Charlton Athletic crisis: Greenwich MP asks for meeting with troubled club’s boss

The Valley
Dark days at The Valley: Rumours claim the club shop could be replaced by flats

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.

Spell it Out
Fans have been mocking Katrien Meire’s public statements on social media

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.)

Charlton Athletic banner
“Kids go free”… except they don’t

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.

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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.

1,100 locals press Greenwich Council to improve road safety

The petition was presented at last night's council meeting
The petition was presented at last night’s council meeting

Last night, residents who live near Little Heath, Charlton and Hillreach in Woolwich presented Greenwich Council with a 1,100-strong petition calling for traffic calming measures after a newsagent was killed when a car mounted the pavement outside his shop.

This stretch of road, heading out of Charlton towards Woolwich barracks, is a notorious spot for collisions, with three teenagers dying in a crash with an out-of-service bus in 2008. Neighbour Jane Lawson, who attended the council meeting, picks up the story.

Just three months ago our dearly loved local newsagent, Ash Patel, was killed outside his shop on Hillreach by a car which mounted the pavement. The local community were terribly distressed and angered by this and their distress was compounded by the knowledge that there have been dreadful fatalities in the recent past and innumerable RTAs which don’t get recorded on the official statistics.

This time we were determined to get the matter addressed. A core group of local residents, spear headed by Carrie Harman, and ably assisted in the wording by Matthew Pennycook (thanks to the speed of Twitter) drew up a petition asking for traffic calming measures.

For those who are not familiar with this locality, Hillreach is an enticing Big Dipper stretch of road which seems to impel a huge number of drivers to pretend they are Lewis Hamilton – the consequences have been deadly.

And so, over the last three months the petition has grown. Scores of volunteers have knocked on doors, neighbours have been proactive in returning to empty houses, those who shop at the newsagents have spread the word locally and by the end of October the petition had reached the total of over 1,100 signatures. The response on the doorsteps showed the frustration, anger fury and determination to get action. Without exception we heard accounts of accidents, near-misses and appalling driving.

Full Council was held on 5 November where the petition was formally presented by one of the Woolwich Riverside councillors. Sadly, the procedures do not allow petitioners to address the xouncil – had that been possible, they would have been very aware of the mood of the people.

We’ve been assured that the council wish to see average speed cameras installed and Matthew Pennycook and Nick Raynsford are writing to TfL to make sure they comply.

We shall be watching closely and we don’t intend to let this matter rest until this deadly stretch of road is made safer for those who live here.

To conclude, the council meeting was attended by Ash’s son, Samir Patel, who told us that in the midst of their grief, Ash’s two kidneys and his liver were donated so that others might live. That is part of his memorial. Let’s hope that the measures we have asked for will be the rest.