We’ve all had the chance to sleep on it, although imperfect information means that no definitive judgement can be reached. To know whether the decision to sack Parkinson was the right one we would need to know what the new owners’ real thoughts were at the time they put in the offer, whether they already know who they want to be manager, what was said and done after the Swindon game – and most important whether the change sees us go on to secure promotion. If it does, it will have been the right move; if it doesn’t, it wasn’t. As removing the last imponderable would require a certain divinity, it is reasonable to see the decision as one that we might on balance agree or disagree with – personally I’m in the latter camp - but one which we as supporters should in principle back.
However, in this case the choice of new manager will go a long way towards cementing first impressions of the new owners – and first impressions can be lasting. I have absolutely no problem with new guys coming in and deciding that Parkinson was not the man to take us forward. They’ve bought the club and they are writing the cheques, while Parkinson’s record in charge is hardly such that there would have been howls of outrage.
On Parkinson’s record, I don’t really blame him for relegation from The Championship. The failure to rebound first time after relegation from The Premiership was the real disaster, when despite being unbalanced we had a squad that should have gone back up. Pardew carries the can for that. With the subsequent intention to try to balance the books and shed the better (overall) and highest paid, Pardew then failed to produce a team capable of holding us steady in The Championship, with Parkinson taking over a club in decline. However, last season was a failure as once more we had greater quality than those around us and didn’t make it count. If Parkinson had been sacked at the end of last season there could have been no complaints, but we all knew the situation. That would have cost money and, given that so many players were going to depart, he looked as good an option as any we might have attracted to build a new, cheaper team. Keeping him on then was a reasonable decision, albeit one borne out of necessity.
That leaves this season. Let’s not forget as it began we had no idea if we would be facing another relegation battle. From the squad that was printed in the Swindon play-off game we’d lost Richardson, Youga, Bailey, McKenzie, Burton, Sam, Basey, Spring, Dickson, Sodje(S), Sinclair, Fleetwood, Mooney, Randolph, Borrowdale, Forster and of course Shelvey. Good riddance in some cases, but nobody in their right mind could pretend that those brought in would give us similar quality. The best we could hope for was that a new team would gel quickly enough and have the desire and commitment to allow us to compete. In that context, Parkinson’s real problem this season has been expectations raised by a better-than-expected start, plus the fact that our best performances have been away from The Valley. Suddenly we were back to demanding promotion – and attractive football. That we are where we are in the league is a reflection of the lower quality of the other higher-placed teams than last season and a good job by Parkinson and his staff.
I don’t think it’s an accident that especially of late we have struggled at home. Other clubs do do their homework after all. In Racon, Martin, Reid and Wagstaff, and Benson, we have players who thrive on space. When teams are disciplined and get behind the ball quickly, these players tend to be ineffective. This does raise the reasonable point that in this division, against average defenders, we might have played the percentages more at home and made more use of the physicality of Sodje and, yes, even Abbott. And yes, Parkinson’s decisions for the Swindon game were poor, but that doesn’t excuse the attitude and performance of the players on the pitch. One bad night at home every now and then is inevitable, but Brighton, Walsall and Swindon in short order are enough to raise concerns about our tactics. But sufficient to get the manager the sack? Not in my book, in isolation. Manager of the month to dismissal a few weeks later.
This backdrop leaves me in the camp that is of the opinion that sacking Parkinson is on balance, at present, a poor decision – unless of course what comes next is better. Basically I don’t think Swindon was enough to conclude that change of any kind was needed, even though the atmosphere at The Valley for Swindon fluctuated between dead and poisonous. What gives me additional concern is the tone and content of the statements made by the new owners. The references to not winning since November and ‘recent performances’ etc simply smack of trying to justify a decision already taken. And the clear reference to sacking Parkinson being a board decision – implying that Murray was in favour – also at least sounds duplicitous. Perhaps he was, but it certainly wasn’t his decision to take. He was in no position to disagree, unless he was prepared to resign from the board. Retaining Murray on the board is a positive move by the new owners, but I would bet my life savings on him not being around for long.
The new owners don’t need to win a popularity contest. They’ve bought the club and are entitled to make whatever decisions they feel will bring success to Charlton. That is what we all want and that is what they will be judged on (if they fail it’s their money lost). We can all accept a degree of double-talk in suggesting wanting to keep Parkinson only to sack him days later. But that leads us back to his replacement. If it is Wise, recent events will have been nothing more than a farce and we would discover that our club is now in the hands of people whose word cannot be trusted. If by some miracle it is Curbs I will cheer them to the rafters. If it is someone else, we accept the change and get behind him and the team – and hopefully whatever money is available will not have already been spent.