It’s rather ironic that the man at the centre of one myth harmful to the pride of Charlton Athletic supporters has enhanced the weight behind another being seen as a truth.
For so often since our decline from the Premier League, we have had to defend ourselves against this notion that our impatience and greed pushed Alan Curbishley out of the club, and therefore means we only have ourselves to blame for the many subsequent periods of despair and crisis since.
True, there was frustration that qualification for European football could not be achieved, particularly with Curbishley’s side regularly finding themselves in promising positions as the season entered its final quarter. Those end-of-season slumps understandably creating a feeling that more could have been achieved during our time in the top flight.
But frustration, and a rather timid sort at that, was all that ever existed. Never were there any serious murmurings of displeasure against Charlton’s legendary boss of 15 years, let alone mass calls for him to be dismissed in the hope of reaching the next level.
In fact, as it was announced prior to the final home game of the 2005/06 season that Curbishley had made the decision to move on, tears left the 11-year-old eyes of your writer in a shocked and heart-broken Covered End. Tears leaving Curbishley’s eyes as he said goodbye following that 2-0 defeat to Blackburn, and his effort thanked by all at Old Trafford a week later. Supporters supportive and appreciative until the very end, unlike the perceived narrative might suggest.
Particularly disappointing, therefore, that Curbishley has seen it fit to question the supportive efforts of Charlton’s fans in recent weeks. It can be ascertained from his words on Football League Tonight on Saturday that he believes both the protests and the mood within The Valley have had a serious impact on the performances of the players. Protection for this regime, an excuse for the underperforming men in red, and an unfair accusation against supporters.
I’d like to think those beliefs are a result of genuine ignorance, especially given his suggestion that the protests should be postponed until the summer. A sign that he isn’t fully aware of the extent of the damage Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have done, and continue to do. As such, I have no anger towards Curbs, only a sense of disappointment that he doesn’t seem to have an understanding of events at a club where his considered a legend.
But a true sense of frustration comes from the extent at which this belief we are not supporting the team has grown, both in recent weeks and following Curbishley’s comments. That we are contributing towards what appears to be an inevitable return to League One.
I won’t deny that there is evidence to support such views. There have been moments this season where supporters, in the midst of this bleak period, have let frustration and disappointment get the better of them.
Some will point to the numerous occasions where the team has been mocked or booed off the pitch, the incident which saw Morgan Fox substituted during the defeat to Bristol City to heckles and abuse, and the times where protests have occurred during a game.
But the atmosphere has only ever been anything less than supportive of those representing the Addicks once our efforts have not been suitably rewarded. Games always beginning with more support than a side occupying the relegation zone are arguably worthy of, and only replaced by angst once they underperform to a point of no return.
The most poisonous atmospheres this season coming when players have either not responded to support, or showed such a lack of quality and fight that frustration and anger is completely understandable. The FA Cup defeat to Colchester United a prime example, and there have been plenty of other examples this season where our support to begin with means we are completely blameless for the defeat that has followed.
Any booing that has occurred a justified show of disappointment at poor performances, and the mocking of individuals or the collective normally light-hearted. Celebrating a shot when already three goals down at Hull City probably the only way to avoid a complete breakdown, while there really wasn’t a need for Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s look of disgust as the Covered End found humour in a horribly wayward Reza Ghoochannejhad strike.
Of course, the Fox incident was a rare occasion where the extent of the anger shown was unjustified, and the reason why the suggestion we’re not supporting the team had grown before Curbishley added his thoughts.
But Fox, who deserves little personal blame for his struggles when it is Duchatelet’s system that has exposed him to such an environment he is not yet ready for, was merely an unfortunate victim of the general unrest that exists among supporters. It unreasonable to suggest that supporters should be robotic supporting machines while their club is in crisis, they occupy a relegation spot, and continue to perform dreadfully.
Regardless, I’m of the opinion that we as supporters can be proud of our efforts this season. I certainly don’t think we’ll reach the end of this campaign, regardless of what the end result is, and feel any sense of guilt in our actions whatsoever.
There is always going to be a degree of unhappiness in a situation like this one – the supporters of every other club in a relegation battle this season will have voiced their frustration on numerous occasions, and the club and players are the ones that need to shoulder the blame for creating a situation where such anger exists.
But each game has been treated as a fresh start, with disappointment from the previous encounter replaced by a chorus of support from the Covered End or a vocal away end. Players well backed in that horrendous run between the Colchester defeat and the draw against Blackburn, and arguably undeservedly so. Our persistence should be the focus, not our displays of anger in moments of disappointment.
For this idea that The Valley atmosphere is not what it should be is not a consequence of the Covered End losing its voice, supporters turning their back on their side, or insults replacing support. The reason the atmosphere has been damaged, as Curbishley believes, is because of numerous demoralising defeats, and the way the club is being run has produced anger and apathy.
It’s why the protests, not just in their goal to remove Duchatelet, are vitally important. A supporter spirit has been ignited, with the collective voice that wants this regime gone then followed by a collective voice that wants the side to achieve victory. Together in supporting the team, and together in not supporting the regime.
A show, too, that we as supporters have not given up. It would be easy to bury heads in the sand and hope it all goes away, but we have showed the same sort of persistence in our protesting as we have in our support.
Nor is protesting something that anyone wants to do. No one wants to have to effectively fight against their club, but it has reached a point where we are doing a job as supporters to protect and fight for the future of our club. We’re doing this because we care. Because we want Charlton to succeed, and can substantially prove that unlike this ownership.
Besides, this notion that protesting during the game is harming the team is, quite frankly, rubbish. If a professional footballer is more affected by a minute of holding up banners or standing up against the regime than numerous minutes of positive support, then they do not have the required character to be a professional football.
And it would seem that the players are appreciative of efforts anyway. Stephen Henderson’s quotes following Saturday’s draw with Cardiff very important:
“The fans have been great with us. Obviously we’re aware of the shenanigans at times but they have been great with us and that’s all we can ask. They’ve got to do what they’ve got do. As long as they support us, is all I ask.”
“I’d really like to thank them for their support.”
Confirmation, if it were needed, that we’re doing a mighty fine job of supporting the team, and not the regime. It is possible to protest, and provide the sort of support needed for the players to perform. We’re not creating a difficult atmosphere at all.
Opposition observers also commend our efforts, and appreciate our bewilderment. Important words from Phil Smith, writing for Wales Online:
“Though their support of the team was unwavering, particularly in the final ten minutes as they pushed for an unlikely winner, the sense of disillusionment in the Valley was unquestionable.
You could feel it in the SE7 streets around the stadium beforehand, and you could certainly feel it when they stood as one to demand Duchatelet sells the club.
They wore Pinocchio masks and stickers in protest, even printing beer mats to be used pubs near the ground.”
We’re doing a commendable job in these testing circumstances, supporting the team until their efforts mean disappointment and anger can only takeover, and providing hope and togetherness with the protesting efforts.
A job far greater than many connected to Charlton Athletic have done this season.
We simply are not to blame if this side does not collect the points it needs to survive.