29 February 2016

The eastern front

I was delighted to see that a group of 20 Charlton supporters made the trip to Belgium to take the protest against Duchâtelet into his backyard. While he doesn't own Sint-Truiden (STVV) it's clear he has a lot of influence over the club. Why else would the reaction to a totally peaceful protest be so strong? The supporters had their banner confiscated (fair enough, I suppose) but were evicted from the ground and handed over to the local police, which seems unnecessary, to say the least. STVV fans are already unhappy with the management of their club. Perhaps the heavy-handed reaction to the protest will encourage them to continue making their voices heard.

"Wanted: club with ambition!"
The protest achieved its first objective. As well as being reported in Britain, it made news in Belgium too. It's part of a drip-drip approach, to convince the world of football, and perhaps the Belgian business community, that an association with Roland Duchâtelet is bad news.

One of the Belgian news sites ran a poll, asking "is there a place for Duchâtelet in the world of football?" After some eurovision-style tactical voting from southeast London, the result was conclusive: currently 98% of 765 voters have said "non".

Meanwhile, last week, the Coco5 sports drink company was talked out of considering a sponsorship deal with Charlton. I've no idea how serious their interest was anyway, so let's not get carried away. But it does show that sponsors don't want to be associated with a toxic product like Duchâtelet's Charlton.

Mark Griffiths (@Markg2004) has compiled a list of businesses currently sponsoring Charlton and has written to most of them urging them to reconsider. A model letter is here if you've got the time or the mail-merge expertise to do the same.

Some people said that the protest after Saturday's game felt tired. I agree. Although it's important to keep some sort of protest going, it's hard to maintain the momentum when nothing seems to change. But the thought that some sort of protest will happen means Katrien Meire has to prepare for it. The expense and inconvenience of that is part of what we hope will eventually drive her and her puppeteer out of Charlton. Home and away, we need to keep the pressure on.

PS Last week also brought the news that Belgian second tier club Lommel have appointed Karel Fraeye as head coach. It's hard not to believe that Duchâtelet's had a hand in that appointment. Belgian football seems to run that way. His job is to save the club from relegation. Good luck with that, Lommelers!

28 February 2016

Charlton 3 Reading 4

It should have been so good to see a commanding performance from Yann Kermorgant giving his side a 3-1 lead at halftime, scoring twice and making the third. It was one of his best performances at the Valley. Such a shame he was in the wrong colour shirt.

In the days before the game he'd given his account of how he came to leave Charlton. It's the familiar story of misjudgement by Roland and Katrien. This man, they declared, was not good enough. (I'm also still convinced the decision was part of a campaign to force Chris Powell to quit, cheaply, rather than have to be sacked). The folly of that decision firmly bit them on the bum today.

As did later decisions that have left Charlton with wet tissue paper where a defence ought to be. Six, possibly seven, defenders started the game. In the maths of football Stichelbach's Law says the number of possible defensive cockups increases in the following way. If x is the number of defenders, then y, the number of possible confusions, is xx: x to the power of x.  Where x=2 , y=4. There's possible confusion but both defenders have a good chance of knowing what they're doing. Where x=3, y=27, more things can go wrong. And so on. But 6 to the power of 6 gives 46,656 ways of getting things wrong, and we saw most of them in the first 45 minutes of the game. Reading's 3-1 lead at half-time was no more than Yann's performance and Charlton's defending deserved.

Charlton looked devastated after the third goal, and I feared another drubbing. But Reading eased off in the second half, and their deficiencies became clearer. Like Charlton, they are weak in defensive midfield play, and gave the ball away too much. The game was almost rescued by the surprisingly effective combination of Makienok and Sanogo, but an injury time goal for Reading gave them the points. It seemed a harsh result after the second half effort, but if you concede four goals at home ...

Strangely, the gap between Charlton and safety didn't increase yesterday, but games are running out. Winnable home games seem particularly scarce, with a stream of highly-placed teams set to visit the Valley. Some bookies now have a price of 1/50 for relegation. Dark, horrible days.

13 February 2016

Duchâtelet Speaks ...

He arrived early to get a good seat
... and no-one listens.

The protests and perhaps the calamitous form of the team lured Charlton's owner out of his misty mountain-top lair in Belgium and while visiting he gave a full and frank confession of all the mistakes he and his CEO have made. Of course he didn't. There was, to be fair, the tiniest acknowledgement that (in the universal language of non-apologies) mistakes have been made.  How Duchâtelet must wish he could speak Spanish, where it's normal to say se han cometido errores - mistakes have made themselves.

There was nothing to change the view that mistakes will continue to make themselves.

Mr six-managers-in-two-years Duchâtelet won't sack himself because it would undermine stability. And he won't sack Katrien Meire because she's quite nice.

Tactically, of course he couldn't sack Katrien. He would see it as a sign of weakness, inviting more protests. And that's fair enough. If he had sacked her, I'd be out dancing in the street. Actually, by now I'd probably be in a secure unit, but my point stands.

He could have given a little ground. He could have said he is going to support her with some consultants to get things back on track. (As everyone knows, the support of management consultants usually means someone - anyone, absolutely anyone except the consultants - is eventually sacked.)

But he's chosen to stick his fingers in his ears, whistle a happy tune, and pretend nothing's wrong. "We're not even thinking about what relegation might mean, tra la la."

The failure to sack Katrien Meire until it's too late is like the failure to sack Karel Fraeye until it was too late: a sign that he can't see or doesn't care, and doesn't - despite his claims - learn from mistakes. 

So, even if this afternoon's game is a thrilling 5-4 victory by a totally committed team battling back from conceding two early goals, I'll be outside the West Stand at 5pm. This isn't over.

11 February 2016

The sacking of Katrien Meire

Well, someone had to do it.

If Roland Duchâtelet's objective really is to run a successful football club, he would surely have shown Katrien Meire the same ruthlessness and impatience he exhibits towards Head Coaches. By any normal measure, her management of the club has been an embarrassing failure. Most obviously on the pitch, of course, but income and profit must already be falling steadily - all those empty seats every week. And all those stewards to control a protest that may or may not materialise don't come cheap.

And in this, a relatively quiet week, we had the farce of her resignation/dismissal as a director of Charlton Athletic Holdings being mischievously hoaxed. Whoever did it (and I must point out that the stifled laugh you hear from this blog in no way condones the illegal act) must have been amazed at how easy it was to get away with it. All because the company didn't use the free verification service offered by Companies House, apparently. Something that any competent lawyer should have corrected. Where's a competent lawyer when you need one, Katrien?

So her failures as a CEO have led to financial turmoil, and have left the holding company unprotected against corporate identity theft, the consequences of which could have been much worse than the embarrassment we saw this week. If it wasn't already, the reputation of the club is in tatters.

In any normal business, the owner would have been replacing the fake document with a real one. Sorry, Katrien, but you've failed.

But this isn't a normal business, of course. It's certainly not a normal football club and Duchâtelet's long-term objectives remain as obscure as ever, although footballing success seems ever lower on his list of priorities.

So the protests must continue. We won't know until noon on Saturday what the twist will be this week, but we do know that there will be a protest after the game. Let's make it another big one.

07 February 2016

Charlton 0 Bristol City 1

Like a fool, I had hope before the game. On a day when the blustery weather was urgently telling me to stay at home with a DVD and beer, and there wasn't even going to be a big protest to attend, I didn't want to miss one of Charlton's rare wins this season.

Surely they would win. Reports from Rotherham last week suggested the team had found a new organisation and drive that could easily overcome Bristol City, even if the visitors played better than anyone expected.

Surely Charlton would win. The consequences of defeat were too awful to consider.

Bristol City played about as well as anyone expected, ie not very, but it was enough. The first half was all that mattered, and a scrappy half it was. City took the points from a penalty, which Jose Riga later described as a blatant dive. Not sure I'd agree with him on that, and City probably should have been given another penalty a few minutes later, so you can't play the injustice card here.

As so many teams have found this season, if you take a lead against Charlton at the Valley, you just have to hold on to it. Even so, with about three minutes to go City got the ball in a perfect position to take it to the corner flag and run down the clock. To their credit, they went for goal, which kind of sums up their assessment of Charlton's chance of levelling the score. Fair enough: Charlton had spent the previous 70 minutes proving there was none.

It's desperately worrying that Riga's reinvigoration of the team has fizzled out so quickly. Although I'm more sceptical than some about his abilities, I had hoped ... Oh, that evil Hope again. Readers, if you ever have a daughter, do not name her Hope. She will kill you.

How we laughed at the start of the season when the bookies were offering ridiculously short odds about relegation. Three to one, I think it was. We should have lumped on.