Charlton Champion exclusive: Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has asked Charlton Athletic chief executive Katrien Meire for a meeting as the crisis surrounding the club intensified following its 5-0 defeat at Huddersfield Town last night.
Fans have been alarmed by the handling of events both on and off the field this season under the ownership of Belgian electronics tycoon Roland Duchâtelet. A group – Coalition Against Roland Duchâtelet – was formed today to force the businessman out of the club.
2,000 fans held a noisy protest at The Valley earlier this month, following revelations in the Voice of The Valley fanzine that Duchâtelet and Meire had rebuffed attempts by former club boss Peter Varney – who ran the side in its Premier League era – to introduce them to investors who were interested in buying the Addicks from them.
Pennycook has written to Meire – who has not made any public statements since a video emerged of her implying the clubs fans were “weird” – to seek her side of the story. He is also talking to Eltham MP and shadow sports minister Clive Efford, whose constituency includes the club’s training ground in New Eltham.
The Addicks – second from bottom of the Championship, English football’s second tier – have haemorrhaged experienced staff both on and off the pitch, with cost-saving measures including leasing out the space formerly occupied by its ticket office as an NHS call centre.
The ticket office windows are closed Wednesdays and Thursdays – making it impossible to physically buy a ticket from The Valley on those days – while it is heavily rumoured that Duchâtelet plans to demolish the club shop on Floyd Road to build flats. When asked by this website late last year, Greenwich Council said there had been no correspondence about such a proposal.
An indication of what may be planned for The Valley can be found at the electronics magnate’s first club, Belgian first division side Sint-Truiden, whose Stayen ground has been redeveloped to include high street retail units, bars and a hotel.
Duchâtelet appears determined to run the Addicks at a profit – despite the fact that most Championship sides of Charlton’s size run at a loss – by relying heavily on cut-price transfers of players from other European sides he owns and stepping up the use of Charlton’s academy players, as well as slashing the numbers of administrative staff. Meire told a conference in Dublin last November that the club would sustain itself by selling younger players to Premier League sides.
Fans – who have taken to wearing black and white scarves as a display of their unhappiness – fear that Duchâtelet’s cost-cutting has sent the club into an irreversible spiral of decline which will be made worse by relegation to League One, where revenues are tiny. The man himself has not spoken to fans or the media about the situation. (Read more about the situation at The Valley.)
One function that appears to have been badly hit has been the club’s marketing department. Banners placed in streets near The Valley boast “KIDS GO FREE” at Charlton – except children have always been charged admission fees there.
Charlton’s last spell in League One saw the team maintain healthy season ticket sales – but disgruntled fans are threatening not to renew this summer, meaning big drops in revenue not just for the club, but for other local businesses too.
Tuesday’s 5-0 hammering at Huddersfield saw “interim head coach” Karel Fraeye – a long-time associate of Duchâtelet – refuse to speak to the press, leaving clearly distraught goalkeeper Stephen Henderson to field questions.
It is reported that Nebojša Vignjević, manager of Duchâtelet’s Hungarian side Újpest, is lined up to replace Fraeye, who has lost most of his matches in charge since being appointed in October. (6pm update: Fraeye was sacked this evening without replacement, after an aborted attempt to persuade Vignjević to come to Charlton.)
Further protests are planned for Charlton’s next home match, against Blackburn on 23 January, although it is not yet clear what form they will take.