I’d like to think we’re a pretty accepting bunch, us Charlton fans.
For example: It had been less than a week since the adored Chris Powell was sacked when I first heard fans rallying around his replacement. The “Jose Riga baby!” chant got its first (albeit quiet) airing from the travelling contingent at Millwall the Saturday following Powell’s departure. Soon after, it was heard echoing around the Valley.
Relative to the hot-headed reactions you see elsewhere, Charlton fans are – on the whole – measured, considered and patient.
So it was unusual to hear the Covered End chant “you don’t know what you’re doing” at Guy Luzon in his first match at the Valley, and to witness the vitriolic reaction to the arrival of centre-back Roger Johnson on a free transfer earlier that week.
Unusual, but perhaps not much of a surprise.
In a different context the appointment of Luzon or the arrival of Johnson may have been welcomed – even celebrated by Charlton fans: A young manager in the dugout, an experienced defender to beef up the squad.
Yet in the current circumstances, Charlton fans have learned to take every development with one huge dollop of cynicism.
It’s not Johnson’s fault that he isn’t the target man our squad needs, nor is it any of Luzon’s doing that Roland Duchatelet’s decisions continue to defy all reason and logic.
Yet the man who just over a year ago was seen as Charlton’s liberator from a crippling regime has well and truly lost the battle for hearts and minds since. It’s his charges placed on the ground who are now facing the blowback.
The legendary American football coach Vince Lombardi once said: “It is essential to understand that battles are primarily won in the hearts of men. Men respond to leadership in a most remarkable way and once you have won his heart, he will follow you anywhere.”
As things stand, Charlton fans are flat out refusing to follow in Duchatelet’s direction.
The criticism of Luzon in the Rotherham game focused around his decision to swap a striker with a striker rather than leave his two best forwards on the pitch was explosive. The widespread disappointment with the Johnson signing was irrational.
Yet both reactions stem from a simmering frustration with the wider direction the club is headed in and not any innate objection to the personalities themselves.
Luzon faces a monumental challenge in not only turning around Charlton’s fortunes in the league, but also getting the fans to back his effort. It’s a tough task, but not impossible.
To borrow another Lombardi quote: “A leader must identify himself with the group, must back up the group, even at the risk of displeasing superiors.”
That’s a lesson Chris Powell and Riga quickly learned. Without the support of the wider group – the fans – success will be hard to come by.
No matter how many network players you pick, subservience to a despised owner will get you nowhere and will win no one’s respect.
With a fans’ meeting planned for next Wednesday, the Charlton faithful are beginning to stand up for themselves. If he’s to have any success at the Valley, Luzon must do the same.