Monday, 27 March 2017

Will anyone actually renew?

Voice of the Valley has revealed season ticket prices and, as expected, it's another failure to seize the initiative and they have also managed to insult our intelligence once again. You have to ask why they don't road-test these ideas on a selective audience before unleashing them on the supporter-base, but it would appear they did that, didn't like the disapproving response from the experienced Ticket Office staff, but decided to press ahead anyway. 

If you were looking for signs that a sale of the club is well advanced you might excitedly surmise that they are just going through the motions, literally, here. Unfortunately, it's also likely just to be more short-sighted, pig-headed incompetence that has hall-marked Katrien Meire's reign as Chief Incompetence Officer. In short they are tinkering with prices with many changing up or down by £25 and a new £300 minimum for the East or West as they have done away with the lowest wing prices in both stands nearest the Jimmy Seed. That reduces the value of buying the cheapest ticket and simply sitting in the most expensive, but doesn't stop you still saving £200 on a £500 seat.

The £175 special behind the Covered End goal is still available and good value but it will mean that in a large and mostly empty stadium, the majority of Charlton fans who buy season tickets will be rewarded with the poorest view. They have also managed to hang a label on the revamp as "simplifying the stadium map," a line which will go down in folklore with so many others they have given us.

Given our latest disastrous footballing season under the Belgians, you have to wonder just who will renew? Actually, the question might better be phrased as who will renew when? There are still some fans who will renew irrespective of what footballing drivel is served up and of how they are treated as customers by the current owners. There are others, for whom budgets dictate that a season ticket is the most affordable way to see the majority or all of our home games. For all of those people, the main question should be when? Given the announcement has come later than usual and that it's still not clear if we will be getting League One football next season, you would expect very few renewals between now and confirmation next month about whether or not we avoid relegation to League Two. 

Beyond that, there is no practical benefit in renewing earlier than August when we should be clearer on who owns the club and how much more debt has been racked up to build a squad capable of, er, challenging for promotion. We should also know if the Belgians are going to break the pattern of the last three years and retain Karl Robinson as manager and entrust him with the task.


Friday, 24 March 2017

Season Tickets 2017-18

The Regime have stalled with their PR push to sell next year's season tickets. Uncertainty concerning which division they will be marketing these for has been the main reason. The club have been waiting for some certainty that it will be League One but recent form means there is still a question-mark over whether or not it could yet be League Two.

Push has come to shove and it looks very likely that renewal letters will start dropping through letterboxes early next week. Expect no surprises. I expect prices to be similar to this season with the known exception that they are removing the opportunity to purchase lower cost 'wing' tickets in the East and West. Instead of admitting defeat and simply standardising pricing, they have decided to try and spin it by suggesting their primary driver is to improve the atmosphere by concentrating the remaining fans in those stands by closing the two end blocks nearest the away fans. It really is insulting but those Pitch guys need to justify their retainer.

For those thinking of renewing, I would hope they will at least hold off until it's clear what commitment has been made to next season. That would realistically mean waiting until the end of July to see if Duchatelet is still the owner, Robinson still in charge and just what investment has been made in the squad versus who has been released or sold off.

Personally, I would love to see the majority going match-by-match and creating a performance-related incentive for Meire and Duchatelet which means if we get a repeat of the dross of the last three years, they won't get any money, rather than them having already raked in season ticket monies and being able to declare attendances way in excess of those actually bothered to suffer it.

Obviously, all of us bar the Flat Earth Society hope and pray that we will have ambitious new owners well before August and we can all show our gratitude and commitment by renewing at the earliest possible moment.

PC Keith Palmer - one of us

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Updated tale of woe under Meire's leadership...

Thought it was time to update Meire's Charlton Athletic CEO CV for the record. It's too long for a CV but, let's face it, there is a lot to know about about what not to do when you become Chief Executive of a football club. Hopefully this will be the last update and we can start afresh under new ownership before too much longer.

2014...
- The sale of our two most valuable players within weeks of taking over. A side struggling to score goals had it's top scorer, Yann Kermorgant, sold and a decent centre-mid in Dale Stephens flogged off. The folly of both of those has been proven subsequently. In return we got Reza Goochannejhad and Astrit Asdarevic who managed five goals and fifty-odd appearances between them.
- Sacking of Chris Powell the season after getting us out of League One. Powell intimated that Duchatelet had pressured him to play loan players he didn't feel were good enough. Alex Dyer confirmed it after he was subsequently sacked.
- Sacking of Jose Riga after he managed to keep us up that same season. Riga too was pressured to play loan players by Duchatelet, according to Dyer, but he too refused to yield.
- Failure to properly support Bob Peeters when his squad were clearly short of resources prior to January 2015. A decent start fell away with the first injuries.
Failing to tell the truth about the recruitment of Guy Luzon after being undermined by her boss and believing she could lie her way out of it - she interviewed 20 applicants on a Sunday evening or some such nonsense.
- Refusal to listen to supporter groups or respond to individual fans complaints. Eventually forced to comply with EFL regulations and did so half-heartedly by hiring an agency to respond, call centre fashion, and up the response rate.
- Allowing out-of-contract Michael Morrison to move to Birmingham City on a free. Disgraceful treatment for a whole-hearted and thoroughly competent defensive leader who continues to shine at Championship level.

2015...

- Setting a VIP supporters meeting to coincide with a fans protest meeting in Woolwich and then refusing to answer certain direct questions from fans.
- Deciding not to renew the VIP scheme on the grounds that "we don't need the money" (this when VIP members actually pay more in advance than the match-by-match value of tickets).
- That Northstand lounge pass fiasco which managed to upset just about every supporter involved.
- False economies with Valley Express and tolerating ongoing incompetent management of the service. It's now running a skeleton service and it's future must be in doubt.
- Cocking up the offer of compensatory food vouchers for West Stand season ticket holders turfed out of their season to accommodate gloating Bournemouth fans in our end-of season humiliation game.
- Condoning the cheap shot sex-on-the-pitch advertising stunt which probably brought in bugger all additional revenue (she would have said otherwise after the furore).
- Closing the ticket office on Thursdays and refusing to sell tickets to fans who arrived unknowingly.- Cocking up the mailing out of season tickets and trying to blame Royal Mail.
- Deciding to stop disabled supporters from using the main lifts in the West Stand to reach their seats on Health and Safety grounds when they really wanted to avoid them inconveniencing Vista Lounge members (it was ok for disabled fans to use the service lifts).
- Sacking the incumbent programme seller third party without first ensuring an adequate replacement service. Programme sales haven't recovered since.
- That ridiculous sofa which made our club look cheap and for what? (Subsequently torn to pieces by protesting fans after the Burnley end-of-season humiliation game).
- Being naive enough to slag our older fans off to foreign journalists, telling them she doesn't care about our history and belittling an elderly complainant who had the audacity to imply she might know more about the club than Meire having been supporting them all her life.
- Failing to back Guy Luzon with a competitive first team squad after having done the same to Peeters.
- Publicly backing Luzon a week before sacking 'our Alex Ferguson' (or failing to check with Duchatelet first on his intentions).
- Sacking Damian Matthew along with Luzon, after all Matthew has done for our club, without any adequate explanation.
- Sacking David Martane only months after appointing him without any adequate explanation.
- Appointing yet another Belgian nonentity in Karel Fraye as our manager! The ridiculous pettiness that he was a 'temporary' appointment to try and buy him enough games to turn the fans. His record speaks for itself - truly appalling.


2016...

- Extending the ticket office closure to Wednesdays as well as Thursdays. She wants to get everything online and get rid of callers and older fans who don't use the internet (subsequently forced into a U-turn).
- Considering options to develop the club shop for flats or the Jimmy Seed Stand for third-party development.
- Attempting to organise a last minute Family Day with bouncy castles in the West Stand car park to put parents and children in the firing line for our first pre-match Protest.
- Smirking at fans and taking a condescending photo of hundreds protesting.- Belittling protesting fans by saying we were the "negative 2%" when we were clearly far more, even then on the first protest.
- Telling us our Protest was "unacceptable," as if we needed her permission!
- Caught out at a web conference in Dublin saying that Charlton fans were "weird" for having an emotional attachment to the club which is owned by The Shareholder and that she would expect us to treat Charlton the same way you would as a customer at a restaurant or a cinema!
- Putting on a live House DJ in Crossbars on the second Protest day as if that might provide a more attractive alternative! Talk about misjudging your audience. She liked it however.
- The embarrassing email trail with Peter Varney which showed her and Roland's complete unprofessionalism in dealing with a legitimate business approach. It was insulting to see how a hero of the Charlton past and our most successful ever CEO was so badly disrespected.
- The loan/sale of Tony Watt to Cardiff City when we were crying out for goals and heading for relegation. Even that backfired on her because of the transfer embargo slapped on the Bluebirds.
- The hectoring of the put-upon Fans Forum in their January 2016 tick-box supporter engagement exercise for Meire.
- Bannergate - the instruction for stewards to remove a "We want our club back" banner from a lad and his mum which resulted in them also being removed from the stand in front of thousands of other irate protesters.
- Responding to ongoing protests by erecting steel barriers, bringing in dozens extra Stewards and Police. Installing floodlights in the car park to illuminate filming of protesting supporters and installing blinds at function room windows in an attempt to hide herself away.
- The fabled exit at Colchester of her and the hapless Fraye in the kit man's van after we were knocked out of the FA Cup by League One's whipping boys.
- The removal of "Seb and Ben's" flag at the following home match, something that has been a part of the North Lower for many years - fans who haven't missed a game home and away for something ridiculous, like ten years.
- The spontaneous and childish Official Site response to a fan prank that saw Katrien Directorship resigned with Companies House ("on Companies House!").- The graduate who was allowed to mistakenly show a picture of Alan Campbell on the big screen during a minute's recognition for the late Graham Moore.
- Following large scale protests at the Middlesbrough home match, the hypocritical "club are extremely saddened by the situation..." email only for that to be followed days later by the contradictory 'Duchatelet Rant' which triggered the resignation of Mel Baroni,  a Comms professional who could only manage 46 days sufferance of Meire and Duchatelet.
- Desperate attempt by Meire to get the Police to take more action to prevent lawful protests. Best she could get was a statement from Scotland Yard, presumably to fob her off, to the effect that the police would take action if they deemed it necessary e.g. they hadn't previously seen the need for any because the protests have been within the law.
- Removal of web-links to negative articles about Meire. This has now been done on multiple occasions.- Resignation of John Little, Safety Officer and of Felicity Waller, Head of Commercial.
- Meire going on holiday to Dubai in early April with the relegation battle at it's height.
- Relegation to League One and the sacking of Jose Riga for the second time.- The loss of 4000 season ticket holders, the largest year-on-year percentage reduction in the history of the club. 
- Chris Wilder fails to get an agreement in writing to reflect his deal with Meire to become her 7th manager and gets a better offer from Sheffield United in the meantime (they head for promotion instead of us).
- At the press conference to announce Russell Slade's inauguration as the 7th manager, Meire manages to imply that Peter Varney's approach to acquire the club may have come with plans to relocate away from the Valley. Barney hung her out to dry in the coming weeks and exposed yet another lie.
- Incomprehensible decision to charge fans a £2.50 levy for picking tickets up in person at the Valley. Compounded by a £3 match-day penalty if you aren't there to buy at least two hours before kick-off! She has to remove the £2.50 levy in another U-turn bowing to public pressure but the match-day penalty remains.
- Pope, Gudmundsson and Cousins sold-off to raise £5m to help reduce the operating losses of the last year. Twenty players effectively moved off the wage bill to make room for lesser ones.
- Launch of 'Agreed Behavioural Contracts.' Regime-critical Charlton and former Club employee invited for a meeting with the club to discuss his season ticket application where he was asked to sign a contract preventing him from criticising the Regime on social media!
- Over 5000 football fans sign an on-line petition seeking Meire's removal from F A Council. - Meire turns up late at her inaugural F A Council meeting and misses her introduction and 'scarf ceremony.'
- Revelations from fan Rick Everitt that Duchatelet has employed a young Belgian since taking over Charlton Athletic to recommend players for his network of clubs based upon his own computer rankings and from watching games on TV. He has zero professional football experience, no coaching qualifications or anything else! Dyer referred to him indirectly when he was sacked as one of "the computer scouts." 
- Presumably under instruction from her new PR advisors, PITCH PR, Meire emails Rick Everett (Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet) at 6pm asking to talk formally with opponents of the Regime for the good of the club for the first time. The next morning, and before any response could even be agreed, Meire leaks the letter to the press to make it look like CARD are inflexible. 
- Finally, after months and months of unexplained delay, Phase 2 of Roland's much trumpeted Training Ground Redevelopment is announced. It amounts to more groundwork and a modest building for the Community Trust. No mention of the main building redevelopment. CARD believes this has been shelved permanently.
- Following another large protest for the Coventry match, Meire or Keohane instruct Heavy Squad Security Guards to apprehend a young fan as he is leaving the stadium at the end of the game. He is grabbed by the throat and handled roughly in front of a police officer which quickly attracts a hostile crowd. In the aftermath, CARD identify all of the security officers from earlier photos and video and the key ones were all seated in the Directors Box as part of personal security for Meire and Keohane. Complaints and investigations continue.
- Meire on the Talksport show in October. Another session of denial, spin and hand-wringing with zero change, although she has visibly stepped out of the spotlight since.
- The sacking of Russell Slade after 21 games and the pathetic way in which it was mismanaged. News broken by CARD as the club took four hours to put anything on their website and then forty hours to tell us Chris O'Loughton was coming in to help interim manager, Kevin Nugent.
- Seven points from nine and Nugent is dumped for out-of-work, Karl Robinson,  who reputedly called us a "basket-case" when visiting as MK Dons manager earlier in the year. Meire subsequently suggested that they had wanted Robinson in the close season when Slade was signed but he hadn't been available.
- Getting-to-know-the-Network expose of the emails from Duchatelet to Powell which show in black and white that Ducharelet was trying to interfere with tactics and team selection. Meire swore on more than one occasion that this never happened.


2017...
- Actual home gates in the first few months if 2017 now approaching 5,000. Less than half of what we had when she re-launched Target 20,000!
- Morgan Fox flogged to Premier-chasing Sheffield Wednesday for under £1m and Lookman sold to Everton for between £8-11m. Robinson given loose change to bring in a couple of League One journeymen and a couple of short-term loanees.
- January chill causes the visit of promotion contenders, Scunthorpe United, to be postponed due a frozen pitch. The club forced to acknowledge that the much-heralded undersold heating laid when Duchatelet reinvested the Kermorgant transfer fee in a new pitch was never actually connected to a boiler, rendering it useless. Match replayed to a smaller crowd in midweek.

- Club expected to be in debt to close to £50m to Staprix when latest annual report and accounts are finally produced. Duchatelet charges 3% interest on the debt - that approx £1.5m pa. As a consequence, he is rumoured to have been looking for as much as £75m to sell the club on, thereby wiping out the debt and leaving himself with a tidy profit. No-one is going to pay that for a League One club that was acquired in 2014 as a Championship side for c £15m. Logic will tell you Duchatelet is going to have swallow a bitter pill and some pride to admit defeat when selling at a loss. Katrien Meire's disastrous stewardship of the club has lead directly to a large portion of that loss. 
- Club at risk of a serious relegation battle and facing the prospect of it's lowest league finish, ever. A sad note to finish on but it could yet be worse.

Monday, 20 March 2017

The last to know

I have given up on listening to Karl Robinson. Frankly, nothing he says has any continuity from one press opportunity to the next. He talks in constant cliches and contradictions. I have long-since seen through his die-for-the-club, kiss-the-badge nonsense. These are things to do from the heart, not from the mouth. 

However, it's hard to escape his soundbites and headlines because they are touted at you from so many directions. Among the latest is the fact that he has actually spoken with Roland via the medium of telephone and has wondered what his future might hold given all the speculation and evidence that the club is being prepared for sale. Unsurprisingly, Roland has told Blabbermouth that there is no truth to it and he is now very predictably putting Roland's message out there.

Sometimes Karl, you need to think for yourself. Where are these rumours coming from? Why was Ronnie Rosenthal taking in his first Charlton match last week as a guest following rumours he was involved in negotiating a sale? Huge coincidence that his wife is a friend of Daisy and he happens to have made his way to the Valley for the first time in three years. Without his wife.

A secure data room being set-up at the Valley? What do you reckon Karl? Have they hidden it from view? Why is everyone talking about it and the fact that a female lawyer (not Daisy) is employed to oversee it and access to it? Karl, you must also have seen and heard other activity that supports a sale?

So, is Karl just fulfilling his contract and saying what Daisy wants him to? No prospective seller wants to advertise the fact that they are pulling out. It does nothing for the sale price or their leverage.  It frightens potential investors and might scare players into short-term decision mode. Given we are slipping into a relegation battle in the third tier of English football, a sale also trumpets a massive failure on Duchatelet's reign as owner. The wealthiest owner in our history who posts the most unsuccessful spell both commercially and in footballing terms that we have ever known. A club diminished in stature and actual size on whatever measurement you choose to use. Revenues shrunk and the cupboard laid bare. He doesn't do failure apparently!

Meanwhile, Karl was very pleased with his side's showing in defeat at Bramall Lane on Saturday. He said "if we can get this team fitter and stronger, we will certainly be a team to be reckoned with next season, 100%." Only 100% Karl? Not 110%? Fitter and stronger? Has that been the problem then since you arrived? Fitness? In true Robinson fashion, he went on to say he will be bringing in 10 or 11 new players next season! The bloke's a fantasist and a dreamer. He didn't get who or what he wanted in January, why does he think he will get 10 or 11 players he wants in the close season? It's not Fantasy Football Karl. 

In any event, even if Duchatelet hasn't been able to get a deal acceptable to him during the next three months, he's not going to suddenly start spending like  never before. Past performance is usually a reliable indicator of future behaviour Karl. Duchatelet not only hasn't done it here, but he hasn't done it anywhere else. Based on past performance, Robinson will be sacked at the end of next month after a worse set of results than Slade managed and so that Duchatelet and Meire can sell their dream to another Desperado, in the extremely unlikely event that the club isn't sold for whatever reasons. My biggest fear is that Duchatelet is so naive and ignorant of what's happened to the club since he bought us, that he refuses to be remotely realistic about the terms of any sale and no-one buys us. 

In that scenario, Groundhog Day starts again. The only difference is smaller and smaller home gates as the club slowly dies. This also means a smaller and smaller value Roly when you are eventually relieved of your disastrous stewardship.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Sheffield United 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Home late this morning after a day and a night at Lingfield races. Couldn't manage to land a single winner and I also failed to back Sizing John in the Gold Cup which just about everyone in our group was on. Not my lucky day and I knew today wouldn't be either.

Sheffield United are heading back to the Championship after a lengthy exit and with Chris Wilder in charge I fully expected us to be beaten. Wilder had the last laugh but it appears we gave them a game and were unfortunate not to have been ahead at half-time. We managed seven efforts on goal before the Blades scored from their first and we had a Ricky Holmes free-kick that put us one up and a Tony WTT overhead kick which struck the bar. Typically we weren't so clever after the break and conceded the inevitable winner.

I followed our game on Charlton Life but watched Scotland recover some dignity from last week's drubbing to rack up a win and bonus point to finish level second (fourth) behind England who were finally halted by a proud Irish side, the first to beat them in 19 games.

We need to find another three points to avoid squeaky-bum time. Peterborough away in a fortnight might not be the day but we have Southend at home on the 8th April and that looks our best chance before we play a series of six pointers we can't afford to lose.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Mike Norris, Rest in Peace

Sorry to learn of the death of Mike Norris, former Director of the football club and a supporter who stepped up in 1984 to lend his financial support towards saving the club from bankruptcy. 

Mike Norris was a Chartered Surveyor and property developer in the era when successful local businessmen had the sort of money that allowed a serious participation in football club ownership. Along with Richard Collins, John Fryer and John Sunley, Mike helped see off the serious threat of the club folding and helped set Lennie Lawrence up for a long-awaited return to top-flight football. Sadly, Fryer and Sunley had overseen the move to Selhurst Park in between these historic moments, although Mike will be most fondly remembered for his drive and money, along with Roger Alwen that lead us back to the Valley and in securing Sparrows Lane that played a major part in the subsequent development of the club which peaked during the Premier League years between 1998 and 2007.

Speaking about ownership of the club, a for sale sign appeared at the ground today amid rampant rumour that Duchatelet has finally had enough and is getting real about selling up. The signage may have been the work of supporters-in-jest but news that a secure Data Room has been set-up at the Valley and a lawyer engaged to manage access to key contractual and commercial documentation, necessary to support any due diligence, is a real sign that things are moving. Let's not get too excited just yet as we have some bitter experiences from the Zabeel deal to remember.

News too today that our next home match against MK Dons, a week on Saturday, has been postponed due to international call-ups and will now be played on Tuesday 4th April. That means we face Sheffield United away and Peterborough away before then and there is an opportunity for those below us to apply the squeeze as they play games in hand and get one up on us ahead of the revised fixture. This could back-fire on us if we end up playing with more pressure on the team but I guess it means we are likely to have a slightly stronger starting eleven given the inclusion of internationals and more time for injured players to recover. A relegation start for new prospective owners doesn't bear thinking about but I am sure any buyer will factor that into the sale price.

'Relegation' reminds me that we still haven't seen de club's latest masterplan to avoid another huge slump in remaining season ticket numbers. Some are excitedly speculating that a sale is so close that they don't want to bother with the grief and embarrassment of having to pitch it once again and are leaving it for the new owners. Personally speaking I am sure that the threat of relegation is a far better explanation and that they are keen to hang on as long as possible and pump it out when we might look more secure. Trouble is, I am not convinced we will look any better after the next two aways. They might need to factor in a 'what-if' pricing scenario. That would be really embarrassing for a Chief Executive with any conscience, self-awareness or humility. Luckily, Meire doesn't have any of those so will just need to offer up a confident whopper - she could say she's learnt from her mistakes and that we are in a better position since she arrived and that the table proves that. Something like that anyway.

Finally, congratulations to Esri Konsa for his call-up to the England U20's. He will join Everton starlet Ademola Lookman, who can tell him all about the life that awaits once he makes the move in the close season. Roland Duchatelet will also be toasting the additional transfer fee that England representation will demand.