Communication with fans is key: Charlton’s first fan on the board explains what went well, what didn’t, and how a supporters’ director position could benefit the club today.

BY CALUM FRASER calum@slpmedia.co.uk

Charlton Athletic had a fan on the board for almost 15 years before the position was discontinued in 2008.

They spent more than half of that time in the Premier League.

Steve Clarke, who became the first supporters’ director in 1993, is keen to get the ball rolling on fan involvement.

He said: “In my mind, you don’t want to hang around. I would say, let’s sit down and do some serious work with the club for the rest of the year, with the intention of electing someone at the beginning of next year, maybe February.

“What we did before worked well. A two-year term and you couldn’t be re-elected. You don’t want someone settled down for 10 years and getting too comfortable.”

But the shadow of another year under Roland Duchatelet’s rule looms over the club as the takeover bid drags on.
He said: “The current owner is desperately unpopular. He has done nothing to win the fans over. He is saying Charlton’s current situation wasn’t his fault. Even though he had four years to sort it out.

But he never sat down with the fans, and talked to them and that is what we would hope the new owners would do.

“They would win the fans over immediately. Talking to them, communicating. If I was doing it, I would look to have a game next season where it was a pound entry or something; get the fans back in, a welcome back day.”

An Australian consortium have been in line to buy out Mr Duchatelet for months. But the deal is yet to be completed and the red and white army have been kept in the dark about what is happening.

Mr Clarke believes that communication between the higher echelons at the club and the fans has not been as good as it could have been under Duchatelet’s reign.

A big part of his role in 1993 was maintaining strong lines of communication between the club and the supporters.

Mr Clarke said: “The board would meet almost every month. I would always tell them at the end of each meeting, ‘alright this is what I am taking away. If you have any problems with it, tell me now’, and we never really had any problems with it.

“I would then broadcast this out to the people through the radio and of course the Mercury.

We didn’t have the communication systems we have now. “Twitter is a great way of communicating and getting feedback. We could set up a Twitter account for the supporters’ director.”

Mr Clarke was involved in the Back to the Valley campaign and stood as a candidate for the Valley Party in 1990.

He was then part of the 2,000 fans who raised more than £1million as part of the Valley Investment Fund.

He said: “The supporters’ director position was partly set up because the club wanted to reassure the fans that they were not mishandling the money.

“The experience was excellent. I’m not aware of any attempts to conduct business without me being aware about it and know what was going on.

“But by the time I started, most of the cash was gone. So my role was a way of bringing the views of the fans to the board, the feeling on the ground. And for them to test ideas on us. I was somebody they could immediately turn to with an idea.

“For instance, a couple years later the directors had a plan to move away from the Valley. I would have had to raise my very serious concerns then.”

Mr Clarke had worked at management level in insurance at Lloyds.

He said: “If you were to have someone with very limited experience of working in a business environment on the board, it could be difficult.

“But there are plenty of Charlton fans who do have experience, and to be honest, it’s not rocket science. Most of it is common sense and it is about having the confidence to challenge.

“There are bound to be people who think we were just doing it for the jollies and the freebies. But that was not the case.

“I absolutely loved the fact that I had a real stake in the team I loved. At home games I sat in my normal seat, I didn’t go to the directors box. At away games I did, generally, sit with the directors though, and that was an important opportunity to catch up with them.”

In 1993 Charlton were in League One, the equivalent of the Championship.

They remained in that league during Mr Clarke’s tenure, but they gained promotion to the Premier League in 1998.

He said: “The main thing that we had previously, which has been so lacking in the last few years, is momentum.

“There was always a momentum about the club, we had good weeks and bad weeks on the pitch. But throughout the whole thing, there was a move to make the club more successful both on and off the pitch.

“Between us all, we created a momentum, and we need that now more than ever. ”

Could he be referring to the same Momentum that has taken Jeremy Corbyn from a lower league backbencher to a challenger for the country’s premiership?  The same Labour leader who gave his support to the Back to the Board campaign last week.

“No,” he said definitively. “It’s about the club. I think a fan on the board is a really good idea. But saying you want it without knowing who you’re going to get would perhaps be foolhardy.

“If new owners come in, we’d hope that the supporters could demonstrate how valuable we are and what we could contribute. Then that could bring a nice harmony between the two.

“The main thing that Charlton supporters have is a lot of experience on the administrative side of the club. In the past we helped build the club from a small fan base, in a bit of a mess, to a Premier league team.”

 


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