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An Empty Valley

There is an image of a near-empty Valley that has stayed strong in mind for almost 13 years. A positive, powerful image that I would never wish to forget. An image from my first visit to SE7 in 2004.

Entering the ground early for a Premier League game against Aston Villa, a much younger version of myself was overwhelmed by Charlton Athletic’s home. The floodlights just coming into effect on this late August evening, and The Valley glimmering in beautiful fashion under an orange-tinted sky. It an incredible arena, and I would soon learn that it possessed bundles of character and charm.

My naivety meant I made this relatively average ground by top flight standards into an aesthetically pleasing coliseum. At least without spectators inside, The Valley has never looked so wonderful inside my own mind.

But in competition with this moment of beauty from my first to The Valley comes a moment of joy. A moment of joy experienced as one of a near-capacity ground for this midweek fixture. And as one of a near-capacity Covered End.

Francis Jeffers, scoring 66.6% of his Charlton goals in the process, had converted twice during the first half, so Luke Young’s third just before the hour wasn’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things. Villa a bit of a shambles, and the Addicks comfortably in control.

But Young’s finish from close range, followed by a Shearer-esq raising of the arm in celebration, was the first goal scored in front of the Covered End while I occupied it. An incredible roar, which nine-year-old me attempted to contribute to, from Charlton’s packed and most partisan stand, that confirmed by dad dragging me along to SE7 had ended in success. I was now an Addick.

Those images from my first Charlton game in some contrast to my latest.

Arriving inside The Valley around an hour before the original kick-off, there barely a fellow Addick inside the ground. An empty Valley, that would barely fill. If that not the bleak picture, then the one as the game got underway most certainly it.

The official attendance suggesting just over 9,000, but the reality appears to be something more like 5,500. An unbelievably low attendance. Or at least it would be if attendances like this aren’t to be expected in the environment that Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have created.

Supporters feeling distant, detached, and unable to attend. And for the majority that do attend, there is still detachment and apathy. The horrible echoey atmosphere heard again on Tuesday night, reflecting a group of supporters who are struggling to care. An atmosphere of apathy heard plenty of times since Duchatelet has taken control of the club.

And even when Tony Watt converted his winning penalty, the atmosphere that followed was hardly one that will be remembered forevermore. Relief and a degree of joy, undoubtedly, as the Addicks finally ended their winless run, but even in those emotions there was a reasonable amount of apathy and detachment. Appreciation of the moment, and a moment that all enjoyed, but a half-empty Covered End unable to create a memorable moment of celebration.

Of course, you can look at other factors that contributed to The Valley being near-empty on Tuesday night. The travel issues that delayed the game possibly preventing some from attending, the fact it was a rearranged fixture, and the quality of this Charlton side that were eight without a win going into the game.

But the emptiness of The Valley has provided sadness throughout the season, irrespective of the circumstances. A similar attendance for the previous Tuesday night fixture against Oxford United, and even more obvious apathy, while Football for a Fiver has failed to attract crowds.

This isn’t the first time The Valley has been empty in my time as a supporter. Not the first time there has been a side that supporters have struggled to trust. Not the first time echoes have gone around the ground, single shouts can be heard clearly, and the atmosphere depressing.

But it’s never been like this. Never has there been such a level of detachment, apathy and sadness displayed through the medium of empty seats. Never have so many committed Addicks not been in attendance.

It would be unfair to properly scrutinise this with a comparison to the Premier League era, though it does provide the most dramatic evidence of decline. Comparisons with other League One seasons, the seasons in the Championship prior to Duchatelet taking control of the club, and the seasons prior to this one while the Belgian has owned Charlton.

So let’s take a similar fixture from a Tuesday night fixture from the 2010/11 season in League One, which was also an emphatic failure. The Addicks hosting Southampton following a run of eight games without a victory, with little to play for but pride, and having suffered the infamous defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge three days earlier. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Franck Nouble started.

But 16,000 were in attendance at The Valley on that Tuesday night. There was genuine encouragement and something of an atmosphere as the Addicks showed improvement in the second period against a side set for promotion. An 86th minute equaliser from Bradley Wright-Phillips celebrated with real gusto.

Charlton supporters beaten and bruised by their side’s efforts in the previous weeks, but The Valley crowd able to create a positive moment. The club failing, but the soul and identity of the club still there.

We could look, too, at a packed Valley celebrating promotion to the Championship at the end of 2011/12 campaign, after a season of unrelenting success.

(Photo: @missvalleyfloyd)

Or at a crowd just shy of 16,000 singing Chris Powell’s name for the majority of the period in which the Addicks found themselves two goals down against Cardiff City in 2012. They were rewarded with a remarkable comeback, and an incredible 5-4 victory. A special Valley night.

Or the Covered End completely losing themselves as Johnnie Jackson scored a last-minute winner against QPR in 2014, right at the start of Duchatelet’s reign and during a period where Powell was under immense pressure. A special Valley moment.

Comebacks and last minute winners since. Dorian Dervite and Jorge Teixeira heading late winners against Bournemouth and Birmingham respectively among them. Where The Valley has celebrated, and moments have been formed that stay in your mind.

But they few and far between, as attendances have dropped and apathy has risen while Duchatelet has controlled the club. The Valley losing its charm, its character and its identity. Even if you want to suggest it’s not a result of Duchatelet’s destruction of the club, it’s a result of his failure.

The empty, almost soulless Valley, one of the most painful symptoms of this disease. And not just because of how deflating visits to SE7 now are, particularly under lights. The current atmosphere, and the amount of empty seats, at The Valley really does break your heart.

Supporters who have followed the Addicks for many years no longer in attendance, unable to support their club while this regime remains. Call it boycotting, call it turning their back on the club, call it detachment. Whatever it is, that’s the real tragedy.

Some will suggest they’re not proper fans, despite evidence showing quite the opposite, but most will support their decision and feel the sadness and sympathy I do. Deeply upsetting that they feel they can’t attend. That the regime have done this to them.

And you worry, will they ever return? Will they return once there is change? They’ll have found other things to do with their Saturdays, and winning them back even with a new ownership might not be straightforward for all.

And if they don’t return, will their sons and daughters grow up without Charlton? Will this generation of Charlton fans ever be healed of the disease they have been inflicted with, and will the next be able to support a club in a healthy state? Will there ever be a packed, bouncing Valley again?

It, more than protest and more than failure, is the one thing Duchatelet and Meire can’t ignore. It’s right there in front of them, or at least it is Meire, and the damage is theirs. Still, they blindly ignore it.

There will be a packed and bouncing Valley once again. When this regime sells.

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13 Comments

  1. Steve says:

    Hats off to Rick everett’s hate campaign and all its lemmings – they must have been delighted with the success of the boycott on Tuesday night. I’m sure the manager and the team were super appreciative also.
    Crack on lads and force the owners arm to sell, if you think this club is a going concern though I’m afraid your sadly mistaken.
    Forget the 100 years of history, forget the support to the community, forget what this club means to so many of us because there isn’t a benevolent supporter with a spare £50/100m to underwrite losses and pour down the drain chasing a dream. There are however plenty of speculative property developers willing to turn a huge profit on prime residential real estate.
    Don’t worry though, I’m sure that the owners sentiment for the club and warmth for its (absent) fan base would never allow him to consider such an option.

    • Kyle Andrews says:

      So what do you suggest we as supporters do? Sit and accept the downfall of our club, I assume? Also, given that I write for VOTV and am very appreciative of Rick Everitt, your silly suggestion that he runs a hate campaign isn’t welcomed here.

      • Steve says:

        Sit back and accept, heavens no, crack on with the hate campaign of the disgruntled ex-employee, encourage the boycott and get our deposits ready for the affordable housing that’ll soon be appearing on a certain corner on SE7 – way to go lads
        When I started supporting Charlton in the 70s I’m sure it wasn’t for Michael Glikstein

      • Kyle Andrews says:

        This “hate campaign”, as you call it, is born out of the majority of Charlton supporters opposing Duchatelet’s running of the club. Whether that be as a result of failure, a destruction of identity, or fears for the future. A fear for the future might well be the long-term position of The Valley. But how do you come to the conclusion that supporters opposing such worries over the future of the club is to blame for those worries existing? Your argument makes no sense whatsoever.

  2. Easy Stand George says:

    Steve is a troll. No other way to rationale his nonsense argument. I get that there are people who don’t like the protests, but they would be wrong to conclude we should do nothing in opposition of Roland and Meire.

    I would suggest you don’t waste your time trying to debate with Steve. He’s a fool.

    Thank you for your valued blog. Reading it help me understand how I’m feeling, but I’m unable to articulate it like you do. We will win this battle.

  3. Steve says:

    You’ve completely missed the point but hardly surprising since you’re in the pocket of the chief hate instigator.
    Of course the supporters aren’t to blame, how could they be, unless I missed their input into managerial selections, player recruitment, misguided PR etc etc, but are the absent armchair army and those that encourage the boycott exacerbating the problem – damn right they are.
    You’re either part of something for the long haul or you’re not.
    And btw if you don’t think it’s hate, tune in to what’s being shouted on the terraces or maybe that’s just my sense of common devency

    • Steve says:

      I don’t mean to get on your case and I hope there will be a packed and bouncing valley when the regime sells but I just don’t get what you’re basing that assertion on – who do you think is going to buy??? Do I hear the sound of tumbleweed or was it Taylor wimpey

      • Kyle Andrews says:

        Peter Varney’s group, for starters. Will be interested parties for footballing reasons once Duchatelet actually puts the club up for sale. The idea that it’s Duchatelet or no Valley is a bit of an odd one.

    • Kyle Andrews says:

      I’m in no one’s pocket, but thank you for being so wonderfully patronising. I evidently haven’t, as you’ve gone on to criticise those that currently don’t attend. Why should supporters be robots, turning up each week and paying money for something they either no longer enjoy or something they’ve lost love with? People don’t want to have those views, and people don’t want to boycott, but they’re forced to by the nature of the situation. And yeah, I do hate the regime, and I use words of hate against them, because they’ve destroyed something I once had a very strong attachment to and now feel distant from. Why wouldn’t those against the regime hate it? CARD and other such protest groups mirror similar feelings. Their actions, however, are that of well constructed and considered protesters. Not a hate campaign, but a campaign to move the club into safer hands.

  4. Ed says:

    Except there were two interested parties last year, including one fronted by Varney (ie credible). Furthermore, in the process of rejecting those advances Roland stated that he is constantly hearing from interested parties but “the club is not for sale”. So that’s your argument finished with Steve.

    We should encourage Roland to put us up for sale – his incompetence would not be accepted in any other facet of life.

  5. Mark says:

    Steve, this Lemming has supported Charlton for 55 years. I now live 140 miles away but still get to visit the Valley about once a month, paying £100 out of my pension for the privilege for train ticket, match ticket, couple of pints & lunch plus 12 hours of my life.
    I have lived through the Gliksten/Hulyer years including the exile to Scumhurst Park & the Bolyn ground. I travelled to every away game in the late 60’s/70’s on the Lewis coaches.
    I am Charlton through and through – but I can no longer support MY club which is being destroyed by the regime.
    I can no longer support my club that is being run by a rank amateur CEO and an owner who can’t be a**ed to visit ‘his’ club and watch matches in person. We are the play-thing of a millionaire idiot, who thinks that I am a “vinegar pisser” and a disgruntled ex-employee!
    I can no longer bear to waste so much time and effort to watch what is now on show at the Valley. I cannot watch a club that has so little ambition that thinks that it is an ‘honour’ to be able to watch great young players for a season or two before they are sold off to a premier league club whilst the transfer fees are converted into Euros and shipped back over to a Belgian bank.
    I am not, and never will be, a ‘customer’ – I am a supporter, a very loyal one, but whose loyalty and patience has been tested to the limit.

    Those are the reasons why this Lemming no longer visits the Valley regularly – I have seen bad teams play in red before through a lack of investment, but at least there was always hope.
    Under this regime there is no hope – no hope of MY club ever rising out of the dross of division 1, indeed I will be surprised if we avoid the drop to division 2 this season – and if we do then the trapdoor will be threatening next season.
    I have seen what can happen to clubs such as Pompey, Luton, Torquay et al. Believe me, it breaks my heart to see what is happening to MY club…but there is little I can do other than to protest by adding my absence to those of the thousands of others who feel as I do.

    As soon as this regime scuttles back off to Belgian I will return to the Valley because if the club is sold to the right people then there will be hope…. at the moment there is no hope at the Valley. I just hope that the club are still in division 1 at the very least, but I fear that they will probably not be.
    I raise my hat to those who protest and who went to Belgium last Saturday to try to bring home to Duchatelet just what he is doing to MY club.

    Charlton will always be MY club and during my absence I will not go to watch any other professional team. In fact, I am becoming disillusioned with all professional football – there is far too much money in the Premier league and far to little loyalty shown to supporters, players and managers. I curse Murdoch and his Sky billions because they have ruined the game that I love..

    This Lemming misses the walk down Floyd Road more than you can ever imagine….. but I just cannot bring myself to do so again until this regime has gone and there is something worth watching halfway along Floyd Road.
    Meanwhile Rick Everett and all the other lemmings have my full support. I’m afraid that after 55 years I feel that I no longer have the fight (or the resources) left in me that they clearly have themselves.

    • Richard says:

      Well said Mark. I’m sad about your words but you write them well. They echo the views of many. Hopefully Roland will get fed up with us and sell before it’s too late.

  6. Curious Addick says:

    It’s not exactly comforting, but clearly Steve’s extreme viewpoint is in the minority (so much so, I don’t know anyone who shares his opinion on this, thankfully). Not that I’d expect him to reflect on such a ridiculous argument as he’s clearly got the same stubborn, blinkered, insular views as our owner and his hapless CEO.

    Oh, by the way, Steve, I’m also a Lemming (of 28yrs) and CARD and the Belgium 20 etc have my full support also.

    I wonder how old you are, Steve? I wonder if you remember the Selhurst Park days when the Valley lay in disrepute? I wonder if you would have been of the opinion that we should have just turned up and channelled our energies to support the team only back then rather than fight for the club?

    I will look forward to your clever and witty answer with bated breathe.

    Anyway, well done Kyle. You’ve provided people with an outlet to understand how they’re feeling. Thank you.

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