"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."