August 07, 2017

Charlton Athletic: 25 years

Today I stopped in at the Valley, home of my football love of my life, Charlton Athletic.

Regular readers to these pages and to my twitter feed will know I have not been happy at the Valley for the last few seasons, for a variety of reasons, not least the owner and his cohorts.

For the first time in twenty four years last season, I elected to not buy a season ticket and thus went only very occasionally, mostly when there were protests organised by C.A.R.D. (the group protesting the owners).

I've been encouraged by friends and by family to try and get more information on the overall situation, and I spoke to a few employees off the record today, a few of which were brave enough to venture their views and give an alternative to that printed in outlets such as Voice of the Valley.

For the record, I am trying to look at this with my old ombudsman's hat on. I want to be better informed, and I want to be balanced in my views on this. I accept we're at a stage where some views have hardened on all sides, but that does not in my opinion preclude a change in approach if that is what is required.

Some of the employees pointed out to me, rightly, that they are not normally allowed a voice. They have to remain silent on many issues.

This has not happened during Roland's ownership of the club, and it has meant that many of the long term staff are finally getting some stability in their lives which they did not have before.

Another point of view put to me was on Katrien Miere. Readers here and on Twitter will be well aware of my personal views on Miere. However it was pointed out to me that much of what Miere does do for the club is not published - and in fairness I agree that much of what is written in the press is only the negative side of the Katrien Miere story. 

One long term employee stated to me that Miere spends a lot of time with the youth teams, watching their matches and encouraging them. She ventured that actually, there's a lot of love for the club there and its youth development, and much of the work that goes unseen is in developing this and the training ground. She also cited much of the contracts for the daily running of the club and its merchandise which never gets mentioned as part of her overall work. 

There's a clear disconnect between many parts of the Charlton Athletic family at present. The employees I spoke to felt that the protests (which I have been a part of) were not helping in many ways, particularly one occasion which I was not aware of in the club shop where stink bombs and other items were let off, making life a lot more difficult for those running the shop. 

That's clearly unacceptable if the main aim is peaceful protests, and I hope C.A.R.D. amongst others can take note of this and make sure that anyone protesting under their banner in future will not conduct acts such as this (and I accept, in fairness that I have only one side of this story and that C.A.R.D. members or supporters may not have been involved, but that this was the inference I had).

The atmosphere on Saturday was electric. I know - I was there. The employees I spoke to felt that the protests had had a very detrimental effect on the team last season. One employee was again brave enough to tell me that he had spoken to two players of the main team who were very clearly shaken and affected by the protests last year.

One thing we all agreed on was that everyone across the spectrum wants Charlton Athletic to succeed, otherwise we wouldn't be here. 

I myself have felt the protests have been necessary, and whilst I would disagree with one employee's assertion that they have had no effect on the club (and I would cite manager, player and network influence as several ways the protests have had a positive effect) I can absolutely accept that there has been a lot of collateral damage in the way the protests have gone forward. 

So what is the solution? Is there one?

For me, I feel that I will never be happy with Roland's ownership. However I can learn to live with it and actively support the parts of it that will keep our Charlton above water and push for greater things. 

From my conversations today I think there is a whole other side to this debate. Perhaps we on the protesting side have been very vocal and not been as open to debate and more information as we could have been. I think I have been guilty of that (which is unusual for me given my career choices) and in that respect I feel there are some things I can put my hands up on and say "sorry" for.

On that note, I do need to apologise to Tony Watt. I got hugely frustrated when he didn't chase down a number of balls and - whilst not being abusive - I did call him out loudly on this. 

So Tony - sincerely - my apologies. You were following orders and that's fair. 

(But please do something about your shin pads!)

In conclusion, I think it's fair to say that this could be a positive new era for the club. I am not, I hasten to add, calling on C.A.R.D. to disband or anyone to start condemning protestors of the regime. 

Far from it.

What I am saying, is that on this occasion, given the circumstances, perhaps we need to take a step back, and get back behind the team in the ground once more. We're all here for a common goal - the success and future of Charlton Athletic Football Club. So perhaps C.A.R.D. - and myself included in that - can look at a positive protest. Let's be more balanced, and lets be fairer in our criticism.

We're still here - we're still watching - and we'll still hold the regime to account when they go wrong. But let's bring it back to the stands, to the cheering, to singing Valley Floyd Road, and going mental when the lads score a goal.

Last Saturday was the first time in four years that I felt I was watching my childhood club again. The combination of the passionate manager, some great moves in the transfer window, and the stunning Fosu - he's one for the future - really convinced me that the club is heading in a good direction again.

Let's get behind the boys, and make some noise once more.

After all, in this the club's 25th year back at the Valley - and my 25th season supporting it - we need to be united now more than ever.

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