Friday, 1 February 2013

One Window Closes, Another Opens

So there we have it. Despite the rumours, the window’s closed with no fresh ins or outs, with the club site indicating that the loaning out of Green and BWP – for them to get some ‘game time’ - fell foul of Swindon’s situation. But as one closes another opens, with attention shifting to the loan window. We know what a mixed blessing that can be, even this season - Hulse excellent, Seaborne capable, and Frimpong a real disappointment (perhaps his finger may be pulled out a tad more at Fulham). But needs must and I’ve no objection to an entertaining cameo or two for the months ahead.

Especially with no actual new signings materialising, the impression has to be that one or more would have to exit for one to have come in. And we really can’t grumble about that (undoubtedly I will at some points in the months ahead) given the state of the club’s finances, as discussed in New York Addicks’ excellent post. I can’t help thinking that if Sir Chris was hoping for new signings he shot himself in the foot with the three consecutive league wins in January, which must have encouraged the owners to feel they could put the chequebook back in their pockets. Engineering a home defeat to Sheff Wed seemingly wasn’t sufficient to redress the balance.

After all, we do have a big squad; even excluding youngsters if all were fit we could put out two teams and have some left over: the previous starting X1 - Hamer, Solly, Evina, Taylor, Morrison, Wilson, Pritchard, Stevens, Jackson, Wagstaff, Kermorgant – then a prevailing ‘team B’ - Button, Wiggins, Kerkar, Cort, Dervite, Hollands, Hughes, Green, Fuller, Wright-Phillips, Haynes, plus Cook). That doesn’t leave much space for youngsters to be given a chance. There are clearly some promising ones coming through, but also some that have been knocking around long enough that you would have thought would by now be in one of those two teams (Mambo, Cousins, Bover, Harriott – who does seem to be back on the fringe – and Smith).

The club assembled a team/squad at the start of last season that did the job perfectly. At the start of this season we really didn’t know if effectively the same team could blitz the Championship or would struggle. Well, we know it’s not going to be the former. Undoubtedly the priority is avoiding relegation and, while that job is obviously far from complete (especially with the teams at the bottom stubbornly refusing to give up), we are looking likely to avoid that fate. I like the way the team under Sir Chris is developing a Curbs’ Premiership era-like attitude to bad results. The character is still clearly there.

If there’s disappointment/criticism it’s that some of the players brought in for this campaign haven’t so far cut the mustard. It is indicative that the line-up against Sheff Wed contained only one (Wilson, who's been splendid) who wasn’t with us last season. Dervite can be excluded from any flak as each time he’s been called on, either as a defensive midfielder or centre-back, he has performed admirably. But Kerkar, after what I thought was a very promising start, has faded badly, Cook hasn’t taken what opportunities have come his way, and Fuller’s injuries have worked against a consistent run. Haynes we can call a newcomer and he has taken his chances, only for injuries to intervene.

I suppose the point I might be getting to is that we’re clearly in no position at the moment to be spending any money unless there was a decent fee for someone exiting. This might be getting ahead of ourselves, but come the end of the season, assuming we’ve avoided relegation, there’s got to be a case for reducing the size of the squad and upping the quality where possible. To my mind, some players have the rest of this season to prove they are worth retaining (which does of course beg the question whether they can be offloaded if they don’t).

I penned something late last year about how this season at least we supporters probably just have to live with the ongoing uncertainty that is the Championship. Perhaps now some of that uncertainty has shifted from the pitch to the boardroom. The value of the investment made by our owners (whoever they may be) in buying the club has risen, but holding onto the asset would seem to unavoidably involve ongoing investment given the size of our operational deficit. That does mean that for the foreseeable future we are dependent on their largesse and patience; not an issue for this season but who knows for how long?

Just how do the owners of Championship clubs position their finances? If money is not an issue clearly you do your best to get on board the gravy train, especially if you have an above-average ground capacity. I did post a comment on NYA’s article musing over how our running losses might compare with other clubs in the division, to which the reply was a perfectly reasonable open invitation to download their results and do the homework. Homework was never my strong point, so I’ll stick to assumptions.

I’d guess we’re not unique as regards the size of underlying losses. But clubs in this division could reasonably expect to have their coffers bolstered by decent cup runs (obviously not an option for us) and the occasional sale of a rising youngster/key player to a Premiership club. It’s not so different these days after all – and perhaps another reason for us to ensure that the path to exposure for our promising youngsters is made easier by squad size reduction. Of course if they’re good enough they’ll get in, but it was a good deal easier for Jenkinson to move into the spotlight (and us to take the benefits) than it appears now given the numbers involved.

This season to date, with the exception of the occasional aberration on the pitch, has been fine and if we stay up it’s mission accomplished. But it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the bar gets raised for the next campaign (again, hopefully that acts as a spur for some in the period before then). That has to apply to all concerned, with the onus on the commercial staff and others to come up with fresh initiatives to raise revenues (preferably ones that don’t involve cash coming out of my pocket of course). Only the Barnsley concession game has seen the attendance top 22,000 and most home games its 16,000-18,000. I’m sure everyone’s thinking about how we can get more in (and watching the numbers who flooded out after Wednesday scored their second on Saturday was a reminder of how fickle some are).

Perhaps something to ponder on once more immediate issues are taken care of. I won’t be at Palace tomorrow; I did my time at Selhurst Park and vowed never to return, except under truly exceptional circumstances (it’s a bit like thinking just what would they have to give away inside for it to be acceptable to buy the Mail or Express?). My guilt is assuaged by our allocation selling out anyway, but if there’s one thing I’ll miss is another opportunity for a final chance to applaud Kevin Phillips following his loan move. I thought his appearance for Blackpool was the last time we’d come up against him. Disappointing also that Hulse has gone to Millwall as that’s two of theirs (N’Guessan) I might be forced to applaud when they come to The Valley - even three if Racon is on view (just for the fact that he's drained their coffers and contributed next to nothing). But they have to make a living. Even Sir Chris was forced to remind us on the club site that he had a less than honourable start to his playing career before he found his true path and spiritual home.


New York Addick said...

BA, someone has kindly done the work for us (see link below). The figures are slightly distorted by timing issues and parachute payments, but suffice to say it paints a horrid picture (approx £1bn in cumulative Championship debt - how will it ever be paid back?!)

Blackheath Addicted said...

NYA, bloody hell it does all look a mess. Just seen the warning from Brighton about complying with 'fair play' rules. To look on the bright side (a bit of a struggle after yesterday), at least the figures mean that our owners should have been under no illusions about what they were in for.