It was feared that the open meeting, hosted by the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust, would achieve little more than the verbal crucifixion of owner Roland Duchatelet.
Alas, the 400 or so Charlton supporters, all with their club’s best interests at heart, who packed into a freezing cold Woolwich Grand Theatre witnessed and participated in a productive evening.
There was no quick fix offered, nor was it promised prior to the meeting’s kick-off. Disillusioned supporters did not leave celebrating the return of the heart of their club. The same worries, most of which are shared by the ultra-critical and the optimistic, still exist about Duchatelet’s ownership.
But the ball, at this stage rather insignificant and needing to be manoeuvred past many obstacles, has been put into motion. It’s the start of a process that will hopefully result in change, whether that be a complete revolution or simply this ownership sacrificing their stubbornness.
At the very least, the mood of concerned supporters has been marginally improved by the event itself. For a united ambition has seemingly been reached.
It’s simple, and shared by those who think Duchatelet has a plan and by those who think his network is poisonous regardless of any success it might bring.
It’s for those at the top of the club, whether that be Richard Murray, Katrien Meire or Duchatelet, to talk. Not to talk on their terms, in an environment that is manufactured by them, but for them to speak openly, truthfully and to reveal both the ambitions they have for this club and how they hope to achieve it.
For there were a number of reoccurring themes throughout the evening, that all linked back to a need to talk.
It was rational and controlled. There were few supporters with extreme views; none demanded that the 400 picked up their burning pitch forks and attacked Duchatelet. So too were there few completely positive views; no one celebrated the current ownership.
What there was, however, in addition to the emotional feelings that had been lost, was a strong sense that Duchatelet’s ideas were flawed. He had misjudged the needs of the Championship, with players brought in not good enough, simply here to look good statically and be sold for profit, and players from England ignored.
He was only interested in the balance sheet, and the money in his pockets, not Charlton’s success nor the fans’ feelings and desires. One man’s desire, ignorant to what his ‘customers’ wanted.
He had treated supporters like children or idiots in his attempts to cover up the cracks in his process, with Meire’s actions a massive part of that.
The focus on improving the ground with unnecessary features was misguided, and not want Charlton supporters want. This idea of creating a friendly atmosphere makes it seem as if The Valley is becoming a social club, and not a football club to invest commitment and passion into.
That Duchatelet’s apparent goal will only have an indirect impact on Charlton. His strategy not primarily with the success of this club in mind.
And the refusal to converse means his ideas will only continue to appear flawed. His intentions will remain seemingly damaging not to the financial state of the club but to the reward supporters get for investing emotionally into it. Dialogue, and clear footballing goals, are required.
To achieve such an ambition, intelligent ideas were offered. Harnessing the potential sell-out crowd for the Huddersfield game, a combined bid with the other network clubs or to go via Richard Murray among the suggestions offered. Either way, expect a number of obvious attempts to get Charlton’s top figures to talk in the coming weeks.
If something so simple cannot be achieved, then it will not be the fault of those who want it. It will be the fault of a club that is alienating supporters who were previously emotionally involved.
For some, Duchatelet’s final chance has already gone. The contempt with which he and Meire have treated supporters in recent weeks, the pressure placed on every head coach to select certain players and the the feeling that Charlton supporters are supporting a cog in a network, and not a unique club, mean the damage has already been done.
In fact, the vast majority in the room raised their hand when asked if they felt change was still needed even if Duchatelet’s current way of doing things brought success. The key question, according to Steve Dixon, was whether you wanted to support an independent football club, or the London branch of a European football network. A Tesco or a Costa, rather than a corner shop or the Valley Cafe.
Any potential success, in my view, will be tainted if things carry on without any attempt to either admit mistakes or make beneficial changes for the good of the club and its supporters. To be perfectly honest, the suggestion by some that a League One Charlton that you felt a connection to is more appealing than this is something I agree with.
But Duchatelet and co now have a chance to react, and present themselves to Charlton supporters in the open and honest way they crave. All we want, for now at least, is to talk, realistically with Meire, on a level playing field, and for the ownership to take some of the views, complaints and suggestions on board.
What was clear, however, was that should they not, then those wanting dialogue will quickly become those wanting him out.
Regardless, there is now a sense, however small, that the effort from those who care about the club the most, its supporters, can begin to head in the right direction.
While there are those dubious, aggressively so in some cases, of the true desires of those who organised and attended this meeting, and those who raise their concerns online constantly like myself, make no mistake that every supporter, however critical or positive, wanted nothing more than the best for this football club.
As a young supporter who missed the back to The Valley campaign, tonight was the first time I had really witnessed anything of its nature. Such a passionate turnout, mixed with balanced and intelligent views, made me feel a strong sense of pride in being an Addick.
If just one thing was achieved in the short term, it was that. There’s still enough people who care to feel pride and have hope.