Monday, October 26, 2015
I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour...
And then it was three o'clock on Saturday afternoon. Tuesday night had been so low, nothing they could do to us this time would hurt like it did against Preston North End that evening. So now it's Monday, I've had a few more drunken hours and I have to wonder why I give valuable time to an owner who doesn't care if our club lives or dies.
I may not for much longer.
Sacking Guy Luzon was inevitable. Two three-nil defeats at home in the space of five days against Preston and Brentford is just so short of acceptable. The small squad, injuries, youngsters stepping into the breach, yes they are all factors any manager would face in his situation, but the fact remains that the football was so atrocious it was almost comical. Morgan Fox, Naby Sarr, Simon Makienok, Al-Hadji Ba, they've all been horrendous in either one or both of these games. There are other culprits, this list certainly isn't definitive. Professional footballers who spend the week practicing their trade, a management team that study the opposition and hone the skills of these full time sportsmen, and then come kick off it all goes out the window as we (at our own financial outlay) look on helplessly.
The thin squad is the only point from above that you could realistically blame Roland Duchâtelet for. Luzon picked those sides and oversaw training. Duchâtelet had to be seen to be taking some sort of action, and whether you believe managers are sacked too easily or not, in this modern game no other club would have kept faith in Luzon hoping we'd turn a corner. What he didn't need to do was follow it up with the appointment of yet another network friendly face.
Karel Fraeye was in full time employment in the third tier of Belgian football (Conference South?) yet arrived in South London in plenty of time to take today's training session as 'interim' head coach. Either the advertised short term of office is complete nonsense or Fraeye is the biggest yes man yet. And that may well be the case, for he was at the Valley before as part of José Riga's ill fated team and certainly knows the tight restrictions the owner has in place. It is not an appointment that even hints of Duchâtelet being interested in turning the fortunes of the club around, but just him doing the bare minimum (and failing) to try and keep some sort of peace with us, the paying customers who I'm sure he despises, without upsetting the network apple cart.
He could look for a manager with true experience of the English game. He could promise to strengthen the thin squad when the next transfer window opens and spend some of the money he received from the sale of Standard Liege. He could even put Charlton Athletic up for sale. I'd take any and all of these.
There weren't too many interested parties when Slater and Jimenez put the club on the market, and now after nearly two years of Belgian reign it doesn't look a far better proposition, save for the playing surface, some plastic seats and a poxy sofa. I want Roland Duchâtelet, his puppet Katrien Meire and his under qualified coaches out of my club. Surely Richard Murray knows someone in his address book who's on the lookout for a decent little football club? I shall plague the club with emails voicing my disgruntled opinions and I shall suggest to one and all that news of an empty Valley for the Sheffield Wednesday fixture will most definitely get back to network HQ. Voting with our feet in two weeks time could just light the touchpaper.
Right now I'm certainly not going to smile at people I'd much rather kick in the eye.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
It was very much the tale of two Nordic explorers, Simon Makienok and Johann Berg Gudmundsson. The big Dane scored his first goal for the club whilst the tricky Icelandic wide man scored a last minute winner after earlier missing the opportunity to put the game to bed.
Makienok hadn't looked much like a Charlton hero when he first arrived at the Valley. A big imposing man, he struggled to make that advantage count and looked far too soft in the challenge. But game by game he's improved, to the point where the North Stand's rather tongue in cheek shout of 'Leaburn' has almost disappeared. The occasional header still goes off at an array of unprescribed angles and Usain Bolt he most certainly is not, but he's a target man for when we break and that's been missing for some time now.
I had always said his first goal celebration was going to be something elaborate, I'd secretly expected (hoped for) a Metallica style air guitar solo, it wasn't quite James Hetfield but we got so much more than an axeman impersonation. The roar of a lion as his hair was set free, falling to his knees on the way back to the half way line, getting there and again raising his arms skywards (as we later found out in homage to his mother), then once play had resumed there was still time for a quick fist pump! The man has a battle cry of a true warrior, the best (and most prolonged) goal celebration I've seen at the Valley, you can keep your backflips and somersaults. If you're interested, he'd pounced at the near post to get on the end of his fellow Nordic seafaring comrades cross to score the goal, but what followed outshone it in every way possible.
The goal came near the start of the second half, the first had been truly forgettable and had given no indication of what we were in store for. If Hull are truly one of the promotion favourites then we've nothing to fear this season. Other than the now traditional end of match nerves we outplayed them in every department looking keener and sharper both on and off the ball. Gudmundsson had perfect opportunity to double the lead when he broke through and was one on one with the keeper but failed to capitalise in a true Tucudean moment, while young Karlan Ahearne-Grant who had replaced Ceballos midway through the first half was desperate to add to his goal against Dagenham & Redbridge and seal the victory shooting whenever he had sight of goal. It wasn't to be and a second league home win was to be snatched away from us, or so we thought.
Hull had given us a couple of warning shots, one of which hitting the upright as we struggled for the first time in the game to keep the ball and move it forwards up the pitch. Sure enough as Charlton is Charlton the visitors pulled level with just sixty seconds remaining of normal time, Pope in the addicks goal stopping a fine shot but unable to gather it and Abel Hernandez knocking in the rebound. On the whole an undeserved point for the Tigers but lessons on professionalism to be learnt. Eight minutes of stoppage time were only going to affirm our disappointment, Hull again dominant in attack and once again getting the ball in the back of the net only to spot the linesman's flag saving the day.
Plenty of Charlton supporters had already started their journey home when the Nordic pair once again pillaged in the Hull half and pulled out a 98th minute winner. This time the Dane was provider heading the ball into the path of Gudmundsson to nod home for a rare headed goal. The place just erupted. Luzon ran from the dugout like a crazed man and jumped on the pile of red shirts mobbing the goalscorer, right in front of those on the fan sofa who had place of honour to watch the celebrations. I'd have joined in if it had been me pouncing off that couch, and no doubt I'd also have been sent off alongside our manager to watch the last couple of kicks in the stand.
It was that type of moment you only ever get once or twice a season, I walked out the ground feeling like we'd either just been promoted or reached the cup final. We've seen two of last seasons Premier League clubs at the Valley this month and beaten both of them, not to mention two great away points at Derby and Forest. Not bad for a club that's reportedly relegation fodder!
I know kids designed them, but who's for replacing the new knight and robin mascots with Hagar the Horrible from now on?
Sunday, August 9, 2015
Taking my seat yesterday (far dirtier than it has been on any other opening day fixture) I was impressed with the ease of gaining entry to the ground. I was one of the lucky few that had not only received my season ticket, but had the correct details on it. A quick scan and I was in, no questioning which ticket number it was this week, although my choice of lucky turnstile is no longer an option as the three I can now use are a further ten yards walk and add nearly thirty seconds to my initial toilet dash upon arrival.
I felt for the many in queues around the ticket offices as they risked sunstroke trying to put right a cock-up of gigantic proportions by the club when they had all summer to organise these new tickets. I've printed my cup ticket off at home, perhaps the club should have left it to us to print our own season tickets as well.
The three thousand QPR fans with paper tickets entered the ground without fuss and were among the first to gaze with astonishment upon a settee next to the pitch in the north west corner. With all the class of something the crass Soccer AM could wish to muster, fans can win the opportunity of watching a live game while pretending they're at home. At a time when real supporters campaign for safe standing, we get slouch seating. I can only assume Roland saw it as a money making venture, come May he'll be down the back of it looking for loose change to bank.
The sofa is bad, and the new screen showing the game and replays (minus any contentious decisions of course) is not much better. At this early stage of the season when nine out of ten supporters have no idea who's who on the pitch, the line ups have never been needed so much. Not to mention the lack of the fiiiissshhh desperately avoiding a net. You'll be glad to note however that I rather like the knight mascot. Something good has come out of all these changes then, although unsurprisingly I'm informed this mascot was chosen by the paying customer, not the club. An enthusiastic character, it must have been hot in that get up, especially when escorted off by the cute redhead.
And so to the team. Old Roland has sold the mothership, Standard Liege, to the delight of its clubs supporters. In the short term this means we won't have to endure second rate bench warmers being paraded in our shop window, while in the long run it could mean that we'd become a certain Belgian's number one priority. Finally a real possible fruition from the network. There were plenty of new signings, but these signings were actually ours with only one of the seven being a loan deal. I believe four started yesterday, I'd have been a little more self assured for you if it wasn't for that blinkin' big screen.
Patrick Bauer, the big German centre half started alongside Diarra in a solid looking partnership and the cafc twitter hashtag will boldly proclaim how he had Charlie Austin in his back pocket all afternoon. I believe the number 22 in the middle of the park was Al-Hadji Ba, although I am basing this on the fact that I could only see two letters on his shirt above the number. A quiet game from this lad but I'm sure we'll grow to love him, as we will the big viking up front, Simon Makienok. Looking like an extra from Sons of Anarchy, this giant of a man had an abysmal first half playing alongside Karlan Ahearne-Grant, so much so that I was weeping for the loss of our dear friend George Tucudean from the side, yet the big fellow grew into the game during the second period after an inspired substitution. The shining star however was Ahmed Kashi, an Algerian defensive midfielder. Wearing the number three shirt (thanks again twitter for helping with this conclusion), he mopped up all the loose balls and was as confident passing back as he was building the play back up again. I believe a couple of others made a cameo but, in reality, I failed to notice.
Something nobody failed to notice was Tony Watt's arrival after the break. A dire first half had the sofa family reaching for the remote, yet with the Scot up front we displayed ambition and desire, and it was only a matter of time before he showed Luzon what a mistake he'd made leaving him on the bench. A training ground bust up had been to blame, but this squabbling is detrimental to the club. They will never send each other Christmas cards, and I'm sure the Coventry rumours were pleasing to Luzon, yet Watt epitomizes the passion we once always expected to see in a Charlton shirt years ago.
Special mention must also go to both Nick Pope in goal who showed no nerves in pulling off a string of excellent saves, and Morgan Fox who scored a peach of a goal to seal the victory. Last season there wasn't a bigger critic of the young full back than me, but stepping out of Gomez's shadow he looks far more fearless.
Our record in London derbies has never been as good as it is this season, QPR though have got a lot of work to do if they're going to repeat their last season at this level. What should have been a really stern test became a stroll in the park, even the traditional last five minute nail biting failed to materialize. If I'd been sat on a sofa I could have sat back and properly relaxed.
Monday, May 4, 2015
A week ago I watched Horley Town finish their Combined Counties League campaign with defeat to Farnham Town, this weekend it was Charlton bringing their season to a close with defeat to Bournemouth. Two sides, both pleased to end with mid table obscurity, no play-off drama or last day nerves for me but that's no bad thing.
It was clear why Bournemouth won the title from what we witnessed on Saturday. They passed the ball quickly and accurately, they were confident on the ball and happy to take players on. They always looked to play the ball forwards and every one of them knew where the goal was. If you've a Charlton checklist, how many boxes have you just ticked? If you stayed behind to watch the south coast club enjoy their moment dreaming that it may be us next season I'm afraid you're living in the land of fairy tales, teams full of network journeymen do not have either the coherence or the aspiration required to be the best. When Yoni Buyens shrugged his shoulders after gifting the Cherries their second goal he sealed his fate in my eyes. I don't want to see him stay another season, he can get on the first flight back to Belgium as far as I'm concerned, no matter how well he can take a penalty kick.
It would be easy to say that Bournemouth bought their way to the title with another wealthy Russian at the reins, but I've seen the cost of that squad and it's by no means big money. Obviously I've no idea what the wage bill looks like, but lets not forget we were played off the park by a team with three ex-addicks in it, two of them rejects. All three of those would have been in with a fair shout of scooping our player of the year award if they'd performed like that in a Charlton shirt.
Last night saw this prestigious finale of the season and it tells it's own story in so many ways. The top three were never really in doubt but for all the winner Jordan Cousins has achieved, he struggled for large parts of the campaign because he was played out of position. The runner up, Gudmundsson has looked superb from time to time but has a tendency to drift in and out of games, while Henderson in third place missed a quarter of the season through injury.
It may sound like I'm about to throw the towel in but it's far easier to vent spleen than humbly praise. For a long time I honestly thought we'd be playing League One football next season, the effort when needed was monumental and a twelfth place finish under the circumstances is a good achievement. It's probably a true reflection of where we are as a football club and where Roland is happy for us to sit. A good shop window for his multitude of troops without having to pay league winning exorbitant wages. There I go again.
Good luck to Arter, Francis and Kermorgant though, I really hope they get a chance to shine in the top flight and aren't replaced in the Summer, and good luck to Eddie Howe. The small blip at Burnley aside, he certainly knows how to get the best out of his squad of footballers. It must be nice to have 'one of your own' at the helm. Stop it.
So Saturday's now will take a dull twist as I'll no doubt be dragged around garden centres and the like while doing my very best Kevin and Perry audition. No more football pubs, no more football characters. I never did want to stay at a party I didn't belong in, instead with ten minutes to play I ventured to the first of a few Saturday evening watering holes. I ended up at a Morris Dancer convention in Charing Cross but did meet one old lad who, although loving his football, couldn't have been further detached from me in just about every other facet of life.
In his eighties, he's a Spurs fan and only goes a handful of times a season nowadays. When he does however, it's always in a box with the full hospitality package; he told me he has a real love of the occasional glass of bubbly. A self made business man, he wore a whistle made from a delightfully expensive cloth, yet while he did reek of money he was more than happy to spend four quid of it on a pint for me. As we drank he told me of his friendship with the late Danny Blanchflower and how they first met in the RAF. Great tales you only ever seem to here on a match day, it's exactly that that I'm missing already.
Monday, April 20, 2015
On arrival at a very sunny London Bridge I fancied I just had time for a very quick pint to quell my thirst in the Grapes before heading to Charlton, rather than suffering the generic lager inside the ground which was the other, slightly less appealing, alternative. As I made my way up St Thomas Street I had to dodge two very young lads dripping burger sauce down their Sergio track tops as they expressed their wit and charm on every female walking past them. With my shoes free from relish, I continued my journey to find their older travelling ensemble swamping the pub. In good voice and swaying (although not from song) I realised that the plastic glass of piss in SE7 suddenly seemed so sensible compared to a thirty minute struggle to the bar through, what would inevitably be, my new found chirpy train companions. From the tales of others, I gather these were not the only merry Leeds fans in London. Those at Greenwich had no idea what side of the tracks they needed to be to get a train to Charlton, and that was obviously worthy of a song in itself.
Great numbers to see a rather meaningless mid table end of season affair indeed. Unlike the home areas, which in my part of the Upper North seemed full of empty red seats. And who can blame the absent, the team have certainly been dreaming of their summer holidays since at least Good Friday, why shouldn't we?
During the first half Charlton had the look of a pre-season friendly about them as Leeds dominated, creating plenty of chances to fire themselves in front. A combination of poor finishing and a stunning penalty save from 'player of the year' front runner Stephen Henderson kept the lacklustre Addicks in it for majority of the first half but (thankfully?) Leeds did go into the break a goal to the good with Steve Morison's superb volley direct from a corner. Sometimes it needs an opposition goal to get us going. It certainly needed something on Saturday.
Whether it was the shock of going behind, the arrival of Gudmundsson for Eagles, or an uplifting message from Luzon in the dressing room, the second half was a different ball game from Charlton's perspective. A stunning ball from the Icelandic international found Tony Watt free on the left of goal to volley home, and he came close himself five minutes later shooting from distance, Igor Vetokele winning a penalty from the resulting keeper's parry. It was a great burst of energy from the striker to get to the loose ball matching a similar burst earlier in the game where he lunged out in similar fashion for a booking. Yoni Buyens was as cool as the proverbial cucumber slotting away the spot kick. As good as he is from twelve yards, he's really struggled with the pace of the English game. It turned out a good victory, three points snatched from the grip of defeat yet, except for the last twenty minutes, we were debating what would be an acceptable time to leave and frequent a public house. You'd take tenth place over a relegation dogfight every day, but I'm craving some true excitement and hysteria. That final game against Bournemouth could be hard to watch. Good luck to them and all that, but I don't really want to stand by and witness a party I'm not invited to.
When it isn't going well on the pitch, as it wasn't during the first forty five minutes on Saturday, my mind tends to wander. I started to ponder on which of our European bench warmers would hang around and which would once again board the fairground ride. Then there are those homegrown lads who have broken into the first eleven, what would become of them in the Summer? One or two could get snapped up and enjoy a big money contract. Gudmundsson and, er, well Gudmundsson must be on a few clubs shortlists after his efforts in SE7 this season. Of course there is always talk of the big boys watching our youngsters but I'd be shocked if anyone really came in for the likes of Morgan Fox. I watched him and him alone for about fifteen minutes of the first half and was genuinely surprised as to how much room he let the visitors have to attack on their right hand side.
I fully expect the majority to move on, and it's a certainly a shame to have to say that this really doesn't bother me. I've not easily bonded with any of them. Yes, Igor and Tony Watt have given the crowd something to cheer of late, but they're definitely no Andy Hunt. Chris Solly isn't a patch on the player he was, and the one true Charlton spirit in the squad, skipper Johnnie Jackson can't have long left at this level. I do ask the question though, that with the revolving network door surely a permanent fixture in the foreseeable future, will we ever truly love again as we did with the likes of Rufus and Robinson? Is Johnnie Jackson the last of the line in this respect?
On the whole I'll miss the majority of them about as much as I'll miss that rotten kit we've played in all season. Thank goodness that has now made it's last appearance at the Valley. Maybe Gudmundsson will still be here in August, maybe he won't, but I guarantee he wont reach Johnny Robinson's three hundred odd appearances. As Tennyson quite rightly said, "It's better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all."
Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Surely though there has to be some basis behind stereotypification? Well if I should have ever fancied a game of 'rugger' myself, the 19.01 train to Charlton from London Bridge last night was packed with suitable team mates. Harry Enfield couldn't have mimicked the accents any better, it was a public school outing into unknown territory, a thoroughly exciting time which was to be had by all. I say unknown territory for one lad, speaking to his father (master?) spotted our train pulling into Deptford and proudly proclaimed we had arrived in the Isle of Dogs. Another two were scrolling their smart phones looking for team news. They 'goshed' and 'guffawed' at the away sides selection, yet stared in puzzlement at the Addicks starting eleven. Not one of these fellows had they heard of! Terribly nice lads to share a train with certainly, but bloody dim.
Thankfully around fifteen hundred of them managed to find their way to the ground from the station to watch their side take a step closer to Championship safety. With Rotherham and Millwall both winning over the Easter weekend Fulham had found themselves back in serious contention to join Blackpool in League One next season. I'd like to think if we found ourselves in such a situation (again) we'd manage to encourage slightly more to make a short hop across the capital to rally the troops.
If Fulham are up for the fight we definitely gave some assistance and made it look easier for them. An early soft goal set the tone, to which they could have added if it wasn't for a couple of fine saves from Henderson in either half. If you thought the dreadful day in Bermondsey on Good Friday was just a blip, be warned, we've taken our foot well and truly off the gas and have an eye firmly planted on the June sunshine and sand of some far flung destination. And who can blame them. We've worked our socks off over the past couple of months to ensure safety, now the end can't come quick enough.
In the Charlton way and true to form this wasn't going to be just an end of season game to forget. We've long memories in SE7, Fulham and bad refereeing decisions go hand in hand. Poetic justice then that our equaliser rustled a few Fulham feathers as they believed a flag should have been raised for offside. A lot of us thought the same but, well, what goes around and all that.
Then of course there was Scott Parker. If you wanted to go down the stereotype road again you'd presume we'd boo him all night long. Well, long memories to the rescue again, we did. I've seen articles today on forums and other such dreaded places I really shouldn't venture near stating that it's time we grew up, he was a young lad influenced by pound signs before the eyes. Well I say bugger that. He knew what he was doing and he could have moved on to the 'big time' with a lot more class than he did. But of course that's all water under the bridge for him isn't it? Judging by the way he squabbled and made gestures to the supporters in the North stand he despises us more than we do him. My biggest grumble was our choice of song. "One greedy bastard" sang the covered end choir forgetting of course that there is Jermaine Defoe in a similar bracket and Diego Poyet too for that matter. Perhaps "Average greedy bastard" would make him feel less superior should he ever return? However, the chorus of "that's why you're going down" after the most calamitous of quick free kicks was nothing short of superb.
A Fulham free kick on the edge of the box in stoppage time had the makings of a Parker finale but thankfully we were spared the arrogance as he left it for a teammate to kick high and wide. A point a piece and on reflection a fair outcome. The last floodlit fixture at the Valley of the season and the last late night train ride home. As we queued by the shut platform gates we caught brief moments of conversations around us. This Fulham chum was mentioning something about how both he and his lady friend had shed a tear when they went to see Les Mis. I kid you not. But as my comrade Jim quite rightly pointed out, next time we are stood here it will be in the middle of a group of Leeds fans. Now if you're going to start talking about stereotyping...
Sunday, March 22, 2015
I've never really thought I'd soar far myself, I lack that necessary type of drive and ambition the movers and shakers of the world posses. Add to this a relatively large lack of faith (often unfounded) in my own ability to achieve anything worthwhile and you can see why I don't choose to label myself as upwardly mobile. Besides, I'd willingly sacrifice my own success and the rewards that come with it to help achieve a more financially balanced community, a fairer world for all; you can imagine how I'd wow the judges at a beauty pageant with sentiment like that, until the swimwear round of course.
Perhaps that's why I took a sabbatical from my virtual pen during the past few months, the drive had shriveled up and gone. I could give up part of my Sunday to grumble (and there are only so many ways you can do that whilst keeping it fresh) about what has happened to my football club, or I could pour a drink, pick up a novel and escape from these things which set about destroying my weekends. But I'm back for now, and not just because the results have improved beyond expectation, but because I look at my bank statement each month and realise I can't afford to become alcohol dependent just yet.
Last night upon my return home from the game I watched Dexys' 'Nowhere Is Home' film that was on BBC4 Friday night. The superb Kevin Rowland said "I'm not here to be your mate, I just do what I do to the best of my ability. If you like it, fantastic, if you don't, fair enough." And that's a bit like blogging, we're not all geeks, or heaven forbid think we're all experts, we are just regular lads expressing our opinion for primarily our own benefit in more than one hundred and forty characters. If you make it to the end fantastic, if you don't fair enough.
Kevin Rowland soared, the film is essentially the show of the album which has titled this piece, and you have to feel Charlton could soar also if left alone this summer. And herein lies a problem. The results have turned around and yesterday we saw a football display that was a joy to behold. A flowing, passing game from the home side and a first touch unrecognizable to that of which we're more familiar. The transfer policy has changed and so much for the better, rather than the merry go round of below average misfits there are footballers arriving who not only have experience in this league but understand English football as a whole. We can finally rest worn out centre halves and broken strikers with confidence. Next season this team could challenge, but will they be allowed to continue together or will Roland Duchâtelet emulate Mike Reid with his shout of 'Runaround now!' during the break?
Tony Watt is different class (we've almost forgotten Yann Kermorgant), Alou Diarra, a resurgent Frederic Bulot, Roger Johnson, Joe Gomez (possibly a far hotter prospect than Jenkinson and dare I say it Solly), this team has certainly gelled like no other under the Belgian's reign. Guy Luzon, it's fair to say, has been dealt a better hand than his predecessors but credit still has to be acknowledged. The first half yesterday wasn't by any means a bad performance even going in a goal down to Reading, but we came out after the interval on fire playing some of the best football the Championship has seen all season and could have won 6-1. In true form though they still managed to give the loyal fans a scare at the end as Reading tried to clinch a truly undeserved point.
It never fails to amaze me how different match days can be. Yesterday I didn't have to work a morning shift so therefore didn't struggle with trains, I met true good friends for pie and mash and a few ales finishing off with football that was worth more than the ticket price. Normally I'm stressed with the London Bridge disruptions, late for the kick off and subjected to football that wouldn't always be fitting of Conference South prices. A lot of disappointment for a large outlay all round.
Results on the pitch won't change the heart emotion, we'll enjoy them but remain cautious. As Rowland discovered during one of the album tracks, it's all or nothing and not an open relationship. We can't just come and go (I know, I've tried) and no matter how much I flirt with non league football I always return for it is of course true love. So for now I'll find the energy to give this club of ours a little piece more of my spare time and try to enjoy not just watching the football but reminiscing about it too. Dexys waited over twenty years to soar again, no matter how long it takes Charlton I want to hang on and enjoy every minute of it when it comes.