Sunday, 7 December 2014

Student numbers and dissatisfaction - Editorial (7 December 2014)

University finances are fiendishly complicated, and don’t always work in the way one might imagine. When it comes to how much money is spent on teaching, tuition fees are collected centrally, and allocated based on how much money the teaching costs to deliver. Some subjects cost more to deliver than the £9,000 fee paid by students. Many cost less.
Epigram recently published an examination of what departments were spending per student, and drew the conclusion that a level of cross-subsidy was taking place which students were largely unaware of. This is accurate.


An email by the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Students attempted to cast doubt on our story, claiming the figures are inaccurate. This is not entirely unwarranted – our method didn’t account for potential differences in the benefit that different students get from services funded out of a central pot, rather than their department. Spending on libraries, sport, the health centre, student counselling, and other services may benefit students in some departments more than others. Similarly, some budget is allocated to Faculties rather than the department, and this information is not included.
Our figures did not provide a picture that is, overall, inaccurate or misleading

Epigram is happy to concede that the method we used did exclude some nuances. This is necessary because the way that money is spent at universities does not make a breakdown by subject possible, not without data collection and analysis that would employ a number of people for some time. Let us be clear – even the University may not have the full data, and it certainly has not been shared.
What we will not concede is that our figures provide a picture that is, overall, inaccurate or misleading. If the University can publish figures showing that, for example, Chemistry does not cost substantially more to teach than English, then we will retract our story. But this is simply not the case. Whilst the figures quoted in our article could not and do not provide the whole story, they give a good rough idea of the extent to which cross-subsidy exists, and they paint a broadly accurate picture of what the reality is.
In fact, for many, it will not have come as much of a surprise. Almost every university in the country is doing the same thing – some courses do cost substantially more to deliver than others. Current tuition fee levels are set to support the overall costs of teaching at multidisciplinary universities, which vary hugely subject by subject. Figures which are readily available show that our data, with the exception of the Classics miscalculation, also corresponds with national averages for how much each course costs to run, highlighting just how indicative our numbers were.
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Epigram got the information out into the public domain, but we did not argue that cross-subsidising was a bad thing. Indeed, as my last editorial and Oliver Carter-Esdale’s Comment piece (Epigram, 24/11) both made clear, we are not calling for cross-subsidising to stop, or for Dentistry students to pay higher fees.
The real problem, and the reason for the amount of interest that the article provoked, isn’t necessarily cross-subsidy at all, but underlying concerns exacerbated by rapid growth in student numbers.
It is no coincidence that the Comment piece, ‘Bristol: “Love the city, hate the university”’, which spoke about dissatisfaction surrounding the rise in student numbers, is our second most-read article of 2014-15, only behind our last front page piece. It resonated with that serious feeling of discontent among much of the student body, reflected in low student satisfaction scores for a university as prestigious as Bristol for years, but which has appeared to grow recently as student numbers have rocketed. Accommodation problems occur year after year, with some first-years having to share bunk-beds or even sleep in cars this autumn after provision did not grow at the rate of expansion, affecting students across Faculties.
The reason for the interest the article provoked is underlying concerns exacerbated by rapid growth in student numbers
On the academic side, however, student number growth at the University has been particularly high in the Faculty of Arts, where, by no coincidence, satisfaction expressed in National Student Surveys (NSS) has been particularly low. It is important to note that Arts students are not dissatisfied at every university. But Arts students at Bristol increasingly feel like they’re getting a raw deal. Overall satisfaction is down. Class sizes have gone up, promises to maintain staff-student ratios have not been met, and more students means it can take academics longer to return work. Meanwhile, print credit is rarely made available, while needing to purchase books studied, though not technically compulsory, is the reality for most Arts students as the library rarely stocks enough copies.
Arts students find this particularly unfair now that they know less money is already spent on their departments. This is not to say that the University is unaware or does not have action plans in place, but so far, they have not worked, and they should not have been expected to given the pressures brought about by the unprecedented rise in numbers.
We hope that discussions about many of these important issues continue, but that they focus more on this poorly-managed rise in student numbers, which clearly appears to be at the root of many of the grievances expressed.
The University’s full response to the article is on page 5 of the latest issue, or online here.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Council tax - Editorial (24 November 2014)

‘Students should pay council tax’. Yes, that’s not just a comment on Mail Online. It was a serious motion brought forward by elected councillors in the nearby city of Bath recently. Admittedly, once amended, it stated that it should be landlords rather than students ourselves to pay.
But, quite clearly, if this happened, landlords would increase rents for students, meaning that ultimately we would be paying for it. And why should we? There are so many reasons why it would be absurd to ask us to foot the council tax bill that we felt it would be wrong to waste a ‘Big Debate’ in our Comment section on the issue.
We should remain exempt: not because students use fewer council services than most residents, although this is true. Students tend to use University libraries rather than council libraries, the students’ union swimming pool rather than leisure centres, and buses less frequently than most (bin collection and street lighting are the only exceptions that spring to mind). That is not the point — those of us fortunate enough not to need social care within our families, for instance, should not argue that those who use it should be paying more tax than us.
Making students pay council tax would be so absurd that it would be wrong to waste a ‘Big Debate’ on the issue
The point is mainly that students could simply not afford it. Maintenance loans already barely cover the extortionate cost of accommodation in a city like Bristol, and many students are reliant on parents and/or part-time work to cover costs of food, bills and transport. If the law were to be changed in this way, students would be paying but excluded from safeguards such as benefits, which other groups who struggle to pay council tax receive.
The subtext to motions such as those proposed by this group of independent councillors in Bath is that students not only cause noise disruption for lots of local residents — and also seem to all own cars: if you believe comments on the Bristol Post or Bath Chronicle websites, ‘student houses have 3/4 cars each’ — but are also a drain on resources. It neglects to mention the fact that students actually contribute to the local economy.
Just as universities have a positive net impact nationally, students locally contribute to growth by spending money in local businesses. In this regard, much of any financial gain for the council would be offset anyway. It is difficult not to conclude that, regrettably, the timing of the debate may have something to do with the fact that certain Bath councillors’ seats, including that of the proposer of the motion, are up for election in May.
It appears to be an example of when politicians seek to demonise one group in order to please another group which they can rely on to vote – for them. This is something all too familiar to us, under a government hell-bent on turning the in-work poor on the unemployed, or persuading low-paid workers that immigrants are to blame for their falling wages rather than bosses which cut them.
The subject of one group being pitted against another brings me onto the debate surrounding how much is spent per student in each department. While I hope that the figures published today which show the huge discrepancies between those in different faculties will generate discussion between students, both in Epigram and in kitchens and living rooms, I hope that it does not become a case of arts students vs. science students.
While it is understandable for arts students to be aggrieved that a Physics student is having three times as much spent on them per year, ultimately the fault does not lie with the Physicist but the government responsible for the shambolic fees system in place.
It should be remembered that many of the architects behind the worrying marketisation of universities would welcome a move to a system whereby students would pay for exactly what is spent on them, meaning that higher education would fully become a market, with Dentistry students paying three times as much as linguists.
Were that to happen, higher education would become even more about privilege, with certain courses closed off to certain sectors of society. I agree that the status quo is unacceptable and that arts students at Bristol are getting a raw deal and should not be paying any fees, let alone £9000. It was a relief when the Universities Minister reassured Epigram that he would not raise fees again anytime soon.
But, while fees should be abolished or at least reduced substantially, I would not wish for the above. To get onto degree courses with the highest potential income would require coming from a high-income background, and structural inequalities would be cemented and even increased. The last thing that Bristol needs is to become more elitist still.

Originally published at: http://epigram.org.uk/letters/2014/11/letter-from-the-editor-3. Note: This story was later picked up by The Independent.

Monday, 10 November 2014

New Vice-Chancellor - Editorial (10 November 2014)

I would like to congratulate Professor Hugh Brady on his appointment to succeed Professor Sir Eric Thomas as Vice-Chancellor next year. Professor Brady has been President of University College Dublin, Ireland’s largest university, and has also held Faculty positions at Harvard University and the University of Toronto. I wish him every success during his time in Bristol.


The student body at Bristol faces a number of challenges over the years ahead. Accommodation shortages once again have caused hardship for a large number of students this year, and we sincerely hope that these shortages will be dealt with in future. While we acknowledge the importance of long-term plans and investment in the impressive new Life Sciences Building and Beacon House to provide much-needed study space, we must stress how vital it is to ensure that current students benefit as well — and listened to, which doesn’t just mean being invited to an underpublicised consultation which few are likely to respond to.
Whether or not the University drop plans to seek the removal of Jason Donervan from its current location may also be a good barometer of how in touch management are with student opinion.
I was concerned to read the Irish Times describe Professor Brady as ‘the Michael O’Leary of education’. But I see no reason to believe this description or fear that university staff next year will be treated in the same way that [Ryanair chief] O’Leary treats his workers. It is my hope that Professor Brady and other members of senior management will not threaten to dock pay, as has happened in the last 12 months. I also do not expect students in future years to be required to pay hidden course costs on top of their £9000 fees or caught out in the same way that Ryanair passengers often are with hidden charges.
Whether the Irish Times’ comparison is fair or not, it does make me consider the one positive achievement that I can credit the odious O’Leary with. For all its malpractices, whether it be putting pressure on pilots to fly without extra fuel or breaking employment law to hire French workers on Irish contracts to avoid [higher] state pension contributions in France, Ryanair can take some credit for making air travel and holidays abroad accessible to a larger number and wider range of people. Bristol University, meanwhile, has repeatedly missed fair access admissions targets in recent years, and elitism remains a serious issue which needs to be addressed.
The fact that UCD students had free access to the newly-built gym is a positive sign for many of our readers who are forced to spend hundreds of pounds on gym membership here.
Crucially, university is still a public good and should not be considered or run like a normal business. Students should not be treated as customers at all, let alone Ryanair customers.
And cost-cutting in a Ryanair vein should not take place at Bristol, especially not when you consider that, after graduation at the end of the 2014-15 academic year, there will be very few students still at Bristol paying less than £9000 in fees.
I am confident that Professor Brady can use his experience in a different financial climate of finding ways to invest in world-class facilities at UCD despite the Irish government cutting university budgets at an even more alarming rate than what those of us in Britain can relate to, to ensure that both those soon to arrive at Bristol and those already here benefit.
Many of us have serious reservations about certain recent University decisions and the way that our lecturers have been treated. But I believe that, if teaching is prioritised more and the needs and demands of current students are taken into account more regularly, it can be an exciting time for those of us at Bristol beyond next June.

First published at: http://epigram.org.uk/letters/2014/11/letter-from-the-editor-2.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Mental health - Editorial (27 October 2014)

Anyone can experience a mental health problem at any time. Around 20 per cent of students go through mental health issues at some point during their time at university, while 13 per cent experience suicidal thoughts. 

Mental health is something that, if not ourselves, will almost certainly affect a friend or family member at some stage, and something that is not always easily understood. We hope that the extensive coverage in our Features section can inform those in need about the range or services available in and around Bristol University, and also inform other readers about some of the most common myths and stigma.
The lack of visible symptoms can mean that intervention is not made until late on, sometimes tragically so.
One of the many troubling elements of mental health issues can be its invisibility. The lack of visible symptoms can mean that intervention is not made until late on, sometimes tragically so. For something not always easily noticed, it is imperative that the stigma around mental health issues is tackled so that we create an environment in which sufferers feel comfortable to tell people and seek help and time off work and education if necessary.
People don’t always understand the severity of mental illness: depression is not just a question of cheering up.
The notion that ‘stigma around mental illness does not exist’, as some columnists in national newspapers have worryingly argued, is a complete myth.
Stigma and discrimination have not been completely rooted out. If they had been, why would so many sufferers feel the need to call in to work to say that they have the flu or have to take their grandfather in to hospital rather than tell their employer that they have depression? Many fear that if they don’t come into work one week because of mental health issues, their boss won’t understand like they would if they had broken a leg or had to go into hospital for an operation. They feel safe that their boss will understand that rather than question a story about a broken limb or an ill grandparent. Well-known depression sufferer Alastair Campbell has given the example of a nurse who ‘Felt compelled to “hide” six months of her life from her CV when she had been off with chronic post natal depression’ because she was going for promotion and worried that it would hurt her chances.
Many sufferers fear that if they don’t come into work one week, their employer wouldn’t understand
It is important that such stigma can be tackled here at Bristol, and I am confident that the overwhelming majority of staff members in and around the University already understand and will increasingly understand students feeling the need to take time off their studies as a result of mental health difficulties as awareness rises.
While similar numbers of men and women suffer from mental health issues, men are less likely to seek help or feel that they can admit to what may seem like weakness. This is down to the old-fashioned gender expectations which still pervade society. Even the use of language which reinforces them, and seemingly innocuous phrases and throwaway remarks like ‘Man up’, are an issue. They hardly help change the fact that men are more unlikely to open up about mental health problems.
It is vitally important, therefore, that as well as informing those suffering from mental health issues about where they can go to get help, this issue also informs those who may know someone suffering from symptoms about how they can look out for them. If it does either of those things, even to a small extent, it will have been a success.
This is not an issue that only a minority of readers should be concerned about. It is a fundamental topic which all of us should do our bit to educate ourselves about, spread awareness about the barriers which sufferers face and be ready to help anyone who needs it.

Originally published at: http://epigram.org.uk/letters/2014/10/letter-from-the-editor.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Accommodation fiasco - Epigram Editorial (27 September 2014)

My first editorial after becoming Editor of Epigram, Bristol University's Independent Student Newspaper.
Welcome to Bristol University! As you may have seen in our recent article, our university is ranked among the top 30 in the world. It is full of excellent lecturers and teaching staff. It sits in the middle of a vibrant, diverse city full of fun places to go and amazing views and sights.
But there’s another side to Bristol University. There is a growing disconnect between, on one side, university management and, on the other, most lecturers, students, and the Students’ Union. In other words, the University appears not to listen enough. Or, if and when it does, it doesn’t place enough importance on the needs of students and academic staff.
Regrettably, not nearly enough is done to increase capacity in line with growing student numbers. Whether it be study space or living space. The epitome of this is our latest report on accommodation shortages.
The fact that it took merely a minute to scan through Epigram archives to find a front page where 150 students were left without accommodation shows how long the University has had to fix the issue and how little has been done.



More recently, we’ve had Hiatt Baker residents forced to put up with massive disruption, and the redevelopment still isn’t complete, even if the rooms themselves are now ready.
The situation appears to be worsening, with the University joining the clearing process this summer. That’s not to say that the University shouldn’t have taken students through it, but it should have ensured sufficient accommodation provision before doing so.
Too often senior management appear too focused on profits and on taking as many students with their annual £9000 fees in without considering students already here who will graduate before work developing the former Habitat building is anywhere near completion.
Worryingly, the University appears to be reliant on students dropping out as a result of mental health problems or other issues to mitigate the accommodation mess which has seen many forced to share rooms and wardrobes.
The fact that the fate of the group of students waiting for their own room depends on another factor which doesn’t exactly reflect well on the University is hardly reassuring.
When tuition fees were introduced in the first place, students were told that they would lead to higher standards, even before the rate reached today’s sky-high levels which deter many from low-income families from applying – many of which would otherwise be here about to start first year.
There is an ongoing debate about whether higher standards have followed in academic affairs. Many lecturers and trade unions make a persuasive case that it has not, with savage cuts to teaching budgets stalling progress.
When it comes to accommodation, there is little doubt that this has not happened. Students have rightly been expecting more, but their needs are being catered for less and less.
As well as highlighting a need for more accommodation, this latest shambles underlines how important it is to have independent student media always willing to listen to the student voice.
In addition to being the main outlet for news and debate, Epigram is a platform to celebrate and showcase your skills and creativity, whatever they may be.
There has occasionally been a perception in the past that Epigram is a closed shop or that you need to have had years of journalism experience to write for us. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
While we have a strong team of section editors and sub-editors who have worked incredibly hard to put the first edition together in time for Freshers’ Fair, Epigram is all about our writers. And that means you!
Drop me an email, contact the editor of the section(s) that you’re interested in writing for or just turn up to section meetings, where stories get handed out and article ideas can be put forward. Getting involved was one of the best decisions I’ve made during my time at university, and I urge you to do the same.
First published: http://epigram.org.uk/letters/2014/09/letter-from-the-editor-welcome-to-bristol.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Happy in Napoli

It’s more than 3 weeks since I arrived in Naples and time I posted an update. It’s been a really good spell, and I already feel at home here in Naples. I’m pleased with the set-up in my student flat here. My new flatmates (all from the South of Italy) are all really nice, and they immediately made me feel welcome. The flat, admittedly slightly outside the centre (though that’s made up for by there being parking outside, very hard to come by in the centre), is very nice, modern and spacious.
As well as the big pluses about my new flatmates, I’ve also appreciated little things that I missed in the flat in Palermo.
-          Instantaneous hot water (as opposed to using hot water on the unreliable 1980s-style timer we had in Palermo)
-          A washing machine that doesn’t require 10 minutes of wrestling with to get it started and doesn’t take all day to finish
-          Radiators, for drying clothes and general warmth (not that we’ve needed much of the latter given it’s been 20 degrees outside much of the time)
-          Unlimited wi-fi (as opposed to having a small allowance and not being able to watch iPlayer or 4oD)

In terms of the social side, the last 3 weeks have underlined just what a unique opportunity a year abroad is to develop as international a group of friends as you ever will. I’m looking forward to plenty more nights out with the lovely people I've met and plenty more day trips like yesterday’s, when some of us went to the Palace of Caserta, a UNESCO World Heritage site built to rival Versailles. The grounds were spectacular, so we spent the whole day there, hiring bikes to cycle up and down the seemingly endless grounds. There are so many more places surrounding Naples to visit: including Vesuvius, Pompeii, Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast and the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida. And, slightly further afield, Rome – just an hour by train – which I’ve inexplicably never properly been to.

Some things that I’ve experienced which are typical of Naples:
-          The pizzaiolo (pizza chef) who, when he heard the address we were ordering from over the phone, delivered pizza to us in person as he’s friends with my flatmate.
-          The shady figure who lurks in the Co-Op all day and asks customers to use his loyalty card so he gets points. It’s a similar phenomenon to posteggiatori, which are as much of a thing here as in Palermo
-          Drivers beeping like crazy at us on the way back from Caserta when I hesitated at a turning but then, when we stopped at traffic lights (unlike many Neapolitans), couldn’t have been any friendlier. I assumed they’d be mad at me but instead were laughing, interested in where we were from and helping us find the way home.
-          Trattoria Nennella, a typical Neapolitan restaurant we went to for an Erasmus welcome dinner. Typical not only in terms of the food on the menu but also the atmosphere. Waiters would stop every now and again to watch the Napoli football match on TV, yelling at the referee, while the restaurant’s manager would then lead singing of O Sole Mio and dance around. As we finished our meals, waiters suddenly gestured to us to stand up an and said ‘Ok guys, that’s it – time to go'! While we didn’t mind, as we were a huge group and there was a queue of people waiting, we were stunned – none of us had seen anything like it in restaurants in the UK, Germany, Austria, France or the North of Italy. 
The last point sums up one of the features seemingly typical of Neapolitans (and also Sicilians) that I really like. That people in bars and restaurants talk to you more as if you’re old friends than in (what in most cities would be) a formal environment. And that they’re unafraid to speak their mind or say what they want, without any pretence or fa├žade. This doesn’t mean they go about offending people – in fact, I've found Neapolitans and Palermitani have been more friendly and caring than locals in any other city I’ve spent time in. But they seem to be much less obsessed with la bella figura and making every effort to show immaculate manners all of the time.

I also noticed this lack of formality among the 3 families in Palermo and Naples that have hosted me for dinner, which all either used plastic plates and cups or had a buffet sitting on sofas (or both). The food was as amazing as ever, being the South of Italy, but just because they had a guest (or guests), they didn’t feel the need to go out of their way to make it a formal occasion, even when they hadn’t yet met me before. That’s not to say that if I’m invited somewhere for a dinner where we use metal crockery, I feel pressure. But the plastic plates symbolised the total informality which made me feel at ease, as if I was more of a part of those families than a burden whose presence was making them make extra effort as hosts or go about a mealtime differently to how they normally would.

The lack of shallowness and superficiality compared to much of the North is the kind of thing that endears me to Naples and Palermo. As if they don’t make it obvious enough by how interested they are in myself and others who come to Naples/Palermo from outside and how we're getting on in their city, it’s by this sort of thing that the locals show that for them the most important thing is the company: that they're interested more in conversing and getting to know us than impressing. My experience has been that families just are themselves more, regardless of whether or not they have guests, even when that means arguing among themselves or doing things that we all tend to do around our own family's dinner table. That is to say, they don't seem to do anything they wouldn't normally in order to show just what a civilised family they are. It’s refreshing.

The academic side, as ever with Italian universities, has had good bits and bad bits. Two examples of this are class sizes and quality of teaching. For a Sociology lecture I went to, the lecture theatre’s 200-seat capacity wasn’t enough, so some of us had sit on the floor. For Contemporary History, however, there are literally only 6 or 7 of us – class sizes you’ll rarely find at undergraduate level even in the top European universities. It really is pot luck whether you’ll end up in a class of hundreds of people or with fewer than a dozen.

Similarly with lecturers, it’s such a lottery what yours will be like. By all accounts, I’ve been lucky with who I’ve ended up with both in Palermo and Naples. I’ve got on well with and been impressed by all of them. Well, apart from one, who in our first lecture wrote a Pascal quote on the whiteboard and asked what we thought, reassuring us there was ‘No wrong answer’. When one student said what she made of it, the lecturer snorted ‘You’re completely wrong!’, thus shattering the confidence of the first-year brave enough to raise her hand in her first ever lecture in front of 150 people. Worse, I’ve also heard numerous horrendous anecdotes of awful male lecturers who would give female students high marks when they wore low-cut tops and fail them when they didn’t. Hearing about this sort of thing, one Erasmus friend in Palermo who admitted he hadn’t revised for an exam tried to bank on his examiner (his lecturer) giving him ‘Marks for looks’. I saw him in the canteen one day dressed up and asked if he was going to a wedding or something. ‘No, just to an exam’, he replied. But when I next saw him and asked if it had gone well, he shook his head. 'A different lecturer - a guy - took the exam and wasn’t impressed’.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Roland the rat

I know this blog is devoted to my year abroad (and there’ll be another post about Naples in the next few days). But this morning’s news that my football club, Charlton Athletic, sacked our wonderful manager Chris Powell made me so incensed that I felt the need to write a quick piece about him and the direction English football is moving in general with the new generation of owners.



It’s easy to see why so many fans – of all clubs – are turning their backs on English football. Owners – like Charlton owner Roland Duchatelet, who owns 5 football clubs in total - swan in, change the team name (Hull), the stadium name (Newcastle) or the team colours (Cardiff), sack the immensely popular manager (Cardiff, Charlton and many others) or even move city (Wimbledon, now Milton Keynes Dons).

They tend to either be failed politicians (like Duchatelet), dictators (like Shinawatra, ex-Manchester City), fraudsters or tax-dodgers, like the recently-jailed Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung, Leeds’ Massimo Cellino, and QPR’s Flavio Briatore. The problem is not just that they don’t know much about football. It’s that the likes of Roland Duchatelet are convinced that they do and undermine managers’ authority by insisting. It was this – Duchatelet wanting to pick the team – that led to the row which brought about Powell’s sacking. However successful Duchatelet may be in the world of business, how can you expect anyone to know who to pick and which formula will bring success for teams in 5 different divisions? Surely that's what a Manager is for, especially one like Powell who saw for himself in his 3 years bringing Charlton from struggling in League 1 to The Championship what works and what doesn't.
But sadly, it’s a rarity nowadays to find a Chairman, like Middlesbrough’s Steve Gibson, who is both prepared to give managers time to build teams and prepared to leave them to it, not interfering in tactics or team selections. It’s especially depressing for my club to be in the hands of control-freak owner unwilling to do either of the above given how long we were lucky enough to have a board who backed Alan Curbishley for long enough for him to become the 3rd longest-serving Premier League Manager ever.

Powell didn’t just bring us two seasons of exceptional results. He brought more positive, attacking football than under his predecessors Alan Pardew and Phil Parkinson. And he also made us feel proud to be Charlton fans again, following an embarrassing period of disastrous transfers and 2 relegations in 3 years since Curbishley’s departure, by reviving the fight in his players that saw them grab countless last-minute equalisers and plucky away wins. Proud not only when we were the only Football League side to get over 100 points, beating Cardiff 5-4, Barnsley 6-0 away or enjoying similarly special results. Even when I saw us lose 4-0 to Fulham in the FA Cup in 2012, I was proud of how much the players put in and matched opponents who were then 2 divisions above us, even if the scoreline suggested otherwise.

After masterminding our 9th place finish in our first season back in the Championship, Powell told us in his post-game speech: ‘We’ve got our Charlton back’. We did indeed have our Charlton back. The Charlton grabbing the kind of results and showing the kind of spirit we hadn’t seen since the Curbishley era. Powell kicked every ball from the sidelines and showed how much the club meant to him, crying tears of joy on the pitch after promotion and swinging from the crossbar to celebrate reaching the FA Cup Quarter Finals. But then this new owner arrived. Lots of fans like myself gave Mr Duchatelet time. Even after selling our star playeron transfer deadline day for a cut price without leaving time for a replacement. Even after bringing in a hopeless goalkeeper from Standard Liege (another club he owns) and insisting that Powell played him ahead of our long-trusted Number 1. But this is the final straw.

You might point to our current league position, say ‘Ultimately it’s all about results’ and that I’m being overly sentimental towards someone who I admired even before he became our Manager after 9 seasons with us as a player. But we're just 4 points from safefy with 5 (!) games in hand and have been steadily improving since Xmas (the Sheffield United game aside). Even if this new manager does keep us up, things won’t be the same. If he keeps us up, it’s likely to just be short-term success built on loan signings. That's what Duchatelet has made it clear he foresees, as well as Charlton becoming a feeder club for Liege, who he has already warned we might sell our best players to. Charlton fans know only too well from our time under Parkinson that you cannot build a successful (or even surviving) Championship team around loan players. It was building a team of young, hungry, home-grown players plus the odd experienced (Captain Johnnie Jackson, Yann Kermorgant and Andy Hughes) that transformed fortunes at The Valley and got us promoted. Integral to that was one of the brightest, most promising managers in the country. Now, however, no longer with us not because a bigger club snapped him up (as I worried) but because our owner sacked him. Absolutely shocking!