In a year contaminated with embarrassing performances, results so poor that relegation from the Championship couldn’t be avoided and competing in League One wasn’t possible, and Roland Duchatelet continued his destruction of Charlton Athletic looking back some of the worst moments of 2016 isn’t exactly an appetising prospect.
The side pathetic, four managers failing to succeed at a crisis club, and the regime antagonising supporters at every opportunity. If there wasn’t disconnection by the end of 2015, there certainly is now.
Karel Fraeye’s management, Katrien Meire’s lies, and Duchatelet’s overall running of the Addicks among the things that have contributed to a gruesome 2016.
Two pieces to follow looking back at some of the very worst moments in a year of endless bleak moments.
As I sit writing this, almost a year after his tenure as interim-but-not-interim head coach came to an end, I still feel insulted that Karel Fraeye was allowed to lead our football club.
Not simply a pathetic head coach, employed for no other reason than that he would obey every order the regime sent his way, but a pathetic individual. To take on such a role, you must lack any sort of ambition, self-respect or character. Fraeye desperately lacking in all three qualities, let alone actual managerial qualities.
Worse was still to come, with the 5-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town that would follow three days later, before Fraeye was finally relieved of his ‘interim’ duties, but it the effort in defeat to Colchester United in the FA Cup that confirmed not even this soulless and scandalous could continue to justify the unjustifiable.
For the Addicks were completely outplayed. Not by a contemporary, but by a club who sat in League One’s bottom four, and whose forward line was led by Marvin Sordell. A Marvin Sordell that was allowed to imitate prime Darren Bent by Naby Sarr and Roger Johnson, a centre-back pairing that brings shudders when thinking about it.
The former Charlton loanne doubling the home side’s lead just before the break, adding to George Moncur’s opener. Both goals taken well, but largely the result of dreadful defending from the Addicks.
“Stand up if you’re 2-0 up” coming from the home supporters, followed by “stand up if you want them out” coming from the away end. Effectively the entire away end on their feet.
And though Reza Ghoochannejhad pulled a goal back in stoppage-time, a 2-1 defeat was incredibly flattering on Charlton, and particularly Fraeye. Embarrassing.
Embarrassment at Colchester, and a complete capitulation at Huddersfield. At least Fraeye’s reign was over, the re-appointed Jose Riga – the best of Duchatelet’s mates – offered some hope of improvement on the pitch, and the trip to Hull simply couldn’t be any worse than what had been witnessed over the previous seven days.
Alas, this beleaguered group of Addicks neither had the confidence nor quality to contend with the Tigers. Some justification for the defeat given that Hull City were second in the division, and would ultimately achieve promotion, but no justification for another complete capitulation. One that suggested not even Riga’s sense and composure could prevent relegation.
A mere 39 minutes all that was required for the hosts to have a four-goal advantage. Those wearing red and white could have been replaced by training ground manikins and no one inside the KC Stadium would have noticed.
Rhys Williams gifting the ball to Abel Hernandez for his first of three goals, an incompetent backline collectively standing off the forward for his second, and Robert Snodgrass also given all the time in the world to pick his spot for Hull’s third. A little over half an hour played.
Hernandez allowed to seal his hat-trick before the interval, with the Addicks effectively watching as a simple but skillful passing move from the Tigers ended with the Uruguayan converting from close range. Few in the away end, many of who had seen nine goals conceded in 135 minutes of football, but their boos loud enough to be heard at half-time. Anger, resentment, and a sense of resignation to relegation and failure while Duchatelet’s regime remained in control.
Those supporters would still have to witness two further strikes against their side. Mo Diame’s effort a lovely first time finish from the edge of the box, while Isaac Hayden’s deflected strike added a sixth ten minutes from time.
There have been many unbearable weeks in 2016, but the worst, most certainly when only considering on-the-pitch events, was the second full week of the year.
Incredibly, in spite of that torrid beginning to 2016, there was a degree of hope and confidence as Charlton welcomed Bristol City to The Valley.
The clash against a fellow side with fears of relegation coming after a 4-1 victory away at Rotherham United. Riga’s side performing superbly at the New York Stadium, and instilling supporters with the belief that his management would get a side with at least a degree of quality to perform on a consistent enough basis to avoid the drop.
At the very least, there every chance Riga’s side would offer considerable more fight. No more half-hearted, gutless efforts in defeat.
Alas, the defeat that followed to the Robins was very much half-hearted and gutless. A real blow for those who had seen hope restored seven days previously.
City, who had new boss Lee Johnson watching from the stands, may have only won by a single goal, but the difference was much greater than Lee Tomlin’s 21st minute strike. Richard O’Donnell completely untroubled in the visitors’ goal, the Robins in complete control of possession and first to every loose ball, and the Addicks simply not showing enough quality or character to suggest they were ever likely to get back into the game after falling behind.
Not only knocking the Addicks back down to earth and reality, but down to the bottom of the Championship.
The game against Reading features in my reflection of some of the better moments of the year, given the chance it offered to appreciate Yann Kermorgant, but despite the Covered End emotionally applauding the Frenchman after scoring for the Royals, there was still a game to win.
A game that seemed would end in defeat when Ola John gave the visitors a 3-1 lead before the break. Reading scintillating, but the Addicks absolutely woeful.
So the performance of Charlton in the second period, and in particular the efforts of hat-trick hero Yaya Sanogo, was incredible. The Arsenal loanee, who had immediately responded to Kermorgant giving the Royals a fourth minute lead with a superbly taken equaliser two minutes later, restoring a degree of faith five minutes into the second half. A fantastic Rod Fanni delivery headed home by the French forward, despite Ali Al-Habsi’s best efforts.
A commendable effort from Riga’s men in searching for the equaliser, but it appeared it would not be coming. That until Sanogo pounced on a parried Johann Berg Gudmundsson to seal his hat-trick and, seemingly, a point for the Addicks with four minutes to play. Wild celebrations around The Valley.
Alas, there still time for Charlton’s pathetic defence to capitulate once again. The point lost as a poorly defended free-kick found its way to Deniss Rakels at the far post, and the forward finished with great composure from a relatively tight angle. The scenes in the away ending joyous, and in complete contrast to the utter despair to be found around the home ends of The Valley.
A goal that summed up Charlton’s failings, and showed they neither had the character nor resolve to fight against relegation.
How do you respond to protesting supporters, expressing legitimate feelings of anger, disapproval, and disconnection? Logic suggests you would promise to make changes, or at least attempt to make some kind of connection with them in order to understand how to get those fans back on side.
Duchatelet, however, had a different idea. The best way to deal with legitimate protesters, who make up the majority of your fan base, is to insult them. Obviously.
“Some individuals seem to want the club to fail,” hilariously aimed at supporters by the man who has turned the club into a failure.
That followed by a desperate, and rather odd, attempt to justify Meire’s infamous “weird customers” effort. We’re unique, apparently, and not simply weird customers. Which is nice.
A nice foundation set for Duchatelet to continue to ignore his own wrongdoing, and persistently insult the supporters he’s attempting to win back. Weird bloke.
You can take several moments in the first half of 2016 and say that was where relegation became certain. I struggled to convince myself survival was possible following the Bristol City defeat, some would have been without hope prior to Fraeye’s sacking, and others losing faith during the spell that saw Riga’s Charlton fail to follow up impressive victories with a consecutive positive result.
But the defeat that, without mathematically condemning the Addicks to League One, confirmed for all that there would be no miracle escape was inflicted by Derby County in the 42nd league game of the campaign. Enough to mean no one would have complained had the ‘R’ prematurely appeared next to Charlton’s name in the table.
It not necessarily the most turgid performance, with the Rams placed under a degree of pressure at the start of the second period with the game still goalless. Igor Vetokele striking against the post, and Jorge Teixeira bundling a header over the line only to be penalised for pushing former Charlton goalkeeper Scott Carson as he challenged for the ball.
But once Derby had taken the lead, with Johnny Russell converting from a corner after an hour, the Addicks were beaten. Beaten and relegated. An acceptance among a deflated side, and a resignation among a Valley crowd that had suffered too much.
Enough to leave the Addicks 11 points from safety that effectively became 12 when goal difference was considered. An insurmountable gap.
Can you think of a more fitting way for Charlton’s relegation to be confirmed than by a goalless draw on a Tuesday night away at a club who had already had their drop to League One sealed? A dull, grim, and soulless final 90 minutes before fight and determination could no longer be rewarded
For stalemate against Bolton Wanderers at the Macron Stadium condemned the Addicks to the third tier. A fate that most had long been accepting of, but that not to say the confirmation didn’t bring with it sadness and despair. That, and the occasional burst of anger towards this Duchatelet-orchestrated demise.
The game a lifeless encounter between two sides with quality that made their place in the Championship table fitting, and the sort of character that meant there could be no complaints about their punishment. Neither side creating a real opportunity to break the deadlock, and Charlton seemingly willing to accept their fate.
Though those representing the Addicks not willing to approach their supporters at full-time, at a moment where doing so was the minimum expectation. Jackson, still loved and appreciated in this context of failure, leading a small group over, but many hid. Hid, as they had done all season.
There no longer any getting away from the fact Charlton were a League One club, and that Duchatelet and Meire had failed.
In many ways, the act of Riga resigning wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Duchatelet’s most trust boss with a solid regime connection, leaving to allow managers with English experiences to be appointed.
But Riga’s words upon his resignation, coming directly after the final-day defeat to Burnley, offered a reflection of the state of the club under this regime. A long-serving ally of the regime too unhappy with the way Chrlton was being wrong to continue working with the club.
The Belgian not simply resigning as a cowardly reaction to relegation, and not that he thought he was “better than League One”. But Riga suggesting he was able to work and succeed in the conditions that the regime had imposed on the club.
“You succeed in a season before the season when you have the right choices. But it’s more than just about players – it’s the club structure,” as he confirmed his decision to quit following the Burnley defeat.
The final confirmation at the end of a horrendous campaign, filled with horrendous acts by the regime and horrendous performances, that the club could hardly be in a worse state.
Katrien Meire has spent 2016 failing, lying, and insulting both the club and its supporters at any opportunity. That she remains in her position as CEO is a reflection of her pathetic character, and Duchatelet’s unwillingness to correct failure.
A reflection of her pathetic character, too, that she would pay a four-figure-sum to attend the Telegraph Business of Sport Conference, and flood the room in crocodile tears when those on stage, quite justifiably, criticised Charlton and the manner in which it is being run.
But, of course, they were wrong. The media are wrong. Charlton fans are wrong. Football followers in general are wrong.
“We’ve got the most affordable season tickets, we invest in our community, we invest in our academy,” she said from the audience.
“We spend £30m in less than two years of ownership. And yes, we got it wrong with the managers and the players, but that happens, that’s why clubs get relegated, that doesn’t mean that everything else is shit.”
Fair enough, she’s going to defend the club, because that’s her role, but it quickly became an attack on supporters.
“For the last couple of months, I’ve had extreme abuse, I’ve had criminal offences committed against myself, and I’m disappointed about governance in sport, that none of the governing bodies contacted me and stood up for the fact that things are not allowed, that’s one step too far,” said Meire, behind her expensive produced crocodile tears.
“I also ask the governing bodies in this country, that sometimes some of the fans have crossed the line, very far, and this is just acceptable. It’s been reported by the media as it’s normal and it’s actually not, and the governing bodies have a responsibility to make people aware that that is not what sport is about.”
Interesting, really, that Charlton supporters have followed the law in their protests, but Meire would rather ignore that. Rather ignore her own horrendous failings, and pretend she’s the victim.
It no wonder there’s no relationship between club and supporters.
Part Two to follow