A few weeks ago I caught up with Dave Lockwood. Many of you won’t know the name, but you might recognise the voice. For 24 years he was the pitch side announcer at Charlton Athletic, until this summer when he walked away due to the current regime in place at the South East London Club.
If you aren’t aware of what has happened down at Charlton, then you’ll be surprised at the distain that has been shown towards the fans by owner Roland Duchatelet and his sidekick Katrien Meire. I say fans, but Ms Meire prefers to refer to them as ‘customers’. The Addicks were once a club to be admired. Irrespective of what was happening on the pitch, there was a strong relationship with the fans. The sense of community was etched into every fibre at Charlton. Without the community, they would never have won many of the off-pitch battles they have faced, including the fight to return home to the Valley in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, all that has changed. Now if you go to the Valley you will see a half empty ground, with protests occurring inside and out, mainly led by Charlton Against Roland Duchatelet (CARD). It was those protests that caused Dave Lockwood to walk away from his beloved Charlton and ply his trade at Ebbsfleet United instead.
“I think after the last home game, when everyone was on the pitch, giving it ‘we want you out’, I thought ‘yeah this isn’t right. I sat and thought about it during the summer, chatted with good friends, guys from Charlton Live, and made the decision to go. I couldn’t go back”
This was a massive decision for Dave. Ultimately he is a Charlton fan, living the supporter’s dream of working on the pitch every home game. But for him, enough was enough. Many might have seen the public protests that happened during a live ‘Sky’ game last season, where Charlton fans threw beachballs onto the pitch. The following home game, it was tennis balls. Behind the scenes weekly protests took place wanting Duchatelet out, demanding their Charlton back. For Lockwood, what happened on the last day of the season made him realise he had to walk away. On that day, after the final whistle, the supporters took to the pitch to vent their anger. Being a fan, he could no longer stand beside and work with the owners; he wanted his Charlton back but was essentially the corporate voice of the regime.
When he left, he released a statement via the South London Press explaining his decision (http://www.charltonlive.co.uk/2016/07/18/full-statement-dave-lockwood-leaves-post-at-charlton/) but he went mainly because of the board’s management of Charlton. As he put it, “what’s being done to the club that we were – we’re not that club anymore, we’re just another club. There’s nothing special about them, for me it’s lost that community spirit”. The community spirit was everything at Charlton. Speak to any fan of the club, and they will all, to a person, talk feverishly about how the club was special, how it really embraced its supporters and worked with them. No more, those days are gone.
Due to his previous links with Dave Archer and Peter Varney, former Charlton Athletic executives who are now at Ebbsfleet United, Lockwood was given another chance to use the microphone. “Dave (Archer) contacted me, he said do you want to come and do the last game for us”. The last game just happened to be the National League South Playoff Final against Maidstone United. “I was feeling really crap about Charlton, but I came here and really enjoyed it. It was enjoyable coming in and seeing the passion, how much everyone is pulling together within the club”. The spirit of Non-League was at its best that day, with a bumper crowd and a fantastic game of football, which saw Maidstone gain promotion via penalties. This game changed everything for Dave Lockwood.
The experience of Non-League football restored his faith in the game. “I’ve got my mojo back. Last season I was fed up with football, I could’ve walked away. The passion for what I used to love, being pitch side for Charlton, it’s gone. But this (being at Ebbsfleet), this is it, I’m back loving it again.” He continued, “there’s more dedication as a Non-league fan, there’s more sense of ownership than other leagues. That feeling that we’re all in it together – whereas league clubs tell you want you think, there isn’t a sense of ownership there anymore, people are sick of the upper echelons – you’re seen as a customer, but we’re not customers”.
These feelings are echoed across England. With many becoming more and more disheartened with the actions of foreign owners in top flight football, people are slowly starting to turn to Non-League. The situation at Charlton, is mirrored at clubs such as Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull City, Coventry City, the list is growing every weekend. People are becoming fed up with being priced out of the game, having clubs they love ripped apart and treated as a business ‘brand’. The sense of community has gone with many Football League Clubs, but solace can be found in the National League and below.
Dave Lockwood is a Charlton fan, but he worked for the regime. He walked away from them, not the club. For many of us, we may disagree with how our clubs are run but we can’t turn our back on them. You can’t divorce your club. But what you can do, is what Dave has done. Turn to Non-League to get your mojo back. In those lower leagues, is where the real football is; where the community is pivotal to a club’s survival, where everyone pulls together. Football was created for us, the working people. Clubs in the higher echelons may have forgotten that, but not in grassroots football. Maybe it’s time we all joined Dave, maybe it’s time to head to Non-League and restore our faith in the game.