Monday 28 April 2008

Oh Happy Day

Its another post centred more on France and Lyon La Duchere than the real love (still) of my (footballing) life - despite the latest threat of Pardew imposing a Stoke-like team of giants on us for next season. Maybe its just that there are times in any relationship where a little distance can help. This is certainly one of them – although there’s distance and distance. A wedding in Lille is a good enough excuse for avoiding a pointless (in every sense) trip to Barnsley. But for a lifelong atheist an evangelist wedding and reception is not exactly a heaven-sent escape. There was a time when you could get shorter odds on Palace surviving a season in the top flight than on me finding myself running around on a stage (with many others) throwing streamers at the blissful couple, shaking maracas while hollering along to ‘Oh Happy Day’. All that effort and we still lost 3-0.

Further evidence that god may not exist but does have a wicked sense of humour. I now have the euro from god. Before the wedding service my partner Suzanne and I did what any self-respecting couple would do, ie nip into a nearby bar for some pastis. The bar had some sort of horse racing betting going on. So I thought if we’re going to have our sins washed away might as well make the most of it and indulge in a little gambling to go with the alcohol.

Now as we all know church sermons are incredibly dull (vicar, if you’re out there I’m sure yours are the exception), being a mix of poor reasoning (to produce the ‘correct’ conclusion) and misconceptions/distortions presented as facts (our laws are based on christian principles etc). When the sermon is in a foreign language its even worse. You know the guy’s talking nonsense but you can’t pin it down. Suzanne did a little translating and it seemed the pastor was saying that god will provide and meet our needs. If we ask him for money he will give us money. Ha ha, says I, I’m asking for some money.

As Peter Cooke pointed out to Dudley Moore, you have to be specific with the request. We returned to the bar after the service to discover we had indeed won on the horses. I had asked and god had provided. But I don’t think that EUR1.80 was exactly what I had in mind.

I didn’t bother using up what little remains of any brownie points with him upstairs by asking for a Charlton win. It just didn’t matter. But maybe I should have asked for a little assistance for Lyon La Duchere as it seems the nerves are starting to jangle. Its getting tight at the top.

La Duche on Saturday were held to a 0-0 draw at home to 12th-placed Dijon(B). Despite dominating the game and having more unsuccessful penalty appeals than in a season for Ronaldo and Drogba combined, there was to be no breakthrough and Lyon Duchere had to settle for .... three points I think. I still have no idea how the points system operates in this league. Nevertheless, the good new is that Marseilles(B) lost 3-1 away to Venissieux Minguettes, a result which sees Lyon’s other team return to the top of CFA2 Groupe C. They now have 72 points to Marseilles’ 71. However, others are not out of it completely. Although Gueugnon(B) blew their chance of closing the gap on the top two with a surprise 1-3 reverse at home against mid-table Bourg-Peronnas, Villefranche-sur-Saone moved into third with a 2-1 win over Thiers.

So with four games each to go there’s still everything to play for. For Lyon La Duchere next up is an away fixture against mid-table CA Pontarlier, while Marseille are at home to Thiers. It looks an easier round for them than us. Villfranche-sur-Saone are at home to sixth-placed Corte. So the pressure’s really on.

I’m still hoping it will go to the wire for the last game of the season, Lyon Duchere at home to Marseille. Flights are booked (after the past weekend Eurostar is off my radar: will they please stop saying that everyone benefits from the move from Waterloo – they do not) and I’ll be there, hopefully resplendent in a home team shirt. I persuaded Suzanne to call the club just to check whether we needed to do anything to make sure we could get in on the day. It seems the idea that you might need to book ahead gave the guy on the other end of the phone the best laugh he’d had in ages, so she managed to explain that it’s all down to a mad Englishman. Apparently that made sense to him.

Monday 21 April 2008

Lyon Duchere Update

There’s good news and bad news from France. Lyon Duchere, in contrast to some other teams, showed they are made of the right stuff with a resolute 0-0 draw away at third-placed Gueugnon. This has to be considered a good result, maintaining the four-point gap between the teams. However, La Duch have for now been knocked off top spot on goal difference by Marseille B, who delivered their expected rout of lowly (and hopefully half-cut) Beaune, winning 4-0. Marseille have a goal difference of +17, Lyon Duchere are on only +12, despite having conceded just 19 goals in 25 games. Will their lack of firepower up front – only 31 scored against 38 by Marseille – ultimately prove costly (as it has for some other teams)?

With five games left to play, the next round, on 26 April, sees Lyon Duchere at home to Dijon Football II (ie their reserves). Dijon lie 12th in the 16-team league. If I knew more about the possibility of relegation from the CFA2 divisions I might be able to suggest whether they have anything left to play for. Let’s assume they haven’t. Marseille are away to ASM Venissieux Minguettes, who surely get the prize for one of the best names in football. Doesn’t exactly conjure up images of a team comprising 11 Chopper Harris’ does it? On second thoughts maybe it does. They are in 8th spot, comfortably mid-table. So the odds favour wins for both Lyon Duchere and Marseilles – but will either slip up as the pressure builds?

Further trawling has unearthed the following information on the Lyon Duchere squad. Details are incomplete (not least as I’m not going to splash out to subscribe to the website service in question to get more info) so there’s a little improvisation where appropriate:

Akim Hassaine: France-born midfielder. With a record of 3 goals in 55 games for La Duch I think we’re talking here more Keith Jones than Colin Walsh.

Alexander Guruli: Forward from Georgia. Seems to have played for the Georgian under-21 side. But a record of 7 goals in 77 games smacks of Carl Leaburn rather than Super Clive.

Antoine Cerveau: France-born, listed as a forward but hasn’t played for the team this season. Sounds like an exciting youngster coming through or a long-term injury-prone shirker (Kevin Lisbie?).

Bassory Ouattara: Forward from Cote d’Ivoire. Bustling and fast, but seems to have made only one appearance so far this season, so can’t blame him for the lack of goals.

Brahim Mecheri: Local (Lyon-born) striker, record reads 17 goals in 51 appearances. Sounds like a regular and one goal every three games for a low-scoring team isn’t bad. But here too it seems more Chris Iwelumo/Luke Varney (both with one in three for us to date) than a Killer.

Daniel Jaccard: Goalkeeper, France-born. Seems to have made 24 appearances for Lyon Duchere, so he’s the incumbent. Defensive record speaks for itself; is he Deano in disguise?

Goran Jerkovic: Forward, born in France. Six games, no goals tells its own story. We are talking Izale McLeod.

Gregory Tissot: France-born defender. 60 games for Lyon Duchere, no goals as yet. He is clearly the rock of the team, holding together what is this season a redoubtable defence. The absence of goals means only one thing: he is their Richard Rufus, waiting to break his goalscoring duck in the most important game.

Josselin Vernus: Listed as French defender, but with no listed appearances he looks like a squad player.

Julien Perraudin: Another Lyon-born player he is listed as a forward. But it’s another unimpressive goals-per-game ratio, just 4 in 51. Let’s be kind and put him down as a winger, La Duch’s answer to Paddie Powell.

Koman Camara: Senegalese forward. No appearances or goals in the league as yet, but seems he played in two cup games and notched one strike. This has to be Chris Dickson itching to get his chance. When will the manager take the plunge and put him in?

Lewis Evoung: Dual nationality (France and Gabon). Midfielder, 28 appearances – but no goals. Hope we’re not talking Amdy Faye.

Olivier Laviolette: ‘Lavy’ as he is know to his team-mates is another local boy. Midfielder with 30 appearances and 1 goal to date.

Sabeur Cherif: French. Known as ‘The Law’, clearly another strong-tackling midfielder with the strength of a Lee Bowyer and the shooting boots of a Darren Pitcher. 42 games and no goals.

Sebastien Theveniaux: French midfielder, veteran of the team with 76 games for La Duch. Has managed 6 goals, so maybe we’re talking Colin Walsh here. Perhaps like him he’ll score when it really matters.

Wilfrid Nanou: Lyon-born midfielder. 86 games – and 3 goals. Obviously forms the key partnership in midfield with Theveniaux. Needs to get in the box more often, but I’m confident there’s another Mark Kinsella here in the making.

Our decision this season to shun the play-offs means that I will have the opportunity to put these theories to the test with Lyon Duchere’s last game of the season. There is, of course, the risk of being a little wide of the mark. It wouldn’t be the first time. Many moons ago I was in Dartmouth for new year with friends, one of whom arrived with some French colleagues. Emerging from the fug of the previous night’s excesses but still wrapped in sleeping bag in an upstairs bedroom I heard the doorbell go. After the initial greetings I heard “this is Henri and this is Michelle”. I called out to a friend to make a large mug of tea and ask Michelle to shed some clothing and bring it up to me. Well, you can guess the rest ....

Sunday 20 April 2008

Come On Up Carlisle, We Need You

I guess we have to face facts. It will now require an unlikely combination of results for us to get promoted this season. There are now four teams above us for the final play-off spot and we will need them all to screw up. It just isn’t going to happen and a win for Ipswich – or defeat against Barnsley – would seal our fate.

I’m not bothered about Palace. The Premiership authorities demonstrated last season with the Tevez debacle that they are quite happy to throw any rule book and any sense of acting properly into the bin if it suits. So having set the precedent there should be no problem coming up with reasons to deny them a place in the top flight whatever happens during the rest of the season. It is after all possible that the Premiership acted as it did last time around just to get at Warnock. It’s reasonable to suppose that similar sentiments are still in place. Of course for us there would be no problem. Palace could be docked points just for being Palace, or if reason were needed they could be denied a Premiership place on purely aesthetic grounds, or quality control if you like. Perhaps the powers that be would just decide that it will bring their league into disrepute to have a club with a chairman whose name is synonymous with outsized mammary glands.

I see that Jordan wants to relocate Palace away from their current inadequate, charmless and run-down ground. There are plenty of possible alternative venues, although none can be considered far enough away or horrible enough to deserve having Palace thrust upon them. But it is to be hoped that they do move, just so that Charlton fans can get the contract for the demolition of Selhurst Park. Honest Simes, we will do it for nothing.

You might get the feeling from the above that this isn’t the best of days. It isn’t one when you want to shout at the moon. There are no grounds for anger or a sense of injustice. Rather a second consecutive season ending with a whimper and failure makes me just feel like a cantankerous old git. Plus ca change some may add. Whatever the arguments I still felt upset when the BBC page switched from L to FT and it was confirmed. The radio made a good deal of QPR being the only Championship team yesterday with nothing to play for. Not quite, by the sound of it. To read a QPR fan’s assessment of the game in the paper today, with Charlton described as ‘dire’, just adds to the bad temper.

So the selfish prats on the bus who decide that they are entitled to two places by sitting on the outside seat were just that bit more annoying than usual. It was only to be expected that the gym would have no hot water. The telly’s gone on the blink. And there’s a long way to go before the day is out. I think DIY is off the agenda today; I’d either burst the pipes or sever an artery.

So who else deserves to be slagged off? Well, Chelsea and West Ham fans obviously have something in common with some of our own. From now on, in tribute to the old Carling Black Lable ads, every time someone acts like a spoilt brat, as if the world owes them a living, and/or suggests that they have a ‘right’ to be moronic, I’m going to have in mind ‘bet he boos at football matches’. Poor old Curbs sounded like a lost child with his plea to be appreciated. And just as Fergusson, Wenger and Grant have gone down in my estimation (that’ll have them losing sleep) for their unjustified whines, so along comes Benitez. Seemingly insulted by Warnock’s comments regarding his integrity, this man from the land of the matador, where macho is still prized, responds by threatening to call his lawyer.

Enough of this nonsense. What is left to look forward to, aside from season player ratings and discussion of who should stay and who should go? Presumably the kids get a run-out for the final two games. I’m still going to dash across town (after landing at Gatwich at 12.30) to get to most (I hope) of the Coventry game; a wedding in Lille gives me the excuse to pass on a trip to Barnsley. Just how the club manages the lap of honour remains to be seen. They have managed to botch it even in good times.

I don’t care who goes up from this division. West Brom deserve it; the rest don’t but by default two will succeed. I still have the climax of Lyon Duchere’s season to look forward to. It’s gratifying to see that the French still have that balanced approach to life such that nobody has yet bothered on a Sunday to update the sites with yesterday’s results. Do they not know that an Englishman needs to know?

There is one more thing we should watch out for. Yesterday was additionally disappointing as Carlisle lost at home to Southend. They are still second, with a good chance of automatic promotion to our division – and are assured at least of a play-off place. It’s just that if there’s one thing that will put my in good spirits thinking about the next campaign it would be a fixture list showing us away to Carlisle in the final few games of the season. Then we would know that we have nothing to worry about, that we’re home and hosed.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

Silence Is Not Quite Golden

The near total collective silence – not just from Charlton blogs but also the official site – pretty much sums it up. We’ve all had enough and are ready for our summer break, which needs to be long and hot before we can think about getting up for the start of next season. Just like I felt a couple of seasons ago after Curbs’ departure. That’s when the season ticket renewal forms drop through the letterbox. There really ought to be a way of choosing the timing to coincide with our best performance of the season. Not this time for sure. But supporting a club is not just about milking the good times, it’s not even about a proper sense of perspective when we lose. August? Underneath it all I really can’t wait. Bring it on.

And yet. What’s wrong with me? (That’s a rhetorical question, not an invitation for very many suggestions.) I can’t quite yet get closure on this season. I know we’ve not been good enough, I know we have to overtake three teams and that we have to make up four points – maybe more depending on Wolves – with three games to go. And our cause wasn’t helped by Ipswich’s win on Sunday. There is very little chance – and mixed feelings about even thinking about it. But it is still there. Just look at the fixtures: Wolves lose to West Brom tonight, then play Ipswich on Saturday. A draw there. Palace play away at Watford and lose. We beat QPR. Suddenly we’re on 64 points, level with Ipswich, two more than Wolves and one behind Palace. With two games to go.

Bottom line is it ain’t quite done yet. It should be, it almost certainly is, and surely it will be on Saturday. But can the team at least give it a go? To put the chances in context, I just had a conversation with a mate asking me what’s gone wrong at Charlton. I started to say that we could still conceivably make the play-offs. Now this guy is the tightest git in christendom and has a well-deserved reputation for never striking bets except on the most extreme terms favourable to himself. He said that if Charlton make the play-offs he will pay for all my drinks one evening until I fall over. And if we get promoted through the play-offs he will pay for an evening, restaurant of my choice, with another friend and any Charlton fan representative I care to choose, and Suzanne if she happened to be over from France. And there’s no quid pro quo. I’m holding him to it, but not holding my breath.

I don’t really want to dwell on Pardew’s post-Southampton rationale for our failure this season. A look at the statistics should be enough to confirm that it’s not been the lack of goals at home that’s been our undoing, it’s the number conceded. Far too often we have gone behind at home and had to chase the game. He’s right that in many games we’ve managed to come back but not gone on to win. But the greater sin has been falling behind in the first place.

On to happier things. For anyone interested in the progress of Lyon Duchere it’s as you were after Saturday’s round of games. La Duch recorded a decent 2-0 home win over Bourg-Perronas, but Marseille B kept up the pressure with a 1-0 away victory over Saint-georges-les-Ancizes. My information flows do not yet extend to match reports. But it would seem clear that while Lyon Duchere strolled to a comfortable win, putting on an exhibition for the fans (by the way it seems that the ground capacity is some 5,600 – much more than I thought), the referee’s decision to allow Marseille’s last-minute winner, which was so far offside it wasn’t true, smacked of corruption. Outraged.

Next up for Lyon Duchere on Saturday is a tricky away fixture at Gueugnon, who are fourth in the league and who depending on the mystifying – and as yet undeciphered - points system in this league could make a late charge for promotion. It will be one to test the nerves. Marseille are at home to Beaune, who are second from bottom. That’s hardly surprising to anyone who has visited the town (as we were discussing before Saturday’s game in the pub). If I lived in Beaune (chance would be a fine thing) I would be permanently plastered, probably housed by the nuns out of pity. Turning out for the football team would not be a priority. So, Marseille should have the points (however many) in the bag and it’s all down to La Duch to prove themselves.

Sounds vaguely familiar, but let’s hope for a different ending. Because if it is indeed all over on Saturday I can at least book the cheap flights and the tickets for the final game of the season and (hopefully) the title decider. The chances are that some other teams will be doing something around Wembley that weekend.

Saturday 12 April 2008

Blowholes In The Wind

When everyone comes to review the season there will be pivotal games we point to in what is now effectively confirmed as a season of failure (please let it be over). For me Hull and Preston at home stand out as awful performances, with Scunthorpe away another key game. But this one was as important as it comes. And perhaps most appropriate are the words that Churchill gave about the Anzio landings in WW2. He said “I had hope that we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale”. I didn’t quite hear the blowholes, but stranded whales was what we got.

Four games left and four wins needed. And a week ago we win away from home when all is just about up and after our goalkeeper is sent off after three minutes. You think, bloody hell they’re going to be up for this one. Instead for the first 45 minutes we created nothing. Half the game gone and their keeper yet to make a save. We also managed to gift Southampton a goal, but that was the lesser sin. The real one was not grabbing the game by the throat. The result was allowing a poor, limited Southampton side to have something to hold onto through the second half. We were better then and could have won the game, even with the last kick. But it’s silly to think we were unlucky not to win. Too many things were wrong and for the most part the desired wildcat was indeed a stranded whale.

In the event Randolph got the nod over Elliot in goal. Bougherra and McCarthy were the central defensive partnership, Semedo and Holland were retained in central midfield, Cook and Zheng played out wide, while Iwelumo and Lita were partnered up front. If there was a sense of imbalance you only needed to look at the bench: a sub keeper (Elliot) plus Ambrose, Thomas, Gray and Varney. Attacking intent is all well and good, but were is the ambition in Semedo and Holland in central midfield, with Zheng out wide? The changes that were made through the game exposed the paucity of the thinking from the start.

It would be a mistake to say that the game was shaped by their silly goal. We started at a snail’s pace and continued in the same vein thereafter. The goal itself I need to see again. Their forward missed an absolute sitter, with the ball looping up off his boot. I confess I looked away laughing with relief, only to be informed that between them McCarthy and Randolph had contrived to score. These things happen. Poor, but what was worse was the fact that their keeper didn’t have a shot to save in the first half. We had two moves worthy of the name. That was it.

At the break Semedo was withdrawn for Ambrose, while Gray replaced Iwelumo. Semedo had a poor 45 minutes, but far too often he found himself in positions where a creative midfielder is required. Please correct me if I’m wrong but we signed him as a centre-half. With Holland injured early in the season he played superbly in the holding role, winning the ball and laying it off. Why on earth do we expect him to play an expansive role alongside Holland? He looked totally uncomfortable, about as uncomfortable as Zheng out wide. Two players out of position and suffering accordingly. What were we frightened of? Southampton streaming through our central midfield with their pace? Please.

Only two players came out of the first half with some credit. Cook was lively and threatening through the period, while Halford did all that could be asked of him. For me Halford went on to be our man of the match. Lita went from hero last week to total waste of space (more below).

Overall the second half was better. We equalised as Gray opened his account with the sort of set-piece header that we assumed Iwelumo would score. And just by sheer weight of will from players such as Halford and Holland we gained the upper hand. Thomas replaced Zheng, Ambrose failed to finish the best chance we were to have, although Wright may claim it as an exceptional save. And with the last kick of the game Thomas failed to convert a through ball with only the keeper to beat.

On the second-half display you could say we were unfortunate not to win. But even forgetting the goal we gave away the first half was unacceptable. Against a poor team we created nothing, in a game where everything was up for grabs. Just not good enough. In many respects.

Player ratings:

Randolph: 5/10. It’s harsh, but what can you say? Their goal was a true calamity which I would need to see again to properly apportion blame.

Halford: 8/10. Couldn’t fault him for effort and commitment, and he managed to make things happen going forward, including winning free kicks in dangerous positions.

Thatcher: 4/10. Did enough defensively but that was it. Seldom got forward and when tested resorted to poor fouls. Looked average even at this level.

McCarthy: 7/10. I’m not sure how to rank him before looking again at their goal. It was that bad, but otherwise was seldom tested by a very limited Southampton attack.

Bougherra: 7/10. Much the same without being involved in their goal.

Cook: 7/10. Excellent first half, but disappeared in the second. Not really sure what happened but he just didn’t feature after the break.

Semedo: 5/10. Played poorly, but it’s just not right to expect more of him than to be a holding midfielder. Not his fault he was picked and asked to do a job that's beyond him.

Holland: 6/10. Plenty of effort but didn’t do anything to stick in the mind. Basically just less effective than in most games.

Zheng: 5/10. Looked uncomfortable out wide. I was among those thinking he needed a break having played so many games alongside Holland; but it’s one thing to have a rest, another to be brought back in a position which doesn’t suit. As with Semedo, not really his fault.

Iwelumo: 6/10. We played poorly in the first half and he was replaced at the break. Harsh on him because he was a good deal better than his partner.

Lita: 0/10. There’s obviously a danger in ranking a goalscorer: he scores and it’s a 10, he doesn’t and it’s a 0. There’s also a danger in thinking ‘I scored two goals, I’m a superstar’ and playing like a total waster. He could have made the difference today and he failed totally, especially given his propensity to go to ground at every available opportunity. Stay on your feet and score. His performance today was a timely reminder why Reading are prepared to let him go out on loan. As it's over for us I hope it's the last we see of him.


Ambrose: 5/10. Came on at the break and played in central midfield. Could have been the hero but the best chance of the game fell to him and Wright made the save.

Gray: 7/10. Came on and scored. Fair enough. I hope it bodes well for next season.

Thomas: 4/10. Came on, delivered some appallingly poor crosses, then missed the chance to win the game at the death. Perhaps Reading will take you back with Lita because overall this season you haven’t deserved your wages.

Friday 11 April 2008

Simple Minds

If there’s one advantage of the season coming towards a close (or climax) it’s that suddenly all the permutations narrow and everything becomes simple. It’s even possible to do the BBC points calculator to a conclusion without totally losing touch with reality. And for us there can be little doubt: four games, four wins needed. Win them all and we should (according to my calculations) make it to the lottery, perhaps even edging Hull out to get fifth (West Brom and Stoke going up automatically, with Bristol City third, Watford fourth). Three wins and a draw could be enough, but it’s more likely to let Wolves in. Anything less and we can almost certainly forget it.

So, as usual, let’s think positive (you may notice that there’s no mention of Palace in the above calculations; that’s because despite total impartiality I have them finishing ninth; pity really as trouncing them at Wembley would have ensured that the world is back in its proper state). Beat Southampton and it’s definitely on, which will of course leave us all with nothing much to say. Lose and the stream of posts on player ratings for the season, who we should dispose of and bring in, and the sack the manager calls can begin. All points to a draw really doesn’t it? Just to prolong the agony.

As said on other blogs I think the team for tomorrow pretty much picks itself once the choice is made by Pardew between Elliot and Randolph. The time for turning away from Halford and Thatcher and back to Moutaouakil (who has in any case blotted his copybook with the red card for the stiffs) and Youga has passed for now at least; Pardew made his decision and so be it. With Sodje now out it has to be McCarthy and Bougherra – probably our best combination in any event, provided they are both fit - in central defence. Iwelumo and Lita together actually look like a partnership and have to be retained, while Holland is a shoo-in in any event. That only leaves the other central midfield slot and the two wide berths. I would opt for Zheng over Semedo (especially as after quizzing a Chinese colleague I know how to pronounce his name: apparently it’s supposed to sound like Jung Ger), unless Pardew feels he wants Zheng to play wide. Thomas, Cook, Ambrose and Varney compete the options.

I shall be out of my seat to applaud Jason Euell on his return to The Valley. I don’t know who finally persuaded him that he was a midfielder rather than a forward, but I still think of it as a mistake. And I don’t know what induced Curbishley to publicly blame him for a defeat against Man Utd. Before he fell out with Curbs he always seemed to me to give of his best (after their rupture it was a different matter).

Finally, while travelling around for the past week I thought more on the fact that we are, for good reason, proud to be Charlton fans – or rather which teams I would be most upset to be supporting (assuming that most real fans don’t really choose who they follow). Let’s leave Palace and Millwall aside as they are obviously off the scale. So, who and why.

Man City. If I supported them I would have to occupy the same world as their deluded fans. If they go on to win the Champions League five years running, provide the entire England squad, play to crowds of millions, and are brought in by the United Nations to solve the Middle East situation their fans will continue to bemoan the fact that their club’s status does not reflect their true worth. Much the same applies to supporters of Newcastle and a few others, although I usually find that Newcastle fans at least pay lip-service to the idea that they need to have a decent team on the pitch before they can reclaim their ‘rightful position’.

Aston Villa. I have never met a happy Villa fan. Perhaps it’s just the area they inhabit but I think it’s because they have reached one stage beyond Man City fans in their level of awareness. They feel their club to be ‘big’ but unlike City fans realise they will never achieve that status. They should be applauded for their self-awareness, but pitied for the fact that it leaves them so bloody miserable. Maybe that's why god gave them that accent.

Arsenal (and very soon at least one of Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd). All that expectation and now only failure. What a way to end a season. But for these teams every season is like that. I’m not sure they can really enjoy success.

Milton Keynes Dons. Not for the obvious reason. Unlike everyone I know I don’t feel any sense of sorrow for true Wimbledon supporters, or outrage at their club’s relocation. It was unfortunate for them that they made it to the top flight before that brought the riches it does now, but there were just never enough of them to retain that status. It could have been us. They still have a team to follow. US-style franchising of football clubs is just not a threat here – as long as daft ideas such as allowing a team based in Ireland to play in an English league or letting in Celtic and Rangers continue to be rejected. Instead I would feel sorry to be a Dons supporter just because, truly, no-one else likes them, for the above reasons – and seemingly never will.

Notable omissions from this list include Derby. However humiliated they may have been, getting promoted was still the best thing that’s happened to their club in many years – just as we are in no position to think about not wanting to go up. In an ideal world we would have another season in this division and get promoted in better shape. But the risks are just too great. There is still an opportunity and we have to do all we can to take it.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Promotion In Our Own Hands

Following Saturday’s fabulous victory against a major promotion competitor, we’re almost there. Clearly there’s still work to be done, but at least promotion is in our own hands. Seven games left and a two point lead to defend. Success and we’re in the promised land. The CFA. I am of course talking about Lyon Duchere, my adopted French team. Lines of communication have been established and details of the team’s progress can now be tracked, hopefully in person before the end of the season.

(For anyone remiss enough to have missed previous posts, my partner is French and lives in Lyon. I was all set to bask in the reflected glory of adopting Olympique Lyon – France’s leading team, which wins the league each year as consolation for failing to get past the quarters or semis of the Champions League. But as a Charlton supporter it’s impossible to make life easy for myself and I came across Lyon’s second team, Lyon Duchere, which plies its trade in the equivalent of a regional fourth division. Their ground is close to where Suzanne lives, they were founded by the people of Albert Camus, they were denied promotion years ago by the authorities and went bankrupt, have been in the news in recent seasons for plucky cup performances, and one of their former coaches had a name very close to Richard Rufus. What choice did I have?)

The French football league is structured as follows (I am led to believe, although as is usually the case much may be lost in translation): there is Ligue 1 (ie top flight, the Premiership), Ligue 2 (the Championship), then CFA (Championnat de France Amateurs). CFA has four regional leagues (Groupes A-D). Then there are eight regional divisions under the umbrella of CFA2 (Groupes A-H). It seems there is also something called DH, which is below CFA regional. That is where, I guess, French equivalents of Millwall reside. (I’m getting all Ronnie Corbett again, I wonder what a French equivalent of Millwall would be? Maybe their supporters would eat downmarket fois gras and prefer Johnnie Haliday to Charles Aznavour. Another post, another time.) On further investigation it seems DH is a youth team structure, but I prefer to think of it as a sub-league, for the above reasons.

La Duch (which I am told is appropriate, rather than La Douche, which has a rather different meaning) plays in CFA2 Groupe C. There are 16 teams in CFA2 Groupe C, making it a season of 30 games. At the end of the season the top team will be promoted automatically to CFA proper, along with (I think) the four best of the eight second-placed teams. So as far as I can make out 12 teams from the eight CFA2 Groupes will be promoted into the four CFA proper Groupes. Still following?

However, this is France and of course there must be more rules and exceptions. It seems that, according to my source, “promoted clubs and those likely to be promoted must obligatorily satisfy the criteria necessary to their admission in CFA and assure them engagement by registered letter, within two day with comtper of the last day of the CFA2”. (See what I have to put up with?) Also, “only a team reserve of a club which will move the following season in league 1 can profit from this promotion” and the four best second-placed teams will be decided by “the number of points obtained in the meetings outward journey and return which opposed in each group the best second with the five other clubs (except equipes reserves not being able to reach) best classified, including the reaching, is taken into account”.

OK, a touch unfair. But my poor attempts at French provide Suzanne and her family with hours of amusement, so what’s good for the goose ... (is anything in France actually good for the goose?) Anyway, it’s a bit complicated, especially as the reserve teams of top-flight clubs often play in the CFA. Lyon Duchere’s main rivals for promotion are Marseille B (ie Marseille’s second-string). The division also includes Clermont Foot B, Gueugnon B, and Dijon B, so don’t get too excited by news of Lyon Duchere versus Marseille.

Enough of this waffle, how are La Duch doing? Very well it seems. On Saturday they trounced third-placed Echirolles 5-0 at home. Unfortunately Marseille B scraped a 1-0 home win to keep the gap for LD to two points. After 23 games Lyon Duchere have 64 points ... oh merde. I now realise there is an odd points system. LD has won 12, drawn 5 and lost 6 giving the team .... 64 points. Marseille B are on 62 points. I need to do more homework to see what is needed from the final seven games to ensure promotion (or possible promotion, depending on the application of the criteria), so let’s just say that they’re well placed and will be champions if they win their remaining games. At least I can understand that. From the figures Lyon Duchere are not high-scorers, with just 29 goals from the 23 games played, but defensively are superb with just 19 conceded.

Seven games left, four at home, three away. This being France all remaining games are on a Saturday. Next up for La Duch will be a home game on 12 April against FC Bourg-Peronnas, a mid-table side with nothing to play for, followed by Gueugnon away. I followed the fixtures through and I suppose it had to happen. Final game of the season is – Marseille at home, on 24 May. Could be a title-decider and a real cracker.

My only problems are: first, if Charlton do make it to the play-offs and the final at Wembley, it’s going to be that weekend (and much as I have a growing affection for Lyon Duchere if it's Wembley I'm going to be there); second, if we don’t make it through can I suggest to Suzanne that I will visit Lyon for that weekend and at the same time deny – convincingly – that I’m only going to see La Duch?

Saturday 5 April 2008

Glass Topped Up Again

Ha! Serves the lot of us bloody right. I hope Alan Pardew allows himself a little chuckle on the coach back home. He's earnt it. After this surely nobody can question the commitment of the players - or their willingness to fight for the manager.

Match reports will have to come from those who saw the game - and if I was one of them I'd be bribing the coach driver to stop off at an offie on the way back and sod informing the rest of us that didn't go (work commitments, lack of enthusiasm from others ...). It's just great to get a reminder why we are supporters.

Then you take a look at the league table. If it weren't for that bloody silly Wolves winner we would be sitting in a play-off place (albeit with others having games in hand). As Charlton North Downs has stressed it's the hope that gets you in the end. But if feels good enough for now. Why didn't Reading give us Lita at the start of January and why did it take so many games to work out that he seems to play best alongside Iwelumo?

Thursday 3 April 2008

Under Pressure (Part Two)

I manage to make myself think with the last bit about pressure (or to put it another way there was more to add but I didn’t get around to it). Is there no end to the pleasure you can generate for yourself on a dark night when you just close the curtains and shut out the world (in addition to the bottle and Cohen warbling in the background)? Well, the two activities are obviously linked (and conclusions only put an end to the enjoyment, like a Ronnie Corbett monologue).

Our recent record in high-pressure matches is even worse than I indicated (and this is not harking back to some 'good old days', it's trying to highlight what usually lworks). Remember Operation Riverside and Operation Ewood Park? Contrast with the play-off games against Ipswich (and just before that the away game against Birmingham, which showed intimidation as an art form). Different class of opposition of course, but we thought we were better too. After getting back into the Premiership Curbishley was a past master at keeping us away from any relegation struggle. It meant busting a gut to get to safety and then inevitably tailing off as squeezing out the extra does take its toll (of course there were other reasons). We were punching above our weight – and loving it (before over-expectation and boredom/dissatisfaction crept in for some).

Everyone was well aware of the consequences of one bad season – and as long as we were in the top flight we could realistically continue to expand The Valley and develop the fan base needed to survive there. And it’s that that goes to the heart of the matter (in my view). Maybe just like Lawrence before (going to the well too many times), the pressure of over-achieving finally told on Curbishley (and the club), especially as expectations were running ahead of what was possible – and were overshadowing the massive achievement that was keeping us in the Premiership each season.

On the way to a recent game (I think it was away at Scunthorpe; well, it was a long way and we had to exhaust every topic of conversation) we were discussing size (cheap joke I know, calm down, we sticking to football). One of our number commented that we were comfortable in the Premiership for a few seasons and I disagreed. To my mind we were never comfortable there, because we knew that one bad season could easily send us back to never return (or at least not for a long time).

Of course a ground capacity of around 35,000 does not guarantee you a place in the Premiership. Nothing does. But it’s fair to say you have a much better chance of staying up than a club perpertually having to punch above its weight – and a massive advantage over the others in the event of relegation, especially including parachute payments. Personally I don’t feel the remotest bit sorry for fans of clubs like Sunderland, Birmingham (well, sorry isn’t a term to be used for them), even West Ham (may they still be relegated for the Tevez disgrace) when their clubs are relegated. They can rightly feel confident that after a year or two they will probably be back and can cut their cloth accordingly. Man City, underachievers to the last, even made it to the old third division before returning (how different it could have been if another play-off game had gone the other way, I never did like Dikov but then nobody does).

We are in a different boat (so are Bolton, Wigan, and Fulham). There is no argument for expanding the capacity of The Valley as long as we are outside the Premiership (and everyone is well aware of the threat to season ticket sales and attendances for next season). And unless and until the ground is expanded we can never feel that we truly belong in the top flight. Happily football is a meritocracy and every club is where they deserve to be – even those which have sold their soul (see Man City). So a return to progress and expansion is possible if we get our act together on the pitch (and in the stands – shit, we’re back to booing again). We can get back up and punch above our weight for the necessary period before we can add the quantum mass. Otherwise our role model will be Southampton.

This does lead on to a final point (honest). The best thing that can happen for our club over the next few years (in addition to promotion) is that Peter Varney’s efforts to secure support for expanding the Premiership to two leagues bear fruit. That would be a massive plus for us. It could buy us the time we need for the development of the area can lead to an influx of new fans (and for that to happen it has to be a pleasurable experience to go to The Valley, which means fans being united in support of the team .......). Of course, if we get promoted this season (come on, its still possible) or next bin the idea and ban relegation.

Wednesday 2 April 2008

Under Pressure

I don’t know about the club’s April Fool’s contribution being the notion we can still get in the play-offs (I know, I’m almost starting to believe again myself, but then Saturday’s a long way back now and the next game isn’t yet on the immediate radar). Seems to me it’s come a day late with the news that fans can bid for pictures of former players - Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink, Bryan Hughes, Hermann Hreidarsson, Radostin Kishishev, Souleymane Diawara and Dennis Rommedahl, plus Marcus Bent and Amdy Faye (who may of course return) – which come with an “inspirational quote” from the former hero in question.

This really ought to spark some speculation/competition as to what the ‘inspirational quotes’ should read like. For JFH, Rommedahl, Bent and Faye perhaps read: “I’m living proof that you can have your (very large and expensive) cake and eat it – time and time again’, or ‘feeling past it and just plain not bothered? Well so do I - and look how much I get paid’. All a little harsh on Hughes (who always tried his best for us – and may of course end up as a Premiership player next season), Hreidarsson (why did we think he was past it?), Kishishev (an unsung hero in my book) and Diawara (wasn’t his fault we paid so much for him and to such little effect; I thought he could have made the difference this season but I guess didn’t want to stay).

Surely if the club wants to boost revenues from the sales – and I assume we need every penny we can get – they could have Alan Pardew or Richard Murray write on the back of the photos what they really thought of the player in question. This would add a mystery element – and help to make the photo a true collector’s piece, rather than a piece of unwanted tat that in normal circumstances would have been thrown in the bin. I really don’t want to be reminded that some of them were ever with us.

One further thought on why this season has hurt so much – and prompted the pain and anger behind the booing debate. Being supporters of Charlton has given us many reasons to be proud in recent years, starting effectively with the appointment of Lennie Lawrence. (These years have for me at least more than balanced the accumulated misery of what went before, even if it is that period which tends to dominate my approach to games, still being a little uneasy when Charlton are actually favourites to win,) One of them has been that in just about all the pressure situations during the recent period we have come through.

The four years in the top flight under Lawrence were remarkable – and object lessons in pressure management. In each of the first three of these seasons we were among the favourites to be relegated (if not the shortest odds) but showed a steady progression: survival through the play-offs, avoiding the play-offs on the last day of the season, then staying up with a game to spare (away at Notts Forest, what an occasion). Lennie I’m sure talked of having gone to the well too many times to survive a fourth season, when the pressure just got too much and we were unable to compensate in the same fashion for a (relative) lack of ability. We know he went out of his way to find players with character who would come through for him in pressure situations (Miller, Shirtliffe, Peake, Melrose etc).

It was much the same under Curbishley. We did of course lose in the play-offs, but we barely scraped into them and that season didn’t really count. When the chips were down we came through against Sunderland at Wembley. Even though we were relegated next season we won matches at the death, especially the 4-3 triumph at Villa Park (read Steve Brown, Kinsella, Robinson etc) rather than surrender meekly. After re-promotion, fading towards the end of the season was always disappointing, but at least there were reasons for this and the trend tended to underline that we were still able to do the business when it mattered.

Last season, after all the trials and tribulations, I felt approaching the Easter period that we would stay up. It was the business end of the season – and that’s when we have come into our own. Or so I thought. Instead, starting with Man City away, we accumulated three points from the final seven games. It was something of a capitulation and showed that collectively the players lacked character. They couldn’t deal with the pressure. Indeed, Sheff Utd came to The Valley and put in the sort of performance that I thought we were still capable of.

OK, so we think we bought the wrong players, appointed the wrong manager(s) etc. And this season would be different. For a start we were better than the other teams (an assumption which proved to be wrong); and if we were not obviously better we had inner strength which would see us through. Instead, this season too we have buckled when the pressure increased, in obvious contrast to some teams now well above us. Of course we (and they) are where we deserve to be.

For next season this isn’t necessarily an argument for a team of hard men. There’s a real difference between character and being able to deal with, if not thrive on, pressure and the ability to chop an opponent in two. Ideally Charlton will play football like Brazil, score bucket-loads of goals, and run away with the league while winning the FA Cup. But if that combination proves beyond us what I want more than anything else to see is that the team is mentally up to the task.

I disagree with many who argue that too many players have simply not tried this season (I wouldn’t argue about last season). Rather pressure exerts itself in different ways. Anyone suffering from it can end up hiding – from problems or just anything that seems difficult. With some exceptions pressure is usually a constant. What varies is our ability to deal with it. We have players who have demonstrated that they are able to stand the heat (Matt Holland being the obvious example). But it doesn’t take much to tip the balance against us (including the crowd getting on the players’ backs – oh shit, I was trying not to reopen that debate) and once a few players are wilting under the pressure the team can’t function (which is something that a manager - in any walk of life - should be alert to and ready to act on). I really don’t want a repeat performance next season of us failing when the pressure is on.