Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Next Level

Recent critics of Curbs (including myself) have argued that he may not be able to take Charlton to the 'next level', however that may be defined.

If one was to sample most fans today, the most popular definition would probably be 'European qualification.' A few seasons ago it would have been 'establish ourselves as a Premiership club'.

In this regard, I couldn't help noticing that Bolton v Marseille only attracted 19,288, following on from their Sevilla tie which attracted 15,623. Middlesbrough attracted just 9,436 in the previous round against Liteks Lovetch.

To be fair to Boro's fans, Liteks Lovetch are perhaps not the biggest draw - I would struggle to guess whether people would be 'dancing in the streets' of Liteks, Lovetch or neither should the Bulgarian side ever win the Cup. However, in the case of Bolton, whilst hardly giants of European football, Marseille (especially) and Sevilla are surely attractive enough opposition to ensure a fairly full stadium? And if not, and if thus the prospect of watching your side face unfamiliar European opposition is not especially exciting, why are fans constantly badgering their Board and management to make a 'push for Europe'?

It is well-observed that most clubs sell out Premiership games fairly readily (although this trend is beginning to break down), but it does seem a little odd that 25,854 fans will show up for Bolton vs. Wigan, but far fewer for Bolton vs. Marseille. And assuming that should Charlton ever qualify for the UEFA Cup, our own attendances would be equally disappointing, then should we not re-define the 'next level'?

The Champions League is clearly a world-class competition which has delivered the types of famous nights Charlton fans can only dream of right now. Although Arsenal's plight this season has again opened up a right-royal battle for 4th place, Charlton are a long way from generating the 60+ points in a full season that is required. Moreover, as Everton proved finishing 4th is meaningless if you trip up in the pre-qualfication rounds.

Which brings me handily back to my conclusion - with the UEFA Cup such a non-event, at least perhaps until the final stages, and with the Champions League out of reach for now, then Charlton's priority in the near-term should be winning the FA Cup or Carling Cup with all the razzmatazz that a day out at the Final would bring to the fans. As a bonus of course, we would get UEFA Cup qualification thrown in as well.

The irony is that whilst Curbs may not be able to push us onto European football via the League, he can certainly do it via the Cups. It is worth noting that since we returned to the Premiership in 2000, the Carling Cup has been won by Blackburn and 'Boro, whilst Birmingham, Bolton and now Wigan have made the Final. Similarly, Charlton fans will hardly need reminding that Millwall qualified for Europe via the FA Cup.

In this context, it seems strange that we seem to under-prioritise the Cups (or at least it feels like we do given recent performances). Of course relegation would be a disaster for the club, but I would much prefer to finish say 14th instead of 8th, and win a Cup (yet the club seems to set itself up differently). There are some financial implications of such an approach of course, but any Premier League bonuses would be partly offset by the extra income a Cup run (and thus European qualification) would bring. The high 'boredom' factor experienced by Charlton fans right now would also be allieved for a while.

Hence, and here is the point of my whole post, I continue to argue that Saturday's tie with Brentford is a huge one for the club, and defeat is unthinkable. Should we win of course, the next tie will be just as huge. At some point we will have to defeat tougher opposition than Sheff Wed, Leyton Orient and Brentford, but I don't think fans will easily tolerate a tired 5th Round defeat as they did last season in similar circumstances.


At 2:37 PM, Blogger colin from welling said...

Good points NY. I think there's another way of looking at the low UEFA gates.

Without doubt financial constraint plays the largest part in affecting European attendances and to a lesser extent so does fixture fatigue - Chelsea even took out a radio advertisement to plug their CL QF with Chelsea for god's sake! However, many critics of our support, who bemoan the atmosphere in The Valley say it's in part due to a sizeable contingent who are not Charlton supporters, rather just fans football who see Charlton as a cost-effective way of watching the "most exciting league in the world"(!)

Valid point, that and it kinda ties in with low attendances for European games as it's only real fans who would go to watch a club play a European tie, especially against some obscure eastern european side.

We cannot be the only club who lists a number of 'football fans' amongst our massed-ranks, I'm sure the same can be said of Bolton and especially Boro who, since moving to the Riverside, have found ground capacity outstrips their 'real' fanbase.

At 5:13 PM, Blogger CharltonChris said...

Perhaps when they say 'The Next Level', it means finishing high enough domestically to qualify for Europe, rather than the actual European ties themselves.

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Discodan said...

Great comment NY, our cup record is shocking...pathetic is a better word, will we boss the game tomorrow? Of course not! But if we do go out it'll just be the same tired excuses (we treated Brentford the same as anyone else, they we're the better side on the day, etc.).

It's time for Curbs to stand up and be counted........saying that we'll lose 2-1 to a last minute goal and clap the Brentford players off!


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