Charlton went back to the Valley 22 years ago this week on the 5th December 1992
Yes we keep reminding everyone. It is also 2 years since Charlton fans decided to start their own Supporters' Trust - 5th December 2012. Why do we keep going on about it? I'll try to answer that here and I beg your indulgence in giving my views on this and other matters.
We at the Supporters' Trust think the achievement of Charlton fans is something to be proud of; something to shout about; something that makes our club special. You can say a club is special and has a family atmosphere without it being true but, in this case however, there are tangible reasons why Charlton has been called a special club and this is one of them.
I believe we are special due to the nature of our support, but there is another reason. Charlton pretty much invented fan participation and for a very good reason. Without it, beginning with the long struggle to get the club back to its ancestral home; and starting institutions like Valley Gold, CAFC may have simply ceased to exist. Fans and Board joined together to fight against the odds for survival, and then to raise funds for re-building the ground and club Many fans were brought in and worked for the club.
This situation was the remedy for a crisis, but it was also a recipe for success as it would turn out. Charlton went from strength to strength, building its support year on year, and reached the 1998 Division 1 playoff final, well you know the rest. The club and the fans were one in a unique fusion. Something only emulated by Swansea at this level, with the aid of a Supporters' Trust who own 19.99% - they are currently enjoying a prolonged spell in the Premier League, and I am told Charlton were their inspiration.
The innovation of a Supporters' Director position was created to give fans who joined the VIP scheme some ownership, and later the elections were extended to season ticket holders. Sadly we let it be abolished, times were good, fans were running the club, what could go wrong? Several relegations later and one promotion, fans no longer on the Board or working within the club, and a send new owner.
What of the new ownership? Peeters has become fairly popular, and the team building has gone well. Success is a close second priority I suspect for most real fans, long term survival being the other. Has fan participation improved? The Fans Forum has been expanded slightly and meets regularly to discuss issues.
Are the Supporters Trust collaborating with Charlton in any kind of genuine strategic partnership? No is the answer I'm sorry to say, but as we have argued on many occasions there is a lot of potential there. At present the new ownership do not seem convinced there is a benefit. We will of course try to work harder to persuade them. For it to happen there must be appetite on both sides.
Charlton is still a special club, the culture is still there for now at least and just needs to be tapped into. We are not an Arsenal or a Chelsea with a huge support base or Season Ticket waiting list, we support our club for love rather than glory.
Do we need a Supporters Trust?
Some people ask this, certainly in relative good times, and, after the initial excitement and growth of CAS Trust, why should fans renew their membership ?
My answer to this is that it really is optional. If Charlton fans really don't want any independent single democratic and nationally accountable representation they shouldn't join. If they do, well please do dust off that fiver, or dig behind the sofa, and join or renew online or in person at our matchday stall. castrust.org/join
A Trust isn't just for Crisis.. a little soundbite I coined. My own vision of a Supporters' Trust is that it be there for life. Football changes, owners change, players, divisions, you name it. One thing that doesn't is the generations of supporters, which is why I think we need our own network.
What we would like to do is bring back the feeling of ownership by the fans by collaborative projects and initiatives with CAFC bringing the club and the fans together, a strategic partnership. We showed this could be done under the previous administration and believe it can be repeated and bettered. In the meantime, look around the ground, even with some relative success it looks visually emptier each year. Perhaps we are in a crisis but don't know it?
What other things does the Supporters Trust have to offer as well as potential partnership with the club?
Well among other things, a voice and representation at national level. Yes we have a fans forum and its a good platform for airing issues, but it isn't the same as having an independent single voice for all fans regardless of geography. The Fans Forum doesn't for example have a website, produce research or articles, etc
An annual survey that finds out what fans really think. In my view this is so important. Through a scientifically run and interpreted survey we then know what fans are likely to think about the big issues of the day. It's our way of really giving you a voice - its not just a soundbite.
A well regarded quarterly magazine and website that highlights issues of real concern to fans.
Our volunteer writers, designers, and distributors put a lot of effort into producing our free magazine with 3,500 in print, pdf and e-reader versions. Importantly, it contains serious articles about Charlton and the wider world of football that should concern all fans. Our most recent edition is a very good example in my view of exactly that.
As you may know we try to support Valley Gold as much as possible - it was formed 25 years ago to help get the club back to the Valley in the Selhurst years. The cancellation of the 25 year celebration, and the news that Wendy Perfect has resigned are both a big disappointment to me personally.
CAS Trust was on the organising committee for the celebration but was not involved in the decision to cancel. We were also not in a position to publicise it as much as we would have liked. If we had been involved more at a critical stage I fully believe we could have intervened and helped it - this nearly happened last year when bookings were low.
It is possible it was too ambitious to have another annual event every year but I feel the success of last year's dinner was due to the backing it received from Ben Kensell and Steve Bradshaw - both of whom have now left the club, and us of course.
Also coming up soon is the 25 year anniversary of the Valley Party, perhaps the Supporters' Trust can help with that.
What lies ahead for the Supporters Trust?
I don't believe there are many hard and fast rules for what format a Supporters' Trust takes. It's organic and based on what the fans want, and most importantly want to put in. I don't take fans support for CAS Trust for granted, but neither should fans take the Trust for granted, unless fans support it, it will gradually cease to exist. On a related note I want our next elections to be as good as they can be, and we will redouble our efforts to get as many fans to take part as possible.
We may have to fund TNT and our website with advertising. This is something I have so far resisted, but if we can't maintain our high membership levels, we either need to trim down our distribution levels of TNT, make it 3 times a year instead of 4 or perhaps, reduce the number we give out. Incidentally I am disappointed with the feedback on a huge typo in the latest edition - we put these in on purpose to see if anyone actually reads it. So far only one person has spotted it and they weren't a fan.
Name change? Not so far although some have argued this. The mystical art of branding is a delicate matter so for now we remain CAS Trust. I have toyed with the Addicks' Trust as subtitle but in attempting to address some confusion with those lovely people at CACT (the Community Trust) I've so far settled on emphasising SUPPORTERS' Trust in our literature.
Finally, the big news for fans is that if (and it is a big if) legislation promised by the Shadow Sports minister is enacted we may find we once more have fans on the board at Charlton, and other football clubs. Importantly if this happens it will be Supporters' Trusts that elect those Directors.
You can still take our recent survey which will run until after the Blackpool match, a signed shirt is on offer so please do enter.
Have a great Christmas both on and off the pitch..