Last week, Football League World got the chance to meet former Charlton Athletic defender and manager Chris Powell, who was opening a brand new pitch at Northolt High School as part of his ambassadorial duties for The Football Foundation.
The Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, through the Football Foundation, awarded a grant of £288,034 to go towards refurbishing an old pitch and create a new, floodlit 3G pitch.
Working with the Middlesex FA, the Football Foundation have produced a five-year development plan that allows for adult five-a-side on a pay-and-play basis, Northolt High School to use the new pitch for sporting activities and Brentford FC Community Sports Trust to hold Premier League Kicks sessions and run a weekly Futsal programme.
Could you tell us a bit about where we are and what you’re doing today, Chris?
As part of my remit as a Football Foundation ambassador, I’m officially opening a new facility at Northolt High School. So I’ve been meeting all the kids! It’s a fantastic facility that will not only be used by the school but by the local community as well.
And how important is it that the Premier League & Facilities Fund, through the Football Foundation, continue investing in top class facilities like the new one at Northolt High School?
It’s of paramount importance because we want to engage our your kids. The Football Foundation, the Premier League and the Football Facilities Fund have put a number of pitches up all over the country and we know that will keep happening throughout the years to come. We want boys and girls and young men and young women to be engaged and play football and we know sport can help communities. So it’s fantastic that I’m here, seeing the boys and girls today, and hopefully that will be replicated around the country.
At this point in the article, it’s probably time to come clean. I’m a Charlton Athletic fan born-and-bred, the kind of Charlton Athletic fan who refers to Powell as Sir Chris, and when he was sacked by Roland Duchatelet in March 2014, I was left heartbroken.
But losing a club icon was just the start of the misery for us Addicks. Since then, Duchatelet has hired the same number of managers, five, as we’d had in the previous 23 years (excluding caretakers) overseen endless overhauls of playing personnel and even converted our ticket office into an NHS call centre – not to mention appoint a chief executive, Katrien Meire, who referred to the fan base as ‘customers’.
Charlton are now eleven points adrift from safety in the Championship with just four games left to go and at this point, it would take a miracle for us to avoid relegation back to League One. But just like when Sir Chris was axed two years ago, it feels the problems at The Valley are only just beginning.
Can you see any positive future under the current owners?
Sadly, I can’t. It really hurts me to say that. I was fortunate enough to be their manager and in my first full season we got out of League One after three years there, so it always hurts to go back down – especially when you look at the stadium and the Premier League years. I think all the supporters just want some answers to questions. They’d like to know exactly what is happening with their club. It is their club – they’re the ones that turn up week-in-week-out and pay their money. And like all good clubs, when there’s a good relationship and a good synergy between the fans and the people run the club, it can only bode for success.
Take a look at Leicester City, their owners and how they’ve approached owning that football club. They’ve done things the right way and I think they’re a club that is starting to lead the way for others to follow. Charlton have to make some sort of leap now, because the supporters quite clearly don’t identify with the team and that must be very hard for them to take. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if they’ll be able to sustain their Championship status so that’s really disappointing. They still have a chance but it’s a very slim chance. It looks like they’re going to have to rebuild and start again in League One.
The biggest frustration for fans is the feeling that the club has lost its identity. Did you anticipate the start of that process during your two months under Roland Duchatelet?
Yes, I did. At the time, I shielded my staff, the club and the supporters. I remember going to supporters’ club meetings and thinking I couldn’t really tell them exactly what I felt. But they know now – they know I had two months and I didn’t agree with a lot of what was said. But that’s what I felt was right for me to do.
Since then, the club have had a number of managers, five or six, and numerous players have come and gone – it just doesn’t work. You need to have an identity; you have to understand the actual club that you’re buying because all clubs have their own ways of treating their supporters and how the club is run.
Anyone that brings money into a football club, you can’t deny them – they’ve earned their money and they’re big in their field. But to have an understanding of a football club,I think is the number one factor for anybody going into it and that just hasn’t happened at Charlton. It’s a real shame because it used to be the model for everyone else.
Do you think the FA, the Football League or the Premier League should be doing more to stop owners who aren’t working in the best interests of fans?
That’s hard for me to say. There are rules and regulations and you want those adhered to and you want people to be rightful of the particular club they’re going into at whatever level, so you just hope that people come in for the right reasons – they’re football people, they want the club to improve on and off the field and they want to do things in the right way. That’s what you want in football.
Like I said, Leicester have found the right way of doing it and its given them success and maybe the success no one could have ever have envisaged at the start of the season. They were in League One when I was there, they got promoted and the club was sold in the Championship. But the new owners came in and wanted to know more and more about the football club. It took them a while but they went in and they understood the area, they understood the fans. That’s all you want from any owner and anyone that runs a football club.
Angered, frustrated and confused, Charlton fans have taken matters into their own hands over the last few months, with CARD – the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet – orchestrating protests both on and on the pitch. A mock funeral, with the casket displaying the Charlton crest, was held ahead of a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough in March, whilst the start of a Championship clash with Birmingham earlier this month was delayed as fans threw stress balls onto the pitch. But not every Addick is fully on board with the protests, especially those during games, as the club desperately clings onto second-tier survival.
From the perspective of a player or manager, could they cause as much harm as good?
Whether you agree or not with the protests, I think the fans are now saying they just want to be heard. They would like to have answers to many questions before they give up their hard-earned money again for the season tickets next year. They’d like to know what’s the plan and what’s the future so if that’s their way of venting their frustration, then that’s their decision. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m not saying that what they’re doing will help – but what they’re doing is making themselves known, that they’re not happy and not just sitting there saying ‘ok, we’re alright with everything that’s going on’.
When Charlton plummeted into the third tier under Phil Parkinson in 2009, it was Powell who eventually brought the club back to the Championship – and in rather emphatic style. Charlton amassed an incredible 101 points as they lifted the 2011/12 League One title, the most the South East London club have ever claimed in a single season, and finished up eleven points clear of the playoff spots. So if anybody knows how the Addicks can turn their fortunes around and get back to the Championship at the first time of asking, it’s unquestionably Powell.
What’s the biggest challenge for a club like Charlton in winning promotion back to the Championship?
The biggest challenge when you’re in League One, for a club like Charlton, is that everyone’s thinking you’re a scalp – everybody sees you as the big club in the division. So when they go to your stadium, they’re happy to walk away with a point and if they get three even happier.
That happened when I was at Charlton; you have to make your home a fortress, you have handle the pressure of being the favourites in every game; but we’ve seen it doesn’t always work. It took Leeds United three seasons, it took Southampton two, it took Charlton three and Sheffield United are still in League One. It’s not easy.
Of course, you have to recognise that you do have the fans, you do have the better infrastructure, but that doesn’t win you points – you have to go out and earn them. You have to embrace the league, understand where you are, not talk about former glories and get on with where you’re at. We handled it, it was a very good year – one of the best years of my managerial career – but now Charlton will have to take stock and do it all over again unfortunately.
The 46-year-old is a rare breed, and not just because he’s one of English football’s few remaining nice guys. His sacking as Huddersfield boss in November reduced the entire Football League to just four black managers – one of which, Ricardo Moniz, was let go by Notts County a month later. But having two jobs in the space of four years is still relatively good going for ethnic minority managers compared to the current norm in English football.
Why do you feel you’ve succeeded where others have struggled in finding opportunities?
Well I haven’t succeeded, I haven’t got a job at the minute! But I think sometimes you just need an opportunity. I was given that by Nigel Pearson at Leicester, to become a coach at the end of my playing career, and I embraced that. I took that on board and got myself qualified and got every qualification – including my pro licence. Then I interviewed for the Charlton job, got it and like everyone else you have to be successful.
After my first half-season of sorting out the club and the players and building a new squad, we were successful, broke numerous club records and it was great – I completely embraced managing and coaching and organising. But it was a club that I had an affinity with which I think does help. I know a lot of people think it’s not always the best thing to do but I felt it was important for me to do that.
We went on into the Championship and as a manager you just want backing. But I’ve always felt that the previous owner didn’t really give me the backing to build. We actually had the momentum to really push on, possibly get into the top six and from there the Premier League – which is where every Charlton fan wants to be again.
But I wasn’t able to build on that, he sold up, obviously Roland Duchatelet came in and he decided, like a lot of takeovers, that he wanted his own man to take the team. That was tough because I felt there was unfinished business for me at Charlton, but then I moved onto Huddersfield and got an opportunity because of what I’d done before.
They were in the bottom three, stayed up quite comfortably and had the best finish in 15 years, and I felt again that I could build on that. But it’s just the nature of the business sometimes that people want to go down a different route – that’s fine because you make sure you keep believing in yourself and know you’ll get another opportunity again to show your quality.
So it doesn’t matter really in regards to colour. But I know people want more black managers and I think you have to have role models as well. So hopefully I may inspire one or two others to get into coaching and management at the professional level.
The Rooney Rule is going to be adopted by the Football League on a voluntary basis next season, but it’s not being implemented in the Premier League. Should we be concerned or will the benefits naturally seep into the top flight?
Well it’s coming into the Football League next year on a trial basis and I really hope that all the clubs embrace that. It doesn’t mean people will automatically give a minority candidate the job but it may help in the interview process and then you go from there. You get the chance to prove yourself to be the best person of the job, regardless of your race or gender, so we’ll see. But it’s a step forward, it’s a positive step and it’s worked in American Football. There’s many reasons why it’s worked in America and I think over time it will help and improve the interview process in England.
Chris Powell was speaking at the launch of Northolt High School’s new 3G pitch in Ealing, his first event as a Football Foundation Ambassador. The project was made possible thanks to a £288,034 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation on behalf of its Funding Partners: the Premier League, The FA and the Government, via Sport England. The Foundation worked with Northolt High School and the Middlesex County FA to produce a five-year Football Development Plan (FDP), which includes the delivery of the Premier League Kicks programme by Brentford FC Community Sports Trust
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