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Charlton supporters embark on fight to save club’s future

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Another Saturday, another defeat. Charlton’s loss at home to fellow strugglers Bristol City last weekend was another slap in the face for the long suffering Addicks faithful. The club, south of the River Thames in London, sit bottom of the Championship table and are four points adrift of safety. League One football seems a sad inevitability.

A club that was once the model of good footballing governance is now an outfit whose structure looks just as stable as a house of cards on a windy day.

Longtime supporters of Charlton Athletic know what it’s like to fight for their club. The fans were instrumental in helping the Addicks return to The Valley in 1992 after a seven-year struggle. However, the years in the wilderness still haunt fans who fought the good fight.

“Nothing compares to having to travel to an often sparsely-filled Selhurst Park in the 1980s because you have to factor in that football itself, which was in a bad way in England,” said Rick Everitt, founder of the Charlton fanzine the Voice of the Valley. “There seemed to be no hope of a brighter future at the time.”

Everitt, a fan of Charlton since 1969, has been an influential figure for the club launching the popular fanzine in 1988. He covered the team for the local Mercury newspaper from 1989 eventually becoming its sports editor.

Everitt was then headhunted by his beloved club in 1998, who had gained promotion to the Premier League. He was their communications director before becoming the head of club development. He spent 14-years with Charlton Athletic but unfortunately for him, he left the Addicks in less than amicable circumstances when it was run by Tony Jimenez and Michael Slater.

VoiceoftheValley

Now he looks on as the club he and so many other fans love stumble under the ownership of the Belgian, Roland Duchâtelet:

“The threat to the club’s future and identity is just as real this time – it’s just that the money at the top of the game attracts investors and could offer a way out,” he said.

Charlton’s record with recent owners hasn’t been a terribly happy one of late. Before Duchâtelet stepped in to take over, Charlton were in the hands of Jimenez and Slater. Neither Jimenez nor Slater are remembered fondly. The duo were reliant on the backing of businessman Kevin Cash. But when the London property developer decided against bankrolling the club. the situation became difficult to put it mildly. At the very least it accelerated the sale of Charlton to Duchâtelet:

“A lot of us were very pleased to be rid of Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez, whom we didn’t trust at all, but that also meant we didn’t take anything Slater said seriously,” said Everitt.

Everitt was referring to Slater’s statement about the impending takeover by Duchâtelet. Slater referred to the Belgian as possessing extensive football knowledge and the ability to develop Charlton commercially and on the pitch.

“We didn’t like the fact that Duchâtelet owned other clubs, principally Standard Liege, or what we heard from there, but we were willing to give him every chance.”

Charlton Fans1

On the face of it, Slater’s observations appeared sound. Duchâtelet owned Standard Liege (whom he has since sold), and has interests in FC Carl Zeiss Jena, Ujpest FC and AD Alorcon. Similar to the Pozzo family who own Watford, Duchâtelet had his own network of clubs to work with and recruit talent.

The Belgian businessman formally took over Charlton in January 2014. Unfortunately, for Charlton, that’s when the slide began.

Duchâtelet’s dealings immediately put him at odds with then manager Chris Powell. And the Belgian’s unfamiliarity with the rigors of the Championship put the club on the wrong foot straight away.

A rueful Everitt highlighted the key factors that made Charlton take a turn for the worse:

“The decision to sell Yann Kermorgant to Bournemouth was a hammer blow because he was an iconic figure and genuine hero to many of the fans. He was hugely important to the team, too. However, it was underpinned by the recruitment of a clutch of players who were obviously not up to the task, which in turn undermined Powell’s chances of keeping his job.

“Powell was also a hugely popular figure, so the way he was treated had a big impact on fans, even though his successor Jose Riga kept the team up. Unfortunately, Duchâtelet hasn’t been prepared to employ experienced managers and his approach to player recruitment has remained pitiful on the whole, which is why we are where we are.”

Powell was sacked in March 2014 with rumors circulating about his reluctance to heed boardroom instructions rather than poor league position being the ultimate reason he was let go. Charlton were bottom of the Championship at the time when Powell departed.

In an interview with talkSPORT, a diplomatic Powell spoke about his experience dealing with Duchâtelet. The working conditions he had to endure would have tested the patience of any manager.

Charlton Fans 2

From being such a hands-on owner, the Belgian has not been seen at The Valley in months. In his absence, the day-to-day running of Charlton Athletic has been left to the hapless Katrien Meire.

The disconnect between Meire and the Charlton fans is pronounced. The 31-year CEO labeled supporters as ‘customers’ and didn’t understand why fans had a sense of ownership of the Addicks. The most basic research would have revealed to Meire that Charlton fans fought to bring their club back to The Valley forming a political party to do so. The so-called ‘customers’ have been getting their own back through delivering choice words to the CEO with one apparently going as far as to sending a resignation letter on her behalf to Companies House, the UK’s registrar of companies, which it duly posted on its website.

“Katrien Meire is hopelessly out of her depth as a chief executive,” said Everitt “She’s probably a symptom rather than a cause of the problems afflicting Charlton, but even then she says and does so many stupid things that it’s difficult to take her seriously. You have to wonder how it can be that Duchâtelet doesn’t realise the extent to which she is making matters worse.”

Meire recently spoke with the London Evening Standard claiming to understand the fans’ frustration but urging them to accept the way Duchâtelet is running the club. Unfortunately for Meire and the rest of the Charlton board, that ship looks to have sailed a long time ago.

Everitt’s ire doesn’t end with Meire as he holds the club’s director Richard Murray just as responsible for the travails affecting Charlton:

“Murray is complicit in backing both the last two administrations when they were clearly not good for the club,” the Voice of the Valley founder stated.

Murray, who played a big role in bringing Charlton back to The Valley, has more recently been defending Duchâtelet’s ownership. Murray claimed that the hierarchy recognized that too much was done too soon, too many players not familiar with English football were brought in and that the new owners underestimated the competitiveness of the Championship.

“He’s lost a lot of respect as a result, which is a shame because he was a key player in the club’s revival after 1992. I have no idea what purpose he thinks he is serving by remaining on the board now,” Everitt continued.

‘No idea’ seems to be a fair description of how the club has been run since the dawn of the Duchâtelet era. From selling key players and bringing in sub-par replacements to changing managers like it’s going out of style to releasing a bizarre video of a couple having sex in the centre circle of The Valley in the hopes of it going viral to publicize a pitch hire scheme, the strategy is hard to fathom.  From an outsider’s point of view Duchâtelet is attempting to treat the club like a business.

“The irony is that it isn’t being run as a business,” blasts Everitt “That might be the plan, but things are done for which there is no conceivable business case, like replacing thousands of seats that have faded from bright red because they have been exposed to the sun, or marketing initiatives that cost more than the income they can ever generate. They will never make a profit because they have no idea what they are doing – and it’s very, very difficult in the Football League anyway”.

On the pitch, the players are being left to carry the weight, and Everitt points out that the younger members of the Charlton squad are shouldering an unfair burden. Six academy players have made their first team debut this season with the latest being the 17-year old striker Josh Umerah who came on when Charlton were trailing 5-0 to Hull City. The likes of Morgan Fox and Jordan Cousins, 22 and 21 respectively, have had to fill the void with Everitt fearing that they and the other young talent have already been “exposed too early and too often” due to the lack of squad depth at Charlton.

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