Unless the Football League decide to issue awards for spectacular levels of incompetence, then it’s hard to suggest that Charlton Athletic’s season has been deserving of honours. Individual or otherwise.
So that two trophies were won by the Addicks at the annual Football League Awards night on Sunday makes the successes of those involved even greater. Achieving in testing circumstances; something the club as a whole has struggled to do during this campaign.
The Charlton Athletic Community Trust might well be an organisation that is run outside of the club’s control, but that doesn’t prevent it from being an antidote to the disconnection that Roland Duchatelet’s regime has inflicted upon supporters.
You cannot help but feel a sense of pride in what their projects have been able to achieve, epitomised by the absolute joy in the faces of the Charlton Upbeats on Saturday. Creating an environment in which people who have been dealt a tough hand in life are able to experience unrestricted happiness.
Efforts like that winning a deserved Community Club of the Year for a club that have spent an extended period insulting its community of supporters. The Trust a reminder that, beyond the damage Duchatelet has done, the true identity of Charlton Athletic lives on. Something that can become part of the heartbeat of the club when there is change at the top, and its heart can once again beat proudly.
In fact, without a team and overall football club structure that they can feel a proper sense of attachment to, solace this season has had to come from alternative sources. The unity and strength of the protests, just about every adored former Charlton player sticking a metaphorical finger up at the ownership prior to their return to SE7, and Simon Makienok’s dog.
But so too has there been brief moments where events on the pitch have provided a degree of solace, or at least a distraction from the overall disillusion and despair. Charlton’s other award on the night offering a chance to reflect one regular provider of more positive feelings during this disastrous campaign.
For it has been a pleasure to watch Ademola Lookman, crowned Championship Apprentice of the Season, represent the Addicks. Recognition for the 18-year-old’s success while crisis engulfs all around him well deserved.
Lookman has never gone without praise. His dramatic rise, from park footballer to Charlton stand out, attention from Premier League clubs, and the sheer quality of his performances for someone so inexperienced have made sure of that.
Such is the extent of his impact, in fact, that there has been a perception of him as something of a saviour. An expectation that he could have made a real difference in the games where he did not feature.
Jose Riga’s initial reluctance to use him more frequently, providing particular frustration during the goalless draw with MK Dons, arguably cost the Addicks a handful of points. Not enough to salvage this season, but enough to show just how talented he is.
But it’s sometimes been hard to pay him the full extent of the attention his efforts have warranted. The focus, understandably, on a flawed club and a failing team as it heads towards relegation. Crisis often overruling his class, which might well have received greater focus during a more successful time.
The award, therefore, not only want his achievements warrant, but allows for consideration towards just how much solace he has been able to provide, regardless of whether supporters have been left in a state of complete despair come the conclusion of the games he has impressed in. .
His debut came in one of Charlton’s worst performances of the season – the Karel Fraeye led defeat to MK Dons at Stadium:MK. But even then, he was able to make the evening less painful. His ability on the ball obvious straightaway, regardless of the complete lack of composure his teammates possessed.
Those minutes at Stadium:MK are probably reflective of his performances in general. Quality, skilful and not tainted by fear regardless of what is occurring around him.
Take Saturday’s defeat to Derby, for example. A sluggish start to the first half from the Addicks interrupted by a roulette turn from the 18-year-old. The ball immediately lost thereafter, though.
It might have been more sensible to put that trick away for the day, so as not to lose possession in a similar away again. Instead, it was produced again towards the end of the half, and in near perfect fashion. His trick starting a flowing move that concluded with Callum Harriott blasting just wide.
Real confidence, real class, and real enjoyment. The Covered End singing his name with genuine appreciation, loving his style of play and feeling a sense of pride in the talent of this homegrown player, after both the unsuccessful and successful effort.
The win over Sheffield Wednesday rounded off by his brief appearance, and a superb run that almost concluded with a goal. A composed finish adding a fourth in the victory over against Rotherham. The teen’s directness, pace and genuine threat vital in the recent upturn in performances. Just a real joy to watch and support such an impressive young player.
He will, of course, ultimately be sold. Duchatelet’s ambitions and the immanent relegation to League One making sure of that. For his sake, with questionable decision making in the final third showing he still – as you would expect from an 18-year-old – has something to learn, you hope a move to a Premier League club is followed by a loan move to another Championship club.
But the award is not just recognition for Lookman, but recognition for the ability of Charlton’s academy to churn out young talent.
More players of a standard not too dissimilar to Lookman will come through the outstanding youth system. The structure in place long before Duchatelet’s arrival, and will be allowed to properly thrive once he departs and his philosophy stops tainting it.
Player development won’t be rushed, and then stalled, by young players being pushed into the first team too early in order to fill gaps. The regression of Karlan Ahearne-Grant and Morgan Fox, harmed by being thrown in at the deep end and not having the protection they required, will hopefully be stories that won’t continue to repeat themselves. The most talented will be developed in order to thrive at Charlton, and not simply be seen as an easy way to produce profit.
As such, the club’s success at the Football League Awards provides a sense reassurance, so desperately craved during this time were all hope appears lost.
Something there for an interested party, whether that be Peter Varney’s or Paul Elliott’s group, to take notice of, with a club, and not just a Trust, that can have an impact on the community and a connection with its supporters to feel proud of, and a youth system that lends itself to possible success.
Something there, relatively undamaged by Duchatelet, which can be used as a base from which this club can rebuild from once change occurs.