Sunday, November 2, 2014

Queensbury Rules

It was reminiscent of Fulham the weekend before, the slow lazy start, giving the opposition the invitation to lead, requiring a fiery half-time team talk to produce some passion. The difference being Fulham have a new found will to succeed, Sheffield Wednesday are just treading water.

Michael Morrison had made an escape to Birmingham City during the week to find himself a couple of months first team football, his place on the bench quickly filled by a former American international centre half, Oguchi Onyewu. A former Owl himself, he has signed up for the two months Morrison is away but being without a club could very easily make that contract a lot longer. There was to be no dream debut against his former employers yesterday though, and in case you were wondering how he happened to find himself at the Valley, you'll be none too surprised to hear the club he enjoyed his longest ever spell at was of course Standard Liege.

Having impressed during a late cameo at Craven Cottage, Karlan Ahearne-Grant was rewarded with a home start although he would only last the first half, while Yoni Buyens and Rhoys Wiggins both returned to the starting line up. As my ageing eyes testify, they are all quickly becoming little more than red shirts to me now; Ahearne-Grant was as I said replaced at the interval by Johann Berg Gudmundsson, and I could have sworn the number seven had been on from the start! Later when Igor Vetokele received the ball in the centre of the box to slide home a much deserved equaliser, I thought it was Cousins and not Wiggins that had made a darting run up the left flank beating men as he went before executing an inch perfect ball to the returning super sub. But this was all a million miles from what we had to suffer during the first forty five minutes.

It may have started briskly but that didn't last long giving way to plenty of stoppages interspersed with Wednesday attacks helped by a referee who wanted to touch the ball more regularly than our midfield. When they did score it was former Real Madrid man Royston Drenthe winning the ball just a couple of yards into our half, then running with it not so closely watched by Wiggins (I'm pretty sure this time) all the way before shooting home to the delights of two ends of the ground.

Wednesday had brought a good number, they always do, but there was certainly room to accommodate a couple more bums in the Jimmy Seed stand. One Charlton supporter though thought it wise to let a couple of travelling Owls sit next to him in the Upper North, it was around this stage that they were discovered. Now it's not much fun being in the wrong end, I witnessed a Sunderland lad get walloped at Wembley in 98, I had an awful time at Elland Road back in the terracing days of my late teens that I'd never wish to repeat, and I was never part of a mob 'taking an end' when that was all the rage. But these lads yesterday were certainly made to feel unwelcome when they showed glee at a time all when around them had their head in their hands.

It would turn comical, once upon a time a burly fellow would have marched straight up to them and helped their speedy departure from our midst, not now. Lots of shouting, gesticulating and name calling but little action although some were quick to find a steward and tell on them. It's a family club and all that, I know it's polite to warn the authorities and let them do their job, but I can't help feeling there was something a little embarrassing about the whole situation. But don't despair, there really was a Charlton legend on hand to give each one of us a lesson on class. The three culprits were escorted down the staircase and were about to depart for the concourse, but in their way was one grey haired old gent. He quickly adopted the pose before letting fly with a good old fashioned punch to the nose, and it rocked it's recipient. The fellow then calmly just sat back down, his work done. A quality moment I shall never forget. What a firm we must have had back in the sixties with this Gent at it's helm!

The second half as I previously mentioned found us deploying more of a threat going forward, corner after corner we certainly had the visitors worried but once we found the goal we failed to really push on and finish the job. Tucudean delivered his customary overhead kick attempt a fair few feet from the ball, Wilson found the net only to be denied by a linesman's flag, and for all we threw at them they looked just as likely of snatching something when opening us up on the break. The result was to be expected, these two teams had become the draw specialists of the Championship and it's a long time since Wednesday have returned from these parts without anything to show for their efforts.

Remember Jose Semedo, the former Charlton player that bled red and white? Well he was in the Wednesday team yesterday, although I wasn't aware of this until the eightieth minute when someone pointed him out to me. Perhaps I need to move my seat a little nearer the pitch. Not too close to our geriatric hooligan though, I'd be too scared to enjoy the match each week!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Soul time

Fulham away or a film? Granted, not the sort of choice many of us have to make but when entering the last week of the month and the pay-packet has all but dwindled away a man needs to prioritize his disposable folding in a manner most beneficial to him. And this was no ordinary film.

So I forwent a drinking blitz in Putney and a stroll through the park to Craven Cottage, settling instead for live coverage of the match on 'the home of football', the bloody awful Sky television. A London derby, television cameras, it wasn't as if I was going to miss something magical. My feet were planted firmly on the floor.

Those that did venture west on Friday night were certainly in full voice and enjoyed the evening far more than the 3-0 scoreline would suggest. At home one could here nothing but the Charlton following singing from the first to the last minute, they threw down the gauntlet to the team showing far more soul than the players during the first forty five minutes. Thankfully the team accepted the challenge and were for the second period the more threatening side.

With Igor Vetokele still out we just didn't look like capitalizing on all this pressure, attack after attack just seemed devoid of direction and other than Lawrie Wilson's effort against the post, a rather fragile Fulham defence got away scot free. There were plenty of positives, Karlan Ahearne-Grant came on with a quarter of the match left and attacked, chased, and ran at everything and everyone showing confidence that belittled his seventeen years. Johnnie Jackson, emulating Stuart Balmer with a head bandage, skippered the side from the front and was in the thick of just about everything while Jordan Cousins enjoyed his chance to play a more central role in place of the suspended Buyens.

Another youngster, Morgan Fox, had moments of pure brilliance briefly mixed in with more wayward passes than I witness when watching Combined Counties League football. I'm still undecided which is the more atrocious, the passing, that dreadful orange kit, or having to witness Scott Parker basking in victory.

The scoreline wasn't a true representation of the game as a whole but was a true representation of clinical unselfish finishing. Fulham's first touch passing at the start was delightful, in contrast we kept getting bogged down with the ball, and no amount of booing was going to stop Parker running the show and displaying what a wonderful footballer (if not person) we developed.

That was Friday, Saturday night I still had my weekend spending money in my pocket and was going to, to.......the pictures? But this, again I say it, was no ordinary film. This was Northern Soul and I'd been waiting a long time to watch it.

A small British independent film, the release had been delayed for months before finally hitting the big screen a week ago, yet major cinema corporations had turned their noses up at it even if Steve Coogan and Ricky Tomlinson had both been recruited for small cameo parts in an effort to raise it's prominence.

Had I wanted to watch it during it's first week I'd have had to travel to Victoria, by waiting it came to Horsham, still the only place between London and Brighton showing it and even this was in a small cinema screen on the side of the theatre.

The time had come though, I had arranged a pre-film pint with a Crystal Palace supporting fellow scooter rider that I knew through work, Northern Soul doing again what it had done the first time around - breaking down barriers!

I'm no film critic, believe me I just manage to survive muddling through writing about football, but this was all it promised and more. Set obviously in a northern town during the early seventies at a time of general gloom, it dealt with issues such as bullying, racism and general hatred and distrust of the system by bonding the young people of this and surrounding towns with unknown soul music from across the Atlantic.

The film was a very close representation of the time, the clothes, the school, the attitude, the murkiness, but also surprised me with one or two things I wasn't aware of. I knew about the amphetamines (how else could you dance all night long?) but wasn't aware of the needle epidemic being around then, I always presumed that came later.

The storyline mirrored the gloominess of the surroundings with a darker undercurrent and moments of true sadness, yet at the heart of it all was some great dancing and even better soul music (about forty different tunes). I may have been shocked when it opened up to the hippie sounds of Melanie singing but that was soon blown away when the first soul record was spun in the local youth club.

It's already available to buy on DVD, ask for a copy for Christmas if you can wait that long, it was well worth missing a football match for. Northern Soul wasn't just breaking down the walls of heartache, it was breaking down the walls of bigotry, fascism, boredom and depression. Quite monumental when you think about it.

All quite fitting really when you realise that Fulham used their fixture against us on Friday night as their 'Season of Action' game to promote Kick it Out, an organization combating racism and discrimination in football. I shouldn't think playing Northern Soul would be a good idea at the Cottage though, I can't imagine that stand at the Putney end is strong enough survive the dancing!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Bolt on extras

The departure of Dorian Dervite was for me, almost as huge a loss to the club as that of Yann Kermorgant. Alongside Michael Morrison and Leon Cort, I thought Dervite to be a solid centre half who also looked equally comfortable playing just in front of the back four. And then he came up trumps with the odd crucial goal to boot.

Fast cars look fancy, perform well and even excel at corners, but at the base is a solid chassis holding the whole contraption together. The cornerstone of the car. The heart of the defence for any football team needs to have that solid, industrial foundation. How was I to know that during the Summer we'd acquire two men that would not only consign Dervite to the deep recesses of my memory, but I think I'm justified in saying this, equal the heady partnership of Richard Rufus and Eddie Youds.

Tal Ben Haim and André  Bikey-Amougou have been a revelation at Charlton during these opening months of the season. It's obvious for all to see how the likes of Chelsea wanted the signature of Ben Haim when he was at his peak, yet is Bikey that frequently stands out as colossal, both in stature and pose. Against Bolton Wanderers last night he was tough, resilient, and often mopped up the mess his team mates kept creating. Now it certainly wasn't a one man show, even if the former Cameroon international did find himself on the left wing after one surging attack, and as team efforts go everyone played their part, but the defence soaked up a ridiculous amount of pressure as the statistics will show. Twenty one shots and fourteen corners, it's highly commendable that we kept the visitors down to one goal but it's not the first time we've been under the cosh for such large periods of a match.

Bolton played a great passing game and their movement off the ball was superb. Former Palace midfielder Neil Danns was a handful in the middle, never afraid to take a player on during his mazy runs, and Lee Chung-yong and Jermaine Beckford both had chances they should have done better with. Half the reason they passed the ball so well was the time they had on it. I've seen it before this season, we don't close players down and they have time to look up and pick out the perfect pass. We get the ball in the middle and the opposition are on us before we've even begun to think what to do with it and inevitably give possession away. At one point last night Danns received the ball and four red shirts stood off him while he took note of all his options. If we keep persisting to play like that it's no wonder we'll continue to find ourselves defending desperately.

The two goals we did score were both of superb quality and both involved the 'marmite' man of the squad, George Tucudean. The Romanian executed the first skillfully to put our noses in front and then got booked for performing the greatest of all goal celebrations, running into the crowd. Early in the second half he was part of a two pronged attack on the Bolton area and neatly passed it sideways to Johnnie Jackson to double our lead. Bolton it would transpire, were not as beaten as we were expecting them to be. A low shot through a sea of players got them immediately back into the match setting up a nervous final forty minutes.

With the amount of corners they had, Dervite spent more time in our area than he did his own, thankfully he hadn't read what was obviously written in the stars. Yet for every set piece dealt with, we handed them another. Wiggins was shaky as was Bulot, not to mention his replacement Fox. The first job Fox had was to mark a Bolton player from a set play who proceeded to win a free header. With the squad starting to get stretched due to injuries we are seeing youngsters who, if they were actors would be extras with non speaking parts, filling the bench and being put under immense pressure when coming on to defend for their lives. That said, they did defend and they thoroughly deserved the three points for sheer determination. We had chances, Bolton had chances, we took ours.

If every visiting manager can show us as little respect as Neil Lennon did with his 'perennial strugglers' comment, we should remain fired up to prove these doubters wrong no matter how many corners they win.

Unless someone takes the reigns in the next day or two it will be caretaker Kit Symons in charge of Fulham on Friday night as we head to the Cottage. Go on Kit, say something juicy!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

And I guess that's why they call it the blues.

I've had some bad days at work. I've had days when I've never wanted to go back, I've had days when I've almost run to the pub upon knocking off for an alcoholic comforter, and I've even had one or two days where I've needed that stiffener before going in in the morning. Clayton Donaldson knows what I'm talking about.

Imagine letting your teammates, hundreds of travelling supporters and worst of all yourself down with one moment of madness. Koby Arthur had done enough to score his first goal for Birmingham City skipping away from a Johnnie Jackson lunge and poking an effort past our sprawling goalkeeper. But as he wheeled away he knew immediately something was wrong. Henderson had managed to get a hand on it, albeit not enough to turn it wide, yet Donaldson was loitering on the goal line and couldn't help himself giving it the final push into the back of the net, thus interfering with play and subsequently becoming offside.

Watch it again, with his back to the post it all happens on his left, if the ball had come to his right it still wouldn't have gone wide. It's stupid, it's a technicality, it goes against common sense, it's the rules. I can't imagine he knew where to look during the half time team talk. I doubt the Birmingham defence were feeling much happier with themselves either.

Charlton took the lead after eleven minutes, Bulot crossing from the left and finding Igor Vetokele to nod home. The Charlton striker had endured a lean period recently after his flying start to the season and welcomed the vast space given to him from the stationary Birmingham rear guard as an absolute blessing in getting himself back onto the score sheet. He couldn't really miss, it was the perfect centre forward goal and his smile lit up the Valley more so than the floodlights during gloomy afternoon skies.

If we were to take an early advantage in the first half, it was Birmingham that quickly embraced the second. A corner for the Blues was played out across the edge of the area when David Davis tried his luck and watched the ball go through an assembly of legs before finding the net. A deserved equaliser that should have been a winner. As the game fizzled out, the last of very few talking points was an injury for Jordan Cousins who was stretchered off with some very concerned faces watching nearby, a sight no football fan wants to see.

A seventh draw, but how can Charlton turn these into victories? A smash and grab may be wonderful at places like Norwich but that shouldn't be happening on your own turf. After our goal we became sloppy. Passes went astray, either too long or too short, we were muscled off the ball and allowed the other side to dictate the match as we sat back inviting them forward, much as we did for the visits of Watford and Middlesbrough recently. Yoni Buyens was for me the biggest culprit, he had a shocker last week and did little better yesterday. He was making headlines in Belgium and reportedly was the man to watch back in August, I can only presume he had far more time on the ball there; in the Championship he needs to think fast or risk keep getting caught out.

We do remain unbeaten as we go into an international break, and we are a hard side to beat. Defensively it's been a long time since we've looked so solid, Michael Morrison came in and gave a great performance yesterday, and none of the top sides have really managed to break us down, which considering a few frailties in the middle of the pitch makes that even more remarkable. If we can just stop being clumsy and a little pedestrian we could easily turn these games around and what would have been defeats last season become victories this.

A special shout out must go the the group of Norwegian supporters I spotted in the Royal Oak prior to kick off. In extremely good voice they laid into the Jager bombs with menace and were steaming by three o'clock. Spotting them on the way out they looked a complete mess; it's a long way home to Norway from South East London when you're hammered and you've little idea what bus to catch. Heaven only knows where they are now.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dancing for the draw specialists

A dance troupe performing a half time routine is enough to put the fear in any football going angry young man, which is why perhaps those impotent folk in the small Croydon suburb of Selhurst seem to lap it up. In Charlton it's not the done thing is it?

There was uproar recently when the Greenwich Visitor published an article exclaiming university cheerleaders had been signed by Charlton, therefore by default degrading ourselves to the level of our South London rivals. But we thought no more of it as pom-poms, mini skirts and tumbling teenage girls failed to materialize on the hallowed turf of the Valley this season, in the same way that synchronized swimmers were absent from it the previous one.

Yesterday however the family stand were treated to the 'Sporty Spice impersonation society' giving their all by way of arm waving and high kicks. To be fair the kids lapped it up, both those performing and watching.

Now Charlton have traded on the 'family club' tag for a number of years (again, much to the disgust of the archetypal angry young man) so it should come as no surprise to any of us that such razzmatazz is thrust upon us. In fact the darkest recesses of my mind graphically recall a similar event(s) back in the glory days of the Premiership, although that may just be the stuff of dreams. Or an away day. I despise the idea of the fully fledged cheerleader waving a pom-pom into the face of Johnnie Jackson as he leads the team out of the tunnel, the full on palace route certainly isn't the path I'd want to see our club take, but as I get older (note, not maturer) I can understand the need to encourage and pamper to those enjoying a family day out.

The media seem to have taken it upon themselves once again to sensationalize the darker faction of the football crowd. Hooligan films have become a mainstay of the British film industry whilst midweek television documentaries have recently become fashionable and have discovered some obscure pond life that even Jeremy Kyle turned down as too inbred. It is a tiny issue that has never fully disappeared but the commercial television companies and press would love nothing more than to see it spread like wildfire, just to be able to stand back tut-tutting at the aftermath.

Thank the Lord the BBC were only too happy to try and shift the balance back into the light this week with their Marvellous documentary. The true story of Stoke City kit man and registered clown Neil Baldwin is one of the most inspiring and heart warming accounts you'll ever hear, and with one of my wife's uncles suffering with what you'd term 'learning difficulties' it touched very close to home too. There may not be many Nello's in this world but there are far more decent folk watching football than the papers will have you know.

A dance troupe certainly isn't the definitive answer but plenty of children (and grown-ups) found it far more interesting than the football that preceded it. And it's not aimed at, or even witnessed by, those angry young men that were hiding in the loo having their sneaky half time smoke. Or angry middle aged men like myself despairing with my head in my hands watching through my fingers.

I suppose I'd better mention the football while I can still remember it although it's clarity is fading fast. Another draw for Charlton, that's six from nine, not even West Bromwich Albion at their peak can boast such statistics. Middlesbrough had forced a definite result in their previous eight league outings but even they fell under our spell and matched us step for step in nonthreatening football for the majority of the match.

It took the boiling over of tempers to liven this game up. Firstly André Bikey-Amougou allegedly clattered an oncoming Boro front man whilst performing a back pass, I only saw the resulting floor roll from both players but the vocal travelling support certainly blamed our centre half whom they booed for the rest of the game. All I know is if Bikey clatters you you stay clattered. The Boro lad ran that off very quickly and we won the vocal battle with defiant cheers drowning out their booing with his every subsequent touch.

Immediately after this Adam Clayton took one of ours out down the other end with an arguably worse challenge, the fuse was certainly lit and the referee cowered like a dog on fireworks night. Albert Adomah, already booked, mimicked the high kicking of the half time dance troupe with Rhoys Wiggins as a target. Our full back plummeted to the floor and the man in the middle pointed for a Boro free kick. Even the laid back ball boy in front of the East stand found this remarkable enough to evacuate his nonchalant slumber. It was a moment of confusion, Adomah received his second yellow and was walking, we still thought the free kick was going their way. Utter chaos.

Obviously we got the correct decision in the end and a couple of great chances with it. Bulot hit the post in the same spot Watford had a fortnight earlier, both occasions hitting that single blemish on the smooth upright that causes the ball to defy the laws of physics and rebound out at an unnatural angle.

George Tucudean tried for an ambitious overhead kick with his back to the corner flag, again trying to make the most of the bizarre forces at work in the northern goalmouth before both Wilson and Wiggins both had great shots blocked, the latter off the line by an heroic defender. On any other day.

One young man at the final whistle decided to make a trophy out of a corner flag still smelling of a dozen teenage girls perfume as he plucked it out of the ground and made it all the way to the Jimmy Seed stand before the stewards mounted an attack. You see what effect dancing girls have on hot blooded young lads fast reaching puberty!

Another draw but still undefeated. Could we make it to October with that record intact? It's unlikely, we travel to top of the table Norwich on Tuesday and those Canaries are currently singly far louder than a whole host of Sporty Spices could ever dream of.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hungry like the wolf

As per usual I arrived for an evening game straight from work listening to my stomach rumbling it's own version of Valley Floyd Road louder and louder with every footstep. Unlike Saturday I'd made good time and thought I'd venture to a different catering bar than usual as this new gourmet catering inside the ground needed exploring. The Upper North however seems to have been forgotten when it comes to pleasing gastronomes, relying on true working class values for the fare on offer. I found the pie and mash stall and this could have been unparalleled in the world of football nosh if, a) they had some mash potato, b) the pie wasn't hotter than the sun, and c) the pie wasn't far tougher than the plastic fork accompanying it which shattered on impact. And all washed down with 'delightful' generic lager. New catering? Same old crap catering in the Upper North.

But we don't go to the football to eat, we go to sing our hearts out and support our team. Next time I'll grab something en route and be done with it. So how did the singing and supporting side of the evening go? As wonderful as always when the floodlights are switched on. A great atmosphere and an entertaining match, even if we were very much up against it facing a strong Wolves team. The lads from Molineux have started very strongly in their return to the Championship and were the fourth fancied side to venture to SE7 already this season.

Charlton started quite brightly but soon carried on from where they left off against Watford on Saturday. André  Bikey-Amougou gave the Addicks the lead midway through the first half with a good volley and even better tumbling celebration, but the visitors finally broke us down with a scrappy yet deserved goal mid way through the second.

George Tucudean had a great opportunity to double our lead shortly after the centre half scored, I had a feeling we'd go on to rue that moment. Tucudean still seems to scuff his scoring opportunities but has so much more in his locker. He is often asked to track players by Peeters and does this like a true unsung hero quietly and efficiently although it does take its toll on his stamina, rarely lasting more than an hour.

Wolves had chance after chance yet like our George and also Watford before them, left their shooting boots at home. Former Charlton misfit Leon Clarke struggling to recapture the form he showed at Coventry last year. The trouble is, we invited them to attack us by sitting deep and standing off them especially in midfield. It doesn't help that, the two central defenders apart, we are a relatively lightweight side and get muscled off the ball in all areas of the pitch.

We've had a great start under Bob Peeters guidance, he certainly hasn't put a foot wrong yet but it'll be interesting to see how he adapts his tactics when needed. His formation is very rigid at the moment, I'd love to see an opportunity for Jordan Cousins to play centrally behind the front men, I can't help but think he's a little wasted out wide.

Chris Solly is also a worry. I'm starting to wonder if he'll ever now fulfill his potential after the injury. He had his best game for ages against Watford, the downfall being his unavailability last night. Joe Gomez came into the side to replace him but gave the ball away with too much regularity, as did Lawrie Wilson in front of him. We certainly miss Gudmundsson and the threat he poses on the right hand side of the park. His work rate and link up play with Buyens and co is as much a highlight of the new look team as Vetokele's goals.

There's plenty more on offer when we keep the ball on the floor and play the short passing game as we did towards the end of the match. The last ten minutes saw plenty of opportunity to snatch all the points, especially with Franck Moussa determined to make up for his butterflies on Saturday when he came on for Tucudean. For all the moaning, we did deserve our point but we can't keep giving these teams so much possession away from home.

Igor Vetokele went off at the end clutching his arm which is a worry for Rotherham and a possible blessing for Simon Church. A game that could be a potential banana skin, the thought of Steve Evans boasting about ending our unbeaten start to the season doesn't bear thinking about; please let's not forget our lines on Saturday, whoever plays up top!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Cards for all occasions

Happy football supporters making their way to the match. I've no doubt this picture was re-enacted countless times yesterday, just with replica shirts replacing the rosettes, except that is in my world. In my world everyone else is getting along just fine making good time and drinking pre match ale, unaware of the trials and trepidations the Good Lord has put my way.

A fortnight ago, whilst we were in Brighton, London Bridge was shut for the week for extensive engineering works and I stupidly never gave it another thought. Common sense should have told me more was to come, and if I'd researched it in advance I'd have spotted the glitch immediately. But I'm not like that, I'll buy a can of beer, amble to the station without giving delays or cancellations a second thought and until now that laid back attitude has served me well enough. So what's changed? No Southern trains to London Bridge on weekends, that's what. And ditto every weekend for the foreseeable future too.

I don't knock off work until one o'clock on a Saturday, and that's not voluntary overtime, it's part of my regular working week just like it was for your Grandparents and their parents before them; It's why we play on a Saturday afternoon in the first place. The trouble is, the first train leaves my little station in the sticks at nearly half one, and this does not give me time to run across London to arrive at London Bridge from the opposite direction. Yesterday my train pulled into Charlton at sixteen minutes past three, I missed not only the goal but Charlton's best football of the game!

I'm in desperate need of persuading my boss to let me knock off half an hour early on matchdays and making it up during the week. Feel free to petition him for me, otherwise I may not see the opening twenty minutes of another game this season unless I start going to Selhurst and that's not an option.

When I did arrive I saw a friend on the concourse hailing the wonderful football he'd just witnessed us play. Get yourself up there Al, it's breathtaking. Sitting in the back row of the Upper North and climbing every last stair in the house, it frequently is! We may well have started the better, received a deserved penalty (just as I was rolling into Deptford), which Buyens duly dispatched with distinction, but my aura of stress must have shifted itself to the pitch as Charlton seemed adamant to make the rest of the afternoon as difficult as possible for themselves.

Apart from the on pitch activities I also missed the David Whyte tenth minute tribute. Whyte, just a couple of months younger than myself, had always been a troubled man even when he graced The Valley pitch. Depression and a lifestyle that didn't conduce itself to longevity of life didn't stop the striker from making a name for himself in SE7 with some superb goals. I always remember a home game to Oldham Athletic near the start of the 96/97 season. The one and only time I ever sat in the Jimmy Seed stand. It was a drab 0-0 until Whyte struck near the end and ran in front of us to celebrate. I swear blind he (whilst hugging Ricky Otto) looked me straight in the eye and winked. At least that's what I'm telling my grandchildren.

Watford played exactly the game I expected, one of the best sides in the division their football could be superb if it wasn't spoilt by the needless carping and polluting. The moaning and fouling has more than just European undertones and has become synonymous with the Hertfordshire club. Fortunately we are a little behind them when it comes to fielding another clubs reserve side and hopefully can stop ourselves from following their lead. That said, a card happy referee did dish out four yellows apiece. It's arguable that a couple could have been straight reds, but the constant interruptions disrupted what should have certainly been a benchmark display from two sides that can play good attractive passing football.

Stephen Henderson had his best Charlton afternoon to date in goal, Bikey was a rock in front of him. Chris Solly looked more sprightly than of late (possibly therefore reducing him to the bench on Tuesday) but it tells it's own story that our star men were at the back. We sat far too deep too often and stood off the opposition in their build up play. Last season Ravel Morrison wore the wrong boots when he came to Charlton with QPR, Watford stupidly had shopped in the same store. Henderson produced a couple of fine saves, as did the woodwork but otherwise their fourteen shots were wasted.

It was gritty from Charlton, we were second best for large periods but hung it out. Franck Moussa had two great opportunities to possibly snatch a second on the break but froze with stage fright on both occasions. Last season we'd have collapsed in those circumstances but good Championship teams, the contenders, pick up three points when they perhaps shouldn't. We've certainly got a bad patch ahead of us at some point to come but we are contenders. Derby, Wigan, Watford, they'll all second that statement. Come Tuesday night we can hopefully add Wolves to that list.

A couple of pints in my first visit in a decade to The Royal Oak afterwards helped even out my blood and stress levels back to some kind of normality. Trains, football referees, it's all sent to try us and it's hard to remember Saturday afternoon isn't the be all and end all until you lose someone special.

With deepest sympathy, God bless you David Whyte.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Grass Roots

I've never been to watch an England international. Not in real life. I've seen plenty of matches from one tournament or another projected into my living room and dutifully roared the three lions onwards, heck I even partook in the conga down Shooters Hill when we beat the Germans 5-1, but I've never had the urge to sit amongst hundreds of school children for a slow tempo friendly at Wembley. There are many who go and support their country as often as possible, both home and abroad (which looks far more appealing), and I take my hat off to them, but it just doesn't float my boat.

So an international break just weeks into the new season must surely frustrate the likes of myself, resigned into a Saturday afternoon of decorating/shopping/gardening/talking to the wife - delete as appropriate. Except I have non league football, and this weekend everyone was invited. Not that they aren't normally you understand, but the machine that is Non League Day gathers more momentum with each passing season and this time around had more media coverage than ever, reaching an audience of both Premier League and Championship regulars plus the armchair Sky sports and Match of the Day aficionados.

My local club, Horley Town, were always going to get my entrance fee on the day, they didn't need the magic of hamster racing or such gimmicks to be assured of that, but with my wife at a wedding in Israel for the week I saw no reason against having a little warm up and making a non league week out of it. So on Tuesday I pulled the scooter out of the hedge and rode up to Tolworth, home of one of non leagues more illustrious names, Corinthian Casuals.

It was, if truth be told, a last minute decision. Horsham were at home to Carshalton Athletic on the same evening and I was set to head south but two reasons stopped me. Firstly, Horsham YMCA were at home the following night so I could visit the ground then, secondly, having such a soft spot for Sutton United I couldn't bring myself to go and watch their bitter rivals from Carshalton. It would be like catching a Palace game just because you could. I'd rather the decorating or whatever option from earlier. So I plumped for the Casuals and the visit of Guernsey for a Ryman South league fixture. And what a great decision it turned out to be.

Corinthian Casuals, the club that every side named Corinthians around the world pay homage too, wore their pink and chocolate halved shirts whilst Guernsey wore green. It wouldn't just be the language that was colourful that night. By complete coincidence I bumped into a familiar face, Ashley of putajumperon fame who I didn't realise lives just over the road from the ground. We watched the visitors take an early lead, cheered by a very noisy group of three from the mainland branch of the supporters club, which despite a clear penalty shout from the Casuals, they managed to hold onto until half time. The second half was something to behold. The home side started to play some wonderful football scoring three goals in the process.It could have been more as they attacked an end which had as many flags as it did supporters. The Ryman South is only one step up from Horley but it's a big step, especially in strength and fitness. This would become more apparent the following night.

Horsham YMCA, unlike their tenants Horsham, play in the first division of the Sussex County League and had done well to hold Redhill, another Ryman South team to a draw in their FA Cup preliminary round visit last Saturday. The clubhouse in Horsham has some great local bottled beers from the Hepworth brewery but I was disappointed to be given a plastic glass to go with it. Fortunately being on the scooter I could only have the one.

Both sides started brightly and both could have taken an early lead, yet a late goal in either half gained Redhill entry into the first qualifying round. A result made more convincing considering the visitors played nigh on the whole second half with only ten men. Horsham YMCA were an honest hard working club but Redhill had a semblance a little derisive both on and off the pitch which certainly didn't warm them to me.

As good as these games were as a spectacle, there's nothing like watching football you have a real interest in. I supported the home sides at both but the outcome was for me immaterial, the joy purely coming from partaking. Non League Day itself and back to business, Horley Town in the FA Vase.

The visitors were Sevenoaks Town and I had a nice chat with the father of one of their players in the bar before kick off. I discovered his lad is Ben Judge, formally of Crawley Town and AFC Wimbledon, who is still enjoying his football at the age of 37. I didn't know anything about Sevenoaks other than the usual google search, they had certainly started their season brightly but offered little in a even first half which they lead only due to overly accommodating defending.

A change of formation and personnel transformed Horley after the break stringing passes together, looking confident, controlled and unhurried on the ball. Two goals for Ashley Nadeson either side of a great strike from Ben Herdman saw a comeback equal in every respect to Corinthian Casuals earlier in the week. Herdman was my man of the match, a workhorse in the middle of the park who helped out wherever necessary including a goal line clearance. strong performances also from left back Jack Poplett and substitute Adam Pullin on the right flank taunted Sevenoaks. A late goalkeeping howler gifted them a late consolation but the 3-2 final scoreline somewhat flattered the visitors.

Not only do the club progress into the next round where they travel to Cray Valley Paper Mills in Eltham, but they also receive pound notes for their achievement. I could have misheard but I believe about six hundred of them. Some of this went behind the bar for the players to enjoy, and a nice touch came when I met the club chairman for the first time and he gave me a pint from the tab. We then watched as the local rugby team arrived and one of their folk drank a pint of Guinness in around ten seconds whilst stood on his head! I've always said those egg chasers were a little special.

Some clubs prospered greatly from Non League Day, Dulwich Hamlet for example getting a crowd the size of which is more akin to Conference levels, whilst for many others it was a regular Saturday. I suppose you only get out of it what you're prepared to put in, but more importantly did the message get across? Unfortunately stopping in a local pub on the walk home I spoke to a chap bemoaning the fact there was no Match of the Day that night. Of course I gave the Non League Day speech, but it fell on deaf ears. Apparently he once played for my local side, managed another then ranted about ticket prices for local football! Did he think his Sky subscription gained him free entry? I don't think it matters how much coverage Non League Day achieves, some people will always believe football started in 1992 with the foundation of the Premier League.

There really is nowt as queer as folk!

Friday, September 5, 2014


The Sky Bet Championship player of the month for August is our very own Igor Vetokele. And highly deserved the mantle is too. Manager Bob Peeters received the trophy on behalf of the Angolan striker, claiming that it was an award for the whole team as much as Vetokele himself.

I'm tempted to say, the way Charlton have started the season, that this is possibly the first of many accolades and silverware the squad may accumulate between now and May, but it's more perspex than silver. A trophy's a trophy though, and although garish in appearance it will no doubt spend a short period in pride of place above Igor's fireplace.

The man himself wasn't available for a full interview, but when asked how he planned celebrating this kudos he said he'd do the only thing any self respecting football fan would do, get a group of lads together and visit a local club to watch some grass roots football and support Non League Day.

No wonder he's becoming a hero down The Valley.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Pinkie Vetokele

During the week the great Sir Richard Attenborough sadly passed away, a man I shall forever associate with bringing the wonderful character of Pinkie Brown to life. Pinkie was a cold-blooded young criminal in Brighton with a ruthless streak the like of which hadn't been seen on the south coast again until a merciless Igor Vetokele nearly stole three points from right under the Albion noses yesterday afternoon.

My first visit to see the Seagulls, not only at the Amex but since the Goldstone days (I even missed the Withdean chapter), saw Charlton continue their unbeaten start to the season and walk away with a solid point that we'd have gladly taken at three o'clock. Many of the travelling support would have taken just a shot on goal as a positive from a fixture that has never brought the best out of us. But you don't head to Brighton to see Charlton win, you head to Brighton to experience the comprehensive array of characteristic public houses. And we did.

Making the most of both being my most local fixture and the subsidised travel costs, my train fares for the day amounted a whopping £6.70. I was determined to put my savings back into the community in exchange for alcoholic refreshment. We did this first at The Cricketers and then secondly at The Quadrant where we were served by a charming Amy Winehouse lookalike. Two smashing pubs I shall frequent again on one of my regular scooter forays on the town. The Queens Head by the station after the match however was a haven for plastic beer vessels and abusive inebriated middle aged women, not the quality of venue we'd quickly become accustomed too.

The need to not stray too far from the station was the locality of the ground, a couple of stops along the line at Falmer. The train was pleasant enough, but the shepherding at Brighton took some fathoming to understand its benefits, and made us later than expected to walk to the far side of the ground to queue for entry. Having undergone over zealous stewarding, we entered just in time to see Igor snatch Charlton an early lead. With the goal up the other end and a few pints of local bitter inside me, I'll leave it to you to witness the goal on television rather than try to describe it. My celebrations were cut short as a chap was quick to tell me I kept backing into him, this same fella then proceeded to watch the match sat on two seats! I always get them, every time I go away.

Brighton were a far better side on the day, they spent the majority of the first half teasing our defence and there was little more action to be had at the far end of the ground. Henderson was called into action more than once with fine stops, but Brighton continued to ask questions of our full backs. Unfortunately although the quality of Chris Solly is still evident, his pace has long gone since the injury. Once our stand out player in the team, he now looks a little ordinary but that may also be due to the company he currently keeps.

Half time came, and being a goal to the good needed celebrating with a pint. The concourse at the Amex is certainly visitor friendly, staff in Charlton t-shirts, the Addicks badge proudly displayed all around the kiosks, and as welcoming as that is, it did give the impression they've money to burn. The young families may appreciate these touches but the average football fan can't be too concerned about such niceties can he? Or am I stuck in the 80s? It was good to catch up with Messrs Gebbett and Garvey. Two good lads I hadn't shared a beer with for far too long.

The second half saw Albion embarrass our defenders, their slack defending from a corner allowing Brighton defender, Lewis Dunk, a free header to equalise. But Igor wasn't content without the win, he latched onto a ball from wide delivered by Church, turned a defender inside out on a sixpence and then shimmied it past the keeper in front of a chaotic away end. In the aftermath I manged to headbutt a friends young daughter, amazing how such elation affects us all differently. She looked far less happy a quarter of an hour later when Dunk repeated his earlier effort with almost the last action of the game. That hurt her far more than I was capable of. Yet again sloppy defending and acres of space. But we couldn't complain, Brighton certainly didn't deserve to be losers on the day.

With the transfer window closing tomorrow it seems less likely that we'll see the number nine shirt filled as the Andy Delort saga appears to have come to an end with the striker signing for Wigan. I'm quietly relieved, the lad had done nothing but wind me up with his antics of the past few weeks and I'm of the reflection that he wouldn't have worn the Charlton shirt with the necessary passion. Frederic Bulot however has been captured before the deadline, a midfielder who likes to play wide, Bulot is here for a season long loan from parent club Standard Liege. He'll arrive knowing plenty of faces already then.

Bulot wasn't signed in time to face Brighton so, with the international break, he'll have to wait a fortnight to get into the action. If he's any sense he'll watch some local football next Saturday and support the national 'Non-League Day'. A great opportunity for fans of some of the biggest clubs to inject a few quid into some of the smallest. I'll be going to my local club Horley Town as they entertain Sevenoaks Town in the FA Vase. This is one of the greatest days on the footballing calender, there's no excuse for not spending the price of a couple of pints to watch local lads playing the game they love. Which game takes your fancy?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

So yes, it transpires you can beat a good Derby

I was probably one of the most sceptical, and on first impressions last season, I still maintain quite rightly so. But this Summer, although not fully gaining my trust in any way shape or form, Roland Duchâtelet certainly appears to be moving this new business acquisition of his in the right direction, both on and off the field. But he cannot take all the early credit, and lets face it, by January we may be calling for his head we're so fickle. No, also worthy of praise is our manager Bob Peeters an ungainly mountain of a man who if you didn't know better, could have convinced you his career was inside the ring grappling in a leotard rather than playing football.

His boundless enthusiasm and overzealous passion has made him a firm favourite in South East London. Never would we ever have thought a manager could be taken to our hearts (especially so quickly) after losing one of our own in Chris Powell still not yet six months ago. Peeters though epitomizes Charlton, the confrontation with Rosler at the end of the Wigan match, the Friday afternoon pint on his own in Bexley, the wild jubilation at scoring, he obviously decided that the way to fit in was to emulate the regular supporter rather than mimic Curbishley or Powell. And that embracing of the Charlton mentality has spilled out onto the pitch.

Derby County, like Wigan before them, were one of the favourites with the bookmakers to take the title this season. Having been a little forgotten for so long, Steve McClaren built on what Nigel Clough before him had achieved and last season turned the Rams into one of the most attractive sides in the Championship, culminating of course with heartbreak at Wembley. Sunderland in 1999 aside, play off final losers don't generally tend to live up to expectation the following campaign, Watford a year previously being prime example, while keeping the squad together is despairingly difficult. On last night's evidence however, Derby will certainly be there or thereabouts again this time around as they continue to play neat passing football confidently. The difference this time is that we may actually be up there with them come May!

Yoni Buyens illustrated the Peeters persona wonderfully last night. After slipping on Saturday, before getting up winning the ball back and back heeling it to a teammate he won me over completely. Against Derby he enhanced his reputation, I've never seen a Charlton player so hungry to win every ball. Well I have, but not for some time. He looks so competent defensively in front of the back four yet dominant when surging forwards. He is perhaps just a killer pass from becoming the complete midfielder. That hunger is also to be seen from Johann Berg Gudmundsson who covers so much grass during a game and not just on the flank either, and our new hero, Igor the untouchable, who just needs to learn how to beat a goalkeeper when one on one.

For the second home match in succession we took an early lead, George Tucudean turning and shooting exquisitely with a much needed, confidence boosting goal. Moussa you have to imagine was only that game away from stealing the Romanian's starting place. Derby then grew into the game and caught our defence loafing to strike with a gem of a goal twenty minutes later. This is a defence which did however look solid for the majority of the match. Bikey as strong as an ox in the tackle, lets hope he continues as he's started and we don't see that other side of him that hit out at a stretcher bearer whilst on duty for Cameroon. Ben Haim is completely the class act that once grabbed the attentions of the Premier League's heavyweights, although his cheeky free kick was not only ridiculous but also seemed to offend the ready and waiting Johnnie Jackson. There's no need for such flippancy, no matter what reputation precedes them. Gomez made his debut at right back in place of Solly, a seventeen year old that took the occasion in his stride and was never hurried off the ball or afraid to take a player on.

Charlton regained the lead with a Buyens penalty, the last kick of the first half. We had ventured towards the bar and missed the initial decision, I'm told, mind, from a Derby source (nice to meet you Martin, enjoyed the post match pint tremendously) that it was the correct decision and we saw our Belgian baldy bury the ball in the net on the TV screens a full couple of seconds after the roar of the crowd announced the goal. Dreamland again, and uncharted waters for so long.

Again we refused to defend a lead, the second half saw us continue to press, Moussa and Wilson both making an appearance and both creating chances. The third goal came from that man Igor, Jackson crossed from the right, (was it Wilson who helped it on?) before Vetokele nodded home wheeling away in delight and sending us, albeit briefly, top of the league. To quote Bob Peeters, "at 3-1 you want to sit back, have a cigar and enjoy the game". Don't you just love him?

Derby pulled one back in front of their very impressive away following, the ball going between the legs of young keeper Nick Pope. It's going to be a perilous trial for Popey whilst he replaces the injured Henderson, it was his only real mistake of the match but his kicking was, in truth, substandard all game. Personally I don't think he's quite ready for such a level of football (with all due respect, it's a long way from York City) but Peeters has the faith and won't be rushed into a panic loan signing, assuring us today that the lad will start at Huddersfield on Saturday.

And so here we are, seven points from nine, not even the most optimistic of us could have predicted that. For the first time since we won League One does it feel like the club has pulled away from it's mooring and set sail for the promised land. When Charlton are good they blow me away!

Pass the cigars around Bob.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

To be Franck

To be frank, the first home game of the season is always special. Yes, football has far more character and soul under the floodlit freezing rain rather than the late summer sunshine, but at no other time of the season do you travel to your footballing home without any disappointment or despair lingering and the forefront of your mind. You know they're around the corner, but for now only excitement and anticipation bubble up inside. Yesterday I left work with an extra spring in my step, eager to catch my first glimpse of  everything new, bright and revitalized about Charlton Athletic.

To be frank, first impressions were dubious. After entering the turnstiles of the Upper North stand to darkness, one felt a need to joke about nothing being left in the kitty for the electric meter. Then there was the 'new' catering, the same dire beer, a lack of chocolate and similar pies just in a different wrapper. Minor glitches, the stadium does of course look as magnificent as the photographs had hinted. A new playing surface that shows very little evidence of the allotment it replaced dazzled in the sunlight, as did the painted staircases and new red seats. Yet every photo I'd seen during the Summer had been taken from the south west corner, and for good reason too. The pink seats still adorn the West Stand whilst Jimmy Seed's name gracing the roof of the South Stand is fading in colour as quickly as those that remember the great man. But I wasn't here to pick holes and when the teams walked onto the pitch, like a child at Christmas I soon forgot all about the packaging.

To be frank, I fully expected Bob Peeters to start with the same eleven as he did at Brentford last week. But for a lucky deflection (we'll get back to those), the points would have been all ours that time out, so his favoured line up deserved a sterner test in the shape of Wigan Athletic. One of the bookies favourites for league, Wigan certainly showed flashes of ability amidst a real confidence on the ball, yet very few would argue we didn't match them all across the park. Jordan Cousins early goal was sublime, Yoni Buyens (who from the back of the stand resembles Shelvey) in the middle made a constant nuisance of himself whilst parading both deft touches and quick thinking in equal measure while Igor Vetokele looked menacingly hungry in attack. A warning came though when Rhoys Wiggins jumped for a ball he was never likely to reach allowing the ever talented Callum McManaman to get in behind him, turn him inside out and then equalise from the craziest of angles.

To be frank, in such circumstances I've seen Charlton collapse more often than I care to remember. Peeters though attacked the match, never settling for the Charlton philosophy of late and just defending the draw. Even when goalkeeper Henderson was apparently injured and replaced by Nick Pope, Peeters didn't feel the need to protect his young substitute by overloading the defensive line. That was the Charlton Wigan knew of old! Tucudean, who does seem to go to ground a little easily, came off for Franck Moussa and Charlton attacked the last ten minutes as if their livelihood depended on it. Chance after chance was created but spurned, Vetokele was through one on one with the keeper but fluffed his lines, Wilson rushed into the box linking up with Solly to centre the ball for Gudmundsson but Wigan cleared. Eventually, quite fittingly, Moussa shot from distance, the ball taking a huge deflection before looping their keeper Scott Carson and hanging in the air for an age before finally nestling itself in the net.

To be frank, it was the ending we deserved. I struggle to remember celebrating like that at all last season, let alone during the first home fixture. As usual one or two marred a great occasion by spitting at Carson immediately after the goal, quite understandably enraging the player, but that was drowned out by the jubilation that engulfed the ground. I think I could faintly hear the East Stand at one point.

To be frank, I expected the hoards that moved to the far end of that stand to express the glee in their financial savings by way of vocal encouragement. In the Upper North you couldn't hear a murmur from them. I can't imagine for one moment they sat in silence, it must be down to the acoustics, and I'm certain the small Wigan contingent across the netting listened to a song or two once that injury time winner went in. They may well have also heard the bust up between the managers as Uwe Rosler squared up to Peeters complaining about the Belgians over the top goal celebration. Peeters to his credit said they'd be sharing a beer by the end of the day. The big man already has a lot of Charlton about him. I doubt he took his counterpart to the hostelry where we ventured though, more likely a quiet pint in his Bexley local.

To be frank, I love a good ale. What I'm not so keen on is this trendy real ale that tastes likes grapefruit juice. We started in The Old Loyal Britons in Greenwich, the company was great but the beer decidedly poor. I doubt I shall return. We ended up back on familiar territory, the Grapes at London Bridge with plenty of Millwall that had been on a boat trip to Fulham. Far more worrying to the health than a dozen middle aged drunk Millwall was a character parading up and down St Thomas Street wrapped in a duvet. You didn't dare look into his eyes, he'd seduce you with the pain and torment locked inside them. A true psychotic on the prowl, he could have done with some of that Charlton joy to put an unbelievable shine on his weekend also.

To be Franck last night would have been to be a hero.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

And they're off!

Whilst the upper echelons of the English game are still travelling Europe and beyond chasing the pound signs from that meaningless friendly, the business end of the profession has once again embraced competition like a long lost friend.

It's true to say that some would see the Football League's opening weekend as a latecomer to the ball, the majority of Combined Counties sides now have three games beneath their belts, but for the majority of true paying football fans yesterday was the day they had dreamed of since the final whistle of last season. Forget the World Cup and all it's coverage, speak to a Mansfield Town or Notts County supporter and that was just a Summer sideshow.

Unfortunately for me, as is normal in early August, I had to put a full days shift in at work and could therefore not join in with the party atmosphere. Twitter was awash with Addicks either posting pictures of themselves, pint in hand, on a boat down the Thames or arranging with friends which drinking house to meet up in for pre match festivities. I'd forgotten that social media, as well as being a comforting friend in times of loneliness could also be a damning enemy rubbing salt in a wound come match day. I will eventually learn to shun it under such circumstances, but it's hard, it is such a tease after all.

Twitter does of course have other devious aspects and can whet your appetite when the bowl is, in reality, empty. With eight first team signings this summer, seven of which made their full debut yesterday, it would appear Addicks around the globe want more. A young former beach footballer from France, striker Andy Delort, has been linked with the club for what seems like an eon now. It's on, it's off, so and so are linked with him, it's never-ending and has quite frankly started to bore me recently. Once upon a time the local paper or Ceefax would have alerted us to a new face, saving us from the torment of speculation. Yannis Salibur is the latest and now also thrown into the mix. In all truth, I don't even know who these people are, let alone if I really care at this stage if they go on to play for my club.

I do know who Simon Church is, I also know he didn't travel with the team to Brentford. What I don't know is if there is any credit to the possibility of a deal involving himself and Sam Baldock of Bristol City changing places. I'd still like to think there's a chance of Church exploring the Duchâtelet network and spending a year visiting distant outposts in the Hungarian league. Don't panic, I don't expect you all to harbour such sadistic thoughts.

So who did travel to Brentford on the team coach? Only full backs Solly and Wiggins and midfielders Jackson and Cousins started from last season. Franck Moussa was the only new face not to start. You had to feel for Michael Morrison who must have wondered who would partner him out of Bikey and Ben Haim, not watch the pair lace up their boots together. He had familiarity as other 'old' faces kept him company on the bench in the shape of Pope, Wilson, Pigott, Harriott and Morgan Fox.

Goals had always been the problem, hence I presume this further speculation towards possible new strikers, but it would appear in Igor Vetokele and George Tucudean Bob Peeters had addressed the problem and addressed it with aplomb. The former scoring on his debut whilst the latter certainly getting himself into a good position in the first half to do the same. Things look promising and Vetokele probably has the makings of a crowd favourite. Callum Harriott however continues to frustrate. The scoring form he found at the tail end of last season now resides in the lost property box, left on the beach this summer. A great opportunity when confronted with an open goal was spurned as he hit the woodwork. Early days though.

Cousins played out wide, not his strongest position on the park and something former managers were slated for doing. I hope he can justify a stronger role in weeks to come, yet Gudmundsson from the ten minutes of highlights I've seen looked promising on the other side.

The 'noughties' defence partnership will face much harsher battles, as will debutant keeper Stephen Henderson, but initial thoughts are all positive. Everyone is happy with an away point to start the season, especially when it involves visiting a promoted side keen to make an impression. As I tweeted earlier, the biggest tweak I'd like to see to the match day squad would be the addition of a tie to the manager. We were spoilt with Powell, but even Riga wore his Top Man whistle religiously. We've certain standards to uphold here you know.

I expect an experimental side will run out to a deserted Valley on Tuesday for the visit of Colchester in the Capital One Cup, but then two good tests at home as first Wigan and then Derby travel to South East London. Peeters may stick with this eleven, I presume in his eyes it's his strongest, he may yet even throw a couple of different faces in that we've (and he's) yet to see, but it's certainly exciting times in Charlton and the anticipation of football is mouthwatering. Whether you approve of the Duchâtelet network or not, you can't deny it's been a while since you've been this enthusiastic.

Spare a thought for Mark Robins though who after just one match has become the first managerial casualty of the season. His Huddersfield side were beaten 4-0 at home to Bournemouth. It's crazy to think a job could hinge on one result, you would imagine an underlying current was already flowing there, but it's interesting to see the Cherries fourth goal was scored by a certain Yann Kermorgant. So much has changed since that whole affair dominated the Charlton blogs!

A timely reminder all the same on how Charlton kick-started a French forwards career in England. Food for thought amidst current speculation.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

New Look

Let's face it, we all know more than a handful of people who could do with a new look. It's not being snobbish, some people just need overhauling. There's that ghastly Snog Marry Avoid? programme for example that finds some of this islands most disastrous creations and wipes them clean before attempting to instill some self respect into the person beneath the costume. As a less extreme variant on the theme, there are a host of presenters with their own daytime television shows just trying to wring a tiny amount of pizazz from the plainest of middle aged women. Ninety nine times out of a hundred it works, it's 'having the faith to step out of familiarity and comfort and march on into freedom'. A sentence I stole from this mornings sermon as it happens.

It doesn't need to be the whole Vincent Tanesque make over of course, that is complete misuse of the word freedom and far more steps backwards than you can count. That's when you crave familiarity, a little like the times I'm in the shop who's name I borrowed for the title of this piece. My wife, like the vast majority of young women, can lose themselves in such an emporium for days on end ogling at the sparkling delights hanging in front of them (occasionally with me traipsing behind, knuckles dragging on the ground overladen with carrier bags, and a face that looks like it's just heard Crystal Palace have won the cup).

These bargain priced goodies may appear wonderful on first impression but once they've lost both shape and colour, not to mention a handful of sequins in the drum of our washing machine, they are reallocated to the 'indoor only' slouching pile as we head back into town to continue breaking rocks  our search for glamour. It's pointless revamping without improving. It's also pointless revamping beyond your budget, but all clubs can spend wisely.

As I saw last weekend, Sutton United didn't need the whole McCoy, even without a makeover I'd have always snogged them as opposed to have avoided them. A new covered terrace and dugouts aside, just the new perimeter fence on its own would have been enough to transform the place. How many of you travel on a train every day where one commuter could really do with a bath? Small steps and all that. Last season I found myself falling out of love with the professional game, but a facelift at Charlton has really captured my interest and hopefully my heart again.

The World Cup certainly played it's part and reinvigorated my passion in the higher end of the market, but a lack of pre season friendlies that were accessible to me means I've yet to witness first hand any of what I've read. One trip to Sutton United and two Horley Town friendlies meant I've picked up pretty much where I left off in May. In fact, three days after the World Cup final I found myself at Redhill witnessing Horley run out in the same kit they've worn since the first time I saw them, sponsors names long since worn off along with any pizazz these garments may have once possessed.

If Horley had a little of the Compo about them, I'm afraid to say Charlton had been resembling Jeremy Clarkson. Never fashionable in the first place, they were now almost reveling in their dishevelment. Despite the fact they still felt they were a class above everyone they met they were, in truth, just spouting bullshit. Clarkson to a tee. Snog Marry Avoid? For the first time in my life I was drifting dangerously close to avoiding them.

Photo courtesy of Charlton Life

Roland Duchâtelet thankfully appears to have done a 'Gok Wan' and stripped us back to our naked self before highlighting the areas that needed attention and dressing us appropriately both on and off the pitch. The pitch itself, for so long a laughing stock, has been ripped up, the damaged drainage systems rebuilt and a new playing surface grown that looks in the summer sunshine good enough to grace a palace gardens. If the Wimbledon fortnight hadn't already come and gone it would have been fit to host the gentleman's final.

Surrounding the pitch the faded red seats have been ripped out (including my broken one) and replaced with new, plus a lick of paint on the staircases too. Behind the stands the concourse has a new catering company to dish out the food and beverages on a match day, finally moving us out of the dark ages with what was in total honesty overpriced crap you wouldn't feed your dog. Even the six foot club badge next to Nike's superstore has finally been given a well received spruce up and the foot of grime running along the bottom of the wall below it cleaned off. Once again it looks like we have a stadium that belongs in the top flight.

Speaking of Nike (did I mention I read the excellent Admiral kit man book this summer?), the finishing touch in appearance is the chevron inspired new home kit from their catalogue. I have to say I'm not too sure about this, not because of the amount of white, or even because of the quantity of sponsorship logos, but because it looks far too much like a rugby design for me. If that wasn't enough to stomach, we've been treated to that awful Lucozade inspired Barcelona number for our third shirt. I realise we don't carry the clout for bespoke kits but did the club even get to see the full catalogue or just the page Nike wanted us to? But it wouldn't be my blog if I didn't find something to complain about, and as mantras go, 'it's not the shirt but those that wear it' is both well used and relevent. And this is where the new look moves into overdrive.

First team wise it started with Yoni Buyens. A 'box to box' midfielder with Europa League experience, he has arrived on a year long loan deal from his native Belgium. I'm guessing it wasn't new manager Bob Peeters but our Roland that sealed the deal considering Yoni's parent club is Standard Liege. A Belgium under 21 international, Buyens has close to one hundred appearances to his name at Liege and is supposedly both very highly regarded and sought after. Quite why he has moved to our corner of London for a year seems odd unless you presume it's to see how well he adapts before a later big money move to the English game.
Yoni Buyens
Whereas last season Chris Powell emulated a thousand husbands on Christmas Eve, waiting until opportunity almost passed him by before panic buying the best of whatever was left on the shelf, Bob Peeters was quick to address the lack of firepower this summer making Igor Vetokele the second signing in a matter of days. A powerful forward he arrived on a five year deal from Danish side FC Copenhagen where he won a league title. Born in Angola, there is of course a Belgian connection as he started his career at Gent before playing under Peeters at Cercle Brugge. Another player with competitive European experience he has gone on to win full caps for Angola so be prepared to lose him from time to time for international call ups and possible Africa Cup of Nations duty.
Igor Vetokele
#WelcomeFranck became the clubs latest twitter gimmick when attacking midfielder Franck Moussa became the third first team signing of the summer. A bit of a hero in what has been of late a traumatized Coventry City and a rare shining light in the currently nomadic football club. After impressing at Southend he earned himself a deal at Leicester City but failed to make the grade and spent most of his time out on loan before switching to Coventry. Don't fear though, Franck was born in Brussels and started his youth career with Anderlecht and is therefore eligible to play for Charlton through birth. Expect him to look towards the heavens and give thanks when he scores.

Franck Moussa
Young talent seemed to be spinning through the revolving door as hot young prospects both came and went. Diego Poyet finally left the club for West Ham for which we are due some compensation. His departure, and the way it came about, divided fans but none could be surprised that the clubs current player of the year was moving on. Nobody really expected to see him pull the red Charlton shirt on again. Michael Morrison however delighted the Valley faithful by committing to the club for another two years. With Richard Wood and Leon Cort both seeking pastures new, an experienced head was needed to partner our vice captain in the heart of the defence. Enter André  Bikey-Amougou. The former Cameroon international has signed up for two years on a free transfer after being released by Greek club Panetolikos. Known to English fans from his time at Reading, Burnley and Middlesbrough, I asked Reading blog The Tilehurst End what we could expect from the big defender. They told me he'd give me plenty to write about and although decent on his day, he can be a loose cannon when the mood takes. Interestingly they neither could find the Belgian connection.

André  Bikey-Amougou
If it was experience the club looked for, signing number five took the game to a whole new level. The most famous Israeli international to have graced a field of play, Tal Ben Haim. Once moving from Chelsea to Manchester City for five million pounds, the defender had most of his success at Bolton Wanderers and then Portsmouth, before finishing his time in England with short spells at both West Ham and QPR. In the season between his time at Loftus Road and arriving at The Valley he became acquainted with Roland at Standard Liege...
Tal Ben Haim
On the same day that news broke of Ben Haim, a young winger arrived to take the place of the departed Danny Green who seems to enjoy the void that is Milton Keynes. Johann Berg Gudmundsson, a 23 year old Icelandic full international was a free agent after his contract at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar expired. Having spent his younger teenage years in London with both the Chelsea and Fulham youth teams, his European connections had until this point avoided Belgium. Having committed to Charlton for two years I think he may be a prime candidate to find himself loaned around the network.

 Johann Berg Gudmundsson
Number seven in the list is a striker, and no surprise, a Duchâtelet network member. George Tucudean. The 23 year old Romanian has signed for three years from Standard Liege having failed to really make the grade there. His most successful time has come during two spells at Dinamo Bucuresti in his homeland where he tasted domestic cup success. How this form travels to England remains to be seen.

George Tucudean
The eighth and final (to date) signing is a much needed goalkeeper. After Ben Hamer's departure to Leicester the custody of the goalmouth appeared to fall to young Nick Pope. As good a prospect as the youngster is, just ask York City supporters, it was clearly evident that he isn't yet ready for regular Championship football. Whether Stephen Henderson is or not is only known at the moment for certainty to Bob Peeters. A Republic of Ireland under 21 international, Henderson has had limited experience at this level with Bristol City, Portmouth, Ipswich Town, and a couple of games for Bournemouth last season. With no Belgian connection, the keeper states his reason for joining Charlton is the chance to link up once again with goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts who he worked with during his spell at Yeovil Town.

So that's the new look side. In the same way Chris Powell took a new squad abroad, this squad has also had a short stay in Spain with a couple of needed victories after a poor time in Belgium for the Duchâtelet cup and disappointing defeats at both Welling and Ebbsfleet. With two more first team friendly trips to Peterborough and Portsmouth left before the season kicks off in less than two weeks time at Brentford you've not got long to memorize these faces and names.

The club may have had a huge makeover since you last walked down Floyd Road, but who can argue it needed it. I'm still not fully convinced about Roland Duchâtelet, and I still don't think being part of a network is the way to go unless you're the biggest fish in that pond, but I cannot deny I'm getting rather excited about the start of the season.

The World Cup was just an appetiser...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

'Bobby P'

So yesterday was the day when a weeks worth of speculation was confirmed to be true. We have a new manager, in all but name, we've lost a versatile central defender and the lid has been lifted slightly on the rather more undesirable elements to the Charlton hierarchy.

Bob Peeters quit his position at Belgium top flight strugglers Waasland-Beveren earlier in the week to accept Roland Duchâtelet's offer of Charlton head coach. Peeters was at his former employers for a little over six months and before that, in charge of Gent, for only two months. I'm already thinking this may not be the long term appointment we hoped for. The former Roda JC, Vitesse Arnhem, and Millwall striker will hope to at least last longer than Riga, his predecessor, although it would appear that is dependent on being the perfect servant and playing the team he's asked to.

We all presumed that with the speed with which Riga replaced Chris Powell, the new man had to be a 'Duchâtelet empire' yes man, lined up well in advance of the Charlton hero's departure. Powell's former assistant, Alex Dyer has said this week though, that Riga too, refused to play what he and Powell before him had believed to be substandard footballers brought in against their desires.

After three and a half years at the club, it was no surprise that Dyer left when this season ended, and it was of little surprise that when he spoke to the South London Press he highlighted what so many of us already suspected. Sure enough the 'empire' loans were the work of his holiness, and these players arrived, not match fit, yet with the promise of first team football. Once they were given their chance and shown to be of little or no benefit to the squad they were quiet rightly placed back into their natural position in the pecking order. First Powell, and then Riga were both hounded by emails and phone calls demanding explanations regarding the reason for the absence of these two-bit squad players. Dyer certainly implied that everything behind the scenes has been as delicate as we thought. Two mild mannered managers may have seemed like easy targets for Duchâtelet, Peeters however looks like a psychopath, I for one wouldn't want to try and pick his team for him.

Whether the club knew about this interview Dyer gave to the SLP before announcing his departure I don't know, but I suspect he was escorted off the premises with a blanket over his head. As I said before, three and a half years service and all the media team were allowed in way of coverage was a footnote at the bottom of the Peeters story. That is beyond disgraceful, the club should be ashamed of themselves for the disservice they did the man even when he stayed on to help the clubs precarious plight after close friend Powell was ushered out the door.

I seriously wonder if people are better off out of it as it stands. Dorian Dervite has officially signed for Bolton Wanderers after being offered a contract by Duchâtelet. A huge loss for us, a great gain for the Trotters.It's possible the Bolton deal blew ours out the water, we shall probably never know, but it's also possible the Frenchman saw an opportunity to escape and took it. I doubt he'll be the last.

On the incoming front, we have been strongly linked (expect an announcement imminently) with Barnsley frontman Chris O'Grady amid rumours of a half a million pound bid. Fifteen goals last season was good return considering he was playing for a bottom two side, and it's a far better option than a disinterested Liege reserve, yet he alone won't save us. That cheque book needs to be glowing it's so hot from action if our second Belgian manager isn't going to be quickly replaced by our third. Good luck Bob, I'm afraid I think you're going to need it.