Have you ever said something even mildly critical about your team’s performance on Twitter? Maybe an out-of-form player or a manager’s questionable team selection? Your club may be watching you. And prepared to make you regret it.
That is what apparently happened to a Charlton Athletic supporter recently. The unnamed fan received a letter from the club saying front office staff were aware of critical comments made on social media and that, unless said fan made amends, their season ticket would be revoked.
The letter is more than a bit chilling.
”We have identified that certain comments placed on social media websites by yourself have been not particularly constructive. Whilst we recognize that everyone is entitled to their own personal opinion it is not helpful when inflammatory comments are posted on such websites. [...] The granting of your season ticket will be ‘conditional’ and subject to you receiving an ‘Agreed Behavioural Contract’, which will request that you refrain from posting derogatory or inflammatory comments regarding the club of people representing the club in the future on any social media websites, or carrying out any other form of behavior that could be deemed to be of an anti-social nature.”
That is an actual letter sent to an actual fan by an actual club. In 2016.
A statement from the club said that they did indeed send that letter on purpose and it’s a totally justifiable thing to do. The statement went on to say that club officials met with the fan yesterday and received several apologies from the fan. At issue were critical statements made by the supporter on Twitter, which they have since deleted but which the club apparently had screencapped.
Satisfied by the fan’s contrition, the club generously agreed to forego any signed agreement— the original letter said that the fan would have to sign an “Agreed Behavioural Contract” before receiving their season ticket— and gave them their seat allocation.
This is just the latest chapter in the breakdown of the relationship between the club and its fans. Roland Duchatelet took over as owner in January 2014 and his short reign has been marked with controversy. The club has gone through six managers in 2 ½ years, and at the end of last season the Addicks were relegated to League One. A protest movement among supporters has grown steadily larger and louder under Duchatelet’s reign and reached something of a fever pitch last season.
Obviously, free speech protections in the UK are different than those in the US, and residents can and do face legal repercussions for what they post on Twitter. And absent salient details, it’s difficult to say whether or not the unnamed Charlton fan crossed a line somewhere. Yet it’s entirely possible that the Duchatelet and front office staff are overreacting to fair criticism of their running of the club. With pressure from supporters mounting amidst what will undoubtedly be a difficult season in the third division, the club would’ve been best served trying to repair the relationship with the fans. Instead, they’ve started cracking down on fans who say not-nice things them. Free speech issues notwithstanding (although, let’s be clear, if you love football and also free expression this should TERRIFY you), it’s really hard to see how Duchatelet can rebuild trust with his club’s fans. But perhaps the letter was a signal that he doesn’t intend to. When a club decides it doesn’t really need its fans, that’s a very, very bad sign.