Thursday 29 July 2010

No Pleasing Some People

Like just about everyone else, my initial reaction to the news of Richard Murray taking sole control of the club is positive. Nobody questions where his interests lie (which is not to suggest anything different on the part of those leaving the scene) and he has earned the full trust of Charlton supporters. Given that, anything that additionally promises to make the club more attractive to potential investors and which affords the possibility of more money being available to spend on the squad has to be welcomed; Murray’s pledge of injection of new money is in itself highly laudable. But I’m a natural-born contrarian, so it there anything to pick holes in?

First, will what has been done make the club more attractive to an outside investor? I may be completely wrong (and I guess we won’t know any more until the extraordinary shareholders’ meeting, which is likely to take place when most of us are swanning off on hols), but I’m not sure I see that this is a given. The club has nearly been bought twice (at least) in recent times, by the Dubai investors and Sullivan and Gold (before they had to settle for a less desirable location more suited to their dress code). In both cases it seemed to be a full takeover (whether or not Murray kept a role) and in both cases the club’s debt wasn’t an insurmountable obstacle. In any such deal those holding the club’s debt (leaving aside the bank) would undoubtedly have been asked to take a good deal less than full paper value; formalising their loss may help (and I don’t mean this to sound indifferent to their support) and speed future investment negotiations, but doesn’t look to me like a fundamental change. If the amounts invested by the other former interested parties have simply been written off it would be a remarkable gesture. If the others are being bought out by Murray, it’s fair to assume that they are taking a substantial loss (if not, debts have only been shuffled). And if that’s the case, given the stated intention to try to secure fresh investment, I would imagine there is some other agreement between Murray and those backing out to cover the event of the club being sold on.

There’s been no doubting the seriousness of the club’s financial position over the past few years. But through the period I think I’ve been more relaxed than many about the risk of administration/bankruptcy. The vast bulk of the club’s debt has been to the directors and the bank, in both cases (if memory serves correct) secured against the ground. That situation does produce a happy (if that’s the right word) alignment of interest. Whatever the pressure applied by the bank and cutting of facilities, forcing the club to the wall would not have been worth it. The bank (HSBC, if memory serves correct) would attract unwanted criticism and would end up with a messy situation involving the sale of the ground. And any one of the directors would have ended up getting little return after the bank and others were paid off after a sale of The Valley. Football clubs tend to get pushed into administration by the taxman (or someone daft enough to make short-term loans to them, as in the blissful case of Palace) and I’ve seen no indications that we’re seriously behind with them.

If the latest moves involve a tidying-up exercise whereby the club’s non-bank debt is consolidated in Murray’s hands that sounds fine to me; and maybe that would help attract investment, whether or not a full takeover. I’m not privy to inside information, so I’ve no idea if the suggestions about the imminent involvement of one of the Sainsbury family are accurate. If it happens, I promise not to moan during any forced Saturday morning shop (except when I have a hangover and/or when Doris with her trolley gets in the way).

Any other downsides? Well, two possibly. First, assuming the plc is wound up I will regret not getting a copy of the accounts (I know they’re accessible but I’m very lazy) and not being able to attend shareholder meetings. It isn’t anything to do with any notional value of the shares (that went out of the window with Dubai if not before, and like others shares were not purchased with any expectation of a return or any lingering claim on the club). It is about feeling of involvement and the sharing of information. Of course all the actual decisions at the meetings are a done deal, but the rationale still has to be outlined. We’ve already lost the fans director (for perfectly good operational reasons), and if an AGM is going to be a one-man show I hope Murray and the new board make every effort to develop further the fans forum and other ongoing means of communication with the fans. It matters. We are ready to shell out on the shirts and buy season tickets but it’s good to feel some sense of involvement from time to time.

Second, perish the thought but just what happens if Murray falls under a bus? He has our full confidence, but a one-man ownership always casts doubts about a succession issue. Would the person/people who would inherit the estate be as committed to Charlton? There is, after all, no guarantee that fresh investment will be forthcoming.

While I’m in a nit-picking mood, and while we await the new strikers, has anyone heard anything regarding Liverpool loanees? When explaining the sale of Shelvey, Murray stated that this time around it was different from the Internazionale and Valencia links and that “I think there will be some exciting loanees coming to the club in the future”. Now wouldn’t be a bad time, although it’s fair to assume that any developments would have to wait for Liverpool’s new manager to make his own assessments of his needs. I remember Murray a couple of years talking of the potential new stars we were nurturing outside of the country (due to work/passport restrictions). Have they moved on or come to nothing? All such deals can run aground, but if they do it’s reasonable for the club to confirm that they have.

All that leaves is to decide whether to go to Watford or do the seat-cleaning next week. Time constraints (yes, those hols are coming up and next week is a bitch for bank results) mean doing both isn’t possible. To my shame I missed out on helping clean up The Valley (I can’t remember why), so perhaps its time for the elbow-grease. I guess at least I’ll know the seats to be cleaned are owned by Murray (and HSBC).

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Insanity Returning?

I don’t think it’s the fact that it hasn’t (yet) started chucking down in London, or that the trend in friendly results is clearly positive, or the approach of holidays, or even that Goldman Sachs’ results for once raised a chuckle. Perhaps it’s just the natural order gradually being reinstated, which means an unavoidable decline back to lunacy. But I’m starting to get positive about the season ahead. The men in white coats aren’t (yet) at the door, as I’m not confident that we will win every game and secure promotion by Christmas. But as the prospective squad is becoming clearer I’m at least feeling that disaster (ie relegation) will be avoided, that we can be competitive, and that, just possibly, I’ll find a way to enjoy games. This is probably a fair sign that we’re about to get turned over at Bedford, Barnet and Bromley, let alone Watford.

I was cautiously encouraged by the comments made by Doherty after his signing and the return of Jackson, at least unconcerned at the Welling work-out, pleased by Dailley’s resigning (although I’m assuming that it means Fortune’s return is much less likely), and undoubtedly pleasantly surprised at the signing of Reid. I thought he’d gone for good (like I suppose Mooney) and to pick him up on a free has to be great business. And with McLeod departing at least the picture is clarified on that front. (The litany of failed strikers of recent seasons just goes on too long; they’re history – and hardly glorious history at that.)

Of course there’s still the risk of further sales, although the departure of Shelvey, Bailey and Richardson doesn’t exactly leave us stocked full of cash-raising assets. For the life of me I don’t understand why the transfer deadline extends to end-August rather than the end of July, at least outside the Premiership. It’s not as if Parkinson and the board should be having holidays to interrupt deals. I just want it all sorted before it begins in earnest, not to have further disruption.

We know the starting keeper, Elliot, with presumably a back-up to be signed. A defence of Solly, Jackson/Basey, Doherty/Llera/Dailley may not look overly blessed with pace, but could pass muster in this division. I get the impression that Semedo could be called on to play in midfield or provide cover at right-back or central defence, barring fresh signings. In midfield, Wagstaff and Reid provide the width, Racon the guile, and McCormack/Semedo the grit. Not much cover, aside from Stavrinou, but enough to be working with.

I think we all know the missing piece – and what we need to fill it. I now have a signed photo of Killer on the wall and it stares out at me. With the departure of Dickson, McLeod, McKenzie, Fleetwood, Burton (assumed) and no return as yet for Mooney, there’s Sodje and Tuna on the books. Bauza seems to be waiting in the wings, but I would have thought Parkinson’s seen enough of him to either make an offer or pass. Maybe we're waiting for the dosh from Cardiff for Hudson. I’m not privy to inside information, so perhaps he’s still considering other options (if he turns out for someone else this weekend I guess we’ll know). Whatever, we need two more strikers. Bringing them in might just tip me over the edge.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Fortune Returns, Akpo One For Five

So, having failed at Wimbledon tonight we emerged from Welling with the victory by the only goal. It was a chance to see the new faces (Doherty, Jackson, McCormack), to get a glimpse of some of the trialists, to welcome back one expected returnee (Basey, although according to others it’s not clear if he’s extending his stay), and one not so expected, a prodigal son in the form of Jonathan Fortune. Whether that proves to be a fleeting appearance depends I guess on his contract expectations and whether or not Dailly agrees terms and whether Sam Sodje has indeed left (I’ve still seen no confirmation, but neither of the two were listed as in the Charlton squad).

Was there much to be learnt from the exercise? Well, the defence lined up at the start may well prove to be that which starts the season: Elliot, Solly, Jackson, Doherty and Llera. McCormack seemed to be captain for the game and in the first half gave a decent enough account of himself. There don’t seem to be any pretentions here, does what it says on the can. No bad thing, but if Semedo is still around it would be hard to see a central midfield accommodating them both. Racon started alongside McCormack, with Wagstaff and trialist Esajas (I’m led to believe, the tannoy left a little to be desired) providing the width, while another trialist Bauza started alongside Akpo Sodje.

The first half proved to be all about whether Akpo could adjust the sights sufficiently to finally put the ball in the net. The first chance that came his way saw his effort clear not just the bar but the road behind, then it was a miscued shot, a wayward header when the goal beckoned, and finally a failure to get on the end of a low cross to convert. Eventually good work by Solly down the right produced a perfect ball in and this time he buried the header. A lot seems to rest on Sodje’s shoulders this season, if Burton departs and if McLeod doesn’t reemerge. In between Bauza almost converted another low cross. He looked useful and intelligent but if one was critical it wasn’t clear that he’s a poacher or blessed with pace. Aside from one mazy dribble which embarrassed a few there were no alarms at the other end.

The half-time entertainment was provided by a group of Welling youth players going through a warm-up, including a coach firing shots at a goalkeeper from short range just by the goalline in front of the Charlton fans. Which was fine, except for when he misdirected the odd shot. Unsuspecting and unaware supporters felt the force.

At the break Fortune and Basey came on, for Doherty and Jackson and not long afterwards came the deluge of subs that left me clutching at straws. Tuna came on for Wagstaff, but then five at the same time saw the stadium announced give up. I’m pretty sure that Semedo and Mambo came on, quite possibly Stavrinou, but for the other couple I’m going to have to check the club site. One bore more than a passing resemblance to Mark Robson. And to round things off a goalkeeper came on for Elliot. Just who it was is a mystery to me, but he was a noisy one. Not surprisingly thereafter we lacked some cohesion and Welling came into it more as they sniffed the chance of a draw. That created plenty of space at the other end, but passes were misplaced or wrong options taken. All part of the pre-season process.

So the positives were decent run-outs for the three newcomers and the appearance of Fortune. Seems Welling have a game at home against Arsenal coming up if the programme is to be believed. I wonder what Fabregas will make of World Cup final to Welling in the space of a few weeks. But maybe not. I guess it’s not just us who aren’t sure who will be donning the shirt when the serious stuff begins.

Monday 12 July 2010

Ins And Outs; Welling Awaits

‘Cheer up, cheer up the sun is red ....’ It might feel that way for Spain at the moment, but it just doesn’t feel appropriate for us. As was to be expected, the players’ exit door hasn’t stopped swinging since the final penalty kick, there’s the news that Richard Murray has had a heart operation (here’s truly hoping for a complete and speedy recovery), and the insult of the BBC at first putting a Gillingham shirt on the news about KRBS’ white knight/vulture capitalist. At least, unlike some others not far away, we only depend on them for sponsorship.

Nevertheless, now the nonsense of the past month or so is behind us and it’s back to the serious stuff (having been in Amsterdam recently at least I can lay claim to having been involved in celebrating a World Cup semi-final win, having been a little too young to fully participate in London in 1966). This means hopping on the bus for the annual dose of incredulity that is the Welling friendly. As others have noted, there’s next to nothing usually to be gleaned from these occasions, given the level of fitness and the trotting out of trialists. But this time around I can’t help thinking it’s a little more important than usual, not for the result but for the attitude. With no home pre-season friendly this will be the only chance for a number of us to get any sort of a glimpse at the players until late August (I guess Watford at end-July is a possibility but for me with the hols approaching it will be Oldham at home to kick off the season). Heaven knows we could use a lift, even in this game.

We must all be well aware that this season is about survival, as a club, and relative stability. Given the further comings and goings before end-August, we can’t have a clue about prospects on the pitch (quite frankly if offered now mid-table and financial stability I’d take it). But I doubt whether any other team in this division will be starting the campaign with such a change of personnel. Getting a new team to gel is bound to be difficult and a poor start to the season could encourage a mood of terminal decline among the fans. In such a situation, shortcomings in style and skill may have to be accepted, but that means developing other strengths. Fitness and determination come to the fore. I’ll forgive a lot if we show on the pitch that we’re the fittest team in the league and have best team work ethic. That’s asking a lot for a squad being cobbled together, but without those two basics we’re asking for trouble.

As for the departures, we got a decent price for Bailey and I hope he goes on to improve as a player. Richardson just showed that any decent price will be accepted and there’s no hard feelings there (looking at Sam’s comments about him saying he never wanted to leave Leeds may hint at him having gone through the motions, but he was a cut above the average in this division and Southampton’s chances of promotion are only strengthened). We all knew Sam was going to walk and he goes with my best wishes, not least as it means I won’t have to listen to the screams of some around me at his every error (‘ee ‘asn’t got a brain’ was the best example of pots and kettles). Randolph was a slight surprise, but this is at least one to focus on the positives. Two young keepers vying for the jersey can be good, but I feel happier with an established first choice that the defence can settle around and that always looked more likely to be Elliot. Presumably we need to sign an old lag content to warm the bench; there should be plenty to choose from (I don’t suppose Deano fancies coming back, but I suppose he’d be out of our price range and warming the bench was never his preferred option). And apparently getting some money for Fleetwood has to be a bonus; no slur intended but he didn’t show anything for us. Dickson, Spring and others are now all in the past.

As for the incomings, I was surprised by Doherty. Not that he can’t do a job for us – and it’s genuinely heartening to read his comments on the club site about his attitude to the move - but with Llera, Sodje and Dailly (with Semedo possible cover and hopefully Mambo developing) this didn’t look to me our weakest area. Perhaps one of them is on his way (I see there are still talks with Dailly). I can’t honestly see Doherty and Llera being an effective partnership (I’m of the old school that favours one big lump and the more mobile partner). Jackson’s return is welcome, although whether Basey sees it that way remains to be seen. And I’m sorry to say I know nothing about McCormack. May his stay with us be long and successful. And if Akpo Sodje can develop what looks still a pretty raw talent he could be the best of the signings.

This still leaves a bucketload of players whose future with us I have no idea about. Are Semedo and Racon content to stay? Are Youga and McLeod going to come into the equation, and is Burton set to walk? Have I missed things? I confess to having not followed news during the past month or so (and just never got around to player ratings for the season); I think we all needed to put some distance from the past season (and the previous three). It may have been successful in some respects but it ended in failure, the consequences of which are all too obvious. I think it’s clear from the above that at least my mood of despondency hasn’t lifted yet; I want it to ... even as early as tomorrow evening.