Friday 3 December 2010

New Owners, Second, Time For Fans To Raise The Game?

No World Cup then, but the news that Richard Murray has accepted “an indicative and legally binding offer” for Baton 2010 from an “investor group” headed by Peter Varney is far more important – although as others have already commented there’s not a lot to be said at this stage. As usual, I have no inside information and nothing to go on other than the short statement released.

In principle it’s welcome news in that Varney is of course no stranger (and his knowledge of the club must indicate that the chances of the deal folding are slim), we have confidence in Murray’s pledge only to pass on the club to suitable new owners, the timing of the deal (expected to close before Christmas) holds out the possibility of activity in the transfer window, and any new owners would have to be aware that continued funding will be required, whether or not we return to the Championship. But as yet we have no idea how deep are the pockets of the new people or just what their plans are. Hopefully that will all make for a good Xmas prezzie when such information is made available. Torres may be having a tough time, but I think he could still do a job for us.

Consequently there has to be potential upside. Barring a lousy December, new owners will come in with the team in a league position we would have grabbed with both hands at the start of the season. For that, despite the horrors of Brighton, Parkinson and the players deserve credit, even if the division this season seems a good deal poorer in quality than previously. We all remember Curbs bringing in Mills and Youds to give us fresh impetus and a couple of additions this time around – in addition to securing new contracts for Racon and Semedo - could hopefully have the same effect. Downside risks? You can’t rule out that the new guys don’t like Parkinson and that a change would cause at least short-term disruption. I hope I’m justified in ruling out the nightmare scenario of renewed talk of finding a new ground (I can’t remember Varney’s position on that one). To me these would amount to unwanted distractions when the stage is set for a real promotion push. And again it’s reasonable to suppose that new investors know that all future development hinges on promotion.

I’ve no insight into exactly why Murray is selling up, whether it’s for commercial or personal reasons. But I do remember my state of mind when selling a company I’d created: once the decision to sell is made there’s really no going back, and it would seem that Murray made that decision some time ago. I’ve been spending a little time recently converting numerous Charlton videos to DVDs and I must admit it’s had a strange effect. A concentrated reminder of the Leeds play-off, the Chelsea away game, the Battle For The Valley, the Greatest Game, and the Premiership years left me with two thoughts. First, it probably will never be that good again, period. Second, these matches/seasons/events are history and it’s up to a new generation to forge new experiences. Might Murray have similar thoughts? I’ll always be a Charlton fan to my bones, but like any relationship there has to be renewal every now and then. If it isn’t there any more, it’s time to move on; if it is, make it work.

Second in the league, prospective new owners - now its promotion or if not bust a fifth successive season of failure. That leaves what us, the fans, can do. It’s going to be difficult now not to drift into grumpy old man territory (and to avoid going over well-trodden ground), but I’ll try to work against my nature. After all, no sooner has Killer in his programme notes commented that us Charlton fans “are pretty damn good from what I can make out” than a lifelong fan has to be taken to hospital after some loser in the crowd threw a coin and a cup tie produces a paltry crowd. On the key issues – behaviour and pressuring/encouraging the team - are we good or are we bad?

On the coin-throwing, of course I hope the person is identified and held to account. But I hope even more the guy responsible has the character to come forward voluntarily (which of course begs the question whether someone who feels able to throw a coin in the manner assumed has any character or courage). It might be asking for the moon, but if the person did come forward, offered some explanation and apology, and did his/her best to make it up to the lady who was injured, I hope the club would take that into account before considering action. We’ve all done very stupid things, sometimes things which had consequences we would never have wanted, which we regret. But unless and until the person does come forward (and I’m not aware of anything to date) you have to assume he/she is the kind of moron for whom we should have nothing but contempt.

So, we ain’t perfect to begin with. But that was never on the cards. When you’re doing the video conversion for highlights of the Cup replay against Spurs in 1985 and hear monkey chants from the East Terrace you get a sad reminder of how things used to be. We do like to think we’re pretty good in general on the behaviour front. We do after all have the benchmark just down the road (no, I don’t wish to tar all Spanners with the same brush or decry that club’s efforts to clean up their supporters act, especially as some are if not friends periodically required – for fixing the boiler etc; I don’t want to get fitted up in any way other than outlined in the manual). But there’s never room for complacency.

On support of/pressure on the team, we have to do better from now on. I don’t mean in terms of attendance; these are hard times. But to delve from the archives again the noise generated by 8,000-odd for the first game back at The Valley and that truly iconic moment of Sasha arms aloft and a sea of baying fans in the background after Newton scored against Ipswich have to be our own benchmarks. Parkinson and the players are obliged to comment favourably on the level of support during games (and of course sometimes it’s merited, especially at away games). But let’s take it to another level and really get behind them.

Are we, collectively, capable of this? I was struck during a recent game by a boy, who might have been about 10, a couple of rows behind me. I didn’t hear him sing or cheer once, but with monotonous regularity there were shouts of ‘mark up’ or ‘pass’, ‘defend’. Aside from the absurdity of any of us passing on useful advice to professional footballers, and allowing for the fact that we’re all guilty of not being able to keep our gobs shut and of offering up comments that might at best travel a few yards, just what is the mentality behind feeling that it’s acceptable to moan and carp and offer up nothing in return? My dictionary definition of ‘supporter’ is “one who or that which supports or maintains; defender, partisan”. Being partisan and supportive, without this spilling over to unacceptable behaviour, is what it’s about. Maybe it is a generational thing, with everyone believing their entitled to their opinion (yes, pot, kettle, black etc); if I need brain surgery I’d prefer to rely on a brain surgeon. But perhaps we’ve lost sight of supporting in the true sense being in our own best interests. I’ve never come away miserable from a Charlton victory and if increasing the chances of winning involves being partisan, at least during the game, amen to that.