A positive appointment, and some positive signings
There was really only one way Roland Duchatelet’s regime could respond to the scenes of protest seen throughout the first half of 2016. By selling the club.
But with the stubborn and club-ruining owner seemingly in no mood to budge, there was at least no way this ownership could continue to follow a strategy of failure. The only change that would be accepted would be a complete one in the boardroom, but while they remained there was simply no excuse for not making changes to their ways.
And so the appointment of a manager with a wealth of experience in English football, and the recruitment of several players who had already proven their worth in the British leagues, was pleasing.
Former Brighton and Hove Albion, Leyton Orient and Cardiff City boss Russell Slade handed the reigns, and allowed to make signings that didn’t have some sort of loose connection to Duchatelet. Winger Ricky Holmes arrived having guided Northampton Town to promotion from League Two, striker Nicky Ajose signed having scored 24 League One goals for Swindon Town in the previous season, and experienced forward Lee Novak snapped up after impressing while on loan at Chesterfield from Birmingham City.
Declan Rudd, a young goalkeeper who had Premier League appearances to his name, was recruited on loan from Norwich City, Jason Pearce, having won promotion with Wigan Athletic, bolstered the backline, and Northern Ireland international Josh Magennis, signed from Scottish club Kilmarnock, threatened to be the physical presence in attack the Addicks have been without seen Yann Kermorgant was disgracefully sold.
Experienced duo Andrew Crofts and Kevin Foley handed contracts after trials, Fredrik Ulvestad (Burnley) and Jordan Botaka (Leeds) signed on loan, and Adam Chicksen joining late on after the rather odd departure of Tareiq Holmes-Dennis.
Plenty of harmful sales amid those incomings, and the squad lacking in depth, but there was a degree of reassurance provided by having a knowledgeable boss, unconnected to the regime, who had recruited a number of players who stood to be among the best in the third tier.
Better times ahead? Few believing that was truly possible while this regime remained, but there at least a very good chance the Addicks would be competitive on the pitch.
A positive appointment there might have been, and some positive signings made, but Charlton’s start to the 2016/17 season was anything but positive.
A tame defeat at Bury, made considerably less enjoyable by Roger Johnson telling supporters to fuck off, followed by a League Cup exit to League Two Cheltenham Town. Results that forced those who had been willing to give Slade’s side their full attention, and as such temporarily withdraw their protesting efforts, grow quickly concerned. A start like this simply couldn’t be afforded with the club in such a fragile state.
So when Alex Revell gave Northampton Town the lead 16 minutes into Charlton’s first home game of the season, complete crisis loomed. Slade’s side booed off at half-time, and it seemed there would be no improvement on the pitch to mask the regime’s faults. Same old, same old.
The Addicks needed inspiring. Desperately. And in these sorts of moments, there no figure more capable of inspiring than the long-serving skipper.
Johnnie Jackson converting coolly in front of the Covered End, scoring Charlton’s first goal of the season, and celebrating in familiar celebration. His knee slide uniting a frustrated set of supporters in celebration. The Valley given a new sense of belief by their captain.
And while Slade’s side would have to settle for a point, the boost that Jackson provided felt like a catalyst. A foundation for success under the new boss.
If nothing else, after such a torrid start, to celebrate a Jackson goal again was a pleasure. The connection between skipper and supporters something that remains as strong as ever despite the state of the club.
The sense that Jackson’s Northampton equaliser may have laid some sort of foundation was reaffirmed just three days later, as the most-highly anticipated signing of Slade’s summer additions took full advantage of the base that had been set.
For Holmes, and Charlton as a collective, were rampant in their first-half destruction of Shrewsbury Town. The Addicks needing just 31 minutes to take an unassailable three-goal lead, with the former Northampton winger taking much of the credit.
The game being contested in relatively even fashion before Holmes struck in spectacular fashion with 22 minutes played. Cutting in from the left, and lashing an effort well beyond the reaches of goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler.
And that Holmes’ strike had set the definitive tone of the game was confirmed just two minutes later, as Jackson doubled Charlton’s advantage. The skipper bundling the ball over the line, and giving The Valley crowd a second trademark knee slide in the space of three days.
But arguably the most spectacular moment was yet to come, as Holmes scored directly from a corner. Intended or not, it took little away from the skill involved in curling the ball in such a manner that it beat Leutwiler and nestled into the far corner of the goal.
The intensity may have dropped in the second period, as Charlton retained possession without looking nearly as threatening as they did during the first half, but it mattered little. Supporters leaving The Valley wowed by the ruthless, attacking efforts they had seen from their side.
Supporters wowed by a new hero, and seemingly wowed by a side that had the potential to perform.
Though the win over Shrewsbury was one born out of scintillating attacking play, this wasn’t exactly the style of football promised when Slade was appointed. The boss building a reputation for creating solid, determined and hard-working sides that fought tirelessly for their victories.
And a victory of that nature would be secured at the Bescot four days later, with Slade’s side digging deep to come away from the Midlands with a 2-1 win. A result that sat in a precarious position throughout much of the afternoon.
Walsall would have taken the lead midway through the first half were it not for a sensational double save from Declan Rudd, but instead it was Charlton who held the advantage at the break. Magennis heading a Holmes’ delivery goalwards, Ajose getting his head in the way, and diverting the ball beyond Neil Etheridge. Ajose’s first goal for his new club.
And though such a lead would not have been possible without both a determined effort from the backline and Rudd behind them, both could be questioned as the hosts found an equaliser during the second period. Too much time and space afforded to Kieron Morris, and Rudd’s attempt to keep his strike out tame.
But Charlton’s advantage, despite the real possibility that momentum would turn Walsall’s way, was restored just two minutes later. Magennis’ ball across the face of goal just about bundled in by Ajose. Just about.
16 minutes still remaining, however, in which Slade’s side would be asked serious questions. The defensive effort gritty, but not quite flawless. Two excellent saves from Rudd required for the Addicks to be able to celebrate their first away win of the season, and their first back-to-back victories since November 2015.
Ultimately, this was a day more memorable for myself for other sporting reasons. The visit to the Bescot sandwiched between two trips to Edgbaston to support the eventual T20 Blast champions. Unfancied Northamptonshire winning a trophy a touch more meaningful and emotional than a single Charlton victory.
But that takes nothing away from the effort shown by the Addicks at Walsall, which was the perfect filling to an excellent day. Though I’m not sure I’ve had any sort of energy since.
This not the most fluent Charlton performance you’ll ever seen, and possibly not the most deserved equaliser, but Ademola Lookman’s late leveller against Bolton Wanderers at the end of August felt important.
And not simply because a theoretical promotion rival were prevented from leaving The Valley with three points. An excellent 90th-minute finish from Lookman, firing clinically beyond Mark Howard, cancelling out Gary Madine’s eight minutes into the second period.
The goal itself a moment of quality from a talented teenager, but to score so late, and so unexpectedly, against strong opposition offered a collective showing of determination, character and fight. Qualities that had been absent from Charlton sides in the previous campaign. An increase to the belief that the Addicks had the mentality capacity needed to challenge for promotion.
At the very least, Slade was desperate to make it seem important. The boss gathering his side in a circle at full-time, before they came over to applaud the Covered End as a collective.
On one hand, an attempt to make a rather lacklustre performance and fortunate point seem more impressive, but on the other a clever piece of management that attempted to show the togetherness and collective strength of this group of Addicks.
An enforced international break following, and both Lookman’s leveller and Slade’s creation of togetherness leaving positive images in the minds of most supporters.
Throughout this season, the regime have attempted to push the notions of change, learning from mistakes, and communication. All very desperate, all very flawed, all doing a very good job of managing to make the situation even worse.
Managers sacked after it had been suggested they were the future of the club a week earlier. An understocked squad failing to deliver on a consistent basis. Supporters still insulted on a regular basis.
A connection between supporters and regime being reconstructed impossible given their previous faults, let alone when the same mistakes are being made and the same attitude is being deployed. Duchatelet’s ownership continuing to destroy the club and drive fans away.
So the idea that a meeting between CARD and Meire would resolve the differences between the two parties was an incredibly naive one. A PR company undoubtedly believing that Meire should make an offer to meet, and that the two parties could reach a common ground.
CARD, however, are anything but naive. Their response to this offer considered, intelligent, and reflecting the views of the vast majority of Charlton supporters.
The mistakes made by the regime retold, Meire reminded of the regime’s constant rejection of meetings with supporter groups, and complete supporter disillusionment reaffirmed. The conclusion being that the only possible action was for the club to be sold and the regime to depart.
A perfectly constructed response, that supporters could unite behind. Fighting against the regime the only way supporters could reengage with their club, and having the leading protest group put across that message was reassuring.
Another afternoon in SE7 where an emphatic and well-organised protest against the regime was followed by an emphatic and motivated victory against the opposition.
Coventry City supporters arriving at The Valley with similar levels of anger towards their failings ownership, and a protest march involving both sets of fans seeing the messages of both Addicks and Sky Blues reinforced. That Duchatelet and SISU must sell.
Charlton Church Lane and Floyd Road overwhelmed with supporters from both sides before kick-off, and the familiar voice of Dave Lockwood, before heading to the usual protesting position behind the West Stand. Supporters of the Addicks holding “SISU OUT” placards, Coventry supporters with “ROLAND OUT” placards, and the giant Duchatelet balloon floating above them as they made their feelings clear.
Their combined efforts not yet over, however, as the start of the match was interrupted by toy pigs being thrown on the pitch from all sides of the ground. The chanting against both regimes as pigs continued to fall vocal, powerful, and certain. A scene that no one, not least Katrien Meire, could ignore.
Nor could it be ignored how the home supporters immediately offered their support to their side once the game properly got underway. Rewarded as Holmes, capitalising on some poor Coventry defending, took down an Ulvestad lofted pass and converted coolly with 32 minutes played.
And while the visitors applied a reasonable amount of forward pressure during the second period, their fragile defence was always likely to be exposed again. Jordan Turnbull taking far too long on the ball, Magennis robbing him of possession, and passing across the face of goal for Lookman to finish with ease. Victory sealed with 12 minutes remaining.
But there remained time for Magennis, marvellous throughout the 90 minutes, to add a third. Ulvestad’s ball over the top superb, the Northern Ireland international taking a touch that beat Sam Ricketts, and his resulting finish emphatic. An impressive three-goal victory for the Addicks.
Though, of course, the real victory for both sides will come when there is change at the top of their clubs. Joy in the result, and pride in the protests.
Nicky Ajose’s stoppage-time leveller from the penalty spot may have salvaged a point at Priestfield, but it didn’t salvage much pride. The Addicks woeful against Gillingham, and incredibly fortunate to come away from Kent with anything.
But not only did the side come away with a point, their supporters came away having found a new and creative to make their point.
A plane carrying a banner which read “DUCHATELET & MEIRE #TIMETOFLY” circling the ground before and just after kick-off, much to the delight of the visiting Addicks.
It apparently coming from a single donation, and the impact it had doubled by its surprise factor. This not a pre-announced protest.
The message clear for all, not least Meire in the Priestfield’s directors’ box, to see.
Free speech day at The Valley it might have been, with numerous banners depicting anti-regime messages, but actual speech was minimal.
Charlton’s tame and toothless performance against Chesterfield failing to inspire an already apathetic crowd. The visitors showing the sort of quality that reflected the relegation battlers they are, but the Addicks offering little attacking intent whatsoever. Silence interrupted by groans, and half-time boos.
And though there was much greater forward intensity in the second period, with Holmes regularly bombing down the left flank, cutting edge and potency was still lacking. Frustration and disappointment filling a less than enthused Valley.
An underwhelming draw looming, for which Slade and his side could not escape criticism. The performance poor, and the cautious mentality even worse.
So it was sheer relief that fuelled the celebrations among those in the Covered End as Novak rose highest and turned home Holmes’ delivery with four minutes to play. Charlton, despite their poor performance, unquestionably the better side and earning a victory that was not undeserved, but there still no doubt that this was a moment of good fortune in the overall context of the game.
Those in red desperate to prove that, in taking a lead that would ultimately give them victory, they had shown their quality and worth. Novak pointing his ear towards the home end, and Crofts role in the celebrations very much an attempt to prove a point.
To be perfectly honest, the goal had not achieved that. This performance still desperately underwhelming, and worryingly poor. To ignore the need to improve would have been naive.
But that taking little away from the relief and joy that was felt as Novak’s header made the net ripple. A release of frustration and anger, in the form of celebration and delight.
Ruining Roland’s birthday (12/11/2016-15/11/2016)
As a Charlton side, depleted due to international call-ups, were being mauled by Swindon Town live on Sky Sports, Duchatelet was sat having a spot of lunch in a Belgian restaurant. The owner, who apparently watches every single game via live stream, taking no interest in events at the County Ground.
A shame for Duchatelet, therefore, that a group of Charlton supporters were to be found outside the window of the restaurant, and able to unearth his lie.
The beginning of a week where the protesting efforts would be taken to Belgium. The owner still yet to attend a game since October 2014, so it seems only fair to pay Duchatelet a visit in his home nation.
A group of protesters setting off for mainland Europe with a wonderfully decorated taxi for company. Spreading the message of the damage the regime has done to the Addicks around important Duchatelet-linked locations and organisations, while also taking some gifts for his 70th birthday.
For the visit coincided with his birthday, and he wasn’t best pleased that it did, the poor thing. Duchatelet “very upset” that the protesters came over on his special day, before calling them “actors” and suggesting they were ex-club employees who couldn’t handle a woman being the club’s CEO. Hilariously incorrect.
Toys thrown out the pram further with Slade sacked, despite Meire offering the boss her full support days earlier, while the trip of Belgium was taking place.
Duchatelet once again ignoring the extent of the hatred among his customers, and the damage he has inflicted upon this club. The regime once again exposed as failing and flawed. Charlton supporters once again shown as marvellous and determined characters.
The entire protesting effort in Belgium an excellent piece of work, that deserves endless amount of praise.
Amid the chaos caused by Slade’s sacking, the side that Kevin Nugent inherited earned a victory as impressive as anything managed throughout the entirety of 2016.
With Karl Robinson, set to be appointed as manager, watching on from the stands, the Addicks recorded an incredible 5-1 win at the Memorial Stadium. Play-off chasing Bristol Rovers blown away by Charlton’s complete performance.
The complete nature of this effort reaffirmed by the fact defensive resolve was required after Ademola Lookman’s deflected effort had given the visitors the advantage midway through the first half. Young goalkeeper Dillon Phillips making several important saves before the sublime Magennis turned in Adam Chicksen’s ball across the face of goal on the stroke of half-time.
Charlton’s lead made unassailable five minutes into the second half, as Patrick Bauer emphatically headed home from Lookman’s corner, while an injury to Bristol’s Jake Clarke-Salter left the home side, who had already made three changes, with ten men.
No one would have criticised the Addicks for settling on such an advantage, and completing the rest of the game at half-pace. But they remained rampant, with Chicksen’s deflected effort giving him his first goal for the club, while a classy finish from Ajose gave the visitors a fifth. Unbelievable.
And though Rory Gaffney was hauled down by Phillips inside the Charlton box, with Matty Taylor stepping up to the convert the resulting penalty, in stoppage-time, it neither tainted the performance, the result, nor the joy in the away end.
A simply spectacular night. An antidote the chaos and suffering the club so often provides.
A moment specifically for me, but one that, given the responses myself and the skipper received, appeared to be enjoyed and appreciated by all Charlton supporters.
Johnnie Jackson, a figure that represents “our” Charlton in a time where connection is lacking, going out of his way to deliver a shirt to me in response to a post I wrote about how I’m feeling. No suggestion that he should do it, no PR company getting involved, merely a hero doing something to reaffirm his status.
The message on the shirt fantastic, and makes me emotional each time I read it. My hero appreciates and values me, at a time when I struggle to appreciate and value myself.
But it the gesture itself that stands out above anything else. He didn’t need to do anything, he didn’t even need to read it.
Instead, he’s taken the time to write the meaningful and personal message on the shirt, and have it sent to my home address. The moment when I opened the package and saw the shirt for the first time will live with me forever. A moment of joy for someone who has done little but suffer this year.
I think I’ve just about stopped crying now. Although I’m on the verge of starting again having written this. I can’t do justice to how much this means to me.
As the game entered its final few minutes at Roots Hall, it appeared as if Charlton were to end 2016 in a manner befitting of their worst year in their recent history. A 22nd defeat of the calendar year, and a slip to eight points off the top six.
For Southend United led 1-0, owing to a 24th minute strike from Simon Cox. The forward taking advantage of some generous Charlton defending to turn inside the box and finish clinically.
So too had the Shrimpers created more than enough openings to kill the game off. Wastefulness and, more importantly, Dillon Phillips the two factors preventing Phil Brown’s side from already having sealed victory.
But there was an element of fight in this group of Addicks, who had improved upon their first half efforts after the interval. While Southend threatened at the other end, there were openings for the visitors, and Ted Smith had to make several impressive saves in the home goal. If nothing else, the class of full debutant Joy Aribo giving Robinson’s side some quality going forward.
So the relief and joy when Aribo’s 89th minute delivery picked out Andrew Crofts, and the midfielder converted via the crossbar, was immeasurable. Great scenes of celebration, both on the pitch and in the away end, as the Addicks stole a point that they had worked hard for, but didn’t appear to be getting.
A base from which to build upon going into 2017? Probably not, we’ve been here too many times before, and the gap between the Addicks and the top six is still a rather large six points. But it was a bloody enjoyable moment to end a disastrous year on all the same.