Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Charlton bigger underachievers than Newcastle

I have come across an interesting report produced by the Football Pools. It seeks to definitively assess on an objective basis, which clubs are clear 'overachievers', and which are the 'underachievers.'

Using the start of the 1992/1993 season as a starting point, it seeks to place all 92 clubs on an equal footing, and then rank their subsequent achievements based upon a complex dynamic set of statistics such as attendances, stadium capacity, financial stability, transfers and League/Cup performances.

I had assumed that Charlton would be ranked very highly, yet we are placed in just 54th position below such great overachievers as Newcastle and Aston Villa. It is difficult to argue with the top five however, comprising Doncaster Rovers, Portsmouth, Reading, Hull and Wigan. Fans of Manchester City, Coventry, Forest, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday can hang their collective heads in shame however.

If my understanding of the basis of calculation is correct, then it is really a rather clever analysis since it does not base for example Charlton's achievements in the context of our dire situation in August 1992, but adjusts expectations upwards as we begin 'achieving'. The boo-boys at the Valley will be familiar with this approach.

August 1992 was chosen as a starting point, because it coincided with the launch of the Premier League. Although Charlton were still playing their home games at Upton Park, we had achieved a miraculous 7th place finish the prior season, despite fears of a relegation battle as Alan Curbishley and Steve Gritt began their managerial careers. As a result, our base benchmark was set somewhat higher by virtue of this 'outlier' season.

Given that we finished 11th in the Championship last season (and are even worse placed today), an impartial observer would conclude based upon these two pieces of data alone, that the club had gone backwards during the last 15 years. Indeed, strictly speaking they would be correct although it somehow doesn't feel as though we have.

Interestingly, the analysis sets each club's starting index at 100 and then lists season-by-season their revised index, so fans can see when their club was over or underachieving. For those without the inclination to review the full report, this is how our index has fluctuated:

End Season
1992/93 - 95
1993/94 - 97
1994/95 - 93
1995/96 - 99
1996/97 - 92
1997/98 - 95
1998/99 - 91
1999/00 - 100
2000/01 - 114
2001/02 - 111
2002/03 - 111
2003/04 - 115
2004/05 - 106
2005/06 - 104
2006/07 - 99
2007/08 - 94

For the purposes of this report, Charlton seemingly suffer unduly for having returned to the Valley in Dec 1992, thus ratcheting up reasonable expectations. This trend presumably continued as attendances increased, and financial stability improved.

Thus although it seems implausible, the report suggests that by the time we won the Division One title in 1999/2000, the club had merely met expectations over the prior eight seasons. It certainly didn't feel like that, but then again perhaps fans of all clubs overestimate the extent of their achievements, and certainly there were several mediocre seasons inbetween at The Valley.

However it is difficult to argue with the conclusion that the end of the 2003/04 season (when we finished 7th in the top flight) represented the pinnacle of our achievements since 1992/93. This would be true whether on an absolute basis (which it was by definition), or on a relative basis (which this report backs up).

Thus had this report been produced at the end of 2003/04, we would have ranked below only Arsenal, Wigan, Cheltenham, Walsall, Accrington Stanley, Aldershot and Gillingham in terms of achievement up until then. If Curbs had literally gone out at the top, how would his successor have fared then?

Our absolute and relative deterioration since is painfully obvious. Certainly 20th place in the Championship represents the lowest point in our recent history in a footballing sense. Seen in terms of 20,000+ crowds and a modern stadium, the conclusion is clear and the situation needs to be urgently addressed. In the meantime, let's just hope they don't intend to produce this report on an annual basis.


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