Monday, 30 November 2009

What Are They Trying To Do To Us?

Just what are they trying to do to us? Are they oblivious to the fact that the Christmas period traditionally has the highest suicide rate of the year? Or are they perhaps cunningly trying to encourage a culling of the old guard, to pave the way for a new generation of fans undamaged by the events of recent years?

According to the club site, the DVD of the past two seasons (‘The Championship Years’) will finally see the light of day and be dispatched to those among us who stumped up in a couple of weeks – just in time for the ‘festivities’. It was always going to be one to either be filed unopened to keep the series complete, or to save for a truly exceptional evening. After all, it’s not going to have the usual ebb and flow of a normal DVD, following an elaborate plot through to the uplifting or thought-provoking denouement. This one’s going to be something equivalent to Death In Venice: no tension, no final twist, just a steady descent from false optimism, through the despair of dashed hopes, through to unremitting gloom and final resignation. I just hope there are suitable warnings on the packaging; after all, this thing could turn up unexpectedly in Christmas stockings.

The best idea to date is for a number of us to gather, having first sorted out any personal affairs, with a sufficient stash of booze and pills. While still compus mentis we can compile a suicide note and send it off to Dowie, Pardew and a selected top 10 of the most useless or greedy gits that took the field in the two seasons. Just don’t be surprised if the DVD makes the nationals for the second time: ‘Club Highlights Sparks Mass Suicide’.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Random Thoughts On A Quiet Weekend

With a few extra days for the team to prepare for Brighton (thanks fixture compilers, instead of one of the best away outings of the season we’re squeezed into a midweek fixture which for me is impossible to make), there’s the chance for a little reflection on the season to date, fixtures, team issues etc.

Undoubtedly before the season started we would have been absolutely delighted to take second place about a third of the way in. Of course things will fluctuate and no-one can say for sure how the campaign will pan out. But as things stand this period, plus the welcome absence of player sales, means we can say that anything less than automatic promotion will be a real disappointment (as Richard Murray pretty much said on Thursday night), a play-off spot would be the minimum acceptable, and anything less (including not winning the play-offs) would be a disaster.

Of our current nearest challengers for second spot, I would imagine that most would agree with the notion that Norwich are the biggest threat (especially if their start is taken out of the equation). We all have a soft spot for them, it’s one of the best away trips, so them going up in the play-offs would be a decent outcome. This doesn’t look like a league where teams often go on storming runs; the games come too thick and fast and generally there’s not the difference in quality that means a team can often win at a canter. Southampton aside, even this early it’s hard to see a team coming through from the lower half. Leeds are not yet a shoo-in, but signing three loan players this week looks a pretty fair indication of their intentions to cement their position. Perhaps we have to hope for a Premiership bid for Beckford to unsettle him.

So far this season I haven’t bothered about how other teams are faring, but perhaps now’s the time to consider the results of Norwich, Huddersfield, Colchester and MK Dons as almost as important, and to look at the fixture list (another thing I’ve barely done). On the former, aside from Norwich Huddersfield’s home record worries me (seven wins and two draws out of nine, 28 goals scored), Colchester’s strike force as we found out is a concern (although as indicated on Thursday it’s always possible a certain Lisbie will return to Ipswich). Otherwise, most of the teams I’ve seen this season appear limited (and sometimes downright awful).

League games are seldom unimportant, but looking at the fixtures it seems to me that the next 11, to end-January, provide us with at least the opportunity to cement a top-two spot. Home games against Southend, Millwall, Swindon, Hartlepool, Orient and Tranmere, plus away at Brighton, Stockport, Brentford, Walsall and Wycombe are all on paper winnable (of course there will be hiccups). This is the cold, hard slog part of the season, but it’s one where we should be pulling away, if we are to go up. After that it looks more tricky, with especially the away trips tougher (Swindon, Bristol, Southend, Millwall, Huddersfield, MK Dons, Southampton), while Colchester, Norwich and Leeds come to The Valley for the run-in. So, a re-run of the last promotion campaign could be on the cards if we really turn the screws over the next couple of months – although I could do without a repeat of the limping over the line.

It is strange how the team and the tactics have evolved/changed. Killer noted in the Bristol programme that he favours 4-4-2 – and given the comings and goings that may now be the case. Previously, with only one reliable striker and a powerful midfield it was in my view a different picture. It’s also strange that having not made an enforced change for the first 10 games, when the team just about picked itself, I don’t think we’ve since fielded an unchanged side. Of course it’s been down to injuries and suspensions, but the bringing in on loan of Mooney and Sodje(A), plus the purchase of McKenzie, have altered the range of options. We started the season with what looked like a capable and stable defence (albeit one short of cover in the centre and short of pace), a powerful and settled midfield five, and little choice up front. The defence has recently had to be patched up with loan signings due to injuries, but the bringing in of additional forwards and the switch to 4-4-2 have left the midfield now a more open area.

I doubt whether there has been a situation at the club similar to the one now for forwards. On the books we have Burton, Tuna, McKenzie, Dickson, Fleetwood and McLeod. One (Tuna) is still learning his trade, two (Dickson, Fleetwood) are out on loan, quite possibly never to return, one (McKenzie) has been injured, and McLeod would be off if we get a half-decent offer. So out of six actual Charlton forwards only one can be viewed as likely to feature in our strongest side. The two loan signings can be considered next in line after Burton, at least until McKenzie is available, and while Mooney has signed up for another month we quite frankly have no idea who will be with us and available come January. I guess there’s the transfer window to clarify the picture; in the interim we make use of whoever is around. In an ideal world January would see two or three forwards on our books passed on and the two loan signings made permanent, but who knows how it will turn out. We could see Dickson return and nobody wanting any of the others, in which case it’s hard to see Mooney or Sodje staying, especially if they cost money.

The defence still picks itself if all were available. Elliot seems set to return for the Brighton game, with Randolph having to make sure he is ready if needed despite having been passed over in favour of the now departed Ikeme. Richardson with Solly as back-up as right-back, Youga with Basey on the left side. It’s tough on Solly to miss his chance this time around – and tough on Omozusi to come in and be first choice from the start (even when dropped for Tuesday he had to come on to replace Youga). I thought he deserved plaudits for sticking at it against Bristol and getting better as the game went on, but presumably until Richardson is available Parkinson’s first choice now is to switch Youga to the right. Dailly (my player of the season to date) and Sodje(S) are the incumbents, with Llera ready to step in (and Youga, Semedo or Basey capable of playing in the centre of defence if really necessary). It’s a bit patched up at the moment, but nothing fundamentally wrong and, barring further injuries, it would be surprising to see anything done in the transfer window. Let’s not overlook that there’s no guarantee that Moutaouakil won’t return (and cost more money) if nobody else wants him come end-February.

The five-man midfield had for much of the early part of the season a fluidity and goalscoring potential that was a delight (I hope the season’s DVD shows the full five minutes that culminated in the second goal against Brentford). Of course we always at least needed a Plan B (which until recently meant McLeod) and I’m not quibbling about the change of formation. The personnel available have changed, at least temporarily. Both Shelvey and Racon could have been due a rest, but 4-4-2 means no place in the hole at least for Shelvey and Racon has not been at his best in a two-man central pairing. The switching of Bailey to the centre of midfield has reinvigorated him, but there’s always a downside. Wide left hasn’t worked for Racon and Shelvey looked out of sorts there on Tuesday. Also, I would imagine that Spring is less than pleased at being overlooked when it was decided a change was needed. Bottom line is with 4-4-2 we haven’t yet found an ideal midfield four and the current set-up involves the exclusion or marginalisation of two players who at their best would be in the first team (of course it’s all about how the team functions and if that means they’re out so be it).

Given all of these issues and recent changes, it is perhaps surprising – and a testament to Parkinson and his team – that we are where we are in the league. He has made changes when he felt necessary. I just hope that players at the club who may be feeling a bit piqued at the moment – Randolph, Llera, Spring, Racon, Shelvey, McLeod – show the right attitude. Everything Llera says and does suggests confidence in him at least on this front (which is not to suggest in any way that the attitude of others is different). We have had enough of prima donnas over the past few seasons and there will be no forgiving anyone who throws his toys out of the pram given our situation.

We are overdue an away win and most of us I guess will be expecting three points from Brighton. Of course we love turning The Valley into a fortress, but if anything we’ve had most of the breaks at home and not away. Six away winless since Tranmere, but at least three could have been won (we will draw a discreet veil over Colchester and Carlisle). Time to start the run through December and January that provides the real platform for promotion.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Night The Addicks Scored Nine

Following on from last night’s Richard Murray Q&A, and inspired by a couple of comments from the subsequent post that suggest I’m not the only living Addick with a recollection of a particular night back in May 1967, I thought I’d do some searching into the equally chaotic archives of my mind and my programme collection to see if I could dig out details of ‘the night the Addicks scored nine’. Happy to say I found the programme – and also the programme of the March 1965 game at home to Bolton Wanderers that was being played in the North Stand lounge last night.

My only recollection of the friendly against Apoel Nicosia (now about to end their campaign this season in the Champions League), which according to the programme was the first played in England by a team from Cyprus, was that the visitors displayed all the commitment of some team which more recently apparently travelled north for the first round in the FA Cup (although as per the comment they did indeed go on to play against Arsenal a few days later and must have been a little better prepared to have secured a 1-1 draw). I remember that by the end Charlton players were pretty much queuing up to score. The rest is down to the programme, price 6d, which contained suitable ads for Mosaic Cyprus golden sherry and one from the Cyprus Trade & Tourist Centre (Cyprus: “a new country with enormous potential for future development”; well, this was all before a certain rift).

In those halcyon days before squad numbers, the line-up was ‘as printed in the programme’: Wright, Bonds, Kinsey, Gregory, King, Appleton, Glover, Tees, Firmani, Campbell, and Peacock. The first half must have been at least vaguely competitive as we were only 2-0 up at the break, when White replaced Wright in goal and Green came on for Firmani. But by the finish Peacock had a hat-trick, with a brace each for Glover and Campbell, and goals from Firmani and Green. 9-0. Will it ever happen again? Or indeed have we ever scored 10 or more in a any other friendly?

According to the programme, it seems that our visitors were already no strangers to the European Cup/Champions League, having first competed in 1963. The programme, diplomatic as ever, notes that after defeating GJovik of Norway in the qualifying round they came up against Sporting Club of Lisbon, who were to go on to win the trophy that year, and that the “tremendous task” proved “too much” for Apoel (a quick check on Wykopedia reveals that the aggregate score was 1-18). It notes somewhat chillingly that that the club was sponsored by the Greek Cypriot Brotherhood, which I’m sure was an entirely altruistic organisation (although a further check on the club’s history does reveal that one of their track and field athletes was indeed hanged by the British during the uprisings of the 1950s; other more recent notable events have been their being disqualified from UEFA competitions in 1986 as they were drawn against Turkey’s Besiktas and the Cypriot government prohibited them from playing).

As for us, the programme – in addition to a splendid reference to the Charlton supporters as being “the finest in Britain” – gives a thumbnail sketch of some overseas tours by the club. In particular there is reference to a four-week tour of Canada and the USA in 1937, when 13 games were played in four weeks of which 12 were won and the other drawn, with 72 goals for and only 9 against (so by the law of averages perhaps there was a double-digit victory then). For that tour it seems the Charlton contingent travelled on the Empress of Australia liner, something of a contrast with a 1953 trip to Rome for a match against Roma (lost 4-2) as apparently on the return Bobby Ayre managed to get himself locked in the lavatory.

The 1966/67 season itself for us was I guess just another one of those indifferent campaigns in the old Second Division which ended with us celebrating having avoided relegation (we won the final two games, although looking at the table we would have just survived even if we had lost them). Under Bob Stokoe we managed 13 wins and 9 draws in the 42-game season, finishing 19th. The season had seen the return of Firmani, who was to take over from Stokoe after five games of the next season, which did pave the way for that glorious 1968/69 season when we came close to promotion, before normal service was resumed the following year (Theo Foley taking over after Firmani was sacked, finished third from bottom).

As for the Bolton game that was being shown last night, I have the programme so I may well have been there. But the video failed to stir any memories. Well, we did lose (3-1) and selective memory is a wonderful thing (Northwich who? I was out of the country – like it seems most of the directors – and have already erased it.). Perhaps if I’d stayed to watch Mike Kenning get our consolation goal it would have come flooding back. I’m not going to say how old I was then as that would be giving the game away; suffice to say acne was still a distant dream.The team was: Rose, Bonds, Kinsey, Hewie, Haydock, Tocknell, Kenning, Kennedy, Matthews, Peacock and Glover (with of course no subs then). The programme notes call for a “strong pull” from the supporters and the team against a strong Bolton side that had been relegated from the top flight the previous season (and were to go on to just miss out on a quick return, finishing third). It contained an account of the previous game, away at Southampton, noting that the story of the match was “not a happy one” (we lost 4-0). But there was special mention for an 18-year-old Billy Bonds, who had made his debut the match before (a 1-1 draw at home to Northampton).

With another flurry of recent loan signings it made me chuckle to see how it sometimes worked in those days. The programme made reference to a Stewart Scullion having signed amateur forms for Charlton, but that as his club, Chesham Utd, were fighting for promotion from the Athenian League Stewart “cannot be spared most Saturdays” but would “assist us as often as possible”. Bless. As there’s no mention of a Scullion in The Valiant 500 I guess he didn’t go on to assist us that much (wasn’t there a Scullion in Porterhouse Blue?). There is also mention of a certain 20-year-old Keith Peacock, who “studies accountancy in his spare time” and “has a big future as a footballer”.

The 1964/65 season, the last under Frank Hill, saw us finish in the lofty position of 18th but just two points above second-bottom, with 13 wins and 9 draws (a pattern emerging?). I do remember the FA Cup matches against Middlesbrough, with Mike Bailey (who that season became only the second Charlton player since the War to win a full England cap) breaking his leg. I have the scrapbooks to remind me, as well as a poster of the squad for that season hanging on the kitchen wall.

So there you have it. Tales of managers getting sacked and relegation struggles. It’s all getting contemporary again and with a bit of luck next season will see us back to scrapping for points in the second flight. Before then, it’s worth noting in light of the treat that’s in store for us in December that the highest crowd of the 1966/67 season was 29,529 - for the visit of Millwall.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Murray Q&A: Job Well Done

Tonight’s Richard Murray Q&A was a triumph, in that an appreciative audience was treated to honest and candid answers (where possible) to all questions, plus the appropriate mix of asides and anecdotes. There is always the issue of at least an element of confidentiality in these gatherings, not because of any sense of ‘privileged information’ but because the last thing you want is for people to feel they have to be guarded about what they say. Murray asked for no verbatim reporting, which is just as well as I’m far too lazy a git to take notes (and as can be gleaned from match reports there would be the human error component). So overall impressions will have to suffice from me at least.

Before that, the evening was topped and tailed by more surreal elements. In the North Stand lounge the TV was playing a recording of a Charlton match in March 1965 versus Bolton. The pitch had obviously been covered in snow and ice not long before the game, which had melted in some places and not in others, leaving a quagmire mix of mud, large puddles, and patches of ice. We were losing 1-0 when I arrived and I’m that sad that, even watching a video of a game played nearly 45 years ago, I felt downhearted when our efforts to equalise before the break came to nothing and we gave away a penalty (which even allowing for the conditions was about as stonewall as they come). Checking the records we went on to lose 3-1. If this was a PR stunt to remind all and sundry how far we have come it was a masterpiece (but should have been rounded off by turning on the floodlights to show the ground now in all its glory). Then on the train back I picked up an evening freebie and looked at Chelsea’s group in the Champions League. In the pub before the Bristol Rovers game we were chatting to some of their fans and after Wigan’s defeat it was asked if we have ever seen our team score 9. “I have”, I piped up; Apoel Nicosia in a friendly, 9-0, I still have the programme (I think). And there they are. In the Champions League. Oh, the swings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

The meeting itself had very much the air of a valedictory. Murray talked a fair deal about legacy and whether it’s been a job well done. That may have been encouraged by most of the early questions being about finances and a takeover, but it was clear, if it hadn’t been before, that Plan B and not Plan A is to continue as we are. Just for the record, in my view there is no question that Murray deserves the accolade of being Charlton’s finest ever chairman and that the board collectively over the past 20 years have been admirable. The mistakes made have hurt them as much as any other fans. Equally, if that sounds like a verdict on a chapter of the club’s history there was nothing said at the meeting to work against that impression.

On finances, the salient points I think were that if we are promoted and not taken over we would be broadly stable in the Championship, but forget about any ideas of significant new signings (at least in net terms). The goal as things stand is to get back and stay in that league (although of course nothing can ever be that cut and dried), where we could operate and hopefully compete (my words). We haven’t cut our cloth for this league and if we’re not promoted players would have to be sold (how many understandably depending on whether one or two attracted big money). It was noted that we have 14 players out of contract at the end of this season; reading between the lines going up and keeping the bulk of the current first team squad would be the realistic objective. No surprises, but a salient reminder of the reality of the situation. What was dismissed as unreal was the contents of The Mirror’s recent piece (other than an acknowledgement of the damage that such reports can have when the calls from creditors come in the next morning).

On a takeover, nothing specific was asked and Murray was understandably guarded when individuals were named. Irrespective of today’s news regarding Dubai, it was clear that that would have been a very welcome deal for the board (although naturally where that would have left us today is entirely hypothetical). There was no impression that there is any offer for the club on the table (which could I guess be inferred from the meeting going ahead), or one imminent, but of course that can change.

On the management, it is clear that Parkinson has the full support of the board and that, as came across from previous meetings, Murray feels far more comfortable (in a positive sense) with him than Pardew or Dowie. Let’s face it, the value of their asset is in his hands.

On the players (past and present) most of what was said should remain unwritten, especially the entertaining bits (for what it’s worth, the Bristol Rovers fans we talked to on Saturday had fading enthusiasm for signing Dickson – started well but now doesn’t seem to be too bothered). But what was significant was the interplay between the new investment, the financial plans outlined at the AGM, and not selling players before the transfer deadline. Murray confirmed that we had offers for two players and there was a conscious decision not to sell and opting instead for putting in more money (rather than the club having tried to sell and not getting offers). For that alone, if it proves to be the end of an era the penultimate significant act by the board deserves our praise. The final act would be ensuring that if the club is sold it goes to people who will themselves pass it on in better shape.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Surreal, But Points In The Bag

‘We’ve got two Sodjes, he’s got two yellow cards’. I’m not sure if it was my absence from a Charlton game for well over a month (since Huddersfield) but tonight seemed, and probably was, very surreal. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a six-goal debacle before, but this was as close as it gets, with the game played in near storm conditions and the simple tenet of if you play in the opposition’s half you will score never seeming so true. Add in an erratic referee and you have all the makings for a night when as far as the football was concerned it was a case of forget about the beautiful game, take the win and move on.

The line-up saw Racon left on the bench and Shelvey taking the wide left berth, with Llera as expected coming in for the suspended Sodje (S), Basey at left back, and Youga on the right side of defence, albeit not for too long as he was to go off injured after about 20 minutes, with Omozusi coming on as a straight replacement. Burton and Mooney kept the places up front, with Sodje (A) also in reserve.

The early exchanges were aimless, but after 20 minutes, despite barely stringing two passes together, we were 2-0 up and Bristol Rovers were looking like the worst team bar none we had played this season. First good persistence by Sam on the right saw him win the ball and square it. Burton for some reason decided against scoring but no matter, it ran on to Mooney who took the easy chance at the far post. Not long after one of their defenders illustrated why not many footballers end up as Nobel Prize contenders. From a set piece the ref stopped the game to talk to him and Burton about their jostling in the box. Burton – who through the game was to give a fair impression of Jim Melrose in being a real pain for defenders – then took the opportunity to go down as the ball came in, the ref duly gave the penalty, and Burton helped himself, shooting low to the left.

At that point most of the crowd thought it was pretty much game over – and so it seemed did the team. The foot came off the pedal and without doing much Bristol came more into the game. It should have been a case of a brief flurry before normal service was resumed, but this ref wasn’t going to stay away from centre-stage for long (a feature of the first half being his predilection for booking our players but not theirs for almost identical offences) and shortly before the break evened things up by giving them a penalty for some equally innocuous pushing and pulling in the box. At 2-1 Rovers were suddenly back in a game that even they seemed to think had been beyond them, but even at the break the impression was that the goal should prove a wake-up call rather than cause to panic.

This was to fail to account for the elements, which got progressively worse. A swirling wind made most attempts to play football quite fruitless and the first 15 minutes of the second half belonged to Rovers. They fluffed a great chance and it was no great surprise when a corner was swept in and flicked on into the roof of the net. This really should have been game on – and the outcome was decided by two moments. Rovers had their chance to go in front, but a shot from inside the box went just wide of the far post. Then Dailly – who I thought had a splendid game – advanced without any sign of a challenge, played it in, the ball was flicked on and after the first effort went up in the air Bailey got on the end of the rebound to restore the lead.

Wagstaff came on for the ineffective Shelvey, with Sam switching to the left, and shortly after Sodje (A) came off the bench for Mooney. His first contact was a header which went narrowly over the bar and with just about his second he put the game to bed. Ball played in from the right and he put it in the net. Sounds very simply and it was.

All that remained was the farce of the ref giving a yellow card to Lines, who started to walk off having, it seemed, already been booked. But the red card stayed in the pocket. I can’t swear that he had been already booked, but it was clear he thought so – and so did enough people in the crowd. Surely, with all the furore over Henry’s handball for the French he would walk up to the ref and confess, for the sake of the game’s reputation. But doing the honourable thing didn’t seem to occur to him (just as it didn’t to the Charlton players all those years ago against Oldham). Plus ca change. The incident gave the game the absurd element that it deserved.

Again, it was no night for drawing any strong conclusions about the team. The conditions made it all but impossible. But if there are any lessons, for me they included: Llera, after being dropped, looks short of confidence. He didn’t play badly, but there isn’t the strut about him that there was at the start of the season. I hope it comes back. Wide left is still a problem. Racon needed a rest and perhaps with hindsight it would have been better to drop him for a couple of games rather than try him out on the flank. Shelvey looked out of sorts in the position. And Semedo and Bailey don’t look an ideal combination as what we gained in solidity we lost in creativity.

The final thought is that personally I was sad that I heard not a single chant for the returning Lennie. Heaven knows he deserved a standing ovation. If I missed it I apologise, if it didn’t happen he deserved better.

It wasn’t a night for player ratings (especially as after a very friendly exchange with some Bristol fans in the Rose of Denmark I’m feeling thirsty and there is yet another glass with my name on it). But plaudits on the night would go to Dailly, Omozusi (who had a shaky start after coming on but got progressively better), Burton (not so much for his football but for being a real nuisance), and Sodje (A), who just came on and scored.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Reds Win Out (And The Frogs Weren't Bad Too)

People always talk about remembering where they were when Kennedy was shot, when Armstrong landed on the moon etc. At least I can say with confidence I will be able to remember where I was when Charlton beat MK Dons 5-1; I won’t have much memory of the precise details, especially as my tasting notes degenerated rather through the process (from ‘delicate, hint of violet’ etc all the way down to ‘bloody nice drop’). But as the texts on Saturday came flowing through I was located underground in Beaune at the Marche Aux Vins sampling 10 different Bourgognes wines (actually more like 10 x 2 as my partner Suzanne is perfect company on such occasions, preferring to take a sip and pass on the remainder), having previously gorged on a plate of fried frogs from one of the market stalls. A French man wearing a beret cooking frogs (as per photo); he only needed the garlic necklace to complete the picture.

So, for the sake of posterity here is my account of the game:

Team details came through by text as a Savigny-les-Beaune 2007 was being sipped. Not surprisingly the tastings began with the more basic stuff (and the whites, which are not my usual tipple). Something of a vin ordinaire for me, but at least it was clear at this stage that Parkinson was sticking with 4-4-2.

As I was informed that Bailey was starting in the centre with Racon moved to the left of midfield we had moved on to a Meursault 2005. A bold move to accompany the most enjoyable of the three whites. As a youth with a leaning towards the books of Camus I had invested in a bottle of this stuff (OK, the spelling isn’t exactly the same but it’s close), only to be disappointed by the lack of body. Probably this was the start of my preference for full-bodied reds. But with age comes appreciation and this time around the glass(es) were finished off with relish.

‘0-1; merde; intercepted back pass in the wind’. This was to be the low point of the afternoon as a Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru (Les Vergers 2005) lacked just about everything and tasted a little too sharp. Things had to get better.

‘1-1 Mooney!’ By now we had moved on to the reds and first up was a Gevrey-Chambertin 2006. At least normal service was being resumed with a complex and agreeable glass made all the better by a second as it failed completely to impress Suzanne. The world seemed a better and warmer place.

‘Should be 2-2; looked like our man handled on his own line’. From the BBC website highlights I assume this was the outstanding non-handball block, but at the time I was holding a Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru (Les Feusselottes 2004). Proved to be something of a holding operation as I noted it seemed unexceptional for the price and for Suzanne it was only a little better. It seemed the afternoon could go either way.

‘2-1 Bailey!’ Now we were cooking, with a Hospices de Beaune 1er Cru (Cuyee Guigogne de Salins 2002). By now the tasting notes were brief and to the point, demonstrating both a lack of wine vocabulary and a reluctance to do more than scribble a few words (‘not bad but even more pricey’). At least things were moving in the right direction, if a little unsteadily.

‘Another handball by us in our box that we got away with’. I’ll drink to that. Hospices de Dijon Pommard 1er Cru 1999. This one saw a glass raised to the ref and the scores for the wines were picking up.

‘HT. Not sure how no more goals were scored. Very windy and chaotic, pitch covered in leaves, both keepers made top saves; end-to-end stuff’. Still had the impression we weren’t hitting the heights as a Corton Grand Cru 1982 looked impressive (with the price per bottle now up to EUR110) but failed to really deliver. Jury was still out on the reds as we moved towards the real stuff.

‘3-1 Sam!’ A Chambertin Clos de Beze Granc Cru 1974 saw some distance put between the earlier rather mixed experience. At EUR290 a bottle it should have done, although it seemed some were still not satisfied as some of the locals were using the spittoon and complaining that it was not fully finished.

‘4-1 Sojde heads in corner’. This was sending me to heaven as an Hospices de Beaune Savigny-les-Beaune (Cuvee Fouquerand 1964) was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. By now the notes amounted to a big tick, but I do remember having to prise this glass from Suzanne (on the spurious grounds that she really likes dessert wine and wouldn’t truly appreciate the contents, that she had to drive later, that we were winning 4-1 ...)

‘5-1 Burton!’ This news was digested while sitting outside having a good cigar as the head was somewhat light. What followed was some confusion on both sides of the Channel: ‘We’ve got another Sodje on the pitch now; where did he come from?’ Sorry, but don’t ask me, I’m headed back for a pastis and another plate of frogs.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Robbed By The Ref

Last night’s game was another reminder of how cruel a game football can be. Losing to the odd goal is always tough, but when defeat comes courtesy of poor refereeing and a creditable draw is snatched from your grasp deep into stoppage time it’s hard to take. Johnstone’s Paint Trophy? Don’t make me laugh. This was the far more important clash between Lyon Duchere and Olympique Lyonnais B, Lyon’s version of the local derby.

With the game staged on Remembrance Day there was the pleasant surprise when arriving at the Stade de Balmont (actually arriving at the Stade de Balmont for the second time, as an error on a website had led us to believe that the game kicked off at 5pm rather than 6pm) to discover that entry would be free. Perhaps a precedent for our local derbies? Nah, I’d need actual payment to go to the New Den and just what incentive would be sufficient to justify a return to Selhurst Park is beyond my limited imagination, should there ever be another game with them. Enough to encourage a decent enough crowd, one that even managed to periodically break into song, encouraged by the Duchere bench (the local chant perhaps lacked the inherent beauty of Valley Floyd Road, but went something along the lines of ‘we live in Duchere and we are going to win’, something akin to Manchester City stressing their local roots when playing the prawn sandwich eaters).

When the teams took to the pitch it was hard to avoid the ‘men against boys’ cliché, with OL’s second string clearly having the height and weight advantage. That impression was strengthened when it was pointed out that in the OL ranks was a certain Jean-Alain Boumsong. Having strutted his stuff for Rangers, Newcastle, Juventus and the French national team, the whole event seemed something of a culture shock for him and in the first half especially he proved to be something of a secret weapon – for Duchere. Put simply, Boumsong was absolutely dire. The only other piece of team news I was able to glean from locals was that the regular Duchere goalkeeper – who had been outstanding in the games I have seen and has contributed significantly to a very low goals conceded tally over the past couple of seasons at least – was injured and that his replacement, having waited patiently for years for his chance, was desperate to play well (which he was to do). Carried echoes of the long-suffering understudy for Sam Bartram.

Duchere started the game well. The manager, Karim Bounouara, is clearly continuing to demand a passing game for the side and OL were slow to pick up the threat. An early through ball was headed for the OL keeper before Boumsong managed his first interception, stopping the ball and falling backwards to leave the Duchere forward through on goal, but the shot from a tight angle was just wide. Duchere were then awarded a free kick just outside the box and an excellent Jensen-style effort was just turned round the post by a very competent OL keeper. Then Boumsong repeated the interception trick only for the OL keeper to save again. Next time around Boumsong had clearly learnt his lesson and allowed a cross to go through, except this time the ball was never going to reach the keeper and the Duchere forward duly got on the end of it, only for the effort to produce another decent save.

After the early enthusiasm it was perhaps inevitable that OL came more into the game and started to dominate possession. They had speedy wingers and one move down the left produced a low cross and havoc in the Duchere area, then the Duchere keeper was called on to make a double save, the second saw him bravely smother at the feet of an inrushing forward. At this stage I was starting to resign myself to never actually seeing a goal for La Duche (this was my fourth game) and for a 15-minute spell it seemed only a matter of time before OL took the lead. But Duchere rallied and worked their way back into the game. And finally the drought was ended. OL’s height advantage was to count for nothing through the game as the quality of Duchere’s crossing and the incompetence of Boumsong meant an ever-present threat. A corner from the left was glanced goalwards and the ball came back off the OL keeper to be buried by a Duchere forward (please don’t ask me for names).

All that was left for the first half was further evidence of Boumsong’s total frustration. He moved forward to meet an innocuous high ball and put in a thunderous header, only for his momentum to see him almost demolish the Duchere player, who ended up in a writhing heap on the ground (does anyone else remember Steve Thomson nearly breaking Nail Quinn in half when falling on him in a Charlton v Arsenal game?). The ref inexplicably awarded Duchere a free kick, leaving Boumsong with arms outstretched as if to say ‘I can’t help being an enormous bugger’.

Duchere had had the better of the first period and were deservedly ahead at the break. But this is a team that doesn’t score many – and concedes fewer. It is also one which was humbled 1-5 in the corresponding fixture last season and seemed well aware of the bragging rights involved in a local clash. Coupled with an obvious touch of the hairdryer treatment for the OL players, this translated into a more cautious approach in the second half, with OL taking the initiative. After about 15 minutes some uncertainty led to an unnecessary corner given away and the curling delivery was met with a header into the net. Equality, if not liberty and fraternity. OL then sent on a substitute, one who had the pace and trickery to cause problems for the remainder of the game. About 10 minutes later OL worked the ball into the box, played it into the sub, who managed to turn and put it away.

It was hard to see Duchere coming back from that, with OL celebrating as if they had managed to get through the Champions League quarter-finals (which usually mark the end of their European campaigns) and the locals seemingly resigned to defeat to the affluent and upmarket neighbours. OL certainly thought they had the game won. But with about five minutes left on the clock the ball broke in the box to a Duchere forward who shot low into the net. Suddenly an honourable draw was on the cards. However, an increasingly fussy and inconsistent ref (is there any other type?) began to impose herself (yes, I mention that it was a female ref, for no other reason than it is the truth) and with Duchere ready to embrace the final whistle she started to give OL a series of free kicks. We were in I think the sixth minute of stoppage time when a corner was awarded. Surely the final act of the game. Duchere committed the cardinal sin of making a substitution at a set piece (bringing on a tall guy for obvious reasons) and perhaps inevitably a knock-down fell to an OL player and it was struck into the roof of the net.

The ref didn’t quite blow for full time at the kick-off but it was mighty close (why is it when they have clearly erred over timing they allow play to continue to suggest that they were not mistaken?). So there it was, a 2-3 reverse for Duchere. On the downside there are no bragging rights for this area of Lyon for a while yet, La Duche’s habit of conceding late goals (on Sunday they did the same, drawing 1-1 at home against Grenoble-Villeneuve) continues, and their habit of conceding late goals when I am in attendance continues (two of my four games have seen them lose in stoppage time). But on the upside, Duchere look stronger and better than before and are likely to continue to improve, to establish themselves as the city’s second team. The club has a site ( and a sponsor. Unfortunately it is stuck with a Jonah in the form of a sometimes visiting Brit (and from the comment on a previous post it seems I am not the only Addick to back Duchere), but the future looks bright, for the club and the area. I have posted the photo not because it is likely to attract visitors to the area (it is the least flattering photo imaginable) but because it includes Tour Panoramique, where my partner Suzanne lives. The Duchere area, which stands on a hill to the north-west of the centre of Lyon, is being extensively redeveloped and should look much better in a few years.

So, despite the cruel injustice of it all there are grounds for optimism. Just as well really as it’s in short supply on other fronts. I left for France very early Sunday morning and am claiming complete ignorance of anything that might have happened in the FA Cup. It may be that it simply didn’t happen. Suzanne and I are headed off to Beaune tomorrow to take in the pleasures of the annual wine auction sales, will return on Saturday in time for the first leg of Ireland v France and then its back to Blighty for me on Sunday. I shall be there in spirit at least for the MK Dons clash (or should I say, given my prospective location, that I will be in spirits). Suffice to say this one isn’t about formations and team selection, it’s about character. A win by whatever means, however ugly, is what is required to stop thoughts of this season going very much the way of our first back in The Championship. I will be drinking to it.