Last week, our good friends at The Football Foundation set Football FanCast up with the chance to interview one of the nicest guys in football – former Derby County, Charlton Athletic, West Ham, Watford and Leicester City defender Chris Powell.
We caught up with the ex-Addicks gaffer at Northolt High School, where he was busy conducting his customary nice-guy duties as a Football Foundation ambassador, opening a new sports facility that will not only serve the school but the wider community as a whole.
The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, through the Football Foundation, awarded a grant of £288,034 to go towards refurbishing an old pitch and create a new, floodlit 3G pitch. Working with the Middlesex FA, the Football Foundation have produced a five-year development plan that allows for adult five-a-side on a pay-and-play basis, Northolt High School to use the new pitch for sporting activities and Brentford FC Community Sports Trust to hold Premier League Kicks sessions and run a weekly Futsal programme.
Us typing away in the basement at FFC towers, who grew up playing in waterlogged local parks with jumpers for goal posts, were all very jealous and couldn’t wait to hear more.
Could you tell us a bit about where we are and what you’re doing today, Chris?
“As part of my remit as a Football Foundation ambassador, I’m officially opening a new facility at Northolt High School. So I’ve been meeting all the kids! It’s a fantastic facility that will not only be used by the school but by the local community as well.”
And how important is it that the Premier League & Facilities Fund, through the Football Foundation, continue investing in top class facilities like the new one at Northolt High School?
“It’s of paramount importance because we want to engage our your kids. The Football Foundation, the Premier League and the Football Facilities Fund have put a number of pitches up all over the country and we know that will keep happening throughout the years to come. We want boys and girls and young men and young women to be engaged and play football and we know sport can help communities. So it’s fantastic that I’m here, seeing the boys and girls today, and hopefully, that will be replicated around the country.”
Aside from the never-waning smile that accompanied his playing days, Powell is perhaps best-known for his three years as Charlton Athletic manager, rescuing the club from the depths of League One before being axed by controversial owner Roland Duchatelet in March 2014. Needless to say, the South Londoners have struggled without him in the dugout and now find themselves eleven points adrift from safety with just four Championship fixtures remaining.
Charlton are on the brink of League One, but it only feels like the start of a downward spiral. Can you see any positive future under the current owners?
“Sadly, I can’t. It really hurts me to say that. I was fortunate enough to be their manager and in my first full season we got out of League One after three years there, so it always hurts to go back down – especially when you look at the stadium and the Premier League years. I think all the supporters just want some answers to questions. They’d like to know exactly what is happening with their club. It is their club – they’re the ones that turn up week-in-week-out and pay their money. And like all good clubs, when there’s a good relationship and a good synergy between the fans and the people run the club, it can only bode for success.
“Take a look at Leicester City, their owners and how they’ve approached owning that football club. They’ve done things the right way and I think they’re a club that is starting to lead the way for others to follow. Charlton have to make some sort of leap now, because the supporters quite clearly don’t identify with the team and that must be very hard for them to take. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if they’ll be able to sustain their Championship status so that’s really disappointing. They still have a chance but it’s a very slim chance. It looks like they’re going to have to rebuild and start again in League One.”
The biggest frustration for fans is the feeling that the club has lost its identity. Did you anticipate the start of that process during your two months under Roland Duchatelet?
“Yes, I did. At the time, I shielded my staff, the club and the supporters. I remember going to supporters’ club meetings and thinking I couldn’t really tell them exactly what I felt. But they know now – they know I had two months and I didn’t agree with a lot of what was said. But that’s what I felt was right for me to do.
“Since then, the club have had a number of managers, five or six, and numerous players have come and gone – it just doesn’t work. You need to have an identity; you have to understand the actual club that you’re buying because all clubs have their own ways of treating their supporters and how the club is run.
“Anyone that brings money into a football club, you can’t deny them – they’ve earned their money and they’re big in their field. But to have an understanding of a football club,I think is the number one factor for anybody going into it and that just hasn’t happened at Charlton. It’s a real shame because it used to be the model for everyone else.”
The 46-year-old is a rare breed, and not just because he’s one of English football’s few remaining nice guys. His sacking as Huddersfield boss in November reduced the entire Football League to just four black managers – one of which, Ricardo Moniz, was let go by Notts County a month later. But having two jobs in the space of four years is still relatively good going for an ethnic minority manager compared to the current norm.
Why do you feel you’ve succeeded where others have struggled in finding opportunities?
“Well, I haven’t succeeded, I haven’t got a job at the minute! But I think sometimes you just need an opportunity. I was given that by Nigel Pearson at Leicester, to become a coach at the end of my playing career, and I embraced that. I took that on board and got myself qualified and got every qualification – including my pro licence. Then I interviewed for the Charlton job, got it and like everyone else you have to be successful.
“After my first half-season of sorting out the club and the players and building a new squad, we were successful, broke numerous club records and it was great – I completely embraced managing and coaching and organising. But it was a club that I had an affinity with which I think does help. I know a lot of people think it’s not always the best thing to do, but I felt it was important for me to do that.
“We went on into the Championship and you just want backing as a manager, and I’ve always felt that the previous owner didn’t really give me the backing to build, because I felt we actually had the momentum to really push on, possibly get into the top six and from there the Premier League – which is where every Charlton fan wants to be again.
“But I wasn’t able to build on that, he sold up, Roland Duchaletet came in and he decided, like a lot of takeovers, that he wanted his own man to take the team. That was tough because I felt there was unfinished business for me at Charlton but then I moved onto Huddersfield and got an opportunity because of what I’d done before.
“They were in the bottom three, stayed up quite comfortably and had the best finish in 15 years, and I felt again that I could build on that. But it’s just the nature of the business sometimes that people want to go down a different route – that’s fine because you make sure you keep believing in yourself and know you’ll get another opportunity again to show your quality.
“So it doesn’t matter really in regards to colour. But I know people want more black managers and I think you have to have role models as well. So hopefully I may inspire one or two others to get into coaching and management at the professional level.”
It may have come late in his career, but Powell eventually received the recognition his quality and experienced deserved at the age of 31 – when he was unexpectedly issued a first England cap. The former left-back went on to pick up four more under Sven-Goran Eriksson but never represented the Three Lions at a major tournament.
Everybody’s very excited about the Euros, especially after that win over Germany. Are we falling into the age-old trap of expecting too much, or does this England side have a real chance?
“I think we’ve got a very good chance. We’ve got a developing young squad with some really exciting players. I’m really pleased with the way Roy’s Hodgson’s gone about it – I think he’s the right man for the job – and I just hope we just let them develop, let them breathe and let them prove themselves at the Euros. They’ve got a good chance but of course, they have to get out of the group – that’s the important thing. Tournament football is all about taking your chances to win games and getting those points to advance to the knockout stages. We’ve got a good chance if those boys are all fit, we’ve got a very, very good squad and players that I feel can really prove their worth this summer.”
Is there one player you’re looking forward to seeing at the Euros the most?
“I can’t really put it down to one player. I think you’re looking at Kane, Vardy and Dele Alli. They’re young exciting talents that for years we’ve been crying out to have in the England shirt and now we’ve got them. They’re three names that I would say have got a very good chance of making their mark this summer.”
All of the positions are really competitive at the moment but especially left-back – obviously, a position you know a lot about. If you had two picks for the Euros, who’d you take and why?
“Danny Rose and Ryan Bertrand. Because I think they’ve been the best this season. I think they’re ready to carry on from others. I know Leighton Baines has been very solid over the years – and Luke Shaw won’t be fit – but I think based on form, those two should be the ones that go.”
Thanks, Chris! You’ve been, amongst other things, a thoroughly nice guy!
Chris Powell was speaking at the launch of Northolt High School’s new 3G pitch in Ealing, his first event as a Football Foundation Ambassador. The project was made possible thanks to a £288,034 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation on behalf of its Funding Partners: the Premier League, The FA and the Government, via Sport England. The Foundation worked with Northolt High School and the Middlesex County FA to produce a five-year Football Development Plan (FDP), which includes the delivery of the Premier League Kicks programme by Brentford FC Community Sports Trust.