Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Once upon a time, a football clubs front men had a tough old ride. Referee's often sided with defenders who gave out crunching tackles as regularly as hooligans making the front pages.
The likes of Norman 'bites yer legs' Hunter, Dave Mackay, Kenny Burns, and later, Julian Dicks, struck fear into anyone venturing forward although, it has to be admitted, in the case of Graeme Souness for example, some were more than happy to give a little back.
The game is a lot less physical now and your twenty goal a season star striker is far more protected by the men in black (or yellow, green or red as it seems these days) although just as likely to go clattering down inside the penalty area!
Some things however haven't changed for strikers, and goal droughts are one of them. Every striker from Hackney marshes to Old Trafford and beyond has suffered at some point with this.
Wayne Rooney hit the headlines relatively recently with his inability to 'bulge the onion bag'. He's not the only one of England's finest to suffer, Gary Lineker, Bradley's father Ian Wright, and even I believe the goal machine himself, Jimmy Greaves, had a lean patch or two.
It's a confidence thing of course. Once it's been more than three or four games people start to realise it just isn't happening for the individual. As the games mount up it's harder and harder to find any joy in front of goal, the manager's hoping a simple tap in or even a deflection of sorts that will be enough to see every nine year old supporters poster hero get his name back on the score sheet.
Floodgates i believe is the word. Once one goes in, however that may happen, plenty will follow. And so that's how it evolved for our very own Bradley Wright-Phillips.
November 19th at Griffin Park was goal number fourteen of the season for our number ten. Nobody then would have thought it would take thirteen more games to get his fifteenth.
Our Bradley couldn't have picked a better stage to finally end this drought though than a home tie against Stevenage in front of a staggering 26,000 supporters. This crowd of Premier league proportions was due to Charlton's now familiar and very successful 'football for a fiver' campaign.
After a poor score draw at The Valley against Rochdale, Charlton got back to winning ways against high flying Stevenage with goals from the impressive Michael Morrison and then, finally, BWP himself. If truth be told, that day Wright-Phillips could have, and perhaps should have had half a dozen.
The only dampener on a fantastic day in SE7 was the bottle throwing incident as Bradley celebrated his goal. Fortunately the perpetrator didn't have the same measure of accuracy as our goalscorer.
Last night it was a trip to the B2net stadium (what an awful name) in Chesterfield for the re-arranged fixture from the other Saturday. League One's bottom club hosted the top one and three points for the visitors, although by no means a forgone conclusion, wasn't met by any real surprise.
An impressive seven hundred Addicks made there way to Derbyshire and witnessed what should have been Wright-Phillips first career hat trick.
For the second game in succession Chris Powell fielded his strongest (and preferred) starting eleven with both Solly and Jackson now present. Jackson, the skipper, added to his impressive tally for the season again whilst Charlton's other goals in an excellent 4-0 win were down to a now much more confident goal scorer.
Although still claiming the match ball, Bradley's third saw the final touch coming off a defender and appears from some sources to have been credited as an own goal. I doubt very much the striker will let that one go without a fight!
In fact, interviewed afterwards he said, "I lunged at it and got a touch. There was a little bit of help from the centre-back on its way in, but it's clearly my goal."
Everybody loves a hungry centre forward.
Thirteen games to go, sitting proudly at the top and fifteen points clear of third. These are great times to be a Charlton fan, and even better times to be a Charlton striker i should think.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Actually it wasn't Honved but another side from Budapest, Ujpest Dozsa. Resplendent in their purple and white stripes they were responsible for many a childhood imaginary team, not to mention frequent winners of my Subbuteo European Cup.
It was of course a knockout competition in those days, the dreadful Champions league still a pipe dream at best.
Half Man Half Biscuit had different allegiances from me and the title is borrowed from their song, so Honved had to stay. They also wrote a song with plenty of Subbuteo references, although rather than Honved, it was Dukla Prague who saw fame in England through that one.
Of course other sides did win my coveted European cup, a trophy which stood as high as at least three of the little players that won it. Another winner was Wisla Krakow from Poland, a club I still strongly support. A couple of years ago we went to Krakow for a long weekend but the team were playing away. The wife would never have allowed me to go anyway but that's beside the point, I got to see their stadium. It's on my bucket list, and one day I'll witness the atmosphere!
From Scotland there is Brechin City, unfortunate in often being losing semi finalists along with Ireland's Shamrock Rovers and Belgium's Lokeren. Then of course there are the mighty Borussia Monchengladbach. In the late seventies they were the Hungarians main challenge for the silver wear.
For English contenders we had the Addicks of course plus Liverpool, a club I kind of supported as a kid. This had nothing to do with their actual success on the field, it was simply that my favourite player Emlyn Hughes was at the heart of their defense.
I was fortunate to have a fair bit of kit and plenty of different sides to choose from, some of them still even had eleven players! I started with a world cup edition, which came with the standard red and blue sides (the reds sorted Charlton and Brechin for me), plus Brazil. Their little legs and faces were painted brown which as young kid I thought was cool. One Brazilian player had his kit and base painted into red and white as Charlton invested in this international superstar!
There was included in this grand edition a scoreboard with just about most the teams you could wish for printed on thin strips of paper. Ujpest Dozsa though was handwritten, by my grandad I believe, on the reverse of somebody else guaranteeing never a meet between the two.
Green fencing surrounded the playing surface with small brown fence posts connecting the panels together. These posts had small holes so you could nail it all in place on a board should you wish. Upon erecting this fencing it soon became apparent I hadn't left enough room for the goalkeepers 'tail' and the architects were called in to make some last minute alterations.
Behind the fencing a large brown and green (the late 70's early 80's Subbuteo certainly had a colour theme going on) grandstand and a corner of uncovered terracing. Joining the two, a straight piece of uncovered terracing meaning from the half way line to the corner it looked impressive. Two clear dugouts, a TV tower and four floodlights (with working batteries) had to try and fill the rest.
For the supporters it was very much like the east terrace at The Valley in the early eighties. I had the twenty five plastic fans the grandstand came with plus maybe one or two more packets of five or ten, I forget, to fill that vast space.
Considering the space each fan had around him it was still a very unsafe environment as my elbow frequently clipped a stand and they all fell forward a few rows. The straight piece of terracing had a tendency to collapse completely although this rarely caused a game to be abandoned. Well, we were all a little tougher and less politically correct in those days.
Never a game went past without at least one player trying to re-enact 'Escape To Victory'. A death defying leap from the table, normally directly after taking a free kick, and the daring little lad was off.
Never fear, they never actually got away. In fact it was like Auschwitz for escaping. No sooner were they fleeing than a large foot came down on them snapping them clean away from their playing base. Similar in many ways to being shot in the back by Germans less than a hundred yards into freedom. The odd couple that stayed on the run for longer would still come to regret their actions once faced with my mum and her hoover.
Looking back I wonder if they were just trying to escape a very scary corner kicker who was a giant of a man, although still probably shorter than the trophy they were competing for. Or maybe it was a rogue player from 'Striker' with that bizarre head you pushed down to kick the ball that put the frighteners on them. It freaked me a little bit!
If I fancied a change of playing surface I would move down from the dining room table to the deep shag of the lounge carpet. The playing surface down there it gave the feel of a boggy Wednesday night pitch at Hereford. Those little players struggled to kick the ball further than about six inches (although in fairness, if put to scale that's still hoofing it up field). If my mum had ironed creases into my pitch it would be even less as the ball would roll uphill then back down again just as it reached a crease my school trousers would have been proud of.
Whatever the playing surface, the tactics would remain the same. Start with a four four two, or some other trusted formation, then end up with all ten outfield players in the opposition penalty area. This gave rise to an American tradition of the time out, a minute to go back to some kind of order on the field of play.
I was very good at playing Subbuteo on my own. My brother, my dad, my grandad and a couple of friends from school would play from time to time but I needed Subbuteo more often than that.
If I was at a crucial stage of the competition I could quite happily spend my day at school day dreaming about that afternoons match. Controlling both sides I guess you could have claimed some kind of match fixing scandal, but I was only nine and still far too innocent to even be aware such things took place.
Some clubs were figments of my imagination although this was very much in my early days of table football. I even remember a team from Tracy Island (I think it may have been Manchester City I used, similar shade of blue you see) competing in one match. The likes of Orient in their 'braces' kit were always going to be too strong for a bunch of part time world savers. Imagination was as important as skill to a young aspiring footballing God.
This wasn't just the beautiful game, it was my beautiful game and complemented all my Panini sticker albums perfectly. Life was so different then. A beer and a sing song with the lads is great, but those days of being a football fanatic as a kid are fondly remembered as some of the greatest.
When I go to heaven I hope there's a Subbuteo set there.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
It could have been worse, we may not have responded at all. Two games, two one-a-piece score draws and two games where we've had to come from behind.
First up was Tranmere Rovers on Saturday. Prenton Park isn't a ground that springs delight on the faces of many Addicks, they have always been tough battles up there hardly ever showing much in the way of grace and flair. This season's visit was no exception.
Listening to the match on the radio and having since seen the highlights, there was little to get excited about and so going a goal behind after half an hour was of no real surprise.
What was of surprise was that Tranmere didn't start their now infamous time wasting tactics immediately afterwards! They didn't really need to though as a very pedantic referee did it for them more than once getting a free kick taken again when the ball was struck all of two or three yards from where it should have been.
A Michael Morrison equaliser on the hour gave the three hundred or so travelling Charlton supporters some hope of a revival but Bradley Wright-Phillips failed to finish the job off missing connecting with a tap in after coming off the bench. From the angle I've seen it at it really was a miss as well which, had he not been going through this lean spell, he would have dutifully dispatched with ease.
In fact, had this post been solely based on this game, i would have entitled it 'Carry On Bradley' as that incident, along with the small matter of his shorts falling down around his ankles shortly after entering the proceedings, were very fitting of those classic old British comedies.
Speaking of which angle you've seen events from, there will be many who would say, especially if they happen to reside on the Wirral, that Morrison's goal didn't cross the line. His powerful header came down off the underside of the bar to land just behind the goal line. A strong header from the defender saved our blushes, at a time when the strikers are unable to find the net. He is a real aerial threat in the opponents box and often looks like scoring the classic centre half goal. A precious commodity in the current circumstances.
Tuesday then, and we saw Rochdale visit The Valley for the rearranged fixture called off a couple of weeks ago due to the freezing conditions. I don't know how many fans they would have brought for the Saturday game but I'm guessing it's more than the one hundred ( or as it looked from the upper north, 7) that made it last night.
A rare midweek attendance for me started with a hearty fry up in the Valley cafe before a few liquid refreshments in the Rose of Denmark to catch up with the regulars plus a couple of lads i hadn't seen since last season.
An obvious absentee from the starting line up, apart from the injured skipper Jackson, was young Chris Solly. Wiggins moved to the right and Cedric Evina came in on the left. Pritchard also started with Danny Green in for the captain to add to our unbalance.
I'm not really pointing fingers as none of the team really had a good game but these two (Evina and Pritchard) did, in my opinion, really struggle last night.
Rochdale had done their homework, they had a game plan and stuck to it. I'm wondering if teams have got to know how we like to play and more importantly know how to stop us playing. Maybe Chris Powell really needs to shake things up a little for Stevenage's 'football for a fiver' visit this coming Saturday. Rochdale on the other hand looked a lot better than their league position would suggest and on this display their new manager has plenty of hope of escaping relegation.
There were two goals, four minutes apart and as i said it was the visitors who drew first blood. A break against the run of play saw Dale get their goal, albeit with the aid of a Rhoys Wiggins deflection. This time a striker did get the reply. For the first time this year Yann Kermorgant got on the score sheet with an exquisite free kick showing that in some areas of our game we can survive without Johnnie Jackson!
We do still wait for a front man to score from open play though. Clarke came on for Bradley Wright-Phillips for the last fifteen to try his hand but also to no avail.
I'm not really a fan of this modern day squad number system. I yearn for a return to the old 1-11 without names. We finished the game with numbers 36 and 40 playing up front. That doesn't inspire me much, it almost sounds like you've got some real low down fringe players having a run out!
It's a game that on paper we should have won but it's still another point towards the main prize and third place is still a long way behind with Sheffield Wednesday struggling to find form on a much grander scale than ourselves.
Stevenage will be a real test Saturday, we'll need a lot of improvement on last night. Let's hope their focus is on White Hart Lane and the cup replay rather than the league play-offs just for the moment.
It's still a strong position we're in, one that twenty three other league one sides would instantly swap with us.
Come on you reds!
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Valentines Day saw a return to action for the Addicks after another enforced Saturday afternoon off, due to last Saturday's trip to Chesterfield going the same way as the Rochdale fixture the week before. With overnight temperatures dropping to -10 it was of very little surprise that it was postponed, just very disappointing for those who had already started their journey.
Some made the most of the day and visited a few of the ale houses in Chesterfield whilst others mixed with Birmingham City and Wycombe Wanderers fans at Bramall Lane for the Chairboys League One clash with the Blades. There is a video on you tube of a little singing banter between the three during half time.
We can now emphasise with the Rochdale fans who were looking forward to a day out in the capital last week. I doubt very much they'll bring as many down for a Tuesday evening fixture next week.
The cold snap is over and our Charlton snow angel has all but melted away. My hands, which spend all day covered in old engine oil, are starting to heal a little as the skin cracks in freezing temperatures, and most importantly of all, football up and down the country is being played. Yes, things have certainly cheered up!
Last night saw the first of four consecutive Tuesday night fixtures.The next few weeks are going to be vital in the promotion challenge, a real make or break time for all the clubs involved.
No better time to secure another three points then with a win over Britain's least favourite club, The Milton Keynes Franchise.
A small crowd was a foregone conclusion what with it being Valentines day, but those allowed a pass out, along with all the single supporters witnessed, from what I'm told, a relatively unspectacular match with a few flash points.
I spent the entire match in a Chinese restaurant close to home with my wife and didn't once look at my phone to see how we were getting on. I am that dedicated to/scared of (delete as you wish) her indoors!
So what of this match? Two minutes after walking through my front door i was scanning the web for reviews.
Yann Kermorgant received a head butt resulting in a penalty two minutes before the break! The Frenchman's a pretty big chap, i wouldn't head butt him, but Gary MacKenzie, the culprit, is a big lad himself. I'll be keen to see what went on there. It'd take a brave man to step in between those two.
Johnnie Jackson, skipper supreme, stepped up and duly slotted away the resulting spot kick and we were going into the interval with our noses just in front.
This was only two minutes before the end of the half, yet there was still time to add to this as Jackson was tripped inside the box moments after Green had rattled the crossbar in the third minute of stoppage time. Again Jackson dispatched the penalty kick. Half time 2-0 up against ten men, it had all the makings of a classic Charlton collapse. We held on though.
In fact it could have been a lot different had Hamer not made a tremendous point blank save just after the half hour.
It doesn't sound like you would have known which side were playing with ten men in the second half as MK Franchise put in a spirited shift in trying to overcome the deficit. They did pull one back three minutes from time but Charlton hung on to go eight points clear at the top.
Sheffield United beat Huddersfield in another top of the table clash (resulting in manager Lee Clark losing his job) whilst Sheffield Wednesday dropped points at home to the surprise package of the season, Stevenage. It's jolly nice of that massive club to try and stay in this division so the likes of Yeovil and Wycombe have something to aspire to and the opportunity of a day out at one of the worlds biggest clubs. They really are too good to us all.
Charlton took advantage of this great position by sending out season ticket application packs last week. Looking through old ticket books i realise i haven't had a season ticket since the 2003-2004 season when my job situation changed and i had to work Saturdays.
I'm keen to change this and make more than the one game a month which i do on average at the moment. I'm in discussion with work on trying to come to an arrangement but that's the easy part. I then have to persuade the wife! I can understand Heidi's point of view, i work around fifty hours each week and we hardly spend any time together. We'll see what happens. I've left the application pack on the kitchen table, it's been there a few days. She knows it's there, she knows that i know that she knows it's there. It's all a matter of mentioning it, or more importantly the timing of my mentioning it. Now you see why i didn't look at my phone to check the score during last night's very romantic meal...................
Tranmere Rovers on the Wirral Saturday, then the re-arranged Rochdale match at The Valley on Tuesday. I've booked a rare afternoon off for that one, it'll be my first midweek game since a trip to the MK Franchise back in late September. Can't wait.
Come on you reds!
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Freezing temperatures have caused havoc with our sporting weekend. A Saturday afternoon at The Valley to watch Charlton entertain Rochdale has fallen by the wayside and left me with a free afternoon, a rarity in itself.
My wife, knowing I'd be out, has made plans with one of her girlfriends and I'm sat here home alone. I got to thinking how I'd been looking forward to the football, a light at the end of the tunnel. You know the scenario, a long week at work made even harder by the plummeting temperatures, the thought of a few beers with mates and football to keep your morale up during these unforgiving times. To get so close, just to have that hope taken from you on the home straight. What an awful week. Or was it?
On reflection I was, perhaps, a little over dramatic. If you're going to dramatise something, do it properly.
Paul Hodson did, and I witnessed it Wednesday evening.
Crawley, like most towns, has a thriving theatre which i really should visit far more often than i do. The main stage is on par, if not better, than most although sometimes the quieter, more intimate feel of a smaller setting adds to the evening. The Hawth has this second stage called The Studio with just under one hundred and fifty seats.
Wednesday evening it was here that myself, Heidi and one of her friends watched a small production, Way Out West. Yes, as in Laurel and Hardy. Our little group helped swell the audience to around fifty. Like i said, intimate.
The lights dimmed and two men, Harry (Mike Goodenough) and Sam (Damien Lynch) appeared on the stage. Their was no-one else throughout the whole production nor the use of any props. These boys even mimed the pint glasses they were holding. The only 'prop' of such was a tape playing public house background noise throughout.
At the beginning these two strangers have walked into the pub for arranged meetings with, in one case a friend and in the other a blind date, both were stood up and so they got to talking. Do they know each other? Harry is certain he's met Sam before and so the journey begins. The conversation goes from Northampton to Hollywood, from the big bang theory to Internet dating. It's all delivered with great humour. Not the side splitting slapstick type of comedy but a gentler well written kind that required great skill and timing from the actors.
Neither man is happy, not where it matters, deep down. The fact they have a passing resemblance to Stan and Ollie is certainly not by coincidence for it may well be past cinema experience of Way Out West where they did actually meet once before.
The subject of reincarnation rears its head. Could they really be.............. No of course not, those comedy greats were still alive when these two were born.
These two strangers certainly share something and it's not just a suicidal tendency. A love of Laurel and Hardy and the unashamed freedom of dancing in front of drinkers at kicking out time. A truly superb rendition of 'that' dance from the original film to finish on meant that not only had these two ,until recently, strangers become best of friends, but they had made fifty more that night.
Keep an eye out for 'The Future Is Unwritten' theatre company. In the programme it says they are 'powered by punk values of honesty, integrity, inclusion and the spirit of do it yourself invention. The company creates work that explores issues of popular culture, politics, spirituality, responsibility, injustice and respect.'
Sounds like they've got it all covered then! During April and May they will be touring their version of Fever Pitch. I'm almost, only almost, tempted to borrow an Arsenal scarf to wear to it.
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
In our bathroom, within reaching distance of Armitage Shanks, is a shelf. I put this shelf up for a reason, you see I'm a firm believer in a little light reading whilst doing what nature calls you to do. My metabolism works well, so if I'm in that room regularly i may as well have some creature comforts.
The main contents on the shelf are old copies of Backpass and When Saturday Comes magazines. There are a few books of course, a Far Side collection of cartoons for one, the kind of thing you would expect to find, plus a paperback version of the new testament for the odd spiritual moment. This is probably the only one my wife ever picks up.
Got, Not Got will end up there i expect but is far too good to reside on that shelf at this early stage. For the moment this is coffee table material.
My birthday was only a few weeks ago and, as normal, the family asked if there was anything i particularly wanted. I am notoriously very difficult to buy for, there's little i want or need and that which i do desire is normally far too expensive for a gift. Therefore, if i want something i buy it myself.
Then i remembered Got, Not Got. A title we all uttered in the playground while looking through a classmates huge stack of swaps. How many were the foil club crests worth again? Depended on the rarity of the players they were being swapped for i guess but I'm sure there was an unwritten rule of two.
I had been reliably informed by Keith a talented photographer friend on twitter that this was not only a great read, but also a wonderful journey back into our childhoods, a time when football wasn't polluted by sponsorship, show business, rich continental tycoons and squads of players built from more countries than you can shake a very big stick at.
This was back to the good old days of football. Mud, short shorts, bubblegum cards, more mud and footballers sporting perms on Top Of The Pops.
Written by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke, established journalists and Leicester City fans, it's an alphabetical journey through the 60's, 70's and 80's calling at just about every club along the way. All teams get around half a page of an amusing snippet of kit history, a little memory of a cup run or just about anything in between. Not surprisingly Charlton's exile is mentioned alongside photos of an overgrown Valley.
Every piece though is superbly written with great humour and you really get a sense of the joy (or irritation) some of these things gave to the authors. Remember Subbuteo supporters? You carefully painted them ( i think later ones came painted) then filled your grandstand to a near capacity. This was inevitably followed by disaster.
"Legs-crossed man was always a liability, falling over sideways at the slightest bump or breeze and taking half a block of fans with him."
Yes, yes he did and how i used to begrudgingly sit them all upright again only to go through the same rigmarole five minutes later.
Other gems include psychedelic programme covers, Admiral sportswear, Saint & Greavsie, and Jossy's Giants. It's all in here in glossy colour photographs, bound in a hardback cover it would sit nicely amongst your old Match and Beano annuals.
Got, Not Got is that kind of book, pick it up open it at any page and read. A little like i used to do as a kid with my Panini sticker albums. I always had my head in them in the late seventies, early eighties and was able, at the time, to recite the age, height and weight of such stars as Clive Whitehead, Mel Eves and Micky Hazard.
It would have been easy to just produce a book of nostalgic memorabilia. It's something else to have a book that captures the heart and soul of the time. I didn't just look back fondly, i had flashbacks full of excitement!
If you're of a certain age you need to get Got,Not Got if you've not already got it. If you're not of that age it's worth getting for your dad and borrowing it. Then ask him if he's still got any of the items you've just read about, they're probably worth a fortune now!
The Shakers came to The Valley on Tuesday night on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Rochdale. It was another Dale who broke their hearts in London though.
Chris Powell shook up his starting eleven with a couple of changes on a bitterly cold night. Bradley Wright-Phillips was missing, Leon Clarke getting the nod to play up front alongside Kermorgant, and Dale Stephens impressive cameo at Exeter was enough to convince the gaffer to start him alongside Hollands in the middle of the park in place of Bradley Pritchard.
If truth be told, the Charlton faithful were probably expecting a bit of a goal fest after the hard fought 1-0 battles of late. An early goal would have perhaps seen the rewards their possession deserved, yet it wasn't to be, and Bury got the opener just before the interval through a man i last came into contact with whilst devising our wedding present list, John-Lewis.
General opinion is that Leon Clarke was poor up front and it wasn't until he was replaced by Danny Haynes that the Charlton attack looked lively. Kermorgant, as much as i rate him, will never be a twenty goal a season man. He works tirelessly week in week out and deserves a goal more than anyone, but it's the midfield who have to step up to the mark and get their name on the score sheet at the moment.
I doubt very much Clarke will start on Saturday, but whoever does will certainly be feeling a little pressure now.
Most had thought they had seen our first home defeat of the season. Those who gave in and left early to head home and warm up missed a peach.
Ladies and gentlemen, may i introduce to you Mr Dale Stephens.
Hughes, Russell, Pritchard, they've all come in and done a solid job. Stephens though adds something a little more creative, his distribution is second to none. His eye for the spectacular is, well, just something else. With ninety three minutes on the clock he let rip from close to thirty yards out after the Bury keeper had denied Michael Morrison moments earlier.
The Charlton bench went mental, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was a cup final winner. Even Jason Euell, returning home briefly as a summariser for BBC radio, nearly fell out of the gantry high up in the rafters of the east stand.
Bury were devastated, the players slumped to the ground a memorable victory snatched from them at the the last.
A point rescued, more importantly an unbeaten home record still intact, warning signs are there that the hard work isn't over yet and complacency mustn't creep in. Fortunately Sheffield Wednesday failed to close the gap with a draw at MK Franchise so it's still ten points difference between ourselves and the chasing pack.
Rochdale Saturday gives us perfect opportunity to forget this blip and get back to winning ways. I'm getting out of work early and should have plenty of time in the Rose of Denmark beforehand to thin out the blood with alcohol.
Well, it's one way of numbing this cold weather!
Come on you reds!