Thursday, 4 July 2019

De Turck Replies With .... Well Nonsense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 7 June 2019

All Arguments Lead Back To Sale Price

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 May 2019

Tired From All The Dancing But Very Happy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Sad Demise Of Lyon Duchere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 May 2019

'It Was 21 Years Ago Today ...'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 May 2019

No Promotion For Duchere - But A VIP Area

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Wembley After All?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.