I’ve been meaning to write something like this for a lot of this season, but with the form that my team, Charlton Athletic (yeah, we used to be half decent in the Premier League all those years ago) were in, staring down the barrel of relegation for most of the season, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
I am finally writing this now because, with Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Watford, we are safe. We cannot be relegated. We won’t be dropping back down to the hellish depths of League One (no offence to League One), at least not this season.
It’s been very tough for us this season. A great finish to last season (which saw Charlton miss out on a play-off place with 1 game to go) and a solid pre-season gave us fans cause for optimism. When the fixtures were released and it was revealed that we were playing Bournemouth at home first up (the third time in the last 4 years or something like that), things were looking up. Unfortunately, we lost 2-1.
We did beat eventual Championship champions Leicester at the end of August, but after then, and for most of the rest of the season, wins were very few and far between.
Going into Christmas we were 1 place above the relegation zone, and a 3-2 win over Brighton on Boxing Day helped to lift us a little further out of trouble, but it wasn’t to last. A surprise in January and February came in the form of an FA Cup run that took us to the quarter final, but unfortunately no further. This cup run was something of a distraction from the succession of draws and defeats in the league.
A sideshow in January was the takeover of the club by Belgian businessman Roland Duchatelet – already an owner of Standard Liege and a number of other European clubs – and immediately Charlton had an influx of Standard Liege players coming into the club on loan, as well as a few permanent signings to hopefully kick-start the season.
Duchatelet didn’t endear himself to us fans, mainly by selling cult figure Yann Kermorgant to Bournemouth, as well as selling our first choice keeper at the time, Ben Alnwick.
We were disappointed to see Alnwick leave. He had taken over from Ben Hamer, who had had an iffy season so far, and he had provided some stability between the sticks. But the sale of Kermorgant was what really annoyed Charlton fans, and that is putting it mildly. Vilified at his previous club Leicester for missing a penalty in a play-off semi final shootout (although had a brilliant habit of scoring against them when we played them afterwards), Kermorgant was picked up on a free transfer by Chris Powell in the summer before our League One winning season, and although not a prolific goalscorer, he always seemed to score crucial goals and quickly became a fan favourite. Big Yann made it clear he wanted to stay, but that the contract he was offered was pitiful, and so off to Bournemouth he went, begrudgingly with our best wishes.
Unfortunately that kick-start never really came, and manager and club legend Chris Powell (Sir Chris Powell to Charlton fans) paid the price and was sacked after our quarter final defeat to Sheffield United. In came Jose Riga – a Duchatelet appointment that left many Charlton fans, me included, quite angry. ‘Jose who? Never heard of him. What’s he done? Worked at the AC Milan academy? How is he qualified to take over? ‘ were all questions that were banded around by Charlton fans at some point. But, Duchatelet owns the club, he can do what he likes. Fans did have some optimism based on what had happened at Liege though, where Duchatelet sacked the popular manger and brought in an unknown new manager, who has now taken them to the top of the Belgian first division.
2 goalless draws in Riga’s first 2 games gave some hope of survival, but scoring goals was still an issue. One thing we did have in our favour was a number of games in hand because of a lot of postponed fixtures in January and February.
For most of the rest of the season we in a cycle of playing on a Saturday then on a Tuesday. Similarly, we got into a cycle of winning 1-0 on a Tuesday and then losing 3-0 on a Saturday. We slowly started to accumulate points and optimism grew that we could survive.
Thankfully, results seemed to go our way, and in the last few weeks we have picked up huge wins against Leeds, Yeovil and Sheffield Wednesday, with the win against Wednesday seeing us come from 2-0 down.
Finally, despite missing the chance to all but secure our Championship status on Saturday against Blackburn, a 3-1 win against Watford on Tuesday did make us mathematically safe, finally allowing all us Addicks fan to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
There have also been rumours abound that if we did stay in the division that Roland Duchatelet might make some fund available for us to strengthen the squad and go well next season.
A special mention has to go to the 2 finds of the season: Jordan Cousins and Diego Poyet – son of Sunderland manager Gus. Cousins has been very good since he got an extended run in the side, and Poyet has made central midfield his own with a string of very impressive performances that have resulted in him being linked with a host of top sides, including Arsenal, Spurs and Barcelona (although that Barca rumour can be taken with a pinch of salt, after all, John O’Shea was once a Barcelona target, apparently). The most important thing for Charlton is to get him to sign a new contract and keep him for as long as possible.
Anyway, after a long season, we Charlton fans can relax, look forward to the summer and go and enjoy ourselves on Saturday away at Blackpool and hopefully finish the season with a win.