BY CALUM FRASER
Charlton Athletic football fans bumped into the owner of the club in Belgium after they had travelled there to campaign in the local elections in protest against his tenure.
Members of the Roland Out Today (ROT) party travelled from London to Sint-Truiden in Belgium, Roland Duchatelet’s hometown, to canvass for the upcoming Municipal elections in Belgian.
The party was established by Addicks fans to protest against Mr Duchatelet’s tenure at The Valley which has seen the Greenwich club relegated from the Championship, lose high profile players and skip through nine managers in four years.
But the ROT group could not believe their luck when they bumped into the Belgian millionaire and he invited them to see his new real-estate development, not knowing who they were.
ROT co-founder John Barnes said: “We were having a look round Duchatelet’s latest hotel development, then low and behold he appeared and said ‘Hi’. He then gave us a tour of the construction site.
“I don’t think he quite realised who we were. We told him we were from London.
“Towards the end I said, ‘Thanks for that, do you mind if we talk about Charlton Athletic?’ He said, ‘Oh, you’re Charlton fans’.”
John and another ROT member had met Mr Duchatelet in August the previous year.
The 62-year-old said: “We spoke to him for a good half an hour then, but he didn’t notice it was us.”
Mr Duchatelet is on the verge of selling the club to Australian Andrew Muir for a fee believed to be in the region of £35million.
He bought it four years ago for about £20million.
He owns three other football clubs, Carl Zeiss Jena in Germany, Alcorcón in Spain and Újpest in Hungary.
Mr Duchatelet was a member of the Belgian Senate from 2007 to 2010.
The day after their encounter with Mr Duchatelet on Friday, May 18, ROT members went to the main square in the centre of Sint-Truiden
They handed out leaflets and spoke to residents about the election.
John, who lives in Blackheath, said: “The reaction was a little bit mixed. Some people were clearly very pro Duchatelet.
“But then about a dozen people came over and were very supportive. They gave us their email addresses and that’s something I want to work on in the future.”
John was tweeting while he was in the town centre. The Sint-Truiden police follow ROT on twitter.
John said: “I think they must have seen us on Twitter, because after an hour or so the police turned up and moved us on.
“They said we needed a licence. Later the police arrived at our hotel, took our IDs and took photographs of them. That put a bit of a downer on the weekend.”
The ROT party was launched on December 5 last year, the 25th anniversary of the return to The Valley.
John said: “The hope is that it will spur Duchatelet to get a deal done, then we will go away.
“For a group of English football fans to be running in an election in Europe, it’s difficult to get a message across that works both there and here.”
The Belgian elections are on October 14.
John said: “If Duchatelet sells and everyone is happy, then we will abandon the campaign.
“But there are a number of our members who are in the mind to continue because of the damage he has done at the club, they would like to go ahead and embarrass him as much as possible.”
John has now been to Sint-Truiden more than a dozen times.
He said: “I’ve got to know people there really well. In some ways it’s good to catch up with those folks, have a chat, a few beers and enjoy their company.”
Charlton did not wish to comment.
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