At Roland Duchatelet’s first press conference as Charlton owner, one of the Belgian’s statements stood out and gave me great hope for the future of our club.
Duchatelet described the experience of belonging to a football club as a kind of secular replacement to going to church. A communal experience in which people of shared experience and values can come together.
“A football club is not just the matter of winning games,” said the divisive owner.
“I know it’s important but if you look at football today it’s a huge social event. There’s no other gathering of people which attracts such a diverse kind of people – young, old, girls, boys, all sorts of religions, all kinds of political opinions.
“Football clubs attract a public which formerly maybe went to church or other places to gather so the function of a football club of a communion where people can talk and gather is important, not just for VIPs but for the public in general.”
That sounds remarkably reminiscent to my own belief of what a football club can and should be.
Duchatelet is right when he says a football club is not just a matter of winning games. Any of us who have watched Charlton at levels far below our current standing will testify to that. We don’t support Charlton because we can always be relied on to win lots of games or play beautiful football. There are plenty of other options for that. We support Charlton because they’re Charlton. Because we’re Charlton.
Similarly, a football club is not just about making money. There is little more depressing to me than the jaded mantra of “at the end of the day, football is just a business.”
A football club is so much more than that. It is a collective of people. It is shared goals, dreams and memories. Unlike a business whose function is to make money, a football club’s reason for existence is about something else entirely. It’s about a game played by 11 men and the people that follow them. Of course, a football club must adhere to the principles of business, but it must never be defined by them.
Like church on a Sunday morning, football sees people coming together to worship heroes, remember icons, and share in a – hopefully – uplifting experience that can provide escape from everything else.
Chief executive Katrien Meire also stumbled upon the sentiment at Tuesday night’s VIP meeting when she said Charlton could offer “something different” to other London clubs – a “warm feeling.”
Yet this “something different”, this “warm feeling” is exactly what, for many, Charlton are rapidly losing hold of under Duchatelet.
We’ve been told time and time again to bow down in gratitude for a lovely new pitch, speedy wi-fi and other elements of the “match day experience”. Yet as is the case with dominance on the pitch, none of these things are what keeps us coming to the Valley year after year.
You can fill an old church with shiny new furnishings and comfy pews, but if in turn you sacrifice the fiery passion of its teaching – it’s soul – you will be left with an unhappy congregation.
We don’t want sterile, subdued niceties. We want to be stirred, to be united with a common, identifiable cause by people on the pitch whose commitment demand blind devotion. We want bonds built over time, characters to memorialise. A cause to unite behind.
John Robinson. Johnnie Jackson. Richard Rufus. Scott Parker. Darren Bent. Dean Kiely. In my lifetime, these players have pulled me back when more rational judgement would have kept me away.
Chris Powell could do that. So could Yann Kermorgant. The shattered core of a previous squad that included Dale Stephens, Michael Morrison, Ben Hamer and Lawrie Wilson did too. Their rapid and unceremonious disposal suggests Duchatelet, Katrien Meire and co. have woefully missed the point.
Duchatelet is not Machiavelli. He has a nice vision of what a football club could be. He just has no idea of how to build it.
I can’t make the meeting tonight. I’ve tried and tried to get myself out of work to no avail. I think it’s vitally important it’s happening. However, from reading the forums, Twitter and speaking to people at games I’ve noticed fans getting themselves involved in endless debates about the most specific aspects of Duchatelet’s stewardship. Some of them crucial (the nature of the network, the appointment of Luzon), and some of them pretty irrelevant (Luzon’s no-show at the VIP meeting).
To me, the rap sheet against our owner is long, stark and concerning. Some may see it differently and the debates I’m sure will continue to rage on.
But ahead of tonight’s meeting I’d encourage fans to think bigger picture. What is it you want Charlton to be?
Is it stuck within an experimental “network” of other disparate European clubs that may or may not lead to financial success?
Do you want your clubs philosophy and vision to be tempered by those five other clubs, by a structure that places a business model’s interests above our own?
Do you want an owner who has seen Charlton play less than a handful of times? Do you want four managers in 12 months?
Do you want a heavy turnover of players in and out of the club? Do you want a head coach but no sporting director/director of football?
Do you want Charlton Athletic to be a business experiment or a football club?
Instead of worrying about the particulars, decide on what you want Charlton to be. And don’t accept compromise.
Because after all, what good is a church if it’s got no soul?