Like the majority of Charlton Athletic’s weird customers, tomorrow I shall be taking part in the organised protests against a failing regime.
A regime with a flawed philosophy, that exists to increase the egos of those involved and not the football club’s chances of success. That naively believes supporters are passive, and will accept Yann Kermorgant departing and Zakarya Bergdich arriving if they are given a pitchside sofa. That insults its supporters, indirectly by appointing underqualified head coaches and providing embarrassingly poor football, and directly through misguided words and actions.
Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire, two figures too stubborn and ignorant to see the extent of the crisis they are causing, cannot continue to inject their disease into the veins of a football club that deserves so much better. No club deserves this, but particularly this one, with its previous history of fighting to overcome extreme adversity.
It is unjust that those who fought so hard for the Addicks to return to The Valley are having to endure this poison spreading through their club. Cruel that those who are too young to have been involved in prior struggles now have to face up to this. Sickening that so many, young and old, have been driven away from a club they once loved, but now feel their connection with it has been severely damaged.
Laughable, too, that this regime feels the supporters they are alienating can be replaced. That the empty seats can be filled while the protests continue. That their strategy is one that isn’t failing, and that other clubs will want to copy them.
And such is the delusion of Duchatelet and Merie, in addition to the contempt with which they view their ‘customers’, it’s easy to suggest that the protests planned before and after tomorrow’s fixture with Nottingham Forest are meaningless. A waste of time. Raising our voices to someone who won’t be there, and another who will probably find it all rather funny.
But such an attitude is as misguided as those that Duchatelet and Meire abide by. Even the publicity that the planning of the protests has produced has placed pressure on this regime like never before. The scale of the demonstrations tomorrow, though it being unrealistic to believe bags will be backed and the club will become healthy overnight, making it an important day in this club’s history.
A history, though packed with incredible moments that show the power of supporters and the brilliance of football clubs battling against the odds, which matters little to Meire.
It is her disregard of the club and its supporters that has proven the final straw. That mean dialogue is no longer possible and this regime must depart. That mean no victory, no appointment and no signing would be enough to make her position as CEO tenable once again.
It’s a case of her not getting it, not wanting to get it, or choosing not to get it in order to deliver the maximum level of insult to Charlton supporters. Having a connection with the club is not “weird”. We are not “customers” and we do not need to accept that we are. Duchatelet and Meire have the power, unfortunately, but it is not their club. It’s ours.
I missed two competitive games in 2015. There are many others, despite the poor quality of football on offer, with similar levels of dedication. We travel to Brighton and Burnley, Wigan and Wolverhampton. To have the CEO insult our loyalty to the club provides an anger that cannot be explained.
And before the football itself is even considered, left to one side as Meire seemingly so often seems to do, her strategies for winning supporters over are as unbelievable as her view on them. The sofa, a Facebook page for two horrendous new mascots, a narrative of ‘match day experience’, the ridiculous sex-on-the-pitch stunt. I could go on. And on. Then I’d need a break. Then I’d go on again.
The list of footballing reasons for the protests, however, is even longer. A flawed strategy, suiting Duchatelet’s belief that victory on the pitch is not important, that is sending this club back to the third tier.
There were those that for some time pointed to the positives provided by this ownership. The financial security, the infrastructure development, and the occasional signing that wasn’t horrendous. Their intentions, we were told, positive.
But even those most supportive of Duchatelet have now seen they are merely token gestures. No point in having financial security when the investment made in the playing squad is so misplaced. The infrastructure only improved to increase the ‘match day experience’. For every one Johann Berg Gudmundsson, there’s ten Yohann Thurams. That we sit 23rd, when improvement and a play-off push was promised, perfectly displays the extent to which this regime is failing.
The manner in which managers and head coaches have been appointed and dismissed is disgusting. Chris Powell undermined by Duchatelet’s laughable network signings, the sale of Yann Kermorgant, and the influence placed upon his team selection. Jose Riga seemingly able to work within the conditions, but tossed away. Bob Peeters underqualified, and failing after a bright start. Guy Luzon appointed despite previously being sacked by Duchatelet, and ultimately failing in a manner not too dissimilar to Peeters.
Then there is Karel Fraeye. The unqualified ‘interim’ head coach, appointed not on the basis of his managerial ability because of his closeness to Duchatelet and the network. Plucked from the Belgian third tier, while scouting such gems as Bergdich for the Addicks.
That performances have only become worse under his leadership is no surprise. And yet, he remains as ‘interim’ head coach, seemingly in a position to continue regardless of results.
In addition, his words are almost as insulting as Meire’s. Continuing to dismiss his interim tag, somehow taking positives from capitulations and heavy defeats, and taking issue with the attitude of supporters. Not to mention the fact he seems to think it’s about right for us to be fighting relegation.
Of course, though, Meire believes that every appointment has been correct. That the club is improving. Of course.
It doesn’t help that each boss has been given a set of players not good enough and put under pressure to play certain members. The party line being that the squad is big enough, and that there is no interference in team selection, but always rubbished once departed. Powell, Alex Dyer, Ben Roberts and Peeters all among those to speak out, while it no surprise that chief scout Phil Chapple departed for Fulham.
Speaking of chief scouts, who is signing these players? Chapple hasn’t been replaced, not that any of his recommendations were being considered, Meire doesn’t have the experience or knowledge, and the head coaches have no power.
The belief being that it is mostly the work of the scouts assigned to the network, finding players in Europe with a potentially high resale value. Most of them not enough, and certainly not possessing the mental toughness required in the current situation. The lack of fight and effort staggering.
Not only are not enough players of quality being signed, but not enough players are being signed. The side crippled by just one or two injuries, and a handy excuse provided. I have no faith in this regime to sign the players that are required this month.
Meanwhile, the bench is a crèche, and those from the academy are forced to play more games than they are ready for. Karlan Ahearne-Grant, for example, crushed by this strategy, while Ademola Lookman while undoubtedly join Diego Poyet and Joe Gomez. See the stars of tomorrow, we’re told, don’t worry about where the money goes or what our league table position is.
Should relegation follow this season, and this regime stays, it’s hard to see a return. The squad will be packed with youngsters, supporters will depart, and potential buyers are unlikely to be interested. Wins, therefore, remain important.
But this season is already a failure, regardless what happens. That we find ourselves in this position, instigated completely by the actions of this regime, is crushing.
So too is it destroying those that care. The reaction of Johnnie Jackson after each game, and Chris Solly’s response to the defeat against Wolves on Monday, breaking my heart.
And watching this club is breaking my heart. Seeing the state it’s in, the half-hearted performances, and the dire results becoming unbearable. Not to mention the continued arrogance and ignorance of Meire and co.
One of few things, however, keeping some sort of connection intact is the growing unison of the supporters. The spontaneous protest against Wolves a powerful moment.
So if tomorrow doesn’t achieve what it needs to, at least us Addicks will be there. With our connection to the club, fighting for its future. Not the passive customers that Meire thinks we are.
We are Charlton’s Red Army. This is our club.
Charlton Athletic Football Club is defined by Jimmy Seed, Alan Curbishley and Chris Powell. By Sam Bartram, Clive Mendonca and Jackson. By the 1947 FA Cup final, the 1998 Championship play-off final, and the 101 points gained in League One.
By its supporters getting the club back to The Valley. By its supporters protesting against Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire. By what happens tomorrow.