Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Blanket Coverage

It’s midweek, it’s five o’clock, it’s … time to write nonsense. The task is to link seamlessly several half-ideas for a post, because individually they don’t really stand up. So, let’s see if it can be done.

To begin, I’m truly relieved that, according to the official site and the daily email, our reserves ‘made amends’ for Saturday by trouncing QPR’s second-string. Honour is satisfied and everyone is happy. Bet those guys over at Loftus Road would happily swap the three points for bragging rights between the stiffs – and just wait until I can laugh at the next QPR supporter I meet for the misery he/she must have suffered trudging away from the reserves game (no disrespect intended, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually met a QPR supporter).

I don’t doubt that the wording from the club is deliberately a little tongue-in-cheek. But it seems to me there is a growing propensity, also noted by friends, for the ‘glass half full’ approach to go a little too far. It sometimes smacks of trying to talk up a venture before selling it. I see Ipswich are the latest to attract fresh investment – and it’s been very quiet on what developments if any there have been since the appointment of Seymour Pierce. Being no longer listed the club has no formal obligation to provide updates, but it does have shareholders who are not board members (I dug out my certificate recently) and there is a moral obligation to them.

Any statement would presumably come from Peter Varney. I read with interest what he writes in the match programme, but usually find myself disagreeing with him when he ventures opinions, especially on European issues on which he tends to come across as a dinosaur (to declare my interest, I am pro-EMU – which does not stand for European monetary union, strictly speaking we should refer to European EMU – and, while taking special delight in players coming through the youth system, have no problems with Charlton fielding a completely non-British team if it does the business on the pitch).

In the QPR programme Varney was advocating a defined number of homegrown players in a first-team squad and having seven substitutes, two of which must be young, homegrown players. It seems the rationale is that “this country must have structures that allow young English talent to get the opportunities to develop”. Leaving aside this all being completely unworkable and contrary to the whole spirit of free movement of labour within the EU, which in other areas the UK embraces and benefits from enormously, just what’s wrong with open competition and meritocracy?

Then there’s Sam’s three-match ban. I wasn’t at the game and haven’t seen any replays of the incident, so I have no idea whether or not Sam deserved a red card. Charlton’s appeal was fair enough and Varney’s criticism of the FA for being unnecessarily secretive and dismissive, providing only a cursory rejection of the appeal sounded like a campaign worth pursuing (even if only to get our own back over the Sankofa affair).

However, according to Varney the referee’s report stated that Sam “threw a series of punches to the head and upper torso of the Hull player”. If the referee had that impression, he had no choice but to show a red card. The disciplinary committee seems to have found that the DVD footage could not determine whether the referee was correct but that as the ref was “in a perfect position” they had no grounds to conclude that he had made a serious and obvious error. Varney, it seems, believes the referee was not perfectly placed. He therefore has a difference of opinion with the committee, nothing more. He also seems to believe that the DVD footage does not prove Sam was guilty. In the context of an appeal it doesn’t have to; it has to prove that he was innocent.

Varney concludes that “justice has not been served, and the application of a principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is one that has my wholehearted support”. I’m sorry but this is just nonsense. On the pitch the referee is judge and jury and found Sam guilty. The appeal process is to determine whether he made an obvious mistake. Even from what Varney says the committee clearly could not do that (presumably unless the referee changed his view of the incident). Sam didn’t go into the appeal as someone not yet guilty. Can we please leave trying to play silly buggers with the law to a certain southerner called Jordan.

It is nevertheless of concern that Varney mentions the personal abuse he has had to put up with over the past year. There’s simply no justification for that. It’s just further depressing evidence that there is something seriously amiss with our fan base, not just that there aren’t enough of us and that we won’t be able to match the turnout that QPR and (especially) Plymouth managed. (Is this just a desperate attempt on my part to manufacture my first abusive comment?)

There are two abstractions from posts on the club site on the matter of booing the team: “You're telling me it's OK for Charlton to play like that and get no stick from the fans. They were simply awful in those two games, I would have rather stayed at home if I knew they were going to play like that.” And: “If people are paying good money week in week out and feel as if they aren’t getting the performance and commitment they deserve than they have every right to boo.”

I don’t recall a right to boo having been mentioned in the Magna Carta or any subsequent legislation. And let’s lobby the club to get Pardew and the team to text us all about how they are going to perform so we can decide whether it’s worth the effort. Maybe in this brave new world you do have a right to boo. Heaven knows we’re told every day we have ‘rights’ to everything else. But it’s one thing to have a right, it’s another to exercise it. You are not obligated to do so. Please just take a moment next time to consider what you are trying to achieve.

On rights and obligations, I have the proud record of never having voted in a UK general election. Indeed, were it not for the Valley Party my record would be spotless (I couldn’t ignore that one). And I actively encourage all I know not to vote. I have the right to vote (and I even get a postal ballot, which I decline to complete), I simply decide not to exercise it (and no, this does not mean I have no right to complain about our government).

This is a stance taken for what I believe to be positive reasons. I am in favour of reform of the UK electoral system and believe that there will only be change if the participation rate continues to fall, producing more independent MPs and threatening the major parties. It’s sometimes hard to get across to people what it’s like not just to live in a constituency that has voted the same way in living memory but also to live in a part of it which is not the natural support base of the winning party. Nobody bothers to campaign here; a few leaflets through the post is as far as it goes (which can of course be a blessing).

We seem to have embraced the principle of universal suffrage and one man/woman one vote. How can it not follow that the votes need to be of equal value? I am at least partially disenfranchised. It doesn’t have to be straight proportional representation; I happen to like the French system of voting over two rounds. If someone gets over 50% they are elected, if not there’s a run-off between the top two. So people vote for who they want, then for the lesser of two evils. And before anyone says the French system nearly let in the disgusting Le Pen it didn’t. The Socialists screwed up badly by not turning out in the first round and the system ensured that Le Pen would never have a chance of actually winning.

What we need is a blanket, nationwide debate leading to a referendum. Now blanket sounds a little like blanquette. And at least my Saturday is sorted now. No Southampton (what was that about not turning out for away games?). Instead I will serve my punishment devised by my French partner and cook a blanquette de vaux to her satisfaction. Disasters they say come in threes. We’ve had ours surely with the last three games. But food poisoning followed by defeat at Southampton and then accidentally sitting on a firework at the Blackheath display has to be a possible combination for the coming weekend.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Perspectives

Like other bloggers (I suspect), all I wanted to do after the QPR game was pen something quickly, get back to the red wine, and forget about football for a couple of days at least. To go from good game pity about the last-minute equaliser (Barnsley), to blip (Wolves), then to bad day at the office (Plymouth) and now to slump and crisis (QPR) in a short space of time requires a little distance before any perspective is possible.

You have to agree with Charlton North Downs that against QPR (but also in retrospect against Plymouth) we were far too slow in our play, and with New York Addick that it wasn’t that we were playing too much football but too little (on Saturday I texted a friend after 10 minutes asking when we became such a route one outfit). Defenders end up lumping balls forward if there’s nothing else on, usually after a few obligatory square passes between themselves.

If there is one possible reason it seems to me that a lot of the players are knackered, mentally and physically. There were moments against Plymouth and QPR when we moved the ball at pace and ran for each other, creating space and options for the player in possession. When this happened we looked dangerous. But they were all too rare - and became increasingly rare as the games progressed. The key requirement is midfielders and forwards making runs and making themselves available; if they don’t, the system breaks down and a ‘passing side’ becomes ineffectual. It’s hard work to do this for a full game – and it seems to me that in recent games we have been increasingly unable to play at the tempo that was evident a few weeks ago.

How can they be knackered, we’re only a quarter through the season? Well, if you look at the squad, especially the one currently available to Pardew, what stands out is the lack of experience of the sort of football in this division. Really only Iwelumo, Varney and Fortune, maybe also McLeod, can be said to be well enough acquainted with the speed at which one game follows another and the physical aspect of this division (I don’t know about Wolves but I’m increasingly annoyed by the possibility that Plymouth went out to do a job on us – Todorov and Semedo in particular).

Semedo has been outstanding for us so far. But has he ever before come close to playing 13 league games in 10 weeks? Zhi started seven games for us last season (he did of course come late); he has already chalked up 10 league starts. We all know about Andy Reid’s fitness doubts and I think we’re all agreed he should have been rested against Wolves. Two international games and three league games in a couple of weeks, making it 12 league starts, and he’s venting his frustration at the officials. Look at some of the others. Weaver: didn’t play much after being dropped by Man City; Mills: same story; Sodje: how many games did he manage for Reading last season? The sprightliest player for us on Saturday was Sam – whose just had an enforced break.

Of course the players should in an ideal world be able to cope. But if you go for a style of play that emphasises passing and movement, creating space there must be a wearing effect when it isn’t clicking. You get what we had on Saturday: players too often standing still and waiting for something to happen, with the result that defenders are reduced to playing long, hopeful balls in Iwelumo’s direction (even when he’s been substituted) and midfielders get crowded out on the ball because of the lack of options (Sam ended up doing it all himself most times).

I tend to wax lyrical about the (all too) brief spell when Murphy, Smertin and Kishishev worked in tandem in central midfield, Thomas and Rommadahl operated as genuine wingers, and Darren Bent provided the finish. But there were times when it didn’t work (I remember Fulham at home, then losing to Spurs). When it didn’t we suffered because there was no effective Plan B (Murphy couldn’t operate in a two-man central midfield and we didn’t have a second striker worthy of the name).

I feel that in the past two games at least we needed a good back-up plan as we ran out of steam with the failure to get in front – both games would have been very different I’m sure if we had taken the lead; we could then have played more within ourselves. In the event Pardew’s changes left us badly unbalanced, with effectively four up front but no service and at least against QPR the defence being overrun.

As pointed out elsewhere, what we need at the moment is the sort of determination that Matt Holland would offer. Curbs’ usual response to a couple of bad performances was to batten down the hatches and grind out results. I don’t think we have to go that far this time (it’s a little premature to be thinking about avoiding falling into the relegation zone) but we should be looking to change a set-up that, for now at least, isn’t working.

We don’t have the players to make wholesale changes; if Ambrose is still out there’s really only Yassin and Racon pushing for a start. So to my mind either we switch to something more basic and less demanding – ie going longer but out of intention not lack of options – or we change the formation. I think given the resources available, and the fact that starting with two of only three recognised forwards leaves us short of option, it’s the latter, which means 4-5-1 with Zhi playing in the hole.

My only plea is that if we do this we have genuine wide men out there as the system needs width. That means Sam and Thomas playing, with Reid central, Zhi central but with a remit of getting forward to support Iwelumo, and Semedo or Racon playing the holding role. And I don’t know what happened to Mills on Saturday, but if he’s suddenly lost form then Yassin comes back in.

One other thing, guys. As fans, for a while at least we have to lower our expectations. We are not playing well enough to brush teams aside and the forwards look low on confidence, so let’s not make it worse for them by howling at each misplaced pass. And the players? They looked stressed out on Saturday. Determination and commitment are necessary, but what about having a laugh from time to time and giving the impression that the pressure isn’t getting to you.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Long Walk Home

It was a most enjoyable brunch in Legends, many thanks to CND for the organisation. On the way back we couldn’t agree on the quickest way to walk back to Blackheath; I was adamant that going straight up Charlton Church Lane and turning right at the top was the best option, while the others were in favour of cutting across via the back streets, emerging on Charlton Road closer to The Standard.

We’re not going to agree and it’s difficult to work it out for sure without some sort of pedometer. One advantage of the direct route is that if a 54 comes along you can jump on it; if not you just keep going. The train is quickest, of course, but getting on the first one out isn’t easy and you can end up waiting for more than half an hour.

In between there was a football match. If you were there I wouldn’t bother to read on; you saw it. If you weren’t I still wouldn’t bother unless you want to ruin your Saturday. Best just look away and get on with something else. One team was determined, committed, missed several good chances (including a penalty), defended well (especially against an over-used long ball up the middle), and could have won more easily. It wasn’t us.

The line-up was not controversial. Grant Basey came in for his debut at the expense of Moutaouakil, Sodje got his start and Bougherra was the one to drop out. With no Todorov Varney moved back inside.

The first half was disappointing but not a disaster. For the first 10 minutes we hoofed it up at every available opportunity, QPR looked lively. But as the match progressed we started to stretch them, with Zhi and Sam starting to feature. Varney blazed over from a good position and then instead of shooting tried to play in Iwelumo. QPR had their moments too, but the feeling was that we should prove too good for them. The complaint was a lack of movement and the impression that only occasionally did we play at the tempo necessary to disrupt their defence.

At half-time Pardew made a change, with Thomas coming on for Semedo, with Reid moving inside. It was an aggressive move and I remember saying it looks like sh*t or bust.

If we needed a demonstration of what Semedo contributes to the team it came with a vengeance. Suddenly every ball they played forward saw us stretched; all the time it seemed to be one-on-one. We were being overrun and the back four couldn’t cope. It became near farcical as QPR missed glorious opportunities, not just the penalty. And each time we thought we might have weathered the storm something else went wrong. Finally it was a Weaver flap.

As on Tuesday night the game degenerated (from our perspective). Iwelumo had had a frustrating time against their centre-backs, in part due to the poor quality of endless balls pumped in his direction, and gave way for McLeod. Late on Sam, who had picked up a yellow card but had looked likeliest to get us back on level terms, went off for Racon. But by this stage QPR were fighting for every ball and running down the clock, while the agitated and frustrated crowd contributed to a draining of confidence on the part of players like Varney.

The positives? Basey looked accomplished and didn’t get fazed after being beaten once by their winger in the first half. He got forward to good effect and I thought looked the part. Sam was lively, although too many crosses were easy pickings for their goalkeeper. Semedo shone by showing what happens when he’s not on the pitch.

That’s it. Just about everyone else contributed to a lousy afternoon. Player ratings:

Weaver – 5. He was set to get close to man-of-the-match, keeping us in the game in the second half. Then he goes and flaps at a cross.

Mills – 5. Looked excellent (again) in the first half but went to pieces in the second. Was at fault for the penalty in getting caught out of position and not getting back, leaving Fortune exposed. Then almost gifted a goal trying to turn out of trouble in his own box. After that he looked tired and was regularly beaten.

Basey – 7. Put under pressure in the first half and generally came through well. Didn’t look nervous and went looking for the ball. Promising debut.

Sodje – 6. Didn’t seem to do anything wrong. But we lost and I’m not feeling generous.

Fortune – 5. Gave away the penalty.

Reid – 5. Not one of his better games. Didn’t penetrate in the first half and his move inside saw us overrun in the second.

Semedo – 7. Thought he was having a disappointing game, but what a difference when he went off!

Zhi – 6. Some good runs, a couple of shots. But no decisive contribution.

Sam – 7. Lively and looked our best bet during an awful second half.

Iwelumo – 5. Felt sorry for him given the quality of the service, but was well marshalled by their defence.

Varney – 5. Tried hard, but his miss in the first half (on his left foot) cost us dear.

What next? Don’t know. Maybe with two away games coming up it’s time for 4-5-1. It’s not as if we have three or four players clamouring for a start. And my glass is empty. There’s a whole week ahead for perspective. At least all I had to do was walk home.

Friday, 26 October 2007

The Bishop Knew


Oh come on guys. Sure, somebody’s got to be to blame. But isn’t this questioning Pardew’s abilities, even his position, going a tad over the top? Three games ago he was getting praise from Ferguson as we marched towards automatic promotion, now he’s bought badly and can’t get the team formation right.

In pre-season I half-wrote a post titled ‘Shock Horror Exclusive, Pardew not yet god’. It outlined doubts about some of his signings (at West Ham and for us) and suggested that some of the gloss was bound to come off at some point. I scrapped it because it seemed unnecessarily negative at a time when optimism was building as the season approached. I feel the same way now about the carping.

What on earth do we expect? Perfection? Curbs wasn’t perfect, nor to the best of my knowledge has anybody been since JC (and he seems to have had his off days). What are we trying to achieve (other than to vent our spleen and/or massage our egos by assuming that anybody’s listening) if we start to question Pardew’s position? The bottom line for me is that everything should be geared around maximising the chances of going away from matches as often as possible feeling happy, which first and foremost means winning – which means booing players during the game (unless they are not trying) and undermining the manager are both strict no-nos.

(I feel a separate post coming on. At half-time on Tuesday a couple of friends who due to family commitments can no longer make many games commented that they were enjoying the game. I said it’s fine as far as it goes but we’re losing. I guess I haven’t reached that higher, detached state and it set me thinking have there been any games that we lost that I enjoyed? So far I can only think of two but will give it more thought.)

There can be no question that Pardew was, by some distance, the best available option when he became available. He still is. If we finish mid-table that would probably still be the case. What is important is that he continues to learn and develop as a manager. He doesn’t seem to have a problem with confidence, which is fine as long as it doesn’t stand in the way of learning from mistakes. I hope he stays for 10 years or more – because that will mean he and the club have been successful in that time. Lennie and Curbs did tend to deny us a pleasure that I had grown up with, namely calling for the manager’s head. But all that went before them was failure and given the choice ….

So, who should we blame? OK, I’ll take the rap. A lifelong atheist, I ventured into Southwark Cathedral on Monday evening (which explains the photo). I may be enlightened, but my family has been turning increasingly fish all around me. My mother got involved with the church and now my sister has been officially stamped as a licensed reader (whatever that means). I don’t know what I said or did wrong on the night, but since then we have been beaten at home, lost Todorov for the season, and seem to be bickering among ourselves. I thought the bishop had a smile on his face when he looked my way. Maybe he knew something I didn’t. I should always remember god might not exist but he does have a sense of humour to go with a mean streak.

And talking of blame and punishments, this morning a package arrived from Lyon. I had forgotten about my penitence for the England v France rugby. Seems Suzanne hadn’t. What she has chosen is devilish in its construction. It seems my task when she is over next weekend is to cook blanquette de veau from an enclosed book of Lyon recipes. Not too bad you may think, even for someone of my limited culinary abilities. The problem is that it has to be as good as cooked by her favourite grandmother – and if not the punishment continues and escalates. So please, can anyone tell me of a restaurant/takeaway close enough to Blackheath that can do a perfect blanquette de veau?

They really are a breed apart these French. I remember a line from one of those comedy improvisation programmes: one of the things you’ll never hear a French person say – ‘and this part of the animal we throw away’. Of all the Lyon sausages I have tried I had decided that the classic rosette was my favourite (although asking for and eating a jesus was always amusing). Perhaps no more as I read the book's description: "the rosette is a sliced sausage, made in the rectum of a pig's entrails, whose anus is said to resemble a small rose".

Come On Martin, Make My Day

Confirmation in the press that Todorov will be out for the rest of the season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament is dreadful news, for him personally and the club. He has looked a class above others in his ability to link play (greatly helping Reid and others) and create space by dropping deep and taking defenders with him – as well as score goals. I was really looking forward to seeing him play more.

In practical terms it leaves us with three strikers (assuming no repeat of the less-than-successful experiment last season of using Sam as an outright forward), with two for the future, Walker and Dickson, and a failure, Marcus Bent, out on loan (Yeovil for three months, Gillingham for another month, and Wigan for the season respectively).

Maybe we can get a quick call in to Martin Jol at Spurs. ‘Come on, Martin, you know you’re on your way out. Why not have a laugh before you go. You know that striker you paid £16.5m for in the summer and have barely used, and who your supporters don’t seem to like, well he could use the games and …. ‘ Barring such salvation, and assuming we can’t bring back Dickson early, it’s a case of Hobson’s Choice for now: Iwelumo and Varney with McLeod as back-up.

If there is a silver lining it could be Dickson. Of course we’ve only seen him in the reserves and in pre-season and are aware he’s not the finished product. But he gave the impression to me, albeit only at Welling, that along with lightening pace he loves scoring goals and isn’t (yet) scared of missing. Rough diamond indeed. The club obviously saw something special in him – and if through circumstances his chance comes earlier than expected so be it. We should be saying the same about McLeod, but aside from the impressive cameo against Norwich against a tiring defence he has struggled – and was poor on Tuesday night.

I don’t tend to like doing match previews. It might be that I’m much more comfortable pontificating over where it all went wrong than conjuring up some revolutionary and instantly successful formation. But I hope/think it’s rather down to three good reasons.

First, in the cold light of day I’m well aware that Pardew and his ilk have forgotten more about football in a day than I will ever know. Getting the best out of the players and choosing the right combinations and tactics are what they get paid for and in general I’m happy to bow to their better judgement. (It’s just that it seems so different during and just after a game; maybe they put something in the wine in the pubs close to the ground – that might after all explain why it’s so bloody awful.)

Second, for all I know a team formation that I have carefully thought out is based around a player who the previous day staggered into training one step ahead of the rozzers having pranged his Porsche on the way back from an all-day/night bender. Or rather, as it might be outlined in the programme notes, he’d picked up a slight knock. (As an aside, it would be nice if Pardew and others were a little more forthcoming, after a game, about the thinking behind the line-up; then we could really lay into them for getting it wrong.)

Third, most of the time I know next to nothing about the team we are playing. I turned into a true Premiership snob and in recent years would just catch the Championship highlights on a hazy Sunday morning for a chuckle. I’m assuming that QPR will be pants on Saturday simply because of their league position, not because I could name their players or their likely formation. They will come and defend because in an open game we would be vastly superior; they will be happy to leave with a 0-0 and will fail to do so because we will take some of the many chances we create – all pure prejudice on my part.

So with those caveats …

Not so long ago I thought we had good cover in all positions and would be able to tinker with the team while keeping the same shape. I still think that’s the case, but injuries have severely limited the options available at the moment. Holland, Powell, Thatcher, Gibbs and Todorov are all out. Added to that, McCarthy has not yet shown the ability that Pardew clearly believed he has when he bought him, Thomas may still have his head in the clouds (maybe he has got his mind right, I don’t know), Ambrose still flatters to deceive, and McLeod doesn’t yet look ready to start a game.

With Sinclair, Dickson, Walker and Youga out on loan, who are the players who didn’t start on Tuesday night who could come into the equation? Well, Randolph, Sankofa, Basey, Sodje, McCarthy, Racon, Ambrose, Thomas, Christensen, possibly Arter, and Sam (available again) would seem to be the sum total. But apart from Sam (whose return will presumably keep Christensen out of Pard’s thinking) there’s no compelling case to be made for the alternatives.

Instead I think it’s a case of Pardew picking pretty much the same team and telling them to prove to him (and us) they are as good as he has said they are. We are assuming that QPR will be weaker than Plymouth – so if a youngster came in and did OK we may not learn much about his ability to stand up against the better teams – and there is no midweek game coming up, so no need to think of resting players (Reid is the only real doubt on that front). So put a rocket up their arses and push ‘em out on the pitch.

With Sam back and assuming Reid continues, it’s the bench for Thomas and/or Ambrose. And as the only experiment at the back on Tuesday (switching Mills and bringing back Moutaouakil) worked pretty well, in that Mills was excellent and Yassin got better as the game progressed, it’s reasonable to assume that it will be repeated, at least ahead of a mooted loan signing.

That really only leaves whether Sodje should be given a start at the expense of Fortune or Bougherra, whether Racon should get the nod over Semedo or Zhi, and whether Randolph is chosen over Weaver. I haven’t seen enough of Racon to venture an opinion on that front (he looked good against Stockport) and to drop Weaver would be harsh, although something’s wrong with the defence and Weaver still doesn’t seem to command the box or communicate enough to his defenders.

Maybe it is time to bring in Sodje. Neither Fortune nor Bougherra could complain if dropped (and what has happened to those storming runs forward that Magic used to make for Sheff Wed?). We are assuming that QPR will not put us under that much pressure, so would a clean sheet with Fortune and Bougherra together really tell us anything about their ability to cope against better teams?

My team (injuries and other wildcard factors notwithstanding):

Weaver, Moutaouakil, Sodje, Bougherra, Mills, Reid, Semedo, Zhi, Sam, Iwelumo, Varney. Subs: Randolph, McCarthy, Racon, Thomas, McLeod,

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Pick The Positives Out Of That One

In the cold light of day it still seems very, very disappointing. There were factors/excuses but no getting away from the fact that we didn’t play well enough, individually and collectively, to overcome a determined, organised and (in key areas) skilful Plymouth. Overall the game for me had echoes of the match against Sheff Wed, the difference this time being the higher quality of the opposition, at least defensively, which prevented us from turning things around.

The excuses? Their goalkeeper played a blinder (having an own goal against his name was poor reward for him). Awful performance by Styles, undoubtedly the worst I can remember, complemented by an inept linesman (although as a mate pointed out, he couldn’t keep up with the speed of Plymouth’s attacks in the first half and missed offsides but had no problem in the second given the pace at which we went forward). It wasn’t that Styles got key decisions wrong; it was the lack of consistency and his endless whistling that helped to disrupt the game.

Styles managed to book 10 players. If he had been consistent it should have been about 20 – or it would have been three or four if he had been up to the job early on. The foul which led to Todorov’s departure went unpunished and, worst of all, was the lenient treatment of Hales (who isn’t worthy of the name). He clashed with Semedo early on and the ref had a long talk to them both. Hales continued to use elbows in every challenge and to go through late when he had no chance of getting the ball. After the next scything down of Semedo Styles had another chat with Hales rather than booking him. Finally he was given a yellow card. After that Hales behaved himself – except for milking it in front of the East Stand when he scored what proved to be the winner. Styles failed to control the game early on and thereafter players had no idea if a challenge would produce a yellow card and the fans lost confidence in all his decisions.

The reasons? The formation which Pardew put out, with Todorov and Varney playing either side of Iwelumo in a 4-3-3 or Varney playing on the wing in a 4-4-2 (depending on your interpretation) didn’t work. Or rather it wasn’t really working in the first half-hour before Todorov was carried off. Bringing on Thomas and moving Varney back inside would, in retrospect, have been the better move (although who knows what Thomas’ attitude is at the moment?). McLeod coming on so early left us short of options later in the game – and let’s face it he put in a poor display, as did Varney (his excuse being the position he was asked to play). Nobody really played off Iwelumo (who again failed to score with his head) and we missed Todorov’s ability to link play and to create space.

The first half was flawed, with our central defenders not coming to terms with the lively pairing of Hales and Ebanks-Blake, Zhi looking anonymous and Reid struggling to impose himself. But at least we were fairly coherent and when we upped the tempo put them under pressure and created chances. The failure to take them then cost us dear and a soft second for Plymouth left us frustrated but not despondent at the break.

The match really turned on a chance for Iwelumo early in the second. The cross proved a little too high and the header ineffective. We didn’t create another chance worthy of the name (remember Thomas cutting inside against Spurs and curling in a beauty; last night he found himself in the same position and delivered a back pass). The final 30 minutes saw a degeneration into a frustrated mess, with a line of four up front barely seeing the ball as Plymouth passed it around at will.

The positives? Hard to find, but Mills was outstanding once more. He managed to get his intimidation in first and after that Plymouth shied away from him. Yassin not surprisingly looked rusty in the first half but looked threatening going forward in the second. But that’s about it. Fortune and Bougherra still look like an uneasy pairing, Sodje didn’t cover himself in glory when he came on, the passing in midfield mostly looked laboured, and the formation (plus the loss of Sam) left us without genuine width. Weaver had little to do but may have been a little at fault for the second as he seemed undecided about coming out for the ball.

Player ratings? Weaver(6), Yassin(6), Mills(8), Fortune(5), Bougherra(5), Semedo(6), Zhi(5), Reid(7), Varney(5),Iwelumo(6), Todorov(5). Subs: Sodje(5), McLeod(5), Thomas(5)

What next? We need to forget about league positions, talk about promotion etc and focus on playing better before confidence starts to go. We will have Sam back for Saturday and QPR but otherwise are short of options to change things around (we are now without Thatcher, Powell, Gibbs, Holland, and presumably Todorov). The fringe players, especially Racon, maybe McCarthy (a big disappointment so far), could come into contention. But by and large I would expect more of the same – which hopefully will be enough against a weak team. Thoughts of whether we have already been sussed by the better teams can wait.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Five For Fun

As we are all still depressed after the weekend and in light of the injuries, and can't agree on whether Basey should be given a start, maybe it’s time for another of those annoying (and probably already done elsewhere many times over) ‘my favourite …’ items. This one is the funniest five moments I can recall during a Charlton game that I watched. Some of what follows is lifted from previous posts, but it’s the beauty of the prose that counts (and if we can’t plagiarise ourselves who can we?).

1. Peter Hunt, Charlton v Oldham October 1972

This proved to be a very disappointing season, with early hopes of a quick rebound to the Second Division on the back of goals from new signing ‘King’ Arthur Horsfield (he was to score 25 in the league) and a young Mike Flanagan (12) fading and the campaign ending in some disarray as only one of the last nine games were won, leaving us in 11th place at the finish. And the next time we look around at the stadium that The Valley has become and laugh about attendances at Selhurst Park, remember that on a cold, windswept March evening, in a vast open arena, we had a crowd of 3,015 for a league game (against Halifax). It was one of the few occasions when I questioned the wisdom of supporting Charlton.

However, it contained a real gem, at a time when the sun was still on our backs. At home we scored goals for fun at that stage, having seen off Swansea 6-0 and Notts County 6-1 – and shipped them just as easily. So 2-2 at half-time was no great surprise, with Horsfield levelling the scores just before the break. A Flanagan goal gave us the lead and just when a nervy finale seemed on the cards the ball ran through to Peter Hunt, another player brought in by then manager Theo Foley (Colin Powell being the third) - and one whose claim to fame as the best beard at Charlton would be topped the following season with the arrival of a certain Derek Hales.

Hunt shot, the ball hit the side-netting, and both teams lined up for a goal-kick. Meanwhile, the referee was running back to the centre-circle and it slowly dawned on all concerned that he had given a goal. What was impressive was the unanimity shown by the team and the bulk of the 7,348 in attendance. The players ran to congratulate Hunt and the fans picked up with applause. Nobody said a word. The Oldham players did, of course, while the crowd started to express their (mock) displeasure at the delay in restarting the game. But after consultations with the linesman the goal stood.

There was no video replay, no photo evidence (that I know of), no admission of guilt in the next programme (let’s face it, in those days they contained next to nothing, being a few sheets either side of a Football League Review). I kept a scrapbook then (yes, sad is the word – I still have them, alongside my Valley grass cuttings) and the match reports refer to a ‘controversial’ goal (one also suggested that Hunt was in an offside position when he got the ball). The Mercury’s Andrew Gardiner reported that “I must say from my vantage I had to agree with the Oldham players”. Fact is everyone in the ground knew exactly what had happened – except the two that mattered.

2. Colin Powell, Palace v Charlton November 1974

OK, the fun came the following day watching The Big Match. The game was actually lost 2-1, although there was a happy end to the season as we secured promotion back to the Second Division (on that glorious night at home to Preston), with Killer and King Arthur netting 30 league goals between them. In doing so we had edged out Palace, which was some payback for them having pipped us for promotion to the top flight back in 1968/69. But in truth there was no rivalry; we knew they were there, we knew what sort of a place Selhurst/Norwood was, but our paths seldom crossed.

Paddy had equalised, getting the ball wide right and cutting in across a couple of defenders before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner (it's on all the collection videos). The fun came when Malcolm Allison came clean to Brian Moore on TV. He said that he had instructed his defenders to force Powell to go inside, ‘because he’s got no left foot’. To be fair he had the style and good grace to see the funny side; he only turned into a whining cry-baby later on when we were promoted and they weren’t, accusing us of having watered the pitch following the return match at The Valley - when we slaughtered them 1-0.

3. Derek Hales, Chelsea v Charlton 1975

This was Killer’s season, when he almost scooped the £10k for 30 league goals, ending with 28 from 40 games (Flanagan was our next highest scorer with six) and prompting a campaign for him to be picked for England. He scored almost half of our goals in the league that season – and in the following one netted 16 in 16 before being sold. In two-and-a-half seasons he scored 64 goals in 100 league starts.

Why is there no biography of Killer yet? Had he gone to a club that played to his strengths I have no doubt he would have made it in the top flight. Instead he found himself alongside Charlie George and other individuals in a team in decline. You just didn’t ask Hales to make smart runs, come deep to get the ball, or play one-twos. You just unleashed him in the penalty area.

He might have scooped the money that year had he not been sent off in the game at home against Sunderland (who went on to be champions). As I remember it, having scored (we lost 2-1 in a nasty encounter, on and off the pitch) he delivered the most blatant and premeditated sending off I have ever seen. From a Sunderland throw-in he launched himself into the back of the defender, got up first and kicked the prostrate player. He was well on the way to the dressing room before the ref had the chance to formally send him off.

The game in question was just after Christmas. My father and I, sensibly wearing nothing to give away our identity, decided to stand a little away from the cluster of Charlton fans in the away end, to avoid any trouble. But five minutes before the kick-off a swarm of Chelsea fans descended on our contingent, only to be beaten back by the police. We found ourselves in amongst a packed group of Neanderthals. I remember them talking about one of their mates who was being sent down for shooting someone at Orient.The game went well, Charlton taking a 2-0 lead. We tried to look glum while feeling warm inside. But Chelsea came back to level it up. Then quite late on (I think) there was a ball hoofed upfield. Bonnetti and Harris set off to collect, giving one of those wonderful occasions when you can see it coming almost in slow-motion, both shouting ‘mine’. They collided and the ball ran loose to Killer, who duly passed it into an empty net.I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. There followed a stunned silence during which you could sense the wheels slowly turning in the minds of those around us. My father and I decided to make a tactical withdrawal, quietly and calmly.

4. Jim Tolmie – Carlisle v Charlton 1986

Despite leaving The Valley, we needed just a point from our penultimate game to secure promotion to the top-flight for the first time in my life. The reality of this was slowly dawning; I can’t say through the season I expected us to go up; I didn’t really want to think this was possible, especially after the shock of the move. But after losing at Shrewsbury (still one of the most enjoyable away trips I can recall, especially with our car having wedged itself between the team bus and the police escort) we won four and drew two of our next six games, including beating Fulham twice, while rivals were falling away (‘Alan Ball has f***ed it up again’).

The train journey there was long and boring, and outside even Michael Fish might have been moved to describe the conditions as blustery. Carlisle desperately needed to win to try to avoid relegation and came out fighting. Of course, before long we were 2-0 down and struggling. Then just as half-time was approaching, with an urgent need for us to regroup, Tolmie gets the ball and plays a back-pass from at least 30 yards (or so I remember it). It was going out for a corner before a providential gust of wind caressed it into the bottom corner of the net.

We come out for the second half rejuvenated, equalised, and went on to score what proved to be a totally unnecessary winner. So it was the top flight for us – and Division Three for Carlisle, followed by near-extinction. I still feel a little guilty - and sometimes find myself wondering if those who jumped off the train half-way home (to try to find an offie) ever made it back to London.

5. Paul Miller – Chelsea v Charlton 1988

This one didn’t seem funny at the time, but makes me laugh when I watch the video, being one of the two best fouls by a Charlton player (the other being Peter Shirtliffe’s knee in the back of the head during the play-off final). In our second season back in the top flight we would continue our steady progress – survival by the play-offs in year one, avoid the play-offs in the last game in year two, stay up with a game to spare year three (who can forget the joy and relief throughout that totally meaningless 4-0 defeat at Notts Forest?).

The game itself had long degenerated into a series of individual and collective feuds, which towards the end undoubtedly favoured us as football went by the board. A Chelsea team containing Dixon, Durie and Nevin (as well as McLaughlin and Pates, who both went on to better things) was reduced to launching long balls and indulging in off-the-ball incidents (no, I didn’t actually see Carl Leaburn being laid out).

The goals were a reflection of the football: a Chelsea penalty for a Humphrey foul - it was a good foul, straight red these days, but was well outside the box; then that Maxie’s hook/shot that seemed to take a deflection off everyone on the pitch before going in. We seemed to have made it through, Bob Bolder keeping them at bay. Then, as Durie tried to break through Miller either stood his ground or poleaxed him with a chop across the throat, depending on your interpretation. I remember a sharp intake of breath by all the Charlton fans. With just a few minutes left surely Miller hadn’t handed them a lifeline? The ref, bless his cotton socks, saw nothing (or more likely found it impossible to separate this foul from many others).

Miller was to make only a few more appearances for Charlton before covering himself in disgrace and a Newcastle (I think) player in spittle. But it’s hard to think badly of him. You can still see him at his best in one of the season highlights videos. He was bundled into the boardings by an attacker and everyone held their breath and watched for a reaction. Maxie did nothing and ran back alongside the player. As soon as the ref turned away he kicked him.

For me there has to be a number six – Don Givens, Sheff Utd v Walsall 1980 (I think). Nothing much to do with Charlton but a match I attended and which might get my award for the best moment.

The previous season had seen Charlton survive in the second flight by a single point (for the second successive season), not so much because we ended on a roll (we were dire) but because the Blades blew it. I went to Bramall Lane to see us in our penultimate game (I was at university in Sheffield at the time). We lost 2-1 and looked gone. United only needed three points from their last three games (two at home) to be sure of staying up. But they blew it and we somehow survived, winning our last game – only to go down with a whimper the following season.

In the (old) Third Division Sheff Utd had a torrid time and ended up facing the unthinkable of being relegated to Division Four for the first time in their history. But they went into the last game with their fate in their own hands. They were up against Walsall, at home. The Blades needed a point to stay up and (almost certainly) send Walsall down; Walsall had to win.

An understandably fraught 30,000-plus crowd sat through 80-odd minutes of pure tension (yup, it does happen to others). Then Walsall were given a penalty. Player-manager Alan Buckley stepped up and scored. Suddenly it was bedlam as the crowd urged the home team forward. And with seconds left United were awarded a penalty of their own. They had veteran forward Don Givens on loan at the time and he took on the responsibility – and missed.

At the final whistle those in the stands not crying or tearing their hair out poured onto the pitch (at the time the ground was pretty open) and started to set about the Walsall players (it was that era and they had started to celebrate instead of legging it for the safety of the dressing rooms). A few minutes of mayhem followed before the stadium announcer blared out that due to an unexpected combination of results elsewhere United had in fact stayed up, together with Walsall! Despair turned to joy on the pitch and the Walsall players were able to make their way off the pitch.

It was only on the way back home that we learnt the truth. The announcer had made it all up in order to try to get the pitch cleared without further incident. United were indeed relegated. Oh, how we laughed (in private). For me it doesn’t erase the painful memory of Bramall Lane last season; but every now and then it helps.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Don't Like Down To Earth

Have to say I don’t particularly like this back down to earth place; smug and complacent land is much more cosy. Two disappointing results in a row have at the least reduced the chances of us being able to dominate this league (and while play-off finals etc provide wonderful memories I would be much happier getting promoted by Christmas).

Such hopes were probably misplaced in any event, and nobody’s panicking over a season that was always going to involve setbacks. We still stand higher than I expected us to be after 10/12 games at the start of the season. But there’s no doubt you can get an edge when teams are a little apprehensive about playing you. Norwich and Leicester gave no indication that they really expected anything out of the game; both would have been happy to go home with a 0-0 (no, I’m not forgetting Weaver’s save against the former).

So far this season we have leaked goals and if I was putting out a team against us I would make sure they put the defence under pressure. It’s nice to think that we would outscore the opposition in an open game, but at the moment we’re not taking a high enough percentage of our chances to be confident of doing so.

It’s a fine line between an aura of invincibility and complacency, but such thoughts are off the agenda for now at least. It’s back to basics for the next two home games – six points and sod the style. Plymouth are at present in a play-off place, as are we. We have to treat this match as an opportunity to beat a rival at home and to show the necessary determination to do so.

I wasn’t at Molineux, so can’t comment on the game or individual performances. But there are some general points to be made.

Seems that someone else beat me to the first. Our record against teams in the top half of the division sucks. Played six, won none, drawn four, lost two. Against the bottom 12? Played five, won five. It is too early to draw strong conclusions, and we have only played two of the six against the top 12 at home (in both cases getting ahead but conceding late equalisers). But it’s obvious to say that if we continue in that vein we’re not going up.

Second, the two league games we have lost both saw our defence disrupted by injuries to full-backs. At Stoke it was Yassin getting clattered just after we scored, with Pardew deciding to put a cold McCarthy into the centre of defence. At Wolves it was the other side and Powell, with Sodje coming on to patch things up. As New York Addick has pointed out, the subs bench has to serve two functions – covering for injuries as well as having options to change tactics.

When Yassin was out his back-up, Sankofa, was also injured (I see he was back for the reserves against Brighton), so McCarthy was asked to do a job before Mills was brought in. Now, with Powell seemingly out for a while we have Thatcher and Gibbs(!) also in the treatment room (and let’s not forget Kelly Youga out on loan). There really is no legislating for this. It’s not that the squad is too thin, it’s just bloody unlucky and these things happen (well, to Gibbs they happen all the time).

What is less impressive is getting 19-year-old Grant Basey back from his loan spell seemingly full of confidence only to find that we have tried to bring in a 17-year-old Arsenal reserve (and one with a name to send shivers up the spine of all Charlton supporters). I’ve no idea if Basey is ready to step up. Fact is at his age he should be, in this division at least. If he doesn’t get the nod on Tuesday there will have to be some alterations in other areas (Mills to left-back and Yassin in? Semedo to left-back and Racon in midfield?). It will be disappointing all round if Pardew decides Basey is not ready.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the pecking order at the start of the season, the player we have missed in the past two games has been Sam. It’s becoming a mantra for me, but having Reid and Ambrose as the two wide men (or indeed having one central and one out wide) doesn’t work. Neither is a genuine winger and their inclusion leaves us short of pace.

There is an element of needs must, with Sam suspended and Thomas’ behaviour of late meaning an inclination to leave him in the reserves to sweat (hopefully). But with hindsight Reid should have been rested against Wolves (he now faces the prospect of two internationals and three league games in no time at all). Having Thomas and Ambrose starting wide looks to me like a better combination in the circumstances, albeit one without options from the bench – unless Christensen is given a place on the bench (here too I’ve no idea if he’s ready).

Given the above there’s no point in outlining ‘my team’ for Plymouth. These are the sort of situations where a manager earns his corn by getting the combinations and options right from what is available. Let’s just hope they go out in the right frame of mind – and that the fans get behind them, all of them.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

John Richards Ruined My Adolescence

Blessed relief. Back to football. The team for Saturday presumably hinges on whether Pards feels that Andy Reid is able to up to start after two games for the Irish. If not presumably Thomas and Ambrose will be the wide men, with a change in formation looking unlikely. Yassin is still waiting in the wings and Todorov for Varney is an option, but probably not a starting one away from home.

Wolves are still widely seen as likely to end up in the top six, so nobody is in any doubt that this is a ‘bad one to lose’ game. But it’s too early in the season to be going away in a mindset to settle for a draw, even if such an outcome would be deemed acceptable, especially given games coming up. Let’s turn them over and send out a clear message of intent to the rest of the league. They’re not exactly world-beaters and the reports that Jay Bothroyd is eager to show us what he can do fills me with indifference – unless we give away a free kick just outside the box.

Molineux. What happy memories are there of trips to that part of the Black Country? Well, of course there aren’t any. When we turned them over (3-2, no I wasn’t there) in the last promotion campaign it was the first time we had won there in donkey’s years (I’m just too lazy today to check the numbers).

Instead, as with so many grounds, Molineux played a part in forming my attitudes towards supporting Charlton – and as with so many others it was negative. Young/new supporters must wonder why miserable old gits like me are so pessimistic, worrying about giving the game away when coasting and being inclined towards predicting defeats. It’s because until 1985 there had been all but nothing to celebrate (two promotions back to the old Second Division) – and plenty of disappointments. These left their footprints.

Early 1976 and a fresh-faced (or maybe acne-covered) teenager takes the coach with his Dad to watch his beloved team embark on the next stage of what for the first time he could remember could be construed as a cup run. Yes, we were as pants in the cup then as we have tended to be ever since. Sheffield Wednesday and Portsmouth had been disposed of and, with no league distractions (we were headed for mid-table having regained out second-flight status the previous season), it was up the M1 (or whatever road takes you to Wolverhampton) to tweak the noses of the big boys.

I recall mixed early exchanges, then a Wolves player getting injured. On comes John Richards as a sub – and he scores a hat-trick in about 20 minutes. Game over. It would prove to be almost another 20 years (1994) before we actually made it past round five in the FA Cup (no, I’m not forgetting that in 1987 we made it to Wembley – for another miserable experience).

Let’s face it. Any long-standing Charlton supporter over 20 years old can point to virtually any part of the country and tell tales of games that remind them of failure. I was really struggling to think of a destination that brings pleasant memories – but then I remembered Carlisle. It is still the only place in the country where we can feel confident of returning triumphant. (Regularly beating Palace on their own patch doesn’t really count. The overwhelming emotion is still a strong desire to get away from Selhurst Park and not to have to go back there again.)

Who could forget Jim Tolmie? 1986 and, despite leaving The Valley, we need a point from our penultimate game to secure promotion to the top-flight for the first time in my life. Of course, before long we were 2-0 down. Then just as half-time was approaching Tolmie gets the ball and plays a back-pass from at least 30 yards out (or so I remember it). It was going out for a corner before a massive gust of wind changed the day. The ball nestled in the net, we come out for the second half rejuvenated, equalise, and then go on to score a totally unnecessary winner.

So it was the top flight for us – and Division Three for Carlisle, followed by near-extinction. I still feel a little guilty. But I will feel nothing but unadulterated joy if we leave Wolves with the three points.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Branding Matters

Please take me back to the (relative) sanctuary of Charlton and away from my tortured (or soon to be) private life. But it’s still a while before the matches start again and we have something meaningful to waffle on about. So while we’re on the subject things have moved on a little – and, as Hirohito might have said, not necessarily to my advantage.

My French partner Suzanne has agreed to cheer for England on Saturday, and to keep my future penance for last weekend within Geneva Convention boundaries (although she seemed keen to add as interpreted by the current United States administration), if in return I pledged never again to mention the fact that we still are/have been rugby world champions. Never one to spurn the opportunity to make a bad situation worse I remarked that there were ways to communicate such sentiments without actually saying the words. Perhaps, I laughed, a tattoo. Ha ha.

She agreed – perhaps a little too readily – then added two conditions. First, she chooses where the tattoo goes; and second, it is done in France. Now for some reason the idea of going into a French tattoo parlour, handing over a wad of euros to some Chabal-lookalike, and asking for something on an as yet unspecified part of my body to commemorate England’s rugby triumphs does not fill me with joy.

Where did I go wrong? As usual, by trying to be a smart-arse. Smart-arses usually get their comeuppance sooner or later, especially if (with apologies to Norman Stanley Fletcher) they are charmless nerds to boot.

I see Jordan has been once more sharing with us the contents of his head, saying, according to a Coventry newspaper, that he is ready to ‘take everything I can’ from Iain Dowie if he (Dowie) appeals against the High Court ruling. Jordan said: 'My advice to Iain is this: if this writ (issued for the agreed compensation) doesn't stick and you drag me through another appeal, there will be no mitigation, I won't negotiate. I will take everything I can. If I have to prove it again I will be a lot, lot angrier than the first time around. I have got a list as long as the Magna Carta of things I can say about him.'

Why the Magna Carta? It’s not an especially long document (63 clauses) and it’s not a list. According to the British Library, “in January 1215 a group of barons demanded a charter of liberties as a safeguard against the King's arbitrary behaviour”. Maybe Simes is getting a little confused about which role he is actually playing in his own little soap operas.

So let’s get this right, Dowie should pay up like a good little boy because if he doesn't Jordan will get ‘a lot, lot angrier’. Bless, his face might even turn red. And presumably in Simes-land the degree of his anger is believed to have some bearing on a court decision. 'I won't negotiate': so, Simes, are you saying you tried to negotiate before slapping in writs at Dowie's press conference? It’s wonderful how the pompous are so easily slighted and how increasingly ridiculous they sound as they air their grievances, believing themselves not only to be right but to be acting on behalf of the downtrodden masses. Expect the US Constitution, the 10 Commandments and the Koran to be invoked in future rants.

According to the Palace website, new boss Neil Warnock, who may need a Magna Carta of his own, wanted Kit Symons, who has quit the club, to stay. Warnock said “I spoke to Kit on Friday and asked him if he’d stay with us … he said he was happy and that’s how we left it. But … over the weekend he spoke to the chairman …” I think I would have felt and acted the same way.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Dear Jonny

Dear Jonny,

First off heartfelt congratulations to you and the rest of the team for another truly magnificent performance, one that somehow managed to top that against Australia. The whole nation has applauded the virtues of team spirit, determination, character and sheer bloody-mindedness that has transformed a squad into one capable of retaining the trophy (something in which we would take some pleasure when discussing rugby – or anything else come to think of it – with our Australian and New Zealander cousins).

However, I hope you will spare a thought for our fellow Europeans from the other side of the Tunnel (well, perhaps not the big, hairy one, I think he can look after himself). It was their tournament, their glory – and you have snatched it away from them. Another nation is in stunned depression because of your actions.

If the despair of France does not move you, consider the plight of one of their number. She has to live not only with the country-wide state of shock but also the whispers and accusations of her compatriots, for they know that she has been sleeping with the enemy. So far it seems that nobody is saying things to her face, but she is starting to get the smallest croissant in the cafĂ©, to be told that the shop has run out of cheese. Old ladies have taken to doing their knitting sitting opposite her flat (which isn’t easy as she lives on the seventh floor). Other cars are swerving in front of her with horns sounding (OK, that might be normal behaviour there).

If this does not move you, consider the plight of a poor Englishman, stout of heart but weak of finger from all the texting to France on Saturday night (some might go so far as to say that he has brought all this on himself with some injudicious triumphalism). He wants to take his French partner on a trip to Southampton when she is next in London (instead of shopping and the Blackheath fireworks), he wants to continue to enjoy a deep and meaningful relationship with said French woman, and he also wants to remain attached to parts of his anatomy currently under threat. Having rather foolishly agreed to do some penance for England again grinding French noses in the dirt he would be grateful for any assistance in making this as pain-free as possible.

For some reason, Jonny, you have become the embodiment of perfidious Albion in the eyes of said French woman. So to help a beleaguered Englishman out of a rather dark and ever-deepening hole please would you just announce to the world: “Suzanne, I’m sorry”.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Paris Is Free, Hurrah

I've been keeping this piece of nonsense up my sleeve for the right time, like Wellington and the ground at Waterloo (no, not some second division team's pitch). And as this week for me at least is all about England and France - remember Waterloo, Agincourt, yes even Jeanne d'Arc (to any French readers we're especially proud of that one) - the time is now, especially as I need to post something to try to bury that bloody photo and we're a little short on the football front (bar Reidy getting a sick note for the Irish and the charm of the Palace website in expressing so eloquently the club's gratitude for Peter Taylor's efforts).

Actually when I think about it, while last Saturday was a triumph for Anglo-French relations, the signs of tension were already there. I've been thrown out of some of the usual places in my time, but I think it takes a certain style to be evicted from Lyon's Museum of the Resistance (think about it). They were shutting early and we were only half-way through, so we moved through the rest of the museum at a reasonable pace, only to encounter Monsieur le Jobsworth. He stood behind me and tried to hurry us along with arms outstretched. Now it's all about attitude and his was below par, so of course I developed an interest in each item along the way, the result being that our tango towards the exit was taking twice as long as before. The crunch came when I tried to take a detour to examine books in a closed souvenir shop. He called for security, even though by then it was just about over. I managed to stop myself shouting 'Vive la Resistance' as we exited left.

Back to the theme. As a certified pedant these things make me laugh. Years of editing to deadlines naturally makes you take umbrage at certain terms or use of language ('seems likely', 'still remains', 'existing clients' etc, never mind - with apologies to New York and Chicago, who must have to suffer them each day - Americanisms; in a recent TV interview a US woman said that she recently 'conversated' with someone). I even laugh at things like signs saying 'all shirts half price' (if all are priced thus ...).

There is probably some nature involved too; after all, there is an as yet unresolved argment between friends lasting more than 10 years over whether it is possible to have an 'all-day breakfast' (for what its worth, on balance I'm in the camp which says it is not). When some friends set up a site called boystalkbollocks.com all contributors were given a nickname. Mine was 'bollocksbollocks', as in the Platonic embodyment of the ideal, seemingly in recognition of a god-given ability to talk more bollocks than anyone else (I knew that philosophy degree was going to come in handy). Don't see it myself; the way I remember it even when I've been absolutely legless I was talking sense. But there you go.

Get to the point. This season's programme features an 'On This Day' page at the back. I don't know who writes this, but it's fast becoming the first item on the agenda for me. I'm just not sure if the humour is intended or if it's just my warped way of seeing things. My favourite to date is contained in the Sheff Wed programme:

'1944: Paris is liberated as the Germans surrender after four years of occupation. Led by General Philippe Leclerc, the French 2nd Armoured Division is the first Allied force to enter the city, and is greeted by loud cheers from Parisians'.

Now, I'm all for a little poetic licence, even for being rather tongue in cheek. But I'm prepared to hazzard a guess that the writer of this piece was not actually present at the time. And I'll wager that after four years of occupation - not to mention the small matter of the actual battle for Paris - there were more than a few 'loud cheers'. Sounds terribly English doesn't it? Those gay Parisians/Parisiennes delivering up a few hurrahs as the tanks rolled through.

For the record (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberation_of_Paris), the Battle For Paris, which was started by a resistance uprising, lasted some six days, with around 1,500 resistance fighters and civilians killed (German losses were estimated at 3,200 killed). The Allied commanders were not bothered about liberating Paris as they did not want to slow the broader advance on Germany, while the Free French under De Gaulle feared Hitler's instructions to raize the capital if it was lost would be acted on. In the event the French, fearful that the uprising would be quelled, broke ranks and Leclerc sent an advanced unit into Paris on 24 August, under Captain Dronne (General Leclerc followed the next day, as did De Gaulle). The German garrison surrendered on the 25th. There followed victory parades through Paris on 26 and 29 August (the latter a joint Franco-US affair).

So, in future programmes I look forward to our local historian's summary of the anniversary of the teaparty that was the Black Hole of Calcutta, the stroll in the park that was Stalingrad, and the game of football that was World War I.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Entente Cordial?


The personal life crisis has passed. Any fears that Suzanne’s enticing me away to Lyon on the weekend of a home game might be a sign of a subtle long-term plot to wean me away from Charlton have been eased by her apparent willingness to come on a day trip to Southampton when she is next in London in early November.

However, maybe she is just being smarter than I thought. She will have known that saying ‘no’ to going to the away game so soon after she was instrumental in my missing the Barnsley match could have aroused suspicions. And maybe she is relying on my good nature in not obliging her to forego the attractions of shopping on what is after all a brief visit. So is she bluffing? The only way to find out is to press ahead with plans for Southampton and see if she backtracks. Of course, if she plays the game well she will end up leaving the decision to me, stressing that she would enjoy going to the match if I want to while secretly hoping I will not call the bluff.

As they say, trust is the basis of any good relationship. One problem is that whiling away the hours in the company of Charlton’s travelling contingent is not something that these days I’m enthusiastic about imposing on myself, let alone a partner.

These are the notes from a friend who went to the Coventry game: “What it is to spend a day with such intellectuals. All that was missing was 'No surrender'. Mr Dowie was called a runt or something similar about every 30 seconds. Bloke next to me (with 6-7 year old daughter) was suggesting their support was ****ing s*** every few minutes. And some people seemed to think that ZZ would be encouraged by a song about Chinese people, illegal DVDs and HIV.”

Maybe I’m getting old. Or maybe it’s time simply not to put up with this garbage. I was close to walking out of the Sheff Wed game, with many in the Lower North hurling abuse and w****r signs at our players after we went 2-0 down. In the event I managed to move somewhere else. As they say, to make evil happen it is only necessary that good people do nothing. It’s just not enough any more to just complain on websites, including the CAFC one, about this behaviour. It’s time to engage these people in some reasonable debate at the time.

Anyway, back to what was quite a day for the entente cordial. Not only do England find from somewhere a performance of magnificent grit to overcome Australia, now it seems that France owe their victory – according to the bleating Kiwis – to the English referee. So the day in deepest Lyon was spent purchasing the necessary at the market, return to flat to drink some wine. Drink wine watching England beat Australia. Watch Suzanne make an authentic and truly delicious coq au vin while drinking more wine (and crying at the amount of good red poured onto the food, along with cognac). Drink to forget Barnsley’s equaliser. Then eat food and drink wine watching France trounce New Zealand, followed by celebration cognac.

Only problem was that somewhere along the line a rather daft decision was taken. I agreed that if England beat Australia I would dress up as a France supporter for the later game – and post the photo on this blog. (I didn’t include Charlton beating Barnsley as I thought that was a given.) So here it is. My only problem is I haven't found a way to bury the photo at the end of a load of waffle. I'll just have to hope that nobody is looking anyway.

This fulfilment of a commitment marks the formal suspension of my personal entente cordial for the coming week. Just how soon after Saturday it is resumed depends on the result. I am ready to be magnanimous in victory – but a really miserable git in defeat.

Monday, 8 October 2007

An Affair, Not A Marriage

As I’ve missed the last three games (for good reasons, honest) and as New York Addick has already provided a comprehensive assessment of our strengths and weaknesses apparent from the first 10 games, I thought I’d focus on how the bookies see things now compared with at the start of the season (which is another way of papering over the fact that my forecast table for the Championship is proving to be complete pants – with the exception of us being in a promotion place and Palace nowhere to be seen).

As for us, we have to be very pleased. We have benefited from avoiding the stronger teams during the first 10 games (only Stoke really and of course we lost that one), which has given what is a completely new team the chance to learn how to play together against relatively weak opposition. I think we will continue to improve and be better placed to take on our main rivals than if we had come up against them early on. We could easily have been in the pack after 10 games – and probably seen that as a reasonable return as the team gels. As it is we look as if we will remain around the top through the season, given our cover for each position and the extra quality that we have compared with the others.

The two obvious reservations are the defence’s inability to keep clean sheets (only three in 10 games) and a failure so far to turn dominance in matches into definite winning positions. It can be said that in only one of our games, home to Leicester, was the outcome all but assured going into the last 10 minutes. Even then, having taken our foot off the gas (for good reason, given the spate of matches then) we would have struggled if they had fluked a goal from somewhere. I get the feeling that this team likes to be on the edge and plays best under pressure rather than being able to steamroller teams aka Watford. As long as the defence is vulnerable to late goals what happened against Barnsley may end up happening too often for comfort.

Anyway, the odds. We started the season at 7/4 (favourites) to get promoted and according to Corrals now have come in to 5/4. The bookies are not noted for outrageous gambles and unsurprisingly Watford now have the shortest odds. They are put at evens having started at 9/4. All the signs are that they will be the division’s bully-boys and it would be surprising were they to fall away. They don’t really play football in a way that you can lose form, so upsets for them would have to be injuries and suspensions.

West Brom have started better than I expected and have shortened from 2-1 at the start to 6/4. I would rather we went up with them than Watford (which in addition to their style of football may have something to do with a schoolboy crush on a distant relative who came from the Birmingham branch of the family which followed the Baggies). But of course we don’t want a three-horse race developing. The best sign that they might fall away could be their away form; they have been beaten three times in five games away and if that continues they won’t stay with the leaders. Failing that, a season-long bout of flu for Kevin Phillips would not go amiss.

There is clear daylight in the bookies eyes between the top three and the rest. There is still the assumption that Wolves will end up in the top six; their odds for promotion are unchanged from the start at 9/4, even though that made them third-favourites to go up before a ball was kicked and they lie seventh now. Stoke have bored their way down to 4/1 from 13/2 and are on for a play-off place according to Corals, along with Southampton, who have drifted from 9/2 from 13/5 and are 14th in the table. So basically the bookies believe that the top three will stay the same and that Wolves and Southampton will pick up.

The surprise for the bookies has been Sheff Utd. They began at 13/5 and have gone out to 5/1 – still short odds for a team only one point above a relegation slot. They, like many before them, overlooked the Robson factor. This has been our big bonus to date as they still have the players to get into the mix.

The bookies’ expectation is that Bristol City, Barnsley and Plymouth will drift away, and that other possible contenders such as Leicester, Cardiff and Ipswich (all now grouped at 8/1) will be also-rans. In reality they are just not taking a punt on one of them being poised to put together a good run. And quite frankly if a team which looked as poor as Leicester is expected to finish in the top 10 we should be confident of holding our current position.

I always had the impression that our years of Premiership outperformance were in part down to the middle-ranked teams (Aston Villa, Tottenham, Everton, Middlesbro etc) often messing things up. With the spate of takeovers and additional money that picture has changed and the top flight is a much more competitive league than it was just a few years ago. Equally rumoured takeovers for Southampton, Coventry and changes that haven’t worked well to date (Leicester, Wolves) suggest to me that we have the opportunity to take advantage of others’ mistakes. Let’s hope so, because although I’m enjoying life in this division I still want it to be an affair rather than a marriage.

For the record Palace have gone out to 11/1 for promotion from 11/2 at the start. Just how the bookies had them as more likely to go up than Stoke, Coventry, Cardiff etc is beyond me. After all, they haven’t even sacked their manager ….

Friday, 5 October 2007

Poor Man Wannabe Rich …

Blimey, disappear to Amsterdam for a few days and return to find we’re being branded as the thugs of the Championship. And we haven’t even brought Thatcher back yet. Well, we know it’s nonsense, but the move from being the much-loved, (relatively) small outperformers tweaking the noses of the big boys (or not as during Curbs’ final years) to envied (and therefore disliked) and (relatively) rich aristos is amusing. We’ll send them a postcard from the Premiership.

No, I’m not getting arrogant or complacent (well, no more than usual). Rather there seems to be a clear pattern emerging of teams viewing us as the benchmark for quality (in that saying that they matched/outplayed us is some sort of badge of honour to help ease the pain of defeat) and allowing their envy to cloud their judgement when it comes to refereeing decisions. I can’t wait for the first manager to come out with a clear ‘the big teams get all the decisions’ statement.

Just what is it about football that turns fans and owners into idiots (the exceptions here that prove the rule being myself and fellow Addickted bloggers and the Charlton board)? I suppose it’s just human nature: (with apologies to Bruce) “Poor man wannabe rich, rich man wannabe king, and a king ain’t satisfied ‘till he rules everything …”.

Was listening to the radio on Saturday (no, Coventry didn’t happen for me) and heard interviews with Chelsea fans ahead of their game regarding Abramovich and Mourinho. One in particular struck me. He said something along the lines of “yes it’s his money but it’s still our club … and we still want to do things the right way”.

First reaction is just what planet is this guy on. With the exception of a few years when they had players like Osgood, Hutchinson, Cook, Harris(!) I don’t think Chelsea have ever done things ‘the right way’. They were stagnant, near-bankrupt, and joyless. They had a decrepit stadium (albeit one with two great memories for me), a reputation for fans’ violence during the real hooligan years, and then Bates.

Have to digress when it comes to Stamford Bridge (yes, I know these posts are like a Ronnie Corbett monologue without the punch line). I was there for the 1-1 draw that kept us out of the play-offs; for anyone interested I still have a video of the game, which rivals Texas Chainsaw Massacre for entertainment. Paul Miller’s late chop across the throat of a thoroughly nasty (on the day) Gordon Durie stands alongside Peter Shirtliffe’s knee in the back of the head of the sitting Leeds forward in the play-off final as the two best unpunished fouls I have seen by Charlton player (where would we be now if Shirtliffe had been sent off?).

However, my best memory of us at Chelsea came some years earlier, during those unlamented hooligan days. My father and I, sensibly wearing nothing to give away our identity, decided to stand a little away from the cluster of Charlton fans in the away end, to avoid any trouble. But five minutes before the kick-off a swarm of Chelsea fans descended on our supporters, only to be beaten back by the police. We found ourselves in amongst a packed group of Neanderthals. I remember them talking about one of their mates who was being sent down for shooting someone at Orient.

The game went well, Charlton taking a 2-0 lead. We tried to look glum while feeling warm inside. But Chelsea came back to level it up. Then quite late on (I think) there was a ball hoofed upfield. Bonnetti and Harris set off to collect, giving one of those wonderful occasions when you can see it coming. They collided and the ball ran loose to Killer, who duly passed it into an empty net.

I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. There followed a stunned silence during which you could sense the wheels slowly turning in the minds of those around us. My father and I decided to make a tactical withdrawal, quietly and calmly. Fortunately this was accomplished before the light bulbs went off for those around us.

Get back to the (loose) theme. Fact is Chelsea fans gladly buried any reservations about Abramovich in return for the cash and being lifted out of the depression that they were in. Now, having got used to silverware and the glory they are expressing their dissatisfaction because the man that made all this happen behaves as if the club is his personal toy. We all know that it is. Meanwhile, the owner indicates that he wants Chelsea to play more attractive football than under Jose. So, that’s win the Premiership and the Champions’ League and play attractive football.

Sounds trite, doesn’t it, they’re just never satisfied some people. But it wasn’t so long ago that Charlton fans were expressing their dissatisfaction with the football served up towards the end of the Curbs era and the need to move to the ‘next level’ (or indeed that the same Arsenal fans now expressing their delight at their club’s attractive football rejoiced in ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’). For every club in the land there is always the next level up (and, of course, down), the beauty of football of course being that every step up has to come at someone’s expense.

My Man City mate has recently become a strong apologist for a certain former Thai prime minister, despite the criticisms of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Years of being the laughing stock of football and the poor (in every sense) relation in Manchester means that they are more than ready to set aside any reservations in return for a manager who has some idea how to spend money and a team that actually might play good football and win more often than lose. Of course, it won’t be long before they get dissatisfied with that level. Hopefully that will lead to yet more spending and Thaksin doing a runner, bankruptcy and relegation. Then they will be singing their delight at having ‘their club’ back.

The Abramovich and Thaksin purchases of football clubs are to my mind somewhat different from others (Aston Villa, Man Utd, West Ham, Liverpool etc). They don’t seem to be primarily motivated by either investment with higher returns in mind, or long-term interest in football and/or the club in question (both of course considered others). Both figures have an interest in having a secure base outside of their native country – and have enough money to waste on football to achieve that goal, especially if some initial hero-worshiping is thrown in.

What has all this to do with Charlton? Well, it’s been quiet on the investment/takeover front for a while now since the appointment of Seymour Pearce. When we pour derision on the attitudes of supporters of other clubs we perhaps need to keep in mind the possibility that we may before long face similar issues. Of course, we are made of more moral stuff.

Perhaps the lack of news means that Richard Murray is enjoying himself more now than for the past year; and of course if we’re in the top two and among the favourites to go up the value of the club goes up, affecting the price for a potential investor/purchaser.

I am alone amongst my friends in not having been outraged by what happened to Wimbledon. I think that if I’d been sold such a pup by Sam Hamman I would have explored every possibility to recoup my money, including upping sticks. And I don’t think for a minute that their move to Milton Keynes opens the way for US-style franchising. That system only arises because there are more cities wanting to host say American football teams than there are places. Other than in the most extreme conditions it would be financial lunacy to completely relocate a UK football team, giving up all local support (and revenue base).

I have every sympathy with the supporters of the old Wimbledon, and hope that their reborn club continues to grow. But the fact is that there weren’t enough of them to sustain what they once enjoyed. One bad year and relegation and it all comes crumbling down, especially without a home base. They no doubt would have accepted lower league football but owners with no strong ties to the club or the area are a different matter. By the same token we should never complain about what led up to our leaving The Valley. There weren’t enough of us to protect against such an eventuality (I remember the 70s’ rumours that we would move to Milton Keynes). We should just be very glad that that disaster galvanised the whole club.

Maybe it’s just football in the UK which makes idiots of us all. After all, the people in Amsterdam were measured about the prospects for the Dutch national team and for Ajax (especially after I told them what a certain Danish winger was really like). But if the consortium including Fortis gets ABN Amro it could be interesting as ABN is the kit sponsor for Ajax and Fortis does the same for Feyenoord. That’ll test their measured approach.

And while trying to provide a shoulder to cry on for a certain Lyon supporter after Tuesday night (which included attempting to explain the comment that losing to a Scottish team in Europe was akin to rolling over against something of the calibre of Palace) I commented that ‘at least you’ll probably still win the French league’. ‘Oh, of course we’ll win the French title but we expect more …’