CAST board member Paul Breen reflects on today’s events:
Though we might not always speak in a single voice as Charlton fans, tonight we are seeing a chorus of condemnation from across the broad spectrum of our support base. Even if the sacking of Ben Garner may be no great shock in some respects, the timing has been unfortunate, thirty years to the day since we returned to our hallowed ground of The Valley.
There are some dates in life more memorable than others - dates that set the heart racing whenever you think of them. Amongst the Charlton fanbase the 5th of December is one - more important maybe than the 25th of December or, even in the midst of this winter World Cup, more important than 30th July 1966. It's a date that everyone associated with Charlton knows well, a kind of 1066 or the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month stamped into the club's history. It's that important.
Simultaneously too, we attach a great deal to being a club with decent values. Most of our fan base grew up with the certainty that, even if we weren't top of the league, we were a decent little club who did things well and punched above our weight at times not because of our stature but because of our spirit. Alan Curbishley personified that spirit. But since he left his role at the helm, we have had enough bums in the managerial seat to fill an entire rugby team.
The tendency of late has been to greet each new appointment as if they were a Messiah. But behind this looking on the bright side of life, we're becoming more like The Life of Brian. Perhaps the alarm bells should have started ringing with the departure of Lee Bowyer who seemed quite quickly to accept the old mantra that if it's too good to be true, it probably is. He'd been in the game long enough to know that second hand car salesmen often promise a Range Rover but deliver a donkey and cart. But ... we accepted the decision to appoint Nigel Adkins, the chosen one despite reservations. Then when he proved not to be the saviour, we went for the stability of club legend Johnnie Jackson in time for last Christmas.
To some extent Johnnie had elements of Ole Gunnar Solskjær in his profile but he was Proper Charlton as the saying goes. Though he didn't set League One on fire, he made a decent effort and showed capability for development. But he too parted company with the club to be replaced by a new and proper, permanent, carefully-chosen Messiah. Though some voiced doubts about the appointment of Ben Garner, most swallowed the positivity pills and welcomed him with open arms.
We gave him the benefit and hoped, prayed even, that he would turn out to be the chosen one. But something felt wrong from the start, even with pronouncements made in the Fans' Forum. He never seemed to be quite in charge in a four way democracy where two parts sang from an identical hymn sheet, being father and son. The input of Thomas Sandgaard as owner is an inevitable part of today's football environment but the role and influence of Martin Sandgaard appears to be a major stumbling block to any manager having meaningful control of affairs. The exact nature of his influence around the training ground has never been specified but it is one that is at odds with any sense of managerial freedom.
The consensus is that Ben Garner was never happy once he realised the limitations of his powers to control things and his limited budget, with which he found it impossible to fight for promotion. It must also be added that he had no real promotion-winning pedigree to begin with but the Sandgaards saw something in him that deemed him to be a special one. If Andy Reid once got nicknamed the Puskas of Plumstead, maybe Ben Garner took on the unfair position of Ferguson of Floyd Road. Nonsense pronouncements were made about imitating Liverpool and Manchester City with high pressing football as if we could turn B & M Bargains on the Woolwich Road into Harrods overnight. But we believed and we kept the faith ...
And now with Ben Garner's dismissal this feels like the straw that has broken the camel's back. The owner moves from fighting one fire to the next and obsesses about owning the stationery cupboard when the building is on fire - because the elephant in the room is the fact that Roland Duchâtelet still owns all of the infrastructure.
Right now the club is in a dark, dark place and few in the fan base have any faith in the Sandgaards having any sense of holding the torch that can lead us out of that darkness. Ben Garner was never going to be any kind of saviour or upgrade on Johnnie Jackson. We knew that but bit our tongues. Now we are speaking up because we need to do something to halt the slide towards the quicksand of mediocrity that threatens to engulf us.
The owners need to work more with those who know something about football. They need to listen to voices of experience and wisdom, those who understand the British game and the culture and conditions in which it operates. There can be no more fantasies about quick fixes, Messiahs and promotion on break-even budgets. There has to be some serious reflection on the part of the owners, asking themselves why they have got this so badly wrong. And the sacking of a manager on 5th December is an act that shows just how wrong and just how clueless they are as regards to the club’s values, what's needed and how they are perceived.
Manager-less in Morecambe Bay we may well be. All at sea and rudderless we certainly are.