Didn’t we all get sick of the Premiership? Prima donnas taking big wonga for little in return, a physical contact sport reduced to handbags at dawn as death-rolls were accompanied by impassioned pleas to the officials, almost inevitable defeats against the top four, never getting key decisions against ‘big clubs’, problems getting tickets for friends, boring lout managers who cease giving BBC interviews because they’re peeved, the corruption, the drive to sell shirts in Asia, being shunted around to accommodate TV listings, and the ever-growing realisation that given our resources, including ground capacity, one bad season and its out through the trap door.
So yes, bring on the Championship. Honesty on the pitch, proper football, referees prepared to let the game flow, Saturday afternoons, more chance for young players to come through, a division untainted by vulture capitalists with little or no interest in the game, the prospect of being at or around the top as we blow away these lesser teams, and the realistic expectation of going home happy more often than in the recent past.
Hold on a minute. It’s crap really, isn’t it? Championship players tend not to dive because they’re so bad at it (Gillespie and Thomas take a bow), referees and linesmen let games flow because they usually miss things, you just get a different class of investor in this league (of the spotty, spiv, wanabee variety), and while young players coming through the ranks is great there’s a difference between proving it in the top flight (aka Parker) and in this division (of course I hope Basey, Randolph and others go on to play in the Premiership – with us).
Once we’ve got past the not very convincing attempts at making the best of a bad break – and ignoring all the positives of being in the Premiership (the quality of the football, the heightened tension and sense of occasion, still inadequate but massively better media coverage) – we’re left with only two good (related) reasons for enjoying life more where we are now: the greater prospect of winning something (promotion) and of going home happy more often than not having seen Charlton win.
I was going to post something about games I’ve seen Charlton lose and didn’t care. But after much thought I’ve still only come up with one: Notts Forest away in our third year in the old Division One under Lennie. Having got into the play-offs in the last game of the regular season in our first year up, then having avoided the play-offs on the last day in the second, in the third we were safe with a game to spare. We travelled with a spring in our step and cheered and sang through a 4-0 defeat, much to the bemusement of the Forest supporters.
Of course there have been games which really didn’t matter (too many if we go back to the 70s and 80s). But I still cared about the result on the day. Only three other games come close: home to Sheff Wed when we were being relegated elsewhere; home to Ipswich when we celebrated going back up as champions (we lost 3-1) and Curbs’ last home game in charge against Blackburn (0-3). In all three cases the result was less important than the occasion (something lost on those who inexplicably left before the end of Curbs’ last home game). But I can’t say I just didn’t care as we were turned over on the pitch.
The moral of the story? Well, in an ideal world (and trying to remain broadly realistic) Charlton will be in the top half of the Premiership, at least occasionally qualifying for Europe (or threatening to do so) and with the possibility of a cup, and playing expansive, entertaining football, and with ground expansion going ahead. Of course the goal of being in the top half of the Premiership implies that you win more of your home games than you lose. And here’s the rub. I’ve never felt like crying into my wine when Charlton have won. Sometimes frustrated, exasperated, relieved, disappointed with the football served up. But always on balance happier, whether or not we’ve ground the opposition into the dirt or been hammered for 89 minutes and fluked a winner in the last minute.
Now the problem. Now I know nothing beats a good away win, even a creditable draw (3-3 versus Liverpool). And we take delight in our away victories, discussing why it is that sometimes our away record is superior. But for me time constraints and friends’ collective patter of tiny feet simply don’t allow many trips now. So my feelgood factor is heavily determined by the home games that I see.
One win in five at home has understandably left us feeling bad. Our home record in the nine league games to date is won four, drawn two and lost three. In other words, 44.4% of the time I have gone home whining about something but with a spring in my step, 22.2% of the time its been a case of should have been better, and 33.3% of the time its been reach for the bottle in despair.
How does this fit with recent seasons? In 2006/07 our home record was won 7, drew 5, lost 7, ie a win percentage of 36.8%. In 2005/06 it was 8-4-7 and a win percentage of 42.1%; in 2004/05 it was exactly the same; and in 2003/04 it was 7-6-6 and a percentage of 36.8% again. Not much difference really.
It gets worse. In the Premiership you did sometimes come away from a home defeat feeling that we were simply beaten by a better side and there wasn’t much we could do, or that a draw was a fair result and a point gained. In this league we, rightly or wrongly, expect to beat every other team at home and come away from a draw feeling depressed (of course in the light of day we acknowledge that there will be the occasional let-down).
If you feed this into the ‘post-game feelgood factor’, this season we have left the ground feeling happy some 44.4% of the time. Even last season the combined win/draw percentage was 63.2% (it just didn’t feel like it). In 2005/06, 2004/05 and 2004/05 it was the same – and in 2003/04 it reached 68.4%.
Of course, the happiness ratio should be lower as we didn’t enjoy every draw in the Premiership (although you would have to feed a premium back in for the last-day draw of the 2004/05 season). But sometimes the defeats were easier to bear - and at the very least it has to be said that the last remaining good reason for being in this division is going down the plughole.
So, I’ve had a look at the Championship, enjoyed some of its particular appeal. But I’ve had my fill. I miss the quality and the atmosphere, don’t like the frequency of games – and again I’m getting no feelgood factor benefit from being in this division. So, Pards and the board, I know you're doing your best and please accept that I will be a Charlton supporter for the rest of my life, come what may. But I’M A PREMIERSHIP SUPPORTER, GET ME OUT OF HERE.