No food at the office, no breakfast for the young players: The owner of Charlton Athletic saves drastically – the fans react creatively.
Twenty seconds after the kick-off of the game, the sound of The Valley stadium rustles unmistakably. Charlton Athletic fans throw hundreds of chip bags from the stands onto the pitch. The home game against Fleetwood Town (0:0) has to be interrupted for a few minutes.
The action of the Addicks supporters three weeks ago was directed against the Belgian owner Roland Duchâtelet. Since his takeover in January 2014, he has led the traditional club in south-east London into the financial and sporting hopelessness of the third league – with ten coach changes, the sale of the best players and an absurd austerity course.
Most recently, the 71-year-old millionaire had urged the club’s employees to stop eating at their workplaces because, for cost reasons, they only clean their offices occasionally. An employee then wanted to check with his supervisor to see whether the crumb ban also applied to chips. A newspaper story about this process inspired the spectators to their unusual protest.
Fans symbolically bury the club
“The stadium attendants were of course informed,” says Clive Harris, a leading fan activist in The Campaign Against Roland Duchâtelet (CARD), which was founded two years ago. Even then, it was foreseeable that Duchâtelet’s reign over the suburban club, which had been relegated from the Premier League in 2007, would not be a success story.
The entrepreneur, who also holds almost 50 percent of the voting shares in the German third-league club FC Carl Zeiss Jena, fired the popular coach Chris Powell shortly after joining the club for the equivalent of 16 million euros because he didn’t want to be talked into the line-up. 18 months later, the club, formerly known for its social commitment and careful club management, crashed into the third league.
The fans took Charlton symbolically to his grave in a choreography and threw black and white beach balls onto the lawn, months later also plastic pigs. “We’re running out of ideas for harmless projectiles,” says Harris.
Charlton Athletic F.C. Honours
- Football League First Division (1st Tier)
- Runners-up – 1937
- Football League Second Division / Football League First Division (2nd Tier)
- Champions – 2000
- Runners-up – 1936, 1986
- Play-off winners – 1987, 1998
- Football League Third Division / Football League One (3rd Tier)
- Champions – 2012
- Promoted (old Division 3) – 1975, 1981
- Football League Third Division South
- Champions – 1929, 1935
- FA Cup
- Winners – 1947
- Runners-up – 1946
- Full Members Cup
- Runners-up – 1987
- Football League War Cup
- Joint Winners – 1944
- Kent Senior Cup
- Winners – 1995, 2013, 2015
- Runners-up – 2016
- Peoples Cup
- Winners – 2011
Fans turn away, the owner is not on site
After 31 years, the mid-fifties have returned their annual ticket this summer with a heavy heart. It is “a terrible feeling to boycott your own club,” he says. “But I have no other choice. We’ve got to hurt Duchâtelet financially.” The viewer average in the Valley has shrunk since 2014 from 18500 to officially 9000. “But in reality it’s more like 6000,” Harris believes. This season, he only cheers on his team in away games.
Since Duchâtelet last visited a match in 2014, fans travelled to Belgium two dozen times to protest in his Belgian hometown of Sint-Truiden. John Barnes and some of his comrades-in-arms founded the “Roland Out Today” party (ROT) to take part in the city council elections in October. “We found a lot of support for our cause, but no one to stand as a candidate,” says Barnes. “Duchâtelet’s electronics company employs a lot of people in the area, they don’t want to mess with him.”
Meanwhile, Charlton is run in absentia, as a kind of zombie club. There is no executive director and no executive board, the club loses about one million pounds a month (1.12 million euros) and, according to estimates, has accumulated liabilities of 80 million euros. And nominally, Duchâtelet only lent the club the money; Charlton pays interest on the loans to the owner.
“Little hope that we will be redeemed”
Duchâtelet, who did not want to comment on SPIEGEL’s request, has been negotiating for months on a sale of the Addicks, but cannot agree on a price. “According to our information, he’s asking about 40 million pounds (about 45 million euros) – completely illusory,” says Harris. “I have little hope that we will be redeemed”.
The fans are demanding that the long disinterested League Association (EFL) finally takes care of their cause. The CARD alliance, along with Blackpool fans suffering from similarly disastrous club management, have called for protests this Friday at the headquarters of the English Football Association (EFL). Winner Casino is offering just about everything a casino could offer and sports betting into the bargain.
Meanwhile, Charlton’s junior team has to get by without breakfast. Instead of mineral water, the young people are only allowed to drink from the tap at the owner’s behest. “We have to cut costs”, Duchâtelet told the Belgian magazine “Knack”, “the team will not play any worse because of this”. In the toilets of the clubhouse there are no more paper towels, promised bonus salaries were also not paid.
In view of these absurd measures, some of the remaining 30 employees have shown their solidarity with the supporters. Harris, who works voluntarily as a club historian, even deposits his “Roland raus!” banners in the office. On this Saturday he will drive almost four hours by car to the game against Bradford City and hold them there in the camera. “We will continue to get on his nerves,” he announced. “Until we finally get rid of him.“