Saturday afternoon I happened to be at the Valley and watched the protest by the home fans against the current ownership of Charlton Athletic. A number of supporter groups have joined together and created the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet, commonly referred to as ‘CARD’. For those that don’t know, Duchatelet owns a number of football clubs around Europe, having no history or experience within the football world. His board management of clubs is very questionable. Former CAFC striker Yann Kermongant, recently called Duchatelet’s running of clubs as ‘deluded’. Kermongant gave the impression from his direct experiences, that Duchatelet really does not know how to run a football club. The fans protesting last night were very passionate about wanting their club back and wanting Duchatelet, along with his CEO Katrien Meire, to leave the club. The relationship between the board and the fans has been rocking since the new ownership took control, and was not helped by Meire referring to supporters as ‘customers’.
The supporters of CAFC have backed their club through some difficult times. In the early 1980’s the club went into administration. A short time after was then was forced out of it’s home at the Valley due to health and safety reasons. They then spent some years in the wilderness playing their home games at Selhurst Park, the home of one of their biggest rivals. The fans stayed strong and loyal. They became a driving force, along with board members, to get the club back where it belonged, back to South East London. In 1992 they returned to the Valley. I was at school in South East London at the time, our school, along with others, were lucky enough to be given a number of cheap tickets to watch the club. I think the tickets were only £1 and we got a packed lunch too – bargain. I remember sitting in the temporary East stand with my Charlton supporting mate many times watching a number of local heroes. I digress slightly, but what I’m trying to get across is the club acknowledge that there was a strong community link with them, that if it wasn’t for the community they wouldn’t have returned home, and that they wanted the new generation to grow up with them. All of this is in danger of being lost by the current ownership. This link, this local community link, can not and should not be ignored by Duchatelet, because soon enough actions could be taken which might damage CAFC as a name and could tragically end in fans moving on elsewhere.
History has shown us that when communities become disillusioned with ownerships they take action. In 2002 AFC Wimbledon was created because the owners of Wimbledon had decided to move to Milton Keynes. After starting off in the ninth tier of English Football, they battled through the non-league world and now find themselves in League Two. Everything about AFC Wimbledon embodies what football and the local community is about, one doesn’t exist without the other and hopefully very soon the club will be moving back to their real home. In 2005 F.C United of Manchester was born due to fans being against the Glazer’s takeover of Manchester United. They currently sit in the sixth tier of English football but have a very strong community link. Both of these clubs started due to different experiences but essentially the same reason. The club lost its community identity.
Increasingly is seems that the divide between club and fans is becoming bigger. People are finding it harder to associate with players on these big wages, or with owners who don’t understand nor share the core community values. It’s a worrying trend within the higher tiers of our leagues. However, there is one saving grace. Near all of us are clubs which know where they’ve come from, who never forget their beginnings and truly are at the centre of their communities. These are the clubs in the non-league. It is these teams that are slowly becoming the benefactors of disillusioned fans from league football. When I go to non-league grounds and speak to people, they often support a team in a higher league but either can’t afford the tickets or don’t agree with how the club is run. Whatever is the reason for being there, they all say how much more of a community feel there is in non-league and how they feel a stronger sense of belonging.
The game we love was created for and by the working classes. It was created to give people a source of entertainment and joy after working hard in the week. Many old grounds are built right in the heart of the community. Sadly these communities are seemingly becoming less and less important to certain ownerships within league football. The old values of football still hold true for clubs within the non-league, there football is still pure and their relationship with the community is strong. Perspective club owners and those that have lost their way can learn a lot by looking further down the footballing ladder. Be good to your fans and they’ll be good to you. After all, football is nothing without fans.