2020/21 Preview – Charlton Athletic

The countdown to the 2020/21 season continues with the host of Express FM’s Football Hour and Pompey Live pundit, Jake Smith turning the spotlight on Charlton Athletic.

Intro: On June the 9th 1905, Charlton Athletic Football Club was founded when a number of youth clubs, which included East Street Mission and Blundell Mission, combined.

It took 15 years for the club to turn professional and another year to enter the Football League for the first time. Since their formation, the Addicks have had four spells in the top flight of English football, the most recent period between 2000 and 2007.

The Valley has been the true home of Charlton Athletic since 1919, although supporters have had to endure terrible times following their team away from the ground. For 7 years between 1985 and 1992, the Addicks groundshared with both Crystal Palace and West Ham United as a result of financial turmoil and safety concerns regarding their beloved stadium.

It took for the fans to group together and form their own political party, named ‘The Valley Party’, with the intention to nominate candidates to stand in local elections and consequently return Charlton to its rightful home. They succeeded in ’92 and in December of 2017, the Blues travelled to Charlton for a League One match which was delegated by the home side as a celebration of the club’s 25-year anniversary returning to The Valley.

Pompey however went there to spoil the party, claiming a 1-0 victory at the expense of a Josh Magennis own goal!

In recent seasons, fans have been unfortunate enough to watch on as controversial owner Roland Duchatelet mismanaged the club and refuses to invest, with many accusing the Belgian of using Charlton as his own personal experiment. Despite finally selling the club in January, nothing has changed in fact the situation has arguably gotten worse.

Consortium East Street Investments (ESI) gained control of the club despite not passing the EFL’s fit and proper owners test. However, the EFL are unable to dictate who buys and sells football clubs but do have the power to impose restrictions on them IF, like they do in Charlton’s case, deem those at the top unfit to run the business.

The Addicks have, in the past week, been threatened with expulsion from the Football League if ESI fail to provide proof of funds or do not sell the club to someone who can.

Robert Gammon has recently produced an insightful video on YouTube, explaining in great detail everything you need to know as an outsider about the mess that has unfolded at the club:

Home Ground: The Valley, Charlton (London), 103 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 27,111

2019/20 Table Position: 22nd (Relegated from the Championship) – 48 points after 46 games.

Overall Head-To-Head Record: Charlton Athletic Wins: 36 – Draws: 27 – Portsmouth Wins: 45

Previous Meeting With Pompey: Charlton Athletic 2-1 Portsmouth, 9th March 2019, League One

2020/21 Fixture Dates

Saturday 31st October, 2020 – Fratton Park

Saturday 30th January, 2021 – The Valley

Manager: Schoolboy Charlton player Lee Bowyer is still the man trusted to manage the Addicks as they head into another rebuilding campaign.

The 43-year-old, who featured for teams including Leeds United, Newcastle United and West Ham during his 18-year-long midfield career, was first named as caretaker boss in March of 2018, following the departure by mutual consent of Karl Robinson. His managerial debut was a successful one, a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle kickstarted a run of three straight wins, earning him an extension in the role until the end of the season.

The club spent a month without a manager in charge when that campaign ended, Shrewsbury Town inflicting a shock 2-0 aggregate win in the Play-Off Semi-Final to end Bowyer’s temporary tenure. He was reappointed as caretaker in June and the position was made permanent in September 2018, not long after the start of the campaign which ended in a dramatic Play-Off Final success over Sunderland at Wembley, righting their wrongs from the year before.

Bowyer lead the Addicks to an impressive start in the 2019/20 Championship season, however results started to get worse and they were relegated straight back down. Despite the technical failure, the gaffer has remained in charge to try and repeat his previous success, with fans pleased with the club’s decision to stick by him – Bowyer is a fans favourite at The Valley, respected for his down-to-Earth attitude, close ties to the supporters and attractive style of football.

One To Watch: One-time rumoured Pompey transfer target Macauley Bonne will be one to keep an eye on at Charlton this season.

The 24-year-old forward, who wears the No. 17 shirt at The Valley, joined the club in 2019 after two impressive seasons at Leyton Orient in the National League.

The Zimbabwean, who progressed through the academies of Ipswich Town, Norwich City and Colchester United, scored a respectable 45 goals in just 90 appearances for the O’s before switching allegiances.

Bonne made 33 appearances for the Addicks last term, netting on 11 occasions – a decent return for a young player whose only experience has really come from non-league, making the leap straight up to the Championship.

He spent most of last season, despite an impressive goalscoring return, behind Lyle Taylor in the pecking order to be the club’s leading option up-front. However, with Taylor now gone and Charlton now a division below, this could be the season for Bonne to take charge and assert himself as the main man to lead the forward line.

Signing of the Summer (So Far): Although the club have been under an imposed transfer embargo, they have managed to convince the EFL to ratify a couple of new signings.

Journeyman striker Conor Washington was one of them, linking up with Bowyer after spending last season at Hearts in Scotland.

But on August the 12th, highly sought after MK Dons midfielder Alex Gilbey made the switch to The Valley on an undisclosed fee, signing a 3-year contract.

The transfer ended Gilbey’s 3-year association with Milton Keynes, having joined the club from Wigan Athletic in 2017.

Gilbey is 25-years of age and promises to bring a weight of Football League experience to his new club, whilst also still young enough to be seen as a promising signing future seasons too.

He is expected to slot straight into the first-team when the new league campaign kicks off on September 12th.

Season Expectation: Charlton are usually expected to challenge within the top six in League One, tipped regularly to bounce back up to the Championship at the first time of asking and, if not, still fancied to return stronger at every attempt.

It would not be out of the ordinary for the Addicks to achieve promotion with off-field problems mounting up, they have done it before under Lee Bowyer, however it is hard to see them competing automatically with some of the big-name League One sides who ARE in comfortable positions to do so.

In reality, I truly believe that true supporters of the club are braced for an average season, so long as their future can be secured from a financial point of view – avoiding being expelled from the league altogether.

A play-off push would be the most likely target for the management team and players to aim for this season, though I am expecting them to drop off and fail to reach them by the end of May.

My Predicted Finish: 8th

Turbulence and Turmoil – Could Ownership Problems Hinder Promotion Ambitions?

Supporting any football club can be tough, every fan has experienced their fair share of ups and downs, promotions, relegations and more than likely financial difficulties. Charlton Athletic are one of a handful of clubs in the Football League currently enduring some troubled times of their own – the EFL have recently threatened the club with expulsion and the revoke of their Football League membership, the same fate Bury were condemned to around this time last year.

The only hope for Addicks supporters is that a big investor comes in with proof of funds to take over the club and clear any outstanding debt.

Lifelong Charlton fan Sam Clarke, who currently serves as Communications Officer on the Football v Homophobia Youth Panel, fills us in with an update on what could be next for the South London club.

“As it stands, Danish businessman Thomas Sandgaard looks to be in pole position to complete a takeover of Charlton. The only thing that appears to be holding that back is that Paul Elliott, whose failed the EFL’s fit and proper test halted his takeover attempt, is looking to take an injunction out that prevents the sale of the club to anyone else.”

Shamefully, Sam details just what that would mean for the future of Charlton Athletic, confirming: “This would essentially condemn us to expulsion from the league, however Sandgaard appears confident that this won’t be an obstacle for long and remains assured in completing the takeover.

“Sandgaard himself has made a good impression so far with media appearances, conversations with the Supporters Trust and discussions with a small number of fans.” – Sam continued, although further adding: “Trust issues are at an all-time high with Charlton fans in regard to owners, so many are still very cautious and don’t want to get their hopes up too much.”

It’s safe to say that, as Pompey fans, we’ve been there and done that, feeling the hurt and pain Addicks fans are going through at this time. The effects of COVID-19 can NOT be used as an excuse for what has happened at Charlton, or even Wigan Athletic or Macclesfield for that matter.

Things NEED to change and fast. This cannot continue. We must not lose any more football clubs, they represent a second home to most supporters, who attend games regularly to catch up with and meet new people.

These are strongholds for communities to come together and feel a sense of belonging, togetherness and unity. Football is not all about the 90 minutes played on the pitch once or twice a week, but the relationships and opportunities built because of those games.

Prospective new owner Sandgaard matched the currently unknown sum of money raised by protesting Charlton fans at their demonstration at The Valley on Saturday, further pushing himself into the good-books of the supporters, who are desperate to see their club begin the new campaign.

That money will act as a donation to help proceedings and the idea was for fans to each bring just £1 to the event, the same amount East Street Investments were reported to have paid Roland Duchatelet for the club in January.

Since ESI’s takeover, they have been unable to obtain the EFL’s approval to run the club, deemed not fit for control nor having the trust of the league to have the necessary funds to keep the company going, hence the severe threat of expulsion.

Things had gone from bad, to worse, to disastrous for Charlton fans this year. First ownership issues, then relegation from the Championship and now the sudden implementation of the salary cap.

The club, much like the other 23 in the division, are now unable to pay senior players in excess of £1,300 per/week. Sam believes, however, that is the least of their worries: “It is the least of our worries, with a rather confusing transfer/registration embargo still looming over the club. Negotiations with the EFL allowed us to make two signings that they would not originally allow us to make, but now it seems near impossible for us to sign anyone until our ownership is sorted out.”

Sam is also of the opinion that the departures of some big names toward the end of last season has inevitably come back to bite them in the backside: “The main problem that led to our relegation last season was losing key players and not having anyone who could fill the void they left.” – he illustrated.

“Between losing Jonathan Leko and Conor Gallagher in January, and Lyle Taylor refusing to play in the restart, we lost our three main goal threats from the in form run at the start of the season. The players who came in weren’t ready for the Championship football.”

With the club unable to sign or register players ahead of the upcoming campaign, Sam is just one of plenty of voices from SE7 to have concerns about where the club may finish in the table. Some important players have been unable to even extend their stay at the club.

“Even attempts to extend contracts are being blocked, with Naby Sarr leaving, and we are currently attempting to negotiate with the EFL to allow us to extend Adam Matthews’s contract.

“We still need more strength in depth, especially in defence, which will be our biggest problem if we aren’t able to recruit in this window.” – he continued.

Charlton have also been warned about a possible points deduction and, although Sam would refer to such a situation making a promotion bid “mission impossible”, he also sees through that and is trustworthy of the man tasked to lead his side from the dugout: “Lee Bowyer has proven that he can work wonders under challenging off-the-field circumstances. When we were promoted under him, it wasn’t exactly rosy behind-the-scenes, and even the majority of last season we looked set to stay up regardless of the mess at the very top.

“If we ARE unable to strengthen at the back, it could have a damaging effect, but Bowyer will always get the best out of what he’s got.” – Sam explained, brimming with confidence and looking at the light in a bad situation.

With all that is going on, the supporter is looking forward to the season ahead as far as on-the-field matters are involved: “It’s a really tough one to call with everything going on. Based solely on the strength of our squad, and Bowyer’s proven ability to work wonders under challenging conditions, I’d be expecting us to push right up the top of the league.”

Sam goes on to reveal the general mood among fans of the club at this stage, himself included, is grateful to possibly have a club to support next season: “At one stage we had no hope, now even with that little bit more hope, we’ll just be happy that we aren’t preparing for life as AFC Charlton.

“I see no reason why we can’t push for the title and put everything behind us. This is me choosing to be optimistic and having faith in the manager.”

Sam concluded the conversation by highlighting some key individuals who could lead the Addicks to League One success: “Alex Gilbey could be huge for us, having lost so many grafting midfielders over the last couple of years, be it through transfers like Joe Aribo to Rangers or players returning back to their parent clubs after loan spells such as Josh Cullen. Gilbey will fit in perfectly as that box-to-box type midfielder.”

He goes on to suggest: “He has proven himself at this level and will be keen to prove he can be crucial pushing at the right end of the table.

“I also think Macauley Bonne could be set for an amazing season. He wasn’t quite ready to be our main striker last time out, but was forced into it due to the absence of Lyle Taylor, first through injury and then through refusing to play.”

“He still managed to score 11 goals in his first season making the step up from the National League. Dropping down a league could do wonders for his development, and if he hits the ground running, he could be competing with the top scorers in the league come May.

You can follow Sam on Twitter – @Sam_AEC

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