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With a month passing since Charlton Athletic’s final game of their torrid 2016/17 League One campaign, Karl Robinson felt the need to defend the club’s lack of recruitment in that period. Early additions were promised, and yet no new faces have been added to the Addicks’ squad.
The justifications offered by Charlton’s boss, though offered in his characteristic manner that makes football supporters seem naïve of all footballing knowledge, have a fair amount of reason behind them. That other football still taking place affects transfer activity is reasonable enough, agents are notoriously tricky customers, and players of top League One quality aren’t going to accept the first offer from a third-tier club that comes their way.
In fact, that a lack of early signings is considered a real concern is, coupled with the emphatic nature of last season’s failure and what has gone before, really an issue that Robinson has created for himself. A promise not fulfilled, and a bit of pressure not cooled. The lack of faith that supporters have in ownership, club and coach remains as high as ever.
But, by comparison, Chris Powell had only made the additions of Nick Pope, Danny Hollands and Bradly Pritchard by June 1st in the summer of his promotion season. Pope developed into excellent goalkeeper at Championship level, while Pritchard was a consistent performer in the first season back in the second tier, but it only Hollands who was a vital part of Powell’s title-winning group. The squad not really taking shape until the final weeks of June and the start of July.
The squad, therefore, not put together in May, but all but complete by the time pre-season started. Only Ben Hamer and a certain Frenchman of those who were regular starters arriving after early July, and a repeat this summer, with the bulk of the group in place by the time of the trip to Ireland, would be no problem at all.
And so it can be said that the extent of the problem of Charlton not making a fast start to transfer activity has been overstated. But part of the reason that Charlton’s first month of the summer has been without recruitment does highlight a concern as to whether Robinson will be capable of building a promotion-chasing side.
A problem Robinson himself alluded to. That high-quality League One players are also likely to be sought after by Championship sides. Is this football club, with its weakened and Roland Duchatelet-tainted reputation, in a position to attract the sort of talents that Charlton’s boss apparently wants, and to compete with second-tier sides for the signatures of players?
A problem that exists in a very real and practical sense, and one that hovers around the minds of supporters. Trust has been lacking for three years, and maybe an early addition would have improved it to a certain degree. A lack of trust that makes it hard to believe the club are in a position to form an impressive squad, and will need to prove the justifiably formed beliefs of supporters wrong. Something they’ve not been very successful at.
For even in Powell’s summer, on the back of similar on-the-pitch failure in the season before, there was a sense of fresh start, rejuvenation and realistic but highly motivated ambition. While Michael Slater and Tony Jimenez ultimately proved failures, they initially provided support for Powell’s plans. A plan that was easy to prove to those he attempted to sign, and as such meant he was able to attract players of decent quality and stature.
League One’s best signed, with players such as Dale Stephens, Rhoys Wiggins and Michael Morrison arriving despite interest from Championships sides. The foundation left by the previous season might not have been so great, but the club’s obvious attempt to rejuvenate, and in particular an ambition that had substance, meant good signings could be made.
But, even if Robinson might want to talk about ambitions, that is simply not a position we find ourselves in now. Besides, his words have been unconvincing at best, contradictory and concerning at worst, while the end-of-season burst was not enough to provide complete confidence in his managerial ability after a difficult season stretching both over his spells at Stadium MK and The Valley.
The point, however, is more about the effect Duchatelet’s ownership, and continued ownership, has had on the reputation of the club and what it can offer in comparison to others in better states, both in this division and the one above.
For there is little denying that Charlton as a club are in a very poor state, and will find it incredibly difficult to justify their ambitions when the same regime has instigated three seasons of discontent and failure. Apart from Duchatelet’s attraction to wasting money, there no reason why financial demands can’t be met, but much more than that is required when Championship clubs and fellow League One clubs who will be looking for promotion are hovering over players the Addicks have interest in.
Our unique selling points in the summer while Powell put together his squad that racked up a century of points was the man himself, the infectious way in which he could justify his and the club’s ambition, and a handy if not excessive budget. What, in this period while Duchatelet lingers, are our USPs to players with plenty of other options to consider? I’m not sure a six-month subscription to an online video service is going to do it.
And the worry that follows is that, as we miss out on talented players to clubs in a better state, we find ourselves playing catching up, forced to snap up the best of the rest. And in a division that will include Blackburn Rovers, Wigan Athletic, Bradford City, three very good sides promoted automatically from League Two in Portsmouth, Doncaster Rovers and Plymouth Argyle, and the likes of Fleetwood Town, Scunthorpe United and Southend United who are also likely to be competitive again, that is unlikely to be good enough.
It simply hard to believe that the club is in a position from which a promotion-winning squad can be built. Hard to believe we can compete with others in this division, and the bottom-half of the second tier, for the players required.
All this, of course, without considering possible sales and need to have a squad of reasonable size for the first time in several seasons. Club ambition not so much the problem with Ricky Holmes but, particularly as he nears 30, the concern is that he’ll have a strong desire to play in the Championship and find the offer of working with Chris Wilder again an attractive one. Club ambition would have to be questioned if, having only just signed a new contract, Ezri Konsa was cashed in on without at least another season to his name in Charlton colours.
You would hope the sales of the likes of Igor Vetokele, Naby Sarr and Cristian Ceballos, with the departures of Jorge Teixeira and Tony Watt also looking likely, will help prevent the need to cash in on anyone that has a role to play in the first team. You would hope, too, that their sales would provide the funds that increase the chance of Charlton competing for the signatures of players who will be wanted by clubs in better states.
But, in all honesty, I’m not sure finances are the main issue, even if Duchatelet and those he misguidedly places his trust have a habit of investing unwisely. The issues of reputation, and justifying our ambitions to players who will have plenty of suiters, much more important.
Something that, at this time, it’s reasonable to believe the club aren’t in the best of positions to do. Something that, in the next month, the club must prove. Over to them.
For some supporters, connection with a player is immediately lost the moment they no longer represent their club. Little interest, let alone affiliation, unless they wear the red and white of Charlton Athletic.
An attitude you can justify by bluntly pointing to the fact that, as supporters of Charlton, there should only be appreciation for those who currently call SE7 their home. The idea being that you should ‘move on’ from one player, regardless of the connection that existed between supporters and performer, to the next with no lingering thoughts towards the departed.
But most can look beyond such a one-dimensional take on supporter-player relationships, and still admire those who have departed with a similar level of affiliation and appreciation that existed while they fought for Charlton’s cause. A different kind of connection while they wear the colours of a different club, but a connection that means none of the emotions felt towards the player while he was an Addick are lost.
And in the case of Yann Kermorgant, the talismanic figure of a Charlton side that allowed for the strongest of bonds between club and supporters, there is an affiliation shared by the majority of supporters towards the forward that has not waned while Bournemouth and Reading badges have been on his chest.
For the Frenchman represents a period where following the Addicks was rewarding and heart-warming. He represents the self-inflicted crippling of any sort of connection between club and its supporters. He represents the inability of Roland Duchatelet’s regime to run a football club, and not least because of his continued success at a level well above where Charlton currently sit.
He’s part of the Charlton that Duchatelet’s regime has taken away, and a figure involved in the failings inflicted by it that have created such destructive damage. From challenging for each and every header with Kermorgant, to struggling to challenge against apathy. You want him to succeed as if he were wearing red and white, then feel the tinge of pain that comes from remembering he no longer wears red and white.
And so to see the big man from Brittany, as he was described during Sky Sports’ coverage of Reading’s Championship play-off semi-final with Fulham, perform such a heroic role in such a high-profile and important contest provided a certain amount of pride and pleasure.
Were it not for the sheer importance of Kermorgant’s winning goal, coincidentally struck from the spot after previous penalty misdemeanours in Championship play-off encounters, it would be a footnote in the most marvellous of determined and driven performances. The penalty itself won by the Frenchman’s endeavour, as the pressure he applied on Tomas Kalas resulted in the Fulham defender handling inside the box. Tucking beyond Marcus Bettinelli to lead the Royals to Wembley.
But to focus purely on the goal, his 19th of the season at the age of 35, would mean not giving enough credit to a mighty all-round effort. If not holding up the ball and carving out openings for his teammates, then dropping deep inside his own box to perform heroic defensive duties that Naby Sarr and Roger Johnson would not be able to emulate. It a throwback to his warrior-like performances in Charlton colours, that enforced such a bond between Covered End and Kermorgant.
Blissful enjoyment derived from witnessing such a performance, in such a game, from one of my favourite players to ever perform in Charlton colours that went untainted until the game’s final moments. Untainted before a familiar bitter rage returned to the forefront of my mind, and the joy of his performance replaced by the anger of his departure from SE7. An anger shared by so many, to the same intensity as the affiliation with him.
A passionate standing ovation sent his way as the forward, having exerted every ounce of energy his body could possibly give, was withdrawn with a minute to play. In response, there not just a tired applause, but attempts to inspire further support and noise from those who made up the Madejski Stadium’s attendance. A display of a connection between supporters and player, that was so strong in SE7.
I’m still haunted by the solemn look on his face following defeat to Doncaster Rovers in January 2014 as he applauded a set of Charlton supporters while wearing a Charlton shirt for the final time. Unquestionably aware this would be his final game, and that he was being forced out of a club that was already showing signs of the damage Duchatelet’s influence would cause. Still hurting that that relationship, that high quality performer, was taken away from us.
His many great displays while an Addick spring to mind, as the sense that you have been robbed of both a marvellous player and a person intensifies.
The additional quality that meant 101 points were possible in the promotion winning season, with opening goals in the vital wins over Sheffield United and Huddersfield Town. The determination and fight offered, summed up by the iconic image of him covered in more bandage than skin. And, of course, that goal against Hartlepool United on the final day.
The first season in the Championship brought about those goals against Leicester City, enjoyed by Kermorgant as much as they were Charlton supporters. There crucial performances in crucial points through the season, but not least during the eight-game unbeaten run at the end of the campaign, where he was simply unplayable. If I’m haunted by his solemn look after the Doncaster defeat, I’m still mesmerised by the beating of the Charlton badge on his chest following the incredible 6-0 win over Barnsley at Oakwell.
And even as the point where he was to be forced out drew near, there remained inspirational performances of quality and class that strengthened an already unbreakable connection. Leicester, who would go on to be champions, ruffled again, combining with Lawrie Wilson to achieve a superb victory against Brighton, and a delightful free-kick at Oxford United beginning a FA Cup run that would create memorable moments before disaster struck.
So too do you think of each time he has returned to SE7, not least his most recent visit while with Reading in February 2016. Standing ovations for his goals not because Charlton supporters embraced failure, but because they represented the fact failure had been self-inflicted from above. To so readily discard such a performer, and a performer who held such great affiliation for the club and its supporters, is a damaging act that will never be forgiven.
The ability to ‘move on’ made more impossible by the unsuccessful attempts to replace a cult hero treated with utter distain by those unwilling to grasp so much about this club. Unsuccessful not only in terms of ability, from Piotr Parzyszek through to Lee Novak, but unsuccessful in terms of recreating the sort of bond that existed between Kermorgant and Charlton supporters. Bonds between fans and players brought to the club under this regime few and far between, and bonds of such a high intensity simply unable to exist in an atmosphere of apathy, disconnection and disgust.
And so while a poisonous regime linger at a club they have crippled, and cannot heal, one of the great victims of Duchatelet’s reign has the opportunity to inspire his side to a Wembley victory and promotion. Kermorgant the talisman for a side on the verge of a Premier League. A talisman for a Charlton side that had the strongest of bonds with the club’s supporters.
There are, of course, other members of that Charlton side who held or hold similar connections with supporters, with Johnnie Jackson’s ovation as he left the pitch during the final game of the season just passed the perfect example. There a manager, with Chris Powell so poorly treated and his legendary status unblemished, for which an almost identical feeling exists. Sustaining those relationships a simple task.
But it the anger, the position Kermorgant’s sale holds as the catalyst for destruction and disconnection, that has sustained and even strengthened the Frenchman’s status as a cult hero among Addicks.
Love for what he has done, and admiration for what he continues to do. Anger that he was prevented from doing more in Charlton colours, and that he succeeds while we fail. The man that, through no fault of his own, represents the decline from affiliation to apathy under Duchatelet’s directions.
As a disappointing season reaches its conclusion, there no question that thoughts must immediately turn to shaping Charlton Athletic’s squad for next season.
A squad that will hopefully be shaped under a new ownership regime, that take the club out of Roland Duchatelet’s destructive hands and allow for both sensible and proper investment. Not once under this current regime has the squad had enough quality or depth.
But before the process of strengthening the squad can begin, and regardless of how the potential sale of the club affects Charlton’s summer activity, there are plenty of decisions to be made by Karl Robinson regarding the futures of those already at the club.
So too are there judgements to be made over whether young players and those returning from loans away from The Valley are good enough to mean signings in their positions aren’t required, while there also a need to fight to retain the better players in this current squad, and not lose them so readily as has been the case in recent years.
A high turnover of players likely once again, but it necessary for Robinson to have some sort of base of a squad from which he can work and build from.
Those on loan
The contributions made by those that have been on loan at Charlton during this season have been relatively mixed. No one particularly disappointing, but no one excelling on a consistent basis.
And no one has mixed excellence and disappointment in more obvious fashion than Declan Rudd. Outstanding during spells at the start and end of the season, but enduring a horrid period while the Addicks went eight games without a win as mistake after mistake was made.
His performances in the final weeks of the season have reminded supporters that there is a decent goalkeeper in the Norwich loanee, and with his contract set to expire at Carrow Road I would suggest that Rudd is the most likely of the loanees to have a Charlton bade on his chest again next season.
Jordan Botaka also out of contract at Leeds this summer, but I’m considerably less convinced there will be an attempt to sign him permanently. Though sometimes offering a bit of additional pace and drive from the bench in the dying embers of contests, his bit-part role has largely been a frustrating one. Too many ineffective runs, too many poor decisions, and not enough threatening final balls.
A third player on loan from a Championship club is Nathan Byrne, who has been frustrating at right-back but generally quite impressive when playing on the wing. I think whether Charlton are able to make a permanent move for him will depend on whether Wigan Athletic somehow manage to maintain their status in the second tier. His chances of still having a future there will probably rise considerably if the Latics return to League One.
Certainly greater chance of attracting Fredrik Ulvestad to SE7 on a permanent basis. The Burnley loanee has been steady if unspectacular during this season, and has certainly been a reliable figure in Charlton’s midfield. Nothing, however, to suggest that he’s good enough for the Premier League and, at 24, time isn’t really on his side, meaning the Clarets will probably want to cash in.
No chance of the Addicks signing Jay Dasilva permanently, but you wonder whether Chelsea would be willing to send him back out on loan given that he’s broken into the side in recent weeks after such an extensive period gathering dust on the bench. It would also be nice to see Stephy Mavididi back at The Valley, having impressed prior to suffering a loan-ending hamstring injury.
Those out on loan
Among those out on loan, the main focus of attention is Nicky Ajose. Struggling to make a real impression in SE7, at the very least failing to live up to the 24-goal season he had for Swindon in 2015/16, the forward was shipped back to his former club for the second half of this campaign.
His record since returning to the Robins, with five goals in 15 games, not breath-taking, but they were important goals for a side attempting to salvage themselves from the bottom four. Swindon’s relegation at least confirming his loan deal won’t be made a permanent on.
But will Ajose, who showed some positive signs in a Charlton shirt but constantly frustrated with his finishing, be given a second chance at The Valley? I don’t see the harm in him being allowed to prove his worth, but I’m not totally convinced Robinson is a fan. Bottom-half League One clubs would happily take him off our hands, should the boss not want him.
Elsewhere, there a chance that Robinson is going to have a handful of players that were signed by the regime long before he arrived thrown at his feet. Igor Vetokele, Cristian Ceballos and Naby Sarr all set to return from spells out on loan.
Though, personally, I don’t see a future at The Valley for any of them. It would provide no surprise if Vetokele and Ceballos, both about to enter the final year of their Charlton contracts, have their loan spells at STTV made permanent, while Naby Sarr’s incompetence while an Addick means he’d do incredibly well to win the support and trust of anyone at the club. Under this regime or another, I would imagine as much lost cash as possible will attempt to be regained by cashing in on the trio.
There also a handful of youngsters set to return to the Addicks, all with a degree of first-team experience in Charlton colours and all holding some degree of potential. Josh Umerah and Mikhail Kennedy with limited game time while on loan at Kilmarnock and Derry City respectively, but rated highly in SE7 and might well be utilised next season, while Regan Charles-Cook returns from a more profitable spell at National League side Solihull Moors but with a greater sense of doubt as to whether he’ll make the grade at Charlton.
Terell Thomas also returns, having played the best part of a full National League season with Woking, but the centre-back is out of contract this summer and I find it unlikely that he’ll be kept on.
Those out of contract
One of the many positives about this season coming to an end is that there’s a very high chance these are the final weeks of Roger Johnson’s Charlton career. The centre-back not only dreadful, but finds himself as an enemy of supporters having approached fans after the defeat at Bury on the opening day of the season and told them “if you don’t fucking like it, don’t fuck come,” or words to that effect.
Having made just two league appearances all season, and not appeared since the turn of the year through a combination of injury and incompetence, it fair to suggest his contract definitely won’t be being renewed.
But a character in complete contrast to Johnson will certainly be remaining an Addick. Skipper Johnnie Jackson set to sign a new deal this week, which will seemingly combine duties as a player and a coach. His performances in the second half of this campaign, particularly during periods where the Addicks had been incredibly poor, prove he still has a role to play on the pitch.
Less certainty, however, about the futures of Andrew Crofts and Adam Chicksen, who both signed one-year contracts at the start of this campaign.
With Crofts, who has appeared in all but two of Charlton’s 52 league and cup games, being such a regular feature in the side, you would expect another 12 months will be handed to him. But the Welshman is 33 at the end of May, and has performed inconsistently. Sometimes a stable, calming influence in the centre, other times persistently losing possession and appearing very weak.
I suppose the questions Robinson will be asking himself is can I do better than Crofts and if so, can he still contribute to the squad. I wouldn’t be disappointed to see him depart, but I wouldn’t be disappointed to see him given another 12 months. He does a job.
I would, however, be a little disappointed to see Chicksen depart. That he can play at left-back and on the left side of midfield makes him incredibly useful, and he’s generally performed consistently in the appearances he’s made in both roles. Though his lack of appearances since the defeat to Peterborough United, with no mention of injury makes think he might well be on the way out.
Those from the development and academy squads
Aaron Barnes and Anfernee Dijksteel being named on the bench for Saturday’s game at Chesterfield, in addition to signing new contracts this season, suggests the pair will be the latest academy graduates to have some involvement with the first team.
Robinson has spoken highly of the pair on a number of occasions, while Barnes really impressed me during the Kent Senior Cup semi-final defeat to Welling United. Too often, with Kevin Foley, Ezri Konsa and Byrne all filling in, we’ve had square pegs in round holes when Chris Solly has been injured. It might be better if Barnes is the alternative at right-back next season.
It would also appear that, with Robinson reintroducing him to the first-team squad and handing him his first start since December 2015, there is an increased faith in Karlan Ahearne-Grant. I’m very much undecided on the forward but, given that he’s been around for so long, it’s easy to forget that he’s still a teenager and there’s still time for him to develop.
The 19-year-old is relatively decent on the ball and possesses bundles of pace, but lacks physical strength and I’ve not seen much from him with regards to finishing or a final delivery. In fact, it would be ideal if we could blend together Ahearne-Grant and Brandon Hanlan. His fellow teenage forward, who did well enough in the opening weeks of the season, possessing all the strength and ability to hold the ball up that Ahearne-Grant does not.
There’s certainly something there with regards to both of them, and while I wouldn’t want to depend on them even as immediate alternatives to the genuine first-team forward options, the pace of Ahearne-Grant and the strength of Hanlan makes them useful to have around and handy options from the bench.
Finally, if Rudd isn’t retained, I’d have no problem at all with Dillon Phillips becoming number one. The young goalkeeper really impressed me during his stint in the side while Rudd was injured, and I wouldn’t suggest it would be a lack of ambition or anything along those lines if we were to make the academy graduate our number one.
Those with uncertain futures
Let us not pretend that eyes won’t have been watching Charlton’s most impressive player during this campaign. Particularly since returning from injury, Ricky Holmes has been extraordinary even when the side has been pathetic, and there no doubt that even as he approaches 30 he has the quality to player at a higher level.
I don’t think there’s much doubt that Championship sides will show an interest, but it of vital importance that the winger is retained. He’s irreplaceable.
Let us also not pretend that the signing of new contracts for young players prevents them from being sold. Interest in Ezri Konsa and Joe Aribo has already been reported, and Charlton’s record under the Duchatelet regime when it comes to retaining young players doesn’t fill you with confidence. And even if they club were to be sold to a regime with greater footballing ambitions, it’s not always a simple equation to retain young players when Premier League teams are circling.
I do think, however, that Charlton and League One is the right place for both Konsa and Aribo to be for the time being at least. Both have already shown their unquestionable quality, but both still require a degree of development, and more game time at this level would be beneficial to them. They’re not quite at the level of Joe Gomez or Ademola Lookman.
Less terrifying questions can also be asked about the futures of Tony Watt and Lee Novak. Watt divides fans, but he’s been okay since his return from Hearts, though the point that being just ‘okay’ doesn’t justify his wages is reasonable. Novak, however, has been utterly terrible, and it might be best for both parties if he moves on.
It also wouldn’t come as much surprise to me if Jorge Teixeira finds another club. He’s been alright since returning to the team under Robinson, helped by his frequent contributions in attack, but a sense of distrust seems to remain to an even greater extent than it does with Watt. In reality, he’s also fourth choice behind Patrick Bauer, Jason Pearce and Konsa, and I can’t see him being willing to settle for that.
Finally, I do wonder what next season holds for Ahmed Kashi and Harry Lennon. There was a suggestion from Robinson a couple of months ago that he’d not had contact with Kashi, who has spent an entire season out injured having been unavailable for much of the previous campaign with the same Achilles problem. I’m not convinced he’ll be around next season, recovered or not.
In the case of Lennon, he’s had a very unfortunate season. Sent off against Oxford United on one of the two occasions he made a league appearance, and otherwise spending much of the campaign dealing with a hamstring problem. I think that, after such a frustrating season for him, he’ll want to be playing football in the next one, and that might well result in him moving on.
Either way, I hope from a perspective of the individual that both are able to resume their careers after such lengthy periods out of action.
Two contrasting values were displayed by Charlton Athletic Football Club this week. One value that highlights once again the incompetence of Roland Duchatelet’s regime and the damage that it continues to cause to the club. Another that shows the strength of this football club lies beyond this failed ownership, and there’s a spirit and identity they will never truly tarnish.
The first value a financial one. A staggering £13.5m loss for the 2015/16 season, which amounts to more than 100% of turnover. An extra £5m spent when compared to the 2014/15 season, and emphatic failure despite that.
Those figures leaving the club in £61.7m of debt, the majority of which is payable to Duchatelet at 3% interest per year. The notion that he invests in the club is a myth, and the money he loans to the club evidently isn’t being spent wisely. Financial stability often offered as the saving grace of this regime, but they are failing even on that front.
Disastrous financial values to go along with their misguided values of the club and lack of value towards committed supporters. Financially, emotionally and morally they continue to instil an unbreakable brand of failure upon this club.
But the reason supporters are so committed in their fight against the regime, in their fight to win back their club and move it into safer hands, is because there remains a strong belief that the true values of Charlton sit underneath the layer of mist that currently covers the club.
Opposition to the regime expressed in the knowledge that there is most certainly a better alternative to this. That the club we were once proud of, that had such a positive name throughout football and built the strongest of relationships with its supporters, has not died. It merely hidden while this regime continues to oversee failure.
And that has been reaffirmed by the other value that Charlton Athletic Football Club have expressed this week. That a community football club, that does value its supporters highly, still exists.
It through extreme sadness that the club have expressed this value. The match against MK Dons on Tuesday night dedicated to supporter PC Keith Palmer, who was a victim of the terror attack in Westminster last week. Dedicated to the extent that Tuesday is no longer a game of football, but an event held to honour both a committed supporter and a man who has rightfully earned hero status.
There would have been no complaints had the club merely instigated a minute’s silence and the players worn black armbands. The traditional show of respect after someone with connection to the club has lost their life. That in itself, given that nature of PC Palmer’s death, would have brought emotion around The Valley and no doubt meant a great deal to his family.
But to take this dedication to PC Palmer above and beyond the usual practices feels like an expression of the true values of this football club that have often been shunned under the current regime. There is immense pride being felt towards Charlton Athletic for the first time in quite some time.
A 50% donation from ticket sales to his family, Johnnie Jackson seemingly and unsurprisingly the figure to instigate the players donating their match fee, and shirts with PC Palmer’s warrant number on them all adding to this incredible show of support and memorial. A permanent memorial next to the Sam Bartram statue the finishing touch of this incredible gesture by the club.
The club haven’t simply got this spot on, but they’ve gone beyond what would have been asked for. This a simply incredible display to honour a hero, and one that supporters have reacted positively to.
Many of those that, for justifiable reasons, have not visited The Valley in some time will be in attendance on Tuesday night. For above Duchatelet’s failings sits an act by the club that reflects the genuine Charlton Athletic they once had a strong connection with, and the opportunity to pay respect to PC Palmer.
For those uncertain about whether to end their periods away from SE7, I would ask that you consider two things. The first is obvious, and that there is much more to life than football, and that the opportunity to come together to pay respects to PC Palmer should sit above any grievances with those that run the club. The second is that, from a football perspective, this will be a night of emotion and pride that will resemble the Charlton of old.
It comforting that as the horrific financial values are being analysed, they take nothing away from the most important value being displayed this week. That Duchatelet’s failings might have damaged the club to the point where it’s merely a shell of what it once was, but cannot strip away its identity. An identity formed around these acts which hold such high status in the community, and to the club’s supporters.
Even in what is hopefully the final weeks of the Roland Duchatelet regime, there remains a commitment to alienating supporters, and devaluing those who have given so much to the club.
The Player of the Year event one that has been organised by hard-working and devoted supporters for some time, but has been cancelled this year largely as a consequence of Katrien Meire’s stubbornness and ignorance.
Jean Huelin, who has helped run the event for the previous six years, was informed by the club she shouldn’t be involved. An email sent that was accidently forwarded to a club official which Meire took exception to, and consequently decided to ban Jean. Those involved in the event deciding as a collective that they would not organise it without Jean being involved, and it therefore cancelled.
The email situation a bit of an embarrassing moment, and something that has been admitted to, but there no doubt that deciding that Jean, who was named supporter of the year last season, can’t be involved in the running of an event she has dedicated so much time to is outrageous.
Nonetheless, with seven remaining league games following this enforced two-week break, it seems a reasonable time to begin to consider who has shone in a miserable campaign. Who has succeeded, while others in Charlton red have struggled. Who deserves to succeed Jordan Cousins in being named as Charlton’s Player of the Year.
In the first few months of the season, before he suffered a hip injury, Declan Rudd might well have been a serious contender. The Norwich loanee proving himself to be an excellent shot-stopper, consistently making vital interventions and allowing Russell Slade’s unconvincing Addicks to remain competitive.
Alas, since Rudd’s return to the side, the goalkeeper has struggled. The occasional excellent save still being made, but mistakes racking up. Regularly being beaten too easily, fumbled crosses leading to goals against Rochdale and Scunthorpe United, and a weak attempt to keep out Mark Marshall’s strike allowing Timothee Dieng to equaliser during the draw with Bradford City.
Trust lost in the 26-year-old to the extent that many have called for Dillon Phillips to return to the side. The Rudd seen at the start of the season absent since his return to the side, and the goalkeeper’s efforts in recent weeks confirming he’s not going to be receiving many votes.
There possibly more serious contenders in front of Rudd, and not least Ezri Konsa. A teenager who has performed with the maturity and quality of someone with far greater experience, whether that be in the centre of defence or, what was originally an unfamiliar role, in the centre of midfield.
Defensively sound, physically strong and comfortable in possession, Konsa has rarely slipped below a consistent standard of quality that the 19-year-old has set for himself. A quite remarkable achievement for someone so young to perform consistently in a struggling side, in a position that demands a lot. An England U20 call-up and a new contract the very least his efforts have warranted.
Of course, as was always likely to be the case in his debut season, there were less comfortable moments for the academy graduate. As I write this, his miss at Bramall Lane is still fresh in my mind, while his slip and overall performance at The Den will be in my mind forevermore. But moments such as those barely measurable in comparison to his overall efforts.
If you include Konsa in your considerations, it’s probably only fair to also make note of Patrick Bauer. The German did well enough last season in the Championship, so it’s no surprise that he’s performed at League One level. His mentality correct, his efforts largely solid, and a likeable character.
Bauer not quite as consistent as the teenager who has accompanied him at centre-back for much of the campaign, not least during the run of eight games without victory. Numerous errors, bullied by opposition forwards, and a general lack of composure across the backline in that period. The German in particular appeared to vanish over that period of a month or so.
Whether it be Konsa, Bauer or even Jorge Teixeira, Charlton’s backline would have certainly benefited from the leadership and control of Jason Pearce. The value of the job he was doing only really noted after he sustained his groin injury. The summer signing hasn’t really played enough to be a genuine contender, though his efforts in the first half of the campaign do deserve recognition.
Maybe you’d place the injured centre-back on a list of contenders if you’re looking to fill it out, alongside Ademola Lookman after his January departure, and some of those who have performed consistently in Charlton colours, but without eye-catching quality. Chris Solly, Adam Chicksen and Fredrik Ulvestad fit into that category – no qualms at all with how they’ve played, but not done quite enough to be a genuine candidate for Player of the Year.
As such, Player of the Year appears to be a two-horse race. A contest between the match-winning (that is match-winning if we actually won games of football) Ricky Holmes, and the talismanic Josh Magennis.
Replacing Johann Berg Gudmundsson wasn’t meant to be possible, but Holmes’ attacking qualities, whether he be playing out wide or sat behind the forward, have gone some way to achieving that. A genuine roar of excitement each time he has the ball at his feet, consistently testing final balls, and the ability to score a goal out of nothing. Quality.
The sort of player you can give the ball to in a crisis and expect to produce magic. How he’s been hovering around League Two for much of his career is a mystery. Not least when it’s reasonable to feel a little concerned about whether he’ll be a Charlton player come August – he could certainly play at a higher level.
Magennis, meanwhile, would appear be to be the first forward Charlton have had since January 2014 who is capable of winning a header. Particularly capable, too. The summer signing from Kilmarnock has bullied several opposition defences, been dominant in the air, and held the ball up superbly.
All that, while being far from just a stationary lump of a target man. Quick, intelligent with the ball at his feet, and, as has been shown throughout the campaign, capable of a quality goal or two. His performance against Bristol Rovers a stunning effort.
The only disappointment for Magennis being his performances following his return from injury. You do wonder whether he was rushed back too soon, but even so, there were some dire efforts from the Northern Ireland international during the run of eight games without victory. Not least at Boundary Park – a crucial 1st-minute miss and an overall uncharacteristically weak performance.
While at the same time, Holmes has been next-to-unplayable. Three marvellous free-kicks, three goals in the defeat to Shrewsbury Town while his teammates offered very little, and endless running and effort both with and without the ball. It probably over the course of the previous six weeks that the summer signing from Northampton Town has made himself Player of the Year.
Where will my vote be going? Probably in line with the previous two paragraphs. Difficult to split the pair, but Holmes’ performances in a testing period have convinced me it’s he who warrants it more.
That is, of course, if we’re actually getting a vote.
There is an image of a near-empty Valley that has stayed strong in mind for almost 13 years. A positive, powerful image that I would never wish to forget. An image from my first visit to SE7 in 2004.
Entering the ground early for a Premier League game against Aston Villa, a much younger version of myself was overwhelmed by Charlton Athletic’s home. The floodlights just coming into effect on this late August evening, and The Valley glimmering in beautiful fashion under an orange-tinted sky. It an incredible arena, and I would soon learn that it possessed bundles of character and charm.
My naivety meant I made this relatively average ground by top flight standards into an aesthetically pleasing coliseum. At least without spectators inside, The Valley has never looked so wonderful inside my own mind.
But in competition with this moment of beauty from my first to The Valley comes a moment of joy. A moment of joy experienced as one of a near-capacity ground for this midweek fixture. And as one of a near-capacity Covered End.
Francis Jeffers, scoring 66.6% of his Charlton goals in the process, had converted twice during the first half, so Luke Young’s third just before the hour wasn’t particularly important in the grand scheme of things. Villa a bit of a shambles, and the Addicks comfortably in control.
But Young’s finish from close range, followed by a Shearer-esq raising of the arm in celebration, was the first goal scored in front of the Covered End while I occupied it. An incredible roar, which nine-year-old me attempted to contribute to, from Charlton’s packed and most partisan stand, that confirmed by dad dragging me along to SE7 had ended in success. I was now an Addick.
Those images from my first Charlton game in some contrast to my latest.
Arriving inside The Valley around an hour before the original kick-off, there barely a fellow Addick inside the ground. An empty Valley, that would barely fill. If that not the bleak picture, then the one as the game got underway most certainly it.
The official attendance suggesting just over 9,000, but the reality appears to be something more like 5,500. An unbelievably low attendance. Or at least it would be if attendances like this aren’t to be expected in the environment that Roland Duchatelet and Katrien Meire have created.
Supporters feeling distant, detached, and unable to attend. And for the majority that do attend, there is still detachment and apathy. The horrible echoey atmosphere heard again on Tuesday night, reflecting a group of supporters who are struggling to care. An atmosphere of apathy heard plenty of times since Duchatelet has taken control of the club.
And even when Tony Watt converted his winning penalty, the atmosphere that followed was hardly one that will be remembered forevermore. Relief and a degree of joy, undoubtedly, as the Addicks finally ended their winless run, but even in those emotions there was a reasonable amount of apathy and detachment. Appreciation of the moment, and a moment that all enjoyed, but a half-empty Covered End unable to create a memorable moment of celebration.
Of course, you can look at other factors that contributed to The Valley being near-empty on Tuesday night. The travel issues that delayed the game possibly preventing some from attending, the fact it was a rearranged fixture, and the quality of this Charlton side that were eight without a win going into the game.
But the emptiness of The Valley has provided sadness throughout the season, irrespective of the circumstances. A similar attendance for the previous Tuesday night fixture against Oxford United, and even more obvious apathy, while Football for a Fiver has failed to attract crowds.
This isn’t the first time The Valley has been empty in my time as a supporter. Not the first time there has been a side that supporters have struggled to trust. Not the first time echoes have gone around the ground, single shouts can be heard clearly, and the atmosphere depressing.
But it’s never been like this. Never has there been such a level of detachment, apathy and sadness displayed through the medium of empty seats. Never have so many committed Addicks not been in attendance.
It would be unfair to properly scrutinise this with a comparison to the Premier League era, though it does provide the most dramatic evidence of decline. Comparisons with other League One seasons, the seasons in the Championship prior to Duchatelet taking control of the club, and the seasons prior to this one while the Belgian has owned Charlton.
So let’s take a similar fixture from a Tuesday night fixture from the 2010/11 season in League One, which was also an emphatic failure. The Addicks hosting Southampton following a run of eight games without a victory, with little to play for but pride, and having suffered the infamous defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge three days earlier. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, Franck Nouble started.
But 16,000 were in attendance at The Valley on that Tuesday night. There was genuine encouragement and something of an atmosphere as the Addicks showed improvement in the second period against a side set for promotion. An 86th minute equaliser from Bradley Wright-Phillips celebrated with real gusto.
Charlton supporters beaten and bruised by their side’s efforts in the previous weeks, but The Valley crowd able to create a positive moment. The club failing, but the soul and identity of the club still there.
We could look, too, at a packed Valley celebrating promotion to the Championship at the end of 2011/12 campaign, after a season of unrelenting success.
Or at a crowd just shy of 16,000 singing Chris Powell’s name for the majority of the period in which the Addicks found themselves two goals down against Cardiff City in 2012. They were rewarded with a remarkable comeback, and an incredible 5-4 victory. A special Valley night.
Or the Covered End completely losing themselves as Johnnie Jackson scored a last-minute winner against QPR in 2014, right at the start of Duchatelet’s reign and during a period where Powell was under immense pressure. A special Valley moment.
Comebacks and last minute winners since. Dorian Dervite and Jorge Teixeira heading late winners against Bournemouth and Birmingham respectively among them. Where The Valley has celebrated, and moments have been formed that stay in your mind.
But they few and far between, as attendances have dropped and apathy has risen while Duchatelet has controlled the club. The Valley losing its charm, its character and its identity. Even if you want to suggest it’s not a result of Duchatelet’s destruction of the club, it’s a result of his failure.
The empty, almost soulless Valley, one of the most painful symptoms of this disease. And not just because of how deflating visits to SE7 now are, particularly under lights. The current atmosphere, and the amount of empty seats, at The Valley really does break your heart.
Supporters who have followed the Addicks for many years no longer in attendance, unable to support their club while this regime remains. Call it boycotting, call it turning their back on the club, call it detachment. Whatever it is, that’s the real tragedy.
Some will suggest they’re not proper fans, despite evidence showing quite the opposite, but most will support their decision and feel the sadness and sympathy I do. Deeply upsetting that they feel they can’t attend. That the regime have done this to them.
And you worry, will they ever return? Will they return once there is change? They’ll have found other things to do with their Saturdays, and winning them back even with a new ownership might not be straightforward for all.
And if they don’t return, will their sons and daughters grow up without Charlton? Will this generation of Charlton fans ever be healed of the disease they have been inflicted with, and will the next be able to support a club in a healthy state? Will there ever be a packed, bouncing Valley again?
It, more than protest and more than failure, is the one thing Duchatelet and Meire can’t ignore. It’s right there in front of them, or at least it is Meire, and the damage is theirs. Still, they blindly ignore it.
There will be a packed and bouncing Valley once again. When this regime sells.
Unfortunately, I won’t be among the Charlton Athletic supporters who are heading to Belgium this weekend to take the protests to the man who has managed to hide from them over the previous two seasons.
There two reasons for that. The first being that travelling to another country was never really a plausible consideration given the state of my health. The second being that I’m on for doing all 46 league games this season and I’m told completing a perfect season will result in me being locked away forever.
There certainly not a third reason that relates to me having any sort of opposition to the planned protests. They have my full support, appreciation and admiration in all the ways manageable.
The planning behind each and every protest has been incredibly impressive, but particularly so with this Unity Protest. CARD, the Belgian 20 and WAR have done a marvellous job. Structure and organisation that a Karl Robinson Charlton side would look upon with envy.
Actually getting a few coach load of Addicks into another country impressive enough in itself, but formulating an entire schedule, with the reassurance of local police and the support of equally unhappy Sint-Truiden supporters, is a mighty fine effort.
My complete admiration and respect also for each of those Addicks who are heading out to Belgium this weekend. A total commitment to the cause, dedicating themselves to assisting in the removal a regime that continues to cripple this wonderful football club. A regime that continues to deny the wonderful people who support this club the sort of connection they warrant.
As such, the idea that engaging in protests of this nature somehow correlates to not supporting the team or wanting the club to fail is, quite frankly, utter bollocks. Faces that have followed the Addicks up and down the country for many a year, including this one, will be in Belgium this weekend. The amount of planning and effort gone into making this protest possible a reflection of a group of supporters desperate to have their club restored to its former glories.
If supporters involved in opposing the regime wanted the club to fail, then they would accept the current regime and allow failure to continue unopposed. Fighting for change is quite the opposite.
Besides, it would be quite this if backing the boys actually resulted in some reward. I’ve been at 85 competitive Charlton games over the course of this season and the last, failing to see a victory at 64 of them, with 35 ending in defeat. And that with a relegation in the middle.
It’s almost as if on-the-pitch success at this football club isn’t possible while the regime continues to pump poison through the club’s veins. Almost as if there won’t be success until a cure for that – the only cure being getting genuine change – is found.
Which isn’t to say I won’t arrive at Sixfields on Saturday without blind optimism. There no question that Robinson’s fractured and fragmented side must rediscover a degree of competence and record victory against Northampton Town. The thought of a second relegation while this regime is in control is rather terrifying – a position from which recovery would be impossible.
But avoiding relegation would be no success, and not even really papering over any sort of crack. It just preventing those cracks from getting deeper and deeper. This season, and this regime, already resigned to failure.
And so, it will come as no surprise that I’m as desperate as anyone for these protests to achieve their goal. To convince/appeal/pressure/force/politely request the regime that has crippled this football club, and made supporting it a painful chore, into relinquishing their poisonous control.
If we’re being brutally honest, Duchatelet isn’t going to immediately locate Peter Varney’s number after seeing Saturday’s protests and get the club sold, but there will unquestionably be an impact on his ability to continue to own the club. Or at least his ability to present the idea that he’s firmly in control.
If nothing else, he’ll lose one of his main defences. The idea that opposition to him is simply born out of a few bitter ex-employees or stupid people that he so often gets the Belgian press to believe. Only a stupid person would continue to show an unwillingness to accept the damage done, and the extent of the opposition to him, when it is presented at his door.
When a group of supporters numbering at least around 250 take a protest from one country to another. Doing so with the support of thousands more behind them. There no ground for Duchatelet to stand on.
It arrogance and ignorance that has meant a continued disregard for this club and its supporters, and it arrogance and ignorance that has meant his ownership has continued to inflict damage upon a club already crippled to a point where it cannot even begin to recover while Duchatelet is in control and Katrien Meire has power.
Hopefully this weekend is the one where, while Duchatelet loses ground to stand on, a foundation is set for Charlton to recover.