Local writer and CAST member Paul Breen reflects on recent events and looks forward to the Doncaster game on Saturday....
Doncaster might not be a place that on first impressions you would associate with poetry. However, if you go there for an away game and pass through the station, you’ll find quite a lot on display. Probably that is one of few remarkable facts about the former mining town that was once home to Kevin Keegan and the world’s oldest living goldfish. Not in the same house as far as we know, but both presumably within range of Doncaster Racecourse, another thing that Donny is famous for.
This coming Saturday, Doncaster Rovers are at the races against Charlton when they visit The Valley in what might have looked like a relegation six-pointer if things had stayed as they were. But with Johnnie Jackson appointed as caretaker manager in place of Nigel Adkins a new chapter is being written in the history of Charlton Athletic. So far, that has gone exactly to script with a regular foe turning up in the storyline.
Sunderland have long played the part of Dick Dastardly in the comic strip of the Addicks’ various promotion races. Last time out at Wembley, Sunday 26th May 2019, we even had some cartoonish defending as part of the plot. That day, Johnnie Jackson was amongst the backroom team - as much of a cult figure in the club as gaffer Lee Bowyer. Appropriate then for Johnnie’s first game in charge, anyone’s first game in charge, to be up against our regular pantomime villains. Because it is pantomime stuff against Sunderland, after all, compared to Millwall’s Lord Voldemort and Crystal Palace’s cup silverware-deprived Gollum.
Last Saturday, two crazy Covid-spluttering years after Wembley, everything went according to our plot for the good guys proving once again that, even though he tests us, God is surely a Charlton fan. Taking those three points off Sunderland was crucial. Having done it with a powerful, passionate and purposeful performance provided the perfect punchline. Poetry’s back in the minds of Charlton fans and not just framed on the walls of Doncaster Station. But if we’re to make the most of that unexpected victory, we’ve got to continue the momentum.
If we beat Doncaster and other results go our way, we could be out of the relegation zone by Saturday evening. Opposite ways, if Doncaster beat us, it would be a setback. It’d renew a sense of being a club in recent times that seems to go one step forward and then two steps back. Of course, one positive is that, unless Doncaster become Manchester City for the day, they’re unlikely to overturn the goal difference between us. Crewe are going to remain bottom whatever happens – but we shouldn’t even be thinking like this, surely.
Beating Sunderland shows that hopefully we’re as wrongly placed in the League One table as the time Roland Duchâtelet turned up at the same restaurant as C.A.R.D. We shouldn’t be anywhere near that end, caught up in a cluster of clubs who, with no disrespect, probably went into the season with far less ambition. That’s not to say anybody’s too big to get relegated. Out of today’s Premier League, Burnley, Brighton, Brentford and Wolves have all featured in Division Four in most of our lifetimes. Nobody’s too big to go down but it’d feel like the ultimate fall from grace to get bypassed by Sutton United or Hartlepool Smurfs.
Until the performance at Lincoln, the possibility didn’t seem quite real. Loitering at the bottom of the table was a condition we’d snap out of. Then along came Accrington and it was time to act. By all accounts, there was an immense difference between Tuesday in the darkness of The Valley and Saturday in The Stadium of Light. Changing the manager brought immediate impact, inspiring the team to perform at a level above where they’ve been coasting for most of the season. There was a pride in the shirt and an alliteration of purpose, persistence and passion in the play. Afterwards on social media, Twitter pulsed with tunes of that popular old refrain ‘We’ve got our Charlton back.’
At the same time, we don’t want to go overboard, falling into the false positivism that has shaped our season before Saturday. We don’t want to be like Manchester United in the sense of Ole Gunnar Solskjær giving fans a belief that every victory is a return to the glory days. But getting our Charlton back is a start and the defeat of Sunderland a solid platform. Possibly we are seeing the start of a script being written in which one of our greatest club heroes of recent times leads us into a new chapter. Importantly too, Jason Euell is playing his part, making this like one of those dream team scenarios. Without daring to tempt fate, perhaps it has echoes of another pairing in the early 90s. But here, the respective roles have been set out more clearly from the beginning, even though both guys have a CV that makes the job almost seem written for them.
Sometimes though the job being written for someone doesn’t always guarantee success. We only have to look at Solskjær at United - a really nice guy who could compete at the Positivity Olympics with Nigel Adkins and that’s a compliment, not criticism. But positivity alone doesn’t work in a game now shaped to a greater extent by strategy, tactics and science. There’s another vital s-word too and that’s structure. The jury is out in some quarters as to whether or not internal structures played any role in Nigel Adkins' struggles this season. Unless structures are right, as with the Manchester United situation, any manager is going to struggle whether a novice or a veteran. However, in this case, Johnnie Jackson’s prospects are strengthened by the fact of the fan base and wider Charlton family really wanting to help make this work. Formally inviting such figures into the managerial structure could be hugely beneficial.
It’d be superb to see a certain man whose name appears on a certain stand getting enlisted for mentoring. And I don’t mean Jimmy Seed, though in years to come I’d hope Johnnie Jackson was spoken of in the same breath as he, Curbs and others such as Chris Powell. Although this is just the start of a managerial journey that could go in any direction, there’s a lot of reason to be hopeful about the story so far. We just need to cement last Saturday’s foundations with a good result against Doncaster who, it has to be remembered, might not be so easily beaten. Belief though has returned and The Valley’s going to be rocking.
Paul Breen @CharltonMen