A Charlton fan who has met Duchatelet

CAS Trust member Alison Sampson is one of those rare Charlton supporters who has actually met our owner through her (former) membership of the Target 20k group. The following article is reproduced from Trust News 13 which was sent to all members last week.

Just over a year ago Katrien Meire launched the Target 20,000 initiative as a “more integrated approach to how our supporters can help shape the future direction of the club”. She invited applications from fans from a variety of age groups, backgrounds and interests with the words “Every club needs its supporters and they are the key ingredients for success. Our aim is to attract more supporters to come to The Valley to enjoy the experience”.

Ever since Duchatelet’s purchase of the club, supporters had been urging him and Meire to open their minds to the idea that they could benefit greatly from the knowledge and experience of people who had watched and worked for the club over many years. CAS Trust had had quite detailed discussions with Meire about how such a group might work – harking back to the earlier success of the Target 10k and Target 40k groups. We thought that she had understood that the success of those initiatives came from the fact that they involved supporters with key skills and experience in sales, promotion and business development and, most important of all, a real understanding of Charlton Athletic as a business. Those groups undertook hours of painstaking analysis of commercially sensitive data to produce proposals to the board which would not only improve attendances but also increase revenue.

We were therefore disappointed when Target 20k was launched in November 2015 as a focus group. Applications were invited from a number of different categories to ensure that as broad as possible a spectrum of supporters would be involved – with a particular emphasis on youth. In terms of gathering opinions that was of course an admirable approach but it was a complete shift of emphasis from the business orientated approach we had been advocating.

Alison Sampson was one of the supporters who responded to Katrien’s appeal for volunteers and she joined the group at its formation. She has supported Charlton since she was four years old and knows well what it is like to be in a crowd of over twenty thousand at The Valley. As a seven year old she was one of the 77,739 at Wembley to watch the greatest game ever played. Until this season she was a season ticket holder. She resigned from the Target 20k group following a meeting on 21 September between the group and the club - a meeting at which Roland Duchâtelet made a surprise and unannounced appearance. As one of the few Charlton fans to have met the owner face to face, Alison kindly offered to share her thoughts and views with CAS Trust and other Addicks supporters in her own words.

“I want to start by saying that I was a member of Target 20K and I don’t regret it. A controversial statement I know! The truth is that without my time in the group I wouldn’t have gained the valuable insights I have done. This isn’t intended to be a piece where I put the group down but to explain how it has informed my opinion on where we, as supporters, go now.

As many are aware, the group recently met with the owner, Roland Duchâtelet. I was surprised to find him much the ordinary man. This will not be popular with those that find it easier to paint him as evil. It is not for me to say whether that is right or wrong but it is how I found him to be. However, you would be much mistaken in your view if you believe this made me a fan of his. I also found him to be naive and ignorant of football in general, especially English football. He has quite the utopian view that supporters of both teams could mix during games, as is done in rugby and in football in other parts of Europe such as Belgium and Germany.

What this view fails to take into account is the rivalries that characterise English football and help form the histories of clubs and allegiances to them. It does not acknowledge the role of history and culture in English football and in fact acts as a way of making them irrelevant. This is particularly worrying as this is what helps shape a club’s identity. I also believe this to be the very reason Katrien Meire is seeking out other roles within football, in particular the FA. Where better to change English football’s culture all together than its governing body?

In my opinion this is what Duchâtelet plans on doing and explains the reason behind his purchase of our club. A club, I suspect, he believed to be more likely to want to be a leader in a revolution of football, as we are known for being different and getting ourselves heard. Obviously, he is mistaken in this belief and has underestimated us in how much we value the identity of our club and how far we are prepared to go in fighting for it. He is also mistaken in the belief that he knows about football since his first action as owner was to assess many players as “not good enough”, when many clearly were. With a CEO clearly enamoured with matters outside the club and an owner interfering in areas beyond his understanding, this to most people must surely add up to mismanagement?

The difficulty is we are one of many clubs that have this problem. I believe that the FA, as the governing body, is failing in its duty to protect clubs. They have instead chosen to ignore the issue. It is time they listened! I have come to the conclusion that the only way we can do this is through legitimate means with the help of the Supporters Trust and other clubs.

One of my fears is that we will end up going the same way as Blackpool. The emptiness seen there is something I would never want to see at The Valley, and while support has decreased we fortunately haven’t reached that point yet. Another fear I have is the suggestion made by some of AFC Charlton. This would be the worst thing to happen in my opinion and completely nullify the considerable efforts made to get back to The Valley. There is no doubt that we would have to leave our current stadium to do this. It therefore increases the likelihood of the worry we all have had of The Valley being sold for redevelopment.

If we stand any chance of holding on to our club and our ground then we need to stick together. We need to make our voices heard through legitimate means, and get the FA on side. We are in the right and without us there would be no club and no football league. Fans are important and it is about time they were recognised!”