Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Thanks For Everything, Chris

Football is a results business, but even with Charlton at the bottom of the Championship, this decision is a terrible one. Powell's sacking is down to disgraceful boardroom decision-making, in which he's been the fall guy paying the price for being given an inadequate squad. He was a man who embodied the fighting spirit and integrity of this football club, and defied the odds to keep the side competitive despite a woeful lack of investment. Merely accepting his dismissal due to our recent results misses the point entirely. He enhanced that emotional attachment with our football club, and without it, you wonder if it'll ever feel the same. 

Powell was brought in by the previous owners after Phil Parkinson's reign was cut short. Typically, there were those who thought that he would tarnish his great legacy as a player, but Powell said himself that he wanted to enhance it. His first few months in charge were a struggle, but they were important. He tried to get the remnants of that squad which had fallen from the Championship to play better football, instead of the dreadful, aimless style Parkinson had operated. He realised that hardly any of them were up to it. More importantly, he identified that there were hardly any players who truly cared about the club. Mercenaries like Thierry Racon who were on high wages and hardly gave a toss about the fortunes of the club.

Chris Powell understood that success on the football field is not simply a case of having quality players. Its about having men who are all fully behind the manager and the football club, who'll run through brick walls for each other, who will fight until the very end. He built one of the greatest Charlton sides we've seen for a long time, simply because every one of them cared.

That 2011/12 season was one of the greatest this club has had in years. Powell brought in a bunch of players who all knew the league, and he managed to do an incredible job to gel them straight away. His faith in Johnnie Jackson helped create a true leader on the pitch, another player who showed that football isn't just about having skill, but a determination and desire. He gave Chris Solly a chance at right back, which he grabbed with both hands, becoming player of the season two years running. He signed solid, dependable players such as Matt Taylor, Ben Hamer, Rhoys Wiggins, Dale Stephens. Most importantly, though, he found a man called Yann Kermorgant, brought him into the side, and gave him the confidence to succeed. Kermorgant and Powell was one of the great success stories - a man cast into the wilderness due to one penalty miss, brought in by a man who had every faith in his ability; faith that was rewarded with some wonderful performances and vital goals. Both men were vitally important to each other, as well as this football club. Both are now gone...

The final few games of the promotion season were the most joyous I've witnessed at Charlton. Being there are Carlisle to see what it meant not only to the squad, but to Chris Powell as well was something that I'll always remember. He walked out onto the pitch alone, in tears as to what he had achieved. The man had succeeded in lifting the club that he loved out of the division it badly needed to escape, and he knew exactly the magnitude of the achievement. At the Wycombe home game, again he demonstrated his attachment to the club, before that wonderful day against Hartlepool when we rounded off the season in style, and he gave his fantastic speech after the match. 101 points, and Champions. An achievement he can always be proud of.

It wasn't just the results that endeared Powell to us, but the fact that he seemed to share every emotion that the fans did. He gave us reason to love our football club again, after years in the wilderness being ruined by cowboys like Alan Pardew. He made us proud to support our football club again. He was the perfect ambassador, a great man with a fighting spirit that was embodied in the team that took to the field. He may not be a fancy tactician, but he more than made up for it with the drive he gave that side in red.

The following summer, things started to go wrong in the boardroom. The abrasive nature of Tony Jimenez meant that the financial backing of the club was no more, and Powell was forced to make do with minimal additions to his squad. He found Ricardo Fuller and Lawrie Wilson, but apart from that the success was built on the foundations of the title-winning squad from the season before.

The first year back in the Championship was a volatile one, with a number of good runs checked by some poor results, particularly at home. Leicester were beaten early on, with Kermorgant scoring against his former tormentors; from 0-2 down to Cardiff, we scored 5 (five) unanswered goals and won the game 5-4; we beat Watford 4-3 away from home; Leicester were beaten again, thanks to Kermorgant and Haynes. There were some stunning results, but the real delight came in the final season-ending run, in which we looked untouchable. Everything clicked. Chris Powell's Charlton were on fire.

From being 2-0 down to Bolton at home, the season turned around. A Kermorgant-inspired comeback saw a fine 3-2 victory, and it was followed by some incredible results. Barnsley were trounced 6-0 at Oakwell; two last minute winners saw home victories against Leeds and Wolves; Cardiff and Brighton were held to goalless draws at their own stadiums; Bristol City were hammered 4-1 on the final day of the season, which saw Charlton finish in 9th position. It was an incredible run, with the players galvanised by a manager desperate for the club to succeed. His emotional speech after the game showed everyone just what this meant to him, 12 months on from promotion. "We've got our Charlton back" was the cry. I filmed the whole thing - it was one of the proudest memories of that season, aside from all the obvious heroism on the pitch. There was such emotion in his voice. Such pride at what he and his players had achieved. It was a pride shared by everyone in the ground. You can't buy togetherness like that.

Further financial problems meant Fuller couldn't be re-signed; Haynes and Wright-Phillips left the club, replaced at the 11th hour by Simon Church and Marvin Sordell (on loan). Importantly, the contract situation went unresolved, with the owners unwilling to fork out any more of their precious money to give the football club stability. Powell was forced to blood the youngsters, with Jordan Cousins, Joe Pigott, Harry Lennon and Diego Poyet all playing first-team games despite their teenage years. We continued to defy the odds, but the under-investment was taking its toll. Powell was the glue holding us together, giving the team confidence to win at home to Leicester again, away games at Blackburn and Birmingham. Times were tough, but Boxing Day gave us real hope. Kermorgant was back to his very best in a 3-2 victory over Brighton. Luck finally seemed to be turning our way.

January came. Slater and Jimenez finally sold the club to a man they trusted. Roland Duchatalet. There was hope of those extra additions to the foundations of our squad. Instead, Roland sanctioned the sale of Stephens, Alnwick, and inexplicably Yann Kermorgant. The latter spoke of how he felt like he was forced out of the club. The assurances of Powell's future safety weren't given to him, and he was sold to Bournemouth. Its hard to hold anything against him for making that decision, especially in light of recent circumstances.

We were thrown some players from the Roland network of clubs, with his expectation that they would play immediately and not need time to adapt to English football. Only Astrit Ajdarevic was good enough to play a regular part, in Powell's view.

Powell inspired two incredible victories within the space of three days - wins that we thought would kick-start our season. QPR's dream team was beaten by a Johnnie Jackson header which sent the Valley into meltdown, and on the Monday night a heroic, battling performance saw us overcome Sheffield Wednesday in front of a partisan northern crowd. The delight on Powell's face was wonderful. Undoubtedly the best weekend in his managerial career.

Powell and Duchatalet did not agree on footballing issues, which is a clear indication that Powell would not be willing to cede authority on player recruitment. Roland was waiting for an excuse to fire him, and the defeat at Sheffield United gave him just that, especially as Powell did not field a single player that Duchatalet had provided him with. Following a disheartening performance, the players trudged off. Powell remained stood in his technical area, looking like a broken man. I was equally crushed, but there was more to Powell's emotional state than at first met the eye. He looked as if it was all over.

On Tuesday morning, it was announced that Powell had been sacked. Immediately, news of a Belgian replacement lined up emerged, indicating that this had been planned well in advance. The reaction was unified. Every single Charlton fan was hurt by the news. It was like the soul had been ripped out of our club.

Merely citing the table as justification for the decision, and arguing that Powell did a bad job, totally and utterly misses the point. He did fantastically well to keep this side competitive when times were tough. He was the glue holding everything together, as contracts were running out and rumours continued to circulate about the off-field situation. He kept us fighting. Even after the friction caused by the takeover, he kept going, inspiring two of the greatest wins of his career against QPR and Sheffield Wednesday. But because he wasn't a "yes man", Roland has disposed of him. He clearly isn't intelligent enough to recognise what an important man Chris Powell was to our football club.

I am not someone willing to accept that football is just about results. If you can't develop an emotional attachment to your club, then what's the point in going every week? Chris Powell made me proud to support my football club. He embodied everything good about it. Passion, desire, faith and loyalty. He was someone who we loved watching succeed, someone we had faith in to turn things around. He really did make us proud of our football club.

The club lives on, but its going to prove extremely difficult to rebuild that love. The Charlton Athletic that I cared for when Chris Powell was managing players like Johnnie Jackson and Yann Kermorgant has gone. Supporting a side run by a foreign manager, merely showcasing talent from Roland's network before selling it on to the highest bidder, is not something I'd enjoy. Selling a club's soul in the name of 'success' is not something I'm comfortable with.

Sacking Powell won't bring success. The team spirit will have been shattered. At least 10 players out of contract at the end of the season suddenly have less to play for. The foreign imports will all start games, despite being unprepared for Championship football. Its hard to convince yourself of anything other than relegation. And I'm currently feeling that it would be the right punishment for the ludicrous decisions made thus far by Duchatalet.

Chris Powell understood the club perfectly. He embodied the spirit, the passion, and the desire. He had the fans onside, even in times of adversity. It was clear that he was being undermined off the field, but he kept doing his job with dignity. He was too honourable to resign, even in the dire circumstances created by Duchatalet following the sale of his best players in January, without adequate replacements. He restored our faith in our football club, and gave us some absolutely brilliant memories. For that alone I am proud to have been a small part of Chris Powell's Charlton. Knowing that its over is not something that is easy to accept.

Powell was Charlton. We'll never get someone else quite like him.


  1. Brilliantly well written. I am genuinely scared of what is going to happen to OUR club!!

  2. "Powell was Charlton. We'll never get someone else quite like him."
    So, so true.

  3. brilliant article...captures the situation perfectly.

  4. Fantastic article. Incapsulates everything perfectly. A true post written from the heart. I had tears in my eyes reading it the other day.