Charlton Athletic: Shabby & Insulting
A completely superficial viewpoint on the current travails at Charlton Athletic would seem to indicate that the club isn’t in quite the dreadful state that it was a couple of months ago. A late, late goal from Jorge Teixeira managed to secure a comeback win against Birmingham City on Saturday and, whilst the club remains one place off the bottom of the Football League Championship table at present, it has at least won three and drawn one of its last five matches, a sequence of results which has breathed a degree of life into what had become a moribund season and given supporters some belief that they have a chance of avoiding relegation to League One come the end of the season.
What happens on the pitch at Charlton is, however, only part of the story of what has been a turbulent and traumatic season at The Valley. On Saturday afternoon, protesting supporters launched hundreds of stress balls onto the pitch as the latest in an ongoing series of protests levelled against the owner of the club, Roland Duchatelet. This was the latest in ongoing protests against the way in which the club is being managed in a structural sense, and to extent it feels as if – although there are no supporters who would go so far as to say that they actually want the club to get relegated at the end of this season – what happens on the pitch, protests aside, are very much taking second place in the minds of many in comparison with the team’s performances on it.
Annual financial results, released last month, were not especially encouraging. Charlton Athletic made a loss of £3.78m for the year to the end of June 2015, with match-day income falling by £1.2m, although the club did a profit of £4.4m on player sales, meaning that the year on year loss fell from the previous year’s £5.72m. The club’s overall debt to parent company Baton 2010 Ltd grew to £40.1m, and it is in this figure that the scale of the problem that those who want rid of Duchatelet may be seen most clearly. The money being put into the club by Duchatelet is in the form of loans rather than investment in a conventional sense, and those protesting against him state that, while money has been put into the stadium, the training ground and the pitch, it is under-investment in the team that has led it to its current league position.
Supporters who are against Duchatelet and those doing his bidding have coalesced around the protest group, Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet, and this group has come to find itself fighting a battle against what may be most accurately described as a steady flow of propaganda coming from the club itself. In a public statement issued in the middle of last month, Charlton released a statement which made the clearly and obviously untrue assertion that “Some individuals seem to want the club to fail” whilst adding, with the sort of weasel words that seemed designed to attempt to marginalise those calling for Duchatelet to get the hell out of their club, that, “Every football fan knows the 12th man is a crucial factor in the success on the pitch.”
There was even more reprehensible language from the club earlier this week, when a further statement – released jointly with the Metropolitan Police – sought through heavy-handed assertion to conflate an isolated incident of crowd trouble at a League Cup match against Crystal Palace earlier this season with the groundswell of protest against Duchatelet at the club. Curiously, this statement didn’t make any reference to the fact that CARD also had a meeting with the Metropolitan Police the following day. Anybody looking in on the outside could be convinced that the club is using partial and selective reporting events surrounding the club through its official website in an attempt to deliberately discredit those that are protesting against them.
CARD’s response to the club’s clearly inflammatory statement was about as wearied as we might expect. They replied with a wearied statement detailing their objections to the statement and stating that the statement is, “…a shabby and insulting attempt to cover up their complete inability to run a professional football club, which is the real reason thousands of Charlton fans have been moved to protest.” This is in response to the club saying in its statement that, “A reminder that the following is illegal and will be investigated: entering the field of play or adjacent areas (i.e. pitch invasion); the throwing of any objects in the ground; racist or homophobic chanting; carrying or using pyrotechnics inside or outside the ground,” all of which is true – it is at any football ground. However, the use of the phrase “racist or homophobic chanting” implies that this has been happening as a part of the protests, when there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that it has.
This evening, Charlton travel to Ipswich Town, with seven matches left to save their Championship season. With their goal difference being the worst in the division, the six points that the team is clear of safety is effectively seven, and the recent relative improvement in form will need to continue if it is to avoid relegation come the end of this season. so, if the support – which we might reasonably expect to include the travelling support – really is “the 12th man”, then why continue to issue these occasional and inflammatory press releases? The phrase “it is better to remain silent and considered a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” couldn’t be more appropriate than it is in the recent media campaign run by Charlton Athletic Football Club against CARD.
Football clubs do not exist in season-long bubbles that begin each August and end each May, and it will be interesting to see what the effect of the discord surrounding the club will have upon season ticket sales for next season. The club has insulted a not-inconsiderable proportion of its fan-base over the last few weeks with its press releases, and nobody knows at present whether anything like the same number of people who purchased season tickets for this season will be interested in renewing for next season, whichever division the club ends up playing in. The club, as an institution, deserves better than this, and the supporters of Charlton Athletic certainly do. The owners of the club, however, have brought this situation entirely upon themselves, and the sooner they get out of there, the better.
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