Roland: “the function of football is to have a great evening with friends”

We are very grateful to the group known as The Belgian 20 who sourced and translated the following interview given to the Belgian tabloid HLN by Roland Duchâtelet and his partner Marieke Hofte shortly before Christmas.

Although the interview is largely concerned with STTV (St Truiden FC) and Stayen (Duchâtelet's hotel, restaurant and business complex built at the STTV ground) it does give some fascinating insights into Duchâtelet's attitude to football in general and the protests at Charlton.

The interview

For the first time ever, we got them around the table together. Marieke Höfte (59) and Roland Duchâtelet (70). President and strong man. Just before Christmas, they talk freely about their ‘cosy’ club STVV, their pride in Stayen and the less pleasant experiences at Standard and Charlton.

Q: The year-end holidays at the Duchâtelet home. What does that look like?

Roland Duchâtelet: It means I have to watch out not to eat and drink too much. A dangerous period.

Marieke Höfte: It is of course also an occasion to get all the children together. A very cosy period with some football in between. We play a very important game for our club against Standard.

Roland: I am in favour of the concept of football during the Christmas period. People have a lot more time in that period. Football mixes in very well with the holidays, as football is also a party. Definitely at STVV. The party here is even such an event that women who do not really like football, arrive in big numbers after the game to have a dance. That is actually the heart of the matter.

Marieke: But it is important to that the football goes well. Then everyone is happy. We are trying to be a stable club, neatly mid-table at some distance from the relegation battle. The fans do not expect more.

Q: I opened the interview with a question about the holidays and a few seconds later, we are talking football again. Do you take a ball home at night?

Roland: Actually, it’s not that bad. Whether I watch Champions League sometimes? If it is an interesting match. For example, Barcelona against Man City. That can be captivating, but it does not happen that much.

Marieke: I do watch the Red Devils and we follow the important games in the Jupiler League, not only the St-Truiden matches.

Q: Marieke is president of STVV and Roland is a member of the board. How does that work, a partner as boss?

Roland: Marieke is a very good boss (smiles). She performs very well.

Q: Does this situation result in discussions in the kitchen or living room sometimes?

Roland: Yes, I do get lectured sometimes.

Marieke: Much to the irritation of my companion next to me. He does not like it.

Q: How do you look back at the start of the season for STVV?

Roland: The beginning was relatively good, especially our passing game, but defensively it was not always OK. We conceded too many goals. The football was good, but it did not result in points.

Marieke: That’s why we play more defensively now.

Q: There was a lot of commotion around the fact that you got involved in the manager’s decisions. Did you also knock on the door of Leko?

Roland: In this case I have gathered the coaching staff after the Eupen game (4-2 defeat), to tell them we were conceding too many goals. If you concede two goals per game, you can never finish in a good position. At Charlton, it was different. We took over the club for a lot of money. We were at the bottom of the table and I have tried to help the manager. Suggested other options to him. Which is logical, I think. Apparently, he thought this was not done. That says a lot about the intellectual level of that manager. And also about the intellectual level of all activists who think that this is not done. They think that I should just get behind the wheel of a car and drive blindly.

Q: Managers usually want all the decision power in relation to the football. Is this something you do not agree with?

Roland: Managers that do not take into consideration advice by others, are stupid managers. They do of course carry the responsibility. I have never said that he should do this or do that. Not taking into account sound advice is simply not clever.

Q: For the purposes of clarity: you have never said that player X should start or player Y had to sit on the bench?

Marieke: No, that is up to the manager to decide.

Roland: Then you take away the manager’s responsibility and you cannot do this with anybody.

Marieke: Actually, a lot of club owners interfere a little bit. The club has to survive after all. There are even those that visit the dressing room, but that is something Roland does do. He calls the manager. That is completely normal, isn’t it?

Q: Since the game against Eupen, STVV scored 9 points out of 15 and sneaked away from the relegation zone. Do you have the feeling you were the cause of this?

Roland: The coaching staff has solved this very well. They have thought hard about how we could prevent conceding goals. They opted for a new system and this was successful.

Marieke: But the system came from the manager.

Roland: I do not need to see beautiful football, but I definitely do not want to concede two goals every game. Well, they have handled this excellently.

Marieke: The perception is that he gets involved in details regarding the team’s formation...

Roland: I really do not have the time for that.

Q: STVV is now 12th in the league. Are you happy with that or are you more ambitious?

Roland: For us, football is a place where people gather every fortnight and have fun. That’s the mission of football and in fact also the essence of a football club. The stadium is the ideal place to see your friends again. If you have to welcome people at home for a dinner, that equals a lot of work. If they are having fun, you are faced with the problem that they will stay around until 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning. The function of football is to have a great evening with friends and to sometimes also meet new people. That is very relevant from a social point of view.

Marieke: Also at a business level, you can create networks with people that you would otherwise never meet.

Roland: Supporters need to realise that this is the essence.

Marieke: Well, everyone decides for themselves what the essence is. It is one of the important functions. That’s what makes it unique. Football is a sport that triggers a lot of people from a very young age on. I do fear that it would not be as cosy if you lose 5-0 every week.

Marieke: That would not work. Winning is important for the atmosphere.

Q: Are there not higher sporting ambitions, like the example set by Marc Coucke at Ostend?

Roland: No, it is fine like this. Play Off 1 is not necessary. We’ll see where we get. That is of secondary importance. The main thing is that we fulfil a social function. That people meet in the stadium every two weeks.

Marieke: I talk to the fans a lot. A real supporter just wants his team to stay up. That is important at STVV. Nobody wants the stress related to relegation football. At STVV, one does not expect ballet dancers, but players that fight. That is our image. We want to be a stable top division club with entertaining side events.

Roland: That is actually the essence. Ambition will automatically follow. Results are the consequence of a good atmosphere. If the atmosphere is no good, you cannot win a title. The fans need to adhere to the whole story.

Q: The supporter of these times. How do you look at them? Thinking for instance about the recent events during Charleroi-Standard?

Roland: When I was still the president of Standard it was already clear that the people who would cause all the misery were actually not supporters. It was people that were attracted by the fact that they could easily run riot. Who says it was not the same type of people in Charleroi?

Marieke: It often turns out that these people are drunk or drugged, as well.

Roland: That’s not the point. I just wanted to say that you cannot control your fans as a club. The only solution is to film them all. The match Charleroi-STVV was also stopped because of a smoke bomb. There was actually more going on then than during Charleroi-Standard. I was not angry with the people of Charleroi. They cannot help this. We have filmed everyone and then passed on the footage to the police. They can now intervene. The clubs cannot be held responsible. Standard should actually get the three points. Otherwise the risk is that fans will manipulate the results. Take the people that throw bombs on the pitch.

Q: How healthy is STVV financially?

Roland: There is no problem in that respect.

Q: And what if you were to pull the plug?

Roland: That could become a problem. Too many clubs are dependent on the financial strength of their boss. That’s not good. We try to find the middle road. Perhaps I need to fill a gap now and then, but it is not too bad.

Q: Would you like to stay connected to STVV until the last moment, like Roger Lambrecht?

Roland: No, this is a coincidence. The previous president, Bart Lammens, wanted to sell. We have then decided to take on the club again, because we own the stadium.

Marieke: It was simply the easiest solution.

Roland: We’ll see what the future brings.

Q: Stayen is one of the showpieces of the region. Can you tell us what all the renovation and construction has cost?

Roland: The whole complex, inclusive of the apartments and parking ground, is an investment of 100 million euro.

Marieke: The people who live here, love it.

Roland: Almost 1,000 people are employed on the site. We have created a bit of a village within the town. We are very proud of it. It is a beautiful achievement.

Q: Are there any further plans?

Marieke: A boutique hotel and a hall for parties and seminars will still follow and we are also going to renovate the South stand.

Roland: The companies with offices in the stadium are expanding and we do not have a lot of space left. It is apparently more fun to work in a football stadium. It is a lot more quiet here than in Brussels and still everything an be found in the vicinity. A lunch bar, a hairdresser,... We hope to start the last construction works next year and then that’ll be it. We have no further big plans.

Marieke: Never say never, of course.

Q: Everything seems rosy at STVV. At the other clubs in the network thing are not always as smoothly. Does the network fulfil the role you had in mind?

Roland: No, it does not work as well I had hoped. The big problem is that the sequence of games is very high. There is not a lot of time for consultation between the specialists of the different clubs. What does work well is the scouting. That brings added value in any case. It is just that we cannot cooperate structurally like in the business world.

Q: At Charlton, fans are turning on you. How annoying was the playful protest that disturbed your birthday lunch?

Roland: That was very unpleasant.

Marieke: “There is not much we can do about it. It has started to live a life of its own. Roland is the scapegoat. It does not matter any longer whether he does something well or something bad. He is the symbol of their protest.

Roland: Supporters can have a say in the logistics, like how the beer should be served. If they want to choose instead of the board or the manager, than things go wrong. They first picked on Katrien Meire (general manager at Charlton). When I continued to back her up, they turned against me. A sort of witch hunt. Sociologically very interesting, but it has gone too far. Especially because they are bothering me personally.

Q: Why do you then not simply give in and leave Charlton for what it is?

Roland: “I never give in to blackmail. I can determine myself what is good for the club.

Q: At Standard the fans succeeded in getting you to throw the towel. Or is this a wrong interpretation?

Roland: No, I sold Standard because I wanted to have less & less to do with football and definitely in Belgium.

Marieke: At Charlton, protests are still playful. At Standard, it was really aggressive.

Roland: I had in fact already decided for myself to stop at Standard when we did not win the title in 2014. The feeling that I did not have control over everything and that some decisions could have big consequences were not to my liking. STVV is cosy club, not an ambitious club. That is a totally different perspective.

Q: Tuesday Standard visits Stayen. That match is still very meaningful to you, even though Standard has been in the hands of Bruno Venanzi for a year and a half now.

Marieke: Yes, it is. It can be a great match. They have to win. So should we, but for us it would be a stunt and for them a must.

Roland: STVV-Standard has always been a very pleasant match. Historically speaking, these are two clubs that get along fine. There have never been any real problems. There are even supporters that have a season ticket at STVV and at Standard.