Footballing horror stories often involve one depressing afternoon where a team ships goals left, right and centre leaving the fan alone amongst empty seats, miserable and forlorn about a dismal home performance. But Charlton Athletic fans witnessed a horror show that ran for the best part of three years. The capitulation of the team during its slide towards League One was undoubtedly a dismal thing to sit through.
The prelude to this nightmare was, in itself, a frightening spectacle, not least because Iain Dowie would not look out of place pitching up on a doorstep asking for sweets, terrifying anybody unfortunate to greet him. Dowie masterminded a transformation at the club following the departure of Alan Curbishley. It was a shocking change, rooting the club in the relegation zone. The defeats racked up, but it could be argued the most startling occurrence was that he paid 4 million British pounds for Amdy Faye and Djimi Traore. The horror.
Following Dowie’s departure in November, Les Reed was instilled as his replacement. As Reed was assistant under the previous manager, his arrival in the manager’s office can be likened to the nightmare where you think you’ve woken from it, but haven’t. Reed lasted seven games, with just the one lonesome victory. The very considerable low point was defeat at home in the League Cup Quarter Final to League Two side Wycombe Wanderers.
At full time, I recall programmes, scarves and season tickets being pelted at the pitch, such was the level of rage being felt in the stands. But Wycombe would become regular opposition in years to come, such was the extent of this footballing nightmare. Mercifully, Reed resigned on Christmas Eve, but his replacement Alan Pardew has hardly gone down in club history as the man who saved us. On the contrary, he is vilified almost as much as Reed, if not more.
The capitulation of the team during its slide towards League One was undoubtedly a dismal thing to sit through
Pardew’s side initially showed fight, but rebuilding phase in the Championship went badly wrong, and a slump from 3rd to 11th at the end of his first full season was not remedied for in the next. Seven games without a win culminated in the catastrophic 2-5 defeat to Sheffield United at The Valley. The full-time whistle saw Pardew subjected to huge jeers and derision, as he walked towards the tunnel clapping the fans. He resigned/was sacked overnight. This had to be the end. But no. The board thought Reed had done superbly when he moved from assistant to manager, so Phil Parkinson was given eight games to prove himself.
Three wins and five defeats later, he was deemed perfect for the job. Financial constraints may have forced the board’s hand, but it was surely suicide to let the club slide into League One and lose the revenue streams of the Championship. Sitting through the rest of the season was torturous. He extended our glorious winless streak to a stunning eighteen games, before finally deciding that having achieved a new club record; he should probably try winning for once. But the damage was done. Misery was heaped upon those who, somewhat inexplicably, decided to stay and watch as the club nosedived into League One.
While the next two years offered a few more victories than the hopelessly barren spell of the 08/09, the level of football meant that fans were subjected to broadsides of abuse from rivals. Playoff defeat at the hands of Swindon Town was compounded by a stuttering first half of the next campaign. Even Chris Powell struggled to lift the squad inherited from Parkinson, and a 13th placed finish in 2010/11 marked, thankfully, the end of the horror show. Powell found his own players, and lifted the club brilliantly. Few would argue that it was worth the fall, but the beginnings of a revival are hugely welcome. Anything to lift the gloom.
What makes the horrors of this period in the club’s history more painful is that despite week after week of despair, oddly many of us kept attending in the hope things would improve. It was like witnessing a car crash in slow motion with a complete inability to turn away and escape. It must have been an incredibly slow-motion crash given the horror show lasted for the best part of five years.
Financial constraints may have forced the board’s hand, but it was surely suicide to let the club slide into League One and lose the revenue streams of the Championship. Sitting through the rest of the season was torturous
Thankfully, Chris Powell arrived and managed to wake the club from its nightmarish stupor. But the mental scars live on inside everyone who had to put up with copious amounts of abuse, derision and mockery.
Just remember, when you, foolishly, open your door and feign mild shock at a poorly dressed skeleton asks you for a packet of mints, you are escaping the true horror that can be witnessed in football stadia across the land. Given the pain inflicted on us in this brutal five-year nightmare, the likes of Dowie, Reed and Pardew would consider themselves hugely fortunate if when knocking on a Charlton fan’s door tonight they managed to depart with a packet of Minstrels.
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