Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A few days in Belgium

Coalition - noun - a temporary alliance for combined action.

"Coalition," the most important word in the C.A.R.D. acronym and so perfect a description for the work between Saturday and Tuesday of two separate groups of Addicks fans who both visited Belgium to take the battle to Roland Duchatelet  on his own turf. Superb concinnity.....

I was very pleased to be asked a few weeks ago if I would be interested in taking a couple of days off work and joining other volunteers to mark the 70th birthday of Roland Duchatelet by letting him know he is always on our mind, even if Charlton Athletic aren't always on his. The dates worked for me and I ended up taking my car as one of the three drivers. The plan was straightforward enough although it was far from clear how successful it might be  but I was happy to take the chance.

It was apparent that the 'Belgian 20' (B20) were heading out for another leafletting drop of Roland's neighbours and that they were going to do their best to ensure Roland knew they, too, were still thinking of him. The plan for our group was to arrive on Sunday as the B20 left and carry on where they left off on Monday and Tuesday. 

On Saturday, the excitement and anticipation of our trip was heightened by a spectacular success for the B20 whilst visiting St. Truiden's ground. They actually managed to spot Roland having lunch at one of his restaurants that form the complex he owns there. A short video clip showed the B20 in the reflection of the glass window holding aloft one of the 'Roland and Katrien, time to go' banners as they sang 'happy birthday' followed by a chorus of 'we want Roland out!' The other killer fact was that he was spotted during the playing of the Swindon v Charlton game at Midday in the UK. This was particularly hard for me to take, killing my long-held image of Roly in his bunker swilling lager whilst eagerly viewing yet another Charlton performance from his notoriously 'live' feed. 

So to Sunday then and a dozen of us met at the Valley to begin our mission. Our secret weapon was 'Taxi for Roland,' a London Taxi that C.A.R.D. funding had paid to be professionally wrapped in a superb graphic which left nothing out. I was especially pleased because the owner, Chris, is an Addick who sometimes accompanies me to matches and someone I met thtough fellow Blogger, Chicago Addick. When I heard we were on the lookout for an Addict-loving London Cabbie, I knew just the man. Our group included a few C.A.R.D organisers but the majority were simply prominent opponents of The Regime. We all required some form of introduction even if most of us recognised each other.
Before we left, we held a brief and simple service of Remembrance by the memorial by the Bartram statue. Clive Harris and Ben Hayes recapped on the lives of the three Charlton Athletic men lost during the first world war and of the one from the second. More of that later...

We then faced a seven hour trek across to France and then on through Belgium and beyond Brussels to reach Sint Truiden. We might have done it quicker had Belgium not been playing at home. An evening's socialising helped us recover and get to know each other better.

The following day we were up and out in the main square in Sint Truiden where
we spent a couple of hours handing out leaflets to anyone who would take one and also beach balls and scarves to anyone more interested, especially the few kids we saw. The taxi was centre-piece and it drew plenty of attention with locals posing for photos. We were very well-received; there was plenty of empathy and one couple paid for 20 coffees in advance for cold volunteers. News of our visit had been signalled by the B20 and several journalists appeared to take pictures and ask questions. All of these were to reappear in the local and national Belgian press within twenty-four hours and be carried much further afield. 

We left around lunchtime and headed to St. Truiden FC at the Stayyen Stadium. From the road this was simply a hotel down one side, a shopping centre behind the goal and a development of flats and restaurants (including the one I recognised from the B20 video). The only evidence of a football club was a small stone monument that included a football. At the hotel reception we were denied entrance and were told we couldn't park the taxi outside or across the road. We couldn't stand on the pavement or congregate. Clearly we were not welcome. We explained why we had come and simply asked that they take our array of gifts for Duchatelet's birthday. At first they refused point-blank but eventually grabbed them up after we had placed them around the stone monument. Job done, we headed for Brussels.
There we battled through heavy traffic and endless one-way systems for photo opportunities for Taxi for Roland outside the European Parliament building as well as the Belgian Senate and even the Mannequin Pis. That done we made our way towards Dixsmuide, a charming medieval hamlet twenty minutes drive from Ypres and Roland's fortune-building Melexis. It was late by the time we arrived and we had heard rumours that Russell Slade had been sacked. Talksport were hosting a show and phone-in that evening so it was an early night and we all tuned in from our rooms trying, once again, to work out what the hell's going on at our club. Ben dialled in to participate in the show which was now clearly reflecting on the empty words of Katrien Meire very recently on the Jim White show where she was trotting out the 'English Manager' line and stressing how they would back Slade.

Day 3 and we were up and out at 6.30am in order to be at Melexis for 8am to hopefully catch workers arriving. The Melexis factory wasn't easy to find, tucked away on an industrial complex and there weren't the volume of workers I had anticipated. Nonetheless, we leafletted all of those who did arrive and the taxi was there once again to greet them. We began to draw attention of those in the offices upstairs and eventually a couple were sent down to speak to us. Unlike the Oik at St. Truiden FC, the Melexis reps were very polite and courteous. After an understandable exchange of views we were shortly on our way to Ypres.

I have never been to Ypres before but it has been on my list for some time. This was an added bonus for all of us. Travelling with us was Clive Harris, a Guild of Battlefield Guides expert on World War 1 in addition to being a fervent Addick. A former soldier himself, Clive treated us to a history lesson that reset many misconceptions for most of us about the Great War. He delivered that whilst we all stood in a WW1 trench system which brought it all to life. After that Clive took us to the Menin Gate which was built over one of the bridge entrances to the walled and moated city of Ypres. Very hard to hold a dry eye when you convey the acres of engraved stone and realise that the 55,000 names recorded of the 'British' forces are just those "to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death." Coming after Remembrance Day, there was an impressive and touching mass of wreaths from far afield from those who will not forget.

From Ypres we had one last task and that lead into the countryside outside Ypres and the low, rolling hills and fields that are now Flanders. Here at the small R E Farm Cemetery we finished with another short service by the gravestone of Herbert 'Nobby' Nightingale, a Charlton player who went to take part in the Greatest Game and never came home. It was fitting that Clive and Ben were with us, these were the ordinary, if committed fans, who had worked tireless in recent years to identify Nobby, Jim Mackenzie, Fred Chick and Geoff Reynolds so they will not be forgotten. There at the foot of Nobby's memorial stone was a small Charlton badge we believe was left by the visiting B20 which was a fitting finish to a superb weekend's work by Charlton Athletic supporters working in coalition to save their club from Roland Duchatelet's disastrous ownership and Katrien Meire's gross incompetence.

I should add that the costs of all of those who travelled (barring the taxi's) were met by the individuals themselves as part of their contribution to winning "the war" with The Regime. It was a tiring three days but wholly worthwhile and great to spend it with like-minded Addicks who are all part of the C.A.R.D.


Anonymous said...

Many congratulations to you all Dave - a highly imaginative and touching protest in true Charlton style. You are all legends.

Pembury Addick

Dave said...

Thanks PA -praise indeed from a fellow committed Addick.

Pete said...

Take a boo son! You and all of those who took part, well done.

Blackheath Addicted said...

Tremendous. Hope you enjoyed the positive media coverage as well as the trip itself.

ThamesmeadIrons said...

Outstanding. Well done everyone

Swedeaddick said...

Tremendous effort. Heroes in my book. Swedish addicks are all behind you in this