Charlton And The Art Of The Protest

I write this week in praise of Charlton, our erstwhile rivals in south-east London, and currently alongside Millwall just below halfway down the League One / Division Three table.

I have written before that I don’t have any great distaste for them, and that as someone whose formative football supporting years were the late seventies, I only have eyes for Brighton, when it comes to the emotion of local derbies.

I won’t pretend it was odd having them as tenants in the 1980’s and frustrating seeing them build a decent Premier League club under Alan Curbishley, while we yo-yo’d between the leagues.

For a club like Charlton, that run of success between 2000 and 2006 was pretty impressive and something we might struggle to match.

When the Belgian businessman Roland de Chatelet bought the club in early 2014, he must have been optimistic about getting Charlton back to the top flight and the riches that accompanied it.

The Belgian had developed a similar model to that of the Pozzo’s, owning a number of clubs across Europe.  That model offered the possibility of access to broad pool of players and experienced managers and coaches.

The Championship and Division One have many owners who have invested in clubs in the hope of gaining the riches from the Premier League. It has always been regarded the hardest league to get out of, and that remains the case.

Patience is in short supply among these owners, and the statistics showing how the lifespan of Championship managers are remarkable.

The fans too have lost patience as they feel that they have a diminishing influence over how their club works.  So many decisions in terms of manager appointments, player purchases and sales are made with no regard to fan feelings.

And nowhere worse than at Charlton under de Chatelet. The club has been relegated, has seen locally developed talent leave and become a laughing stock due to the turnover of managers.

De Chatelet’s ownership of Charlton has been a disaster, but there is something inspiring there for the rest of us.

2016 has been an extraordinary year with the unexpected results in the European referendum in June and then the US election earlier this month.  For many people the campaigns and the results have engaged them in ways politics has previously failed to do.

In terms of both Brexit and Trump, 2017 looks like being a feisty year.  The winners want to see action, while the losers are terrified what that action might entail.

This is where Charlton fans have provided inspiration. Their campaign against de Chatelet and his chief executive Katrien Meire has been both creative and amusing, for us outsiders anyway.

The latest protest has involved the redecoration of London black cabs with the simple message “Taxi for Roland” and driving it to Belgium, as de Chatelet seems reluctant to visit south-east London very often

The taxi ride followed on from the mid-game demonstration in the recent game against Coventry when the games was stopped briefly after sets of fans hurled small rubber squeezy pig toys onto the pitch in protest at the mutual dislike of the owners of both clubs.

As the impact of Brexit rumbles on, those on the winning side worry that the victory will be watered down and those on the losing side worry about the economic impact on themselves and the country.  These are serious issues and will arouse strong feelings.

People will feel the need to protest, and I believe positive, surprising and humorous messages can be the best way to attract the right levels of attention.

Coming on stage at the end of a Broadway musical and lambasting the Vice President-elect, as the cast of ‘Hamilton’ did last week isn’t a bad start to the Trump era.

While it wasn’t a protest as such, I will never forget the day that the large green clock at a large well-known school in south Croydon was replaced by what must have been a twenty-foot square Mickey Mouse watch. It wasn’t up for long and as this was well-before the days of camera-phones and social media, so you will have to trust me, but I assure you it was the stuff of genius.

Good luck to the Charlton fans.  However much you may dislike the club, it is awful for fans to feel so disengaged and upset.

Taxi for Roland

And Taxi for Trump

And Taxi for Brexit … or the Remoaners (delete as appropriate, but do it nicely)

 


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