That the regime’s Fans Sofa was ripped to shreds by protesting supporters, and its stuffing left covering a section of The Valley pitch once it had been cleared of fans, was a fitting symbolic end to this torrid campaign.
The stuffing long knocked out of this already relegated Charlton Athletic side, with a weak group of players hurt by Roland Duchatelet’s regime almost as much as supporters, and any remaining brutally removed on the final day. Burnley notching three past the Addicks, who were briefly competitive but soon capitulated, to seal the Championship title.
Too much for one of Duchatelet’s most loyal servants, as Jose Riga resigned before The Valley had even been cleared of disillusioned supporters, issuing one final reminder to those in charge that their ownership is untenable.
In fact, and not for the first time this season, the only defiance and determination to be seen among those connected to the Addicks came from supporters demanding change, and fighting for a better future for their poisoned club. Heavy-handed stewarding, ‘amnesty bins’ and pitch side netting not enough to deter them.
For there was no fight to be seen among Riga’s side, many of who were joining the Belgian in making their final appearance in SE7. Charlton’s liveliness in attack not curtailed by Sam Vokes’ 20th minute opener, but any sort of effort ended after George Boyd and Andre Gray were allowed to extend the Clarets’ advantage in the simplest of circumstances just after the break.
A defence much more inviting to visitors than those supporters who had staged a sit-in protest in front of the West Stand carpark gates. A defence that probably could have done with the organisation and resolve of the protesting Addicks.
By contrast, Duchatelet, Katrien Meire and Richard Murray would probably be better off emulating the weak efforts of their side and simply caving in. Their control of the club maintained only by misguided stubbornness, ignorance and naivety, as their damage and insults are exposed to a wider audience with each passing week, and more and more of the general football public are willing to support the cause of Charlton fans.
Even the Burnley supporters, invading the pitch at full-time to celebrate their title win and proving the catalyst for Addicks to enter too, could not ignore the failings of this regime in the same way the regime itself has.
Claret shirts aplenty among those that stood before the Directors’ Box, and called for Duchatelet to go long after the full-time whistle. A mutual respect between the two sets of fans, irrespective of the differing directions they are heading, much greater than anything this regime could attempt to build with the supporters they continue to insult.
For there is nothing to build on, and nothing which can be built. A fact reaffirmed by the intensity of the protesting efforts.
The throwing of bottles and smoke bombs not something SE7 is accustomed to, and unrest growing in the post-match pitch protest thanks to stewarding and policing efforts so chaotic that Duchatelet himself must have instructed them. Not the sort of actions normally associated with supporters of this club.
But this club is barely an imitation of what it once was while this ownership remain, and the damage they are doing to it is much, much greater than unorganised outbursts of protest. The unity of Charlton supporters all that remains to feel pride in.
Sad that it has come to this. Sad that may supporters said goodbye to The Valley today until Duchatelet sells up. Sad that it coming to this does not mean their ignorance will suddenly be replaced by an acceptance that they cannot continue to control and poison this historic club. An acceptance that the whole football world is aware of.
That change at Charlton, if they are to experience joy even anything like what the Burnley fans felt at full-time, is desperately needed. And not just the sofa being emphatically removed.
In fact, change is needed if something as simple as the announcement of the starting line-up is to hold any relevance again. Not a mention of it for some time after it had been released by those who took part in the sit-in protest. Football itself, unfortunately and understandably, a complete irrelevance.
The first minute of the contest itself devoted to calling for Duchatelet to depart with banners held high. Banners that became quite aerodynamic paper balls once they had been used, and were able to defeat the large mesh that stood in front of the Covered End. These attempts to pretend the protests aren’t happening and the opposition isn’t there have not once proved successful.
Nor was the effort Jordan Cousins, replacing Johnnie Jackson in Charlton’s only change from the win at Leeds United, fired at goal. The ball falling kindly to the academy graduate, but only able to skew his strike comfortably wide.
And maybe Burnley, with the game beginning to settle if not the anti-Duchatelet cries and feeling, should have done better when the ball fell kindly to them on a number of occasions. The Addicks not convincing defensively from a set-piece once again, as pinball ultimately saw the ball fall to Stephen Ward. The Irishman tamely prodding wide.
But Riga’s side, irrespective of Vokes working inside with a worryingly minimal amount of pressure and placing an effort narrowly over Nick Pope’s crossbar, were enjoying an unexpected promising start to the game. Led by Johann Berg Gudmundsson, who fed Igor Vetokele through only for the ball to get away from him, and Ademola Lookman, who kept finding pockets of space, the Addicks genuinely carried some threat.
Unfortunately, Burnley carry one of the most threatening attacks in the division, and Charlton one of the weakest defences. After league top-scorer Gray had shot into the side netting, resulting in a section of away supporters believing their side had scored, the Clarets found themselves in front with 20 minutes played.
In relatively simple fashion, too. Ward played in down the left, and his pinpoint ball across the face of goal tucked in from close range by Vokes. The scorer of the goal that got Burnley promoted on Monday now giving them one hand on the Championship title.
And it seemed like they would soon have both hands on it, as the lively Gray waltzed past a static Charlton defence, only to fire over. A general lack of organisation among those in red that suggested the full-time whistle already couldn’t come soon enough.
At least there remained a very respectable amount of energy and excitement in attack. Gudmundsson, on what will almost certainly be his final Charlton appearance, driving forward and drawing a good save out of England goalkeeper Tom Heaton, before the stopper collected Callum Harriott’s tame effort.
Those shots relatively simple for Heaton to deal with, but there was confusion as to how Burnley’s number one managed to keep out Gudmundsson’s next strike. His drive from outside the box heading for the bottom corner, before the England man extended himself to tip the ball wide.
The unlikely situation existing of Burnley needing to regain control of the ball, and curtail the momentum the Addicks were building. Dean Marney looping an effort over the bar not quite enough to halt Charlton’s promise going forward.
Heaton, however, was. The ever-lively Lookman breaking into the box, and squaring for Harriott, before the premature celebrations in the Covered End were silenced by the body of the goalkeeper. Addicks still scratching their heads as Cousins got another shot away, but one that was easily claimed.
Nonetheless, such promise going forward was not enough to prevent supporters from getting distracted from their main purpose; continuing to make the positions of Duchatelet, Meire and Murray untenable.
A huge banner unveiled above the Directors’ Box as half-time approached assisting that cause emphatically. “LIAR” scribbled on a bed sheet pointing towards Meire, sat underestimating the severity of the anger she has caused as ever, and earning the loudest round of applause The Valley has heard all season.
Alas, it was to be the marvellous protesting efforts of Charlton supporters that remained the highlight of the opening 45 as the half-time whistle blew. No way found to beat Heaton, despite the considerably pressure produced.
The interval seemingly coming at the worst possible time for the Addicks, with their momentum halted, and Burnley given an opportunity to get out of first gear.
For just four minutes into the second period, the sluggish Charlton that have been punished on so many occasions this season reappeared. No one bothering to pick up Boyd at the far post, and the winger finishing emphatically beyond Pope.
And if that wasn’t enough to confirm Burnley were champions, then the potent Gray capitalising on an absent defence just two minutes later made sure of it. The Championship’s top scorer latching onto Marney’s ball over the top, driving into the box, and finishing through Pope. A complete capitulation.
The extension of Burnley’s lead not only sparking the celebrations of champions in the away end, but increasing the unrest and protest among those in The Valley’s home ends. The restart of the game delayed by a smoke bomb, and a chant of “we want Roland out” that the visiting supporters were in a relaxed enough mood to assist with.
That relaxed, and celebratory, mood only increasing as Vetokele wasted a rare opening for the now incredibly tame Addicks. The Angolan, with Heaton looking uncharacteristically uncomfortable, dragging an effort wide. The attacking threat weakening further with Gudmundsson, to a standing ovation, withdrawn.
And though Harriott, having been teed up by Lookman, forced the resolute Ben Mee into a needed block, the only real threatening Charlton were doing in the closing twenty minutes came from what was being thrown from the stands.
Attention being turned to a smoke bomb allowed a supporter from the unguarded East Stand to enter the pitch, and roam around with a Roland out poster for quite some time. Another smoke bomb finding its way towards Pope’s goal area as the game resumed.
Not necessarily attached to CARD’s ethos, but the disruption, applauded by the visiting supporters who had shown much more appreciation for our protesting efforts than was promised, was not to be dismissed. The pressure and embarrassment growing.
No pressure growing on Burnley whatsoever as Yun Suk-Young and, to a chorus of boos, El-Hadji Ba were introduced. The final moments of this contest, with Charlton’s fight long lost, merely existing to deny the Clarets more immediate celebrations and the Addicks more immediate protests.
Although it was seemingly the case that the match officials did not wish to hold back both sets of supporters any longer.
After Pope had claimed Lloyd Dyer’s strike, and a fierce effort from Morgan Fox had been tipped over the bar by Heaton, the full-time whistle was blown without much more than a minute of additional time played. Unless, of course, Duchatelet has found a new way to pretend the protests aren’t occurring.
But there was no way the Belgian, nor his companions regardless of where they went and hid, could ignore what was to follow.
Beckoned to break the police and mesh barrier by the joyous Burnley fans, many celebrating their title while holding a Roland out poster, the pitch was soon filled with supporters from both sides.
The Directors’ Box stood in front of, as anti-Duchatelet chants were fired in its direction, along with banners and posters held up amidst a sea of claret, red, and black and white. A sheer release of frustration and anger that has been inflicted on Charlton supporters by this regime, taking out also on the sofa.
You can only hope the sofa’s crumbling is symbolic in more ways than one. Not just representing this weak and tame Charlton side, but its destruction signalling the end for Duchatelet’s regime.
In fact, there is no way this club can move forward without this being the final game severed under the reign of Duchatelet.
The resignation of Riga is relatively insignificant, regardless of who is replaced by. The man that occupies the dugout is powerless until this regime is removed.
And so are the Addicks in general, when compared to the sides like Burnley. The second side in consecutive seasons to win the Championship title on the final day of the season at The Valley. Were it not for the strength of Charlton supporters, demanding change and rebelling against this regime, a League One title in the next few years wouldn’t even look possible, while clubs of relative size are able to enjoy days they won’t forget for all the right reasons.
You cannot begrudge Sean Dyche and his side at all. The sort of efficient and effective, led by Joey Barton dictating in midfield, the forward play of Gray, and supported in their hour of need by Heaton, used throughout the season deployed at The Valley, and earning them a title which they deserve.
A 23rd game unbeaten suggesting that this league is rightfully theirs.
By contrast, this is a day that supporters of the Addicks, for now, will remember for reasons of frustration and sadness.
The performance irrelevant, but the protests very important. The pre-game sit-in effective, the stuff thrown on the pitch not always pleasant but a sign of the increased anger, and the post-match scenes sensible demonstrations made to appear something they were not by heavy-handed stewarding. The us against them mentality heightened.
Heightened, too, is the absolute need to rid our club of this disease. The positions of Duchatelet, Meire and Murray untenable before today, but now even more so. Only they believe they should continue, to the continued detriment of this club.
And to the detriment of those supporters who, without wanting to do so, have been forced to say a temporary goodbye from the club that has been taken away from them.
You can only hope that this day will ultimately be remembered for the right reasons, as the one that got this disease out of our club. That gave us our Charlton back.
Thank god that’s over. Couple more pieces still to come, End of Season Awards and I’ll probably end up having a rant about Riga, but a quick thank you to those of you who have visited my blog throughout this grim season. Had a pretty naff year without even considering events at The Valley, and this has often been my release. Hopefully the next competitive Charlton match report I write is for a club no longer under the leadership of Duchatelet.