Thursday, 23 October 2008

Time To Be Special Again

A half-finished ramble post-Tuesday night has been overtaken by the news that Zabeel Investments has suddenly discovered that the UK is entering a recession and that there will be no takeover. The reasons given – that the company’s focus moving forward “will be on domestic opportunities in Dubai”, that there is a “current debate around foreign ownership of football clubs” and that there is a “worsening economic climate in the UK” – of course don’t stand up, or at least don’t tell the full story. There is nothing there that would not have been know a few weeks ago. Ahead of any further statement from the Charlton board shedding light we have to assume that they either simply changed their minds, or they are intent on buying another club (the Zabeel statement only said they have not approached another club, not that they will not do so now.

Consequently we have to conclude that either there is a more attractive opportunity for them elsewhere, or they were in the stands on Tuesday night and had further insight into the passion of the fans and the team. If the players were trying to ensure that they weren’t on the scrapheap come January it would at least partially explain the performance (and I have been thinking about the old story of a chairman going into the dressing room before the promotion decider and promising that there would be money for new players if they go up). Time will tell if it is the former, and whether we have been used as a stalking horse.

For what it’s worth the conclusion of said unfinished piece was going to be that at the moment – and I’m aware that this suggests I need my bumps felt – I would prefer us not to be taken over – or at least not before we can demonstrate that we still have the qualities that made us feel special over recent years such that they would not be buried under a mass of cash. There was a process leading to that conclusion, which is now somewhat redundant. For the foreseeable future we’re back to being poor and making do with what we’ve got. We have a day or two to lick our wounds and take the inevitable derision from some quarters before trying to make a virtue out of necessity, beginning Saturday.

Now for the link to something written before the news. Not easy but I’ll try. Like a Ronnie Corbett monologue we’ll have to see where it leads.

There are always going to be times when we say/pen something in the heat of the moment only to regret it in the cold light of day. And we all have off days, when the wine, cognac and any thoughts of a decent cigar have to be given up for Lemsips and paying £1.65 for a half-time container of Bovril (in terms of mark-up this one has to take the biscuit; I mean, just how many such containers can you get from a jar of Bovril?). So, how does it feel a couple of days after the Bristol debacle? No difference at all; still bloody furious.

Personally I can forgive a lot from any Charlton player as regards mistakes, incompetence etc; but not an absence of character. You can’t say we ‘started well, ended badly’; we started very, very well but disintegrated once we went behind. Character is what comes through in adversity. I thought after the Reading game we had rediscovered our team spirit. Clearly I was wrong (it does make you wonder what would have happened in that game if we hadn’t scored a couple of goals shortly after Reading pulled it back to 2-2 and looked like they could go on and win the game). That’s what really hurts about last night’s performance.

The Bristol fans sang ‘you used to be good but now you’re shit’; but a better refrain would have been ‘you used to be special, but now you’re not’. Punching above our weight was something I got used to, liked and appreciated. During my formative years our record against Millwall and Crystal Palace was dreadful. We were regularly turned over by them both, often because they knew that when pressure was applied we would not be up to it. The Bristol game was in that respect like an icy blast from the past. And I don’t want us go to back there.

The picture changed first under Lennie Lawrence, who forged a team full of character and gave us a first promotion to the top flight in my lifetime and four years mixing it with the big boys. Then of course there was Curbs, the return to The Valley, and the forging of a special relationship between the club, the supporters and the players, one that stood us in good stead for a number of years.

Before concluding this is just another whine from an old codger going on about the past, the point is that this is all over. That special relationship has run its course and means nothing any more (other than being a fond memory). Perhaps we’ve all lived off it for too long. Like any relationship it needs to be refreshed, renewed, and if there’s a fracture it’s not a case of an impossible return to the past but the forging of something new and better. In the Premiership we felt special. But nobody talks about a ‘Charlton model’ any more. We’ve been surplanted. Even last season we were talking about not slipping back to being a Southampton or Leicester. Too late now, we are just like them. We are in a division where at least 16 of 24 teams have recent memories of being among the elite.

Quite simply, we’re not special any more. We have to make ourselves special again, at every level of the club. Unless and until that happens I really don’t want us to be buried under a mountain of cash as that money could well end up obscuring all that I value about our club. So, while reserving the right to change my mind again tomorrow, when the Lemsips have stopped distorting the thought process, right now I don’t want to even think about Zabeel Investments. Rather I want them to come back when we have things moving in the right direction again.

As for the team, in the short term there’s no easy way to get back to winning ways, you just have to roll up your sleeves, try to grind out some results and remember how good it feels to win. Of course it’s not all about workrate over quality; but you don’t create chances, make space etc without working. Even glimpses of the top teams illustrate how hard their players work with or without the ball. If there are players who won’t respond and don’t really care it’s up to Pardew to drop them. If none of them respond you have to conclude they won’t really play for him and if that happens any manager is on thin ice.

Just as it’s nonsense for Joey Barton to talk of being a role model, it is nonsense to talk of Pardew being a good manager. Barton could, by keeping his mouth shut and head down for a few years, become one; Pardew, by moulding a team that has spirit and togetherness as a reliable base, could demonstrate to all that he is indeed a very good manager. Neither has a record to rest on yet and both have everything to prove. It is worrying that whereas Bristol on Tuesday adapted to a situation and improved we simply ran out of ideas and what changes we made only made a bad situation worse. Of course it was something of a scratch team, but that’s a poor excuse. In my opinion Curbs’ greatest strength, until the final year or two with us, was his eagerness to learn and improve as every situation throws up new challenges. Anyone who simply believes they are good, so it must be true, and there is nothing to learn from others who by definition cannot be as good as you, is a loser. I am not saying these things apply to Pardew, but it is up to him to prove to us they are not – and he will rightly be judged by what happens on the pitch.

With Zabeel no longer in the picture the need to refocus on what made us special in the first place is even more apparent. There’s no mountains of cash any more. We didn’t need them last time around.


Second Division And Proud said...

Excellent article BA – I even had someone read it to me twice
You are of course right – the reason / withdrawal just don’t stack up – but why? Will we ever know?
Like the pardew / barton analogy – and spot on re Curbs … he did learn until – well the time was right and I believe he’ll always be fondly remembered
As for the current … the time is past right but fond memories no!
We’ll always be special but special needs is more like it right now :-(
JOIN THE REDVOLUTION !!! before it’s too late

Anonymous said...

Your usual around the house ramble, with the ODD sprinkle of sense. Is your Lemsip the same as what we all use or is it doctored?

So Zabeel...we are not good enough for ya!

I propose that right now, we (The Charlton nation) stop using anything to do with oil. Just watch the oil price tumble. That'll teach'im.

I understand your point BA, it is valid but I am a cynic. There is a part of me that is greedy and without patience.

I wanted the CASH, I wanted a half dozen world class players on the pitch, I want the premiership, the champions League, trips to Madrid, Barcelona, to Rome to MIlan. The chance to kick shit of Man Utd. And more then anything to know that every Palace fan was watching with envy.

In general our club is a friendly place, in all the years not once have I ever felt the general attitude of the fans was divided. We are all in it together, sure we all have the odd rant or over developed dislike of a player/manager that can rarely be supported by fact. We all feel part of something real. That is what is special for me.

But I can't deny that a part of me just wanted to see and feel what it would be like to be a contender.

Cambridge Addick

Anonymous said...

i agree with most of what you say but i'm like anonymous, it would have been great to be a contender and to experience all the razzamatazz that could have come with our takeover. now it just seems like it's gonna be a battle to survive and that's not just us but most of the clubs outside the big four.

i don't agree with everything you say about curbs. apart from perhaps two seasons after we were promoted back up, our football was often sterile and unadventurous and i guess it took awhile for us to realise this because we were all so happy just to be in the premiership, something a lot of us thought we'd never see in our lifetime. he was also annoyingly rigid and constantly playing people out of position and his lack of boldness when needing to use substitutions was often infuriately maddening.

Anonymous said...

The point about the bond is a particularly apposite one at this time. My gut instinct when thinking about the Zabeel takeover was sadness that eventually London would be filled with Charlton shirts worn by people who had never been to a game, and supported Charlton because of what they won rather than what they meant. This might be bloody mindedness, but I enjoy a twinge of pride when I explain to people that I'm a Charlton fan - and luxuriate as they feign interest, and then reveal that they support Liverpool or United even though they've never been.

The most recent expression of this bond, in my experience, was at the Fulham game - Pards' first game in charge at the Valley as I recall. The ground absolutely rocked for the whole ninety minutes - when my friend and I entered to take our seats at the start, it was like walking into a cauldron of noise and passion. Part of this was excitement at the dawn of a new era. For me, the most invigorating aspect was that it felt as if a bond had been renewed between the board and the fans - having sung Pardew's name, the directors had responded and got our man.

Now that potential investors have departed the scene, would it not be appropriate for the club to front up and explain the dire situation with the club's finances. This might transform the fan's mentality away from disappointment at our current distance from the Premiership, and refocus us into a siege mentality whereby we concentrate on supporting our team as they battle the twin threats of looming financial meltdown and relegation to League One.

damian said...

I agree with you BA.

I'm also interested in a comment from our manager to BBC London:

"For us as a playing staff and management we have to move on quickly and discuss with the board how we can take the club forward."

For me its right that we move on quickly - I for one am slightly concerned that we need to work out how to move forward - surely this should be a case of picking of the strategy we had in place three weeks ago - albeit not a particularly effective one if on the pitch results are a measure.

I'd like to see the club regain some forward momentum. For me, the current news gives us a chance to take stock get over the hangover of not being in the top flight. Like any organisation we need a vision to strive for - getting back to the top flight feels appropriate. To achieve this we need an effective strategy on and off the pitch. Execution of that strategy is of course the hard part - come on you Reds!

Anonymous said...

Just how bad are the finances? Is anyone sure of the current situation?

I am with Cambridge Addick, I too was having dreams of foreign travel and victory parades.

How cold reality feels..... now the chance is gone.

Jess Greenwich