Friday 5 October 2007

Poor Man Wannabe Rich …

Blimey, disappear to Amsterdam for a few days and return to find we’re being branded as the thugs of the Championship. And we haven’t even brought Thatcher back yet. Well, we know it’s nonsense, but the move from being the much-loved, (relatively) small outperformers tweaking the noses of the big boys (or not as during Curbs’ final years) to envied (and therefore disliked) and (relatively) rich aristos is amusing. We’ll send them a postcard from the Premiership.

No, I’m not getting arrogant or complacent (well, no more than usual). Rather there seems to be a clear pattern emerging of teams viewing us as the benchmark for quality (in that saying that they matched/outplayed us is some sort of badge of honour to help ease the pain of defeat) and allowing their envy to cloud their judgement when it comes to refereeing decisions. I can’t wait for the first manager to come out with a clear ‘the big teams get all the decisions’ statement.

Just what is it about football that turns fans and owners into idiots (the exceptions here that prove the rule being myself and fellow Addickted bloggers and the Charlton board)? I suppose it’s just human nature: (with apologies to Bruce) “Poor man wannabe rich, rich man wannabe king, and a king ain’t satisfied ‘till he rules everything …”.

Was listening to the radio on Saturday (no, Coventry didn’t happen for me) and heard interviews with Chelsea fans ahead of their game regarding Abramovich and Mourinho. One in particular struck me. He said something along the lines of “yes it’s his money but it’s still our club … and we still want to do things the right way”.

First reaction is just what planet is this guy on. With the exception of a few years when they had players like Osgood, Hutchinson, Cook, Harris(!) I don’t think Chelsea have ever done things ‘the right way’. They were stagnant, near-bankrupt, and joyless. They had a decrepit stadium (albeit one with two great memories for me), a reputation for fans’ violence during the real hooligan years, and then Bates.

Have to digress when it comes to Stamford Bridge (yes, I know these posts are like a Ronnie Corbett monologue without the punch line). I was there for the 1-1 draw that kept us out of the play-offs; for anyone interested I still have a video of the game, which rivals Texas Chainsaw Massacre for entertainment. Paul Miller’s late chop across the throat of a thoroughly nasty (on the day) Gordon Durie stands alongside Peter Shirtliffe’s knee in the back of the head of the sitting Leeds forward in the play-off final as the two best unpunished fouls I have seen by Charlton player (where would we be now if Shirtliffe had been sent off?).

However, my best memory of us at Chelsea came some years earlier, during those unlamented hooligan days. My father and I, sensibly wearing nothing to give away our identity, decided to stand a little away from the cluster of Charlton fans in the away end, to avoid any trouble. But five minutes before the kick-off a swarm of Chelsea fans descended on our supporters, only to be beaten back by the police. We found ourselves in amongst a packed group of Neanderthals. I remember them talking about one of their mates who was being sent down for shooting someone at Orient.

The game went well, Charlton taking a 2-0 lead. We tried to look glum while feeling warm inside. But Chelsea came back to level it up. Then quite late on (I think) there was a ball hoofed upfield. Bonnetti and Harris set off to collect, giving one of those wonderful occasions when you can see it coming. They collided and the ball ran loose to Killer, who duly passed it into an empty net.

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. There followed a stunned silence during which you could sense the wheels slowly turning in the minds of those around us. My father and I decided to make a tactical withdrawal, quietly and calmly. Fortunately this was accomplished before the light bulbs went off for those around us.

Get back to the (loose) theme. Fact is Chelsea fans gladly buried any reservations about Abramovich in return for the cash and being lifted out of the depression that they were in. Now, having got used to silverware and the glory they are expressing their dissatisfaction because the man that made all this happen behaves as if the club is his personal toy. We all know that it is. Meanwhile, the owner indicates that he wants Chelsea to play more attractive football than under Jose. So, that’s win the Premiership and the Champions’ League and play attractive football.

Sounds trite, doesn’t it, they’re just never satisfied some people. But it wasn’t so long ago that Charlton fans were expressing their dissatisfaction with the football served up towards the end of the Curbs era and the need to move to the ‘next level’ (or indeed that the same Arsenal fans now expressing their delight at their club’s attractive football rejoiced in ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’). For every club in the land there is always the next level up (and, of course, down), the beauty of football of course being that every step up has to come at someone’s expense.

My Man City mate has recently become a strong apologist for a certain former Thai prime minister, despite the criticisms of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Years of being the laughing stock of football and the poor (in every sense) relation in Manchester means that they are more than ready to set aside any reservations in return for a manager who has some idea how to spend money and a team that actually might play good football and win more often than lose. Of course, it won’t be long before they get dissatisfied with that level. Hopefully that will lead to yet more spending and Thaksin doing a runner, bankruptcy and relegation. Then they will be singing their delight at having ‘their club’ back.

The Abramovich and Thaksin purchases of football clubs are to my mind somewhat different from others (Aston Villa, Man Utd, West Ham, Liverpool etc). They don’t seem to be primarily motivated by either investment with higher returns in mind, or long-term interest in football and/or the club in question (both of course considered others). Both figures have an interest in having a secure base outside of their native country – and have enough money to waste on football to achieve that goal, especially if some initial hero-worshiping is thrown in.

What has all this to do with Charlton? Well, it’s been quiet on the investment/takeover front for a while now since the appointment of Seymour Pearce. When we pour derision on the attitudes of supporters of other clubs we perhaps need to keep in mind the possibility that we may before long face similar issues. Of course, we are made of more moral stuff.

Perhaps the lack of news means that Richard Murray is enjoying himself more now than for the past year; and of course if we’re in the top two and among the favourites to go up the value of the club goes up, affecting the price for a potential investor/purchaser.

I am alone amongst my friends in not having been outraged by what happened to Wimbledon. I think that if I’d been sold such a pup by Sam Hamman I would have explored every possibility to recoup my money, including upping sticks. And I don’t think for a minute that their move to Milton Keynes opens the way for US-style franchising. That system only arises because there are more cities wanting to host say American football teams than there are places. Other than in the most extreme conditions it would be financial lunacy to completely relocate a UK football team, giving up all local support (and revenue base).

I have every sympathy with the supporters of the old Wimbledon, and hope that their reborn club continues to grow. But the fact is that there weren’t enough of them to sustain what they once enjoyed. One bad year and relegation and it all comes crumbling down, especially without a home base. They no doubt would have accepted lower league football but owners with no strong ties to the club or the area are a different matter. By the same token we should never complain about what led up to our leaving The Valley. There weren’t enough of us to protect against such an eventuality (I remember the 70s’ rumours that we would move to Milton Keynes). We should just be very glad that that disaster galvanised the whole club.

Maybe it’s just football in the UK which makes idiots of us all. After all, the people in Amsterdam were measured about the prospects for the Dutch national team and for Ajax (especially after I told them what a certain Danish winger was really like). But if the consortium including Fortis gets ABN Amro it could be interesting as ABN is the kit sponsor for Ajax and Fortis does the same for Feyenoord. That’ll test their measured approach.

And while trying to provide a shoulder to cry on for a certain Lyon supporter after Tuesday night (which included attempting to explain the comment that losing to a Scottish team in Europe was akin to rolling over against something of the calibre of Palace) I commented that ‘at least you’ll probably still win the French league’. ‘Oh, of course we’ll win the French title but we expect more …’

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