Sunday, October 27, 2013

Full but for one

It's not right you know, football on a Sunday. Sky might try and convince you it's what makes a Sunday super but I'm not having any of it. Sunday's are about church, roast dinners, and falling asleep through an old black and white film during the afternoon.

It's something I dread about any possible return to football's treasured land. That and a full stadium of fans who choose their allegiance before the season starts as they can't quite afford or are too far down the waiting list for Arsenal's equivalent season ticket. Not to mention that they'd show far more excitement for a Formula 1 Grand Prix when it comes to creating an atmosphere. No, give me Championship (or even League One) football in front of ten to fifteen thousand loyal supporters any day.

A working class game should have a working class kick off time. Three o'clock on a Saturday after the factories and production lines (remember them?) have clocked off for the weekend.

I already had a morning and lunch planned before it was announced that this weekend's game was to be moved to the Sunday due to Wigan's participation in the Europa League, so as the ground filled to near capacity thanks to the clubs "football for a fiver" campaign, one seat was certain to remain empty.

If previous "fiver" games were anything to go by I had clearly picked a good game to avoid. Drab football, a particularly poor performance from the home side, packed trains and ridiculous waiting times at the bar in search of a pint were the known pitfalls. As I got home, just in time to connect to Charlton Player for the live radio commentary, I felt incredibly 'plastic' as the rain auditioned at my window and my full glass of ale caressed and delighted my taste buds. The black and white film had the sound turned down. Maybe this was a super Sunday after all. Don't you believe it, deep down inside I wanted to be in my usual spot in SE7.

Wigan, a town better known for the rugby (a game also watched by those Arsenal families that love the Premier League so much) and for being one of the original homes of Northern Soul, brought a few hundred supporters with them,  enticed by the cheap tickets, who hoped to finally see an away goal. It had been something like seven games since these hardy fans had witnessed such a thing, and Charlton had only scored three (four if you count the abandoned Doncaster match) in front of their home supporters. The club certainly know how to choose a potential thriller to entice these occasional observers to return again.

With storm warnings dominating the news today my feet were very firmly planted on the floor, I was not going to get carried away with unfounded hope, even if we were on the back of an excellent away victory and we had our talisman striker Yann Kermorgant back amongst our starting lineup.

In fact Kermorgant's inclusion was probably the biggest talking point of the day. Scott Carson's return to the Valley in the Wigan goal was contender but he took a knock in the pre match warm up and had to be replaced before kick off. Kermorgant was to only survive for half an hour himself, injury forcing him to withdraw. I don't know if this is a new issue or a recurrence of what has kept him in the treatment room lately but it is certainly another huge blow to everyone except Marvin Sordell.

The Frenchman wasn't the only Addick to retire early. Richard Wood, our most inform player of the moment also had his game cut short with injury, in true Charlton style it doesn't rain - it blows a gale.

The game had plenty of opportunity for both sides, Pritchard coming very close in the first half while McClean put the ball over from six yards out for the visitors. The work rate was there, the quality of the build up was there, the execution of the finish was unfortunately exactly what form had predicted. Thank goodness a missed game is out the way, thank goodness "football for a fiver" is out the way. For the record book, listening to a nil-nil draw on the radio isn't that compelling either. I nearly turned the volume on the film up. That may have had something to do with the commentator though.

This is where I upset two or three of the half dozen readers. Call me chauvinistic, call me Neanderthal, but I don't really like listening to women commentate on football. I appreciate they enjoy the game, good for them, I appreciate they may present football shows on television, but ninety minutes of radio commentary? It grated. She went off on a tangent, quoted stat after stat, gave us insight into who had the ball at their feet, yet never went in depth into either sides tactics, unable to read the game at all. When co-commentator Peter Finch asked her if she believed Wigan were struggling to adjust between  Owen Coyle's style of play and the previous style of Roberto Martinez she was caught in limbo smiling and nodding blankly into the microphone. You may as well have asked her how a carburettor works. If you don't know you don't know, fair play, but you don't make a career of it. Unless you're Andy Townsend.

To constrain my irritation I studied this Manchester United email that has hit the headlines over the weekend. New Order are a Manchester (therefore local) based band, not a Nazi idealism, and study as I might (and I gave this the full first half) I could not have turned that United logo into a swastika without being told to. This is more politically correct claptrap, people so frightened of upsetting anyone that they'll crawl up any backside. Considering I'd been at church this morning, perhaps the red devil on the club's crest is slightly more offensive? I wonder if the Daily Telegraph or Manchester United will latch onto this?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Church on a Saturday

What a week for the Welshman! Charlton's number nine scored the winner for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Macedonia last Friday, then the winner for his club yesterday. It would appear I have misjudged the lad a little, proving yet again that Chris Powell is far more suited to the Charlton job than myself.

Church, like his song, has always provoked me since his/it's arrival. Simon Church, my Lord, Simon Church, sing the Addicks faithful. I love the fact, and always smile an inward smile to myself, when this rings around The Valley. You see, purely innocently and without intention or even realization, fifteen thousand football fans are loudly claiming not only the existence of our creator, but also their own immediate relationship with 'Him' being 'theirs'. This to me is complementing all the running, the hard work and the never say die attitude the former Reading striker displays every time he pulls on the Charlton shirt.

Overjoyed in his efforts these fans, after singing his name all match, will then tweet the words to his song as they relive and rejoice in the club's magnificent away display well into the small hours of the morning. And this is where it kicks me in the teeth. Nobody capitalizes the 'L'. Lord is a name, therefore requiring the use of the capital, a small insignificant matter to all but a handful, but enough for me to repeatedly bang my head against the wall. So much promise, let down at the final straight with a niggly, irritating, lack of, for better want of a word, quality. This was Simon Church in a nutshell, viewed through my eyes.

So here I am now, eating my words. At Ewood Park he scored a goal of exalted technique, collecting the ball on his chest (NOT his arm) and netting with the inside of his foot. Quality with a capital Q. I thought he had been a desperation signing from Powell, I was wrong, he obviously saw something in Church that convinced him to acquire his signature on the training ground long before the thousands of paying know-it-all's were to witness it. As all Charlton strikers do, Church will continue to dismay and infuriate, we will all publicly chastise him for it, but at least i now know there is an essence to his game that warrants not only first team football at Championship level, but international recognition too.

It wasn't by any means a one man show at Blackburn. Dale Stephens had one of his good days for us, the exquisite chip of a pass to pick out Church for the goal was as delightful as the goal itself. We know Stephens has this in his ability locker, has another Charlton player blown so hot and cold in recent times, it just depends which Stephens is turning up for the game. yesterday it was the one that was needed. Richard Wood was a tower of strength at the back, again showing exactly what Chris Powell had seen in the player during his trial, Blackburn's (including that perennial thorn in our side, Jordan Rhodes) rather woeful finishing detracting nothing from the strong Charlton defensive performance as when they did shoot on target Ben Hamer was there with tremendous hands.

Three very big points on the road, so urgently needed too as those around us were adding happily to their tally. None more surprisingly or impressive than Barnsley's dominant showing against Middlesbrough. Find and watch their opener, scored by Paddy McCourt, a creative solo run reminiscent of a certain Ricardo Villa at Wembley.

Another positive was the return of Yann Kermorgant and Johnnie Jackson to the substitute's bench, alongside the returning Danny Green after his loan spell at the franchise. Kermorgant and Jackson did both get a piece of the action, the former trying an audacious chip from his own half with typically French disdain. Six minutes of stoppage time, added to the final twenty of the regular, proved compellingly nail biting in a way every Charlton fan knows only too well. You want to look away but instead look through your fingers, evocative of children tucked behind the sofa watching Doctor Who.

The international break obviously did us good. A solid base to take into next Sunday's 'football for a fiver' match at home to Wigan. A team that can't score a goal on the road for love or money. Heard that one before! Let's hope that twenty thousand fans can take a leaf out of the two hundred's book that travelled to Lancashire yesterday, getting a thorough soaking in the process.

In short then I was wrong about Simon Church. Let's get behind the team rather than picking holes in what we have. Come on you reds!

I'm still not convinced about Sordell though.........

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Non League Break

Or as the press would rather call it, an international break. Now I want England to succeed on the world stage as much as the next man, and I got behind the team shouting at the television as loudly as that same 'next' fellow on Friday night, but the highlight of the weekend for me was another opportunity to catch some level nine action at my local side, Horley Town.

Having lived and worked in the town for a number of years now, the well publicised non league day last month was my first and overdue visit to their New Defence ground. Impressed, I followed them the following Saturday to Whyteleafe where I saw them crash out of the FA Cup. Charlton and Sutton have my heart, but Horley Town, and this level of football in particular, have me hooked.

Yesterday saw another window of opportunity arise, a Combined Counties league match against Windsor. The visitors are a relatively new club, formed by the fans only two years ago after Windsor & Eton's demise. The original club incidentally, were a team I watched a couple of times in the late eighties during one of their more successful spells in the Isthmian League.

Following Charlton I've become used to bemoaning players, almost watching for their mistakes, the misplaced pass, the poorly timed challenge, it's watching football of a certain standard and being frustrated when my loyalty isn't rewarded with excellence. Here I'm not expecting greatness, I'm expecting shots that veer towards the corner flag, I'm expecting goal kicks that go off for throw-ins, and yet I'm rewarded for my attendance with passionate football with plenty of flash points and a surprising amount of fluidity, composure, control and skill. How very refreshing to watch football with a positive attitude, enjoying the moments of flair when they come along as opposed to wallowing in the regular moments of despair.

As I said, I saw Horley go out of the FA Cup at Whyteleafe, I'd also seen them go out of the FA Vase against Newhaven, I was keen to see the side record a win. From what I had already witnessed, the ability was there, it was the confidence and belief in themselves that was lacking. Yesterday it was a different side.

Ashley Nadesan put the home side in front after only four minutes, taking the ball around a defender before picking his spot and slotting the ball past the keeper. Great composure. His second was very similar to the first, again his calmness on the ball belied his nineteen years.

Windsor had their centre forward red carded for a second bookable offense during the first period, after a slow start the cards were going to be out at frequent intervals. Late in the match one quick witted supporter questioned the man in the middle's failure to book the floodlights. At a smidgen over five feet tall, the official certainly had a dose of 'small man syndrome'. The linesman on our side of the ground however was old enough to be the referee's dad, with a balding head and pot belly, I wondered if he'd keep up with the pace of the game and true to form he struggled through the second half misjudging more than one decision.

Despite the difference in numbers Horley were good for their first half lead. The visiting supporters were lamenting the officials display as they trudged to the other end of the ground, our turn would come.
Colourful in their number, special mention must go to their flag. As I tweeted during the game, they are certainly punching above their weight in the flag stakes, this large St George's Cross would have happily graced any League One or Two ground.

Horley started the second half brightly and added to their lead on the hour mark, this emerged as the turning point for both the game, and the referee. Horley were also reduced to ten men as the card happy man in black bizarrely gave a second yellow to the Horley number eight. Shaking his head on his way off, it was quite apparent to all that he made no contact with the player at all. This evened the numbers up although tactical substitutions made it feel like Windsor now had the numerical advantage.

At half time Windsor brought on their number 17, Jason Sheehan. He went on to dominate the midfield, their passing was crisper under his influence and his vision was second to none. He read the game superbly whilst not being shy to run at full backs as well. The all round midfielder.

The Horley keeper made a succession of fine saves all afternoon before the visitors finally beat him, just seconds after resuming play at three down. Along with Nadesan and Sheehan, the man in green put in a fair shout for 'man of the match'. Once Windsor had a sniff of goal they continued to press doubling their tally ten minutes later. Horley held on though for the three points, yet both sides came very close to scoring more, the woodwork denying both teams on more than one occasion.

Both sides had characters, Horley's short Geordie number seven standing out with his vocals, the ref warning both sides more than once with a shout of "control the language Gents", but it was passionate football and we felt at times in the middle of the park it could have easily flared up. The Windsor captain appeared to be looking for a fight, the Horley captain (not a chap you'd argue with) pleading with the ref to use a bit of 'savvy'. With a stand/clubhouse on one side, fences on the other three you feel part of the game hearing every word, it's a great insight that you miss sat in a huge stand with thousands of others.

One thing that really stood out for me, on a ground far more exposed to the elements than these huge stadia we see on Match Of The Day, is the lack of gloves etc worn by the players. These are tough working class lads, there wasn't a base layer in sight. I may be wrong but I think even brightly coloured boots were in the minority.

Horley Town's ambition to avoid relegation is far more enthralling to me than England's bid to reach the World Cup. This is proper football and you can bet I'm going to see plenty more of it before the season is through.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Clean Sheet

We've now played ten (recorded) league games and we've finally kept a clean sheet, even young children go ten whole nights in bed and have a better record. On a similar vein we've only scored once in the last four matches, six hours of football. Six hours of school disco's and the spottiest kid is again going to wallop that record and score more often.

We were uplifted, on a high, after Tuesday's spirited performance. We wanted more of the same please, perhaps one better and a victory. We had beaten this lot twice last season, why not again today? The trouble is, that the chemistry, the emanation radiated from a floodlit crowd doesn't travel well, it loses something come Saturday no matter how much we try to revive it.

Chris Powell, unsurprisingly, started with the same eleven in, again,  the same formation. Blackpool lined up with the game changing, the very confident on the ball, the gaffers son, Tom Ince and a certain former Charlton favourite Ricardo Fuller amongst their very large and physical side. There was no doubt our youngsters would be muscled out of many of the challenges during the course of the afternoon.

At this point I'd like to just remind you all of my love for a sash on a football shirt. Blackpool wore a white top with a tangerine sash front and back. It could have so easily been the best shirt I'd seen adorn The Valley pitch if it wasn't for that awful blue Wonga logo emblazoned across the front of it. Fair play to Errea though for producing such a fine effort. We, mean time, shall stick with our N**e templates.

Jordan Cousins had signed a three year deal on Friday (and how the club milked such breaking news), he looked very lively in his effort to repay the club for their generosity. He was orchestral in many of our early moves as we did start the game where we left off the last. The crowd played their part and tried to turn the place into a cauldron of noise, we were never going to be out-sung by the eight hundred Seasiders enjoying their trip to the capital.

Our build up play was good, Wiggins and Gower particularly shone for me, but we seemed to fall away in the final third of the pitch. Sordell and Church had very little idea of what the other was doing, Harriott just behind them was ineffectual and bullied out of the game. What worked on Tuesday fell down a little today.

Don't think I'm not happy with the point, despite a couple of shaky moments we did still play well and held our own without doubt. We could though have carried on playing until Sunday and still not looked like taking the win. Cousins came closest, a stunning drive of a shot which I thought had hit the base of the post but apparently was turned around by the keeper. It was certainly closer than any of our strikers came.

Simon Church ran all over the park yet again, nobody could dare question his commitment, but, as I tweeted earlier, only Steve Ovett has run further without finding the net. Goal shy (crap) he may be, but he's our goal shy (crap). Sordell on the other hand......

I'm all for giving the young lads a go, look at Harriott at the end of last season and Cousins at the beginning of this. Why not give Piggott a bigger role? Or better still recall young Michael Smith from AFC Wimbledon. He has an eye for goal, he's proved that everywhere he's been, the only recollection I have of him in a Charlton shirt is coming on as a late sub at Halifax in the FA Cup, and he made a goal then!  But then we've got Sordell, that pretentious Bolton player who, when taken off today as we waited to attack with a free kick and the clock ticking, ambled off ridiculously slowly hoping to milk some applause.

As the game progressed today Blackpool sensed we couldn't finish them off and continued to tease us with long throws and good balls into our box. We stuck firm though as the game fizzled out, once again we were left feeling happy for the point.

An international break follows, and it may serve us well as one or two more influential players possibly could have returned from injury by then. For me it's opportunity to catch another non league match following on from the success of 'non league day' last month.

Charlton, and football as a whole isn't the be all and end all as we so often forget. Today we were reminded of life's bigger and sometimes crueler picture. Paul Raisey, a well known face in the North Stand and the Rose of Denmark, plus being a very regular away day traveler, this week lost his beautiful daughter Charlotte. I had the pleasure of meeting this charming and delightful young lady for her 21st birthday a couple of years ago, she was a true shining light that embossed herself in both mine and Heidi's thoughts. I can only begin to imagine how Paul, Bill and the rest of the family must be feeling. My heart goes out to you all.

God bless my friends.

Charlotte Raisey RIP

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Floodlit Forest

I met Jim, my companion for the evening, at The Harp in Charing Cross. A great boozer, albeit small in size, that serves some fine ales amidst it's very affable atmosphere. Jim, who had suffered the trip to Burnley on top of that harrowing display against Millwall, was all in favour of 'settling in' for the evening here as opposed to having to trek to South East London for yet another helping of despondency.

I was having none of this defeatist talk, reminding my good friend of the many great Charlton performances witnessed under the The Valley's floodlights. Yes, if we were to turn this slump around a night game was opportune time to do it. Reluctantly he agreed to accompany me, making it quite clear that this was solely on my head and I would be held accountable to all blame once the nightmare began. Deep down I knew going to the match was a good call.

Forest gave us the biggest footballing lesson of the season during the last campaign and look strong promotion contenders already at this early stage. There was no doubt we'd be up against it, it seemed a little unnecessary therefore for the referee to don a kit similar to Forest's away attire on top of this! As it was, we frequently wondered in the stands why this 'extra player' of theirs shied away from making a tackle.

Callum Harriott got a start playing just behind the front two, Church and Sordell, in a kind of 4-3-3, or more appropriately 4-3-1-2 formation. This should have given us a more attacking edge, indeed we needed that having been not only goal shy but 'attempts' shy in recent weeks. It did leave us very weak out wide though, Forest players finding acres of room in the widest parts of the midway line. At these moments there was a school playground scenario as three red shirts would all dart out together chasing down their man. It was a bold manoeuvre by Chris Powell, nobody could argue he wasn't trying to address our problems.

Jordan Cousins was rewarded for his recent efforts with a full home debut alongside Gower and Stephens, while Richard Wood partnered Morrison in the heart of defence. Lawrie Wilson continued to deputize for the still injured Solly who has Jackson, Cort and Kermorgant as treatment room buddies.

If a bright start against Burnley could be emulated, and perhaps even bettered, we could be in for a special night. Two minutes in and we were behind. Jim gave me that look and reminded me of the comfort we had left in Charing Cross; I started to sing.

We conceded a needless free kick in front of the East Stand, former pie eating champion Andy Reid (I tease out of sadness and selfishness, knowing what a talent we have long lost) stepped up and floated a ball goal-wards. The defence watched, the Forest front men watched, time stood still as Ben Hamer, rather than making a routine save, got his timing wrong and was made to look a little foolish, cue a tirade of anti Hamer tweets clogging up the CAFC hash-tag.

It made a change from disparaging tweets about the owners I suppose. As Jim quite rightly pointed out in regard to Hamer's little faux pas, this particular shortcoming had nothing to do with the board or any money matters, we just really are, in football terms, that embarrassing.

Who didn't expect Forest to then go on and steamroller us? We decided it better they get their goals quick, at three down we could legitimately venture back to the pub, yes it would be better for everyone if this happened sooner rather than later. Night games though, they do something to the crowd that Saturday afternoon's don't quite muster. We made a lot of noise, we kept singing and by Jove I believe the players were starting to respond.

There were still mistakes, Wilson struggled to distribute the ball, Sordell was absent and Church chased everything and got into dangerous positions whilst cleverly disguising any potential threat to appear almost harmless. We were matching them though, making a game of it and it only needed a spark, Dale Stephens came so close just before the break but that wasn't to be it. Our tails were up, a rousing half time team talk would surely tip the balance in our favour.

Four minutes into the second half and the goal came. Marvin Sordell, bugger would I have to eat my words? He was clinical, he's paid to be, and his goal celebration sliding on his knees reeked of pretension, yet the celebration from his team mates emitted nothing less than a desire to go on and claim this scalp. Forest were rattled now and we bombarded them for a good period, oohs and aahs rang around the ground as we came so agonizingly close to doubling our tally, but slowly Forest got themselves back into it.

It ended a draw, it felt like a victory. It was a Charlton performance, the floodlights had worked their spell on the crowd again which in turn had made an impact on the pitch. Positivity and all that, man.

I still have my reservations, Sordell and Church in particular, and I'd rather see Wilson playing further forward, but we saw more than than enough to warrant a couple of celebratory pints of Young's in The Grapes at London Bridge before heading home. All in all I'm very upbeat about doing it again on Saturday against Blackpool, last season don't forget we wanted to play them every week.