Tuesday, 31 March 2009
Is this really good news?
Sparrows Lane is convenient for SW1 if one needs a positive story
There has been an excessive preoccupation with agency. This has led to a failure to fully grasp the constraints which systematically bear on the freedom of manoeuvre of actors. [A paraphrase of comments by Huddersfield supporter Tony Payne].
The debate about the relationship between structures and agency (individual actors) is as old as the hills and highly relevant to football. A Manchester United supporting friend of mine thinks that agency (Ferguson) has been underplayed compared with structure (money) in accounts of their success.
Recent debates at Charlton have focused on agency - the role of various managers, notably Phil Parkinson. This debate has got a bit repetitive in various fora with everyone taking entrenched positions (not least myself).
Managers do play a key role in football in terms of recruiting players, coaching them (although others are usually involved there), selecting the squad and deciding on the tactics.
One thing I have never been able to work about football is why managers are expected to motivate players. The players at Leamington are largely Academy rejects and they get paid little more than expenses. Yet it is evident that they love playing the game and do so with verve and passion. It's a bit of a paradox - or perhaps it isn't - that highly paid Championship players need motivation.
Anyway, I want to talk about something else. The following announcement was made yesterday by the club:
'Charlton were named the Community Club of the Year at the 2009 Football League Awards last night. The Addicks accepted the accolade in front of more than 800 people at a gala dinner at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London.
Among the aspects of Charlton's operation praised by the judges was the groundbreaking Street Violence Ruins Lives campaign and the work carried out by the Charlton Community Trust in deprived townships in South Africa. The Addicks beat off competition from Burnley, Sheffield United, Watford and Wolverhampton Wanderers to claim the award, which follows last year's Advance Performance Best Community Initiative honour in a similar category. The Football League Awards show will be screened on Sky Sports 1 [today] at 6.30pm.'
Now in many senses this is very good news. We also picked up an award recently for the second year running for being the most family oriented club or something like that.
What is more, a continuous stream of politicians (and members of the royal family) make their way to Sparrows Lane, particularly those with a social inclusion agenda. James Purnell, a would-be Labour leader, was there recently.
I have written about Charlton's political relationships more generally and at greater length in the journal British Politics. I am a bit uneasy about politicians getting some free publicity at our expense when it is far from clear what we get in return. I would have the same objection if it was one of Dave's Toffs or a Cleggover as I do to New Labour politicians.
My more general point is whether our community activities take up too much of our attention. Before someone in the club E mails me to tell me I am off message, I should point out that I realise that the money spent on community activities is ring fenced, comes from different sources and could not be spent on players or other on the pitch activities.
What does concern me is that, particularly with a chief executive with a community operations background, our strategic focus is drifted from on the pitch to off the pitch.
I know that all this work gives us a very positive image, although the downside is that sometimes we are a little bit too nice. I am not suggesting for a moment that we should abandon it or even downsize it.
But the board has to remind itself that they are running a football club, not a social inclusion project, and that the fans will judge the club primarily by what happens on the pitch rather than how many off the pitch awards we pick up.