Sunday, March 08, 2009

No Reservations

"A satisfied customer. We should have him stuffed."

This statistic will hardly come as a shock, but did you know that Charlton's
league record since Zabeel abandoned takeover talks on 23 Oct, is as follows?:

P24 W2 D8 L14 F26 A45 Pts 14

Our record this season until 23 Oct was:

P12 W4 D1 L7 F12 A16 Pts 13

Whilst we were hardly setting the world alight until then, it is almost indisputable in my view, that the pivotal moment this season was the day the Zabeel deal fell apart. Was this a mere coincidence, or is there a degree of causation?

At the time, I was tempted to bemoan the deal's collapse, but concluded generally that you couldn't miss something you never had. The veritable beautiful stranger you might fleetingly catch the eye of. The club would move on.

However everything that has happened since, and unfortunately will likely continue hereafter, is a function of the fact the club remains in limbo.

The indicative deal was announced during the week of October 6th, perhaps the week when the global financial system was closest to a total meltdown.

It all seemed too good to be true, and so it proved. At least Zabeel's stated case for not proceeding appears to have been valid.

The disappointment of the club's directors can only be imagined. Whilst it's clearly not in their interests to let the club completely disintegrate (they own virtually all of its debt and equity after all), there is also little incentive to do more than merely avoid this outcome either.

I was trying to think of a 'real world' analogy (football existing in a parallel universe as we know), and the best I can come up with is as follows.

Imagine one of those lovely country house hotels. You know the type where you might escape for a few nights of pampering, or perhaps enjoy a meal on a special occasion.

Many of these are owned by the big chains, but many are lovingly managed by individuals and their families who really care that you enjoyed your stay. If Charlton were a country house hotel, it'd be one of these.

But then picture that hotel now, a little run down these days, the decor is stuck in the previous decade and business is starting to dry up.

"I'll ruin you. You'll never waitress in Torquay again."

You had a fantastic manager who brought the best out of all of his staff, but he was determined to run a bigger hotel, and you could hardly have stood in his way.

Regretfully you were tempted to poach the manager of the nearest hotel, you know the one with that awful nouveau riche owner, and its on-site tanning salon.

You should have known better; the place has been in decline ever since it was touted as the 'hotel of the Eighties'.

"Oh, you're German! I'm sorry, I thought there was something wrong with you."

In a state of panic, you stupidly appointed the concierge as manager. With hindsight he remains a great concierge for sure, but he wasn't cut out for management.

His replacement was slightly better, but he thought he was bigger than the hotel (and the chambermaids found him creepy).

When the economy was booming however, even slightly run-down mismanaged hotels were easy to sell, either to the big chains, or to the Russians or Arabs who sought a private bolthole in the countryside.

You thought about selling up (and there were certainly plenty of offers), but the property meant to much to you just to become yet another Marriott, or the plaything of an oligarch.

You'd hold out for someone who cared about it as much as you did. Those Sheiks really seemed passionate about it however, promised to maintain its core virtues, and said you'd be welcome back whenever you felt like it.

"What I'm suggesting is that this place is the crummiest, shoddiest, worst-run hotel in the whole of Western Europe."
"No! No I won't have that! There's a place in Eastbourne."

But then the world changed, the Sheiks sent their apologies, and you'd realised you'd missed the boat. Business continued to dry up meanwhile, credit was in short supply, and your dreams of retirement were firmly on hold.

Pumping in that much-needed investment is unthinkable. After all, you're already overexposed to the hotel and it's far from clear you'll earn a return.

Meanwhile some of your investments outside of the hotel have gone sour, so it's not clear where you'd get the money from.

However, letting it simply fall into ruin is equally absurd. You have too much financial capital tied up, but more importantly you care too much just to see your life's work become derelict.

"You mean to tell me you didn't realise this man was dead?"
"Well, people don't talk much in the morning. Look, I'm just delivering a tray, right. If the guest isn't singing "Oh What A Beautiful Morning", I don't immediately think "Oh, there's another snuffed it in the night."

So instead you find an uncomfortable middle ground. You lower your costs but make sure you pay the bills. You ratchet down the expectations of your customers, and forget about those dreams of earning 'five stars'.

And of course you put up with the current hotel manager because he's cheap, he was the assistant to the previous manager, and at least he knows all the staff by name.

Neither had a problem employing temporary staff, which is good because at least they're cheap.

And you won't be splashing out on expensive new staff any time soon, thus no more of those temperamental French chefs who never show up for work.

"Is there anywhere they do French food?"
"Yes, France I believe. They seem to like it there. And the swim would certainly sharpen your appetite."

Those picky corporate types have largely stopped attending, but at least you can rely on those core regulars who have been coming for years.

You've been laying on buses for some of them, which you can tell they appreciate. They still love the place, though you'd never know it from their constant complaining, especially about the manager.

"Look, all kitchens are filthy Mr. Fawlty. Infact, the better the kitchen, the filthier it is. Have you read George Orwell's experiences at Maxim's in Paris?"
"No. Do you have a copy? I'll read it out in court."

You've been somewhat shocked at how quickly the property has deteriorated, but the cost of the upkeep is enormous.

Occasionally you wistfully look back, and wonder how that previous loyal manager kept things ticking over so well, on such a tight budget.

You dare to suggest you perhaps didn't appreciate him enough, especially when those regulars started to moan that stays had become boring.

Upon reflection, they always find something to moan about. Perhaps you shouldn't have bothered reopening the place in 1992 after those seven years of renovation.

The hotel's occupancy rate is way down, and you can only dream of filling all of the rooms, but thank goodness you didn't build that extension.

"I couldn't find the freeway. Had to take a little back street called the M5."
"Well I'm sorry it wasn't wide enough for you. A lot of the English cars have steering wheels."

It is tempting to declare bankruptcy and start again, but your creditors may be in no mood to restructure on good terms; they may just close the hotel down and convert it into flats.

So you'll just plod along, keep the thing afloat and if you go from 'four stars' to one, then so be it. When things turn around, you can always earn them back again.

Thus if one thinks of Phil Parkinson as the Basil Fawlty-esque manager of the above fictional hotel, it suddenly all makes sense. And it also means he's almost certainly here to stay.

Charlton's diabolical run of form, can perhaps best be explained as being the partly inevitable (but nonetheless unwelcome) result, of a conscious decision to run the club on the basis laid out above.

The Board attempted to patch up this season, hoping it would be enough to survive and buy some time.

The fumbled appointment of Parkinson, the absurd use of loan signings, and his constant tactical tinkering can be seen in the context of their desperate hopefulness for the best.

The above described vicious circle of underinvestment and underperformance could thus conceivably continue for some time. It does not end with another relegation.

It's perhaps some comfort that most clubs outside the top flight are facing the same challenges, but ours are especially acute.

Unfortunately our relegation from the Premiership coincided almost exactly with the start of the financial world's 'great unwind'. That could probably not be helped.

However after yet another defeat, most fans are now just desperate for a weekend break away from football. I think I can recommend a great place (though it's seen better days).

"Ah yes Mr O'Reilly, well it's perfectly simple. When I asked you to build me a wall, I was rather hoping that instead of just dumping the bricks in a pile you might have found the time to cement them together, you know one on top of the other in the traditional fashion."


At 7:53 AM, Blogger Dave said...

"And the chambermaids found him creepy" - brilliant.

At 8:32 AM, Blogger Kings Hill Addick said...

Despite the great work the community activities achieve I seriously doubt that they have added much to the footballing achievements, and they seem to have had an impact on our choice of buyer for the club.

I don't want to set myself as a target for those that have put a lot of effort into the community projects but for me it is time to focus on the football team. It means nothing to me that we are so well respected that we are invited to exclusive meetings and conferences, especially when the 'core business' is doing so, so badly.

Either way Parkinson has to go. He might be able to do better in the third division, but he should never have been kept on. Two wrongs don't make a right any if we are bottom three after ten games next season (likely with the clueless rubbish we've seen recently) we will be lucky to find a manager that will touch us.

At 8:33 AM, Blogger Suze said...

Strange how none of those previous hotel managers are at present...managing...

Thank you for bringing a smile this morning.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Billericay Dickie said...

That's brilliant NYA it sums up the situation perfectly. In fact it makes you wonder whether Phil Parkinson has used Basil as his role model for management.

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post NYA.

KHA you are spot on about the obsession with community projects. I agree entirely. It is all very commendable being community leaders in fighting crime and educating kids but the Board seem to have forgotten that we are a football club and what us fans (their customers) actually want is at least a half decent team! It looks to me as though the new CEO is so out of his depth that he just buries his head in the sand and concentrates on what he knows best - community work. To hell with the fact that the team is crap!

I'm 32 and a lifelong fan but am too young to remember the last time we were in Division 3. The reality that we are going to be there next year is so depressing.

At 1:23 PM, Blogger Taffy Addick said...

NYA, thanks for bringing a smile to my face - to temporarily relieve the gloom that has descended upon me.

The biggest mystery to me is how the Board, who have run the club so well for the past decade, could have lost the plot so much that they have compounded cock-up upon cock-up....

To select the wrong manager once is a grave error of judgement - to do so on 4 occasions in 3 years is unbelievable...
OK, the clubs finances are in meltdown (another mystery given the 2 premier league parachute payments and the money from Spurs for Darren Bent) and two of the managers have had their financial hands well and truly tied behind their backs, but for goodness sake even with the use of 36 players this season we still cannot score more goals than the opposition and fashion more than the occasional win in what is, after all, only an average league.

Remember the win over Reading at the Valley back at the beginning of the season? That was one of the best all-round performances from a Charlton team seen for years - and then it all goes down the pan. Amazing....

Where do we go from here? Well, the first division for sure. Then the Board have to bring in some new faces and money (not easy in the present climate) and the RIGHT manager. The first aim next season is to avoid the drop into division 2 and to start the long re-building of the team and the club. I can see first division football at the Valley for at least 4 years - if we are lucky....

For those that wanted Alan Curbishley to go I have just one thing to say - it doesn't seem such a good idea now does it? We would ALL give our eye teeth for his Premier league mediocracy now, wouldn't we???

At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Chris said...

Very funny! However, unfortunately, I wasn’t really able to laugh because the analogy is too close to the truth and the truth is depressing.

The management of the Hotel made a mistake in appointing Iain Dowie as Head Chef, but compounded the problem by not giving him free rein in the kitchen. He threw his pots and pans around the place and was fired for “misconduct” not because customers complained about the food he served up. He wasn’t managed well.

The thinking behind the appointment of “Burger Flipper” Reid is still a mystery, but Alan Pardew came with a good reputation and, initially, seemed very promising. However, the Hotel’s management eventually paid the price for learning the wrong lesson from the Dowie experience. Pardew was given Carte Blanche in the kitchen and when the menu became erratic and inconsistent it was very difficult to discuss the problem with him. He had no interest in changing his recipes, instead asking for more and more money even when it was clear there was none.

Having dealt with two hard-to-like and temperamental chefs the Board couldn’t face having to work with another one, especially now that finances were tight, but this led to yet another mistake. The Assistant Chef was a decent guy who everybody liked and respected and the management felt that they could work with him. The problem was that he was in the kitchen with Pardew when it all went pear shaped (excuse the pun!) and though there are no more screaming fits (Dowie) or “out-of-body” experiences when discussing the menu (Pardew), the food isn’t any better so that customers are now beginning to give up and the future of the once respected establishment grim.

What does the management do now? Hope that Parky’s dishes work better with a different market (Division One) or try to find an upcoming Chef with energy and ideas who might just reinvigorate the business before it is too late? Right now their confidence in their own ability to make that decision must be very low. I’d gamble on finding a new Chef, but then its not my money.


At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Kim Lewis said...

What an excellent piece NYA and an interesting point from Suze.

I wish Curbs would just "shut up" about how bad things have turned out, especially his comment that Charlton wouldn't have remained in the Premiership, so in other words the "rot" had set in and he was off!!

The present set-up cannot continue into League One and I hope the Board take a "blank" sheet and start again. Peter Varney is still out there, how about getting him back, that would be the first good move, next identify a up and coming manager with fresh ideas and talent. I still think Dowie was taken on because of Murray's dislike of childish was that!

I appreciate the Board have a daunting task ahead of them, but if we keep Parkinson then know doubt we face another relegation battle next season.

It is uncanny that nearly every player we take on shows great promise and within a few weeks they're a shadow of their former self.

Unlike some I do remember the old Division 3 with Hales, Flanagan and Powell at The Valley and strangely enough I found that period one of my favourite times as a Charlton supporter, or perhaps it's just nostalgia affecting me in older age! Come on "Killer" do we need someone like you now!!

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Ken Jennings said...

Having watched the last two games, I would have to say that the current "manager" is a closer match to Manuel. "I knowa notheeeeng....."


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