Sunday 1 January 2017

Liddle gives it large to Roland

Millwall supporter Rod Liddle has written an excellent article in today's Sunday Times castigating President Duchatelet.

An extract follows.

I have bored you about the apparent destruction of this once great club before and risk doing so again. But something is afoot at The Valley. The club’s owner is a strange Belgian called Roland Duchatelet who has just appointed his seventh manager in two years and sees Charlton now occupying their worst league position since the three-day week.

The previous manager, Russell Slade, was sacked just as the team were putting together a bit of a run. Karl Robinson is now in charge, but God alone knows for how long. Duchatelet operates a cunning network between his Belgian and British football clubs, employing people who seemingly possess the level of understanding of football you might expect from a largeish raptor — an Osprey, say, or a Marsh Harrier.

In an interview recently he outlined some of his views. Football matches are simply social occasions for people to meet up and have a nice drink. Winning is not terribly important, although it does improve the atmosphere. Charlton have certainly abided by this ethic in recent seasons, although the social occasion stuff is dwindling because people aren’t turning up any more. Many Charlton fans seem to loathe Duchatelet and have staged a series of protests. Duchatelet opined that these outpourings of loathing were “sociologically interesting”, if upsetting.

The view among most Charlton fans seem to be that Duchatelet is simply staggeringly useless, rather than malign. They want him gone — and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were moves in that direction quite soon. But again, we have to remind ourselves that the Belgian is an extremely successful businessman. He does not have a track record of idiocy. He has a track record of making very large amounts of money.

And so you wonder. When Duchatelet took over the club in January 2014 it was stated that there had been no rival bids at all. But I know of at least two consortiums which had been interested. More to the point is the worry now over the future of Charlton’s beautiful and historic ground, The Valley. I spoke to an estate agent who valued the ground, were it to be redeveloped, at more than £100m. A prime site suddenly becoming available in the affluent and sought-after Royal Borough of Greenwich, at a time when councils are being exhorted to build more and more homes (especially in London).

It is true that Charlton Athletic Football Club has been designated a “community asset” by the local council — but this agreeable little title has only a couple of years left to run. Nor, interestingly, does it preserve The Valley for the club. All it does is demand that the owner, if he were to sell the ground, must find another site for it. Perhaps not in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, perhaps somewhere closer to Charlton’s large Kent fanbase. Somewhere quite a bit cheaper. Bromley? The Medway towns?

Further, the decline of Charlton Athletic from potential Premier League contenders to League One mid-table mediocrity means that the value of the club, per se, has reduced enormously over the two years since Duchatelet has been in charge.

In fairness, asset-stripping is not something which Duchatelet has indulged in at any of his previous clubs. It may simply be that he really is as unversed and magnificently clueless about British football as he appears. And equally, while Charlton are languishing at the moment, the third tier is not exactly unknown to them. But the notion that even medium-sized clubs will last for ever, because the fans love them, has winnowed away in an economic climate where the market determines everything.

The continued existence of Charlton is fraught, and in the hands of people who have no sense of the community history which attends to every side, from Chelsea down to Newport County.

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