I couldn't give a toss about the EFL Papa Johns Pizza Trophy. It's the definition of a Mickey Mouse cup competition. Played for the also-rans who are knocked out of the other two cup competitions early, they even tried to give it more kudos by extending the invitation to the U21 sides of Premiership clubs. It may work for the League Two sides who lose less money in it but it's a waste of time for all but the two teams who eventually find themselves in the final.
However, last night's humiliating exit at Hartlepool in the competition seems to be a milestone for Charlton Athletic Football Club. More than having finished our season in January, barring a still possible relegation battle, it really feels to me like this squad of players is finished. We have evolved over the last ten years into a bang-average League One side. Roland Duchatelet has a lot to answer for but even under him Lee Bowyer was able to assemble a decent side in which he instilled a never-say-die attitude. However, with no sustained investment and a careless transfer of ownership to ESI, we quickly lost that and were back to League One where, let's face it, we have struggled.
I hesitate from saying we have become a League One club, because I still believe we should be competing in the Championship. Our stadium and our declining home support still gives us cause for hope but neither kick the ball. That support will also be sorely tested next season, even if we retain our place in League One, as I expect us to. The thoughtless bluster of building bigger gates based on free tickets and the same poor football is over and we need to stop making fools of the club. The idea that our gates have been over 20,000 in recent months is for the birds. I think we all know that there is only one way to sustainably increase home gates and that is by playing attractive winning football. Something that has been in very short supply for the past two two years in particular.
The fact that the fans reaction to the defeat at 17th-placed Hartlepool is once again "why us?" belies the fact that we deserved it because the sum of the players sent out to represent us are simply an ordinary League One side. Some of them may have had decent Premier League or Championship careers, others may be considered prospects and we inevitably have a sprinkling of increasingly bewildered looking Academy graduates but collectively they are very average League One irrespective that we are over-paying them for what they deliver.
Undoubtedly most of them can still put in a shift when the mood takes them but that flatters to deceive and as a team they can't hack it. No mental resilience, no sustained determination, little belief and too many really don't care enough to be playing at even this level. The litany of basic mistakes, week after week tell us that very clearly. The fact that we regularly find ourselves admiring opposition players and saying things like "Cheltenham aren't a bad side" is simply a sign of how poor we are - they are just doing the basics.
What we are having to witness week-after-week is just not good enough. Schoolboy errors, one after another. A casual acceptance as games slip away and a squad of players who seem to think that tweeting "it didn't go for us but we go again" somehow convinces fans to disbelieve what they have witnessed with their own eyes. The monotony with which this team have put in one stinker after another is depressing and heads should roll.
Some of our fans don't help either. We are so desperate for any success that players having a 15 minute purple patch or scoring a winning goal are somehow elevated literally to the status of the White Pele. It's so juvenile but a reflection of how detached we have become from the reality of the teams we have had and the players who have represented us in the past.
There is a broad acceptance by now that this season was doomed from the moment we were given the garbled nonsense about a recruitment policy designed to delay acquisition of a competitive squad until five or six games in because some genius thought it would allow us to swoop on the low-hanging fruit of unwanted Premier League youth. Not only did we get off on a losing streak but the low-hanging fruit ripened at Harry Arter and Elliott Lee. Arter couldn't even hold a place in our poor team and whilst Elliott Lee had a positive start, I think we can see why he's surplus to requirements at mighty Luton. Cameos aren't good enough.
Some of the signings we did make looked like they might pass muster on paper but it quickly became apparent that "HMS Piss The League" was drug-induced wishful thinking and Thomas Sandgaard's boast about blowing the league apart showed just how unqualified he is to be making player assessments. Some of them were also way short of what we have become accustomed to when Steve Gallen's role in selecting them looked bigger. Hopefully with the exit of Roddy, we can get back to that.
Tempted as I am, I will refrain from going through the playing staff one-by-one for now, because the message is simply that they aren't good enough. No-one wants to see an annual cull of the squad but until we get the core right, it's what we have to do. Fourteen of these players are out of contract by June and I really think we should struggle to make a case for retaining more than three or four of them at most. We also need to make some tough decisions on those who remain in contract. Some of them have also proven very clearly that they aren't ever going to play in a promotion challenging team and we need to deal with them and not just accept they are part of this squad for the next two or three years because nothing will change.
Johnnie Jackson needs to sort this out quickly or he will also begin to look like he is out-of-his-depth. Rotating half a dozen players who continue to fail to deliver the expected performance isn't helping. Players have to fight for their place and know that repeated basic mistakes or a lack of involvement or contribution mean you drop out until you have made a very strong case for a return.
These players are earning a much better living than most of us and it's the job of the management team to ensure we get value-for-money and that the club is well represented. This lot are largely taking that money and it's far too comfortable.
Thomas Sandgaard's ownership ambitions also face a severe test. It's going to take some very decent League One money to turn this around. The big question is, does he still have it and is he prepared to gamble?