Fans of Charlton Athletic are planning to step up protests against absentee owner Roland Duchâtelet after revealing the first of series of billboard posters ridiculing his ownership of the club, which has fallen to the bottom of the Championship.
It’s also emerged that Duchâtelet’s management team at The Valley are exploring the possibility of building flats inside the football club’s stadium.
The billboard, which appeared on Anchor & Hope Lane at the weekend, features a photo of a young boy at The Valley, taken in 1992, while it was being rebuilt in anticipation of the club’s return from its seven-year exile away from the area. The slogan reads: “Here before you and long after you’ve gone”.
It echoes a similar poster used by the Valley Party, which fought the 1990 local elections after Greenwich Council refused a planning application from the club to return to The Valley. That featured a young fan with the slogan: “If you don’t support us, who will he suppprt?”
The fan in the new poster, now 28, says he is boycotting home matches in protest at Duchâtelet’s running of the club.
“We’re bottom of the league at the moment, but it’s not about results,” Phil Reeks, from Greenhithe, Kent, says.
“It’s about the mistreatment of staff, the abject player recruitment policy, the constant mistruths, the same mistakes being repeated again and again, the list goes on.
“Over the years, I’ve had roughly 12 season tickets in various places around the Covered End, but I don’t currently have a season ticket. Even the club has admitted that 3,000 of its season-ticket holders aren’t currently attending games at the moment, and it’s doing nothing to win those fans back.”
The poster was taken down earlier this week, but the Campaign Against Roland Duchâtelet (CARD) says more will appear in the coming weeks.
After 2,000 fans attended a protest following the match against Blackburn Rovers at the end of January, CARD says it is planning another protest, “with a twist” for this Saturday’s game against Cardiff City.
Meanwhile, the club is considering the possibility of building flats inside The Valley, fanzine Voice of The Valley has reported.
Duchâtelet is said to have ordered his management team to find ways of making more money out of the stadium site. His first club, Belgian side Sint-Truiden, has had its Stayen stadium redeveloped to include shops, bars and a hotel. With The Valley being in a residential area – a plan to include a bowling alley met fierce opposition in the 1990s – his options are likely to be restricted to a hotel or flats.
Rumoured plans to build flats on the site of the current club shop appear to have faded for now after the club went back on an earlier scheme to close the Valley Central community space on Floyd Road. It is believed the club wanted to move the shop into the space. This website understands staff at the Charlton Athletic Community Trust were told Valley Central – which hosts youth services on behalf of Greenwich Council – would close in May, but the club later announced it would stay open.
The 36-year-old Jimmy Seed Stand – the stand furthest away from Harvey Gardens – has been identified as a candidate for redevelopment. The stand, used to accommodate away supporters, is the only significant structure to survive from the days before the club temporarily switched to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park in 1985.
Club executives are said to have visited Leyton Orient’s Brisbane Road – which has flats built in each corner, with balconies overlooking the pitch – to see how it could be done.
However, such a move is unlikely to be popular with fans, who fear it will restrict the possibility of increasing The Valley’s 27,000 capacity should the club return to the Premier League. Greenwich Council gave outline approval – since lapsed – to a plan to expand to 40,000 a decade ago, a capacity that would be unlikely if there were flats in the stadium.
There are also some practical difficulties – while the current stand is rather old, it allows the police to segregate away supporters easily. There’s also the question of how residents of any flats inside The Valley would access their homes, as the south stand does not sit on public roads.
Charlton’s defeat to relegation rivals Bristol City on Saturday leaves them at the foot of the Championship table, and leaves recently-reinstated head coach José Riga with a far harder task than his last stint in charge two years ago.
The club faced further ridicule this week when a prankster faked chief executive Katrien Meire’s signature on a document sent to Companies House, apparently resigning her role at the club.
Instead of playing down the hoax, the club – which has recently appointed a new head of communications after months of bad publicity – responded with a terse statement saying it was “investigating the matter as it is something we take seriously”, leading to press coverage of the joke in both the UK and Belgium.
In a possible indication of the mood inside the club, a security guard was posted at the entrance to the stadium on Tuesday when Duchâtelet – who has not attended a match since October 2014 – arrived for meetings.
Local MPs Matt Pennycook and Clive Efford met Meire last month to discuss fans’ concerns about the running of the club. However, Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland told a council meeting two weeks ago that there would be no similar approach from the town hall, saying she was sure the club’s management were aware of fans’ views.