This a week like many others. Where, between one Saturday and the next, I will have overcome a large amount of apathy to watch Charlton Athletic three times. Pretending my connection with the club isn’t hanging by a thread, and hoping my forced attendance will sew it back together.
The idea that I must force myself to attend gives the suggestion that there is always a question mark over whether I will make it to the Covered End, or a fellow League One club’s away end. That question mark, in spite of my disconnection, does not exist.
The very small logical section of my rather bizarre brain continues to present a weekly 20-slide PowerPoint display on why I should withdraw my support to the irrational and emotional sections, who respond with a statement that reinforces that it’s their duty to follow the Addicks over land and sea (and Leicester).
A sense that it is my duty to follow the Addicks, and a determination to fight against the emotions towards my club that Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have instilled over the previous 30 months. To give up would be turning my back completely on their horrendous and insulting ownership, but so too would it be allowing the actions of this regime to achieve what it feels like they want to, and take the club away from me.
Charlton, in the past, has been an unmeasurable escapism for myself from a world that is overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, loneliness, a dreadfully low self-worth, epilepsy, and persistent niggling physical weakness. The Valley, or those untidy away ends, a world that was once free from those feelings, thoughts, and, quite often, pains.
A time when, irrespective of performances or results, untainted distraction from sadness could be found in supporting the side. Where anxiety and loneliness was replaced by a sense of connection with fellow supporters, club, and side, and a feeling of acceptance and comfortability that couldn’t be achieved elsewhere. Where physical discomfort was a lot easier to put up with, especially as the motivation to engage yourself with club and side produced unrelenting energy resources.
The misguided belief that it remains plausible to experience such distraction and escapism fuelling my desire to remain an ever-present. That, and the hope that 90 minutes of football will actually distract from the minutes used by Duchatelet and Meire to insult, discredit, and undermine. A hope that the footballing environment, when locked inside the four sides of a stadium, will be protected from attempts to damage connection and remain a sanctuary.
And then, having travelled to Scunthorpe the previous night to take in a goalless draw while feeling dreadful, you hear that the owner of your football club has informed a select group of supporters in a secret meeting that he can only dedicate 1.5% of his time to his running of the Addicks, and you’re reminded why your connection has been lost and your escapism damaged.
The existence of the meeting itself, between Duchatelet and the pathetic Target 20k group, an insult. This seemingly a handpicked group of individuals, whose minutes are confidential despite apparently representing fans in general, with their real purpose allowing for the regime to tick a few boxes. “Look, we are engaging with supporters, we are trying to make things better”.
Duchatelet meeting this group, in secret of course, but failing to engage with any supporters who aren’t towing the party line and have legitimate and genuine concerns. Several requests by the Supporters’ Trust not just turned down, but ignored.
A group formed by the club, which has achieved next to nothing for supporters and applies no pressure to the regime, evidently does not represent the views of the vast majority of supporters. Exploit those fans they can exploit, and ignore those they can’t.
While what was said in the meeting is equally as insulting. Aside from showing a total disregard for the club and its supporters with his ridiculous 1.5% comment, the defending of Thomas Driesen’s involvement with the club and this bizarre suggestion that football should be more like rugby just leaves you feeling deflated that this clueless figure runs out club.
That and the fact seemingly no one challenged him in the manner he should have been.
You put all this effort into supporting the club, despite all the barriers that exist both at my end and erected by the regime, but find yourself becoming more and more disconnected with each passing week. Increasingly being made to feel worthless, in an environment where you previously felt connected and valued.
For these comments, these events, and this constant insulting management of the club don’t just create anger and disillusionment when they occur. It is unquestionable that this regime’s actions have taken away an escapism from me, and made following Charlton impossible to enjoy. My mental health declining even further as a consequence.
The disconnection meaning that The Valley, or those atmospheric away ends, are no longer a different word; a place where the depression and sadness stops momentarily. Anxiety and panic attacks, along with feelings similar to being alone in a room full of people and similarly scrutinised by all those who surround me, often occurring without reason when I previously felt an acceptance and comfortability. That escapism lost.
And then there’s the need to protest. Something I will continue to do, because I believe it to be right and would feel worse if I didn’t offer my support to the battle against the regime, but something that makes me feel incredibly anxious and often overwhelmed.
Even last weekend, wearing a black and white shirt among the protest photo, I felt overwhelmed with anxiety. Surrounded by people in an environment that I struggle to feel completely comfortable in, the fear that there are those who frown upon what myself and other protesters do, and again that sense of being alone in a room full of people.
The only reason I continue to put myself in these positions that my mental health means I struggle to deal with is because of the regime, the opposition they have created for themselves, and the damage they have done to the club and, without wishing to sound self-centred, myself. I despise what they’ve inflicted upon the club and me.
So too is it unquestionable that, away from a match day, events at Charlton are having an impact on my mental health. I feel this is pathetic, but controversial comments or acts from the regime, an increasing sense of disquiet and disconnection, and arguments among supporters are a huge trigger.
A reminder of what feels like a bleak situation at Charlton reminding me of all the other sadness and anxiety I feel. Sometimes I just want to hide, delete my Twitter, delete my blog, and pretend none of this is happening. Maybe it would actually be beneficial to my mental health, but I simply can’t bring myself to do that.
In fairness, my personal situation is not simply a result of Duchatelet and Meire. My mental health has got worse and worse to the point where I have little solace, and things that previously helped that remain as they were no longer provide an escapism, so there are outside factors. I’m not in a good state.
But, at the same time, I have a strong connection with the county cricket club I follow, Northamptonshire, which does feel similar to the Charlton of old. Attendance providing an escapism, a release from sadness and anxiety, and the connection with club and, in particular, players making me feel a sense of acceptance.
I guess, therefore, that now the cricket season has concluded, the importance of the Addicks as an escapism has been reaffirmed. Instead of being an escapism, it’s effectively self-infliction. The disconnection growing, and the discomfort felt in following Charlton getting worse.
However, I’m aware that, without a regime whose actions increase my depression and anxiety, supporting Charlton could once again become an escape. That I’ve lost this escapism, despite my desperate attempts to maintain it, as a consequence of ignorant and insulting individuals is incredibly upsetting. Apathy increases accordingly.
And yet, I’ll be at Oxford tomorrow, despite feeling no excitement, merely anxiety and worry, and knowing my efforts are considered meaningless.
But I’ll continue to put more than 1.5% of my time into the club, in the hope my escapism returns. Not that it will under a regime whose actions have taken away an anti-depressant from me.