With the dawn of another season brings a renewed sense of optimism for many football fans, despite the tribulations they may have endured over the course of the preceding months and years.
Down at The Valley things are no different. Charlton may have endured a turbulent time in the last half decade under unpopular owner Roland Duchatelet but as they return to the Championship following a three-year absence there is an unfamiliar feeling of positivity seeping into the south-east London club.
During the Belgian’s reign Charlton plunged back into League One three years after winning the division under fan favourite Chris Powell. But worse than on the pitch performances has been the manner in which Duchatelet has run and represented the club.
From the managerial merry-go-round that has seen 10 different people take charge of the Addicks in the five years since he sacked Powell to the rationing of bottled water for players at training in a bid to cut costs, his tenure as owner has left supporters frustrated and alienated.
But the club’s promotion last season, largely attributed to manager Lee Bowyer, has created a feeling that the worst days of Duchatelet’s custodianship and interfering in team affairs may be behind them, even if he doesn’t succeed in offloading a club he now wants out of.
“What we have now is an owner who is uninterested and seems to have an overinflated idea of the value of the club,” the chairman of the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust, Richard Wiseman, tells City A.M.
“Everything he does and says is unpredictable and contradictory, or even both, so it’s hard to keep tabs on what he’s going to do. He has definitely had offers to sell but hasn’t decided to, so we’re stuck.”
Up for sale
Duchatelet has made no secret of his desire to sell the club, which he bought for a reported £14m in 2014, and earlier this year even called on the English Football League to buy him out.
At the start of June, the 72-year-old former electronics entrepreneur announced the club were in takeover talks, with reports that an offer in the region of £30m had been made. That deal has since fallen through.
However, the fan protests that plagued the club a year or two ago have halted, largely in resigned acceptance of their inability to force change but also due to an upturn in fortunes on the pitch for a team rejuvenated under former Charlton midfielder Bowyer’s stewardship.
An increase in attendance in the latter part of the season, and in particular the play-off matches, is symptomatic of the fans’ restored affinity with the club.
The Bowyer effect
“It almost feels like the management, team and supporters against Duchatelet, like a siege mentality,” Wiseman says. “Boywer has built a great rapport with supporters and seems able to inspire and improve players and create a really good team spirit.”
This only heightened frustrations when Duchatelet almost took away one of the few positive things he had achieved, announcing last month that the 42-year-old would not be staying at the club on a new contract, only to make a U-turn 24 hours later.
“That’s the last five years in a nutshell,” Wiseman says. “It’s just absolutely typical of everything that goes on there. Amazing ability to make everything over-complicated and make the club look ridiculous.”
Despite all of Duchatelet’s foibles and the club’s inability to compete financially with other Championship sides, there is more hope among supporters than there has been for five years.
They have bolstered the squad with a number of free additions, re-signing Jonny Williams and adding Ben Amos from Bolton, Chuks Aneke from MK Dons and Tom Lockyer from Bristol Rovers.
With Bowyer in charge and the team united, fans believe they can stay up against the odds. Wiseman says: “If anyone can do it, Bowyer and this squad can do it. We can survive.”