Friday 30 July 2021

A week to go and the jury is split

A week before the new season kicks off and the jury considering our promotion prospects is well and truly split. It's fair to say that our Summer transfer activity to date has been on the disappointing side thus far but there is still time for it to hit the mark. 

So far our transfer policy looks to have changed in one respect for the better; signings to date have been permanents and have included the loan-to-permanent signing of Jayden Stockley and the option to convert Akin Fameyo from a loan to a permanent. I like the fact that two year terms have also been our preference. That gives us the chance to limit our exposure in the event of under-performance and incentivises first year showings to encourage in-term contract extensions.

The issue thus far has not been so much about quality, but rather of quantity. The players we have signed are, I believe, up to the job of this division and are relatively young and experienced. MacGillivray, Dobson, Famewo, Clare and even Stockley (29) fit that criteria. We do remain four or five short and unless and until they arrive, we are going to have to rely on the Academy. We have already seen more of some of the Academy players in pre-season than ever before and they have acquitted themselves well enough. The big question remains, however, will we get all the players the supporters believe we need to have strong enough squad to maintain a promotion challenge or will we have to rely on Academy players to do it? 

Expectations have been set. Thomas Sandgaard has always been a tad cautious in terms of spending ambition, and I think the majority have welcomed that. However, a year ago he said the aim was the Premier League within five years and he has also talked about European football. If the PL dream target is to become a reality we can't afford to spend the first three years in League One.

The EFL transfer window is open until 2nd September, by which time we will have played the first five league games of the season. It looks like Nigel Adkins will suck it  and see to some extent and that we are likely to be holding out for a crack at higher division loan players who may yet find themselves surplus to requirements when their clubs conclude their transfer business. 

As I have said before, I trust us to bring those players in because Sandgaard and Adkins have too much to lose if we don't, although I am sure we would have all felt far happier if we already had a more settled squad and were ready to hit the season running at full pace.

There has been much noise about the transfer activity of rivals Ipswich Town and Wigan Athletic who have been making plenty of decent looking signings, a number of whom were either linked with us or players we would have liked to have seen at the Valley. However, most of the other sides in our division have been very similar to us and it's worth knowing that Wigan only had six professionals left before their recruitment began.

The bookies have us as fifth or sixth favourites for promotion - play-off contenders - that would probably satisfy Adkins and Sandgaard. Ipswich's spending has pushed them to favourite status with Sunderland, although Makem fans appear as split as Addicks and for the same reasons. Portsmouth and Wigan are also at the top end and Sheffield Wednesday get a higher billing than they probably deserve because they have just come down. Outside those, there is a long list of clubs that belong in League One or Two and whom we should expect a competitive Charlton side to beat throughout the season - Morecombe, Cheltenham, Cambridge Utd, Accrington Stanley, AFC Wimbledon, Crewe, Burton, Fleetwood, Wycombe, Doncaster, Oxford Utd, Lincoln, Shrewsbury. It really shouldn't be a frightening list. 

Personally, I think a proven goalscorer is our top priority and I would like to see someone here ahead of the opener but I don't expect that to happen. We have to have more goals in the side because we simply don't have enough at the moment - not for a serious promotion challenge. A left-sided full-back and left sided winger are needed as options and I would like to see another combatitive, attacking midfielder. Through a long season there would still be opportunities for the likes of Elerewe, Ghandour, Claydon and Davison to gain first team experience and show us what they can do.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Sean Clare makes steady progress

We signed Sean Clare, "an energetic box-to-box" player, on a two year deal from Oxford United yesterday. Clare is 24 and has decent experience from a number of clubs and started as a youngster with the Addicks, so he should settle quickly. Like most of the other signings so far this close season, he has been given a two year deal and it sounds like there may have been a small fee involved. 

Clare might not be a name immediately familiar to all of us and perhaps we would have felt more comfortable if he was but I trust our management team and I have a gut feeling that Clare might bring something we were missing last year - an urgency and some drive from midfield. In addition to the four players we have effectively re-signed (Matthews, Pearce, Famewo and Stockley), Clare becomes the third new face behind MacGillivray and Dobson.

As a minimum, we still need another left-back, left winger and a pacey goal-scorer but we still have a couple of weeks before lift-off and then a further month in which to complete our business. I like that we have been adding permanent signings so far (we have an option on Famewo) as I think you need to find a nucleus of players who will be together for at least two years if things work out. Loanees can provide a bit of quality you might not otherwise be able to acquire but an over-reliance makes it very difficult to build a side that can develop together. 

Elsewhere, the Club dropped an overdue update on some domestics which should go some way to appeasing the masses. Kit sponsors and the kit reveal are imminent and season ticket mailing dates are now confirmed. The push to move all ticketing online continues with news that the ticket office will now be closed on Wednesdays in addition to Thursdays. With 9-10,000 season ticket holders and 70% of matchday purchases being made online, it's easy to see the argument but I still find it difficult to reconcile that the club will be turning away potential customers for two consecutive working days when there will clearly still be staff at the Valley? Most likely these will be tourists or the uninitiated infrequent supporter but a slap in the face is never easy to take and something that lingers long in the memory nonetheless.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

C'mon Charlton - get your act together

There is a fair amount of frustration in the ranks at the moment. Squad rebuilding, pre-season friendlies, Valley Express and now supporter prioritisations are unsettling diehards.

Our squad rebuilding plans are going slowly, with the attendant concerns that we are some way yet off looking like having a squad better than the one we finished the season with. Whilst there can be few complaints with the business we have done - it's primarily been about working to replace what we had. Stockley has been signed permanently and Famewo's loan deal renewed, albeit with an option to buy. MacGillivray was a competent replacement for want-away Amos and George Noble should help fill the gap caused by Forster-Caskey's injury lay-off. Trouble is, we all know we need a significant uplift across the side to be confident of going one better than missing out on the play-offs. This will be Year 2 of Sandgaard's 5 Year Plan and we need to be heading into Year 3 in the Championship. I support the main man and am confident we will get there - Sandgaard and Adkins both have too much to lose if we don't - but I can see the frustration in the ranks when clubs like Ipswich are concluding deals with the likes of Joe Piggott, who should be the sort of player we are targeting. 

The new pitch at the Valley may have prevented us from hosting a pre-season home game but we do at least have the opportunities now to see the current squad play this evening in the hastily rearranged Welling match and, hopefully, the new look team at Fulham at the end of July. Going ahead with the Palace friendly with our fans being excluded still rankles though.

The running of Valley Express continues to cause concern and is, in some way, a barometer of our fanbase health. Clearly, numbers travelling and the associated viability of the service are closely linked but the club shouldn't lose sight of the fact that a bolder positioning of Valley Express, once saw it paying it's way by bringing fans to games and getting them to buy match tickets (all incremental profit) that would otherwise have gone unsold. It was a key part of hugely successful gate-building plans that accompanied our success twenty years ago. Looking to simply increase pricing to cover the cost of the service is short-sighted and is likely to lead to a further reduction in customers that will again threaten the longer term viability of the service. It should all be about bringing fans to games who wouldn't otherwise bother, not about simply persuading regulars to use the coach instead of other forms of transport, as those supporters will come regardless and are even more likely to choose the coach if it's cheaper still.

Finally, the club really needs a clear plan of how it prioritises supporters, rewards loyalty and encourages spending. The new Membership scheme has looked ill-conceived. £35 for a jamboree bag of not a lot, looked like poor value for money to me. 'Lucky socks' might have been amusing but a fiver off an annual TV package, a handful of additional loyalty points and free entrance to watch a pre-season training session all looked like a justification exercise. The club should prize it's season ticket holders above all others, including those who might choose a Membership instead of an annual commitment. Looking now to charge them £10 to watch a training session is counter-productive in my mind and using the Membership Scheme as a justification (they paid for it, so you should too) wasn't thought through properly. 

The club really needs a clear and transparent hierarchy of supporter spend, loyalty and reward. At present it's mismatched - the £35 Membership scheme may infer some priority over Valley Gold members (£120 a year) and Season Ticket holders should always be top of the list. Loyalty points for buying televised games should also be part of the scheme. It can't be that difficult to put a structure together, kick it around with fans and settle on a best fit to ensure supporters stay on board. 

Friday 9 July 2021

Welling back on...and Famewo re-signs

Thursday was a good day. A surprising announcement that Norwich squad player, Akin Famewo, would be returning to Addick duty next season. Modern wisdom suggests that players are typically only loaned to lower league clubs for a season at most and then moved on to another to broaden their experience if they haven't broken into their own sides by then or been sold on. So it was a big boost to see Famewo announced with the bonus that we have an option to buy him. 

We looked at our most assured defensively last year with Inniss and Famewo in tandem at the back and we will have to hope that the pairing can avoid any prolonged injury this coming season. Pearce has been signed for cover but we probably need another centre-half to ensure we can maintain fresh legs and cope with any injuries that may occur but we are much closer now to a settled defence (another left-back needed). Adam Matthews has also (finally) decided to extend his contract and give us experience at right back.

More good news later in the day was the announcement that we will play a friendly at Welling after all. It won't be traditional long lazy Saturday that fans love, but instead a Tuesday evening is better than nothing and I hope we sell our ticket allocation to help Welling mage their debt situation. The game will take place next Tuesday evening and I intend on being there. 

The senior club management team has taken some stick during the close season for dropping the annual Wings fixture and for playing the majority of friendlies behind closed doors, so credit where's credit due, they have clearly been listening and moved to do something about it. Similarly, the empty pre-season Saturday on 31st July has now been filled with an attractive trip to Craven Cottage (new stand) where visiting supporters will be welcomed, which goes some way to atoning for the niave decision to agree to play Palace with home fans only.

A couple more considered signings next week would maintain team-building progress and begin to build the excitement ahead of the 7th August opener against Sheffield Wednesday. I watched Wednesday's friendly at Celtic Manor against a very young Celtic team and after a quick start, they faded and were well beaten 3-1 in the end. Celtic are expecting their internationals to return to duty this weekend, so we will face a stronger Bhoys line-up but I expect us to make a fist of it. 

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Friendly mess

It was disappointing to find that our attractive friendly fixture with Celtic was not only to be played in Wales but also behind closed doors. Reading away was also designated a 'no fans game' and I gave them a little credit given we didn't know the likely Covid impacts when these were announced.

Since then, however, it has become clear that crowds are now back on the agenda and the planned unlocking on 19th July will remove all restrictions. With the Palace friendly slated for 27th July, it was fair to assume we would be able to see our new shape team ahead of the opening fixture. It's not as if small friendly gates would have been a social distancing challenge anyway.

This morning we find that Palace have decided to make our game home fans only because "safety of supporters is our number one priority." This is an insult to Charlton fans who would have wanted to go and it looks very much like Palace have decided this arbitrarily. If that's the case, our club should tell them it's off. If we have agreed to this, someone needs a better explanation than the one being offered on the club website. In what sounds like an excuse made-up by an embarrassed committee, we are being told "with both clubs having liaised with the relevant authorities, and recognising the time available to arrange seating arrangements under any new protocols, it has been agreed that only Crystal Palace supporters will be permitted to attend the match."

If the match is too risky for fans, either don't play it or play it behind closed doors but don't penalise one set of supporters. Blaming timescales is majorly weak - the fixture was announced a couple of weeks ago and there are still three weeks to go. I fully expect Charlton to pull the plug on this - they are going to suffer a lot of supporter discontment if it goes ahead.

As for the pre-season schedule, it's a complete mess now as far as Charlton fans are concerned. Dartford away is the only fixture we can attend and tickets will be limited. Why no home fixture? Cost was an issue under Duchatelet because they lose money but I wouldn't have thought that would be a major concern under Sandgaard?

Given our under-whelming recruitment progress so far in filling the holes in the squad, let alone significantly improving the overall quality available, not being able to attend pre-season friendlies might not be such a disappointment as things stand but whoever is making these decisions doesn't appear to get it or is simply happy living pissing off their own fans. I certainly won't be buying Charlton TV to watch games I might ordinarily expected to have gone to. 

Thursday 1 July 2021

George Dobson makes three

George Dobson, a combatitive midfielder who can play at centre-half, signed for the club yesterday on a two year deal a la Craig MacGillivray. He made 34 appearances for parent club Sunderland but was on loan at Wimbledon last season. 

Fair to say that the Makems weren't sold on him but Womble fans have been more generous. That may say something about respective expectations, but at 23 years old and a decent pedigree thus far - ten years an Arsenal youth product and two seasons with West Ham (no appearances) - he is the sort of player in whom I am prepared to trust the better judgement of Gallen and Co. Dobson joins a list of would-be midfielders and might be a replacement for Jake Forster-Caskey who hasn't taken up his contract offer and might have eyes on a move away.

The jungle drums now have Paul Mullin, Cambridge United's top scorer, back in line for an Addicks switch. He is 26 years old and until last season hadn't set the world on fire, but he did manage an impressive 32 goal haul from 46 games last year. He looks the sort of player who is well worth a gamble and might be the perfect foil for Stockley.