Thursday, 4 July 2019

De Turck Replies With .... Well Nonsense


Oh my giddy aunt. We have got used to the periodic spouting of nonsense by our absent owner, sufficiently to just be mildly amused by the further evidence (if such were needed) that he has no grasp of logic or reality. But when his sidekick delivers the same sort of gobbledygook you really do wonder how any prospective buyer of our club could get any sense out of either of them. And what is more incredible is that the responses to the questions put to him in his absence at the recent Fans Forum meeting are not off-the-cuff remarks but considered, written replies.

I don’t know if Lieven de Turck has had formal legal training, or if like his boss (who to reiterate should be paying his fees, not our club – the statement describes de Turck as “representing the club in takeover talks”, which is not the truth; our club is a separate entity from our owner, our owner is – allegedly – trying to sell an asset, our club, and de Turck is working for him) he just believes he has expertise or insight in areas where he patently does not. If he has, I’d suggest he could submit a decent claim to get back the fees he paid. The replies are available on the club website, in case anyone wants to check.

Question 1: Is Charlton a more sellable club now it is in the Championship?
Everyone in the room presumably realised that this was a leading question, given Duchatelet’s remark in his post-Wembley statement that “the fact Charlton are now back in the Championship should increase our chances of being sold”. The question is really therefore ‘do you agree with your boss and if so why haven’t we been sold yet?’ Instead de Turck goes off on a tangent and suggests that “some fans question why the owner is very transparent regarding not only the positive, but also the negative points of owning the club”. And who might these fans be? Then “some think we should not speak about the negatives to increase the chances to sell the club”. Now does anyone for a moment think that a prospective buyer will not already know exactly what he/she/they are getting into, or that the chances of concluding a sale will be altered one iota by whatever Duchatelet says publicly about the pros and cons? Of course not.

Then he just gets sillier. “It is a matter of culture and ethics not to fool others”. Just words not supported by the evidence; Duchatelet has tried to blame others for his failure to conclude a sale and is utterly opaque when it suits him to be; and as we see below de Turck is quite happy to try to provide confusion where no confusion exists. “A seller has the legal obligation to inform candidate buyers properly”. I think you’ll find that such obligations fall within the parameters of the due diligence process, not some ‘thought of the day’ comment from our owner.

OK, that stuff’s just silly, de Turck (and Duchatelet) really shouldn’t judge others by their own standards. What follows on the more pertinent issue of the ex-directors’ loans is where de Turck is obviously out of his depth – or trying to be misleading.

Question 2: It has previously been said that the former directors’ loans are not an issue, now it appears they are an issue. Has this changed? If so, why?
De Turck acknowledges that “the club can be sold with the loans in place”. Fair enough. But he then says that there are “two debates” concerning them. The first, apparently, is does the loan repayment expire?

The wording cited is “The loan shall be repaid in five (5) equal instalments payable on 31 August in each year in which the Club competes in the Premier League up to a maximum of 5 years in any period from (the date of this deed)”. De Turck says “please note the wording ‘up to’. Those words can only make sense if, under some circumstances, the number of periods of repayment can be ‘less than’ five years, which would imply an expiry date”. What utter nonsense. It is hardly surprising that the deed outlines the conditions under which the loans would start to be repaid, and the terms: equal instalments up to a maximum of five years. If there was no maximum number of instalments the loans could be ‘repaid’ at a penny a year, ad infinitum; and five years (or instalments) is deemed the maximum because of course if desired the loans could be paid off sooner than that, should the other party wish. There is no expiry date, stated or implied, and to try to suggest that this wording forms the basis for one is either incompetence or duplicity.

There’s more. Another quote from the deed. “For the avoidance of doubt, it is acknowledged and agreed that no repayments of the Loan will be made at any time when the Club is competing in a football league other than the Premier League”. I think we all understand that. Except that De Turck says “this gives the impression that a stay in a football league other than the Premier League interrupts the repayment. However, that is not what it says”. Come again? It is exactly what it says. De Turck suggests that this might make it an ‘eternal agreement’, something he describes as “very unusual in legal terms”, adding that eternal agreements “cause confusion and create a mess”. They are indeed unusual as normally the person extending the loan requires a final settlement date. What de Turck calls “confusion” is the ex-directors having been exceedingly accommodating in their repayment terms. I’d suggest de Turck does not try to use that leniency as a means to try to muddy the waters.

We move on to the second ‘debate’, whether the Club is obliged to secure the ex-directors’ consent for anything. De Turck states: “Some of the ex-directors say they can object to assets within the BATON Ltd holding to be moved (that’s his incorrect wording, not mine) or reorganized. However, when the previous owner sold the club to the current owner, one of the options presented at the time of the sale was to sell The Valley land for development and move the stadium next to The O2, without any reference to the need of agreement of ex-directors which would seem to contradict this”.

Now I don’t think you need to be of above average intelligence to point out to de Turck that whatever was said by the owners before Duchatelet in the context of their attempts to sell our club should have been – and would have been by any sensible buyer – taken with a very large pinch of salt. And an ‘option presented’ is not the same as a legal document. This may reflect badly on the previous owners, but it is hardly a reason for suggesting that the ex-directors do not indeed have a legal hold over certain assets. If that issue went to court, do you think that a judge would be won over by the suggestion of such an ‘option’? I believe the phrase is caveat emptor. Or in the case of Duchatelet, if you didn’t ask/find out about the ex-directors and their loans before you bought our club more fool you.

De Turck goes on to say “some candidate buyers may want to use the fixed assets of the Club as collateral for loans, which can’t be done with the ex-directors in place”. Well tough. They either accept the limitation, offer a way around it (including telling Duchatelet to sort out that problem before they buy), or walk away. It’s like me turning up at the Club and saying I’d like to buy it but don’t have any money.

There is another section on the price being asked by Duchatelet but that quotes Rick Everitt with a slur to follow. I’ll leave that for others to discuss. Suffice to say that if I was De Turck I would – like most of the incompetent managers (and players) Duchatelet has lumped us with over the years – just take the money for services rendered and consider myself grateful to have found a boss who values my advice, because I’d guess there aren’t many of them, perhaps only one. 


Friday, 7 June 2019

All Arguments Lead Back To Sale Price


By his standards the latest communiqué from our absent, deranged owner is almost coherent. But the bar is of course remarkably low, so the fact that the post on the club site can at least be followed and interpreted, and represents some basic desire to actually communicate actual information to stakeholders (ie fans), should not send us into raptures, especially as the message seems decidedly mixed. At least the obligatory gratuitous insults of fans are limited and can more easily be ignored than with previous attempts.

The comment that post-Wembley a “delay” to concluding a sale is “frustrating” is at face value reassuring, although it is followed by the reminder (as if we needed one) that “I have been trying to sell the club for two years now”. Then we do descend into befuddled territory. “Many English football clubs are for sale and many of those have been for a long time”. OK. But then: “The main reason is that nearly all Championship club owners face huge yearly losses”, and “it has become unaffordable for nearly anyone to own a football club in the Championship, meaning it is not easy to find a suitable buyer”. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that for all but two weeks of those two years we were a League One club. So not exactly a reason for failure to conclude a sale, let’s just say a smokescreen for an enduring inability to find a buyer for the club willing to meet Roland’s price.

There is some more stupidity. “A specific issue in relation to the sale of Charlton is that while a club in London is very attractive, the value of land and buildings is high because the stadium and the training ground are located in London. This wouldn’t be a problem for rich enough acquirers ...”. Well, it wouldn’t be a problem either if the current owner – who on the basis of that argument could be said to have bought our club on the cheap – didn’t value the asset on the basis of land prices that can never be applied. Value the asset correctly and this isn’t a problem. Just another smokescreen for Duchatelet demanding too high a price.

And as if to make sure his ‘argument’ is circular, the statement says that “the fact Charlton are now back in the Championship should increase our chances of being sold”. Why exactly? After all, he says that the losses in the Championship make it “not easy” to find a suitable buyer (exactly why an owner who has proven so unsuitable should think he might have a worthwhile opinion on who might be a suitable successor we can gloss over for now). On that basis victory at Wembley, in his own words, makes it more difficult to sell our club. The reason given is that we are now one step closer to the Premiership. Now please don’t tell me that Duchatelet is asking the same price for the club that he would have been had we not won promotion. So, here too, it is just price, nothing else.

The practical obstacle to a sale in the form of ex-directors loans is cited and clearly is material. Just that it us utterly incompetent that a solution to that problem was not agreed at least in principle shortly after Duchatelet said he wanted to sell. After all, nobody in their right mind would say ‘I want to sell but there’s this problem’ – and be saying exactly the same thing two years later.

So we take comfort from the fact that something is going on, that there are interested potential buyers, and wait. How long for, anyone’s guess (days, weeks, months). Rather less encouraging is what was said about Lee Bowyer’s situation. I had been hoping that the absence to date of agreement on a new contract for him might reflect that a sale of the club was imminent, that in such a situation a responsible owner might not be entering into new contracts, might even be prevented from doing so by due diligence. Not so. And to that extent reading between the lines is not positive for the chances of a sale in the near future – unless of course Roland is bluffing. Only the other parties can make a call on that one.

Apparently Bowyer “has done a fantastic job” and therefore talks about improving his contract “are scheduled for next week”. Let’s not forget that Sir Chris was described in positive terms when offered a new ‘contract’ by Duchatelet before he rejected it and found himself sacked at the first available opportunity (the FA Cup defeat at Sheffield Utd). On this front too we can only wait to see what will happen. Bowyer agreeing a new contract would obviously be a real positive and the assumption is that he would like to stay if the contract is fair and he has a reasonable stab at building a competitive squad for next season.

And on that front, after pointing out that “I want to bring the yearly losses to a more reasonable level”, Roland gets confused again. “Operating on a small budget will limit our chances of promotion to the Premier League”. Indeed. “Does it mean we have no chance? No.”  Indeed. Not a ball has been kicked, everything is possible. “Does it mean we will be relegated? Not at all”. If he is saying does this mean relegation is a certainty, it doesn’t take a mathematician to point out that if you have a chance of promotion, however small, you cannot have a 100% chance of being relegated.

If Duchatelet means can we avoid relegation, for sure it’s possible. Will we is another question. And nobody can put a figure on our chances at this stage with any confidence. The mood should be good on the back of a great day at Wembley and if we keep Bowyer (and Jackson) we have a good chance of retaining the spirit in the dressing room that made the difference. But there were 18 players in the squad for that game and only half of them are still with the club. If we are to be competitive on a small budget, as things stand Bowyer and his people are going to have their work cut out to get some bargains and good loan signings (as well as getting them approved by a kid with a laptop).

“In the meantime owner and fans are stuck together. Please make the best of it”. The statement in a fashion marks the end of our Wembley celebration time as attention turns to what happens next. We have been trying to make the best of it for some years now. Please sell our club.


Monday, 27 May 2019

Tired From All The Dancing But Very Happy


I make no apology for being among the last to offer their thoughts on the Play-Off Final. Others will have had more complicated and lengthier journeys than me, but going from Lyon to Paris early Saturday morning, getting a Eurostar to London Sunday morning, then after initial drinkies at St Pancras up to Wembley Park, followed by more drinkies afterwards, a trip to Blackheath for more drinkies, a train and tube out to Hammersmith (no Piccadilly Line) then the last replacement coach to Heathrow, a few hours kip in a chair, then a flight back to Lyon which left at 06.35 is a reasonable excuse for taking time I think. And if my current state is not yet entirely wasted I am a little jaded, albeit still warm inside from the outcome. And there will be more warmth to come as after the second Doncaster game there was enough good cognac for one large glass or two smaller; I decided to have one half then and one half after the final. Provided I stay awake long enough.

But isn’t it bloody marvellous when a plan all comes together? The exception that proves the rule here is of course the rather unfortunate incident which happened five minutes into the game. Can’t say anyone planned that one, unless there is a divine being with a nasty sense of humour. Of course with hindsight we wouldn’t have it any other way, especially as it spoke volumes for the character of Phillips that he didn’t let it affect him. We’ll just ascribe it to him starting his version of Twist and Shout a little too soon.

Thoughts on the game? Although the OG was obviously something unpredictable, it had been an edgy start by both teams I thought. Our equaliser was by a distance the best bit of football in the game, while the disappointment for me was the quality of delivery from our set pieces. That has been a strength but yesterday at the interval I’d counted three corners and two well-positioned free kicks that were wasted by overhit or hanging crosses. You did get the sense that we carried more threat than Sunderland in the final third, but that was only relevant if we could play the game in their half, which we struggled to do.

The switch of Pearce for Sarr at the break and moving forward of Bielik did I think give us a better shape and better protection for the defence. But nobody doubts that the change that made the difference to the balance of play was the bringing on of Williams with 20 minutes to go (which is no reflection on Pratley, who’d had a decent game). When he came on at The Valley against Doncaster I thought he made a poor contribution, looking rusty and perhaps trying too hard. But yesterday he caused problems from the moment he first got the ball. Given that we all but went to extra time and the nature of the winner you can’t say that his introduction won us the game, but it significantly increased the chances of us scoring again and, by giving them serious problems, reduced the risk of us conceding as they had to try to contain him – which usually meant kicking him. Rather belatedly the ref did start getting the card out, but if he’d taken action sooner in the game rather than erring on the side of trying to let things take their course Williams would probably have had better protection.

Seems most people are saying we shaded the game. But I’m not sure that counts for anything when the scores are level and extra time is just moments away. Could just as easily have been a set piece at the other end. Again, I think we had the greater goal threat over the game, but if they’d got a second in the first half, or gone ahead in the second, that might easily have been enough as they were giving little away at the back, even though Taylor and Parker worked their socks off.

When we wasted another couple of opportunities in the final minutes to get decent balls in I was resigned to extra time. We still had a third substitute and, although most on the pitch were looking pretty tired, we would I think have gone into an extra 30 minutes reasonably well-placed, especially if Williams could get a consistent supply. But we all know what happened, how Bauer more than made amends for being beaten at the far post to send the Doncaster contest to extra time, and just how long there was on the clock when the ball hit the back of the net.

While we’ll always remember the celebrations and the implications of the victory – both our club and me personally are now in positive territory when it comes to games at Wembley – I suspect a number of Charlton fans will also remember the actions of that young Sunderland fan as we filed out. He can’t have been more than 10 and had tears streaming down his face, but was standing above us and clapping the Charlton fans. A number of them went over to shake his hand. True class from one so young and I hope that enough of his compatriots are letting him know that days like yesterday are tough but they will make the successful ones – and nobody doubts he will have those – all the sweeter.

On our front all the players and Bowyer’s team take a well-deserved bow. We don’t know how many will be with us for the next campaign (if it proves to be Bauer’s last touch of the ball in a Charlton shirt what a way to sign off!) but it is essential for us that the spirit engendered in the dressing room is maintained, whatever the changes. If I was Lee Bowyer I’d get my fishing rods and head off, leaving just a note saying ‘Dear Roland, you’ve got my number’.

Of course it’s not that simple as if a sale is to go through by the end of June it has to be down to new owners on what terms Bowyer is retained. Which means he needs to be kept very much in the loop when it comes to developments on that front. I’ve no way to tell whether a deal is closer or further away as a result of yesterday – although strictly speaking if the Australian Football Consortium is still in existence and looking to buy a club it can no longer be us, as we no longer fit their criterion of “an underperforming English football team”. That we no longer do is down to Bowyer and his staff and squad.

So thoughts of preparations for the Championship should wait a while, we want the memories to stay to the fore for a little while. And let’s not forget our outgoing owner liked the idea of Addicks having a bit of a dance after a game. As per the photo, we did dance, having shouted and cheered. The fact that he couldn’t be there to share in the pleasure is entirely of his own making.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Sad Demise Of Lyon Duchere


We know that our club is not unique in having a stupid owner (although ours does take the biscuit and gives us regular reminders of his stupidity). Sadly it seems it’s not a phenomenon confined to the UK. I indulge from time to time in an update on the fortunes of my adopted French team, Lyon Duchere, and concluded a recent note looking at their change of manager – and the peculiar amateur installation of an unnecessary and unwanted ‘VIP’ area of seating inside the ground - by saying any insight into Duchere’s prospects will have to wait for next season. I was wrong. Seems a good deal more than I was aware of is going on – and I’m sorry to say the news is not good.  

I had a look on the Duchere club site and was surprised to see ‘an invitation to participate in choosing a new name for our club’. Now when it says ‘participate’, this amounts to expressing a preference between three options: Lyon Metropole Football (LMF), Sporting Club de Lyon (SCL), or Racing Club de Lyon Metropole (RCLM). It’s obvious from the start that the missing options for ‘our club’ include keeping the present name or anything that contains ‘Duchere’.

The posting says that “the upcoming 2019-2020 promises to be a new start for Lyon Duchere AS” and that the name change will be part of a “new project” being launched over the next five years. It goes on to say that the changes “are seen today as real opportunities to become the popular club of the city of Lyon by which every Lyonnais can feel represented. For this, the club has decided to have its new name chosen by its community and all those who wish to participate in this new chapter of our history”.

I think we recognise utter bollocks when we see it (and we do regularly get fed it, including the reasons given for the bag restrictions at the new Wembley – do they really think people actually believe such garbage rather than the rules being geared around maximising sales of extortionately priced goods to a captive audience?). And before a certain Roland jumps up and shouts about fresh evidence that football fans are utterly opposed to change, it’s bollocks because it’s a lie. For a start the new name is not being chosen by any community other than the current ownership, which has restricted the choice to three, not one mentioning Duchere. And there is almost a veiled threat in the reference to “all those who wish to participate”, as if to say those who do not wish to participate can get lost. And this is a way by which ‘every Lyonnais’ can feel represented? I think not.

A little research throws up previous articles in French sporting publications suggesting that if Duchere won promotion to League 2 (the French second division) it would change its name. It hasn’t won promotion but ... And here comes the acid test. A recent article in L’Equipe concluded that with the Stade de Balmont “totally obsolete” it is not excluded that the club “eventually migrates to the Matmut Stadium of Venissieux” (which is where the Lyon rugby team used to play before moving in 2017). The Duchere press release on the name change and project states that “nos equipes continueront d’evoluer au Stade de la Sauvegarde et au Stade Balmont”. Strange choice of wording. The translation would be ‘our teams will continue to evolve’ at the two stadiums (the former is for the junior Duchere teams), which rather leaves it open whether the first team will continue to play their home games in Duchere.

Call me an old cynic, but I suspect they will not. The press release of course talks about not forgetting the club’s history and origins, about retaining the ‘Sang et Or’ colours, from the city of Oran. That just makes it sound more likely that a move away is all but done and dusted. After all, if the club stays in Duchere what is the point of changing its name? And if a move is confirmed, one would suspect after a decent interval there will be the gradual severing of any remaining ties.

Duchere is a district in the north-west of Lyon, in the 9th arrondissement. Basically from the centre(s) of town cross over the Saone to the side of Old Lyon, follow the river north and you reach Vaise. From there you slog your way up a pretty steep hill to get to Duchere. I don’t think there’s a higher point in what might be considered the city of Lyon (not far away you do have the Mont d’Ors but that is further out), which is why on a clear day from Suzanne’s balcony on the seventh floor you sit and look at Mont Blanc and the full range of the Alps. Duchere is surrounded by Ecully, Champagne-au-Mont’d’Or and Vaise of course. But it’s a bit like Norwich. Nobody goes somewhere via Duchere. You either go there or you do not.

Duchere is a multi-ethnic community, somewhat ironic having its origins in the provision of housing for the pied noir. It doesn’t have a good reputation throughout Lyon and most of the people living in the city have probably never been there. I’ve always found it to be friendly and welcoming, even to a stupid Englishman who doesn’t seem able to learn the language well enough. It’s also a growing district, with new construction going on all the time, with efforts to build a sort of ‘new Duchere’ which the local community can – and does – take a pride in. But I’d accept that if you were trying to create a second football club for the city as a whole, one which might generate popular support among those who at least want an alternative to OL and the Champions League (but not the title of French champions for some years now, given the dominance of PSG), you would not choose to locate it in Duchere. I doubt that anyone not connected to the club or living in the area goes to the games, casual support from elsewhere is non-existent. But the fact is it is there and it is the team of Duchere, as it has been since 1964.

I don’t know much about Venissieux. The map shows it is south-east Lyon (ie directly opposed to Duchere), close to the Confluence (where the Saone and the Rhone meet up). The stadium is obviously bigger than Balmont (with a 12,000 capacity) and is I assume in a much better state. Perhaps most important – from an owner’s perspective – is that it is a couple of minutes walk from a metro station, making it easily accessible to many parts of Lyon (but not Duchere of course, the nearest metro being down the hill at Gare de Vaise).

It has been disappointing - to me, also presumably to the club owners - that the crowds at Duchere games have not risen since promotion to the third flight. By the same token I’ve seen no effort to promote the home games, to try to get the local community more involved. To be fair there are signs of such efforts being made at the youth level, with more Duchere tracksuits/tops in evidence on the streets.

So I could have some sympathy if the club owners had announced something along the following lines: ‘We wish to create a real second football club in Lyon, one which can continue the progress of the past five years. However, we feel that this is not possible without a better, more modern stadium, one which is more easily accessible to a broader fanbase, with higher crowds necessary to help fund the development of the club. It has therefore been decided to give our club a new name, one which would appeal to all the people of Lyon, and regrettably to move to play senior home games in Venissieux”.

This could be accompanied by some sort of initiative to retain current fans: “We hope that Duchere fans understand the reasons for the changes and come with us on the journey ahead, ensuring that the club never loses its roots, which will also be cemented by keeping the youth teams based in Duchere. To that end, we will be inviting Duchere supporters to join us for a guided tour of the stadium at Vennissieux, as well as offering travel discounts to those from Duchere buying tickets for next season’s home games”.

That would at least give the appearance of being inclusive. Instead what we have is: ‘We’re changing the name, to something that we can sell more easily, and pretending to give people a say in selecting a new one. And we’re going to move away from Duchere. If you don’t like it, tough. Bye’. Or in Duchatelet-speak: ‘We know best, your job is to agree with everything we do, however daft’.

Now I’m not close to the club and could be reading this all wrong. There may be other factors involved, perhaps both positive and negative (there is of course a potential racism element involved in changing the name to dissociate the club from Duchere). I’m not aware of any campaign to oppose the changes, any lobbying of the media or local politicians. Perhaps there will be as and when the ground change is confirmed (and perhaps by then it will be too late). I’m ready to join. But as things stand the Duchere owners are giving the supporters of the club a ‘take it or leave it’ option – and so from my perspective, as things stand, the Lyon Duchere football club that I have enjoyed supporting has ceased to exist. Life in Lyon will be that much poorer.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

'It Was 21 Years Ago Today ...'


And there we have it. Wembley it will be; and Sunderland again. Most Addicks will cherish their memories of what I’m told was a cracking atmosphere at The Valley on Friday night. I’ll content myself in the years to come with the memories of events in Old Lyon’s Wallace bar, where this time around I was not the only Addick. That meant that as my partner Suzanne looked on askance, we indulged in some jumping up and down as Doncaster missed their fourth penalty, before the head went back into the hands (we all know why), only for celebrations to resume in earnest just after as their guy blazed wide.

The aftermath was a quick decision to confirm with others back in London that yes, I did want a ticket for Wembley, then Saturday morning and the logistical arrangements to best utilise the allocations of the season ticket holders among us. Once that was done, all that remained was to discover that the cost of the London-Paris train for Sunday and the London-Lyon flight back early Monday morning had gone up in the days since I checked. So be it, couldn’t exactly change course now and no doubt others will be making longer and tougher journeys to be there. So all is booked. Bring it on.

My take on Friday’s game? Probably was the case that any neutral watching it would have concluded that Doncaster were the better team. We did struggle both to impose ourselves and control play and to deal with their attacks from broken play, the most obvious example being their third goal, in extra time, when they pulled us apart from box to box. Add in a possible penalty against Taylor for shirt-pulling, and a more obvious one as it seemed to me that their guy was felled inside the box (I could be wrong and can’t comment on what the Sky people said as the Wallace didn’t run to allowing the volume). As was reflected in Lee Bowyer’s visit to their dressing room, Doncaster deserve plenty of credit for how they played, including how they responded to first going two down in the first leg and second to going 3-1 down on aggregate so early on Friday night.

At the same time anyone agreeing with the claim that they ‘played us off the park’ is I think not giving enough importance to the ebb and flow of a two-legged cup tie. The fact is that over the two games we were behind for about a minute, before Pratley’s equaliser on aggregate; and we were only level for the first 30 mins in the first leg and then most of extra time. For just about three of the four entire halves of normal time we were leading in the contest. That inevitably affects how you play, especially late in the game. Doncaster pulled one back at the death on their patch, then drew the scores level in the final minute at The Valley. Sure, for that they deserve credit, but what choice did they have but to chase the game? If a far-post header from a set piece hadn’t gone in we would probably have run out 3-2 winners on aggregate minus much of the drama.

As it was they did get the late ‘equaliser’, while we were spared the prospect of having to come up with a fresh plan to come from behind as Pratley scored pretty much before we had the chance to come to terms with their extra time goal. After that, if Doncaster had won the penalty shoot-out we would have had no choice but to nod and say ‘fair play’. That wasn’t to be.

Sunderland will be an entirely different kettle of fish and Bowyer, Jackson and the team need no advice from outside on how to set up for the game. We don’t know yet if Vetokele will be available and if so fully-fit. And fitness/rustiness issues are clearly going to affect others. So just what combinations and formations we start with have to be a matter of conjecture. What we have to hope is that an edginess to our performance on Friday wasn’t down to nerves/pressure in front of a sell-out crowd, or at least if it was in part they are now out of the system, because we know what Wembley can be like for a play-off final. And Sunderland have had experience of playing there this season.

Instead we’ve got all week to work on the songs. There’s got to be mileage in a reworking of The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper: ‘it was 21 years ago today, Super Clive showed his Mackems the way ...’ Like I said, we’ve got all week.


Friday, 17 May 2019

No Promotion For Duchere - But A VIP Area


As we while away the hours ahead of tonight’s game, with plans being put in place for what might follow but no chickens being counted, I thought people might be desperate to hear about how the season panned out for Lyon Duchere (or just might like a diversion).

The answer is pretty well, but not well enough to get the club into third place in the French third division and a play-off of their own for a place in League 2 - against the team finishing third-bottom in the higher division (currently Sochaux but with others in the mix ahead of the final round of matches), a set-up which inevitably reminds me of St Andrews. It had been only a long shot for some time now, but going into the penultimate round there was still a very remote possibility that a strange combination of results could see them win the prize. That possibility went with a 2-2 home draw against Tours, while a win for Le Mans and a point for Laval made the outcome irrelevant in any event.

Not everything is decided in National. Rodez are champions by a distance – and will be at home to Duchere, who are sure to finish fifth, in the final round - and Chambly go up with them. Third place and the play-off spot will be taken by either Le Mans or Laval, with the former in pole position (a victory at home against Chambly would make it certain, a draw would probably be enough, although defeat and it’s all down to how Laval fare away at Quevilly Rouen).

At the other end of the table, Drancy have held on to the bottom spot they have occupied all season, Entente SSG and Marignane Gignac will go down with them. The final relegation place is currently occupied by Tours, on 36 points. They would have been all but down but for a late equaliser at Duchere but will drop out of National unless they win their last game, at home to Cholet. Even if they do it might not be enough to get above either Bourg-en-Bresse Peronnas (on 38 points) or Concarneau (39). And it just so happens that those two teams will play each other. Looking at goal difference it seems to me that a draw would be good enough for them to survive, so don’t be surprised by a 0-0 scoreline (and accusations of a stitch-up).

I was deciding last Friday whether or not to go to Duchere’s last home game, which would have been a solitary experience as my partner Suzanne was off in northern France for a weekend of relatives, including a number of new-borns. I’d decided to give it a miss, not least with our game on Sunday in mind. Before I had the chance to decide she informed me that for some reason unbeknown to me the match had already been played, with the round of matches switched from the usual Friday night to Thursday night. I’ve no idea why that was.

Had I known we would have gone, not least as I would have liked to join in the pre-match tribute to Duchere’s manager Karim Mokkedem, who it seems will be leaving at the end of the season. He was born in Lyon and has been in charge since February 2014. I think I’m right in saying he’s won two promotions in that time (certainly the second), taking Duchere from a regional fifth division to a regional fourth, then into National, the third division, and cementing a place there for a club punching well above its weight. He’s just made 100 games as Duchere manager and to say the least hands over the reins with the club in a far better state than when he arrived. There was a crowd of 237 at Stade de Balmont for the send-off. He deserved a lot more.

So next season will be Duchere’s fourth in this division, despite an average attendance of just 272 this season (compared with Le Mans’ 5,595), by some way the lowest of the league. The new manager’s going to have a task on his hands to maintain the upward momentum of the club and to manage a transition which I fear will not be easy.

On a negative note, I hope this upward momentum of the club isn’t giving some within it an overblown sense of their own importance. As you might guess from the average attendance and a stadium capacity of 5,438 it isn’t exactly crowded (although all fans are contained in one stand to keep warm; I’ve only ever seen the terracing opposite used once, when Grenoble and their dubious fans came to town). The stand has fixed plastic seats and a small central area where the seats have a little more padding. Not surprisingly it’s a good place for an old English fart to sit, especially with the raucous element in the seats below the concourse.

However, a couple of games ago there was a change, one which has been retained. These seats are now taped off in a ‘VIP Area’, with groundstaff positioned to prevent unauthorised access. At the same time what was the main entrance to the stand, past the small area selling food and drink, is now shut to ‘ordinary fans’, designated a ‘VIP Entrance’ requiring a pass to get out (I know because first time around I ignored the orders not to go out that way, only to have to turn back as you can no longer actually get out via it). So now, not only are the best seats inaccessible and nearly empty (save for a few, who looked like the family of players and possibly club officials), a member of the groundstaff has to stand at the entrance to the area, blocking the view of the pitch from a number of other seats.

We did ask the poor sod trying to authorise access to the VIP seats just what idiot had come up with such a daft idea. He indicated that it was the decision of a few people in management – but also kindly made it clear that if we wished to sit in the area he would not stop us  (I don’t think there’s any danger of this information getting him into any trouble).

Now I could be being unfair here, perhaps Duchere are only implementing the league’s stadium requirements and standards. If so it’s taken them a few years to find out. And I doubt it. It’s more likely that some muppet thinks he is a VIP; if he is a VIP there must be some others; if there are VIPs therefore there should be a VIP area ... Can’t help thinking it’s not exactly in the club’s best interests to potentially alienate the supporters it has, when it surely needs all it can get.

An outcome on this, and insight into Duchere’s future under a new manager, will have to wait for next season. Now back to that other matter this evening ...


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Wembley After All?


Might seem a little strange, but the fact that away goals don’t count double (if scores are level) in the play-offs could help us to be set up in the right frame of mind for the second leg on Friday. I’ve no doubt that I if they did the same things would be being said by management and the players: only half-time, nobody’s taking anything for granted, we’ve got nothing to fear etc. But if they did there would have been no getting away from the fact that it would have meant that if Doncaster failed to score twice we would be going to Wembley.

That in turn would surely have had some impact on players’ thinking on Friday night. Just can’t get away from it, however much management might be working against such thoughts. Everyone was astounded by the Liverpool and Tottenham comebacks, but surely it was significant that when Barcelona and Ajax went to their dressing rooms at half-time they would have been both confident of success and basically wanting the game to be over. Both were turned over in the second half by teams with nothing to lose, with little or no time to turn things around. And we all know how difficult it is to change mentality on the pitch in a situation when you were happily playing out time.

Of course there were plenty of other factors involved, including luck. But as it is now we go into Friday night well aware that we have to go out from the start as if the scores are level and look to win the game, rather than having those thoughts about just stopping them scoring twice. Sure a 0-0 would be good enough for us, but you can’t play for that; you can play defensively if the opposition has to win by two goals (even if Barcelona and Ajax came a cropper from such a position or better), but that’s no longer the case for us.  

Doncaster’s scrappy late goal doesn’t alter the fact that, as Lee Bowyer pointed out, the result was one we would have grabbed with both hands beforehand. But it will have given them a lift, even though I can’t agree with their manager’s claim that their second-half showing merited it (which is not to say I wouldn’t make the same claim if I were in his shoes). Having secured the two-goal advantage, we were looking to see out the game and it was hardly surprising that they were displaying greater urgency than us.

That we are favourites to go through isn’t entirely down to a one-goal advantage. I think over the full game we showed a control and ability which if duplicated on Friday would see us beat Doncaster more times than not. The first 30 mins were pretty even but we had the better chances in that on another day Parker’s attempt to get around their centre-back would have been allowed and his almost perfectly-placed header would have ended in the net, past a keeper clearly beaten, rather than just wide. Doncaster’s two following efforts were both shots from outside the box; the first drew a decent save from Phillips but one he would have expected to make; the second clipped the top of the crossbar and might have been saved had it been going in. What followed - Taylor’s brave header and then Aribo’s effort (which if asked I would have to put down as an own goal by their keeper, however harsh) - sent us into the break in a fantastic position and set the tone for both teams’ approach to the second half.

I’m pleased to say that the Wallace bar in Lyon proved a most satisfactory venue to watch the match. There was initial concern as the guy behind the bar was for some reason intent on watching Rangers v Celtic, but that was soon sorted out (plenty of screens available), the wine was decent, and once the Sunday lunchers thinned out the place filled gradually with a fair number in Liverpool shirts hoping for another miracle. So I shall be there again on Friday evening.

Rather more important, the option of actually getting to Wembley for the final – no, there are no chickens being prematurely counted (or the equivalent: il ne faut pas vendre la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tue) – just a plan being considered. The weekend in question was long ago booked by my partner Suzanne for a trip to Paris, we were to return on a 17.53 train to Lyon (which would have meant being able to see some of the game from a bar close to Gare de Lyon). Just as I didn’t check on play-off dates when agreeing to the trip, she was unaware that the Sunday would be the day for voting in France for the European Parliament elections. With the unwelcome threat of a Le Pen victory in her head, she now wants to get an earlier train back, to be able to vote. It seems it will be a 12.59 back to Lyon, the planned trip to the catacombs postponed (yet again).

Now that set me thinking. If the plan is to get that earlier train (which would have the advantage of returning us to Lyon at 14.58, with an hour to get installed in Wallace’s for the game), could I perhaps instead get a Eurostar and take a detour? My problem is I can’t get back to Lyon from London after the game. So the plan taking shape seems to be a train to London from Paris, go to the game, celebrate afterwards, then head out to Heathrow and find a suitable comfy chair to get a bit of shut-eye before an 06.35 flight to Lyon (I’m thinking it’s easier to spend a disturbed and shortened night at the airport than getting back to Paris and waiting there for a morning train).

Obviously nothing can be decided before late Friday. But whereas before I was assuming no chance for me to be at Wembley, the door seems to have opened a little. May Lee and the boys kick it fully open on Friday.