Local author and CAST member Paul Breen considers the club's recruitment in the transfer window, with a particular emphasis on the strikers.
Charlton wrapped up the transfer window and headed into the winter with the likes of pint-sized defender Ian Maatsen and striker Paul Smyth as part of our latest batch of signings. With some fans having expected bigger names, there’s been a lot of chatter and debate on social media. Some are seeing the squad as a glass half-full, while others are seeing the same half-empty. Probably we’re somewhere in the middle, with plenty of hope and opportunity for a crack at promotion in this strange season.
After Thomas Sandgaard’s acquisition of the club, we found ourselves intoxicated by the prospect of better days. But no matter how much money or enthusiasm an owner has, down here in League One he has to abide by Financial Fair Play regulations. Salary Cap rules have forced us into a new system of housekeeping just when it feels like we’ve won the lottery. That’s one reason why we’ve not gone out on a Supermarket Sweep. As well as that, Bowyer’s shown himself to be a long-term thinker. He’d clearly got a shopping list drawn up with Steve Gallen for a long time and wasn’t going to rip that up and start again.
It looks as if these new guys have all been long-term targets. They’re players who fit in with Bowyer’s style and system. Several of them are reflections of himself, hard workers who’ll give their all. Some people might have preferred the flair of Boreham Wood’s Sorba Thomas to the physicality of Omar Bogle, but if he can replicate some of the form of his early years with Solihull Moors and Grimsby Town, Bogle is a powerful addition to the squad.
The same can be said of Paul Smyth, the Northern Irish international striker who has joined us on loan from QPR. Although not the most prolific of strikers so far, he is only 23 and three years into a move from across the water. The average standard of the Irish League’s not much higher than League Two at best. Usually, it takes time for young Irish players to adjust as seen in this book worth checking out, on players south of the border. Paul Smith’s got a lot of potential and has just been unlucky so far in never really getting an extended run in the teams he has been with.
Even with Northern Ireland he hasn’t done much wrong, scoring the winner in one of only two games that he has played for them. Signifcantly with that, Conor Washington was on the field at the same time. Although also a Northern Ireland international, he’s in a slightly different boat to Paul Smyth. He’s famed as the man who’d never been to Ireland before his international call up. But unlike Paul Smyth who’s waiting in the wings to grab his chance, Conor Washington showed early promise and then drifted slightly – a lot like Josh Magennis in the times before he joined Charlton. Recently though he seems to have found form again for both The Addicks and Northern Ireland, so that’s a positive too.
Alongside Chuks Aneke, these new guys could create a quartet of healthy competition over the autumn. Okay, none of them are Lyle Taylor but then for better or worse from pink hair and crucial goals to contentious tweets, nobody else is ever going to be Lyle Taylor. He’s gone to forests anew, never to be forgiven for not taking on the role of the Robin Hood who could have saved our season.
Instead of looking back, we have to look forward – taking on some of the Chrissie Powell spirit in the 2012 season when we also got a bunch of new players. Then, Chrissie Powell built a team in his image and look how that worked out. Lee Bowyer’s done the same now in more difficult circumstances, with the added handicap of only getting everything together at the last minute. One or two in this group might not work out. That even happened in 2011/12. Who remembers the mysterious Mikel Alonso, brother of Xabi? After his signing, I’d imagine by his name alone most of us expected bigger things of him than Bradley Pritchard. Then we saw him in a game against Brentford and it was a case of adiós.
This season some will rise, some will shine and some will fade away, coming and going in moments that illuminate our Saturdays destined to be spent on Valley Pass for quite a while to come. That’s a hard thing for the new players too I imagine, having to gel and integrate into a team without the boost of a crowd behind them. Right now, the stadiums seem soulless and it must feel as if you could be playing for anyone. There’s something missing, something mutual for fans and players alike. When you’re a player, it must be such a buzz to hear the fans chanting your name and realising you’re a part of the Charlton family now, even if you’re only here on a season’s loan from QPR or Manchester United. And it’s the same for the fans, that physical act of chanting, banting and welcoming these new guys into the fold.
Regarding that, it’s an absolute injustice that we see the London Palladium full of the prawn sandwich brigade to watch an evening with Arsene Wenger, but football stadiums remain empty. The inconsistency is staggering and shocking - once again treating football supporters as being incapable of social responsibility. Today as I write this, as far as I know, we can take a train to Manchester or Liverpool and catch a flight to Belfast, but even a few hundred of us can’t spread out across an open-air ground to welcome this batch of new signings into the Charlton fold.
Looking on the positives at least we can have cheaper beer and brands of our own choosing not served in plastic glasses and we can welcome new blog sites such as Drinking Throughout the Game and Muffled Voice of the Valley (if wearing our masks). Hopefully there’ll be plenty to write about and shout about over the course of the coming season. Already, the latter fanzine has pointed out how the departure of Macauley Bonne has barely raised a ripple of discontent. Worth remembering too that when Macauley joined us, few of us were cracking open the last bottles of champagne from the post play-off parties. He was probably seen as our third or fourth choice striker at the outset but he developed over time into a consistent Championship striker.
I’m expecting Lee Bowyer to develop the current crop in the same way, without drawing too many comparisons to the past. That after all seems another country right now, where we could spit into each other’s faces with post-match analyses in The White Swan, plotting our latest revolution against the dictatorship. We’ve got a decent bunch of players that might not include all of those we’d have liked, but we’re good enough to make a push for promotion I reckon. Hopefully then, much as I’d love trips to old haunts such as Plymouth, Northampton and Gillingham, I’m hoping that by this time next year we’ll have put a bit of social distance between ourselves and League One. I’m sure we’ll all drink to that.
Paul Breen is on Twitter @CharltonMen and is the author of Charlton related books.