If you’re a fan of football and follow plenty of football accounts on social media, there’s a strong chance you’ve noticed the attention generated by a humdrum League One encounter between Charlton Athletic and Coventry City on Saturday.
Photos and videos, wisecracks and quick news stories on the surreal scenes immediately after the match kicked off at Charlton’s The Valley stadium as fans threw hundreds of little soft toy pigs onto the pitch. After around 10 seconds of action, play was then held up for six minutes as players and staff alike attempted to clear the pitch.
Most of the stories rushed online in the eye of the ‘currently trending on Twitter’ storm make vague and hasty references to ‘protests against club owners’. Indeed, both the Addicks and the Sky Blues are currently in the midst of huge internal conflicts, as increasing percentages of their respective fanbases do whatever they can to urge Roland Duchatelet and SISU to sell their respective clubs.
They are just two of a worrying number of football clubs whose current chiefs seem to care very little about the success or condition of their property. And Saturday’s protests came under the #FansUnited banner, which many of these clubs’ fans are using to raise awareness of the perils of negligent owners.
The flying pigs in particular were the brainchild of C.A.R.D - the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet - who organised not only the novel pitch invasion but a massive protest march to the ground.
The Reds were relegated back to the third tier at the end of last season despite being in rude health under club hero Chris Powell’s management when Duchatelet bought the club at the start of 2014. Roland and his chief executive Katrien Meire, having spent the entire downfall swearing blind that everything was going great, then switched to the back foot and promised that they had “learned from their mistakes”.
In response to the recruitment of a manager with serious English lower-league experience in Russell Slade and a somewhat-promising pre-season transfer window, protesters announced plans to hold back on serious interventions - which last season included sit-ins in front of the club entrance and hurling tiny footballs onto the pitch - on the off chance that they truly had seen the error of their ways.
Two months into the season, with truckloads of evidence that things were very much the same as they were, C.A.R.D’s response to these claims and attempts by club supremos to arrange talks behind closed doors with the protest group was simple: “You’ve learned from your mistakes? Yeah, and pigs can fly!”
The sight of airborne miniature porkers was enough to start a social media avalanche, but behind the eye-catching shell was a very heartening core: diehard supporters of two troubled clubs uniting as one against a common enemy.
Placards displayed messages against the Charlton owner in Coventry colours, and vice-versa. Supporters alternated between chants against each regime, and I even found fans of other clubs including Chelsea, West Ham, Leyton Orient and Leeds in attendance. Orient and Leeds in particular find themselves in similar situations, while West Ham have their fair share of concerns about several high-profile business decisions in East London.
“Let down by the Football League” was a particularly-prevalent song from the united onslaught of resistance. This is because the governing body for the Championship, League One and League Two are spending time concocting heavily-criticised concepts such as the ‘EFL Trophy’ and looking for ways to piggyback (pardon the pun) the overwhelming worldwide popularity of the Premier League instead of actually protecting the 72 institutions which allow them to turn a profit in the first place.
And while I hope you thoroughly enjoyed browsing the internet for 3pm score updates only to stumble upon the sight of countless flying pigs, it’s worth remembering that such a crazy story comes from a place of unbridled frustration and genuine fear for clubs with a huge history and an important place in the local community.
To watch the pre-match protest in full, click here.