Sunday 31 July 2016

Charlton ill prepared for League One struggle

The final pre-season friendly yesterday saw struggling Dutch second division RKC Waalwijk better us on penalties after a 1-1 draw. In front of a paltry 1600 fans, 200 of them visitors, another make-shift Charlton eleven were out-passed for much of the match, and again offered very little going forward by all accounts. The rumour doing the rounds was that Slade hadn't started with his strongest eleven deliberately in order to emphasise the squad short-comings. I don't generally buy conspiracy theories and suspect it's just a simple case of squad short-comings. The other rumour was a club official saying Katrien has told Slade we don't need anymore players. I don't believe she has necessarily said that but am pretty sure she will be questioning Slade very hard on everyone he asks for.

In the post-match press conference, Russell Slade put a brave face on things and again said we are looking for another five players. There was a subtle change in the message from last week's position after the Orient match, in that he now says we hope to bring them in before the end of August, whereas last week it was before the season kicks-off on Saturday. He's maybe reflecting on Meire's reluctance and the need for a few bad results to create some additional leverage for his position.

However you look at it, it's been a very poor pre-season and we look likely to start slowly. The player comings and goings tell us one thing that's undisputable - there is clearly no ambition for promotion. The current squad simply lacks quality and is thin. Injuries will take a toll and results will suffer. Even assuming we sign five new players (my money is five means maybe three) they would need to come from deeper waters than we have been fishing in.

I am still amazed that so many of our supporters are still puzzled by what Roland's Grand Plan is and what is motivating him. The proof of it has been very evident for 12-18 months. His original driver was a gap in the market for a network of clubs to exploit FFP - he told us this at the start. Having seen that crash spectacularly, he is in damage limitation mode because he never got in to football to speculate to accumulate. I really don't believe making even more money motivates him, which is why he has never seen Charlton as a property development strategy. It was the idea of beating the market and looking like a visionary or a public genius that made him acquire two large clubs and three small ones in addition to the small one he already owned.

The facts are that he's sold his biggest club and would have sold the second biggest if he could have recovered anything close to his purchase price. He couldn't do that because of the mess Charlton were in so has decided to fight on until the position might look more favourable.

Whilst he hopes for a more competitive season that might offer some stability and the promise of a relatively afforable promotion push (which would be the ideal time to sell up), the tactical plan is simply to slash the operating costs of the club and recoup as much money as possible so that any player transfer windfalls are proportionately bigger than the ongoing operating loss.

This is why relegation wasn't an unacceptable outcome for him. It's also why it wouldn't be the end of the world for him again this season, although it's not what he would want, obviously. It certainly won't prioritise any further heavy spending to try to avoid it. He has already seen his operating costs cut significantly on all fronts. The wage bill has been slashed as 20 players have been offloaded and together with Meire and Cahones, they are gradually closing the ticket office operation (ongoing reduction in opening hours/days and the clumsy £2.50 handling charge and £3 matchday purchase penalty) and looking to effectively scrap matchday programmes (dramatic decline in sales justifying reduction in pages). We have rented club space to third parties and explored planning options to sell space at the ground for housing eg Club Shop and South Stand. A consequence of declining gates and ongoing poor commercial revenues will see them justify closure of upper tiers and, ideally, a whole stand. The marketing of the cheap season tickets in the North Lower will make this idea very evident from the Northampton game onwards. I can see partial ground closure appealing to Meire in a perverse way of blaming fans for giving up on her pathetically run club.

Meire has recouped £5m in transfer fees pre-season and still has options to sell Teixera and Lookman, although the pressure is off having sold who we have and I suspect they may hold Lookman for another season in the hope of a much larger fee next time around. Tex's wages and personal ambitions may well see him sold before he has to travel to Bury and Russell Slade sounded caught out when answering the question yesterday.

So, I am afraid it's more of the same, poor football, more defeats than wins in front of ever smaller gates and an increasingly cynical Chief Exec whose competency to run a football club improves with every relegation. In the meantime, serious systemic damage is being inflicted on the club's reputation and it's long-term fanbase.

We are now on a real par with Millwall and Gillingham although momentum is against us. A further relegation is a real threat this season and it would see the final denouement. I don't think I can bring myself to witness it - I will certainly see less of it this season than at any other time in 40 years.

I started this blog 9 years ago in the hope of reporting on a return to the Premier League and the good times. One season apart it's been an increasingly downward spiral and the bottom looks closer now than the top. We look more likely now to emulate Luton or Portsmouth than Palace or Burnley. Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have a lot to answer for.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Another blank in front of 2000 fans

Another zero -zero. One goal in four games but the bigger concern is we are creating very little. Yesterday's high point going forward would appear to have been "an inswinging cross." Dillon Phillips was man-of-the-match by all accounts keeping us in at as Ipswich hit the woodwork three times. We are playing one up front which relies upon a creative midfield and pace to join the attacker. We appear to lack both. Central defence remains a concern despite clean sheets and we simply have to bring in another keeper as an absolute minimum.

Jason Pearce from Wigan may fit the defensive need but with competition from other clubs, I'd be surprised if he chose us. The irony here is that there is a strong rumour Texeira may be leaving, which will leave an even bigger hole. Katrien Meire told the Fans Forum that no-one else would be leaving unless they didn't fit Russell's plans. Hard to imagine Tex would fit in that category, altjough he would command a fee and hasn't been playing so my assumption is he is being safe-guarded so they can foog him. Oscar Gobern has been linked with midfield and is currently training with us but he's hardly a pulse-racing option.

Russell Slade must be very frustrated. Keen to make an impression when the season kicks off, he has already called out squad size and quality weaknesses. Dillon Phillips' impending transfer to mighty Cheltenham Town has been put on hold because we unexpectedly found ourselves in a situation where we would have no goal-keeper - sounds very much like the clamour to recoup lost revenues is driving the playing agenda. With eight working days to kick-off we still "need five or six." Katrien Meire was asked at the Fans Forum the other evening about the squad size and said it was premature to judge, which suggests others are in the pipeline but questions will still remain about quality and about readiness to start a new season with potentially half the side new to each other, assuming we actually bring that many in. The overall feeling you get is that there is no urgency or ambition about this season. The main aim is cost cutting and 'competitiveness in League One' looks like the ambition, not promotion. On that basis they may well use the first few results as a marker to decide on whether or not to make any costlier transfer decisions. Prepare to continue to be under-whelmed.

Slade would like to have a settled squad by now and be getting first team game time in the pre-seasons. Instead he's having to consider every option - he finished last night's match with seven youngsters playing.

The situation around the team doesn't look great either. The pitch was looking patchy yesterday, final confirmation from the Fans Forum that the Training Ground redevelopment is two years behind schedule (suggests nothing much has really happened). I can see this becoming a managed delay so no significant Roland expenditure will ever be forghcoming unless he can realize similar value from our sale price - sold 'with planning permission.' They have brought in two new medical staff and commentary from La Meire seeemd to suggest that last season's high injury rate wasn't managed well by the medical team we had - something that I believe was denied previously.

Oh, and they are looking for another Communications Manager! This, at least, promises more amusement and hilarity as the season progresses. Katrien will need to to get the balance of this appointment just right. Competent and affordable whilst nowhere near as assertive or ambitious as the last appointment. They simply can't afford yet another PR disaster. Especially as Russell Slade is already shaping up to be a shrewd operator and one who isn't going to be sold short or stick to a Regime script.

Sunday 24 July 2016

Inadequate squad, "miles away" from challenging

Following the drab scoreless draw with League Two Orient yesterday, Russell Slade commented that his squad was "miles away" from being in a position to challenge in League One. Hardly a suprise given we are down to fourteen fit players with first team experience (only have 18 in total) and were forced to give four U21's first team debuts.

I am fairly confident that Russell will be spoken to tomorrow about his 'negative' comments, although I also take them as deliberate in order to force some activity and decision-making from Madame Meire. I also note with interest the wording of the PR letter to season ticket renewers with Russell's name attached that makes the point that he is in regular dialogue with Steve Amory about the performances of youth players. It would be astonishing if he wasn't, so the comment is a big clue about how the Regime envisages getting through this season methinks. Not just on the cheap but also hoping to put more players in the shop window, probably at the expense of results.

Expect some panic acquisitions over the next ten working days. The beauty of having a Network is that one or two can turn-up at the drop of a hat, as Chris Powell found out, much to his bemusement. That could teach Slade an early lesson.

Meanwhile, then, odds on relegation remain very attractive ranging from 14-1 to 25-1 (Betfair). Possibly still a reflection of Bookies looking to make a market and assuming we are still, somehow, a big club with a billionaire owner who will be flashing the cash to get us up at the first attempt, instead of a shrunken club with a billionaire owner whose first priority is break-even and who simply couldn't care less what the other consequences of that policy might be. Get on it before the weight of money and early season form drags prices down.

Friday 22 July 2016

Charlton Season Ticket sales down 45%

The Official Site has now confirmed that season tickets sold for League One are a massive 45% down on last year. No surprise to those of us who could see the top of the waterfall approaching or those who were counting available seats on the Club website.

The gap could be shortened to 40% by kick-off, but it's still appalling and when you consider that they have had to cannibalise these revenues here by offering a £175 season ticket to persuade a majority of those you realise just how bad things are.

Katrien Meire will have her excuses ready for Uncle Roly and you can bet they will start and finish with 'relegation.' Duchebag won't know any better because he's still completely clueless having failed to spend any real time here and only listening to his puppet and her small  coterie of brown-nosers. She will tell him the model of profiting from player sales is continuing to allow them the keep their heads above water when the actual position is that the club continues to shrink at an alarming rate. With the prospect of another difficult season in prospect and the likelihood th7at we won't have another Gomez or Lookman on our hands, things could get decidedly hard come May.

The ongoing fire-sale of anyone who will command a fee plus the loaning out of bigger wage earners who don't, means our squad in shrinking in numbers and quality. Russell Slade may well have an over-whelming feeling of deja vu once the season gets underway.

I am sitting innthe evening Cypriot sunshine as I type this without a care in the world. I haven't renewed and have decided I won't be renewing either. I will, most likely, buy a cheap seat online for The Cobblers game, so I can judge for myself how we might fare this season. It's nice to know I won't be bothering with the Football League trophy nonsense that is an insult to our intelligence and that I don't have to bother with any games that don't appeal, like the first evening league fixture for instance.

This is what I am reduced to by that arrogant and clueless buffoon in Belgian and the lightweight, incompetent he has installed as his Chief Executive. A decision that ran out of any possible merit a long time ago and which is now simply an insulting imposition on the club and it's supporters.

I will confidently predict a further shrinkage of the club this season and, frankly, unless Russell Slade can work a miracle he hasn't managed in 20 years, I think we can possibly emulate Blackpool, a club ownership as far apart from it's fanbase as ours, and end any remaining doubts about just how catastrophic Roland Duchatelet has been for Charlton Athletic Football Club.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Farewell Honourable Henderson

Sorry to see Stephen Henderson preparing to leave the Valley and start afresh at Nottingham Forest. Henderson is approaching his goal-keeping prime at 28. He is probably too expensive for League One and there could be a fee involved which will make it a no-brainer for Meire and Duchebag.

Hendo has also been openly critical of The Regime but will not have missed his Christmas card from Katrien Meire. The honest Dubliner earned huge respect from me last season when he was left to face the press after Karel Fraye fled the scene again at Huddersfield after a five-nil walloping. Henderson was patently hurting and he bared all in a five minute session where he didn't need to say much to convey how he was feeeling. The tone of his voice told all you needed to hear.

So, good luck Hendo, you were a class act in Charlton colours and we wish you well at Forest. You deserve Championship football and I hope you can remain  injury-free and join the growing band of better players we have exited on the cheap, only to watch them progress at other ckubs.

Sunday 17 July 2016

Duchatelet rakes in £5m with more to come

Roland Duchatelet may have presided over relegation last season as the billionaire owner. Katrien Meire has managed to shrink the club during that time and lose something like £6m in operating costs which will run into this coming season.

However, the sale of Jordan Cousins to QPR and Johan Berg Gudmundson and Nicky Pope to Burnley (expected tomorrow) will effectively cover this year's losses. With Stephen Henderson and Tony Watt also due to be outed at the first possible mention of money and Ademola Lookman yet to be ransomed to the highest bidder, it's not impossible for Duchatelet to recoup £10m which atop the previous transfer fees for Stephens, Kermorgant and Poyet, would mean he has recovered the lion-share of his operating costs since he rode in to continue the misery since we dropped out of the Premier League ten years ago. Looking on the bright side, that might encourage him to look more closely at selling the club on and ending our pain and his ignominy. We can but hope and continue to fight him and Pinnochio Meire at every turn.

Thursday 14 July 2016

New Ticket Farce

I knew it wouldn't be long before Katrien Meire made another characterisric faux pas. Her inability to understand football supporters is quite staggering. As bad as, well Margaret Thatcher, as I wrack my brains. She just doesn't get it and keeps applying a unique business logic which doesn't work. In fact, it may be the work of that other cretin, Tony Keohane, but she will have lapped it up nonetheless.

What am I on about? Well they have clearly been scratching their heads about two worrying, but connected problems, the dramatic season ticket sales slump and the increased ticket office costs next season as many of those who refuse to handover lump sums in advance, pick and choose their matches and buy game to game. The business genius answer is to disincentivise game to game purchasing by charging a £2.50 handling fee if you want to buy tickets involving human interaction - collecting or buying in person at the Valley. For Meire it also has the delicious added bonus of financially penalising all those protesting bastards who won't renew their season tickets. It is also likely to inconvenience less tech-savvy fans like the 50% of ours who are over 50, you know, the old ones she would rather weren't here. Untypically the website information is incomplete and ambiguous so it's unclear whether this will be £2.50 per transaction or per ticket. I think I know the answer to this question because she will be looking at how Ticket Touts like Ticketmaster, Viagogo, See Tickets, Get Me In and the others now routinely rip us all off at events.

Oh, and they have added an extra penalty. Faced with busier matchday traffic in the ticket office, they have thought of a similar ruse for that too. If you can't be bothered turning up early enough to purchase your match ticket two clear hours in advance of kick-off you will asked for an additional £3!

In short, if you are a casual fan or decide to go at relatively short notice and get down to the ground at 1.05pm, you will be mugged for a £5.50 handling fee on top of what I expect will be pricey League One ticket cost. Call me a miserable old git, but that is not a progressive, foward-looking, welcoming, inclusive or friendly way to approach prospective customers, let alone your own supporters. It's a small-minded, short-sighted, road-to-nowhere policy that will drive already disgruntled supporters to tell them where to stick it. Casual fans and neutrals will suffer it once only.

What's more, there's a load of added complications they haven't worked out yet. Will this also apply to away fans? Will they do it for Cup matches (if we get a home draw this season)? Will it apply to away games? What about Valley Express ticket purchases?

Yet another half-baked policy that could only ever be dreamt up by naive non-football fans and authorised with an air of spiteful satisfaction. It is in perfect keeping with the Roland Duchatelet-Katrien Meire vicious-circle that continues inexorably to shrink our club further and further. If you were beginning to get a flutter of excitement that this season may be different on the ownership and club mismanagement front, stand easy, nothing's changed.

My bet here is that this one is guaranteed to be one of their enforced U-turns because of widespread insult it will generate and the corresponding decline in attendance and associated revenues. If only they would talk to their fans or actually listen to what they say. They even have a Target Somecompletelyunrealistic number focus group they could have consulted, but no, they know best.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Farewell Jordan Cousins

As predicted, Charlton youth product and established midfield engine, Jordan Cousins, has moved to QPR in a deal that nets Roland Duchatelet £1.2m. The money will help close the operating losses of last season and allows Cousins a better opportunity to develop his career in the Championship.

Cousins has been 'one of ours' and it's been great to watch him establish himself in our side and in the Championship over 125 appearances. Pace was a key strength although I felt this had become less of a used weapon as Jordan increasingly played it safe with limited runs and more, shorter passing. He may have been playing to order but it made him less effective and perhaps he will get a new lease of life under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. Jordan also became more defensive during his time with us when I would like to have seen him used to run at defenders. He certainly should have scored more than seven goals but did have a tendency to over-run when going for goal. The more recent decision to use him on the wing also didn't suit his game but successive Coaches persevered without him ever looking fully comfortable or competent.

Good luck Jordan - great to know you consider "it a pleasure to be joining a masssive club like QPR." I know you have played there more than once before, but take the opportunity to look at the stadium you will now call home and remind yourself just how massive a move you have made. #noimnotbitter.

Monday 11 July 2016

We are winning the war - the protests must continue

In the wake of Saturday's practice match against Welling United, there has been some unrest and disagreement between Charlton fans on social media about how we should be facing up to League One in terms of ongoing protests about the Owner and his infliction of the Incompetent Chief Exec upon us. The behaviour of a handful of 'youngsters' whose exuberance saw a number of smoke bombs thrown on and a couple of pitch invaders has been the catalyst but the rumoured season ticket sales numbers, the arrival of Russell Slade and sight of the new home shirt with Betdaq sponsorship is fuelling the debate.

I should start by saying I was part of the ageing cynicism that was content to see some old faces and talk Charlton rather than pay to watch it on Saturday, so  I can't comment first-hand, although it's pretty clear to me that what went on was relatively tame, if a bit pathetic and had more to do with it being a local pre-season match than any serious organised protest (CARD were not involved in any way).

Katrien Meire has been silent on season ticket numbers, presumably because there's nothing to boast about. Speculation has swung between 3,250 and 9,000 with the actual number probably being closer to 5,000. I think those who can be bothered to count available seats on the website booking system would support 5,000 but it wouldn't be beyond the manipulation of data for the Club to be presenting that view over-optimistically. There will also be a spike in sales as kick-off nears but I would expect that to be much lower than normal given the resolve of those committed not to go or to pay-on-the-day and the fact that those who were going to renew anyway are likely to have done so to ensure they secured one of the cheapest tickets in the North Lower. 

However you look at it, Meire's monumental mismanagement of last season, in particular, will take a heavy toll as will the depressing reality that we have been relegated with a billionaire owner. The fact is, next season's average attendance will, in all likelihood, be a four figure number for the first time since we returned to the Valley and the capacity was limited. The grouping of fans in the cheap seats behind the goal may also lend a bit more to the atmosphere this season but the rest of the ground will look empty.

Russell Slade's appointment was a significant change of direction from the arrogant Duchatelet and the demented Meire who has finally had to acknowledge that not all of the previous five foreign appointments have been the right ones or left the club in a higher league position. Slade as manager has been well received by the vast majority of the club's supporters irrespective of views on protesting and CARD have openly backed him. However, one swallow doesn't make a Summer and in addition to Slade proving his worth, there is also the prospect that Duchatelet and Meire could well decide he isn't right for them, especially if he finds he is unhappy with the way they appear to have worked with his predecessors and chooses to speak his mind (unlike his predecessors).

Slade has picked up very quickly on the things that are intuitively important to supporters e.g. history and expectations and has been word-perfect so far. My guess is he will stay on the fans side of the line, so could well come into conflict with Madame Meire who clearly believes she is the most important person in SE7 by a very long way and has a history of decision-making that fails to consider fans at all or which is has been openly antagonistic. 

However you look at it, Duchatelet has sanctioned a change on the policy for appointing the manager and that has as much to do with the ongoing level of protests as the evident failure of the previous five. On that basis we must keep up the pressure on The Regime. We may also see a more adventurous side to spending money, especially given what he is likely to recoup in transfer fees with Gudmundsson, Cousins and probably Lookman moving on.

Home gates will be smaller this season so we probably need to see fewer, more focused organised protests as well as a firm-line on the commercial battle to deny the club any additional non-match ticket revenues. No-one has to eat or drink in the ground and boycotting the Club shop is also hardly a major hardship. There are plenty of pre-match options and we support the local community in spending our money there, business which will all support Charlton long after the Belgians are an unfortunate footnote in our history. The CARD Protest shirt will also be highly evident at all games this year and it's represents a good saving on the mass produced Nike template one with the betting logo.

Now is not the time to start doubting ourselves or to hand Meire a wedge to drive between us. We need to remember what they have done to this club over two years and how we have been treated by Katrien Meire. The pressure on Meire and Duchatelet let off in the wake of Riga managing to keep us up in 2015 but that proved to be a false dawn. We all want to see a quick return to the Championship for the future of the club and to enable Duchatelet to cut his losses to persuade him he doesn't need all the hassle of football team he has virtually zero interest in watching and a fan base where he is reviled and ridiculed for gross mismanagement and ultimate failure.

If we don't get out of this division at the first attempt, then we will also need patience and the need to protest will become even clearer and more focused yet. The longer they are here, the bigger the job for the next owners to repair the damage and restore the club to something like where we were well before they took us over from the Chancers, Jimenez and Slater.

Stay firm, the people always win in the end.

Thursday 7 July 2016

Meire gambles on shirt sponsor Betdaq

Katrien Meire's intuitive ability to make big mistakes has reared it's head again today with strong rumours that we will be replacing community shirt sponsors, University of Greenwich, with online betting firm Betdaq. That won't go down well in many quarters but Katrien won't care as she knows the fans boycott will mean much reduced revenues from replica sales.

Betdaq's clever marketing people may have spotted a weird link between their company warning on gambling responsibly and supporting Charlton Athletic under Duchatelet and Meire - 'when the fun stops, stop!'

Desperation may be a key driver because there can't be too many takers for what might be a poisoned challice. As other sponsors desert in droves, it's not surprising that pride of place on our shirts might go to someone more interested in the advertising space rather than winning hearts and minds of Charlton fans.

If it is to be Betdaq I hope they have done their Due Diligence on us of late because they need to know that replica shirt sales will likely follow season ticket numbers in heading south at a rate of knots especially since CARD have stolen a march on them with the Protest Shirt which has already filled it's order book.

Betdaq were started by Irish squillionaire, Dermot Desmond, but were bought out by Ladbrokes three years ago. No doubt they will try and seek to corner the market on the crap odds they have offered inside the ground for years. There are other online betting companies. Loads of them.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Less than five weeks to Bury away

Into July and we still have some way to go towards settling our squad for League One. Ricky Holmes, Lee Novak and Nicky Ajose have joined the team and Russell Slade has had the squad together and there is some planned team bonding in Austria. However, we will probably see a mini exodus in the coming weeks as Roland recoups some of his losses and Katrien continues to shrink the club.

I fully expect to see Johan Berg Gudmundsson get his long-awaited move to a bigger club for an undisclosed fee of c £3m. Jordan Cousins will also be favourite to secure a Championship berth if we get a fee and Brighton are circling. Ademola Lookman is also most likely to go if Arsenal, Spurs, Chelsea, Liverpool or Man City have any spare change and a vacancy in their youth teams.  A host of recent hangers-on have also been moved on with some contracts finally being terminated eg George Tucudean, and Katrien will be working some spells to dislodge a few more. Tony Watt will likely be top of her hit list, having failed to shift him twice before and I wouldn't be at all surprised to lose one or more of Texeira, Bauer and perhaps Pope or Henderson.

Slade is after another central defender which might support losing one of the existing first choices and we might need another keeper.

Beyond that, no news from the Club on anything else, most notably season ticket sales or even a new club shirt. Katrien may actually be under self-imposed withdrawal from any possible risk of further mis-communication following Varneygate. Best guesses suggest we may start the season with half (5000) the season tickets we had last season. That would see official gates drop to four figures, which would represent the ultimate judgement on the mismanagement of the club last season.

I am heading over Shooters Hill to meet up with some old mates on Saturday before the Welling match but the consensus appears that staying in the pub will be the order of the day. Only two have renewed and the rest will be match-to-match, although most of them did that last season and went to as many aways as they did homes. I expect a planning discussion about a few away games this season as The Valley is no longer the draw it once was.

Friday 1 July 2016

Varney won't pursue his action against Meire

Slightly disappointing news that Peter Varney is unlikely to pursue his case against Katrien Meire for implying he may have been supporting a potential backer with plans to move Charlton Athletic away from our spiritual home at The Valley.

In a typically considered and pragmatic statement Varney highlights the irony of making a case that his reputation and standing have suffered as a result of his allegations against Meire, when, in fact, it would be relatively simple to make the case that the quite the reverse has actually happened. 

I guess this just goes down on the ever-increasing list of 'why Meire's unfit to run our club."

I hope any waverers look at this in the cold light of day and double their resolve to maintain and intensify the protest to remove Duchatelet and Meire.