Thursday, 20 March 2014

Heal the rift

Change can be hugely unsettling for people. The bigger the change the bigger the potential challenge. It's usually uncomfortable and it can become devisive and damaging if it's not managed properly. Much depends on how people approach change and their willingness to embrace it but management of it is critical. It also has the potential to completely alter the order of things, way out of proportion to the actual change itself.

When I look around the Valley at the moment, what I think we are witnessing is precisely this and it may well lead to a step-change in our fan base (positive or negative) and it's relationship with the club. That may sound dramatic but the signs are there.

Technology has changed the way supporters interact with their club. News, views and opinions are near instant and proliferate. Geographical boundaries no longer exist. Our entire fan-base around the globe have the same access to pretty much all of the information at the same time and a number of different mediums have developed to meet a nascent demand. 

Over the last ten years we have seen the emergence of a long line of Bloggers covering Charlton Athletic and a number different message boards that have developed naturally to largely reflect the views and interests of their audiences - some fan-lead and others commercially modelled on a national basis. The Club have developed their "digital" presence too with an ever-expanding official website and the teaming with CAFC-Player has brought live match commentaries to the masses, albeit with quality issues. All of this has brought far more fans closer to the action and the surrounding debate.

Into that mix, we have to throw the last three years with an invisible financial backer, a non-communicative public majority shareholder and some very short-sighted and inflammatory senior management decisions affecting the running of the club away from the playing side. Then we have the on-off sale of the club this season, the lack of investment, the threat of Administration and a relegation battle. If you think that's not enough to contend with, we are then taken over by a multi-millionaire with an unorthodox business model involving a stable of other European clubs who isn't prepared to throw money at the problem but does decide to sack the loyal first team Manager after the club go bottom of the table and exit the F A Cup. I think we would all agree that this represents big change by anyone's standards.

We now face a split amongst our fan base and our numerous supporter groups as a result, as we splinter largely along two lines. On the one side we have those in what I will call the Old Camp, who are naturally distrusting of the new owner and doubtful about his footballing model. They are also largely pro-Chris Powell in the sense that they believe he was doing a decent job in very trying circumstances and that we will regret dismissing him. The other side of the coin, I'll call the New Camp who were fed-up with Chris Powell's style of football and tactics and have been advocating for change. They have also embraced new ownership, so have, in effect got just what they wanted (although if you wait long enough a bus will come along). There are a number of other generalisations I could make about the Old and the New Camps, but I will avoid the temptation to do so as I will be immediately contradicted by all and sundry. The internet is the battleground for both sides of the debate which is probably just as well given some of the emotions.

What is also obvious is that we all still ultimately want to see the same outcome - a sustainable and financially stable club with an exciting, competitive and successful football team. 

So what? Well I think the new owner and his team need to be alert to the situation. They can't afford winners and losers amongst our fan base. They need to take us all with them and to do that, it's pretty obvious they need to reach out to those who need more reassurance than others. It doesn't mean they need to alter their direction or pander to opinion but it could potentially make all the difference. All of us should recognise the value of them doing that given we all want the same thing. There have been some encouraging recent signs and it would be great if Roland Duchatelet and Katrein Meire can provide the reassurance many seek. Perhaps they will be unable to do this because the truth may be that the ambitions of Charlton Athletic are ultimately to be diluted for the betterment of the stable of clubs, but it must be worth a go if there is genuinely nothing to hide. They owe us that after the comments of Guy Luzon at Standard Liege and Rowland's own concerning how this model will work.

C'mon M Duchatelet, reassure and unite us!


Anonymous said...

Very well said sir . I got a load of grief for my somewhat tongue in cheek blog post - Roland Out !
However I only said the same as Peter Varneys thoughts in the SLP . The only difference was I added a somewhat sarcastic conclusion. Anyway, its good that there is a vibrant and lively discussion going on , but some of us who have been going for years (inc Selhurst, Upton Park etc ) are inevitably more cynical about the owners than the younger audience . In my lifetime so far , the only owner that really made a good difference has been Richard Murray ( sorry and Roger Alwen) . The rest have been either bad or useless .
We all hope against hope that this bloke has some kind of sensible plan to get to the Prem rather than stay in the Championship

Anonymous said...

I'm not holding my breath! I don't think interactive communication is part of Roland's philosophy or style....and has La Katrien been given the authority to say anything meaningful?

ChicagoAddick said...

Excellent post Dave and is nice summary of where the fans, home and abroad are at the moment.

Judging by the drop in attendances there are probably more in the old camp, but the new camp are getting noisier.

Whatever camp you sit in, ultimately we all want the same and this wish hasn't changed in a century, a football club that we can be proud off and one you can happily attempt to convince/beg/bribe your children and grand children to follow.

The social media/blogging/forum world I still maintain only scratches the surface of the overall support. Many thousands of fans travel the country to watch us and have no interest to the goings on behind the scenes, they just want a team to cheer with their spare money in their leisure time.

Personally I have always had an interest in who runs our club ever since the Gliksteins run the club down, Mark Hulyer's came with a bag full of dreams, the African chief pitched up in the main stand and the Sunley's with their great idea to move us across London.

The best times in the past 50 years were when the supporters and the owners had a relationship.

Yes club ownership has changed since the days of Alwyn, Simons, Murray and Varney and no longer is the richest man in the town the owner.

However that is no reason why the fans should have no interest in who is controlling the future of our club, and is why I support the G21 and their suggestion that we need more than political sound bites from our latest owner.

Sadly for every Abramovich there are many more Yeung's, Tan's, Venky's and Antonov's.

MalPal from Sydney said...

I think what most supporters want are decent results on the pitch. An exciting style of play would be a real added bonus.

Everybody loved Chris Powell, but there were many valid comments from bloggers about his tactics, substitutions etc. Under the new manager there has been a slightly different approach and results, at least in the short term, have been better. Let's hope this continues through to the end of the season. At present there appears to be more cause for optimism than before, so let's all get behind the new regime. Communications from management are important, but not nearly as important as results on the pitch.

Dave said...

MalPal - you are right of course, but it could take a long time for the results to swing the argument one way or the other and a lot of damage could be done in the meantime. There are numbers of fans set on not renewing season tickets as they stand and others calling for boycotts and other action. If we were to go down this would exacerbate the situation and could extend the decline for at least another year. If we are not careful, we will be launching Target 10,000 which would put us back 20 years as a club.

Iain Ambler said...

Your post accurately sums up the state of play at the moment - very well said.

I've always been one of those people who tends to avoid being labelled as one thing or another, and whilst there are broadly two camps on this issue as you say, I find myself unwilling to be labelled with either whilst finding myself standing with one foot in both camps!

I have a lot of time for Chris Powell. He has undoubtedly been a force for good at CAFC. I've not been a season ticket holder for that long (football for a fiver got me involved) so I don't have a lot of personal history to fall back on to compare him with previous incumbents.

On the other hand, times change and matters move on - as indeed do managers. Whether we like CP's sacking or not, it's happened. We cannot change that fact. We keep on supporting CAFC and get behind our team.

I think the fact that we had a really committed manager in charge whilst we had what seems (to me at any rate) to be some ambivalent owners is the difference between staying in league one and getting back to the Championship. The flip side is that the magic only held out for so long and the long term effects of a lack of investment in the squad have meant we struggled through last season and more so this year.

It's easy to lob bricks at Roland Duchatalet from behind the keyboard of a computer, but the reality is that he's not been able to introduce real changes yet.
He said himself that "time will tell" and I think he's right on that. Effective change takes time - and we live in an age of real-time technology and instant gratification so the two don't walk hand-in-hand.

The investment in the Academy shows that Roland is looking to the future, but of course fans want to see more than that, and rightly so. If the pitch gets sorted out in the close season and he invests in a strong playing squad then he will be sending a signal to the fans that he is serious about the success of CAFC as a club.

One last thing to reflect upon. Whilst there are undoubtedly some uncertainties about how CAFC will be in the future, one thing is certain - we're in a better place than a lot of our rivals in the Championship. If you look at the issues with Leeds and QPR the worries we have are, in my humble opinion, next to nothing compared with their troubles.

Onwards and upwards!

Anonymous said...

Can't see what Roly's done wrong so far. Lots of rumours and specualtion most of which has come to nowt. Those advocating boycotting season tickets etc didn't feel moved to do so under a previously worse regime! Saint Rick and his cronies have their own agenda I feel. They are actively working against the greater good I feel. How pompous to get a very small group together and demand to meet with the owner! To do so outside of the trust speaks volumes.

Dave said...

Anon - Roland Duchatelet has very clearly proposed a network of clubs model and his lead man at Standard Liege has said that we are a feeder club for them. These are facts, even if none of our better players have moved as yet. When you add that Roland has weakened our squad by selling two of our better players without adequately replacing them, you can see why some people have concerns. The treatment of Powell was also poor, even if his league position made him vulnerable. I am inclined to be sympathetic about how the "Royal Oak Group" appear but like it or not, they have much longer and stronger connections with the management of the club than anyone else and they may be able to ask the hard questions and leave the Trust relatively clean in all of this. One or two of the Trust team are included here and the Trust are openly supportive of the approach.

Dave said...

Disappointed to learn that Karien Meire doesn't want to discuss this until the season is over. I'm not buying the "too busy" line. Big gamble because if we are relegated, they will face the storm. I would have confronted this now and spelt it all out come what may. She is obviously confident we will escape the drop and she can meet from a position of strength.

Anonymous said...

Great blog Dave and I have to say a "great debate" also, everyone"s comments had valid points.

Although I have a foot and a half in the old camp, the remainder of my left foot is dipping it's toes in the new camp.

Great comments everyone.


Floyd said...

Dave. Great post. What I can't cope with here is labels. It jappens alot on Charlton Life. I have supported the club longer than you. I watched us at Upton Park. None of this matters. From my perspective I am approaching 50 and have watched the Addicks at over 75 grounds over the years. It means nowt. We all support the club, coming ftom different backgrounds and different outlooks come with this. The problem we face is the new breed of club ownership and how we, the fans, adapt to it. There's no good hankering after the Glikstiens. They bled enough money out of the club when crowds were bigger and outgoings lower.
for me I want to wait and see. We cannot force or expect to talk someone when we have no commercial links. And that's how it is. The new guys aren't anonymous. Katrien is quite happy to stop and talk in the car park, share links on linked in etc. Simply put she's approachable. It just depends how you make the approach. Funny how Dr Kish gets the interview at leisure but the pontificators sit back and make demands.

New York Addick said...

Congrats on your reference in the Evening Standard - well deserved for consistent high quality blogging on Charlton (and occasionally Scotland)

Dave said...

Thanks NYA - it's great to have finally arrived !