding yourself with – and backing the views of – those who do not. But really, we are talking about individuals here, not countries. And it’s not as if Australia has accumulated expertise in football.

Like just about everyone else I welcomed Duchatelet’s purchase of our club at the time – and there were some early positives (in addition to bills being paid), such as no plan to move from The Valley and initial expressions of support for Sir Chris. It was only when we started to learn about the character that the flags really went up, with concerns then cemented by what he actually said and did. So please, let’s not have any talk about welcoming our new owners because of their nationality (if they were Russian, Chinese etc it would be an issue for discussion given track records elsewhere, goals and expectations etc). It is all down to individuals.

So let’s try a loose pros and cons assessment:

(+) Yet to be confirmed but fair to assume that the AFC has no plans for a move from The Valley. That would be a material distraction from their stated goals and, since they have been raising funds on the basis of a prospectus, would surely need to have been disclosed.

(+)  The objectives of the AFC are surely in line with the wishes of  all Addicks: “to acquire an underperforming English football team with a view to elevating the club back to the Premier League”. Yes please. Some may not like the comparison, but the benefit of the Jimenez/Slater period was that the only point of their involvement was to get us promoted from the third flight, so they and the fans had common interest.

(+)  Others may not agree, but from the wording of the AFC it seems clear that they will not be going for some ‘quick fix’ but will invest and accept that achieving their overall objective will take time. That suggests that even if they fail they would sell the club on in a reasonable state rather than a ‘boom or bust’ resulting in the latter.

(+)  I found it significant that when there was first talk of us being the AFC’s target and the Trust (if memory serves correct) contacted them, the AFC website wording was changed to incorporate that they accept a 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”. Only words for now of course, but the right ones.

 (-)  Under Duchatelet we were an experiment. With the AFC as owners we still will be. There is no precedent for a Football League club succeeding (or failing) on the back of a venture to “incorporate the very best local, Australian and global sports leadership ...” Just how far the AFC will go in prioritising ‘Australian’ over ‘the very best’ remains to be seen, as does whether there proves to be any tangible benefit from Australian input.

(-)  AFC is a purely financial venture. It has raised money in the expectation that it will make money. If it fails the consortium can simply be wound up, investors in it accept that they took a punt and it didn’t work out. Just what happens to Charlton Athletic is, in that context, irrelevant, there’s no sentiment or emotional tie – and the chances are that if further down the line AFC goes bust it will be with a long list of creditors, so investors will probably not be bothered about the chances of getting some money back from a sale of the club. May be nothing, but for me a concern.

(-)  Money. Enough has been written elsewhere about whether AFC has sufficient capital to fund getting us back into The Championship and then The Premiership. Of course if things are going well after a few years they would have the option to raise more if necessary, so we can’t make assumptions based on their current balance sheet (even if we had it). But this has to be a risk factor.

Harry Kewell? No more than a gut feeling at this stage but I’d view him coming in as manager as a positive. He seems to talk a lot more sense than Robinson (which is setting the bar rather low) and to have more about him. Of course, if an AFC takeover is confirmed early next week, would he be brought in now? Perhaps that depends on Saturday’s result. We beat Plymouth under Bowyer/Jackson and promotion this season is back on the cards and bringing in a new manager from outside would make no short-term sense. If we lose, it might make more sense but then we will be planning for next season and there would seem to be no rush. So that would be a decision for AFC to make, another with pros and cons.

There will no doubt be other issues, but while keeping the negatives in mind we should focus on the positives. If we are bought by AFC it will be a fresh chapter in the history of our club, one which will follow a very dark one, so we welcome it and stand ready to play our part in making it succeed. If we get the news we are waiting for, I’ll be buying a ticket for Scunthorpe (of course if we don't writing this - and reading it - has been a complete waste of time).

Thursday 22 March 2018

Bowyer In No-Lose Position

So there we have it. According to Richard Murray it was “an agreement that is best for everyone involved” and Karl Robinson himself, while “not an easy decision”, what is “best for the club and everyone involved”. Can’t blame either for making such comments, but – although I’m not privy to any inside information - let’s get real: Robinson has had enough and has himself brought about his departure by first twice offering his resignation and then making sure that the news was leaked; Charlton have – or rather Duchatelet has - presumably managed to save on Robinson’s wages and any unfathomable pay-out to Robinson (unless he really had something to support a case for breach of contract), perhaps even squeezed something out of Oxford (I’m assuming there’s going to be a decent interval of at least a day before Robinson is confirmed as their new manager).

There’s no ‘best for the club’ here, just individuals doing what suits their interests – although of course it’s possible that the change will actually work to our (ie the club’s) advantage. If we end up with a turnaround in form and make the play-offs, go on to fresh glory at Wembley and find ourselves back in the Championship, I’m ready to hail Robinson ‘falling on his sword’ as the noblest decision in football for some time. If we don’t make the play-offs, we’ve really lost next to nothing as we weren’t exactly heading in that direction. (I am assuming here that we can’t go on such a disastrous run that we manage somehow to get relegated). We will get some inkling of course on Saturday, from the way the team is set up and how motivated individual players prove to be.

Given that nobody is going to be interested in coming in from outside to manage us (unless truly desperate and offered a contract long enough to make the post-change of ownership pay-off worthwhile), it does seem as though the only alternative was to put in charge one or more of Jason Euell, Johnnie Jackson and Lee Bowyer. (I suppose if Harry Kewell is plucked away from Crawley Town it would be tantamount to saying that a takeover by the Australians is all but agreed.) It seems to be Bowyer as caretaker manager, Jackson as his assistant, and Euell left with the U-23s (which probably makes sense as there’s no point in prompting even more disruption and as by keeping that role Euell gives himself the best chance of being retained under new ownership).

We don’t need to go over Bowyer’s previous; he does surely become the first person to lead Charlton who we know used to enjoy a spliff (if you check out Dean Chandler on Wikipedia you find out that after years in the lower leagues/non-league he apparently made his debut for the England Learning Disability team, playing in a 16-0 win against hosts Sweden in the Global Games, before being sent off in the next match, against Brazil, for violent conduct). Perhaps this is why they haven't made him and JJ 'joints managers'. Just why he is given the nod over Jackson I can’t say, guess you have to be closer to these things to have a worthwhile opinion.

Bowyer does have nothing to lose – and hopefully along with JJ will inject some enthusiasm into the team. If the season tails off with defeat against Plymouth and we are consigned to another in the third flight (for me, in my lifetime we’ve never spent more than three consecutive seasons in this division, so it has to be promotion or bust under new owners for the next campaign) nobody’s going to blame him in any way. Whether or not he and/or Jackson are retained under new ownership only time will tell; perhaps JJ was not put in charge so as to increase his chances of being kept on post-takeover.

There is of course absolutely no good reason for the change to affect CARD’s plans for a return to protests at The Valley on Easter Monday. We all I’m sure continue to hope that the protest will not be necessary as a sale is confirmed before then, but nobody’s holding their breath.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Just Another Day In The Twilight Zone

Just what to make of yesterday? We began the day with Oxford apparently promising an “exciting announcement”, assumed to be confirmation of a new manager, the position having been vacant since January (and with the club’s new owner having reportedly said in February that he expected to make an appointment in the “next couple of days”). And although Karl Robinson had previously played down the rumours and distanced himself from the job, the bookies had reinstalled him as odds-on favourite, the odds on Sven Goran Eriksson apparently lengthening.

We ended the day with not a word from Oxford, nothing from Charlton officially, but with seemingly well-sourced reports that Robinson had offered his resignation to Duchatelet not once but twice. To add to the speculation, reports resurfaced that if the Australian Football Consortium does end up taking us over current Crawley Town boss Harry Kewell would be brought to replace Robinson. Just another day in the tragicomedy that is currently our club.

So basically so far nothing has actually happened (except that we are one day closer to an end to Duchatelet’s ownership). Robinson may still be off to Oxford, he may still resign irrespective, or he may be in situ for Saturday’s game against Plymouth, one which probably represents our last chance saloon as far as fading play-off chances are concerned. I think we could all use some clarity before then, which would be in everyone’s interest.

Perhaps best to separate out the two issues re Robinson. First, is he trying to jump ship having been tipped the wink about Oxford (as a convenient – for him – switch given location and the opportunity to get across a message that he is leaving us because of broken promises from Duchatelet) or was he instead acknowledging that he is failing to get us promoted and in taking responsibility for that by rather more honourably giving the owner the option to replace him? Second, should we be happy or sad if he is gone before Saturday?

Of course on the former there’s currently no way to tell. If Oxford announce the appointment of Robinson it will be up to him to persuade us that he has not behaved badly; in the absence of any convincing explanation – rather more than ‘I did my best but ...’ - we will probably be left to assume that he has, irrespective of the lunacy of Duchatelet’s ‘stewardship’ (there would be a certain irony in that for most of his time with us Roland has been sacking coaches but now he would have seen his trusted CEO and a manager walk away from him). If they announce the appointment of someone else, there would still be a need for some comment from Robinson on the resignation reports. It’s not as if he isn’t going to get asked at every press conference from now on.

How we would feel about him going or not will in part I suspect be conditioned by what is said re Oxford. Nobody can blame Robinson for wanting to get away from Duchatelet – and the line that he was let down in January would carry some conviction – and being tired of the lame duck position he finds himself in vis-a-vis the drawn out takeover. But he is well paid and should have known what he was getting into when he joined us; also, some of the players that have been brought in over the past 12 months are ‘his guys’ and so far they have not turned us into worldbeaters, while disappointment at January window departures and arrivals should be conditioned by the fact that Ezri Konsa was not sold (nor was Josh Magennis). If he goes now Robinson will still deservedly carry the ‘failure’ tag with him. If he is to stay, he has to demonstrate clearly that he is up for the task in terms of enthusiasm and commitment (to Charlton, not the owner).

Ultimately whether Robinson stays or goes is now very much secondary to the takeover, given recent results and current form. We may yet pull off what would in the circumstances be an entirely unexpected victory on Saturday, in which case the picture changes once more. Quite possibly the players are well aware that Robinson has come to the end of his time here – but that would be no excuse for playing with indifference.

There is one issue that still nags at me, one which I don’t think was fully resolved at the time (early 2017). When Robinson joined us he talked of having been won over by the vision and strategy that Duchatelet had for the club, most obviously the emphasis on developing young players. It still seems to me entirely inappropriate that when manager of MK Dons he managed to end up with a (small) shareholding in the company of Dele Alli’s agent, which only came to light with that company getting sued by the tax authorities (MK Dons said they did not know about the holding). This may be something and nothing, but I’d still welcome some reassurance that Robinson has – and has not had since joining us – any personal financial interest in the young players developed at Charlton.

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Robinson Does Murray No Favours

Something of a double-whammy last night with bad news involving both of our objectives: defeat at Blackpool, in what was by all accounts a poor showing with fresh injury problems to boot, plus Karl Robinson’s reported remark that the takeover is “completely up in the air – it could be next season”.  

Now Robinson isn’t exactly known for talking sense when pressed and giving an off-the-cuff remark and there’s no good reason to believe that he has suddenly been included in the very small loop which knows what’s going on (effectively just Duchatelet and to a lesser extent the potential buyers). Whichever way you look at it, it is a very silly remark to make and does him no credit. Richard Murray’s last statement was dated 28 February. He said then that “you can never tell how long lawyers will take but I’ve been informed it should be within the next few weeks”. We are still within that timeframe, so all Robinson has done is – deliberately or not – put Murray on the spot in what must be a most unwelcome fashion.

I have no idea if the sale process has indeed run aground and that Robinson was revealing actual information. Equally we can’t say whether Murray at the end of February was being over-optimistic, even deceptive. But on the latter at least you have to ask yourself why would he do that? He could for sure be misinformed himself and being used by a deluded owner, plus it’s possible that for whatever reason the chances of an imminent deal have evaporated. After all, the notion of a January/February takeover helping to reinvigorate the club and to help propel us into the play-offs with the wind in our sails has all gone (not the play-off chances per se), a new buyer would understandably be looking at whether it made sense to let Duchatelet limp on funding the losses until the end of the season. Good deals involve two satisfied parties, whatever the price. If instead the buyer believes he/she was being screwed over on the asking price, it is hardly surprising that he/she would look to lower that price in light of fresh information – and for all the talk of a price having been agreed, on a purchase nothing is agreed until a deal is signed.

All of this does put Murray – and to some extent us supporters – back on the spot. A fresh statement, or meeting with the Trust, right now might not be necessary – unless he knows that something really has happened to at least put back a sale date beyond end-March; if that is the case he should speak out now, for his own reputation. Ah, what if Roland won’t let him? Rubbish. He is a grown man and can make his own decisions, just live with the consequences if he says something that Duchatelet would rather he didn’t and was dismissed as a director. If nothing is said or done now, I’d be inclined to view end-March as the time by which either a sale has been concluded or we are given a proper update and explanation. Duchatelet has never liked the fact but we are stakeholders.

Consequently I’d be inclined to see it as premature for CARD to be organising any fresh protest at The Valley. There will be time enough for those – plus we are not yet out of the promotion race and Duchatelet doesn’t care about what happens here. However, protests in Belgium, including the splendid political party initiative, are another matter. All that can be done (within the usual parameters) to embarrass and upset the fool would be welcome. And CARD/the Trust could make it clear that in the absence of a sale it would support a boycott of buying season tickets for next season, perhaps calling on Addicks to send back early renewal forms with ‘when you sell the club’ written across them. Duchatelet is hurt by protests close to his home and when his pocket is hit. We remain victim to the whims of a dysfunctional old man, one who believes that each idea he has must be brilliant because he has had it. It’s been that way since he bought our club, may the time of his failed stewardship end soon.

As for matters on the pitch, I can’t comment on actual performances only state the obvious: that getting into the play-offs now requires a fast turnaround in form. As things stand we are not, and have not been, good enough. It isn’t impossible for that to change (and I couldn’t give a monkey’s whether or not we ‘deserve’ to be in the mix) but the chances are clearly not good.

I’d join in with belated congratulations for the Charlton Athletic Community Trust for getting us named as the London Checkatrade Community Club of the Year. It is of course ironic that we win the award at a time when we have an owner who has done more than any other to separate the club from the community, but that’s nothing to do with the efforts of Community Trust CEO Jason Morgan and his team, which have been rightly recognised (and OK, at least the regime doesn’t seem to have got in the way of this work).

The further irony of that news coinciding with the publicising of the sordid video of current and former players indulging in some drunken and very dull-witted racial abuse has been highlighted by others. The players involved let themselves down and after apologising – not in the form of ‘if we have caused offence ...’ as quite clearly they have – should have a long look at themselves in the mirror. Sure, worse things happen at sea. But did they bring the club into disrepute? Undoubtedly yes, just as Meire did with her dire ‘sex on the pitch’ advert.