Oh how I miss Alan Curbishley. Every Friday I watch Curbs analyse the weekend’s coming matches on Sky Sports News and reminisce back to when I was a young man sitting in the stands at the Valley, singing “Valley Floyd Road” with my pre-pubescent voice-box, spoilt rotten with two Premier League promotions and privileged with high quality football. Little did I know the pain I would suffer as a result of the demise of Charlton Athletic.
Watching your club drop two divisions in three seasons is truely heartbreaking, and leads to internal discussions within one’s own head as to why and how you ever came to support such a club, when friends seem so much happier supporting Manchester United or Chelsea. I eventually worked it out by the way – a Charlton fan supports Charlton because their dad supports Charlton. Failing that, they support United but like the idea of watching a team in red play on a Saturday.
Chris Powell has certainly restored some faith and pride in the club amongst fans. A former player who always gave his best, Powell was the perfect fit after the club’s failure to get itself out of league 1. But following a successful promotion campaign, can the once-capped England international take Charlton any further than their current role as a middle to lower, possibly to much lower, Championship club? Or considering this is a similar position to where Alan Curbishley found the Addicks when he took over with Steve Gritt in 1991, was Curbs’ 7th place finish at the end of the 2003/2004 Premier League season the best a small club from South East London could ever hope for? Was he truly the Messiah? And now his time has passed, will we be forever banished from the promised land of top flight football.
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It does seem, following the departure of “the cockney great one”, the solution was simply to find another Curbishley. Although Iain Dowie was given a fair amount of money, which he may as well have stood in the Valley centre circle and set fire to, we have forever been a club without finance.
Part of the reason for the Robins’ eventual demise was a lack of investment into the team. Players such as Claus Jensen, Scott Parker and Danny Murphy were replaced with the ageing Matt Holland, Amdy Faye and Bryan Hughes – the most passive midfielder in footballing history (i’ve never seen a single player play so many consecutive games without touching the ball).
Charlton’s record signing still stands at £4.75million for Jason Euell, although future incentives for Darren Bent’s £2.5million transfer from Ipswitch have probably now exceeded that deal. The Red Robins have always been a club that relies on their manager to get the best out of their players, with limited financial backing or resources. Even the fan base is relatively small compared to the majority of Premier League and many Championship clubs, who have stadiums far exceeding the Valley’s 27,000 capacity.
Looking back, it feels we bit off more than we could chew. Perhaps it didn’t seem so at the time, but expectations remained too high in the seasons following our relegation from the top flight, and huge pressure was installed upon Alan Pardew and the players for results. Charlton took a gamble on their first season in the Championship to keep the majority of players and maintain the team’s quality. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out as the club finished six points short of the play-offs. The following year, the Premier League quality players left, to be replaced by youngsters and players from the lower leagues. Instead of pushing for promotion, we finished bottom of the table.
By the way, a warning to all Newcastle fans about Alan Pardew – when things are going well for Pardew, they tend to go very well. But when the wheels come off, the man becomes somewhat powerless. It is not only his record at the Addicks that suggests this trend.
Charlton’s story isn’t the only case study of former Premier League teams that have had a spectacular fall from grace. Both Sheffield clubs dropped to League 1 following spells in the top flight and Leeds United we’re once a competitive European team who also dropped the third tier of English football.
This year’s Championship is filled with former Premier League clubs, many of whom are finding life difficult at the moment. Bolton, Birmingham and Wolves are occupying the places above the relegation zone, and similarly Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough continue their long stay in the Championship despite once being top-flight institutions. Leicester City continually struggle with promotion but once finished in the Premier League top ten four years in a row. All of the above mentioned clubs outweigh Charlton in terms of resources.
I remember disgruntled Charlton fans moaning about Curbishley’s difficulty in getting the club into the top ten, often ending the season with relegation-form ten game runs, but considering the club’s finances, fan base, facilities and likelihood of attracting quality players, was a bid for Europe ever an achievable dream? I fear we are now feeling the hang-over for our success-addicted binge.
Charlton fans are pessimistic by nature, but I would like to end on a positive note. Chris Powell is a good manager, despite recent disgruntlement at the start of the season from the Valley faithful. We are in a league where anything could happen – we are currently 14th, but are just five points from sixth. I am yet to be convinced that Powell is the next Curbishley, or that we have the quality in depth required to gain promotion. But should the Addicks return to the Premier League, i’ll remember to count my blessings.