LOUIS MENDEZ reacts to today’s comments from Katrien Meire – which you can read on the South London Press website here
Here’s a piece I never thought I’d need to write. If there’s one club whose supporters shouldn’t feel like they’ve been associated en masse with racist behaviour then it’s those of my fantastic club, Charlton Athletic.
I’ve been a Charlton fan since 1994. I’ve also lived in south London my whole life (unless you’re old fashioned and consider the London Borough of Bromley to be in Kent)
I’ve never been anything other than proud to support Charlton. We genuinely are a special, unique club.
Nobody and everybody supports Charlton.
Traditionally a middleweight contender, with a fan base to match, walking the streets around here you find you are outnumbered by followers of the bigger fish.
But football people know our story.
The fight that my predecessors had to bring their cherished club back to their rightful home in the early nineties is a tale that is and will be fondly repeated ad nauseam. The Valley Party, winning hearts, minds and votes in local elections in 1990, earned an enduring respect for fans of a club whose on the field exploits peaked some fifty years previously.
Call it clichéd, but the Addicks really did use to deserve the accolade of ‘everybody’s second team’.
I’ve certainly never not been proud to come from south London.
It’s bustling and loud, it’s multicultural, fast paced and wonderfully progressive but above all that it’s just a lovely place to live. It has changed immeasurably since my father called the streets of Woolwich home in the seventies. It has certainly never claimed to be nirvana.
Sadly, like every little nook and cranny in the UK, south London has had (and in some sections of society still will have) its problems in the past with racial tension. Stephen Lawrence was murdered in one of the country’s most high profile racist attacks in Eltham, south London in 1993. South London has and never will be perfect.
But our special club have though always tried to be a positive influence upon its community that surrounds the famous Valley ground.
Football is an immensely popular social pastime that has the power to try and change things. To bring people together.
Charlton Athletic can be proud that they put their brand at the forefront of this.
In 1994, and as they have done in every year since, the club held their first annual Red, White and Black Day. The excellent Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) said the day was designed to tackle “racial discrimination and promote equality within football.”
They were the first club to have an event of its kind. This is a notable and proud chapter of the long Charlton saga.
Addicks supporters have always been grateful of the fact that their club brought the fight against racism to the terraces.
The PFA’s Kick It Out campaign, of which former Charlton player Paul Mortimer is a patron, continues to do excellent work for the whole of football in this field.
The battle with racism is not one to be taken lightly and it definitely isn’t amongst Charlton’s fan base. It’s because of this that Charlton’s current CEO Katrien Meire’s comments at today’s Telegraph Business of Sport conference were, at best, horribly misguided.
At worst, they were downright offensive.
Meire, who was an audience member at the high profile central London event, rose to respond to observations from the panel that the south London outfit that she oversees appears to be a spectacularly poorly run operation. Having ploughed through five managers in little over two years and recently being relegated comfortably to League One, you must say they have a point.
Seemingly immediately on the defensive, she appeared to try and deflect criticism onto a fan base who have been actively campaigning for club owner Roland Duchatelet to sell their underachieving club.
As reported in the South London Press, rather than fully address the accusations that her club are in a downward spiral, Meire deflected the conversation to speak of a rebellious match day atmosphere at The Valley.
“I feel frustrated by the fact that media reports all these kind of things,” she told journalists.
“There is so much abusive language now at The Valley – and that’s not part of football. It’s in their interests to try not to have this time of behaviour because now mums with kids won’t come to the games.
“The chants that are going around, it’s not promoting the sport, and the governing bodies have an interest in trying to stop that.”
“Just like when I started supporting football 15 years ago,” she added.
“Whenever there was a black player they would make noises. That has evolved, why can we not also educate fans towards respect of everybody in the game?”
Deflecting criticism is something that public figures must learn to do. Especially those not waving but drowning in a sea of pressure, caught seemingly out of their depth whilst Rome burns around them.
But the astonishing tactic of comparing the supporters of a football club who pride themselves as groundbreakers in the field of anti-racism to the bigots they have spent years battling is unforgiveable.
It may have been a slip of the tongue. It may have been lost in translation. But PR gaffes and guffs like this go a long way to explaining why there is such a disconnect between the board and the frontline customers at The Valley.
To tar the fans of this special club with comparisons to racists further fuels the narrative that the current leaseholders know not of its history.
They know not of its vital standing in the local community.
They know not of this club. And the overwhelming majority of Charlton supporters wish they never knew of them either.
This ownership is and now always will be untenable.