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Stickleback

Nothing to do with reason

04 December 2016

Letter to Roland Duchâtelet

Yesterday the Belgium 20 delivered around 200 letters from Charlton fans to Roland Duchâtelet in Belgium.
One of them was mine! In case Roland somehow lost it and wants to read it again, here it is.
Dear Mr Duchâtelet

May I belatedly and sincerely wish you a happy birthday. You have obviously been a very successful businessman and have shown a genuine concern for the future of your society which goes beyond many businesspeople’s selfish and overriding search for greater profits at any cost. Now, as you said when you sold Standard: “Quality of life and personal happiness are the most important things in my life”. You have clearly earned the right to enjoy yourself and to indulge in the things that make you happy.

It’s hard to see how your continued ownership of Charlton Athletic can be one of these things. As you and Ms Meire have pointed out, it’s costing you a lot of money to run the club and there’s no guarantee you’ll recover that investment. It looks like an expensive hobby and a hobby you simply don’t enjoy.

One of the reasons Charlton fans don’t like your ownership is that you show no interest in the club. Famously, you don’t attend games, and any recent trips to SE7 have been timed to avoid attendance at any match. If Charlton win, are you happy? Does it ruin your weekend if they lose? Probably not. When Charlton were relegated last season, completely avoidably, did you find yourself furious with anger at the mismanagement that had caused it? Probably not.

To us, the supporters, it seems as if you have bought the club and forgotten why you did that. There has never been a clear statement of what ambitions you have for the club. When you bought the club it was in a position of great potential, given clever investment. Instead, the team was weakened by some disastrous decisions from the start, culminating in the appointment of an interim head coach who was clearly out of his depth and made relegation certain. None of this needed to happen. Would you tolerate this level of mismanagement in one of your industrial businesses? Probably not.

When you have expressed an opinion you have tended to blame the fans. Most recently you said that the protests in Belgium recently were the work of a group of core actors and you were reported as saying that fans are unhappy because they don’t like the idea of a female CEO.

If you look at Charlton’s history you’ll understand that the club’s fans have a reputation - sometimes quite smugly so - for social progressiveness. I think many fans were, like me, delighted with the appointment of a female CEO. We can see that women are underrepresented in football management and were glad to see the club doing something to change that. For most people, the issue with Ms Meire is not her gender or her nationality but her competence. The team has not succeeded, and revenue, with diminishing ticket and merchandise sales, must be savagely reduced. Presumably you have given her achievement targets and unless they are incredibly minimal, she can’t have achieved them. If she were a manager in one of your core businesses, or in something you care about - STVV, perhaps - would she still have the job? Probably not. I don’t wish her ill, but her performance and your acceptance of it is another demonstration of how little you care for Charlton.

I wasn’t one of the “core actors” who visited Belgium recently, but they have my admiration and full support. I’m one of the much larger group who are protesting by staying away from games at the Valley. I have supported Charlton since I was a child and had held a season ticket for 12 years. It wasn’t an easy decision not to renew it but I simply want to make owning Charlton as expensive and unprofitable for you as possible, so that in time you will look for and find a buyer who will give the club respect and develop the enormous potential. Potential not just in terms of the facilities and location of the club, but in terms of the fans. Look at the energy, creativity and imagination that has gone into the protests. Imagine having that behind you! It could have been yours but you blew it and the chance won’t come back.

Again, I’ll quote your comments following the sale of Standard: "I have felt it was complicated for me at Standard. For the Standard fans too - those who didn't see in me the leader they wanted".

You’ll never recover the trust of Charlton fans, just as you’ll never recover the money you’ve spent.

Cut your losses. Sell the club.

(Source of quotations: http://www.castrust.org/2015/06/duchatelet-sells-standard-liege/ )

03 December 2016

Tooting & Mitcham 1 Faversham 0

Yes I am a glory hunter. Tooting & Mitcham are currently on a great run of form, solidly on top of their league (The Ryman Isthmian South) and their last 8 league games had brought them 8 wins, with an aggregate score of 37-7. So I was expecting a good game, with lots of goals.

That didn't quite happen. Faversham Town have apparently been in decent form themselves and for most of the first half they kept the Terrors trapped in their own half. The home team looked nothing like the side I saw trouncing Cray Wanderers a month ago. Maybe it was the after-effect of a trip to Guernsey midweek, or of celebrating that 6-0 victory, but they were disjointed and a bit sluggish.

So it stayed into the second half, but by then Faversham were looking tired, and following a smart substitution, T&M got the goal (O'Neill after a well delivered free kick) that gave them a scarcely deserved 9th successive win.

A match I endured rather than enjoyed on another freezing day beside the mighty Wandle.

15 November 2016

The Sacking of Russell Slade

Tolstoy famously and wrongly said that all happy marriages are alike while every unhappy marriage is different. There are many successful alternative models for a happy marriage, while unhappy marriages tend to share certain features: bad communication, distrust, lack of a shared objective and, if there are children, deep distress, fear and confusion. They don't know why their parents are arguing but they know something's wrong, and they may respond with tantrums or sulks or more serious antisocial actions. A good social worker can diagnose the health of a relationship by looking at the childrens' behaviour.

People routinely underestimate the intelligence of footballers but even the dumbest of them can feel the same vibes that upset small children, and even the dumbest of them, spending hours in the company of their smarter teammates, will come to understand exactly what's gone wrong in the managment of the club they represent.

The great Richard Cawley (who unlike Tolstoy is seldom wrong) tweeted this last night while the sacking of Slade was still unconfirmed:

Either deliberately or carelessly, Slade's position was being undermined by this public display of a yellow card warning him to improve or face the sack. I think we saw the outcome at Swindon on Saturday when, by all accounts, even the brighter, older children Jack and li'l Chris threw a 90 minute sulk. They knew Slade was unsupported by the ownership and nothing he could have said - even if he were a far more charismatic leader than he appears to be - could have brought more out of them. The backstage actions had once again wrecked any semblance of team spirit. Just as happened immediately before the sacking of Powell, Peeters, Luzon.

No-one can manage Charlton successfully in the current set-up. Slade is probably not a great manager, but I can't believe he's not better than his record at Charlton will suggest. Those few months, those 16 games will be a blot on his otherwise decent but unspectacular record and a cause of nightmares for years to come. I actually feel very sorry for him. In spite of the baseball caps.

13 November 2016

#taxiforRoland

CARD's latest brilliant idea had me making an unexpected Sunday morning trip to the Valley

 A taxi decorated with images from the anti-Duchatelet protests is heading to Belgium today, to deliver Roland's birthday presents and to publicise the campaign. Two other cars are going, less flamboyantly, and a total of 12 people will be spreading the word. They'll also be visiting First World War memorial sites.

On its return the taxi will keep the decorations for three months while Chris, its driver, continues to ply for trade around London, so look out for it. At the ground this morning there was some discussion of how it could be pre-booked for strategically important journeys, such as to the FA or the EFL offices. I've a feeling we'll hear more of that later.

This little charmer won't be going to Belgium. Gadafy is her name and she stole everyone's heart when she dragged her human along to the photoshoot in front of the North Stand.

At 11 there was a short and moving act of remembrance outside the West Stand, with details given of people connected with the club who died in the two world wars.

The people going to Belgium are paying their own way, it should be pointed out, but if it's been a while since you contributed to CARD funds, maybe it's time to slip them a few quid.

06 November 2016

Tooting and Mitcham 4 Cray Wanderers 0

My third non-league game of the season brought me by Tramlink to a ground I've gone past a few times while cycling the Wandle trail. The KNK stadium is, but what do I know, pretty impressive at this level (rymans isthmian league south). A decent stand on one side and covered terracing at either end for the small but noisy group of singing home supporters who, in true old school style, switched ends at half time. I don't at all consider myself a football traditionalist but that's one of the things - alongside players wearing shirts numbered 1 - 11 and match officials in black - that I prefer about the non-league game.

I've enjoyed good luck with my non-league games so far and that continued. This was an enjoyable affair on a bitterly cold afternoon, both teams trying to play a skilful game perhaps because they didn't have the pace or the physical presence to do otherwise.

Billy Dunn's 25th minute goal separated the teams after a fairly even first half, but in the second half three goals in five minutes (Mike Dixon twice and Chace O'Neill) - largely the result of calamitous defending - destroyed any spirit in the Wanderers, and the game fizzled out, with only a few hearty fouls to cheer any visiting supporters (I didn't see or hear any, but they had nothing to shout about.)
Osibodu lumps the ball upfield

As the Wanderers' match report says:
It came as something of a relief when the final whistle went and there could be no complaints, the better side had won today and showed how tough this division is going to be.

The sun set gloriously over the far side of the pitch and I managed to grab a shot of it which by pure luck includes some actual football action, so I've added a caption.

Another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at a new ground. A friendly feeling in the stand and honest effort from all the players on the pitch. I could get used to this.


22 October 2016

Beckenham Town 1 Lancing 3

Another enjoyable game in the world of non-league gave me what was surely a better experience than watching Charlton scrape a point at Gillingham. For one thing, it didn't involve going to Gillingham, that bit in the "Garden of England" where people have dumped their burst mattresses and old fridges.

Beckenham's ground is ridiculously easy for me to get to (5 stops on the Hayes line) and with admission at £7 (£4 concessions) why wouldn't I go there?

The game was one of 101 ties in the first round proper of the F A Vase which, if I understand it correctly is open to teams in Step 9, which both Beckenham and Lancing are. Although they play in different leagues, their level should be roughly equal.

That was how it turned out for the first half, both teams playing decent football. Either team, with a little more precision in attack, might have taken the lead but Beckenham's Alebiosu, a clever player on the ball, took a well-worked chance.

In the second half, though, Lancing's better organisation and teamplay overcame the increasingly ragged efforts of the home team and two goals in the first 15 minutes turned the game around. Beckenham didn't give up, but didn't have any ideas, and away victory was clinched with a sweet individual goal from Alex Fair with less than 5 minutes to go.

The travelling supporters, about 10 of them, celebrated loudly and their team will go into the draw for round 2 with some optimism.

17 October 2016

Charlton 3 Coventry 0

To the Valley for the first time this season, breaking my boycott to be part of the protest. Details of the Pigs in Space event have been widely reported, including - importantly - in the Belgian press, and video of the violent suppression of a peaceful protest made it to the Evening Standard. The irony of that is exquisite. I'd suggest that at the next game CARD try to make the stadium a sea of North Korean flags, with two possible outcomes. Either a striking image is created or there's a beautiful story of hundreds of symbols of an oppressive state being censored.

The game itself wasn't bad, in fact. Not high quality, but open and, in a way, flowing. Coventry weren't as clueless as you'd expect, except where it mattered (scoring and defending). Charlton played much more attractively than they have in the away games I've seen. With Ademola and Holmes both starting, they tested the opposition more.

The first goal was against the run of play but well taken by Holmes. A suspicion of offside but the replays showed the officials got it right. The second goal was apparently well made, but I was standing at the urinal at the time, and the third goal came as I was leaving, hoping to get home before the rain. (This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am not your man for a full match report.)

But I never leave early, I thought to myself, and I've cycled through snow to get to a match. Clearly I don't have the same attachment as I used to. During the pre-match build-up and at half-time it felt like being at an away game, observing the rituals from the outside rather than feeling part of them. It's a testament, I suppose, to the importance of Dave Lockwood. When he was trying to raise interest in the absurd fans sofa or the ludicrous pie-cam, I would feel sympathy for him, as for an actor lumbered with an awful script. I simply didn't care about what was going on on Saturday. I've searched hard and found I don't even have an opinion about the crossbar challenge.

And the stadium was so empty! Rationally, of course, I knew it would be, but I was still shocked. Presumably it's usually emptier still, without returning exiles. Without the Coventry fans and without the protests the atmosphere would have been dead. Once again, though, we saw that a protest can bring some life to the team, and the biggest win for some time.



So, despite the win, a rather depressing experience. This is not how it's meant to be.