For many supporters of Charlton Athletic, their favourite moment of 2016 will be when it comes to an end.
A torrid year to be an Addick. A year stained by defeats, disconnection, and a disasterous regime. Few memorable victories, many feeling forced to stay away from The Valley, and the constant failings of Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire.
And so shifting through 12 months of misery to find rare moments of joy is not the easiest of tasks. It not simply a case of listing some impressive victories, especially with many of the most impressive victories coming on the same days as Charlton supporters showed their togetherness and much-celebrated strength.
Moments extracted from the rare wins, but so too moments that allowed supporters to connect with their club, connect with the past, and connect with each other. Those particularly valued in 2016.
In chronological order, and over two parts, I’ll re-tell some of the more enjoyable Charlton-related events of this calendar year.
It says something about the leadership qualities of Johnnie Jackson that the skipper could inject some life into the club on the night of one of the most dreadful, embarrassing and disgraceful Charlton performances in my 13 seasons as a supporter.
For the Addicks had capitulated at the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield helping themselves to a five-goal victory against a side who had no structure, no quality, and seemingly little willingness to fight. To lose by just five flattered this mess of a Charlton side, perfectly representing the state of the club.
So while the regime continued to inflict misery upon the club and its supporters, Karel Fraeye refused to speak to the media as the sack loomed, and Reza Ghoochannejhad was more than happy to effectively get himself sent-off, the skipper stood up.
He was not alone. Stephen Henderson, who had underperformed but was not a figure who needed to appease supporters, spoke in quite emotional terms post-match. But it was Jackson’s decision to organise for supporters who travelled to Yorkshire to be refunded that really stood out.
Normally, it’s quite easy to be cynical about players repaying supporters. A cheap publicity stunt, and nothing more. But as this was the club’s inspirational leader, in a time when the connection between the club and its supporters was fading rapidly, it mattered.
There many other individuals who needed to make more immediate apologies, but this was a reminder that, in spite of the cancer that runs through the club, there is one chap doing all he can to keep its heart beating.
There will be plenty that suggest Chris Powell’s TalkSPORT interview, in which he spoke with honesty and openness about his relationship with Duchatelet, was among the worst moments of the year. Hearing a Valley hero reveal the unfair treatment he suffered, in addition to his overall critical analysis of the regime, induced anger and disappointment.
Powell, with typical class and dignity, confirmed that Duchatelet had told him who to pick, but the flat-capped boss had always stood his ground. The promotion-winning manager aware from the moment the takeover was completed that he would not be in charge for much longer, unwanted players turning up at training unannounced, and questions always asked as to why the network recruits did not play.
So too did he show his understanding and appreciation for how many supporters felt, particularly getting on board with the idea that this regime were not aware of just how important the fans were in the history of this football club. This not a bitter rant, merely an expression of sadness and frustration.
But so too did it have an emphatic unifying effect. There still those uncertain as to whether Duchatelet’s ownership was the cancer that many suggested it was, even after the appointment of Karel Fraeye. It possible that the return of Jose Riga had convinced a section of Addicks to abandon their hostility towards the regime.
Powell’s words, however, reaffirmed the damage that Duchatelet’s ownership had done to the club, and brought supporters together behind the idea that this regime needed to depart.
There many moments prior to this that increased the opposition to the regime, but this felt like the one that really united the majority of supporters behind a single cause.
The confidence gained, and the belief that avoiding relegation might be possible, was immediately crushed by the defeat to Bristol City a week later, but Charlton’s first win after Jose Riga’s return provided at least a brief moment where survival seemed realistic.
For the Addicks were ruthless at the New York Stadium, earning a 4-1 victory over Rotherham United that was not at all flattering. A performance that would have been exceptional in any circumstance, but more so given the fact it came just two games after all confidence had seemingly been stripped from the side at the KC Stadium. An almost immediate response to the 6-0 defeat to Hull City not anticipated.
A touch of early panic as, after the heavily criticised Simon Makienok had put the Addicks ahead and shh-ed the away end in celebration, Chris Burke curtailed Charlton’s joy. Disjointed defending allowing the Scot to quickly draw the Millers level.
Previous evidence, and the mentality of this Charlton side, said an impressive capitulation would now follow. Instead, an incredibly high work rate was maintained, and their efforts were rewarded just before the break as the tireless Igor Vetokele converted from the exceptional Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s delivery.
And with momentum now firmly theirs, the Addicks were able to give themselves what appeared an unassailable advantage after the break. Makienok, enjoying one of his better afternoons in a Charlton shirt, heading in from Gudmundsson’s corner.
Victory effectively sealed as Jonson Clarke-Harris blasted a penalty, awarded after he was hauled down by Jorge Teixeira, deep into the travelling Addicks, and all but confirmed with a well taken fourth goal from Ademola Lookman.
This a first league win in 12 games, and a third away victory in the space of 12 months. A club still in crisis, the bottom three still occupied, and a final chant of “we want Roland out” before the away end emptied, but this was genuinely encouraging.
A shame that encouragement was entirely misplaced.
CARD’s Billboard (06/02/2016)
The protest group might not have achieved their ultimate goal, but the impact that the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet have had in 2016 is unquestionably impressive.
Commendable amounts of organisation and effort behind eye-catching and often unique displays of opposition, drawing attention to the situation at The Valley from both the media and the wider footballing public. There no doubt about the failings of Duchatelet and Meire, not just in SE7 but all over, as a result of CARD’s protests.
A group that dismayed supporters have been able to unit behind, who have constantly held the club to account, and – given that they’ve acted within the law, donated funds to charity, and reinforced the need to support the team while opposing the regime – conducted themselves in a sensible manner.
But maybe CARD’s greatest strength is that they have a perfect understanding of what this club means to its supporters, and how soul destroying it is for long-serving fans to feel such a level of disconnection and apathy as a consequence of this regime. So often has Charlton’s past, and moments where supporters felt completely at one with their club, been utilised.
And maybe the greatest showing of that, both in terms of the understanding and making an emphatic point for all to see, is the first of many billboards that appeared at the start of February. A young boy standing in front of an unoccupied Valley, with the words “Here before you, and long after you’ve gone”.
A reminder of what Charlton’s supporters have achieved in the past, what they have previously fought for, and what they’re prepared to fight for now. A marvellous image, promoting an important.
It reinforcing the sense of community and togetherness among Addicks, and the belief that fans will ultimately be successful in forcing change at, and as such protecting, their club increased.
It revealing of the loss of connection with the current incarnation of Charlton Athletic that many supporters have suffered from throughout 2016 that reconnecting with a former hero, as he scored twice in front of the Covered End for his current employers, was among the more heartwarming moments of the year.
The reaction to Yann Kermorgant opening the scoring for Reading with a powerful header was not a celebration of Charlton’s failings, as some would like to suggest, but both an appreciation of a Valley hero mistreated by a poisonous regime, and a rejection of the actions of that regime.
Kermorgant’s reaction to giving the Royals a fourth minute lead almost apologetic, shyly acknowledging the Covered End before being mobbed by his teammates. By which time, the majority of the Covered End had risen to applaud the Frenchman. Not simply one or two supporters being a bit quirky, but a large number of Addicks showing appreciation to a player who had just scored against them.
There also applause for his second, a sublime top-corner finish, and appreciation for the forward come full-time, beating his chest and raising his clenched fist towards the Covered End in response. By which time, Kermorgant had provided the assist for Reading’s third goal, and seen Dennis Rakels’ 92nd minute winner make Yaya Sanogo’s hat-trick irrelevant.
But the real moment of emotion was in response to first goal. The unique scene of a set of home supporters applauding a goal scored by a visiting player explaining all you needed to know about the connection that still exists between Kermorgant and his former supporters.
There undoubtedly bitterness and pain, increasing as the Frenchman continued to deliver a sublime performance throughout the game, that a talismanic influence under Powell’s Charlton was inflicting damage upon the Addicks, but so too did his performance remind you of the days he performed like that in SE7 while wearing red.
Something he would still be doing were it not for the misguided and destructive decision-making of the regime.
There are those that suggest moving on, from both the decision to sell him and the man himself. But that reaction to his goal shows that supporters of the Addicks will maintain a permanent bond with the Frenchman. Kermorgant a cult hero.
It not simply the regularity with which Charlton have dropped points throughout 2016 that has left supporters disheartened and demoralised, but that manner in which those defeats have been suffered.
On several occasions, the effort, application and mental strength of both the individual and collective could be questioned. Particularly in the first half of the year, character is a quality that was often absent.
So when hard-fought victories came about, in circumstances where only a victory would do, they were valued and appreciated with even greater intensity. The fight and determination shown at Griffin Park in March mightily impressive among Riga’s men.
A Callum Harriott strike, cool and composed into the bottom corner, 30 seconds into the game suggested the Addicks might claim three points in West London with a complete and comfortable performance.
But Brentford, even when trailing, were by far the more threatening side. Nick Pope called upon to make several fine saves before Yoann Barbet equalised from a poorly defended Bees corner.
And it was the hosts who continued to look the most likely, putting the Addicks under immense pressure. Defending erratic, Brentford wasteful, and Charlton seemingly doing little but attempting to cling onto a point.
So Harriott’s second goal of the game, capitalising after the excellent Sanogo pressured David Button into spilling a Gudmundsson cross, undoubtedly came against the run of play. Incredible celebrations in the away terrace quickly replaced by a horrible sense of fear that the Bees would once again equalise with 21 minutes still to play.
Alas, there was a display of fight in those 21 minutes that had rarely been shown previously. Endless determination, courageous blocks, and every ball battled for. Teixeira leading an organised but hearty defence, and Sanogo excellent as an outlet further forward. Their efforts earning an unlikely victory.
An unlikely victory, but one that simply had to be gained. MK Dons and Rotherham winning elsewhere meant that, without these three points, the gap between Charlton and the bottom three would have effectively been 11 points.
Meaningless come May, but to see this sort of fight in adversity provided a rare moment of joy and pride to those who were in the Griffin Park away end.
Not particularly memorable for myself, as I decided to have a seizure midway through the second half and don’t really remember anything of the day even with written and photographic help, but I’m fairly sure that both the effort in protest against the regime and effort in victory over Middlesbrough were both rather spectacular.
With the game being broadcast by Sky Sports, Charlton supporters took advantage. A pre-game mock funeral march, hundreds of black and white beach balls invading the pitch on kick-off, and a 74th minute (reflecting the amount of goals that had been conceded by the Addicks up to that point) walk-out all executed impressively. A wider audience seeing the extent of unrest among Charlton fans, and as such the extent of the damage Duchatelet has done to the club, for possibly the first time.
Maybe most revealing to those watching at home was the volume of the “we want Roland out” chant that filled The Valley as the beach balls flooded the pitch. The funeral symbolic, the whistles blown at the start of the second half an annoyance simply intended to embarrass, and the number of committed supporters that left with 16 minutes still to play telling. But that chant was emphatic.
And with promotion-chasing Middlesbrough in a state of disarray after head coach Aitor Karanka had momentarily walked out on the club following a training ground argument, this Charlton side took advantage. Even with the absence of the Spaniard, there was an expectation that the relegation-threatened Addicks would wilt against promotion-chasing Boro, but they found a level of quality and determination that allowed them to succeed in their own adversity.
Required to show a level of stubbornness against high-class opposition, not least when Nick Pope pulled off a marvellous reaction save to prevent a Rod Fanni own goal, an unexpected reward for their grind arrived with 57 minutes as played as Jorge Teixeira headed home from an excellent Johann Berg Gudmundsson corner. Confirmation that it was the regime supporters were against, and not Charlton as a whole, with the energy behind the celebrations matching that put behind the protests.
And though many had exited The Valley, relocating to the back of the West Stand to protest, by the time Callum Harriott’s 80th minute goal had sealed an unlikely win, there no doubt that the determined performance and subsequent victory made a day in which supporters showed their own fighting spirit all the more enjoyable.
Or at least until they woke up in a hospital-like bed somewhere deep inside The Valley, bemused as to where the players and protesters were, with a heavily bitten tongue, a bloody nose, and a complete loss of awareness. Or was that just me?
If there were any doubts about where the loyalties of the protesting Addicks lie, they were laid to rest with the sound of celebration that bellowed out of the Covered End as Jorge Teixeira’s late, late header gave Charlton a vital victory over Birmingham City.
A huge collective roar emerging from behind the goal as the Portuguese centre-back connected with Ademola Lookman’s corner, and nodded beyond Thomas Kuszczak.
It a goal made all the sweeter not only because it came so late, but because the Addicks had overturned a deficit and recorded a victory that their efforts after going behind deserved.
The signs not promising after Jon Toral had converted from Paul Caddis’ delivery, but Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s deflected effort saw the hosts equalise almost immediately, and it was they who looked the most likely to record victory from that moment onward. Teixeira’s goal not fortunate, but a warranted moment of joy.
A wonderful moment in isolation, which allowed the fact results elsewhere had rendered the victory almost irrelevant to be ignored, and meant the need to force the regime out of the club could be momentarily pushed to one side.
Besides, the protesting efforts prior just after kick-off were once again mightily impressive. Motivation to be had for it not only from the regime’s persistent failings and Charlton’s position in the Championship table, but the fact the excellent Michael Morrison lined up for the Blues having been deemed not good enough in SE7.
A determined chorus of “we want Roland out” lasting for the length of the five minute delay that was instigated by a sea of soft mini-footballs flooding the pitch. Attention gained again, the passion and pride of Charlton supporters displayed, and Duchatelet and Meire embarrassed once more.
With relegation to League One confirmed, and Charlton’s immediate destiny therefore sealed, the battle to force Duchatelet’s regime out of the club, as such protecting its future, was the only focus for Addicks by the time of the penultimate home game of last season.
Wonderful timing, therefore, that Brighton and Hove Albion were the side to visit SE7 for the penultimate home game of last season. An old friend from battles past, fully aware of both the importance and potential impact of protest movements.
And so their assistance in opposing Duchatelet, both in and outside the ground, allowed for an emphatic day of protesting. The untenable position of the regime left in no doubt by the anger and emotion displayed by Addicks, and similar feelings expressed by Seagulls that reflected the perception of Duchatelet and Meire among everyone in the footballing community but themselves.
“We’re Brighton and Hove Albion, we want Roland out,” the Brighton fans sung as they joined in with a 5000-strong march that featured both blue and white and black and white. A sea of supporters, placards, and banners heading up Charlton Church Lane and down Floyd Road, with a huge Duchatelet balloon floating above them. The visiting supporters even to be found outside the West Stand, as feelings were made clear at the conclusion of the march.
And so too were the Seagulls on hand, with balloons and voices, to aid with the protesting efforts once the game, a sideshow for the Addicks but an important one for Brighton’s promotion hope, had got underway. Objects invading the pitch from all four sides of the ground, preventing play from truly getting underway for the best part of seven minutes, and the emphatic chorus of anti-Duchatelet chanting could be heard as strongly from the Covered End as the Jimmy Seed Stand.
A 3-1 victory for Brighton followed, with Charlton’s defence crumbling in rather pathetic fashion far too frequently to have any chance of being competitive, but there little focus or emotion invested in the contest itself. That Sam Baldock applauded the Covered End after giving the visitors the lead registering as much as anything else.
For this was a day where emotion, anger and opposition was expressed. Where the focus was solely on forcing out a regime who had destroyed a club and disconnected supporters. Where two sets of supporters did themselves proud.
This another afternoon in SE7 where home supporters had little to no interest in the game itself. Maybe not such a bad thing when you consider Burnley, recording a 3-0 victory and collecting the Championship title, gleefully took advantage of Charlton’s frailties. A 24th defeat of a horrendous league season, and enough for Jose Riga, resigning at full-time, to decide he’d had enough.
For though a tame defeat was a fitting conclusion to this campaign, the chaotic scenes of protest and anger provided powerful images. Images that would remain with supporters, who could be proud of their efforts, and the regime, who could be anything but, throughout the summer. A final display of fight from a set of fans who had suffered so much, but had shown an unrelenting amount of determination in the face of adversity.
There even attempts from the club itself to prevent protesting, or at least make it more challenging. Following a sit-in protest staged by the West Stand gates, supporters entering the ground were met with ‘amnesty bins’ and a giant netting that stretched the length of the Covered End.
Not enough to stop the displays of banners and placards calling for Duchatelet to sell the club, and songs asking for similar. In fact, those attempts didn’t even stop the placards being scrunched up and thrown on the pitch, let alone a smoke bomb and the chaos that followed thereafter.
For this afternoon will be remembered mostly for two displays of protest which have gained cult status. The first being a pair of supporters lowing a banner which read “LIAR” above the directors’ box, with an arrow pointed in the general of Meire. As if it wasn’t clear already, supporters were no longer willing to accept her meaningless and misguided words.
The second coming as both Charlton, in protest, and Burnley, in celebration, invaded the pitch at full-time. Maybe at this point a line, and not just the white ones around the pitch, was crossed. Heavy-handed stewards playing a large part in creating unsavoury scenes, which developing into both sets of supporters chanting for Duchatelet to depart in front of the directors’ box.
But while this was occurring, a symbol of this regime was attacked, never to be seen again thereafter. The fans’ sofa destroyed, to the joy of most inside The Valley.
And with that, both the clever and quirky displays of protest and the release of genuine anger, there could be no denying that Charlton supporters hadn’t done absolutely everything possible to force change at their club in the final few months of the season.
The stubbornness of this regime meant more would be required in the remaining seven months of the calendar year, but that not to say protesting Addicks couldn’t feel a sense of pride in their efforts.
At the very least, they could laugh and smile at the ‘LIAR’ banner and the sofa being destroyed. Something they hadn’t been able to do much in SE7 in the first half of 2016.