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We saw during the peak of the COVID Pandemic that the absence of fans at matches rendered football totally soulless.

 

You would think that because of that those running the game and the clubs at all levels would do everything they could to show they appreciate those who are the lifeblood of the game. Put simply, fans are currently the last consideration of those in power.

 

If you look at the VAR system, more often than not big fans are left in the dark as to why a particular decision has been made and communication with fans is way down on the list of priorities of the governing bodies which only serves to undermine some of the contentious decisions that are made. In cricket and rugby for example, the process is so much more informative.

 

On Saturday I travelled to Peterborough reassured by various statements that no pitch inspections were planned and that the match would go ahead. These are difficult economic times, and many fans stretch themselves to be able to travel to away games so making sure travelling fans do not incur unnecessary expense should be a priority, but it isn’t. The match referee called the game off just 90 minutes before kick-off, and it then emerged that one half of the pitch was frozen. Officials at Charlton claim they called Peterborough on a number of occasions over two days to check the game was on and were told it was not in doubt. 

 

Most groundsmen have an intimate knowledge of their pitches so how this situation can happen is incomprehensible.

 

To his credit, Peterborough Chairman Darragh MacAnthony has apologised and promised to instigate a review of all the circumstances including the poor communication throughout the week leading up to the game and on the day from his club officials. He has also committed to pay for coach travel for the away fans for the match on the re-arranged date. 

 

It is clear that football’s governing bodies need to establish clear and transparent rules around pitch inspections and postponements that take account of the costs incurred by travelling fans. If football continues to take fans for granted, it will suffer the consequences - financial and otherwise.

 



The fans of most football clubs in this country will be hoping that during the January transfer window they will be recruiting new players either to elevate them into the promotion/play -off places or to improve their chances of avoiding relegation.


There is no doubt the best transfer deals are to be done in the summer window when the pool of players available is far greater and January is more about the movement of players who are out of contract in the summer or who are out of favour with their current clubs or where clubs need transfer income to balance the books. January is very much about short term rather than long term planning.


Fans understandably just want to see players that can improve their team. Managers exert pressure on owners to get in new players. Owners feel pressure to avoid criticism from fans as either not being ambitious enough to underpin a promotion challenge or to provide help to the manager to avoid relegation.


In January 2011, we recognised this at Charlton and concentrated on building a new squad to challenge for promotion in the 2011/12 season. But when it became clear that striker Bradley Wright-Phillips was available at Plymouth Argyle in January due to their money problems we moved quickly to secure his signature for £100k, which was a real bargain. Of course, he went on to be our top goalscorer in the title-winning 2011/12 season.


The real work took place between January and May and believe me it was a monumental effort to bring in a completely new squad. It is not just about their ability, as it is important to make sure the right characters come into the club which requires a huge amount of research and discussion with third parties. What you want more than anything is to have the basis of a good squad that you can constantly improve year on year. The team that won the League One Championship went on to finish 9th in the Championship the following season. I believe that with further investment the team would have challenged for promotion to the Premier League, but then financial issues forced a complete change of direction and led to the club being sold to Roland Duchatelet for some £18million. Fans of course hope that every day in January they will wake up to new signings but for those who have relationships with player agents, it is relatively easy to find out what business a club is seeking to do. The reality is often far different to the expectation.


Fans will hope that players can be recruited to their squad to correct current inadequacies but the wholesale change needed to create a squad that can challenge for honours is better left to the summer. This is particularly important if the money available for recruitment is limited.


David Gold was a good friend, and his death has come as a real shock. He was first and foremost a gentleman and we both loved all the banter that marked our dinners at Due Amici in Chislehurst with my close friend Karl Howman. He hated the fact that I always predicted what he would order for dinner. It was always skate washed down with a glass or two of Pinot Grigio. He never once turned down any other diner seeking a word or an autograph. We were able to confide in one another on any subject knowing that confidentiality would never be breached on either side. He invited me over to the West Ham boardroom three of four times a season and together with his family and friends the humour and camaraderie was always evident, but we always started lunch with an update on our respective health and ailments. The fact his friend Charlie from school days was always on his table was evidence of his loyalty to his friends. He loved to tell a story and I heard many of them several times! He was never precious about the poverty that defined his upbringing and never hid the fact his dad was a petty criminal who gave his mum Rose a torrid time. At the regular Premier League meetings, we formed a bond mainly because Birmingham City and Charlton shared similar views about the League, the issues facing it and its future direction of travel. Anyone who travelled to St Andrew’s was always sure of a warm welcome. The boardroom was managed by his mum Rose (who he adored), who made sure you left the stadium well fed. In fact, she always insisted you took a food parcel with you to eat in the car. Her whole focus was to make sure you had a good time whatever the result. David was naturally elated if his team won and disappointed if it lost but he was a true sportsman and was always fully respectful of his opposition guests. In recent years, he did a number of charity events for me and was always good value. If he was subjected to any form of aggressive questioning, he always handled it so well and more often than not he turned the pressure back on the questioner. David was one of the first people I spoke to when Charlton was looking for a new investor in 2010. At the time we started discussing it he was clear that he and David Sullivan wanted to buy West Ham but they felt Tony Fernandes was in pole position and that they might lose out to him. The indications were that if they lost out on West Ham then they would seriously consider Charlton. In the end, the banks got behind the bid from the two Davids and the rest is history. He loved West Ham with a passion and of course he played for them in his youth. He was fiercely loyal to his closest friends. I am going to miss his friendship and I know that his lovely partner Lesley, his daughters Jacqueline and Vanessa and their families have lost the pillar of the family. My thoughts are very much with them at this time. Rest in peace David.

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