The feeling of hopelessness has not yet been replaced with a positive look towards the future of Charlton. There have been many stories coming out of the Valley since 2014 when we were taken over by the Belgian tycoon Roland Duchatelet. Changes that were needed did not go down too well with the Charlton faithful. One of the most talked about change that was introduced was the dismissal of Chris Powell our then manager. At the time the Addicks were bottom of the Championship and had just lost in a quarter-final of the FA Cup to Sheffield Wednesday then in division one. This loss started the ball rolling that was not well received or had any sympathy attached from the new owner Duchatelet.
Chris Powell was something of a cult figure and hero to many supporters of all ages. Having played 270 games for the Addicks and a call to play for England which in itself was a rarity for a Charlton player. As a manager he won promotion from the third tier and leant heavily on a youth policy that included Diego Poyet, the son of the then manager of Sunderland.
Powell`s only crime, however, could not be found in League position although I dispute this for we were bottom of our division at that time. In Duchatelet`s eyes he had the nerve to challenge on policies which was to turn Charlton into a feeder club for his real love Standard Liege. The Pozzo family, who are in charge of Watford, have the same principles at heart as Duchatelet transforming their perspective clubs into a powerful collective. The Pozzo`s used Watford to feed Udinese in Italy and Granada in Spain. Duchatelet had similar ideas for Charlton, these as we all know were Sint-Truiden, now sold and who were in the second tier, Carl Zeiss in Germany, Ujpest in Hungary and Alcorcon of Spain.
Chris Powell`s refusal to live off the waste of Roland`s European conglomerate and see his own squad removed led to his departure. Many of you will remember Yohann Thuram-Ulien. Played for Standard Liege as their Keeper. Loic Nego, a defender from Roma, was another player favoured by our owner, and who was not impressed that Powell used him in just one game, and that was in our defeat to Wigan Athletic. Chris Powell was treading on thin ice by then. Having just negotiated a new contract to safeguard his future and loyal staff, he was hoping this would assure him a simple assurance: control of transfer policy. In fact it did the complete opposite and he was sacked by Duchatelet.
The era of upheaval was just beginning. Chris`s dismissal opened up the way for Jose Riga to relaunch the fight for survival. The Addicks were still languishing at the foot of the table with games running out. The 56 year old Belgian who previously worked exclusively in his homeland, mostly in the lower divisions with CS Vise was put in place to work wonders and rescue Charlton from the drop into the third tier of football. Riga set in motion an extraordinary final few games that many thought were a bridge too far. Yet when the final whistle blew the Addicks were safe and had a game in hand. The Addicks lived to see another season in the Championship. Riga tried to imitate his achievement the following season but failed after a handful of managers before him set an impossible tasks, and the unthinkable happened and the Addicks dropped out of the Championship which set in motion our present situation.
We are not known for many awards that football clubs can achieve. Standard liege on the other hand have Belgian League titles. Six Belgian cups. European Cup-winners` cup, semi-finalists in the European Cub; this makes Charlton`s lone FA Cup win in 1947 seem very meagre. Yet Charlton have an ace up the sleeve. On February 12, 1938, 75,031 fans made the journey to the Valley to watch them play FA fifth-round tie against Aston Villa. By club it remains the eighth highest attendance in the history of English Football. Arsenal, Liverpool, Newcastle and Leeds have never beaten this.
This is the potential Duchatelet ignores when he talks about enshrining Charlton`s present inferiority. Although Chelsea (82,905) against Arsenal in 1935 and Manchester City (84,569) in the FA Cup against Stoke City in 1934 were the biggest attendance for any domestic fixture in England outside Wembley, whatever the Valley will hold in the future, there were once over 75,000 fans who cared passionately for the club!
The iconic sit-com ‘Fools and Horses` also reminded us that Rodney Trotter middle name was Charlton. His mum in it was a big fan. I too remember when Del Boy, tenderly made this speech when Marlene asks ‘`What, Charlton Heston? No, replied Del, Charlton Athletic!” That was funny. What is not at all a laugh is how the clubs ideals have evaporated like the memory of this sit-com we once cherished.
Powell was the first victim of the grand plan, but it is the next generation of Addicks fans who it is said will be left with a shell of a football club to support. The overall picture that is painted regarding the state of Charlton is not as the gloom mongers have painted it. Yes the club has gone through a massive change since Powell`s era. It is fair to so say there are room for improvement which the club is trying to achieve. Time is a great healer. Now let our hunger for improvement begin. We might not reach the heights of bygone years, but the future of the club is in the hands of its supporters.