Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charlton - It's The Economy, Stupid

Having fumbled around desperately to find explanations for our seemingly inexplicably poor form, I may have come across a rather unusual one.

With all of the doom and gloom in the UK economy coinciding with Charlton’s diabolical poor form, I began to wonder if the two might infact be related.

The UK has only had three official recessions since the Second World War. A recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth, and as a result the present contraction (which began in the third quarter), is not yet an official recession.

However the three 'official' recessions occurred as follows: Jul 1973-Jun 1975; Apr 1979-Mar 1981; Apr 1990-Sep 1991.

Charlton fans of a certain age will instantly recognize all three of the above periods as being as dire for the club, as they were for the economy.


After relegation from the First Division in 1956/57, Charlton managed 15 consecutive seasons in the Second Division until relegation in 1971/72.

We did not return to the Second Division until promotion was secured three seasons later, with a 3rd place finish in 1974/75.

The interim 14th place finish in the Third Division in 1973/74 represents the lowest end-season finish for the Addicks since the 1920s. Interestingly I was born during this season, which implies I really have only known varying degrees of ‘progress’, even if at times it hasn’t felt like it.

We thus spent the entire oil-driven recession of the mid-1970s in the third tier of the Football League.


Since the aforementioned promotion in 1974/75, Charlton have only spent a single season back in the Third Division, namely in 1980/81.

The relegation season of 1979/80 is the only time Charlton have finished bottom of a division in the past 50 years.

Being the only full season played entirely in the post-Thatcher recession, it was inevitable perhaps that 1979/80 is, on so many measures, one of the worst in the history of the club.

With just six wins, the Addicks celebrated the fewest victories in its 88-year League history. And just to add insult to injury, I led the team out at home to Wrexham that season, and naturally enough we lost.


When the severe recession and housing bust of the early-1990s began in earnest in the second quarter of 1990, it was inevitable that Charlton were in the midst of a vain relegation battle.

Lennie Lawrence had worked miracles for the homeless Addicks, not only winning promotion from the Second Division in 1985/86, but preserving First Division status for four seasons.

After a nosebleed-inducing 14th place finish in 1988/89, Charlton looked set to build on this foundation the following season, picking up 6 points from an unbeaten opening 4 games. The 3-0 home win over Chelsea continues to live in the memory.

However five consecutive defeats reversed the early momentum, and despite a 2-0 home win over Manchester United in early-November, the Addicks were eventually overcome by the twin forces of the opposition and the looming economic recession.

With just 30 points from 38 games, the 1989/90 season was worse than both of the subsequent top flight relegations in 1998/99 (36 points) and 2006/07 (34 points).

The following 1990/91 season, played entirely during a recessionary period, did not result in a relegation but the 16th place finish (registering just 13 wins), represents the worst finish from the ten we have played in the League’s second tier since then.

The current season looks very likely to challenge the above statistic of course, but then again we’re almost certainly in another recession.


This is all a bit of data-mining fun of course, but is it possible that there is actually a slight correlation, as opposed to a mere coincidence?

During the final boom times that precede an inevitable recession, there is a natural tendency for companies and individuals to take irrational financial risks, for which they must eventually repent.

This was never more amply demonstrated than during the present cycle of course, but was probably true of the earlier cycles too, when Charlton were considerably less well-run than we are today.

This tendency would surely be true of all clubs however, not merely Charlton and indeed one can think of several clubs that took crazy risks during the latest boom. Leeds were the highest profile example of course, but for many, the day of reckoning is still to reveal itself (West Ham anyone?).

However I think one can make a reasonable case that suggests that in the specific case of Charlton, because its boom times on the pitch coincided exactly with the economic boom times (2000-2007), we may be suffering particularly acutely during the present bust.

This is for two reasons. Firstly of course, we screwed up that vital 2006/7 season in numerous ways. The fact that this difficult transitional season occurred at the tail end of the boom is merely bad luck of course, but the club’s willingness to let Dowie splash the cash, suggests a degree of internal financial euphoria for which we are still feeling the effects.

Secondly and more relevantly however, did Charlton take disproportionate risks more generally during the boom years, believing that success would always continue, crowds would always rise, and thus debts could always be repaid?

Certainly at times the club very visibly got ahead of itself, not least when it was seriously contemplating an increase to a 40,000 capacity stadium, a decision that I vehemently opposed. Those extra seats were not needed then, and certainly are not required now.

Meanwhile, whilst our transfers and players wages never felt excessive relative to the rest of the Premiership, we may be guilty of selective memory. Curbishley for example spent at least £1million on 13 different players* from 2000-2006, and that was before the likes of Faye and Traore were more than a twinkle in Richard Murray's eye.

The present recession threatens to be both long and deep, which does not bode well for Charlton if history is any guide. With the team not playing until Monday, any Addicks fan worthy of the name must head straight to Bluewater, and do his or her utmost best to shop our way out of recession. Your club needs you.


*Jensen, Johansson, Bartlett, Euell, Young, Rowett, Rommedahl, Murphy, Jeffers, El Karkouri, Bent D, Ambrose, Bent M.


At 1:31 PM, Anonymous RDH said...

very true the current board have an uncanny resemblance to the Labour government.....seemingly running very smoothly in the good years even though they were borrowing excessively, only for their real aptitude to be uncovered in more troublesome times....(for the current recession see the moment Curbs left onwards)
Maybe a risky Keynesian attitude, not unlike that of the present government's is needed (investment in the team short-term) which maybe risky but could pay dividends in the long run???
Unfortunately I have a strong suspicion this will be as successful as Brown and Darling's hope to kickstart our overleveraged economy
Its a shame the board dont have the ability to print money, quantative easing would be extremely useful at present, providing the extra money is invested in the long term(ie youth set up) and not wasted on yet more average loan signings


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