The Costa all this

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CAS Trust member Paul Breen gives his personal take on last week's public meeting....

Last Wednesday’s public meeting in Woolwich is going to be reported in various ways over the coming days and weeks I imagine, but here’s just a short take on events and a few snapshots of things that were said. Rick Everitt’s rousing speech stands out as a moment all those in attendance will long remember -  a rallying cry for us all to stand up and make sure that the identity of the club is not lost. Yet for me, as someone who started supporting Charlton in fairly recent times, it was the voice of the ordinary supporter that gave me a new depth of insight into the feelings of our fan base.

I may have written a book in which I go to great lengths to describe a Charlton crest tattooed on someone’s arm but the words of one of our members last night went far deeper than flesh and ink.

With an honest and down to earth passion, he talked of how this club is tattooed in his heart and that came across in the opinions of all who spoke, even those who are still on the fence regarding the intentions of the present regime. There was the former Tottenham fan who like me is a convert, and probably a braver one at that, for he’s moved his affections from another London club rather than switching from being a Liverpool supporter growing up in Ireland. Then there were the dozens who have supported this club for decades before I was born, going back almost as far as the time of the images we were shown of the 1947 FA Cup victory at the start of the night. Some talked of having seen seven regimes in their time here. I have already seen three in eight years of following Charlton, but none have divided opinions such as this one.

A pertinent question was asked by one of the main speakers that echoed with me for hours afterwards – would we prefer to be an independent London club or part of a European network?

My gut reaction was that my heart says independence but my head also tells me that some of our fans would be content with a successful team delivering performances such as the one that swept aside Brentford at the weekend.

There are some who may be surprised that this meeting carried the views of such supporters – that it was not purely an exercise in bashing Mister Duchatelet. Yet it was not. There was none of the vitriol directed towards the owners that has come from the terraces in recent times. It was a very civilised and organised meeting in which there was a frank exchange of views and all opinions were applauded, including those voicing support for our owner.

Yet even they agreed that we need to better understand his vision and that he needs to communicate more clearly and honestly with us. He needs to show us that while Charlton may not be tattooed on his heart, he understands that there are many for whom that is the case and they cannot and should not be ignored. In his defence though he probably does feel intimidated by football supporters even though this is the business he has chosen to invest in. We are a passionate bunch and some more passionate than others. We aren’t the generic customers you come across in the business world, and we have a deep affiliation with the thing that corporate-minded people might see as the brand.

As of now, lest we should forget it, Mr Duchatelet owns the Charlton brand, which scares a lot of people. We just want to know what he plans to do with the club, the brand, the business model, and whatever else he has taken historical custody of. I bring in history here because there is a sense that he does not quite understand the history of our club and therefore believes that he can somehow wipe the slate clean and start again as if taking over one of the pubs in Greenwich or Ramsgate and giving it a makeover and new identity – maybe changing it from a working man and women’s club to a fancy gastropub. Yet football fans are not like pub customers. Aside from going to see Leyton Orient once, Ebbsfleet once, and accepting freebies to Wembley to see Charity Shield games, I’m not going to dip in and out of football the way that I dip in and out of pubs or coffeeshops. I’m not going to go on a footie crawl from Brentford on a Friday night to Charlton on a Saturday, Palace on a Sunday, and Chelsea on a Monday.

That’s why one of my favourite lines on the night was from a gentleman who talked of not wanting us to become like Costa coffee, part of an identikit franchise across several countries. I think that’s when it hit home – and I started seeing better where the network business model is coming from. I don’t though have confirmation of that view. I wish they would talk to us and tell us if indeed we are to be the football equivalent of Costa in terms of how we are seen as customers and communicated to.

Some might be happy with this because Costa is a very successful company, second only to Starbucks in terms of sales in the whole world, and top of the tree in UK coffee sales. It’s highly professional, fast, efficient, and embedded in the identity of main streets up and down this country from here to Newcastle. If in football terms we were Costa, we’d be pretty good at what we do, very successful, and very rich. And there probably are many fans that would be happy with this scenario if it came about.

However in that model I guess anyone walks through the door as an equal, buys the product, consumes it, and goes again with minimum fuss. Apart from loyalty cards there are no special treatments for regulars, and the prominence of the brand itself replaces any form of personalisation or personal sense of having a share in the ownership and identity of the company.

Last Wednesday I listened to those who have a very passionate sense of belonging and of ownership, and I would hope that soon Mister Duchatelet listens to the Trust as well. As I said, I am new to Charlton but deeply proud of the history that I am learning about with every new game, and trip to places such as the museum. I do think we need to get dialogue going, as agreed at the meeting, and the sooner the better. I also think, as a strong advocate of remembering history that we must be careful not to seem like we are supporting figures from the past too strongly over the present. That is why I would not be keen on a minute’s chanting of Chris Powell’s name in the Huddersfield game – polite applause yes if anyone wants to do it, but he is the manager of our rivals now and if we want Roland to see that we are serious about dialogue then we need to show that we as fans are on the side of our team.

Then again there are some who might say that the time has passed for dialogue and that’s a whole other discussion. Somebody else can have that one.