Monday, 2 July 2012

What next?

After three seasons in the third division of English football we can, probably, claim to be back where we belong.

There are those that would call the Premier League 'where we belong' but for me it is the second division. Charlton have spent more time in this division in the 31 years I've been watching them them than they have spent in either of those just above or below it. For those of you that love the stats it includes 12 seasons in the top flight, 15 plus 1 in the second division and 4 in the third division. the plus 1 is next season (my 32nd), which is going to be in the second division.

It is close between the top flight and the second division, but fifteen is more than twelve. In fact, of those twelve seasons in the top flight I would suggest that as three of them resulted in relegation and at least another three we 'survived' a relegation battle we can hardly claim to have been an established top flight side - not during my lifetime. None of the ten years between me being born and starting going to Charlton were we in the top flight (7 in the 2nd div and 3 in the 3rd div).

Anyway, as I was saying we are now back were I believe we belong. I have hopes that we will be able to win promotion to the Premier League again one day, but after we came so dangerously close to going out of business (administration at the very least) in the last five years I am happy with second division football where the club can survive financially.

On that note it would seem that there have been a couple of developments (sorry for the use of that word) in the last month or so.

Firstly (and this is why I apologised) it would seem that planning permission for houses and flats has been approved on the plot that is 2 Landsdown Mews. I won't go into this in great detail, for that you can visit Charlton Life, but what it seems to have done is turn that plot of land from being worth a few hundred thousand pounds (which is approximately what the club sold it for a couple of years ago) to being worth nearer to £2m.

On the face of it this seems like a bad decision at the time. I have no interest in that discussion, nor apportioning blame for it - who ever sold it has, literally, lost a couple of million pounds, so they don't need me to tell them it was a mistake. However, from the limited information I have it would seem that this plot of land would have been required to develop the East Stand, and the South-East corner, and without that development it is now impossible for the club to make The Valley a big enough stadium for Charlton to compete at the top of the English game. Personally, I'm not sure that was ever possible. I seriously doubt that we would have been able to attract enough fans to fill a 40,000 stadium and, in fact, just trying to stay in the Premier League (without finding the development) we ran up so much debt that we faced administration and were forced to endure three seasons in the third division.

Despite me not being worried that we are now unlikely to ever see a 40,000 capacity Valley, it is still a development in the clubs history, and future, that needed to be mentioned. The other development, which is, at the present time, just rumours (all be it from people that have proven, in the past, to have good sources), is that the board and/or the investors have a disagreement that is causing us to have funding issues.

I was delighted with the player acquisitions last summer, and even more delighted with the results on the field from the start of the season, right up to the end. I was most pleased that we seemed to be doing our business early in the summer which meant that by the start of the season we would have given all the players time to gel. This was opposed to previous seasons when we were still bringing in players in the week before the season started, and one or two were not even signed before the first game.

This season we have seen no transfer activity. There has been a few comings and goings in the youth set-up. We have heard a lot about the club's intentions to develop it's own talent in house, so to speak. I have no problems with that, and we currently have two players in the first team that came from our youth side, and there are a couple more getting close. This on top of Carl Jenkinson who we sold last summer to Arsenal for enough to pay for most of the rebuilding that went on.

As I have no real information of this rumoured boardroom disagreement I do not intend to discuss it in any great detail save to say that I, like many others, wish Peter Varney all the best with what ever he chooses to do. He has been associated with Charlton for many years, but it would seem that it is time for him to move on (again). I have no idea what led to his departure, nor will I speculate, but I think, despite his time with us in the Premier League, he will look back on this last season as a great success and a real high point for him and Charlton.

The only significance of the boards actions is that they might be responsible for the lack of player acquisitions so far this summer. I know it is only just July, and the team haven't reported back for training yet, but by this time last season we had made a real statement about signing players. Having said that I recognise that we had more to do last summer, and that few of the other teams plying their trade in our division have made much of an impact on the transfer front yet.

There is also the question of just how many new faces we need, and in which areas. These discussions have been covered elsewhere, and there is also some doubt as to how good some of our players will be in a higher division. It is, of course, possible that our squad is good enough to win the Championship as it is. I know it is not likely, but when you finish on 101 points there is not much more you could have done. The players might be able to raise themselves; the younger players (and I'm including any of those 25 and under) might have developed into better players; the performances that enabled us to keep clean sheets and grab a goal might be enough to do the same against the perceived better opposition we will face this season.

The big thing that I think changes the further up the league you go is the pace of the players. Some of our players might just not be fast enough for the Championship. I have no evidence on this as often players that seem slow always look slow irrespective as to the speed of the opposition, and can adjust their game to combat there lack of pace.

I would like to see a couple (or three or four) new faces in the squad to increase the overall strength as well as certain areas. The promising thing, however, is that we haven't sold any players yet. There are a few that are still under contract that I believe are not going to get many games in this division. As they haven't moved on I can only assume that discussions are on going, both for players we want to move on and players we want to bring in.

If we change three or four of our weaker players for better (possibly younger) alternatives I can see this being a very good season. However, if we keep most of our better players I can see us avoiding relegation, and that has to be the first target. We have offloaded all the seriously high earners from the Premier League seasons and from Pardew's spending, so we should be able to make a decent stab at not loosing too much money each season in this division.

Clearly a decent run on the pitch will help this, but as long as we are not written off as relegation no hopers by Christmas we should be able to keep our average attendances above last seasons, and I suspect that the ticket revenue will increase in some way in line with out higher divisional status. I know that players' contracts will have gone up, but even so, the TV money is much more so that should help.

At this point I have no idea what sort of season we will have. Much of it depends on just how good our players are - this is especially true of those that have never played in this division before. It will depend on who we manage to bring in. It will, also, depend on the start that we get. A few early wins and the confidence can take a team on - a few early defeats and it can be very different.

Despite the unknown I am confident that this season will not be a complete disaster, and anything better than that will be something of a bonus. Either way I'm really looking forward to it.

Up the Addicks!

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