"Please bring clarity, a plan, sensible stewardship, openness and ambition. You'll be welcomed with open arms"
This is just one of the 510 messages to new owners that were offered by Charlton supporters in the last few weeks as part of our annual season ticket intentions survey. Here are a few more:
"Set out your objectives; be upfront and honest. Truly build bridges and you will be surprised. Fans are not the problem - we can be your biggest ally"
"Look at the efforts that Charlton supporters have put into getting rid of your predecessor. Imagine what can be achieved if we're all pulling in the same direction"
"We don't expect to win The Champions League within the next ten years, but we want to believe it is possible"
- The single word which appeared most often in all the messages we received is RESPECT.
"Respect the fans and the club's traditions."
"Respect the important role of the fans who are the club's lifeblood."
"Respect the journey that the club has had previously"
"Football's a passion. Not a toy"
The frequent recurrence of the word respect in supporters' messages goes right to the heart of the dismay and dissatisfaction of the last four years. We can't help but be reminded of Katrien Meire's statement: "the owner does things his way and the fans need to get used to it"
2. The second most prevalent theme is ENGAGE
"Engage with fans"
"Make the fans feel part of the club again".
"Invite CAST representatives to discuss key changes"
"Attend games and talk to fans"
"Understand us. Research us. Visit the museum"
"Explain your aims, admit your mistakes and be honest"
A number of people stressed the value of engaging with fans because of the "depth, breadth and wealth of knowledge in the fan base" or advised: "just look at what we've achieved together in the past and please listen to those who played a part". Some were more forthright: "Ignore us at your peril" There was a small dissenting minority, however: - e.g. "Don't listen to CARD or CAST. You paid the money - run the club your way"
3. Many messages concerned AMBITION
Although a few respondents wanted to see serious money invested ("spend money and get us up"), most stressed the need for stability: "Invest sensibly and sustainably" or "Have realistic football ambition" and warned against "seeking instant success". Others were reassuring: "We are not expecting miracles" and "be sensible and have reasonable clear ambitions and you will have most of us on side straight away". Gradualism was recommended: "get the right manager appointed then give them time and funds to build a team" and "establish a stable functioning infrastructure (senior management team)"
4. Other recurrent themes
"Look at everything Duchatelet did and do the opposite"
"Ensure Duchatelet has no future interest in the club"
"Keep Bowyer and Jackson in charge"
"Make use of the knowledge and experience of Curbs, Varney, Peacock, Elliott, Powell"
"This is a great family club. Please bring that feeling back"
"I don't expect brilliance all the time but I do expect players who want to be there and will run through brick walls for the team."
The overall message to new owners was positive and optimistic. People pledged to buy season tickets as soon as new ownership is announced. People offered to promote the club and help build attendances. People were thirsting after the affinity that previously existed between club and supporters. Not everyone was a supporter of the protests but everyone was buzzing to welcome new owners who brought with them the respect, engagement and ambition that has been lacking for the last five years.
One respondent put it a bit more poetically:
"We have a unique opportunity for a potential buyer to come in and reconnect with our fans. Building a modern football club with strong traditional values as well as in a prime location is an opportunity that cannot be found elsewhere. The Valley is a beautiful stadium - steeped in history and capable of showing a football club we all want to see. With your help the mist can roll back in from The Thames"