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FOOTBALL'S FRONT LINES

What’s it like to be held hostage by the worst owner in the country?

As part of our Football's Front Lines series, we visited a club at the end of its tether...

Say what you like about Charlton fans, but they hold a decent protest.

During the last few years they have lobbed various projectiles onto the Valley pitch as a way to express their dissatisfaction with Belgian owner Roland Duchatelet.

Plastic pigs, beach balls, stress balls, balloons, flares and crisps have all littered the south-east London surface.

The crisps were in response to reports staff were warned about eating at their desk after the club cut costs by slashing the cleaning budget.

Objectively, it’s a hilarious scenario.

Oink oink!

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Oink oink!

But the overall message is very serious indeed.

Charlton fans are sick of Duchatelet’s calamitous reign and want him out.

I went to the Addicks’ home clash with Doncaster to see if the protests are working, and whether any fans find the protests at all amusing.

“You want to laugh when beachballs are on the pitch and pigs are flying over your head,” says Tom Wallin from the award-nominated Charlton Live podcast.

“It’s funny but the reason we are doing it is obviously still very serious.”

That’s not hard to see.

The club have gone from Championship play-off hopefuls to League One strugglers since Duchatelet bought them in January 2014.

But a decline in results is only the tip of the iceberg.

Long-time Premier League viewers will be familiar with Lee Bowyer

Getty - Contributor
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Long-time Premier League viewers will be familiar with Lee Bowyer

Duchatelet has sold star players, sacked popular manager Chris Powell, meddled in team affairs, and employed 11 managers in his four years in charge, including Jose Riga twice.

The Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet (CARD) have been quick to rebel.

For example, they recently delivered 100 bottles of water to the training ground because Duchatelet refused to pay for bottled water for academy players, claiming they should drink from taps.

Even the musician who wrote the club’s anthem ‘Valley Floyd Road‘ – a chap called Jon McCaffrey – has banned the club from playing it before matches, claiming “It feels like it currently has no place at Duchatelet’s Charlton”.

The fans will never give up in their pursuit for drastic change

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The fans will never give up in their pursuit for drastic change

I met Rick Everitt from CARD outside the club shop on a blustery day in south-east London.

He has sold copies of his Voice of The Valley Fanzine outside the ground for 30 years.

Rick is well known in SE7 as being vociferously anti-Duchatelet, and he’s not afraid to let people know.

“People were quite open-minded when he came in,” he said.

“But in the opening month he sold star player Jan Kermorgant and two months later sacked Powell who was a popular manager.

“It became quite clear that the guy had no clue how to run a football club.

“Most people have concluded that he is mad, they concluded that some time ago and every time he opens his mouth he proves it again.”

Fans spoke openly about their disdain for the club’s hierarchy

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Fans spoke openly about their disdain for the club’s hierarchy

The last time Duchatelet’s ‘opened his mouth’ was during a controversial interview with talkSPORT where he claimed Charlton only takes up two percent of his time.

He went on to say that he doesn’t speak to manager Lee Bowyer and bizarrely blamed fans for Chris Wilder’s decision to snub the Addicks in favour of boyhood club Sheffield United.

He did offer an apology of sorts to the fans.

But they aren’t having it.

“The truth is he doesn’t care and that’s the real problem,” Wallin told me.

“He did save us from administration when he came in but ever since then it’s just been mistake after mistake.”

The League One play-off hunt promises to be competitive

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The League One play-off hunt promises to be competitive

There were no protests planned for the day I frequented The Valley.

In fact, there weren’t that many people present at all; the stadium was less than half full at kick-off.

There were so few people the letters “V.A.L.L.E.Y” were clearly visible on the seats of the East Stand.

Those that did show up were at pains to make it clear they were in attendance for the team, not the owner.

Not that Duchatelet turns up these days, such is the animosity towards him.

Sometimes empty seats make the most noise

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Sometimes empty seats make the most noise

Most fans have been pushed beyond their limits.

“Everyone is just tired,” adds Lewis Catt, also from Charlton Live. “We’re at the end of our tether with some of the nonsense he is coming out with.”

“People are finding it difficult to find the strength to protest, and that’s what’s really difficult.

“It feels like nothing is working.”

This feeling of fatigue is common.

Lifelong fan Richard Curness, 60, sighed when I asked him about the club’s situation.

“There’s a lot of people disgruntled,” he said. “Charlton has always been known as a family club but they have lost a lot of fans and possibly lost that family side of things too.”

One of many recent protests

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One of many recent protests

Some fans actively avoid the protests, like 17-year-old Mickey Jarmyn.

“I don’t pay attention to that,” he told me. “I just come to watch the team play.

“I see it on the news all the time, I’m like ‘Why? What’s the point?’ It’s silly to be honest.

“I don’t think they make a difference.”

Doncaster fans Ken and Mary Smith had sympathy for their opponents on the day, but they weren’t impressed with the protests.

“Going back donkeys years ago, Doncaster had a similar thing with an owner,” Ken said.

“I don’t conform with that at all,” added Mary. “That is not the way to protest.

“I’d feel intimidated by fans behaving in that way.”

The backlash

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The backlash

The half-empty ground welcomed the players out in fine voice and chanted managerial team Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson’s names throughout; evidence of the loyalty fans are willing to show to the right people.

Charlton knocked it about nicely en route to a 2-0 win over a flat Donny side.

The win took Charlton up to eighth in League One – above Doncaster – and just three points off the play-offs.

Assistant manager, and club legend, Jackson was upbeat after the final whistle, but admitted he’s seen all sorts of protests in his 11 years at the club.

“I’ve seen it all; pigs, teddy bears, footballs, crisps,” he laughs.

Jackson has seen it all first-hand

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Jackson has seen it all first-hand

“I’m a bit blasé to it now but I do understand why people want to stay away and that’s fair enough, they are absolutely entitled to their opinion.

“But it would be great to see The Valley full again.”

The fans agree, but such a sight will only be possible when Duchatelet – who claims he is trying to sell the club – goes.

“Imagine the first game when we have new ownership,” mused Catt. “This place will be packed to the rafters!”

It’s the least they deserve; Bowyer, his team, and the fans.

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