Tomorrow (Sunday 30th April) sees the last day of the EFL season and Charlton Athletic FC play hosts to Swindon Town FC, who sadly have already been relegated from the First Division.
I always look forward to the fixture against Swindon as I worked for the Club for one very difficult and eventful, yet character building, season in 1998/1999. In fact, I will go as far as to say that the challenges I had to face and overcome during my one season at the County Ground gave me the experience and the confidence I needed to go on to achieve the success that I enjoyed when I went back to Charlton in 2000.
I said earlier that I always look forward to the game between the two clubs that I worked for during my long career in professional football but that’s sadly not true of tomorrow’s match.
While I look forward to hopefully seeing some old faces from my Swindon days, sadly the club’s relegation will inevitably mean that these are difficult times for the Club’s staff and that brings back vivid memories for me as I never knew whether I would be paid at the end of every month throughout my time at the County Ground. In fact, at the end of my very first week at the Club, the then Chairman Rikki Hunt informed all the staff that there was no guarantee they could pay the wages that month. I remember thinking ‘what have I done?’ on my long drive back home that night as I had given up my role at The Football League to join Swindon as I wanted to get back into Club football.
But that’s not the only reason that I’m not looking forward to tomorrow’s match. It is well publicised that the Charlton fans, desperately angry and frustrated with the Club’s owners, are planning another demonstration.
Obviously I’ll always defend the right of supporters to peacefully demonstrate and, as a fan, and as someone who, along with many others, worked extremely hard to keep the Club afloat when we were at Selhurst Park and then, after my return from my time at Swindon, to get the Club into the Premier League and to establish Charlton Athletic’s position amongst football’s elite; the Club’s current sad situation – languishing in the lower reaches of the First Division, losing more and more disillusioned fans each week – absolutely breaks my heart. We lost a whole generation of supporters when we moved to Selhurst Park and had to work bloody hard to win their trust back and I fear a similar situation now. However, the people who I will feel saddest for tomorrow are not the demonstrating supporters but the two sets of staff at Charlton and at Swindon.
As I said; for the Swindon staff, relegation to the Second Division will mean a period of uncertainty about their jobs – something that I experienced myself at Swindon. For the Charlton staff, they have to try and do their jobs against a backdrop of hostility that they are powerless to do anything about. They just have to carry on and try to be as professional as they can and do their best, as football club staff always do. Can you imagine what the staff at Swindon and Charlton are personally feeling at the moment?
When Club’s get into difficulties, when they go through dark periods, very little thought is ever given to the administration staff. The players have their salaries covered by loans from the PFA, but that’s not an option for the staff. The Leyton Orient fans are rightly angry with the way that the Club’s owner has put the very existence of the Club in peril but again, can you imagine what life must be like for the Orient staff? These hardworking and loyal people who haven’t been paid yet they carry on doing their best for the Club against the backdrop of inevitable anger and unrest.
So tomorrow, when you read the headlines and see the social media video postings of demonstrations by Charlton fans against the Club’s owners and possibly by the Swindon fans angered by their team’s relegation; sure, feel concerned and saddened by the plight of these two famous, great old Clubs and by all means ask what the Football authorities plan to do to safeguard Clubs from owners who may or may not have the long-term best interests of the Clubs at heart, but also spare a thought for the staff of Charlton and Swindon. It’s not their season tickets that are of most concern to them, it’s their mortgages.