Long-standing employees, who have devoted themselves relentlessly to the club, ditched unceremoniously. Committed supporters, whose bond with the club had previously been inseparable, feeling insulted and apathetic. A turnover of underqualified head coaches, and substandard players, leaving the side itself unable to compete.
There have been many victims of the disease that Roland Duchatelet continues to inflict upon Charlton Athletic. A disease that’s spreading to the point that even those his philosophy intends to develop have become infected.
Restricting the funds available, and the numbers recruited, for player acquisition is meant to be a positive for those in, or who have come through, the club’s unquestionably strong academy structure. Earlier first team exposure, and more first team opportunities, speeds up their development and maximises their potential. Beneficial to those youngsters as individuals, to Charlton’s chances of success, and, ultimately, the bank account of Duchatelet.
But as Morgan Fox, head bowed and heading for the bench at some pace, was substituted after yet another afternoon of struggle in a red shirt during the defeat to Bristol City, the crippling impact such a system is having on young Addicks was exposed once again.
For Fox should not have been in the position to receive the chorus of jeers and sarcastic boos that have raised such fury among a number of Charlton supporters. Fox, after his promising start to the season, has been exposed to too much, too soon. Fox, despite lacking form to the point where he often looks as overwhelmed as The Valley’s stewards when faced with a banner, has been continued to be deployed at left-back.
And a large part of that is because there are few options available to replace him. Tareiq Holmes-Dennis has shown promise, but it is effectively a like-for-like replacement. The same can be said of Harry Lennon, who is also better suited to a role in the centre of defence. Zakarya Bergdich, the only supposedly senior player capable of playing in Fox’s position, in the backline is likely to be as disastrous as a Katrien Meire interview.
It’s meant Fox has been forced to remain in the starting XI, picked by Guy Luzon, Karel Fraeye and Jose Riga. Picked despite his major battle in each game not being the opposition right-winger, but his own confidence.
There is a sense of discomfort whenever the ball comes his way. Rash clearances, hastily sliced out of play despite having time to pick out a pass, a regular occurrence. He often appears unsure what to do when an opposition player runs at him, the result of countless mistakes in similar situations.
Unsure, too, what to do when given the ball. He takes up decent positions, and gets up and down the left without the ball well, but seems to crumble once he receives it. His passes misplaced, runs directionless, his crosses wayward.
All a far cry from the composed and confident player that earned deserved plaudits at the start of the season. That player, who still appears in the briefest moments, dies a little with each week. Dies as a result of the continued pressure placed upon him to perform in testing circumstances despite the fact his confidence is evidently been destroyed.
For it is not, as Duchatelet might think, helpful to play struggling or not yet ready youngsters in the first team in a bid to improve and development. Fox has needed rescuing from the starting XI for months now, for his own good more than Charlton’s as a whole, but the philosophy means he must continue. A player who has shown he is capable of so much more, crippled to the point where he looks capable of nothing.
Fox is not alone in having his development harmed by a system which is meant to encourage. Mikhail Kennedy played too soon, Lennon, showing great character at times, has been overwhelmed by some of the division’s best forwards, and Karlan Ahearne-Grant has been completely crippled.
In truth, the Welshman deserves a degree of praise, if not plenty of sympathy. Confidence and form may be lacking, but effort is not. Despite appearing as fragile as any player I have ever seen wear Charlton red, he has not shied away from the impossible situation he has been placed it.
An impossible situation that he should not be placed in, and, as such, should not be open to the sort of abuse he received from home supporters on Saturday.
There is an argument, though, that the only reason Fox shouldn’t have been placed in such situation as he left the pitch during the defeat to Bristol is because supporters shouldn’t have behaved in the manner that they did.
It is, of course, unfortunate, unwelcome and unhelpful that The Valley crowd chose to express their displeasure in such a manner. There is no question that sarcastically cheering the sub of a young, underperforming player, is a short-sighted display of anger that does no good whatsoever.
But, in better times, times when a greater sense of calm could be expected from supporters, underperforming players have received similar treatment when departing the pitch. Even Bradley Pritchard, for who I am the self-appointed chairman of his Appreciation Society, endured such heckles. Not to imply that it is fair or reasonable, but it is not a new or uncommon event.
It is unreasonable to suggest Charlton supporters should not be showing their frustration at this present moment. Unreasonable, too, that displays of such frustration are the cause or even the catalyst behind Fox’s, or the team’s, struggles.
The extent of the reaction to Fox’s treatment, while previous cases have been brushed under the carpet rather quickly, appears to stem from two factors.
The first being the fact that he’s a young player. That it is not his fault, he is not the enemy, and it won’t help his shattered confidence.
The second the fact the motto of the protest against Duchatelet’s regime is “support the team, not the regime”. Heckling a player is, obviously, not supporting the team.
But supporters are not emotionless robots. Nor do they simply become emotionless robots once they have entered The Valley. Supporting the team and not the regime does not mean an anti-Duchatelet feeling ends over the course of the 90 minutes, nor does it mean the support of the team is unaffected by events on the pitch. An underperforming player will be treated in the same manner as they would in normal circumstances.
And the only reason Fox, this confidence-crushed character who should have been withdrawn from the first team some weeks ago for his own good, was heckled in the way he was is because Duchatelet’s system has harmed him to the extent that his performances encourage such responses from already angered and frustrated supporters.
Like with many aspects of the situation at Charlton Athletic, the supporters are not to blame, and the players take only a relatively small amount. They are both victims.
Condemning the abuse of Fox, cruel and unfortunate, is fair. But failing to understand why supporters have such anger, and criticising their expression of it, is misguided.
As is suggesting it is supporters who are at fault for this mess. Like Fox’s performance are, the abuse he received on Saturday is a result of Duchatelet’s regime. Another symptom of the disease.