Charlton Athletic: A New Start?
Well, if it’s the F A Cup Final today then the season must have finished last weekend- right? Wrong! For some very strange reason, the dear old FA decided two things (apart from who the new England manager would be): first, that the cup final would be played on a normal Saturday with other games being played and secondly that it would kick off at the time of 5.15pm.
This is all terribly bizarre as most true football fans will have less than 30 minutes to get from the match they are going to today (5thMay) to a TV set. It appears that the FA no longer regard the FA Cup Final as the high point of the domestic season and just as another competition to be squeezed in between the already congested football fixtures which is a real, real sadness.
However, for me, a proud Charlton Athletic fan, the season does end today and what a season it has been. Charlton under manager and all round good guy Chris Powell have already won promotion to the Championship and will pick up the Division 1 championship trophy after the home match with Hartlepool today. A win would also give us a total of 101 points – a marvellous achievement.
I’ve supported the club since 1971 – a very long time indeed and like so many other clubs up and down the country there have been numerous ups and downs on the way. We’ve been promoted, relegated, moved grounds three times, been up in the Premiership, down in the third tier of football, almost gone out of business, even been in Europe for a very short while.
Charlton Athletic is an example of how to be both a model of a well-run club but also how to run itself into the ground. Between say 1998 – 2006 we were cited as the sound way to run a football club both on and off the pitch. We had been promoted to the Premier League without bankrupting ourselves. We had a very sound Chairman and Board, we had one of the finest young coaches in Alan Curbishley and we played attractive, winning football and we received fulsome praise from large sections of football.
That all started to go wrong when Alan Curbishley let the club at the end of the 2005/2006 season after a still successful term finishing in a respectable 13th place. The Board in its wisdom decided to appoint a coach from its rivals Crystal Palace – Iain Dowie- gave him an awful amount of money and sacked him after barely six months. He was replaced by Les Reed who lasted just about a month who in turn was replaced by Alan Pardew, who at least lasted for the rest of that season. Consequently, and not surprisingly, we were relegated that year.
The next season we finished 11th – just six points off a play off place, however the next season (08/09) was a real failure and we were relegated once more and it meant that we had plunged from the Premier League to League One within the space of just three seasons. There were then changes in the Boardroom, a new manager (Phil Parkinson) came in and although he got us to 4th and in the play offs he wasn’t to last long. New owners came in and after initially supporting him, they sacked him rapidly and appointed Chris Powell who had a very mixed start to his time back at the club but this season, with new investment and a virtually new playing squad we have commanded the division and things now look much brighter.
Like all other ‘Addicks’ I will be celebrating when captain Johnnie Jackson lifts the Division one trophy high at around 5pm today, but our story can be taken as a history lesson for other clubs that the toughest bit of football management is not getting to the top but succession. Just what do you do when you have an incredibly successful manager as we did in Alan Curbishley when he leaves? He was our manager for 15 years but in his wake we appointed 6 managers in just 6 years- to be quite brutal, we panicked, we gambled on managers with little or no proven track record, gave them money that frankly was quite often wasted, and for a time we seemed to be close to going into Administration. From the best run club to perhaps one of the worst?
The answer really is not to follow the Peter Risdale/Leeds Utd philosophy of ‘living the dream’ as Charlton eventually did, because if it goes wrong, it really goes wrong and you only have to look at the state of a club such as Portsmouth to see what a mess you can get into. At Charlton, we appear to have got out of it but the challenge going forward is what happens if we come under pressure next season in the Championship. Will the fans and the Board hold firm with Chris Powell and his team or will we face more turbulence. That is the art of football management.
But for now and especially today, it is about celebrating a magnificent season and success. Yes, Charlton are back!