Speaking to a group of Charlton supporters from R.O.T. on the building site of his new hotel last week Roland Duchatelet offered the following pearl of wisdom:
"The fans missed a big chance. I would have been able to take the club into the Premier League"
Most of us here on planet earth have formed a slightly different view but maybe we should just look at the facts. Didn't someone once say that "the league table doesn't lie"? If Charlton fail to gain promotion to The Championship next season they will have to kick off the 2019/20 in the third tier of English football for the fourth year in succession. This hasn't happened since the 1920s.
Let's look back over our previous third tier history:
It took the club seven years from their entry into the Third Division (South) in 1921/22 to gain promotion. They did so courtesy of a 2-0 win at Walsall on 4th May 1929 - a win which sealed their position as Champions on goal average. In his book "Home & Away with Charlton Athletic" Colin Cameron records the amazing fact that:
"Charlton manager Alex Macfarlane was so charged up he could not bear to watch the promotion clincher. He walked around the town while the match was in progress. After the 90 minutes had elapsed he asked a Walsall fan how his team had got on and was told 'got beat 0-2'"
After three seasons in Division Two Macfarlane was sacked in December 1932 and replaced by Albert Lindon as the club slid towards a relegation which was sealed with a 0-3 defeat at Southampton. The team even managed to sign off by losing their final game 2-5 at home to the other relegated club - Chesterfield.
It took Jimmy Seed just two seasons to escape the third tier as champions by eight points in 1935. We know what happened next.
It was to be another 37 years before Charlton would drop down again to Division Three. Theo Foley's team gained just two points from the final nine games of the 1971/72 season and relegation was confirmed after the infamous 0-5 thrashing at Blackpool, greatly celebrated by former manager Bob Stokoe in the home dug out.
The club gave Foley two more seasons to regain Division Two status before handing over the reins to Andy Nelson for the 74/75 season. They almost blew it. When they beat Preston 3-1 (in front of 24,659) on Tuesday 29th April it was only their second win in nine games - four of which had been lost. Nevertheless, they had escaped the third tier at the third attempt.
Charlton's next visit to Division Three was for one season only. The relegation of 1979/80 must surely rank as the club's worst ever season - just six wins (none away from home) and twenty six defeats. Twice as many goals conceded (78) as scored (39). Hales top scorer with eight. Nevertheless, Mike Bailey, aided by the emergence of Paul Walsh, was able to lead the club straight back up. It was 25th April 1981 when goals from Walsh and Robinson clinched it at Carlisle. Colin Cameron records that "Carlisle manager Bob Stokoe missed the match because of a migraine"
And so to 2011/12 when we again prevailed at the third attempt. The squad that Chris Powell so skilfully assembled during the summer of 2011 was augmented by the autumn arrival of Yann Kermorgant and stormed to a record breaking season as champions with 101 points.
Powell built on that success to achieve a ninth place finish in 2013 but, when the money ran out the following year, the club were in danger of relegation (albeit with games in hand) when the richest owner in the club's history arrived. The fans welcomed him and offered their support. Yes, he could have taken Charlton to The Premier League but his arrogance and ignorance ensured relegation instead.
What will be Duchatelet's legacy if, as we hope, the club is sold in the very near future? We will be left with a devastated infrastructure and a depleted and divided fan base. And, if the new hierarchy are unable to build a squad this summer capable of gaining promotion, Duchatelet will continue by fans to be apportioned his share of the blame for the club's longest stay at level three for nearly one hundred years.
Not, of course, that he will accept any blame. He is a genius and a visionary and only he can see where the fault really lies.