Charlton Athletic’s play-off triumph at Wembley on Sunday will have landed thousands across south-east London with hangovers yesterday morning. Now the many fans who have been boycotting home matches in protest at Roland Duchâtelet’s disastrous ownership of the side now face a dilemma – to buy a season ticket for Championship football next season or not?
More than 38,000 filled the Charlton end at Wembley on Sunday to see the side come back from a disastrous early own goal, when goalkeeper Dillon Phillips misjudged a backpass from defender Naby Sarr and was help running helplessly as the ball dribbled into his own net, giving Sunderland an early advantage.
Naby Sarr & Dillion Phillips. This has to be one of the biggest blunders in the history of the football league play-offs! 🤦♂️
Ben Purrington equalised for the Addicks towards the end of the first half, setting up a tense second half. Just as it looked to be going to extra time, Patrick Bauer’s late, late winner saw scenes of pandemonium.
Greenwich Council’s leader has stepped into the crisis engulfing Charlton Athletic, writing to the football club’s owner Roland Duchâtelet urging him to pay staff the bonuses they have earned.
Backroom staff at The Valley and at the club’s training ground in Sparrows Lane, Eltham – many of whom are poorly-paid and work long hours on matchdays – have been told by the Belgian electronics magnate that they will not be receiving promised performance bonus payments because the club is in financial trouble.
Staff are considering legal action against Duchâtelet, whose four-year tenure at the club has seen the team relegated to League One amid a backdrop of instability, with a huge drop in income with the loss of TV rights money and fans staying away from The Valley.
“There is a huge groundswell of concern over this issue and is is a testament to the strong feelings… that so many fans are set to take part in a protest which could disrupt the match on Saturday,” he said.
He added that the club was “a source of great pride” in Greenwich borough.
A promised takeover of the club has, after many months, still not materialised, and Duchâtelet has instigated a cost-cutting regime, including denying academy players bottled water, cutting the use of electricity and taping up paper dispensers in toilets.
Thorpe’s intervention is the first time the council has got involved in the long-running saga at Charlton, although local MP Matt Pennycook has written to Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and the English Football League about the issue.
Two years ago, Thorpe’s predecessor Denise Hyland refused a request from a fan to talk to Duchâtelet about fans’ worries about the club’s future. The following year she even took part in a photocall with Eltham MP Clive Efford and Duchâtelet’s former chief executive to promote the redevelopment of the club’s training ground.
Charlton Athletic fans protesting against the club’s controversial owner have raised £3,500 for Charlton Park Riding for the Disabled Association after selling nearly 1,000 protest t-shirts.
The black and white shirts – loosely based on the kit the Addicks won the 1947 FA Cup in – have been sold as an alternative to the club’s official shirts for fans who are boycotting official merchandise while Belgian electronics magnate Roland Duchâtelet remains in charge.
Duchâtelet and his chief executive, Katrien Meire, have overseen the club’s collapse into League One and a 40% drop in season ticket sales since taking over in January 2014. They are now on their seventh team manager, Russell Slade, and are 14th in League One.
Fans clubbed together on the Charlton Life forum to get the shirts made – even getting them sponsored by technology company Data Techniques, which pulled its own backing from the club in protest at its mismanagement.
They have now made enough money from sales to donate cash to local good causes. A further £3,500 is going to the Demelza children’s charity, which operates a hospice in Eltham.
Other proceeds from sales will help fund further protests against Duchâtelet, which have included disrupting matches with black and white beach balls and protesting in the tycoon’s home town of Sint-Truiden.
John Furlonger, chair of the trustees of Charlton Park Riding for the Disabled Association, said: “The group is run entirely by a happy, dedicated team of volunteers getting disabled children on horseback, so it’s very dependent on its community. The same volunteers also work astonishingly hard at everything else in between, from mucking out the horses to fundraising. No charges are made for riding.
“This wonderful donation will go a very long way indeed in making a real difference helping local disabled children to reach their true life potential. Heartfelt thanks are sent from everyone at Charlton Group to each and every Charlton fan who contributed for your kindness.”
Bob Jacobs, who runs Data Techniques, said: “Over the past 20 years we have spent in the region of £200,000 with Charlton as match sponsors, executive box holders and on corporate events at The Valley.
“For us it’s always been about ‘our’ team, not the owners of the club. By sponsoring the protest shirt, we took the opportunity to publicly express our opinion on what is happening to the club and support such a good cause as Demelza.”
Although Duchâtelet has finally appointed a manager with British experience after trying a succession of failed “head coaches” from Belgium, fans and the club’s owners remain bitterly divided. Recent developments include:
The disclosure that much of Charlton’s transfer policy was being run by an inexperienced Belgian, Thomas Driesen, over the heads of the club’s coaches and scouts. Driesen remains involved in Duchâtelet’s set-up.
The grandson of Jimmy Seed, the manager that won Charlton the FA Cup in 1947, has disassociated his family from plans to renew the faded “Jimmy Seed Stand” sign that adorns The Valley’s south stand. “He would be horrified to hear about the scouting ‘system’ imposed on the club by Roland Duchâtelet over the last four years”, Jim Dutton said.
Season ticket sales are down to 6,297, compared with 10,278 at the same stage last season – the lowest figure in nearly two decades – as long-term fans stay away.
A rare visit to London by Duchâtelet saw the club boast he had met a “fan group” set up by the owners, Target 20,000 – but even that stage-managed show of harmony ended in disarray after one of its members was told to resign after discussing the meeting on Twitter.
Duchâtelet told the group he rarely visits the club as it only accounts for 1.5% of his investments, and that he wished rival football fans would mingle together, as they do at rugby. Ironically, Charlton fans have been joined by rivals in their protests – including those of AFC Wimbledon, who beat the Addicks 2-1 at The Valley last Saturday.
The Addicks’ decline doesn’t just affect the club, it affects the area too, which is why this website will continue to cover the protests. Locally-based fan Dave Thomson and The Valley Cafe’s Mehmat Mantery discuss the impact of decline and Duchâtelet on the club and the community in this short video.
Tickets have been cut to £5 for next Saturday’s match against Rochdale. The Football for a Fiver match has traditionally attracted crowds of well over 20,000 – but with fans having withdrawn goodwill from the club, this season’s match is likely to see renewed protests as well as a fall in sales.
A limited number of protest shirts are still available for £25 adults and £19.05 for children – visit coveredendchoir.co.uk for more.