So far this summer we have seen very few new faces arriving at The Valley, but the season ahead still has promise on the horizon. Last year, after relegation from the Championship, some of us looked forward to the glories of Rochdale whilst others had dreams of sending the Belgian owners to Coventry. This time around, as happens every season, seven of our opponents have changed, with most of these being quite familiar to us in recent times anyway, hopping between the various divisions. Seems not that long since rains rescued us from a slog in the mud against Doncaster Rovers, or back further when Chrissie Powell press-ganged Bradley Wright Phillips from the port of Plymouth Argyle.
Of course, as we await the release of the fixture list, we have lost a day trip through cages and chemical plants to see our lovely neighbours from South Bermondsey, and kept the long journey up to Bradford instead. Already I’m looking forward to the prospect of the coach winding its way up towards West Yorkshire. Considering that Bradford has won a record breaking six consecutive awards as The Curry Capital of Britain, protestors can have their first official CAFC Curry Evening in years!
Mind you, if that happens, I think I’m staying the night in Bradford and not catching the bus back home. Smells on the three hour journey down the road after beer and curry could be even worse than the whiff of success coming out of The Den.
Anyway we are keeping the journey to Bradford, regardless of whether or not we have a pit stop for curry along the way. And we’re keeping Rochdale too, with its echoes of the lovely Anna Friel (or Gracie Fields for those of an earlier era). But we are losing trips to Bolton and Sheffield, gaining Blackburn and Wigan instead. Suppose though we should be thankful about heading up to Ewood Park and the stadium built by steel magnate Jack Walker. At one point towards the end of the season as we slipped perilously close to the bottom four, it looked like we might have been heading five miles east of Blackburn to Accrington.
Thankfully though it’s Ewood Park we are destined for, and probably the scene of joint protestation against owners as happened last year at Coventry. This time, there’s even the opportunity of a three-way protest, with Blackpool back in the foray and still in the same boat with their owners. Ownership battles aside, there will be plenty hoping for the luck of the draw to fall on our side when the League One fixture list is released on June 22nd.
A sunny weekend in Blackpool, whether in August or April, would illuminate hopes for the season, and give us the chance to use our beach balls for something other than protests on home soil. It could even provide the scene of a spin-off in our ownership soap opera – in the style of those they used to have in Coronation Street – something big and scandalous involving tram chases and Bet Lynch swanning back into town. However I’m not sure who the Charlton equivalent of Bet Lynch is, or if we even have one!
Sunny weekends would be welcomed for visits to Plymouth and Portsmouth too, though I doubt there is enough English sunshine in a year to go around all these places in a single season. Portsmouth, as League Two champions, could be worth more than a visit for the sake of sunshine and the sea. They are a big club on the rise once again, and could be dark horses for a promotion challenge. Hopefully we will be up there as well, and would be great to see an Easter weekend offering of two away games down on the south coast with a couple of days between them.
Next season Easter Sunday is on April 1st, which as we all know is also the day when we celebrate our owner’s deep knowledge of English football, or any football for that matter. But if we are lucky with the fixture list and the weather, a visit to Portsmouth on the Friday would be good so that there’s the chance of a weekend in the Isle of Wight, and then down the coast to Devon for Monday.
This year’s pack of teams promoted from League Two have a very distinct seaside feel about them, though Doncaster bursts that bubble slightly. The closest beach is Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire, about 45 miles away, so it’s not going to make much difference whether we’re sent there in hail, rain, or shine by the powers that be. Rotherham is another place that we might well see as a wasted journey on a fine weekend, but apparently it’s famous for its brass bands, and had ambitions to be culinary capital of the UK; having been the setting for Jamie Oliver’s Ministry of Food TV show. It will be interesting then to see if the pies at The New York Stadium can compete with the curries we’re having in Bradford!
Probably though it will be a wet weekend in Wigan that comes to define our season, somewhere in the bleak midwinter when we are at that point where we’re playing our usual snakes and ladders with the league table. If Karl Robinson brings in the right players and gets a strong enough squad in plenty of time to prepare them before the pre season tour of Ireland, we could mount an assault on the play off zone right from the off. But if we go into the season with a limited squad again and lots of loanees, then we could well be found wanting once we are back in the hard slog of winter. I fancy Wigan to be one of the main promotion contenders for the second time in three seasons, and it’s in places like the DW Stadium up there that our abilities are likely to be measured.
But we shall wait and see. It could be a tougher division this season, with all three promoted clubs from League Two stronger than last time around, and some of our mid to lower table rivals already splashing out the cash in pre season. Bury have already signed up former Preston striker Jermaine Beckford and last season’s Scunthorpe captain Stephen Dawson. Like Portsmouth they could well prove to be outside contenders for promotion and it will be interesting to see where they are in the table by the time we head up to the edge of Manchester to face them.
Last year we got Bury early on, in the sun. This year, I am hoping that the fixtures are kind to us and we get to renew acquaintance with our seaside rivals in the sunshine. But wherever we go on our travels, away days are always great, whether in Anna Friel’s Rochdale or Rotherham’s New York Way. See you on the bus to Bradford then, but not sitting beside you on the way back!
Paul Breen is the author of The Charlton Men – available on Amazon and by direct order.