New dawn at the Valley?
Taking one’s time over a post can have its downsides. Having begun piecing together an assessment of Charlton Athletic’s situation following the announcement on 31 December that a long-awaited takeover had finally been completed, I didn’t expect quite yet to have to rip up (figuratively, of course) and start again. A feeling no doubt shared by most who filed into the Valley last Monday night.
The emphasis of new chairman Michael Slater in his maiden press interview on Friday was firmly on stability. To questions regarding manager Phil Parkinson’s position, he responded:
“It’s certainly not our intention to make any change. Phil’s done a great job. We’re third in the league and that speaks for itself, so we’re going to have a sit down with Phil over the next few days and we’ll give him every support.”
The presence of ex-chief executive and long-standing fan of the club Peter Varney and the previous chair of the board, Richard Murray, by his side compounded the impression that there would be no rush to judgement as the new owners made settled in. But then came events, dear boy. A manic 3-3 draw away at Colchester on the opening day of the new year was the prelude to Monday’s 2-4 reverse at home to struggling Swindon Town, a desperate performance dissected elsewhere.
“Clearly, improvement is needed on the field. The team has not won in the league since November and recent performances have simply not been good enough.”
“Last night’s defeat [to Swindon Town] convinced us as a board that change is required now while we are still in the hunt for promotion, and that we must appoint a new manager to give us every chance of going up.”
Was this a premeditated manoeuvre or a spasm of the knee? The subsequent return of Keith Peacock to the brown macintosh labelled ‘caretaker’ suggests reaction, rather than a first step in a detailed plan. But the decision has nonetheless garnered a fair amount of praise on the Valley forums at least, with some suggesting that the sight of an already diminished crowd disappearing before Slater and Jimenez’s very eyes was too much to bear. Until a more permanent management team is appointed, it’s hard to make a prognosis for the back end of the season. But what of the new owners?
“If you ask me ‘why Michael and Tony?’, I wanted it to be football people,” said Richard. “People who will take a long-term view. People who have the necessary money to make this club stable.
“That doesn’t mean throwing money at it like some clubs have done, but [enough] to make sure we’re in business and that we’re a solid club.
Whatever the truth of the situation, the financial data makes it clear that new investment was necessary. In the year from June 2007 to June 2008 – the club’s first season back in the Football League following relegation for the top flight – a net loss of £11.5 million was recorded. This despite receiving parachute payments in that year. Financial profligacy in the wake of Alan Curbishley’s departure, mainly down to a series of ill-conceived managerial changes, started the descent. But, attempts to reduce overheads in subsequent years have come with a hefty price on the pitch, as fans accrued during the Premier League years have thinned out. Murray’s commitment is unquestioned, as demonstrated by his continued service on the board. However, the operating losses were too great a load for him to bear alone. The infrastructure of a Premier League club doesn’t come cheap and it’s clear the new owners desire a swift promotion as much to boost the club’s revenues as for the kudos. Much will depend on the new manager and the resources granted to him in this month’s transfer window. The slaying of a resplendent Tottenham side today would make up for a false start to this new phase.