Thursday, 27 October 2016

De Weg Naar Meer Netto Binnenlands Geluk: Het Verkopen Van Onze Club

Sorry to say I won’t be able to make my own contribution to the Saturday banner parade in support of free speech arranged by CARD; I’ve been slumming it in Lyon for a week now and won’t return until Sunday. For what it’s worth my effort would have read ‘De Weg Naar Meer Netto Binnenlands Geluk: Het Verkopen Van Onze Club’. I am ready to receive the prize in absentia.

The main reason for something in a language that our owner might understand is that surely the focus going forward needs to be on the root cause of our problem. Ms Meire we all know is in the wrong job and repeatedly brings our club into disrepute (and that were there any element of self-awareness she would have resigned long ago). Whatever nonsense and deception she spouts in the imminent Talksport expose is ultimately meaningless as she lost any semblance of credibility many moons ago. Our club is being slowly strangled because of the actions of our owner (admittedly one of them being keeping Meire in place).

We welcomed him when he bought our club but were quickly alienated by his actions and behaviour. We were told at the time of the takeover that Duchatelet knew nothing about football and all the evidence since supports that as he veered from one daft strategy to the next, interfered in areas beyond his capabilities, and apparently still takes advice from people whose ineptitude only serves to drive away from our club capable (and honest) employees. Through this time there has been, I think, a notable shift in his attitude towards us. The image of the benevolent parent looking after his babies rather went out of the window with his petulant rant. As in his eyes the blame for relegation can be laid squarely at others’ doors, and as he is incapable of recognising his own failures, we now have feigned indifference. ‘Ha, it is a little sad that the supporters of Charlton are not capable of recognising and embracing my wisdom and vision (we did tell them early on that they just had to accept how I did things), they now don’t even seem to like me (strange, the same thing happened at Standard), so I have to leave them in the naughty corner for a while as I am far too busy to devote much time to educating them’.

We’ve shifted him to indifferent/alienation. The only problem with this is that as long as the regime can flog off a sufficient number of young players to cover losses he can remain indifferent. We now have to shift him to believing that his net happiness will be increased by getting shot of this troublesome club. It’s possible that this will happen just through time and continued protest, or that something on his own front might change his priorities. Just keep the faith, keep up the pressure, and support CARD.

After the resounding success of the joint march and flying pigs, we can’t hope for the same degree of media coverage, even social media. But there will be some. Makes it all the more important that there are no offensive banners, nothing to give regime apologists any grounds to try to misrepresent the nature of the protests. I’ve no doubts the vast majority of Addicks don’t need any sort of reminder on that front, but in this post-referendum world perhaps you can’t be so sure, given the continuing stream of vile bilge spewed out by the Daily Mail and Express. Those rags bring shame on our country.

But I’m not going to get into all of that, especially as I have a rather nice Lyon wine fair to attend tonight. It will I hope make up for the ordeal that France put me though getting here. I prefer the Eurostar/TGV to flying, as long as the price is right, even though this does often mean a large element of Marne la Vallee travellers. Just when you think you’ve got rid of them at Disneyworld of course there’s another batch joining the train there to go home. No matter, I can always divert myself with wine and a good book. My masterplan recently has been to carry a corkscrew with me and when changing for the TGV at Lille buying a reasonable bottle of red for the three-hour trip to Lyon, to arrive relaxed and refreshed. I did notice last time around at Lille that the selection of wine at the Relais was a bit thin but thought no more of it. This time around the shop was closed. Merde. But no matter, I will just have to revert to the wine from the buffet car. And after we pulled out there was the fateful announcement: ‘Due to a strike by personnel we regret to inform you that the buffet will be closed for all the journey. We apologise for any inconvenience caused. Desole.’ Or words to that effect.

So tonight I have my revenge. I shall sample everything I can and, unless something is truly outstanding (or more likely unless I get so addled that the credit card comes out irrespective), I shall, regrettably move on. Desole. I guess we just shouldn’t expect perfection either side of the Channel, just enjoy the good bits.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Genuine Offer Or More Cynical Manipulation?

What to make of the apparent offer by Meire and cronies to CARD - and the response, not being privy to the thoughts of either side? Was Meire's offer a genuine attempt at finding common ground with CARD, or a PR stunt aimed at getting the regime a better press when it comes to coverage of the coming protests and perhaps to try to divide supporters? We can't know - and ultimately it doesn't matter.

Start by assuming the former and question whether it makes sense. CARD, by its name, exists to pressure and campaign for Duchatelet to sell our club, asap, on the grounds that all the evidence since the takeover points to continued failure on and off the pitch under his ownership. So what is the possible point of CARD talking to Meire, when as I understand it the offer was based on the following: "The manager and the players need all the support they can get to give Charlton Athletic the best opportunity to challenge for promotion to the Championship this season. With this in mind, we have requested a meeting with CARD to look at how we can potentially begin working with them on a process of rebuilding this great club."

Again, consider CARD's reason for being. How can CARD respond positively to an invitation to work together, unless that is on the basis of some pledge from Duchatelet to sell the club? Perhaps such an offer might have been forthcoming at an actual meeting, but without an indication of such from the invitation the only logical reaction from CARD was the one it so eloquently delivered. In short, the offer of a meeting as delivered was doomed to failure.

So was failure intended? Here too we can't be certain but it is indicative of the mistrust - which is the result of experience, not prejudice - that we are inclined to believe it was. The other aspect, if I'm correct, was the sending of the invitation on Wednesday evening and the appearance of press reports of the offer before any response had been made. If the offer was genuine and if the leak deliberate, the person who leaked it should be dismissed and an apology published, because the leaking clearly worked against any chance of a positive response. If the offer was genuine and the leak accidental, then an apology to CARD is in order. There hasn't been one that I've seen. If the offer was not genuine, the leak was necessary since otherwise the regime couldn't be sure it would make it to all Addicks and the media.

So it seems to me that the balance of probability, in the absence of further information, is on the side of the offer not being a genuine attempt at constructive dialogue. Just consider another line from the reported offer. 'A Charlton spokesperson said: "Everyone at Charlton Athletic, whether staff or fans, have the club's best interests at heart." Leaving aside for a moment whether the regime's apparent latest strategy for Charlton (to be a fish farm for young players) is really in our club's best interests, fair enough. But how does that square with the Duchatelet statement, published on the club website, which said that some fans want the club to fail? Are we to take the spokesperson's comment as a de facto apology from our owner? An apology from Duchatelet for that statement is in order and any indirect, half-arsed implication of one is not adequate.

In previous posts I've suggested that if the regime had any sense it would have used recent months as an opportunity to try to establish meaningful communication with supporters. That opportunity was not taken. Instead, as CARD has outlined, it focused on more of what it delivered before, ie stage-managed events to use well-meaning individuals to create the impression of better communication (let's face it, better communication for the regime means working harder to tell us where they are going, not actually listening to and taking on board fans' opinions and interests on issues more weighty than the price of Bovril inside the ground). There was an obvious opportunity during this time to invite the Trust to talks on the basis of the offer apparently made now. Such an offer would have put the Trust in a difficult position. Its current position of being a part of CARD and not engaging in dialogue with the regime is after all the result of canvassing its members, so technically a change would have required a fresh 'referendum'. Some may say that the Trust doesn't represent all Addicks. Of course it can't, but aims to do so and is the most representative organisation that all supporters have. I'd urge all Addicks, including those who back the regime, to join and express their views.

Anyway, no such initiative was made and the time for it passed. Whether or not the timing was right for CARD to resume outright protests is now a moot point, the decision has been taken and I'll be going along with it. My only decision is whether or not to buy a ticket for the Coventry game, or just - in my normal fashion - turn up to assist with the protests. I'll give it more thought, but currently feel that just adding one more voice inside the ground calling for Duchatelet to go does not outweigh handing over some money to the regime. Perhaps there's an element, for me in my second season of boycott, of FOLI (of course I wasn't the first out, others just stopped going before me).

If the regime's meeting offer was intended to deepen the divide between Addicks supporting the protests and those who do not, let's make sure it fails. Differing opinions among Addicks is unavoidable and usually healthy. After all, this isn't some referendum where there's a right answer and a wrong one (we got it wrong, first time around anyway). All Addicks want to see Charlton succeed and to be progressing towards what we would consider success (at least being in the Championship). We all want a full and vibrant Valley, both because this is a vital ingredient for our club to succeed and because this considerably enhances our matchday experience (a sparse, quiet Valley and we might as well just be at a social club, or a local rugby match, which might please our owner but not me). And while we might grumble, we all accept that from time to time we will fall short of our goals and suffer setbacks. We are not protesting because we were relegated, let alone because we might not want us to get back up.

To those Addicks who are against the protests, and don't fall for the reprehensible suggestions that the protests are motivated by any sort of xenophobia or hatred, perhaps bear in mind one thing. You want a positive and enjoyable matchday experience, with a full and happy Valley. We all do, I miss that. But you've had no real protests so far this season and have you enjoyed the matchday experience? Is that positive experience simply going to come back of its own accord with the regime in place, even if performances on the pitch improve? Perhaps, over a decade or more, if the regime succeeds in bussing in enough kids on freebies. Our owner has further distanced himself from Charlton (as he doesn't do failure he has to dissociate himself from direct involvement with anything that is failing, to perpetuate the self-deception), probably views us as naughty children who need to be punished for disobeying daddy, perhaps only (apparently) refuses to consider selling out of spite and stubbornness. I don't know and don't care. We all want our Charlton back.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Full Circle

Rochdale at The Valley always seems a little poignant to me, but never more so than now. I was still knee-high to a grasshopper (OK, a nascent, probably spotty with daft hair, teenager, albeit not one being employed by a batty old owner of football clubs to find players) on a very cold 6 Jan 1973 evening. We'd been relegated to the third division for the first time in my life the previous season and now I was one of 5,048 lonely souls in a vast stadium trying to keep warm as we hosted Rochdale. Bloody hell, 43 years ago. No shortage of water under the bridge since then but - and no disrespect to Rochdale intended - that night always stayed in my head as a real low point, for the crowd and the mood. A King Arthur goal gave us victory but we were to have two seasons of third flight mediocrity before a combination of the emergence of Killer and the installation as manager of Andy Nelson saw us promoted at the third time of asking.

A low point indeed, but now an impression of things having come around full circle, as all Addicks struggle to come to terms with life back in this division (yes I know, for the fourth time in my lifetime) and real concerns about the future of our club. Back then expectations were lower and without social media all we could do was grumble with mates over a pint (I was of course too young for that and with no laptops I couldn't spend the time devising ways to persuade daft old football club owners to make use of an adolescent's services). It was a time of questioning whether Charlton could survive on such low attendances, rumours even of a move to Milton Keynes. Fast forward to now and it seems eerily similar.

A longstanding fellow Addick now living outside London decided to take in Tuesday night's game, giving some of us the opportunity to meet up. Five in the pub and another two who couldn't make it. Go back some years and we were all season ticket holders. Sure, one is no longer in London. But not one of the other six now have season tickets, I'm into my second season of boycotting games, another has stopped going this season, one more who has been attending on a game-by-game basis decided at least this time around he'd prefer to stay in the pub as, in his words, this dreadful regime is sucking all the enjoyment out of going. He currently plans to switch to going to away games, like many others. So three of the seven went to the game.

One sent me the following comments today. "The only good thing about last night was getting the chance to catch up with .....  Rarely (if ever) have I spent so much time chatting at a match rather than watching the game. Probably only about 6,000 in the ground despite the official attendance. No atmosphere at all - like a pre-season friendly.  Thoroughly outplayed by Oldham for about 75% of the match."  The non-Londoner replied with: "Yes an awful match in an atmosphere which wasn't hostile but just resigned to failure. Only one bit of class and that was Lookman's effort which hit the bar. But good to see you all. Let's do an away match and not care about the football."

Now correct me if I'm wrong, but one of the stated goals of the regime in its early days was to improve the matchday experience. Does it sound as though they're succeeding? Of course we have had the cheerleaders and the sofa, but perhaps they didn't quite balance the utter ineptness of the regime and its contemptible arrogance, resulting in lamentable and completely avoidable failure on the pitch. There are many aspects to owning a football club and being a supporter that the regime just 'doesn't get'. But in this context one of the most striking, for me, is the idea that they can happily kill off dreams and ambition, for many the very rationale for being a supporter. We are offered by Meire the 'unique experience' of being able to see stars of the future, for a short spell, now Duchatelet muses about why football can't be more like rugby. Going to the game then becomes an opportunity to meet up with friends (undeniably a major element) and to stroll along to enjoy watching a bit of a kickabout as the youngsters hone their skills, perhaps josh the ref a little if he makes a mistake, to applaud if we win and collectively shrug our shoulders if we lose, then everyone goes merrily back to the bar for another glass or two. A sort of local social club. I don't need to outline why this is complete cobblers; every supporter already knows why.

So we've had something of a stand-off of late, a period of phoney war. The regime pretends that attendances are not as dire as they are by giving away freebies and not caring whether or not the tickets are used, pretends that it values supporters (it was embarrassing to hear the stadium announcer at half-time in the Wimbledon game declare 'great support in the first half ...' when everyone there knew it was poor), and pretends that it is communicating with the fans, even that it wants to improve communication (if they were serious they would know what to do). CARD for good reasons had suspended protests inside the ground. And with more protesters staying away and fewer inside for the home games, of course the balance of regime opponents to at least tacit backers has shifted.

This period offered the regime the opportunity to take the initiative and to win over more supporters. It was always going to fail to take it. The unwanted brief visit by Duchatelet was only notable for his disgraceful attempt to justify why he fails to meet his responsibilities (it really sounded like another attempt to shift the blame for failure without addressing why, if he cannot spare the time, he keeps in place an incompetent embarrassment), the absurd comments made by Driesen in his press interview only serve to show how well he fits with the regime (he does lie/distort/mislead like the best of them) but not the real world. So CARD has announced a resumption of protests, starting with the Coventry game. This is bound to annoy some Addicks but the status quo is unsustainable, the regime is slowly squeezing the life out of our club and is incapable of changing its spots. 

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Missed Chances, Points Wasted

I had no plans to actually go to the game today, just intending to turn up for the CARD photo, suitably attired. Turns out we missed the first shoot, which had been brought forward, but made a repeat effort put on for us late arrivals, then a ticket for the match found its way into my possession. Let me just stress that no transfer of money to the regime was involved in the manufacturing of this post.

The game proved to be a criminal waste of three points. After 20 minutes I'd pretty much come to terms with just how empty The Valley is these days, we were 1-0 up, looked perfectly capable of adding to that, Wimbledon didn't look as if they carried a real threat, and my thoughts were just nothing silly at the back and we should run out comfortable winners. At half-time we should have been two or three goals to the good but no particular reason for concern, given the way the game had gone. After 60 mins I remember thinking we'd gone off the boil rather but were still comfortable, just hadn't put the game to bed; I also wondered why Wimbledon seemed so content to be carrying on with one up front and seemingly just going through the motions headed for defeat. After what proved a pretty material substitution by them, two goals, and a lame response from us, by the final whistle my mind was turning to just how we'd lost a game that was there for the taking.

That may seem a little unfair on Wimbledon. Perhaps they had a game-plan all along (although the substitution that they made, which involved the introduction of a second forward, one with considerable physical presence, came as a result of a clash of heads at a corner and their guy going down poleaxed and getting stretchered off). Truth is that with that change Wimbledon looked a different team going forward, scored two decent goals, and ended the game in the ascendency.

The team was unchanged from the Fleetwood game, with Solly and Fox either side of Pearce and Konsa in front of Rudd, Crofts and Ulvestad in central midfield and Holmes and Lookman occupying the wide positions, and Magennis and Ajose up front. And after Konsa was a little fortunate not to pick up a yellow card after an early slip prompted a clear foul the first chance came the way of Lookman. He was given far too much time, moved inside onto his right foot, but put the shot wide of the far post. Really should have at least tested the keeper and you felt at the time that surely it can't be that easy for him, surely Wimbledon wouldn't give him that much space again. Wrong. Seems the clock was only showing eight minutes gone when the ball was played square to Lookman and he took it forward to the edge of the box. Again he cut inside, shaped to shoot and their defender obligingly fell to the turf, allowing Lookman to take it further to the right, then to direct his shot unerringly inside the near post. It was a calm and effective finish, a goal all his own work, but the defending was shocking.

It looked like the first of many. Magennis was doing a good job of bullying their two centre-backs and laying it off, Ajose was buzzing around with intent, Holmes was threatening, and there was also Lookman. Crofts and Ulvestad didn't seem to be getting forward to provide support, but quite frankly it didn't look as though they would be required to do more than feed the others and protest the back four. Wimbledon did produce an early scare or two but nothing clear-cut, with Pearce in particular cutting out most balls forward, whereas the chances for us were to come with regularity through the first half.

Holmes had a decent shot beaten away, Ajose was played in, not really a one-on-one as he was further out than that but he was clear and failed to test the keeper, then the one that was laid on a plate for him. Down the right Ulvestad and Solly worked to create space for a cross, eventually Ulvestad floated one up to the far post, Magennis headed it down invitingly, but Ajose blazed it over the bar. It was a bad miss as finishing chances like that are the reason he is out there. Instead he'd been well placed twice and hadn't put in an effort on target.

There may have been other chances in the first half but no more come to mind. At the break we were ahead but really should have been out of sight. There was no strong feeling at the time that the failure to score more might come back to haunt us as we seemed in control of the game, but you did feel that a team looking to be around the top six needed to be more clinical in front of goal - and that if we ended up failing to beat a team that looked as limited as Wimbledon we will have problems.

The second half carried on in a similar vein: us in control, Wimbledon sitting back despite being behind, and just the need for a second goal to make it safe. It didn't come. We probed, threatened, still had the weapons. One squared by Magennis almost provided Ajose with a tap-in but didn't quite find him. When we did get one on target, a good header from Magennis I think, their keeper dived low to his right and pulled off a stunning save. That was a turning point. So was the injury Wimbledon suffered from a corner. There seemed to be some confusion as their guy had been on the ground for some minutes with a stretcher called for, yet when the guy was carried off nobody was ready to replace him. The pitch announcer said someone else was coming on, but eventually a big guy pulled on a shirt and prepared to enter the game. He moved alongside their lone forward and suddenly the game seemed different.

Slade seemed to sense that Wimbledon were now a different kettle of fish and withdrew Ajose, sending on Novak with around 20 mins left. But he didn't change the shape, didn't look to the available Jackson to help close things down (and perhaps pop up with a goal). Instead the next material event saw their left-winger force or take advantage of a slip from Solly to cut in on goal, only for Konsa to save the captain's blushes with an excellent block. Like our goal, it was to prove a portent of things to come. Not long after the ball was worked to that same guy. Lookman seemed to realise the problem and doubled up, only this time the guy knocked it between the pair of them and was suddenly in, rifling the ball past Rudd.

Still more than 10 minutes to go, plus stoppage time, so their equaliser really should have made it game on. But by then we'd lost momentum and the chances were not coming along so frequently, while they knew that they were back in a game they had no right to be. It was at this point I thought Slade should have made a change, probably to bring on Jackson, as on the pitch we looked in need of drive and leadership. Nothing happened and with five minutes left on the clock we were to concede again.

To be fair, this goal was a peach. Former Charlton youth player Fuller hadn't looked the most comfortable right-back playing football this afternoon, up against Lookman, but he moved forward down the line and onto a ball, to curl in a superb cross. It was curling away from defenders, came in just behind their sub, he twisted his neck and directed it like a bullet past Rudd, who again had no chance.

With five minutes of stoppage time we still had around 10 minutes left to get something out of the game. We didn't. Wimbledon not surprisingly chased everything down, we looked desperate (especially when Solly found himself in space at the far post but was unable to square it to someone in a red shirt), and although Magennis nodded one down for Novak to finish he was clearly in an offside position. Instead their sub proved pretty adept at running down the clock and the game ended with them in raptures and us ruing both missed opportunities and an inability to respond to a change in circumstances.

As this is the first game I've seen this season I can't compare with what has gone before, only give my impressions. I hope the manager and the players are annoyed with themselves and use that anger to positive effect next time around. Today they came up short. It was a case of Shankley's 'the best team always wins, the rest is just gossip'. They took advantage of our failures.

Player Ratings:

Rudd:  7/10.  What rating do you give a keeper who made no saves and had no chance with their two goals?

Solly:  6/10.  No lack of effort but got outmuscled by their guy twice and the second time it cost us a goal.

Fox:  6/10. Nothing decisive at either end of the pitch, no problems but no great contribution either.

Pearce:  7/10.  I was impressed with him, a classic 'no nonsense' performance. For most of the game our defence was untroubled, for which he took much of the credit. But that changed with their substitution.

Konsa:  6/10.  One excellent block, some good tackles. Clearly an excellent prospect, just question whether he is ready to deal with the sort of sub they threw on.

Holmes:  7/10.  Always a threat, even towards the end when he carried the ball half the length of the pitch only to not get the curled shot right. Another shot beaten away.

Crofts:  6/10.  Pretty anonymous for most of the game, but for most of the game we were in control and all he needed to do was shore things up.

Ulvestad:  7/10.  He wasn't exactly box-to-box today, still finding his feet. But showed glimpses of what we hope is to come in giving our midfield more guile and energy.

Lookman:  7/10.  Should have been the match-winner but wasn't.

Magennis:  7/10.  Really overall did his job, was effective in leading the line and keeping their defenders unsettled. Just didn't make a decisive contribution.

Ajose:  6/10.  Has to be judged on whether or not he takes the chances that come his way. Today he didn't.

Subs:  Novak (6/10 - made no real impression, went offside when might have been played in).

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Protesters Are The Positive Ones

I realised over the weekend - and my first trip of the new season to The Valley, to help hand out CARD programmes - that it had been some weeks since I'd posted anything. There have been good reasons, including a working holiday in France (the task was to improve our knowledge of the wines of Burgundy and I'm pleased to report that, with a lot of effort and consumption, good progress has been made). There's also been the feeling that all roads lead to 'you are destroying our club, sell up and leave' and there's only so often you can say this without sounding boring. No matter, let's say it again, in the form of a ramble through recent events. Because it needs repeating, at a time when it isn't easy for the protest movement to square supporting Slade and the team and wanting success on the pitch (which every Addick does) with the firm belief that for our club to prosper in any real sense we need new owners.

For sure it's pleasing that on the pitch a wobbly start has become a respectable one, with every indication that the players are behind the manager. It's impossible for us to say for sure how the transfer system at the club operates (ie the extent of Slade's influence), but from a distance it would seem that, for now at least, he has a strong say when it comes to signings - and at least he isn't getting stiffs dumped on him from a Poundland network. Equally it would seem that he has next to no influence - other than his one trump card, ie a threat to walk away - when it comes to sales.

I'd say that so far Slade's made only one error: not ensuring that the issue of the comments apparently made by Johnson was put to rest. If Johnson made the remarks to supporters as reported, a full and well-publicised apology was appropriate, as the Trust called for. We all say things in the heat of the moment and, even though the guy is never going to feature on a list of popular players past and present, a full act of contrition would have been the end of the matter. Without that - if there has been one I missed it, just saw a remark from Slade to the effect that Johnson had apologised - there's an unwanted issue of how supporters will respond if he is selected and perhaps in turn a factor in whether he is picked. Doesn't do the player or the team any good.

While we're dealing with matters on the pitch, it's worth remembering that our absent owner is now occupying himself (according to his partner) by focusing on the sporting side at Sint-Truiden. No surprise then that after a fluked win in their first league game of the season the Roland influence has come to the fore and they've since lost three and drawn one. No doubt in Duchateletworld the glorious victory and the plucky draw were the result of his faultless leadership, while the three defeats were down to ... (just fill in the gaps, any excuse would be accepted). Roland doesn't do failure as we know; he - and his minions - consequently just don't do truth either.

I digress - not completely as at the time in history Burgundy did extend to include what we now call Belgium (and the Netherlands) - but did thoroughly enjoy while on holiday a French whitewash of history. Dijon - which I shall forever remember fondly for a sumptuous tasting afternoon - makes a good deal of the glories and good works of the four grand dukes of Burgundy - Philip the Bold, John the Fearless, Philip the Good, and Charles the Bold - during the time of their split from the king of France, before the amicable reconciliation. What you won't find there is a single mention of the fact that during that time they allied with England and fought against the 'French', or that it was they who handed over to the English (albeit for money) Jean d'Arc. A glance at their legacy and you might propose Philip the Spendthrift, John the Murderer, Philip the Serial Shagger, and Charles the Ugly and Totally Crap as more appropriate titles. Ah well, just more reminders of the facts that we are all Europeans (that what we refer to as nation states are modern inventions) and that, as they say, history is written by the victors.

My source for this (and much else) is the obviously accurate '1,000 Years of Annoying the French'. They really should rename it '1,020 Years ...' as my partner Suzanne would suggest that I've been doing a good job of continuing the trend. We were having a lively exchange later in the holiday in the heights of Jura, prompted by her wasting valuable time ensuring that the apartment of her sister that we were leaving was totally devoid of any speck of dust. My constructive complaints were not being taken well. 'What are you going to be like when you are even older?, she inquired. 'Difficult', I suggested. 'Ha! What do you imagine you are now?' (I should point out that this came from a woman who'd just thrown a wobbler over my trimming a bit of facial fuzz in a bathroom that she'd just passed as clean for purpose, and had suggested that 'we are going to have a problem if we live together if you don't do things my way'.)

I had been trying to explain to Suzanne the latest example of utter stupidity on the part of the regime, the laughable (were it not so utterly reprehensible) hauling in of an Addick looking to renew his season ticket and being called to task for being OTT in his criticisms. I told her that we are now being widely known as the club that hates its fans. She replied that I'm so difficult that now that the regime wouldn't want to sell me a season ticket I probably want to buy one. So to be on the safe side, please just select any insult and you can confidently assume that I've used it privately or publicly to describe the regime. They have deserved every one for what they have done/are doing to our club.

In fact for the record I received a CAFC email back in mid-July inviting me to buy a season ticket. Curiously it went on to claim that 'last season we can see you spent more than £150 buying tickets on a match-by-match basis'. Now I didn't spend the proverbial penny last season, so either they have me mixed up with someone else or - more likely - they just sent out a junk email in the hope that for some the contents might be true (working from home I most enjoy the 'our records show you were involved in a car accident which wasn't your fault ....'; as I've never owned a car and haven't driven one since passing my test decades ago - first time please note Suzanne - it is a long shot). So just in case there is any doubt, in the theoretical instance that I sent in a season ticket application and was offered a code of conduct agreement, I trust I would adopt the Cantona approach. He (if I remember correctly) was accused of calling one (or more) of the French football selectors an idiot. When called in to answer for his actions, he went up to each of them in turn, said 'idiot', and walked out.

They have been idiots from the start. And how do we know nothing's changed? The evidence. Duchatelet obviously hasn't changed as Meire unbelievably remains at our club. He is still the dictatorial buffoon who gave those crazed interviews and released those revolting statements. Meire hasn't changed, although she keeps trying to suggest that she - or at least the club management in general - has. Again, the evidence. Just take those 'programme notes from the senior management team'; they can't help themselves, they are snide, divisive, cheap, and deceitful. "We'd like to begin by thanking all of those that stuck by the club last season" - in other words not those who protested and who, by their protests, clearly did not 'stick by the club'. We have "a change in strategy by the club", nicely glossing over the fact that previous strategies have been doomed to failure, as everyone with any understanding of football said at the time. "We have lost players ..." Exactly how do you lose one? Did some wander off after training? You've sold them to offset losses and ended contracts to save on wages. Ah no, "the players we've lost all wanted new challenges". Are they really trying to suggest that if 'they' had wanted to stay there would have been no sales? Utterly ridiculous.

Most obnoxious was "we haven't been maximising fully the passion, energy and effort that our fans have" and "we want to communicate better and more frequently with our fans". Presumably a change, therefore, from the 'Charlton fans have to accept ...' approach and the false promises before of meaningful dialogue. The regime doesn't want to 'communicate', let alone have a real dialogue, that much is obvious. It does want an end to protests, more season ticket/matchday ticket sales/spending inside the ground and to that end is seemingly prepared to endure some time wasted on a few selected meetings. Too cynical? Easy enough to prove me wrong. If the regime/senior management had any sense it would take advantage of the relative lull in protests and take the initiative by inviting the Trust and CARD representatives to enter into open-ended discussions. It would be hard for them to turn down such an offer at this point in time and such an offer just might incline some of us to question whether something has indeed changed. Of course there will be no such offer, since that would be risking the facade of change off the pitch being exposed.

Most laughable was "the new era is about positivity". Protest by its very nature is in a sense negative, a reaction to something deemed unacceptable/undesirable. But it is also positive, a call for a change for the better, for a brighter future. Those calling for new owners are not mired in negativity (and of course they are not xenophobes), they are the positive ones.

I was going to go on to cover the absurdity of Meire and the FA, bringing in the exchange of letters that I had with the Football League following the reprehensible statement made in the wake of the Burnley game by chief executive Shaun Harvey. But time marches on, Suzanne arrives from France this evening and there is a property to be cleaned (as best as I can), and that may be enough ranting for one day.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

I'm sure there have been many fine academic studies into the potential negative impact of sales and marketing campaigns, just that I'm blissfully unaware of them. I do know that downsides, in the form of consumer boycotts, exit. For example I continue to balk at any Virgin service because they once sponsored an inferior south London team. We don't forget. So while it is possible that for once Ms Meire is telling the truth and ITRM is indeed a "forward-thinking (I've added the hyphen just to correct the English for the benefit of the club website), successful business which does (correcting from 'who do') great work in the community", I will forever think badly of the company and in the unlikely event of the situation arising would decline to use their services and urge anyone I know not to use them.

It is disappointing to see the news of a new club website, not because there's any affection for the current one (in normal circumstances we would be welcoming a return to a bespoke site) but as any evidence that the regime is planning ahead for anything other than a sale of the club goes down badly. ITRM MD Dave White may say that "this is an exciting project for the Club and all the fans". He is clearly wrong and should be ashamed of himself, if he does indeed have some affection for Charlton Athletic. As for the fans, I hope that every grouping, up to and including the Trust, sees it as in our club's best interest to shun contact with the regime, unless and until there is a commitment from Duchatelet to sell.

You may infer from this that nothing's changed as far as my attitude towards the regime is concerned. And you'd be right. Of course the appointment of Slade and developments since then have given cause for reflection. It is quite remarkable that Duchatelet has completely abandoned his masterplan for the selection of and duties of a head coach, and that the strategy for selecting players to bring in - one so eloquently expressed by Murray not long ago - has gone out of the window with relegation. Those changes are, in themselves, to be welcomed - although surely Duchatelet's regular U-turns (let's not forget the silly reliance on financial fair play) should remind us that he's not implementing some insightful grand plan but rather scrabbling around and moving from one failed initiative to the next. There can be no confidence in him sticking to any particular path, other than one which might involve making money (or minimising the drain on his finances).

The bottom line is that the regime is still in place and there do not appear to be ongoing initiatives towards a sale. The hapless Meire continues to pretend to represent Charlton. So the best we can hope for is that Duchatelet will stay away and not interfere (with luck he will occupy himself with his repurchased Belgian toy), that Meire manages to say and do nothing for as long and as often as she possibly can, for the sake of our club's future and its reputation, and that Slade will put together a squad capable of getting us promoted. In the interim I see no reason to ease up on the campaign to rid our club of the regime, to target all revenue streams etc. And yes, I have no doubts that CARD's shirt sales set against the official strip will tell its own story, as it would seem are season ticket sales.

That doesn't get around a real problem for CARD. I don't go along with the notion that 'we made our point' last season and now should just shelve/abandon the protests so as to maximise our chances of getting back into the Championship. But some fans probably will - and for good and understandable motives. The regime may be thinking that it's seen off the worst and that the recent changes might prompt a change of heart in sufficient number of Addicks. It makes it a tough call for CARD, to maintain the backing of the overwhelming majority of fans, how to define in practise 'support the team, not the regime'.

I've no insight into CARD thinking (I just turn up and help hand out the pre-match materials) but would personally favour something along the lines of 'the protests - of course - continue but for now nothing will be done inside the ground before and during matches, when we urge Addicks to get behind Slade and the team'. If hopes of a promotion push prove groundless, the picture changes and CARD would be ready to lead that change, while in the interim keeping up the pressure on club revenues, including urging no spend inside the ground. The alternative approach - continuing the same level of protest, even increasing it - only works if Duchatelet is led to a sale. If there are grounds for backing that in the short term, terrific and let's do all we can. If not, the risk becomes one of crash and burn, of Addicks being alienated or just bored with continuing, regular disruption to games.

So a new club strip, Welling again, and off we go once more. Nothing has changed (except of course the division we're in, the manager, probably close on the entire squad by the time we actually start the season).

Friday, 10 June 2016

Reason To Believe

I sometimes tell my partner Suzanne things that are not true. She will usually react by suggesting that I’m lying to her. I will reject the accusation, on the grounds that a reasonable definition of a lie is ‘a false statement made with a deliberate intent to deceive’, whereas there wasn’t a bat in hell’s chance that she would actually believe what I had just said. So while untrue, what was said can’t be a lie. Now Katrien’s comments (and we all know the track record) really do seem to fall into a similar category as surely she can’t imagine that we (or anyone in football generally) would actually believe them. They, like the fact that she retains her job, come across as nothing more than a bad joke, at our expense.

So while I can understand Peter Varney being livid at what Meire said and to want to see a formal retraction, as demanded in his statement, I also hope that he needs no reassurance that whether or not he gets one, and whether or not there is litigation, will not influence any Charlton supporter as regards who and what is actually believed. We merely add Varney’s name to the list of those who have earned our respect and trust who now find themselves at odds with Ms Meire when it comes to the truth. We know from both deeds and words over many years that Varney is a Charlton supporter and wants the best for the club. Ms Meire has told us of her love for Charlton but all that she says and does run at odds with that notion. Such words consequently aren’t cheap, they are at best worthless.

In that context, wouldn’t it be insightful if we heard something from Richard Murray on this particular episode? He recently expressed his disappointment at the treatment he has received from fans. He is undoubtedly in a difficult position; he can only quit once and when litigation is in the air silence is perhaps understandable. But whatever their differences of late Varney is a guy who worked alongside Murray for many years and with the addition of Curbishley of course the three together can claim the plaudits for the most successful period in the club’s recent history. Whatever goes on behind the scenes, saying and doing nothing public risks putting Murray even more squarely in the Meire camp and in that event he could hardly complain if he is increasingly seen in that light by fans.

The following is taken from the programme for a game against Preston on 8 March 2008 (the season when we failed to bounce back to the Premiership), to cover Varney's decision to stand down as chief executive (for 'personal reasons'). Murray on Varney: "Every single director of this football club is disappointed with the decision that Peter has reached and will be disappointed to see him leave. He is without doubt the most impressive individual I have worked with throughout my business career." Varney on Murray: "... I must pay particular tribute to Richard Murray, who took something of a gamble when appointing me to the role 10-and-a-half years ago, and who has supported me enthusiastically in everything I have set out to achieve." Where did the love go?

As for Ms Meire, I’ve just seen the announcement from the Football League that clubs will from now on be required to hold at least two meetings with a representative group of the club’s supporters. I sincerely hope that Charlton, as represented by the Trust, will decline to take up any invitation to attend a meeting at which Ms Meire is present, on the grounds that she is not a real representative of the club. I hope that all those who have dealings with Charlton Athletic follow a similar course. Only Roland can sack her but we don’t have to deal with her in any way, shape or form.