As you walk down Floyd Road on a matchday, passing the faded “ROLAND OUT” message graffitied on the side of a shop wall at the top of it, a sense of opposition immediately becomes apparent.
Few give the club shop a second glance, programme sellers are relatively lonely figures, and dread more obvious among supporters then any sense of excitement.
The black and white scarves and shirts worn by home fans in contrast to the red that dominants around SE7, though making the same message as the plethora of red seats that can still be seen once the referee’s whistle has been blown for the first time.
The attachment that was once there, that should be there for any supporter of any club, robbed, and replaced by feelings of disillusionment, despair and disconnect that become only more apparent once inside the ground.
I’m reminded constantly of the emotion felt as I witnessed The Valley for the first time, glimmering beautifully under the mixture of a setting sun and its floodlights, and the connection to a football club that was developed inside that sanctum over the years that followed. Emotion that feels like it was felt at a different ground, towards a different club, when I look around an arena that was once full of charm.
I saw Charlton Athletic described as a “ghost club” today, and it certainly feels like the club we once connected with is vanishing.
Vanishing not because performances have long been uninspiring, and results often upsetting, but because those who control this club are naïve, arrogant and cowardly. Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire desperate to heal their own reputations, often giving the impression that they believe they are working towards achieving that, while continuing to harm the reputation of a club they have already crippled to a point beyond plausible recovery.
As Russell Slade was appointed this summer, ambitious promises were made, and the suggestion that mistakes had been learnt from was repeated at every opportunity. A top six budget, to achieve a top six finish, and make an immediate return to the Championship. With an experienced English manager appointed and signings made from outside a flawed scouting network, there was even a bit of evidence to support their claims.
“Russell has vast experience in the division and is a two-time League One Manager of The Year. He joins us as manager on a long-term contract and his appointment represents the start of an exciting new era at the club under his guidance,” said Meire upon Slade’s appointment. An exciting new era.
Alas, 16 league games into it, the exciting new era has already come to an end. Slade dismissed, despite further backing from Meire, and further attempts to suggest the regime she is part of and the club are moving in the right direction.
Of course, Slade did have certain flaws. His tactics were questionable, with a rather negative and cautious approach restricting the attacking potential of his side, his post-match comments often frustrating, and to be lingering in the bottom half of League One at this stage of the season is evidently not acceptable.
The defeat, and particularly the performance, against Swindon Town at the weekend providing the justification required for this regime to enforce a managerial change for the eighth time in two and a half years. There will be some pleased to see the bald-headed boss depart.
But to see the decision to remove Slade as merely a club acting upon indifferent results and enforcing change, and as such ignoring the context in which this decision has been made, is naivety that Duchatelet and Meire themselves would be proud of.
For starters, Slade is not the enemy in this situation, but another victim of the regime. The figurehead of change, without any real change actually occurring.
No boss, regardless of the strength of their CV, can be expected to achieve under the restrictions and limitations that are imposed while working under such a poisonous regime. Who incite so much justified opposition, who undermine and utilise the scouting ‘talents’ of Thomas Driesen, and whose self-interest completely outweighs any sense of duty they have towards supporting either club or manager.
Slade fought against it. The network signings, Driesen’s recommendations, and the regime’s philosophies. He attempted to instil a different mentality and atmosphere at the club, in spite of all evidence suggesting that doing so would not be possible.
And, in truth, there were even positive signs on the pitch prior to the Swindon defeat. An attacking mentality increasing, individuals improving, and a handy run of six games without loss that, though not as impressive as such a run usually is, was creating some sort of foundation. Not enough to make previous results acceptable, but enough to think patience was needed with Slade.
When so much damage has been done, and the role of managing this club is such a difficult one, stability is required. Slade maybe not the man most likely to spark an on-the-pitch revolution, but the three-year contract and comments made upon his appointment suggests the regime were willing to allow him the time to prove himself. As ever, the regime have embarrassed themselves and the club.
For immediate results are evidently desperately required. Immediate results that the regime believe can be achieved, despite the damage they have done to this club and the struggle they have created for incoming bosses, in order to enhance their reputations. So often in recent weeks, figures in the media have spoken about how results will improve the relationship between club and supporters, and you get the impression Duchatelet and Meire are naïve enough to believe that’s all that’s required.
That football supporters are passive and unintelligent. That emotional attachment is a myth, and only winning matters. That opposition and apathy has only been caused by poor results.
It presented to them on a constant basis that results will not address the damage they have caused, nor will pathetic attempts at communication. They have crippled a group of supporters, and effectively taken their club away from them, but the arrogance of those involved in this regime means they refuse to see that, and still believe bridges can be built.
It incredible that, once again, they won’t see their own failings, and the damage those failings have caused. That they instead, in cowardly fashion, find another figure to take the blame. They won’t see that the position the club is in has been caused by their own actions, and it they who need to depart to address that.
You almost find yourself wondering if they take pleasure in destroying emotional attachment, alienating and angering. Particularly as it appears their next appointment will come from within the network, and as such will only increase the sense of detachment that supporters have with their club.
At least with Slade in charge, it was not a challenge to split the opposition to the regime and continuing to support the side. His own man, one that most wanted to be successful, and not holding uncomfortable connections with the poisonous leaders.
But to appoint Chris O’Loughlin, the former boss of Duchatelet’s STVV, would see the man in the technical area once again become strongly linked to those who sit in the directors’ box, or pretend to watch at home on a live stream.
O’Loughlin a man evidently happy to work under the conditions that Duchatelet creates at his clubs, who won’t attempt to fight against it, and will carry out the regime’s beliefs on the ground. There will be those who suggest that the manager/head coach should be supported regardless, but it impossible for a set of already disillusioned fans to do so in such circumstances.
Not least when the Irishman is so evidently underqualified. Minimal managerial experience, none in England, and certainly none in a situation that reflects the one in SE7.
They have not learned from their mistakes, and they never will. They are liars, whose incompetence continues to destroy the soul of the club. If they are not naïve, arrogant and cowardly, then they have deliberately set out to cripple Charlton Athletic and its supporters.
In fact, the regime have crippled the Addicks to such an extent that the reputation of a protest group is now greater than the reputation of the club. As CARD receive unrelenting praise from supporters and the national media for their protesting efforts in Belgium, the club and regime they are protesting against are being mocked.
That a reflection of CARD’s organisation, determination and creativity, but more so the shambles that they are attempting to rid from this club.
A shambles that has created this sickening and depressing level of disillusionment and disconnection among supporters.
The dismissal of another manager, and the subsequent confirmation that they continue to lie and undermine the intelligence of supporters, only increasing that disconnection, and increasing the belief that the only way such disconnection can be addressed is by complete revolution. Not Meire meeting a few fans for tea and biscuits once a week.
That will again be apparent as you walk down Floyd Road this weekend, and enter a ground that has had the life sucked out of it.
Damage and destruction that Meire can see, that Duchatelet will be aware of. Damage and destruction that they have caused. Damage and destruction they can’t address, and won’t be addressed until the club is sold.
The blaming and sacking of managers to attempt to shift responsibility is an arrogant and cowardly ritual, and one that will continue to keep the club firmly in reverse.