Sunday, 28 July 2013

Addicks Place? Total Disgrace

Sometimes the small things matter, as often they say a lot about the bigger picture. And for me, this ‘small thing’ makes me angry (and disappointed). We were recently invited to ‘cement our place in Charlton’s history and become part of the stadium itself’, by purchasing an inscribed stone in Addicks Place, and more recently to view the first stage of its implementation before the Inverness Caledonian Thistle friendly.

Now when I first saw the offer on the club site there was a note of concern. ‘Excuse me, I purchased a brick some years ago, on pretty much the same basis (to cement my place etc). It’s still there, I check it from time to time.’ My concern was based around how the named bricks in place would be treated (would they even be removed?), but I thought ‘no, give the club the benefit of any doubt, perhaps there will be something on the site about the bricks in place, some reassurance, perhaps some offer to upgrade to the new displays’. I’ve heard nothing.

So I took a look yesterday. The new stones do look good and the area well presented (and believe me I have absolutely no axe to grind with people who’ve paid for their new stones and those who intend to have one in the second phase). But did someone at the club not think for a minute that there are people out there who paid for bricks before, perhaps we can spruce them up a bit, give them a clean etc, to make it all look good. If anyone did nothing happened. Some of the bricks are unreadable; some are covered up by a bloody red carpet stretching outside the main entrance. Basically nobody has given a monkeys about the bricks, and those who paid for them. Why care? There’s no fresh money coming from them. Well I care. My brick has the name of my (deceased) father, a lifelong Addick, and I.

A more sympathetic club might have considered the feelings of those with bricks in place. A simple reassurance at the time of the Addicks Place offer that they will be respected would have been nice (if one was added I’m wrong and apologise but I didn’t see anything and was looking). Why not offer a package for those with bricks who might like to upgrade? ‘Oh, forget them, we’ve got their money’. If those bricks are now felt to be in the wrong (or inconvenient) place, by all means contact those who paid for them (the details must still be lying around somewhere, or a general note on the site to ask these people to get in touch) and offer some alternative. ‘Nah, why bother? It will only cost us time and money to contact people, dig up the bricks and put them somewhere else.’

This may be unfair on the club, perhaps an over-reaction. But it outlines how the club made me feel yesterday, angry and disappointed. Charlton doesn’t do that often to me; I’ll always be an Addick and accept being to some degree exploited because of that, it’s a trade-off for the benefits. But as things stand the club said to me it just doesn’t care – unless I’ve more money to hand over.

Please clean (perhaps even redo the lettering) the bricks that are unreadable and please do not show total indifference to the people who paid for them by covering them up with a carpet. Simple, small things, easily avoided with a little thought. I hope this simple, small thing really doesn’t say something about the club I support.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Plaudits for Powell But Nobody Else

Given our home record for the bulk of last season, it wasn’t exactly uplifting to lose 0-1 in the only pre-season friendly at The Valley. If Paddy Powell had brought his boots, he might have made a difference. As it was, Inverness Caledonian Thistle defended well, were well organised, and over the 90 minutes also had the nearer misses until we pressed in the final part of the game. Good luck to them. There were after all some guys in the pub who’d flown down from Scotland for the game. The only problem with them was that their colours and badge were just a little too close to the Sparrows whose ground we once borrowed.

I hope nobody’s expecting a full match report, this was a friendly. But for the record we put out something close to a current first choice X1: a not surprising 4-5-1 formation comprising Hamer, Solly, Wiggins, Morrison, Dervite, Harriott, Gower, Jackson, Stephens, Pritchard and Kermorgant. The only problem was that according to a Scottish guy ICT, managed by Terry Butcher, know how to defend and are content to sit behind the ball. 4-5-1 puts a premium on midfielders breaking forward to support the lone striker and the wide men getting the better of their full-backs. Neither happened often enough to cause them problems.

In the first half, aside from a couple of Pritchard low crosses-cum-shots, we created one proper chance, albeit a good one. A good ball in and Kermorgant timed his run and leap perfectly. He just didn’t get enough power or direction on the header to beat the keeper. By contrast, ICT hit the outside of the post with a curled shot that gave Hamer no chance at all, and a loose ball in the box should have been converted but the half-hit shot was able to be smothered by Hamer. We dominated possession, but quite frankly the quality of the balls going forward, and most of those into the box, was poor, the midfield was too static and one-paced, and their full-back was shutting Harriott out of the game.

At the break it seemed to be a case of doing things better and faster. That didn’t really happen and with ICT sitting back the game as a spectacle was dying a death. Not surprisingly changes came, with Green replacing Stephens and Pigott coming on for Gower (plus Evina for Wiggins and towards the end Cousins replaced Dervitte), with Pritchard moving inside. But as we were expecting us to increase the pressure they broke the deadlock. An exchange between Pigott and Jackson went wrong and they broke. Although Pigott tracked their guy back he didn’t catch him. The danger seemed to have passed as their guy’s ball out wide was overhit, but it was kept in, squared, and someone running onto it slotted it past Button (who had come on at the break).

The goal made more of a game of it as we pressed forward, with Pigott making things happen, Harriott coming more into the game and looking threatening, and Jackson threatening to get in behind their defence. But everything was just a little off, perhaps encapsulated by a curate’s egg of a performance from Kermorgant. He worked his socks off, but tried a few things that raised the eyebrows and, having won a free kick in a dangerous position by running into their defender’s elbow, proceeded to curl it about a yard off the ground into the wall.

The result doesn’t matter in the greater scheme of things. And the match won’t live long in the memory (defeats seldom do), apart from the much deserved plaudits for Colin Powell. But we are only a week away from the start of the season and the performance should raise some concern, even given the context. We all know we need more strikers brought in, and on today’s evidence a team coming to The Valley with a gameplan built on containment against 4-5-1 will fancy their chances of keeping a clean sheet and getting something at the other end.

Nobody from us took the game by the scruff of the neck. Stephens had the opportunity but ICT just didn’t allow the space in the final third for him to make telling passes, Gower was tidy and efficient but no more, while Jackson and Pritchard both played in poor balls from decent positions. Surprisingly I’m not sure that Wiggins got across the half-way line in the first half and it took us too long to realise that against a team set up for containment a more aggressive and adventurous approach was needed. Allowing them to score first was the real sin – and we saw that happen too often at home last season. It was perhaps indicative that I took along to the game a new toy, a camera, to try out the features. I wanted to wait for a Charlton corner, set-piece, ideally penalty to try out the rapid shots function. I know I didn’t have the opportunity until late in the game.

So no disaster, but a slightly sobering experience. Schoolteacher’s report comment would read ‘need to work harder next week’. ICT are no mugs (they finished fourth in Scotland last season and had supporters of their own to impress) and provided a tough examination; it wasn't Welling as an intro. Today we did not pass it.

Monday, 22 July 2013

'We Got Married In A Fever .....'

Couldn’t make the open day, didn’t go to Portsmouth (or Wimbledon for that matter), and still a week before Inverness Caledonia'n Thistle. Delighted that Evina’s staying with us and glad Wood has signed up (defence sorted, just the forwards and some possible manoeuvring for midfield to go). Also pleased about the Trust’s campaign to get Asset of Community Value status for The Valley (my first thought was as the place is by a distance the holiest place on the planet it surely couldn’t cross anybody’s mind ever to think of changing it, but we know there are the unenlightened out there). But there’s got to be something to write about, other than idly wondering whether I was sent the only season highlights DVD which doesn’t work properly (it might be my equipment).

So, as an eternal optimist and perennial tryer (neither are actually true but they form the intro), I want another futile stab at a new song. My influence here is clearly limited. I sit in the East Stand and we never actually start anything, plus I still bear the mental scars from the failure to get going an adaptation of David Essex’s Rock On for Therry Racon (mention of whom prompted a quick Google; seems he’s without a club having left Millwall, where he did an admirable job – two years of wages pocketed and one league appearance, presumably forced on him). Still feel that would have been a belter (‘Racon ... ooh my soul’).

As my musical interests, with some notable exceptions, start and finish with the Sixties (or residues of that decade, such as the mighty Leonard Cohen), the chances of me coming up with anything contemporary are slim. Stick to what you know. So there I was, playing a bit of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood as one does, and of course on comes their version of Jackson. It was made famous by Johnny Cash (and June Carter of course), but not written by them. For anyone not acquainted with it, try YouTube and enjoy.

We do have a sort of song for the skipper, but it’s a bit half-hearted and clearly out of date. He no longer runs down the wing for us. And there’s a classic with his name on it (the fact that it’s about a failed marriage – or soon to be failed marriage if you want – can be easily overlooked).

I have no pretentions as a lyricist, but here’s my stab at a first verse:

“He came in from Notts County,
As full-back then got reversed.
We’ve been singing ‘bout Jackson,
Ever since he scored his first.
Oh Johnnie Jackson (Jackson, Jackson),
He don’t mess around.
Yeah Johnnie Jackson (Jackson, Jackson),
Look out, he’ll take you down.”

I don’t have a verse two (and I'm happy to admit it ain’t exactly much of a verse one), but any contributions would be more than welcome.

Hopefully we’ll sign someone from Senegal, Montreal, Donnegal or anywhere else that rhymes with you know where to revive that one. And if Coulibaly joins us and takes the French (including France-associated) contingent still higher, I promise to co-opt my partner Suzanne to come up with something suitable, to the tune of La Marseillaise no doubt. Oh, I’m on a roll now:

“Couilbaly and Evina,
Plus Dervite and Kermorgant .....”

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Thoughts On Paddy

The news that the Valley friendly against Inverness Caledonian Thistle has been designated a testimonial for Paddy Powell is entirely welcome, and of course entirely deserved. Does still leave the Killer testimonial to be fitted in at some point in the future (anyone know what happened to his autobiography?), but hopefully that one’s in the back of the mind of someone at the club.

I don’t want to trawl through the stats of Powell’s playing career. The programme and others’ posts will do that well enough, and it’s bloody hot today so any actual effort on my part is a long shot. I’d rather just see what comes to my mind when his name crops up. Not surprisingly, it’s just about all positive, and that’s not rose-tinted glasses. Yes, I remember that there were one or two question marks over his ability and/or inclination to tackle back; yes, there was the dabbling in the US that almost caught us out. But what I really remember is a player we signed from non-league rather older than usual for that type of purchase (after he’d shown what he could do against us) who went on to be instrumental in a delightful period for club on the pitch, when expectations were somewhat muted (we had made it back into the old Second Division), we couldn’t defend, but we scored goals seemingly at will.

In those days we were delighted with a few matches a season featuring on Sunday’s The Big Match, so understandably two memories of Paddy on the pitch were from games with recorded highlights. To feature on TV was good enough, but for us to win ‘goal of the season’ was something else. Powell helping out in defence then haring up the pitch for a return after a bit of playing around by Warman; quick feint either way from the left side and in goes the cross for Hales to meet it on the volley and smash it into the net. That saw off Hull on the day. My second TV memory wasn’t a win (somehow we were edged out 2-1 at Palace) but was surely Powell’s finest goal for us. Speaking about the game the next day, Palace’s manager Malcolm Allison said he’d told his defenders to push Powell inside as he had no left foot. Well, he was pushed inside and hit a beauty from well outside the box into the far corner of the net.

Other games tend to get merged or details are a bit blurred, but I remember one press report extolling Charlton’s attacking prowess as we played with three wingers: Flanagan and Powell, plus Peacock going wide from central midfield. Add in Killer and King Arthur Horsfield to actually score most of them, then Flash moving inside after Horsfield left, and you have the 6-0 against Swansea followed by 6-1 against Notts County, plus Hales’ 28-goal season. I do remember the final game of that season, at home to Bolton; we lost 5-0 not least because every time we went forward someone tried to give it to Hales to get to 30 and scoop the £10,000 (I think) while the defence, as usual, leaked. I don’t remember if Paddy took the corners, but my favourite used to be one to the far post for the head of ‘Big Dave’ Shipperley, for him to nod it back and Hales to score. Seemed to happen all the time (and still does in my head).

When we list ‘Charlton legends’, Powell’s name doesn’t usually make the top batch. He didn’t (often) bang them in himself, he didn’t (to the best of my knowledge) have a fight on the pitch, he didn’t go on to greater glories at other clubs, and doesn’t top the lists for appearances. But if there’s a second group of heroes he’s right up there in that one. He made so many, most obviously for Hales, and was a vital component in the success of him and others. He provided an Addick (and of course many other ones) with a massive amount of pleasure.

Of course Powell’s years at the club since hanging up the boots would themselves merit a testimonial for him. I’m sure I used to see him in the gym when there was one at The Valley open to the public (I was on an – overdue and necessary – return to something approaching fitness campaign). But this post can’t end without an apology. I went down to The Valley last season to answer the call for volunteers to help clear away snow and ice from outside the ground and then from the pitch to try to get the Sheff Wed game played.

I only managed a chunk of the first day (and for the record do not feature in any of the club photos taken as I took advantage of the break to go to the tunnel and get someone to take a couple of shots of me doing a ‘Sir Chris’ leap out) and, while the work outside was exemplary, when it came to getting the snow off the pitch I can’t help feeling our less than professional efforts contributed to the poor state of the pitch on the East Stand side for the subsequent month or so. And we lost the bloody game. If there’s any quid pro quo, it was pretty muddy once the snow came off and I fell on my posterior while helping to drag the covers on. In times gone by I would have kept the stain on the jeans, but it was a cold day – and it might have been hard to explain to people, including my French partner Suzanne, exactly why I was happy to wear in public a pair in that condition.  

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Jerome Talks The Talk

Sometimes in a player’s career you just have to take the least worst option on the table, pucker up and make the best of it. Oh, and of course you have to tell the media what you think a new batch of supporters want to hear. So today spare a thought for Jerome Thomas. That’s long enough, he ain’t exactly hit skid row.

Having reportedly been made available on a free by West Brom, Thomas has signed for Palace. The quote on the BBC site is a classic of its kind: “After they got promoted Ollie gave me a call. We had a good talk and after that there wasn’t much doubt in my mind where I wanted to go. I wanted to stay at the top level.” Need we put it another way? ‘At 30 and the clock ticking the chances of a Premiership club coming in for me aren’t great. I’ve had a decent run, never quite hit the heights I might have hoped for at one stage but as football careers go it’s not been bad. OK, it’s only the Premiership for one more season, but I get to go back to the smoke (and I’m sure I can find somewhere to live far enough away from Selhurst, wherever that is).’

Good luck to him, really. I can’t think badly of Thomas, given his role in that midfield (Thomas, Kishishev, Murphy, Smertin, Rommadahl). If he's still with Palace the season after next, and if we don't get promoted, I'll clap rather than boo him on a return to The Valley. 

Just remember Jerome, all things are relative. Lee Martin, released by Ipswich, has to go to Millwall. And of course Scottie Wagstaff has had to take a step back to League One with Bristol City. And before we get too smug, there’s always the reminder from the diary and the TV show based on it of Eamon Dumphy consoling a youngster being let go by Millwall with the words that things could be worse, he’s got to go and play for Charlton. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Piggot Grabs His Chance At Welling

The day didn’t quite take on the shape expected, or rather the schedule was terminated prematurely. We did manage a 10.30 start for beers, wine and rugby; we did leave for a curry at 12.45; we did get over to Welling for the match; and we did then get back. But a combination of last night’s and the morning’s excesses, followed by being baked for a couple of hours on the open terrace (why can’t we have a bit of rain?), saw enthusiasm wane for a return to a pub and a second curry. Shame on us. So instead I don’t have a decent reason not to pen something on the game (and can take the opportunity to add my belated congratulations to Welling on their promotion to the Conference).

It was, as they say, a game of two halves as Sir Chris adopted the entirely sensible tactic for a friendly of playing two teams for 45 minutes (I wish they’d adopt this for international friendlies). We were to win the first 4-0, which speaks for itself, with undoubtedly the headlines made by Piggot, who notched a hat-trick (does he get to keep a match ball?); the second was a more humdrum affair, one we were rather fortunate to win 1-0, although having gone ahead we could have gone on to score a couple more.

The programme contained the words that off the pitch, many improvements have been made, some that are noticeable today and others that are not”. One improvement not yet made, or at least entirely unapparent to me, is the loudspeaker, which remains unintelligible to those outside the main stand. The meant that the early periods of both halves were spent clarifying who was actually playing (and now having a quick shuftie at the club site to ensure no mistakes). So it seems that in the first half Pope was in goal, Morrison and trialist Wood were the centre-backs, Solly and Fox the full-backs, with Jackson and Hughes in central midfield, Harriott and Pritchard out wide, and Kermorgant and Piggot up front. Might have been a bit strange for Kermit to find himself not the obvious target for high balls forward.

Given the nature of the contest, our interest understandably focused on the non-regulars in the team: Pope, Fox and Piggot. The first half belonged to Piggot, who took three of four (arguably five) opportunities that came his way, taking advantage of their keeper’s propensity to come out for balls he couldn’t get to lob one in, and finishing smartly for his third. Kermorgant was not to be sidelined and he notched the fourth with a good finish. Pope made one decent save when called on, but by and large Welling didn’t threaten, which made it hard for Woods to shine; perhaps you can say that Welling didn’t threaten because he did his job well enough. Fox was put under some pressure at times by a lively winger but came through it well enough.

There was some welcome news with the start of the second half. First, Welling brought on their splendidly rotund keeper. In the game a year ago he – thanks to the programme I can now put a name to the frame, Jamie Turner – came on and looked for all the world like a veteran just come in and a touch short on match fitness. A year later and he’s pretty much the same. He must take stick up and down the country and, quite rightly, seems indifferent. Perhaps his deal with Welling – and it can’t be easy to find a part-time guy content to be on the bench – amounts to: ‘I’ll turn up and play if required, but sod training. He must be a bit of a character as he seems to have chosen 66 as his squad number (the other player count stops at 33). Second, included in our second team was Evina, who it seems hasn’t (at least yet) found a new home having turned down the contract offered. I hope he stays (just as I hope that Haynes doesn’t find another club and comes back).

The second-half team was Button in goal, Cort and Dervite in central defence, Wilson and Evina the full-backs, with a five-man midfield – Green, Stephens, Hollands, Gower and Cook – and Smith operating as a lone striker. Not surprisingly we managed to dominate midfield, but there was little evidence of players running on from midfield to support Smith, at least until towards the end. Less stretched at the back, Welling were to carve out chances this time around, with Button making a couple of more than routine saves and helpless when one looping header went over him only to come back off the bar. We did go on to win the half, thanks to an iffy penalty (a Wilson cross blocked by a barely outstretched arm) converted by Green, after which he became livelier and better movement from him and Cook created openings. Smith, who had been unlucky with a couple of headers, did then fail to convert a couple of one-on-ones, while Hollands almost scored with a chip.

It was a tough ask for Smith, to follow up Piggot’s goals and to operate on his own without much support until the late stages. Cook came more into the game towards the end as he seemed to be more intent to go looking for the ball. More of that please if he’s going to make an impact this season, as he needs to.

So, a satisfactory and enjoyable afternoon all round. Apparently Wiggins has a knock and didn’t feature, nor did Hamer. Perhaps a little disappointing not to have a chance to see what Azeez can do (he was one of six unused subs, all youngsters). Now we focus back on who might come in and who might still depart, with for me the opportunity for the Valley friendly before ducking out of the start of the season for the holidays. My French partner Suzanne has already made her plans, booking a London trip in September which will incorporate .... the Millwall game. Well, if a French woman can win Wimbledon perhaps the culture shock won’t be too great.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Lull Before The Storm?

When the latest piece about Charlton on the BBC’s site is about two weeks old and relates to the Championship fixture list, it’s reasonable to describe the period we are in as a lull. Every other team in the league has had something on them since. But is it the lull before the storm? (I have no reason or information to believe this to be so, this is just a cliché to provide an intro as if you wait long enough you are bound to be proven right.) The Ruskies haven’t bought us (yet), Obika hasn’t signed for us (yet), and nobody else has come in or gone. Something’s surely going to happen soon, and I don’t just mean Welling.

How would I feel if the club is bought by a Russian or a Russian consortium? If there was any indication on the part of the current owners that their desire to take the club forward, and to keep writing the cheques, was waning, we’d have to welcome anyone with open arms, given the implications. Absent a real fair play-generated levelling of the playing field – which I’m inclined to believe that any half-decent accountant will find a way around – we need an ongoing level of cash injection to be able to compete in the Championship, which can of course sometimes be aided as in the past by the sale of a player. That aside, and I don’t think this is prejudice, Russian money would be the last type I’d want for us.

I’m certainly no expert on Russia. Never been there and my experience writing/editing pieces on the country ended a decade ago. But the two abiding impressions I was left with were first, the constitution Boris Yeltsin introduced would ensure that Russia would not be truly democratic for the foreseeable future; and second, nobody made an honest buck out of the privatisation process. I can’t help thinking that nobody, except possibly Goldman Sachs, has made an honest buck in the country since – or at least nobody has made one and stayed honest.

Just why would a Russian oligarch (or group of) want to buy/invest in Charlton? I’d be happy to find out that any new owner/investor did indeed have some affiliation with us, or simply learnt in a short space of time to love being an Addick (as any normal person would). But surely the chances are that the motivation would be found in a mix of finding a plaything/potential bolt-hole and having money to throw away (or, shall we say, cleanse). The opportunity for a reasonable piece of bargain-hunting by people already involved with football was taken by our current owners. They would quite reasonably expect some return (again, unless their pockets and/or motivation are running out), even in the form of the potential for a future pay-out (and I’m assuming that there are still former shareholders entitled to some belated dosh if we were to return to the Premiership).

Let’s face it, there’s no novelty in a Russian owner; it’s been done. And the idea that a Russian owner will simply throw millions at us in a ‘promotion at all costs’ drive is of course appealing (if only for us to tag along for the ride) but far from assured. We’re far from a sure thing when it comes to backing a club to take into the promised land and stay there. Sir Chris wants to build and progress, but would he be the new owner’s choice? The plans for expanding The Valley would need to be taken off the shelf and dusted down, or would the new owner favour a move?

So I guess my answer to the first question would be I’d feel dubious, sceptical, concerned – but willing to be persuaded otherwise. If pushed, I’d have a hankering for a revival of the mooted Dubai takeover (if there was any residual interest on their part). I know that’s been done too, with Abu Dhabi, but the reassurance it comes with is that a country’s reputation is put on the line, not necessarily to ensure success but to ensure that things are done correctly (there’s no point in Abu Dhabi having Man City as part of its marketing department if it brings bad publicity).

It’s obviously too much to hope for the authorities’ ‘fit and proper person’ test to offer some kind of safety net. So our ‘ace in the hole’ has still to be Richard Murray. He may no longer be in a position to determine whether or not any sale of the club goes through; but he can – arguably should – pass comment on any change. His opinion still carries considerable weight with us, the supporters, and when he sold to the current owners he in effect gave them his endorsement. He still has skin in the game and quite understandably his own financial interests to consider. But if any deal does happen I’d be assuming it had his endorsement, as if he came out against it there would be a fair chance of the supporters turning anti too. To that extent, a deal and either no comment or open endorsement from Murray would allay my immediate concerns.

Have to say some concerns were eased by the news that Tony Jimenez and Dennis Wise are embroiled in a court case. I have no interest in the case itself, but the remote risk that Sir Chris would do a runner (to Wigan, Brighton or anywhere else) and our owners consider replacing him with said Mr Wise would seem to have gone for good. Let’s be pleased with that.

So, no news and nothing to plan for. As my French partner Suzanne will tell you, I’m not strong on planning. She gets pleasure from anticipation – generated by being away from me for spells of course – so plans; if I make a plan I want it to happen now. If it isn’t going to, why plan for it? But sometimes days just fall into place and I’ll break my rule. This Saturday is a case in point.

The loose itinerary for us involves being seated in a drinking establishment by 10.30 for decent seats and wine for the final Lions test. Emerge around 12.45 and enter decent establishment for a ruby (with wine). Exit around 14.00 for bus to Welling, in time to try to fathom out the team and subs. Enjoy the match, bus back and into another drinking place by around 17.45. Round things off with another curry whenever suits.

The next time Suzanne tells me I don’t plan anything I’ll point to this day. I can if I have to.