Sunday, 19 May 2019

'It Was 21 Years Ago Today ...'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 May 2019

No Promotion For Duchere - But A VIP Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Wembley After All?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 10 May 2019

The Wallace It Will Be

It’s not unreasonable to assume that every Addick has by now got his/her plans for the play-offs sorted. The unlikely combination of results that saw us end up third and the change to expected dates that produced did prompt a quick assessment on my part: if I was in London (which I’m not) would I go to one or both games, and if ‘yes’ are there reasonable travel options (now that the home leg would be followed by a weekend, allowing flexibility on a return)? The answers proved to be ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (sorry but there proved to be a price limits).

Consequently, come Sunday lunchtime (and provided the wine is acceptable, ambience is good, and views of TV excellent also the following Friday evening), suitably clad in a Mesh shirt, I’ll be settling into what I trust will be a prime spot inside the Wallace bar in Old Lyon, just by the Saone and – I kid you not – opposite the Elephant and Castle. The former presents itself as ‘your everyday pub’ for beer/cocktails, fish & chips/burgers, and sport. But this is France, so while the menu offers standard British fare (along with the fish & chips perhaps chicken tandoori or crumble de saumon d’Ecosse) there are also the options of tartare de boeuf Francais or a fois gras maison burger. The latter says it offers a ‘real taste of England in the heart of Lyon’, being ‘particularly proud’ of their hand battered fish & chips. I went for the Wallace not least as the Irish guy behind the bar said in response to my inquiry about showing the game that he used to live a couple of minutes walk from The Valley.

I could have chosen the Smoking Dog, the ex-pat watering hole most commonly cited, which is just a few minutes away. But it is on the real main pedestrian tourist street in the old area and smaller. On a Sunday lunchtime I wasn’t confident of getting a good spot to watch (and scream during) a football match, surrounded by bloody tourists.

Truth be told, if the option was available I would have chosen my favourite spot in Lyon for a glass, just up the road from Wallace and the Elephant and Castle, La Cave des Voyageurs. But the chances of this establishment being open on a Sunday lunchtime (it is a bar au vin, not open at lunchtime, even at weekends), let alone it having a TV and being ready to show an English League One play-off match, should be considered not so much remote as non-existent. Really shouldn’t complain, this is after all not a venue which has in mind an Englishman in a football shirt; if it were it would not rank first equal in my list of favourite bars.

It has that status not for the views it offers (see photo) but because it continues to offer the best Rhone Valley wines, treats them with total respect/admiration, and offers the sort of education that most Englishmen (including me) badly need. When first taken there by my partner Suzanne not long into our relationship I was asked what I would like. I explained in best broken French the qualities that I most appreciate in a red wine. The guy had a Rene moment of introspection, came back a few minutes later, and said ‘try this’. It proved to be my first encounter with a good St Joseph. I thought then (and still do) that I could happily spend the rest of my life in the glass.

(For the record, the other first equal bar in my ratings is one that I shall have to try to find again, next time we’re in the area. It was called Bar St Joseph, along the road from Ecole St Joseph. I said I would like a glass of red wine and the waitress informed me ‘we only serve St Joseph’. I replied that therefore I am in my spiritual home, football aside. While we’re on the subject, in third place I’d have Cafe Le Saint Joseph in Tournon-sur-Rhone, to continue the theme, and, to please Suzanne, in fourth the small bar on the hotel in Venice on the Grand Canal where we stayed, where I was first introduced to Ramazzotti and Montenegro, and in fifth a bar at the top of the Spanish Steps in Rome, which made a mean cocktail.)

I digress it seems. In addition to remaining in Lyon for the semi-final(s) I’m not going to make Wembley. It’s complicated, but having originally planned on returning to London in mid-April circumstances arose which meant extending my stay here until the end of May. A train back on 1 June still doesn’t rule out a quick return the previous weekend, but this is a no-win one for me. Some time back Suzanne booked a weekend away for us in Paris, for yet another Tutankhamun exhibition. Only recently did I start to think that this might be a problem. And it’s compounded by a niece choosing that Sunday for the christening of her second child. I have settled for Paris by default, but it will seem very strange to quite possibly miss, for what feels like the first time in my life, a pivotal Charlton game.

So please believe that during the week ahead there will be one Addick howling for victory from Lyon, then hopefully late in the month from Paris. Perhaps that might balance out having a moron still associated with our club sitting in Belgium.

Friday, 26 April 2019

So Who's Paying De Turck?

Sorry, but the point at which we allow our hopes to rise on the basis of comments made by Duchatelet or one of his acolytes passed a long time ago. Perhaps there will be a sale of our club concluded by the end of June, with Lieven De Turck apparently telling the Fans’ Forum last night that the ‘fifth party (international)’ is now doing due diligence having agreed a price with Roland. And perhaps not.

This time last season we were led to believe that we might have fresh owners before the play-offs, creating the conditions for an all-round celebration either side of victory at Wembley. This time around let’s just win the play-offs and then turn our attention back to our deluded owner, if he’s still around. Can you imagine him having the gall to actually turn up for a play-off final? If he has any concern for the club he would forget any such notion, for obvious reasons.

There were (I thought) nevertheless some points of interest from the accounts of the gathering. First, what surely must be considered the most tongue-in-cheek questioning of a football club representative in history (perhaps any recorded Q&A in history). According to the club website account, Ben Hayes (and full marks to him – and others - if he managed to keep a straight face) asked what had happened to the request (demand?) for the EFL to buy the club. It seems that De Turck actually answered and when pushed on whether Duchatelet still wanted the EFL to buy us said the club “has to accept” the EFL’s decision to turn down the opportunity.

Now if De Turck had commented to the effect that Roland’s call on the EFL was a reflection of his frustration at the authorities’ behaviour over the years (ie further undermining his already flawed concept of a network) all might have at least considered the possibility that our owner after all hasn’t entirely lost his marbles. But to actually give sober replies to the questions must have had everyone around the table in stitches, or created one of those situations when nobody dare look at another for fear of dissolving into mutual howls of laughter. It must have been something like the Life of Brian scene when the Woaman was asking the crowd who he should release (‘go on Ben, ask him if he thinks the EFL might reconsider if Roland agreed to drop his price ...’).  

Second, there was an exchange on the issue of whether potential buyers of our club are worried about those of us maintaining some form of boycott (whether all-in or not buying merchandise, spending inside the ground etc). De Turck apparently said the buyers are not worried as they believe this is an issue “linked to the current ownership”, but a fans representative seemingly commented that there might by now be a “certain amount of drift that isn’t boycotting”.

I can only add personal thoughts here. It stands to reason that the longer people stay away from games the more distant Charlton becomes to them and the less likely it is that they will return with a change of ownership. The time gets taken up with other things, which would probably have to be jettisoned to get back into a former routine. To minimise the risk of them not returning I’d expect any savvy new owner to go the extra mile to encourage them back and for these efforts to be extended by those attending trying to persuade fellow Addicks to get back in the saddle. We all want a packed Valley fully behind the team and new owners, whether this is in the Championship or still in League One.

Finally, there’s one aspect of the whole De Turck business which niggles me. Just who is paying for his services (I am of course assuming that he is paid)? I suspect we all know the answer, with the club site declaring that De Turck “is representing the club in takeover talks”. But that statement is obviously not true. ‘The club’ is not involved in takeover talks and has no need of representation. The club is an entity, perhaps an asset, it is owned by someone or something, and it has no say in who/what that owner might be. If De Turck was truly representing the club, he would be acting solely in the best interests of the club. In the context of negotiations over a change of ownership this could involve expressing opinions on potential buyers etc, although other than in rather strange circumstances could any ‘club representative’ have a material impact on a sale of the club.

I think we all realise that De Turck is representing Duchatelet. Nobody or nothing else. He is providing services (time and one assumes expertise) on behalf of the owner of our club, for his benefit. Any payments to him should therefore come out of Roland’s pocket, not footed by the club, and De Turck should not be described as representing ‘the club’, he is representing the owner – and the two things are not the same.

Now many might say it doesn’t make any difference. If De Turck is paid by the club it merely adds to the ongoing losses covered by Duchatelet and the debt to him, which is never going to be repaid of course other than in the context of a sale of the club. But there is perhaps a difference. If Duchatelet pays De Turck for his services out of his own pocket he is paid out of already taxed income (assuming he does pay taxes on his income). If his services instead add to the losses incurred by the club, they add to a debt mountain which could be used for tax purposes.

The amounts involved may not be especially material. But our deluded owner seems to pride himself on supporting transparency, according to the embarrassing page on him on the club site (“in his book he pleaded for economic and political transparency”). If transparency is paramount, just why would the activities of De Turck be misrepresented?

Thursday, 7 February 2019

No More Cup Glory For Duchere

In the event Lyon Duchere played a part in creating the story for the quarter-finals of the Coupe de France, but not in the fashion we would have wished. Away to Vitre of National 2, the regional fourth divisions a league below them, it all began very well. After 22 minutes Duchere were 2-0 ahead courtesy of a brace from Jonathan Rivas. But Vitre pulled on back after 32 minutes and just before half-time drew level with what was described as a ‘superb free-kick’ (I’m going to have to wait a little for the highlights).

I’m guessing it was a tense affair through a goalless second half. But in the third minute of stoppage time, with extra-time looming, Vitre were apparently awarded a penalty. Awful decision obviously (apparently there’s talk in the local papers about Duchere having been robbed). And with what must have been just about the last kick of the match Vitre converted it to take their place in the last eight. Cue delirium in Brittany, despair in this part of the Auvergne-Rhone-Alps.

So in the quarter-finals Vitre will line up alongside six teams from France’s top-flight (including PSG, who were taken to extra time by Villefranche but came through, and probably Olympique Lyonnais, who play tonight). Orleans from the second division will also be there, but depending on the draw of course it’s reasonable to assume that it will be Vitre attracting the underdog attention. Just a pity it’s not Duchere, who return to the bread-and-butter of league football at the weekend. C’est la vie.

We don’t need reminding what happened to Les Herbiers last season: in the same division as Duchere they made it to the cup final and held out for some time against PSG but having focused on that ended up getting relegated on the final day due to an unlikely combination of results in a tight league. Only a remote risk for Duchere but after their match last Friday was cancelled – apparently by a town official to avoid excessive damage to the pitch but a cynic might speculate on the need to rest up before the cup game – they’ve slipped to ninth in the 18-strong league. Still a 10-points cushion above the bottom four (with the same gap to the play-off place) but would be good to get going again and on Saturday they are away at bottom-placed Drancy, who have amassed 10 points from 19 games (including a 4-0 drubbing at Duchere).

So anything less than a win for Duchere at the weekend would be a cause for concern. I just knew there was a link with Charlton in there somewhere.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Time For New Partnerships To Emerge

At one level Lee Bowyer’s absolutely right to say after Saturday’s disappointing defeat and performance that “we’ve got two home games coming up and we have to win them both”. Nobody’s giving up on automatic promotion at this point and for sure, as we are into the final third of the season, the team should be approaching each game with that mentality.

At another level he’s wrong. Arguably for the month ahead at least performances are more important than results (of course the two are not exactly mutually-exclusive). It doesn’t take a genius to see that there are four teams above us and if their games in hand are played out the gap between us and the top two spots it likely to be substantial. Closing it would require a team firing on all cylinders, aware of how it wants to play and how to play together – and of how to play to its strengths. Nobody would say that’s us at this point in time. I’m certainly not suggesting either that a play-off spot is assured and we can just experiment. But the chances are that it will be the play-offs for us at best and if we are to have a good shout in them we would need to go into them in a much better shape than we are now.

Any team is likely to suffer some problems when there material changes, in our case both forced and unforced. We’ve coped pretty well with the departure of our then first-choice keeper, as Dillon Phillips seems to have done little wrong; and in the absence of Lewis Page the introduction of Ben Purrington has made us stronger (including being able to avoid the unsettling need to play guys out of position). But that’s pretty much where the good news ends.

Losing Jason Pearce was a big blow, irrespective of how well others have contributed. His partnership with Patrick Bauer was the cornerstone of the defence, our first-choice pairing, and of course now we will also be without Bauer for one game. But I think most would agree that the defence/defensive midfield isn’t the area of concern.

From what I can glean from match reports we are some way from getting the best out of our possible midfield combinations. I can’t make any suggestions for obvious reasons, but most partnerships take time to bed down and we don’t have anyone who is a nailed-on first choice in midfield – preferably a ‘bedrock’ pairing. Leaving aside Jake Forster-Caskey of course, and accepting that Joe Aribo is only just returning, let’s not overlook that also available to us are Krystian Bielik, Mark Marshall, Tarique Fosu-Henry, Ben Reeves, Darren Pratley, Albie Morgan, Jonathan Williams (who may be considered a forward), Josh Cullen, George Lapslie, and Anfernee Dijksteel (who may of course be considered a defender but is listed on the club site as a midfielder).

Now that’s 11 names for a team that can cite only one fit, first-choice striker – who happens to be suspended. Unbalanced undoubtedly, but surely even allowing for the needs of the modern game there’s a blend of available talent that will work. It doesn’t look as though Williams has hit the ground running for us, but that may be down to any number of reasons, including him not being sure of his role or others not being used to playing with him.

Bowyer understandably talks of the squad getting stronger as players return. Midfield is the area where we do now have an abundance of options and surely, given the situation up front, the one we have to make our real strength if we are to get promoted (one way or another). So for me if anything the priority for the games ahead is that we know how we want our midfield to function and what combinations work best for us.

We can of course gloss over the forwards as everyone knows the position. We are operating on the proverbial wing and a prayer, hoping that Igor Vetokele can get match-fit very quickly and strike up a partnership with Lyle Taylor and/or that Reeco Hackett-Fairchild and/or Josh Parker – neither of whom by the way are as yet blessed with a first-team ‘full squad’ profile on the club site – come good quickly. We all hope Parker proves to be an astute signing. He no doubt will be aware that response to the news of his arrival has been, shall we say, underwhelming, which is no reflection on him. Hopefully that will translate into an extra desire to succeed. Equally, Hackett-Fairchild will be aware that Bowyer is not confident that he is ready to step into Grant’s position. So as the boss says, it’s an opportunity there to be taken, for him to prove to people that he is ready.

Equally there’s no point in howling once more about what recent events tell us about our sad owner. Really they reinforce what we already knew about him and where his priorities lie. For sure in other circumstances getting around £2m for a player who might walk in the summer, one who during the summer was looking more at risk of seeing the inside of a Spanish jail than appearing in the Premiership and one who over the past few years no Charlton fans would have cared much if he had left for nothing. But the circumstances are that we are pressing for promotion and the partnership that Grant had formed with Taylor was central to that effort.

If promotion was the owner’s objective (after selling the club of course, which we are regularly told is the priority, as it has been for a year now), either Grant would have been told, before clubs were encouraged to sniff around, that he was going nowhere, or it would have been made clear that the funds received would be made available to Bowyer. Instead there seemed to be a half-hearted effort to offer a new contract as an attempt to save face and a failed attempt to secure a forward on loan, which seemingly depended on the other club involved bringing someone in and so was destined to go to the final stages of the transfer window, even though it was acknowledged that the club knew Grant was off for some days. We even had to wait until the end for news that Parker has signed from Gillingham, on a ‘permanent’ six-month contract (now I’ve never heard a six-month deal described as permanent before, leaves you guessing what a short-term deal might be).

Some may just shrug their shoulders over Grant’s departure and use the cliché that we’ve always been ‘a selling club’. I’ll confess I really don’t know if that means anything. Arsenal were pushed into selling Robin van Persie to Man Utd. Does that mean they are a selling club? If they are, there are precious few in the world which are not, in which case the phrase is pretty meaningless. But either way there’s a difference between being a ‘selling club’ and a ‘player farm’. And under Duchatelet we are the latter, as Meire so kindly informed us. So be it. We avoided relegation in 2013/14 despite the inane actions of our owner; let's get promoted this season despite them. 

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Where Do The Priorities Lie?

Keep coming back to those words from Richard Murray (I paraphrase) not long after the takeover. ‘Roland has two objectives: to get us into the Premiership and to break even’. There was widespread incredulity at the time of course, given the evidence, and when predictably the financial fair play rules were scuppered the chances of the former taking precedence pretty much went out of the window. The fact that Roland has also failed miserably to achieve the latter we shall gloss over for now.

Let’s be kind and attribute those January 2014 transfer window moves to just utter stupidity, the sort of actions undertaken by someone who knew nothing about football and who had a seriously flawed strategy to implement. It would seem that this time around Roland has another transfer window decision to make. We’ve all seen the speculation regarding Karlan Ahearne-Grant and are aware of his contract situation. Take the money on the table for a player who could walk in the summer (even if the prices quoted are very low if the player in question does have the potential to thrive in the Championship at least); or recognise that selling one of our only two fit forwards when the other is not going to be available for three games is not exactly compatible with a determined promotion challenge, even if a replacement is brought in?

Just depends on your priorities. Of course Roland’s have apparently changed since early 2014. We are led to believe that selling the club is his number one objective now. If that’s the case, it really doesn’t matter to him whether or not Grant is sold as either way it would feed into the price – and surely any actual purchaser of our club would at this point want some flexibility on that front depending on whether or not we get promoted this season.

However, if Roland has effectively given up on a sale this month, in which case the odds on him clinging on until the summer have to shorten, he could have a real decision to make. Now Roland isn’t very good at making real decisions. It’s one thing to have a strategy (which is of course a brilliant one because it is his) and to make decisions based on implementing it; it’s quite another to respond to changing situations and conflicting requirements. That requires thinking on your feet, which is not easy when they’re wrapped in gaffer tape.

All we can do is wait and see. Perhaps Roland’s job here will be made easy for him, if for example Lee Bowyer made it plain that if Grant is sold he is off too (that is of course pure conjecture, I’m never ‘in the know’).

On other fronts, many will be desperate to find out whether or not Lyon Duchere progressed to the last 16 of the French cup on Tuesday evening. They did! At half-time away at Andrezieux (to recap the team from a level below Duchere which had dumped Marseille in the previous round) it was 1-0 to the home team, but Duchere turned it around to triumph 2-1.

For acceptable reasons my partner Suzanne declined the option to drive to Andrezieux and back to watch the game, so I have only the highlights available on the Duchere website to go on. And from those it looked like a classic case of a game of two halves. In the first Andrezieux, presumably fired up by a large crowd, ran Duchere ragged. Their goal was a beauty, good movement by a fast winger to go around his man and deliver a cross to the near post which was met by a forward more alert than his marker. It looked as though they had the chances to put the game to bed. But didn’t.

As the snow fell the game turned when early in the second half Duchere fashioned an equaliser. A well-worked move which led to the ball being delivered to the left side of the box, from where their guy, Franck Julienne, slotted it across the keeper and into the far corner of the net. And eight minutes later they did the same thing. Same set-up, same shot, same scorer. Given that the highlights showed no Andrezieux chances after that, I’m assuming that Duchere saw out the game in decent fashion without scares, and the final shot shows them celebrating in front of perhaps 30 of their supporters, so some did make the trip.

Now here I have to confess to a simple mistake on my part. In my previous post I said it seemed the framework for the cup draws was already determined, but that was just me misreading a graphic. Instead it seems that tonight will see the draw for the last 16 involved. Really there are just two options to set the pulses racing: a home tie against either Olympique Lyonnais (they do have yet to get past Amien), to give the city a real derby match, or at home to PSG (who are through). I say ‘at home’ but in either eventuality I’m led to believe that the game would be moved from Stade de Balmont, which is said by Wikopedia to have a capacity of 5,600 but which would struggle to cope with the logistics of anything like that number.

As with the situation regarding Grant, we await further developments.

Friday, 18 January 2019

To Andrezieux And Back!

It’s difficult to pick up a threat when you’ve not posted for a while. Thoughts on the ‘takeover’? Afraid long ago it reached that stage when I want to know that it’s done, nothing else. Boycott or not? Nothing new on that front either – and personally having divided my time between London and Lyon late last year I’m based in France for a few months now (even though there are pressing reasons on the home front to make it back now and then), so the issue is for me at least on hold.

I thought that as a wizened old git (in body if not in mind) I might resume with a series on memories of previous games against our next opponents. Then you look at the fixture list and up next is Accrington Stanley. Others can wax much more lyrically than me about the club’s history, but unless another Addick has some anecdote about an afternoon in Lancashire last August this isn’t exactly a rich vein of potential material, at least not yet.

All of which leaves me, by default, to bring everyone up to date on the fortunes of Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team, and to flag a big game coming up next week. So far this season I’ve managed to drag my partner Suzanne to three Duchere home games: a 4-0 win early in the season against Drancy (who have gone on since to support my conclusions over their prospects – they are seven points adrift at the bottom having taken nine from 17 games), a 1-0 victory in early November against Avranches (which was a bit of a struggle after Duchere had a player sent off in the first half), and most recently in mid-December a 0-0 against Villefranche (a match so dire I’ve been trying to forget about it ever since). So if you feel positive you conclude that I’ve not seen them lose as yet, not even seen them concede a goal; alternatively you can say that the results of the games I’ve seen have shown a consistent deterioration.

After 17-19 games of a 34-game season Duchere are in sixth place, having tailed off rather of late after a very good start, with 27 points from 17 games (won 7, drawn 6, lost 4). It’s a decent position (as a reminder Duchere have by a distance the lowest average attendance in the French third division, National, and punch well above their weight), but it’s hard to see them putting in a serious challenge for promotion. Two go up automatically and currently Le Mans and Chambly occupy those positions, on 35 points, with Rodez in the play-off spot on 32.

From what I’ve seen Duchere have a good defence, helped by an exceptionally good goalkeeper, but seem to be struggling to decide how to play, with a very big centre-forward who could be Carl Leaburn when he worked out what he was supposed to do or the previous version. He’s not been an automatic first choice from what I’ve seen – and I don’t know if that’s been a result of injury, form, attitude, or style of play. When he doesn’t start it seems Duchere miss his presence but also tend to rely on him when he does; and at times he looks unplayable and at others rather disinterested.

No matter, the big game coming up is not in the league. It seems the French cup has much in common with the FA Cup, in that a team from outside the top divisions, if they take it seriously (a sub-sector which hasn’t included Charlton for some years), can cause an upset against big teams with a poor attitude on the day. In the last round (64 teams) Duchere were drawn at home to Nimes, currently mid-table in France’s top division. Good opportunity for some publicity, decent crowd (Suzanne went, with one of her many cousins), and the chance of glory. And glory there was as Duchere trounced them 3-0, rounding off the win with a penalty in the last minute.

That result would have made the headlines from the round, if it were not for Andrezieux-Boutheon. They ply their trade in National 2, the regional divisions one level below Duchere. And they were drawn at home to Olympique de Marseille. Now I’ve more time for Marseille than before, not because of Chris Waddle (who still wins the award for the least articulate man on radio) or even Gene Hackman running along the quay of the old port trying to stop the Frenchman, but because Suzanne and I spent a few days there for new year. Although the bouillabaisse was ridiculously expensive and avoided, I can heartily recommend the sunset over the Isle d’If (of Count of Monte Christo fame), the old quarter, and especially La Maison du Pastis, where the delightfully abrupt lady offers her contempt for ‘industrial pastis’ and some truly delicious alternatives (as an extra aside she said that contrary to popular belief pastis did not originate in Marseille but rather in Jura, when absinthe was made illegal and an alternative was needed).

Now Andrezieux did indeed get the footballing headlines over here, winning 2-0. Marseille are apparently going through a tough spell and are not the force they have been in the past. But it was still the equivalent of a conference team turning over if not Arsenal then perhaps West Ham.

So, the next round? You are of course ahead of me. Next Tuesday, 22 Jan, Andrezieux will indeed host Duchere for a place in the last 16. Doing a little homework, it seems that Andrezieux is quite close to Lyon, just a little north of St Etienne (which is considered the local derby for Olympique Lyonnais) and some 77km away. Now the game kicks off at 18.30, so if we left at say 17.00 we could make it in time – and be back by around 22.00 at the latest. Now it was only doing this post that I found this info, I haven’t yet suggested the idea to Suzanne (who is after all the chauffeur). That may require some careful timing.

I get the impression, from the way the competition is presented, that there is no draw for the next round, that instead the framework is set from the start. If that’s the case, the winner of Andrezieux-Duchere would be at home to either Bergerac or Orleans for a place in the quarter-finals. Now it is jumping the gun rather, but the former is – perhaps surprisingly, given the size of the town - another in the regional divisions below Duchere, while Orleans are in the lower half of the second division (ie the one above Duchere). So, beat Andrezieux, then Bergerac at home, and we would be looking at Duchere in the last eight of the cup.

I trust that the prospect will not be encouraging the Duchere management and players to take their eyes off the league. After all, last season we saw Les Herbiers, who were also in National, get through to the final against PSG, putting in a splendid display, only to find themselves as a result of a very tight league and an unlikely combination of results relegated on the final day of the season, the matches played a few days after their cup final exertions. Duchere do after all have a match this evening, away at Boulogne, before they can prepare for Tuesday’s game. But once it’s over perhaps we can dream a little over the weekend – provided Accrington Stanley don’t put a spanner in the works.