Friday 14 June 2013

Coyle For Wigan Relief

Phew, that’s a relief. With reports indicating that Owen Coyle is taking over at Wigan, the rumours about Sir Chris decamping have happily come to nothing. But of course nothing’s ever that simple. For a day or two his odds on going north shortened dramatically and the bottom line is that there were sufficient grounds, or at least suspicions, on our part to fear that he could have been off. These relate to what might be inferred about the budget for the coming season, given that ahead of actual news all the indications seem to be that funds are in very short supply.

This is still all in the realms of speculation, especially as the assumption is that there will be more departures to add to those already released. But reaction does say something about the still apparent doubts about our owners’ goals and expectations. That’s a bit harsh when they are funding the ongoing losses and in view of the uncertain impact of the ‘fair play’ rules. But there it is, an underlying trust deficit, encouraged by secrecy and lack of transparency, which inclines us to think the worse. When the owners say the ambition is a return to the Premiership it’s hardly surprising that we want that sooner rather than later. And sensible or not the goal is hard to square with financial restrictions to the point of expecting Powell and his team to perform miracles with depleted resources.

I don’t know who’s going to win the lunch with Sir Chris advertised on the club site (it isn’t going to be me as when I click to fill out the survey for a shot at the prize the SurveyPlanet site just tells me I will have a better experience if I upgrade my browser; I had a better experience by not taking the trouble). But whoever it is might have ‘are you happy?’ at the top of the subjects for discussion.

With less than a month to endure now before Welling, for news items we’re still feeding off scraps and rumours (or at least I am as I’m never going to be first with them). The chances of the bulk of the further activity to come being concluded by the time we take the field have to be slim in the extreme, so note to self: get to Welling in time to pick up a programme and to try to hear the team announcement, or face once more the prospect of having to try to work it all out through the first half (before the inevitable surprises from the subs bench).

The club’s ebay auctions are undoubtedly fun and a good opportunity to pick up some memorabilia, both to display and as an investment for the time when we’re dominating world football and collectors worldwide scramble for curios of an age gone by. I’ve picked up the occasional item myself. But I couldn’t help wondering, just who bought (if anyone did) the nicely signed and clearly unwashed shorts worn by Callum Harriott for the last game of the season? Did seem to me that that one was only just about in the best possible taste.

Just who occupies the shorts for next season remains a matter of speculation. The Mercury last week flagged that Obika is top of the target list (which will surprise nobody) and mentioned that having had to return to Spurs he scored in the Premier League U21s final against Man Utd (Spurs lost 2-3). The paper might have added that he bagged two in the semi-final against Everton, including an 89th-minute header to win the game (3-2). Just par for the course really, albeit a little early in the game for him. I just hope this doesn’t encourage Spurs to keep hold of him, or to put an extra nought on the price. As noted elsewhere, Kermorgant notched the winner for Brittany against Mali, but it’s reasonable to suppose that we will need more than one established forward for the next campaign.

The contract extension for Hughes and the permanent signing of Gower may not have set the pulses racing, but the news on both fronts was welcome. Hughes clearly gives us something on and off the pitch and I’m perhaps more upbeat than others about Gower. He was clearly rusty when he first appeared for us but improved with match practise, suggesting that we have yet to see the best of him. Of course, his arrival casts more doubt over Stephens and Hollands, so on that front too we sit and wait.

All we can do is keep a tally on the effective balance of changes as they stand. As Hughes and Gower were around at the end of last season they don’t feel like new signings, so essentially we are down Haynes, Fuller, Obika, Wagstaff, Kerkar, Taylor and presumably Wright-Phillips and Evina. At the same time we are informed of our possible opponents for the Capital One Cup: AFC Wimbledon, Bristol Rovers, Cheltenham Town, Colchester United, Coventry City, Dagenham & Redbridge, Exeter City, Gillingham, Newport County, Northampton Town, Oxford Utd, Plymouth Argyle, Portsmouth, Southend, Stevenage, Torquay, or Wycombe. That is a timely reminder of exactly where we don’t want to go back to.

Sunday 2 June 2013

5 Live Still Peddling Curbs Nonsense

This might be going over old ground, as the subject has already been well covered by others. But yesterday evening Radio 5 Live plumbed new depths in their attempt to perpetuate the myth that Curbs was somehow hounded out by Charlton supporters looking for the club to move up to the ‘next level’. Once again it was in response to a question about Stoke (and Hughes/Pulis), with us raised once more as the classic example of unrealistic expectations leading to disaster. The host went on to say that Charlton fans were now trying to deny that this was the case – which suggests that enough of us have been pointing out to the Beeb that this is drivel – and to indicate that of course Radio 5 Live knew the truth.

I remember hearing Donald Rumsfeld being interviewed on BBC radio before the Iraq war. He alluded to links between Saddam Hussein and terrorist groups. The interviewer interrupted and pointed out that the US intelligence agencies had said that they had found no evidence of such. Ah, replies Rumsfeld, just think how useful it would be for international terrorist groups to have ties with a country which people did not believe they had infiltrated. In other words, the total lack of evidence was just further proof that he was right. It seems now that Radio 5 Live are happy to peddle the line that the more Charlton fans might point out that they are plain wrong, the more we are in denial.

So (hopefully) for the last time, will Radio 5 Live please accept they are talking nonsense, perpetuating a simplistic misconception because it fits easily into their chosen theme. Did some Charlton fans complain about Curbishley and suggest that he had run his time? Sure. Were they at any stage any more than an isolated few? No. Did events subsequently turn out not to our advantage? Ahem, yes. Surely the real evidence in this is that we all knew what the ‘next level’ for Charlton was at the time: expansion of The Valley to a capacity that could enable us to compete consistently in the top flight.

It is never mentioned by the BBC that Curbs had one more year left on his contract and that he had said he wouldn’t be signing a new one, that he had just come out of the process of being shortlisted for the England job, which must have been unsettling, and that everyone knew that the team needed an overhaul. I also felt at the time that Curbishley might have been disappointed by the speed at which the dynamic and exciting team he’d put together at the start of that last season (Thomas, Kishishev, Smertin, Murphy, Rommadahl, Bent) fell apart, when Murphy threw his toys out of the pram and Smertin did a runner. There may well have been other factors, but unless and until either Curbs or Richard Murray lend support to the ‘next level’ theory I do wish the Beeb’s team would stop peddling this misconception. It is a slur on Charlton fans and the admiration and gratitude we have for the magnificent job that Curbs did for the club.

On other matters, well, it’s just about true by definition that nobody wants to be accused of sour grapes. If you are, the chances are that this is the result of a reaction to an outcome that you didn’t want, ie an undesirable (if not downright absurd, unnatural, incomprehensible) state of affairs. So instead we offer our heartfelt congratulations to Palace, just as we welcomed Millwall avoiding relegation. The fact that this was a play-off final that for long stretches bored the pants off all and sundry (in sharp contrast to a previous universally-celebrated and fondly remembered encounter) and that it was contested by one team largely comprising borrowed Italians, a situation criticised by the manager of the other team which contained a player sold and immediately borrowed back again, should be glossed over.

I think we’re all aware of the pros and cons of the outcome. The former include being able to leapfrog them after next season without having to play them again; the latter includes a season of ruined Match of the Days (it’s much easier to fast forward a reply of the Football League Show), even assuming that Palace don’t actually win any games. It’s done and we live with it. Perhaps for one season the pubs around The Valley can be temporarily renamed ‘The World Turned Upside Down’ until the natural state of things is restored.

I did like Chicago Addick’s take on a club not long out of administration being handed a circa £120m windfall perhaps giving a thought to those, apparently including the St Johns Ambulance, who were screwed by their decision to take the points rap at a convenient time. Would be nice to see a bit of pressure to this end, perhaps police and others refusing to participate at Palace games until some money for worthy suppliers of services has been made. Wishful thinking I know.

As for us, this is one of the worst times of the year, not just because I’m already starting to miss proper football. More than a month to go before Welling. We’ve released players and it’s too early for anything more than rumours about possible new signings, while there is the obvious possibility of the sale of one or more. The decision to release Haynes did surprise me; I don’t know about his fitness, but we’ve seen enough to know that he was capable of being one of the two first-choice forwards for the coming season. At this stage (ie ahead of anyone coming in) it has to be worrying with respect to what resources might be available to Sir Chris. With Evina apparently turning down a new one-year contract, doubts about what will be done with a number of players (Stephens, Hollands, Green etc), and the possibility of Solly being sold, we wait for fresh news with a little trepidation, while hoping to be proven just a natural pessimist.

This does all raise the issue of what would constitute progress for us next season. Of course it’s tempting to say that after a ninth-placed finish it means a play-off spot. But perhaps progress might take the form of further development of the youth teams and the introduction of some of them into the first team, with a view to creating a team largely from internal resources over the next couple of seasons. I really can’t comment on the chances of such an approach, or the chances of it working, having only seen the Youth Cup game at The Valley. Powell and his staff will of course know whether they are (or are close to) being ready, I just hope it wouldn’t prove to be a strategy forced on him by finances but one driven by the kids’ potential.