Monday, December 11, 2006

Preparing for the Championship?

The Sunday Times commented yesterday, 'It is very hard to see what Charlton can do to save themselves.' The New York Addick, who runs one of the most hard headed Charlton blogs, has pointed out that if the Addicks are going to rely just on home form, they need to get 30 points from 11 matches to secure safety from relegation. That isn't going to happen. Hence, the New York Addick is arguing that we need to prepare for the Championship now and offload players like Darren Bent while we can still get a decent price for them. Read his analysis here: New York

What has surprised me is the number of Charlton fans who have argued that we would be better off in the Championship. Some of it, of course, may be whistling in the dark and if Charlton do get relegated, fans will have to make the best of it.

Leaving aside spurious reasons such as we would get to play Palace (because we have descended to their level) and the pubs and trains would be less crowded (because we would have fewer fans), the serious argument seems to run on the lines set out below.

The Championship is a highly competitive league and any team can beat any other. There are no matches where one has little realistic hope of winning or even getting a draw as in the Premiership. Charlton would start to win some matches. The atmosphere at The Valley would be better because the 'it's a cheap way to watch the Premiership/see my big team in London' crowd would have gone.

I think that some fans see us a kind of Burnley, not serious promotion candidates but not threatened with relegation either. I actually went to a game in Burnley (v. Hull) in October and I can tell you that the town is grim (as grim as I have seen outside the US), the game was poor and the wooden seats were hard. Even so, the bloke beside me fell asleep during the game. In truth there are very few teams like Burnley in the Championship. Sooner or later, most teams go up or down. It happened to Port Fail: I remember reading in their programme once when went there that 'it is our ambition to remain in Division 1 for years to come.'

What this argument about a competitive Championship overlooks is that given that the Championship has many good teams in it, Charlton could go on losing matches and end up in League 1. It happened to the Massives and Forest and we don't have their support base to sustain us. Much as it pains me to admit it, a good friend of mine has a point when she argues that Charlton has a somewhat down market image. The club could then be in real financial trouble.

Another argument is that fans in general are fed up with the Premiership, the players are overpaid, there are too many foreigners, and the football is not that exciting. Many Premiership players earn more in a week than I do in a year, but I don't begrudge them that. A bit of simple economics would show that when you have very limited supply and strong demand, odd things happen to price. It may be that some of the purchases made turn out to be over valued, but the same is true of, say, fine art.

As someone who is more interested in club than international football, I'm not that bothered about the foreign players. Their presence reflects a more global, cosmopolitan world and English football was too conservative for too long. One of the things I enjoy about the Premiership is actually seeing the supposedly top players and being able to make my own evaluation of them. In a way it's like going to Stratford and seeing years ago a much younger Judy Dench or Helen Mirren on stage.

We hear a lot of talk about how fans are fed up with the Premiership and its prices and are going to watch non-league football. I watch non-league football as well and I enjoy it, but it's a completely different type of experience. Premiership aggregate attendances are holding up as are viewing figures. Next year a lucrative new television contract kicks in and Charlton look like losing out.

Rick Everitt is not everyone's cup of tea, but he is Charlton through and through and has a good head on his shoulders. As he has recently commented, 'The problem isn't necessarily with playing a season or two in the Football League, it's the fact that you have to meet Premiership outgoings on Football League revenues, plus the parachute money. By and large players don't sign one year, or "except if we get relegated" contracts, so going down may mean you have to reduce the level of quality in your squad below what you need to come back. It may mean you have to reduce it so far you are at risk of dropping another level.'

So let's not pretend that relegation is anything but a major setback for the club. How we got into this position is a matter for debate but it is clear that the post-Curbishley transition has not been handled well. Nevertheless, if anyone can find a way out, it's the current board. And, as the New York Addick suggests, that may mean starting to plan for Championship football.


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