What are the reserves for?
Of course, in recent seasons we have played at Welling United. I have actually seen a reserves game at the training ground. We have played at least one game at Dulwich Hamlet. And in the past we played at Erith and Belvedere's ground (now out of action). The first Charlton reserves game I saw was against Aldershot in the Football Combination Cup. Not sure why we went as we didn't usually, but I remember some Aldershot fans arriving late on the East Terrace and asking us the score.
What are the reserves for? They are a means of giving players on the fringe of the main squad a competitive game. They offer a testing ground for the fitness of players returning after a spell of injury. And, most important of all, they are a key stage in the development of our younger players for whom getting into the reserves is a significant sign that their progress is continuing.
The standard of play at reserves games is quite good. I would say that it is better than League Two, far less hoofing. But atmosphere is generally lacking because the crowds are so small. Some lower division teams manage without playing in a regular reserve league, largely as an economy measure, and get by on friendlies.
Probably the oddest world of all is that of the non-league reserves. I think it's the Suburban League that is entirely made of non-league reserve teams. I have a friend who manages a reserve team in the second division of the Kent League that is made up of all reserve sides except for one team (Danson Furness). They get an average attendance of seven, all relatives and friends of the players.
There has recently been a debate at the non-league club of which I am vice-president (Leamington) about whether to have a reserve team. They reckon they could get an attendance of 100 given an average home gate of 400 and 100-150 regulars at away games. On that basis Charlton would get about 6,500 at reserve games instead of 500 and 1,000 occasionally. But Leamington get an average of 75 at youth team games so I suppose the figure of 100 is not unrealistic. It would provide an outlet for youth team players, but the clinching argument against appears to be the question of who would run it.
For Charlton the reserves offer a chance of getting some silverware. Although the ladies team should do us proud there. Do they now rank above the reserves? They only rarely get to play at The Valley but have attracted bigger crowds than the reserves when they do.