The Times is the latest paper to look in depth at Charlton's problems.
'There is a plaque to commemorate those Charlton Athletic supporters who worked tirelessly to return the club to The Valley and some of them will gather at the stadium today, this time in protest at the owner. Ending a nomadic existence ground-sharing in 1992 represented a triumph of fan power and community spirit and the southeast London club went on to become synonymous with stability. A decade later, Alan Curbishley’s side were battling for a European spot, but the end of his 15-year reign in 2006 started a descent that plunged the club into the third tier three years later.
With only four league wins this season, the worst goal difference in the top four divisions, and four points adrift from safety in the Sky Bet Championship, Charlton are faced with a similar fate. Since Curbishley left, there have been two takeovers and ten new managers, the third of which this season was the return of José Riga, who has been asked for a second time to save the club. He succeeded Karel Fraeye, who was out of his depth after arriving from Belgium’s third division to replace Guy Luzon, who was short tactically and hamstrung by injuries to his squad.
The recent downturn has prompted the uprising of a group called Coalition Against Roland Duchâtelet, the owner worth £400 million who rarely visits the club. Their online petition calls on Duchâtelet to sell or invest and respect the role of the fans. What makes this fans’ group different is that some members held positions of power at the club as recognition of their efforts to bring the club back to The Valley. They feel disconnected, questioning Duchâtelet’s tenure, investment and the fruitless turnover of players and managers from his network of teams. Ultimately, they are no closer to understanding why he bought the club two years ago.
Since the second protest after the draw with Nottingham Forest this month, Charlton have lost 5-0 and 6-0 to Huddersfield Town and Hull City respectively, while exiting from the FA Cup at the hands of Colchester United, who had not won in their previous 11 league games in Sky Bet League One. The group have asked for a peaceful demonstration after the home game against Blackburn Rovers today and plan a flash protest at noon.
Sue Parkes, who is married to Chris Parkes, Charlton’s long-serving club secretary, took to Facebook to vent her anger. “The continual stirring up of hatred and vile vocal attacks will cause lasting damage and bring humiliation to the club far worse than any owner ever could,” Parkes said. “Many of you are like sheep now, losing track of your original aim but continuing to follow aimlessly those who perpetuate rumours intended to destabilise the club. Think of the players and staff having to work under this pressure.”
Yet history is repeating for Duchâtelet, who also controls clubs in Germany, Spain and Hungary. He was forced to sell Standard Liège, the Belgian club, in the summer when repeated fan protests turned aggressive. There were clashes with police near the stadium, a group of fans broke into Duchâtelet’s office and others stormed an event for sponsors, who had to ask the media to help them to safety. Liège fans had similar grievances, including the lack of reinvestment from the sale of their best players, such as Axel Witsel, and the sacking of favoured managers.
He departed with a slightly morbid leaving speech in June. “An average person will live mentally and physically healthy until 75, so I have another 350 weeks [seven years],” he said. “A club is not easy to control. It is more difficult than running a business or politics.”
He has made clear that he will not sell Charlton, despite Peter Varney, the club’s former chief executive, seeking to hold talks on a possible takeover. Duchâtelet never had an affinity for the game, but became aware of its power when he bought Sint-Truiden, the Belgian club, in 2004. He introduced a pitchside fan sofa at Charlton this season and once suggested, to his players’ amusement, that midfielders and defenders could swap at the interval to maximise energy. Given such ideas, it has been concluded in Belgium that football is a special experiment to Duchâtelet and he wants to prove he can be successful his way.
Charlton have invested large sums on a new screen and have planning permission to upgrade the training ground to Category One status, at a cost of £12 million, to give them greater protection over their young prospects. Their debt is about £44 million and the club loses about £4 million each year, which would worsen in League One. There could be more hostile writing on the wall if they do not survive.'