Charlton in disarray – how should we respond?

After the formal business of the CAS Trust AGM on Thursday the Trust Chairman Steve Clarke invited members to comment on how they felt the Trust should respond to recent events at the club. In addition, members who could not attend the meeting had been invited to send in their thoughts in writing.

There was general dismay at the current plight of the club. Lack of a unifying vision; poor managerial appointments; instability and inexperience; alienating public statements, and unwillingness to appreciate the club’s history and its fans were among the reasons expressed for people’s disaffection. Poor performance on the pitch and declining attendances were seen to be the inevitable result.

The Trust had left the February public meeting with a clear mandate to continue to pursue constructive dialogue with the club. Steve Clarke acknowledged that we had clearly been unsuccessful in establishing any sort of commitment to an ongoing participation with supporters on strategic matters such as is enjoyed by, for example, the supporters' trusts at Chelsea and Tottenham.

We are however now more optimistic as, in discussions with the club in recent weeks, we have been given indications of a thawing in their attitude to the idea of serious dialogue with the Trust. We have little doubt that this is largely because of the current plight of the club but we will nevertheless be pursuing all possible routes over the next few weeks to get this engagement off the ground. In addition the club are setting up a meeting with representatives of various supporters groups to be held in early November. It is the Trust board’s view that, particularly in the light of all the effort over the months to secure dialogue, it would be foolish to jeopardise the opportunity at this late stage. This view was endorsed by the Trust’s external advisors.

In our previous communications with the CEO, she has said nothing to encourage us to believe that she and the owner would be prepared to enter into a partnership with supporters or to share strategic discussions. The Trust would therefore attend any meetings in hope of a breakthrough but also recognising the need for demonstrably greater engagement than to date. Steve Clarke asked the meeting for views on how the Trust should respond if, in a few weeks time, it found itself no further forward.

A short presentation was given on the Spell it Out campaign whereby supporters would be encouraged to wear black and white scarves to emphasise that they wanted to see the club’s vision and strategy spelt out in black and white and for supporter communications to be replied to. A variation on this was suggested whereby supporters dress in black to express mourning

There were a number of proposals for supporters to make a statement by leaving their seats at an agreed moment or by arriving in their seats at an agreed time after kick off. A variation on this would be for spectators to turn their backs at an agreed moment or to begin a specific chant. A boycott of catering outlets and merchandise was mooted. There was little enthusiasm for boycotting matches and there was some concern expressed about a demonstration before a match.

It was recognised that the impact of any of these gestures would be most forceful at the forthcoming Ipswich match on Sky TV. The point was also made that, if the aim of any protest was not clearly spelt out, it would be unlikely to attract support.

The October CAS Trust supporter survey shows that 80% of the 450 respondents still want the Trust to pursue dialogue. There is no significant difference in this between members and non-members. The suggestion was made that CAS Trust should extend surveys to try to capture all fans.

There was a broad discussion about the role that CAS Trust should play in the current situation. Concern was expressed that, if the Trust are too circumspect in their approach, they will not be representing fans’ views. On the other hand, it was recognised that it would be detrimental at this point for the Trust to find itself excluded from the forthcoming dialogue. It was also argued that this is not an either:or situation. Some felt that the Trust should be able to be openly critical at the same time as pursuing dialogue. The view was also expressed that the Trust should not shy away from leadership.