Following relegation from the Sky Bet Championship, Charlton Athletic would have been optimistic of a return to the second tier at the first time of asking. However, the 2015/16 campaign didn’t quite go to plan, with the Addicks ending up 13th in Sky Bet League One.
This time around, things are looking a little rosier. Following Tuesday night’s win at home to Rochdale, Karl Robinson’s men are sitting fourth in the standings following a run of nine unbeaten matches. With a game in hand, they’re just six points behind leaders Shrewsbury Town.
One of Robinson’s shrewdest summer signings was that of Billy Clarke from Bradford City. The forward has been thoroughly enjoying life at the Valley, and isn’t surprised to see his new club faring so well so far in 2017/18.
“It’s been really good, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” he stated. “From pre-season, up until now, it’s been a positive start. I’ve been playing well, and when the team’s playing great football it’s always a joy to be a part of.
“Overall, we’ve got great players, great staff and it’s a great club. It’s been underachieving over the last few years, but inside the club it’s no surprise as to how well we’re doing.
“We’re looking really good, we’ve been resilient when we’ve needed to be, and we’ve played good football as well. Hopefully things are on the up, and we can keep this run going.”
The Irishman attributes his fine form to his new boss, Robinson. The former Milton Keynes Dons manager has been a long-time admirer of Clarke, who scored 25 goals and set up countless more during his three-year spell at Valley Parade.
Nineteen appearances in all competitions this season have garnered two goals and another string of impressive performances. The 29-year-old has been heavily involved throughout the campaign, who before a fortnight ago was yet to miss a league game, of which Charlton have lost just three to date.
Now, after coming so close to promotion during his time with Bradford, he is determined to go one better with the Addicks this term. The Bantams were losing finalists to Millwall at Wembley back in May, and that left him with a feeling that he is in no rush to experience again.
“I was devastated, it ruined my summer,” recalls Clarke. “It’s never nice to lose any game, but one of that magnitude was extremely difficult to take. It eats away for a while, even into pre-season. Wembley is a horrible place to be when you’re on the losing side.
“Promotion is the aim, and realistically that’s what everyone wants. I don’t want to be in the play-offs this year; I obviously want to be in the top two. If we were in the play-offs then so be it, but it’s no good unless you’re a winner.
“In a few of the recent transfer windows, Karl’s tried to get me and every time I played against him when he was at Milton Keynes Dons, I seemed to score! Since we’ve got together, it’s been really good, and I enjoy everything he does — he’s a really good manager.
“It was a no-brainer to move because of the size of the club, the interest which the manager had in me and how highly he thought of me. I was delighted to make the move, and it has proved to be a really good decision for me and my family.”
Clarke was speaking at the launch of Stonewall UK’s latest Rainbow Laces campaign, which kicks off this weekend with a huge show of support from the EFL and the footballing world.
Bespoke rainbow-coloured corner flags will be on show in a league first, and that sits at the heart of a wide range of activities that the EFL and its clubs will be undertaking as part of the campaign between 25th November and 3rd December 2017, and Clarke is backing the biggest show of support to date.
“It’s massively important,” Clarke replied, when asked about the importance of the campaign and promoting inclusivity in football. “Football is a huge part of modern society, and with the areas it can reach, with how big football is… for it to be backing LGBT and Rainbow Laces is huge and we can really get it out there.
“There’s still a long way to go, but it has come on a long way since I’ve been playing. There still is room for it to grow, and hopefully campaigns like this will help to do that.”