Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Good Luck or Good Riddance?

With talk now of 10 new players for next season and the prospect of more departures, some welcome some not, it's difficult to comment meaningfully on whether we deserve to be made favourites for promotion. My immediate reaction is that this is by default, given the lack of obvious alternatives and clarification of some issues (including potential takeovers). But then if we end up getting promoted 'by default' as everyone else is crap, who is complaining?

I only hope that being made favourites does not encourage any complacency. Pardew may know what to expect from this division, but he isn't (yet) a god, we all know that the Championship is a slog, and we face the prospect of starting a second consecutive season with a batch of new players that may take time to gel as a team. Given the lack of obvious quality in the division, there has to be the potential for a well-organised and motivated outfit to steal a march early on. If Sheff Utd hadn't installed Bryan Robson as manager I would have gone with them, given that they will retain the structure of their team, will have an even greater sense of injustice than us at being relegated, and that they gave us two of the most depressing afternoons of the past season; if Ipswich weren't trying to buy Francis Jeffers it might have been them.

It looks as though over the next couple of seasons we will be welcoming back to The Valley more former players than before raising the question of who gets booed, who gets cheered, and why. Hopefully they won't number Scott Parker as he goes to West Ham and they are relegated next season as we are promoted. (Enough has been written elsewhere about the West Ham case; like others I have nothing against them as a club but view their 'punishment' as insufficient, taking account of the daft reasons given for the panel's decision - not only the impact on fans and the timing but also the 'fact' that they pleaded guilty. Go back to the early stages and West Ham's initial response to the charges, under the new regime, was to contest them 'vigorously'. Were they told that a guilty plea would see them only fined?)

In most cases the decision whether to cheer or boo is simple and pretty much unanimous, decided by whether they player in question left with dignity (ie either kept their trap shut or said good things about us) and whether we had our money's worth. Sometimes there's a wildcard factor. I liked Jorge Costa as a player, especially as he had that knack when in a difficult position with the ball of going down under the merest hint of a challenge, inevitably being given the free kick. But sometimes he wasn't up for a game, he made mistakes, and he only played for us for half a season, one which ended quietly. I can't help thinking that his popularity was influenced by the fact that he had a catchy song that we loved to sing. If Diawara stays and starts most games next season he is almost guaranteed hero status as he has inherited the ditty.

Of those actually and probably leaving us, Darren Bent is assured of a standing ovation if and when we meet again, El Karkouri should be well-received (helped by a song), while at the other end of the scale are Hasselbaink and Marcus Bent. In between would come Kishishev (I would cheer him, for his attitude and abilities), Thomas (is the best of him yet to come or is there nothing more?), and Rommadahl (frustrating is an understatement but he features in a best-ever Charlton XI for one obvious reason).

It's my impression that the level of hostility shown to some returning players has risen in recent years. Perhaps this is a reflection of us seeing many of them as greedy bstrds rather than the seasoned pros trying to make a living of yesteryear (at a time when either we sold on someone on the way up to help fund our existence or provided a stopping-off point on the way to retirement), maybe it's just the mood of the nation, or maybe there never used to be enough of us at a game to raise a decent boo.

Top of the table for the best reception on returning would be Robert Lee (Chris Powell and Darren Bent may run him close); bottom by some distance Darren Pitcher (possibly the last Charlton player to want out to go to a bigger/better club only to choose Palace). The two that perhaps most divide opinion would be Parker and Lee Bowyer. Personally I booed Parker first time back, but he took the reception without complaint and didn't milk it when he hit a screamer into the net in front of the Covered End. There should be remission for good behaviour and for me it's done (I also think the East Stand went well beyond what is acceptable last season by cheering as Parker was clattered in front of them and for a moment looked as though he was badly injured). Bowyer still gets a good reception from large sections of the crowd, but for me one own goal isn't enough.

Standing ovations or howls of derision are at the end of the day all part and parcel of our enjoyment of the experience; it means more to us than most if not all of the players concerned. After all, they're having the last laugh as we're paying their wages.

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