The more obvious and measurable failures that Roland Duchatelet’s regime has overseen are undoubtedly the reasons that opposition to it has been so persistent and intense among such a large number of Charlton supporters. The reasons wider criticism, and wider support for the protesting efforts, is so easily found.
For the flawed transfer strategy, the appointment of head coaches on their willingness to abide by the regime’s ways rather than managerial ability, and consistently horrendous results provide no cover for those in control of the club, who have inflicted much greater damage than simply footballing failure. Even the half-hearted attempt to instigate change this summer, via the appointment of Russell Slade and signings made, has been made a failure by sales and the inability to build a squad in time for the season’s beginning.
But it is telling that these factors lose their significance when the impact the regime’s behaviour has had on supporter connection with the club is considered. Destroyed to a point where issuing a letter to a supporter which demands he signs an “Agreed Behavioral (sic) Contract” as a consequence of “not particularly constructive” social media comments in order to receive his season ticket feels perfectly in tune with the “us against them” attitude that has been created.
That the supporter in question later received his season ticket without needing to sign such a ludicrous contract in such ludicrous circumstances is neither here nor there. That the letter was issued in the first place provides yet another example of this regime making supporters the enemy of the club. Another example that suggests this regime, in insulting and working against fans, have an intention to disconnect committed supporters from their club.
The only people who think calling fans customers, suggesting they want the club to fail, and bizarrely accusing them of being racist is perfectly legitimate behaviour are the members of a regime that are making such comments. Amidst the embarrassment that comes with another horrendous Charlton PR own goal, there is a certain amount of pleasure to be taken in seeing respected journalists and similar characters mocking Duchatelet, Katrien Meire, and the club.
The only people who refuse to acknowledge the damage they’re inflicting upon supporter relationships with the club are the ignorant, arrogant, and insulting leaders of this regime. As the petition against Meire’s ridiculous appointment to The FA Council gains more signatures, it becomes increasingly more apparent that the only people who think her position isn’t untenable, and hasn’t been untenable for many, many months, are Duchatelet and herself.
This ‘us against them’ attitude creating a situation where, without even considering the events that will take place on the pitch, supporters who have spent hours and hours of their life at The Valley, and hours of it fighting to win it back, feeling unwanted at their second home. Anger and apathy as great among those with and without season tickets.
At the very least, there cannot have been an opening competitive fixture of any season in SE7 that has been dreaded as much as this one. A dreading not of the fixture itself, but a dreading of having to experience a feeling of not being welcome at a ground that should belong to them more than it does the club’s owners.
Roger Johnson’s helpful advice is “don’t fucking come if you don’t like it”. And while I’d rather not turn up and have to force myself to offer support to such an unlikeable character, for so many reasons, it’s not as simple as that.
Not simple without even considering the commitment football supporters feel to supporting their side. Irrespective of this lack of connection with the club, there still a need to connect with the side, and offer support. The support the team and not the regime mantra one that isn’t always easy to follow, but the efforts of Charlton fans, from Brighton to Bury, have remained outstanding.
A feeling of being something of a traitor, and turning your back on your club, should you allow apathy or disconnection to result in a lack of attendance. It wrong to think that, as it has been instilled by the actions of this poisonous regime, but the nature of a football supporter’s mentality means it will exist.
It’s why my admiration for those who have boycotted buying a season ticket this season after years of support is so great. Who were able to sacrifice any last connection that remained with this Charlton, in addition to the feelings that supporting a football club and attending games at The Valley provides in normal circumstances, in the hope their rather bold actions would further increase the pressure on this regime, and force them to sell.
It wasn’t something, in spite of the fact this will be my 13th year as a season ticket holder in comparison to the many who have temporarily given up theirs after many more seasons of service, I felt I was capable of doing.
A certain amount of guilt exists, but lessened by the fact a large part of my decision to renew is particularly person. Following Charlton home and away provides the only real distraction I have during the winter months from my mental health issues, and I didn’t wish to lose that.
That despite the fact following the Addicks has become increasingly chore-like in recent months. Were it not for my somewhat irrational commitment to keeping this blog constantly updated, and my need to experience the one social setting I feel comfortable in at least once a week, I imagine apathy from the disconnection that has been created by this regime would have taken over.
The Valley has, in the past, been a true place of escapism for me. Charlton fans, too, providing me with a sense of belonging at times when I have felt particularly isolated. This blog occasionally providing me with a sense of self-worth when it might have been otherwise desperately lacking.
And though I find it impossible to give elements of that up, there is no doubting that regardless of the fact I will remain a season ticket holder for this season, I will be unlikely to experience the same sort of escapism. I didn’t for much of last season, as the disconnection grew.
That the real damage that this regime has done, and I’m glad the letter has highlighted that to a wider audience, rather than simply on-the-pitch failings. That many more will now be aware of the way committed supporters are being treated by their club, to the point where many have felt the need to give up their season tickets, and those that haven’t are effectively doing so out of habit or a desperate hope to cling onto some sort of connection.
Despite this growing disconnection, despite this growing apathy, and despite this growing feeling that we are being made to feel unwelcomed by our own club, there must continue to be fight shown against this regime. Whether that be by boycotting The Valley, or continuing to voice and show opposition for those who will still attend. Apathy, in the sense of allowing Duchatelet and Meire to do as they please, cannot win.
But with each new insulting action from this regime, it becomes increasingly difficult not to be overwhelmed by disconnection. The days where I’ve had to talk myself out of simply giving up are countless, and that is incredibly upsetting.
I simply just want to be able to have an untainted relationship with my football club. Something I’m not going to be able to have while this regime remains.