Life’s a bitch. I’d half-written something reasoned and considered (and long-winded of course) ahead of Friday’s planned protest at the EFL offices, about whether fans are true stakeholders in a club and, if they are, whether we have been and are being treated as such by the interested parties (Duchatelet, potential purchasers of our club, and the EFL). Then we see the South London Press articles covering Lee Bowyer’s comments about our owner, so made some adjustments. Then we get the fresh incoherent outburst on the club site, which does have all the hallmarks of being written by our absent owner. So sod it, he’s had his latest rant, I’m in the mood for one too.
We have collectively wasted so many hours trying to peer into the dark recesses of our owner’s mind. All been a waste of time, there’s not much there. Someone who believes himself to be rational and intelligent concludes after years of owning several clubs that football involves emotion? Does he seriously think that this deep insight is something fans are unaware of? I picked up one of those little message signs for my partner Suzanne some years ago which said: ‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it’. One of the saddest aspects of his stewardship of our club (leaving aside the mess his daft ideas have left our club in) is that he clearly has derived no enjoyment from involvement in football (‘ah, but it’s all been a valuable social experiment ...’). Every fan of every club has. His loss.
Couple this with the suggestion that it’s all really been a ‘problem of communication’. From the statement: “One of the key factors that has played a role in the differences between the fans and the ownership has been around communication. Therefore the club has written to the EFL ... once they have analysed the past communication and have a broader awareness of all the facts ...” Is he serious?
Let’s recap. We were told from the start that we just had to accept how Duchatelet does things, when supporters first raised real concerns we were fobbed off with the promise of communication once relegation had been avoided only for this to amount to a summer ‘open day’, and since then any real meetings – other than those to discuss the price of Bovril inside the ground – have been extracted through the regime’s gritted teeth and have never involved Duchatelet. Our role from the start of his stewardship has been to pay our money, cheer to the rafters (before a little post-match dance), and worship the ground that Roland walks on, however much doo-doo that involved having to wade through. Not realistic. I just hope that the EFL read between the lines and, being fully aware of the facts, conclude that Duchatelet’s decision to send a lackey to the meeting with them says all they need to know about communication.
Let us not forget – and don’t laugh, or point out the grammatical and language mistakes – that there is a ‘Club Charter’ on the official site. This says that “our fans are the heartbeat of this club they are what makes it so special and we want them to feel that this is their home” (we’ll gloss over the fact that it is our home, if our owner was not such an idiot we would have made it feel like it was his too). Given actual experience of Duchatelet’s stewardship, up to and including the current treatment of club staff, this just underlines how cheap words can be if nobody is held properly and consistently to account.
One fellow Addick recently told me that for him the stupid and utterly unacceptable £1.50 ‘transaction charge’ for the privilege of printing out matchday tickets at home was the final straw and behind his non-attendance this season. I’m actually reading a Bill Bryson book in which he praises British humour, citing when he bought a ticket for a train to Manchester and asked for a receipt only to be told ‘the ticket is free but it’s £18.50 for the receipt’. What was a joke in 1995 has become a reality – and I really don’t care if other clubs do the same, doesn’t make it acceptable.
And here I digress, because it’s got to go in somewhere. I recently received an email from Virgin Media, and I quote: ‘We understand that a price rise is never welcome. Yet with broadband usage increasing across our network by 31% last year, we need to continue investing in it so that you’re brilliantly connected to the stuff you love’. So let’s get this right, you’re planning to charge me more to fund the investment you need to make to cope with more customers? Are you telling me that if you had no new customers my bill would stay the same? And you expect me to go along with this? At one level I admire their honesty but it is utterly unacceptable and they have lost my custom. Add in a recent ISP renewal where at the last minute when making a payment they throw in a £3 ‘non-auto renew administration charge’ then send me an email pointing out the ‘key benefits’ of auto renewing. Number one: ‘You won’t have to pay our admin charge on your next renewal’. Don’t worry, there won’t be one.
Back to the issue at hand. I don’t think many Addicks expect much to emerge from the EFL meetings with the regime’s lackey and the Trust. I actually have, I think, more sympathy than most for the EFL (not forgetting the ill-informed and shameful comments made by the EFL chief after the Charlton v Burnley game). It is after all no more than a group set up to represent the interests of football league clubs (a majority of the board comprises club officials), it is not a regulatory authority. Arguably there is a need for the latter, one with actual teeth. Just that the EFL isn’t it.
Even so, it has intervened and if it is not to be made to look ridiculous it would I think be best advised to meet the Trust - which we can be confident will provide it with a ‘broader awareness of all the facts’ – and turn down the opportunity to talk to the mysterious ‘consultant’ Lieven de Turck, or any other club ‘representative’, and request that Duchatelet gives them his version of events (and solutions) direct. If he is too infirm to get to a meeting in the UK, go to Belgium to meet him – and charge him (not our club) the costs.
Not going to happen, is it? Duchatelet’s statement added that “we have also asked the EFL to consider: are the cost efficiencies helping the sale of the club? Are the protests helping the sale of the club?’ To save the EFL time, the answer to the first is that they are irrelevant to any sale of the club, to the second ‘yes’. That would allow the EFL to move quickly to the heart of the matter, namely whether or not there is a sale process, whether or not the statements made by club officials (primarily Richard Murray and De Turck) still hold true, and just why Duchatelet has been unable to sell the club.
Let’s be fair here and include the comments made by Lee Bowyer. Our new ‘permanent’ manager – who also stated that a contract to the end of the season was his idea, not Duchatelet’s – reportedly said that “after the recent protests he (Duchatelet) rang on the Sunday and said: “Are you OK? Is everything OK?” He cares. Probably a lot of people wouldn’t want to hear it but he said: “I’m not going to just sell to anybody, because I care about the club”, adding “he has backed me ... all a manager wants is backing from the owner and I’ve had that”.
Bowyer has said and done nothing since coming back to Charlton which might work against taking his remarks at face value. He can only speak from his experience. Fair enough. If Duchatelet had treated other coaches/managers in the same way we would almost certainly not be in the mess we are now. We know that he has not. If it indicates that Duchatelet and Bowyer get on OK at a personal level, so much the better. Does it suggest that Roland is finally learning from his mistakes? Perhaps. But it’s unlikely, Duchatelet’s word means nothing. And it’s all far, far too late.
At one level I hope the EFL will be kind to him. They will be dealing with someone who the evidence suggests just can’t make decisions, because his version of the truth, that which needs to be communicated and which is rational, involves such delusion. The most striking comments for me remains Murray saying early on that Duchatelet had two objectives for Charlton: to break even and to get into the Premiership. Irreconcilable from the start, especially after the FFP rules on which the network concept (one adopted by others well before Roland) relied were predictably ignored. So what next? Err ... He wants communication and rationality but can’t manage either. He wants to sell the club but can’t achieve that. No wonder he doesn’t buy new shoes. It’s not that he likes the pairs that are falling apart, he just can’t work out how to get new ones.