Thursday, March 27, 2014

Here one minute, gone the next.

Marcus Tudgay today returned to Nottingham Forest a good month earlier than expected. Having struggled to make any impact during his short time with the Addicks, he only mustered a couple of substitute appearances and one start, that ill fated game at Bramall Lane earlier in the month.

It is reported that new head coach (manager) José Riga didn't fancy the player and had a multitude of blank firing front-men ahead of him in the pecking order. It's also possible of course that manager- less Forest may have recalled Tudgay ready for the incoming new boss to decide his team. They certainly need to sort something out quickly as after Billy Davies' last match in charge, the drubbing by fierce rivals Derby County, fortunes fared little better as they entertained Charlton on Tuesday evening.

The first of three consecutive journeys northbound, Charlton hoped for better results than last season's visit to the City Ground when they arguably received the sternest footballing lesson they were to get all season. Tuesday's affair was far more even, both sides creating chances and both sides squandering them. Our favourite nil-nil seemed on the cards once again when Obika hit the post and Jordan Cousins was unmarked and on hand to score with the rebound. Not as late as Dervite's winner the week before but another Tuesday night single goal victory. Not a bad habit to get into.

Again routine wasn't just a striker failing to find the net, but not for the first time we saw a mildly average night for the 'Duchâtelet six'. Only Astrit Ajdarević and Reza Ghoochannejhad featured yet neither could match the performance of Cousins, the youngster putting in a man of the match performance just when I felt the time could be right to rest him. I won't be giving up my day job.

With Tudgay going home, it is with no surprise that the revolving loan door keeps spinning. Rumours spread yesterday about the possible capture of Chris Eagles. He was supposedly seen at the Forest game although Derby are keen on the winger. Out of favour at Bolton could he be what the club needs to bring the best out of Wanderers teammate Marvin Sodall?

Whilst the former Manchester United player is still unsure of his immediate future, another current red devil has signed a short term loan deal at The Valley. Italian youngster Davide Petrucci joined up with his new teammates today for the first time. An attacking midfielder he's yet to feature for the first team at Old Trafford but has had a little experience in the Championship making four appearances for Peterborough last season. Since then, and more noticeably to our owner/management team, he's had a short spell on loan with Royal Antwerp in Belgium. They play in the big league where our current crop of hopefuls dream of ending up. I jest of course; I must learn to behave!

Whilst on the topic of loan switches, forgotten man Danny Hollands has gone to Portsmouth in League Two. Another Addick who will contest a relegation dogfight to the death.

Myself, I'm opting for a relegation battle elsewhere this evening. My local side Horley Town in the Combined Counties league have a floodlit kick off against mid table Cove at The New Defence. After a big win against fellow stragglers Chessington & Hook United on Tuesday evening, confidence is high amongst the squad that they can retain level nine status for next season. I'm guaranteed ninety minutes of passion and commitment although I'm not expecting to report on any Belgian connections tonight.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

No Nay Never

Not just a popular Burnley blog, not just a successful young thoroughbred, not even just words to one of the most famous drinking songs of all time. No, nay, never, here refers to a far off time when two unlikely events won't happen in South East London. First up it illuminates a time when one of our strikers may just find themselves on the score sheet, secondly, it's a bold proclamation underlining when Roland Duchâtelet can buy my support. We'll start with the first.

Burnley came to The Valley in second spot and looking very much contenders to win promotion automatically along with Leicester City. Having not lost in the league since Boxing Day, it was obvious to all that the team to finally end this unbeaten run was going to have to be a free-flowing and high goal scoring team. Not Charlton Athletic, not even on the back of our three clean sheets and a rare win. Goals haven't been an issue for the Clarets however, both Sam Vokes and Danny Ings taking the bull by the horns and proving to be the most exciting partnership in the league. Even with Ings out injured the task ahead of Charlton was daunting, yet bizarrely my journey up was filled with anticipation and hope. For all that, we had our Charlton back on Tuesday didn't we? The place was rocking last time I was there and we were due an upset.

The only thing rocking yesterday was the train on the final stage of the journey from Blackheath to Charlton. At London Bridge there wasn't a Burnley fan to be seen, surely this relatively small town club had brought a few down with them? Oh, had they! I'm led to believe that the club chairman (note - part of a board that are Burnley supporters first and foremost) had promised to buy each travelling supporter a pint if they came to one particular ale house in Blackheath. A huge gesture that seemed to be greatly accepted judging by the hoards that sang their way onto the train for one last stop. Suddenly I found myself wedged in the middle of about forty big lads, all of whom had consumed far more than the one pint bought for them. They were in fine voice, they used the roof of the carraige as a drum but were good natured, the language was inoffensive and they didn't scare any of the non football commuters. Good boys having a good time, a credit to the club.

The match itself deteriorated the further it went on. Simon Church had a great opportunity to give the home side the lead as he beat the last defender but a weak effort straight at the keeper was the best he could muster when he needed to deliver. Charlton played some fluid football in the middle of the pitch, Poyet again outstanding passing the ball around like an old pro. For all the posession though, something was obviously lacking, a threat on goal. It was second half substitute Astrit Ajdarević (why does our best player not start) who was the only red shirt to come close to scoring with a fine effort once the game was in effect already over.

Burnley scored their first in the 38th minute, a soft goal to concede and one which meant we went in at the interval slightly undeservingly behind. The goal would you believe was scored by Ashley Barnes as he got between two defenders to nod home the very impressive Junior Stanislas' cross. It was the former Brighton strikers first goal for the club, he was only in the starting eleven due to Ings injury. That's a strength in depth we can only dream of!

In all honesty Burnley were a very good team. Their ball control, their vision and their professionalism all shone through yesterday and they were deserved winners but a little luck certainly helped them on their way. The next goal came from the spot with the second half barely ten minutes old. Vokes was brought down by Dervite on the edge of the box. The striker certainly flew through the air with extenuated grace, the defender certainly caught the Burnley player. But nine out of ten officials would have given that as a free kick just the other side of the line. We got a lot of decisions going our way for ten minutes after that, I feel the referee knew he'd made the wrong call.

The penalty was expertly dispatched and with only one goal in the past five games to our name, the match as a competition had ended. There was a third goal right at the death but I'm afraid to say I was already walking up Floyd Road by this point in search of a beer to drown my sorrows in. It could have been more, Ben Hamer was in fine form considering we shipped three goals. Once again showing the owner why Chris Powell was so adamant that he played the bearded keeper. Before the game yesterday we had the seventh tightest defence in the division; sitting in twenty first place. It's obvious to one and all where the problem lays. So why would you want to start with a rookie goalkeeper? Why would you stick with the same non performing strikers? Why would you constantly ignore a young striker that you yourself brought into the club? Why would you replace the manager you sacked with someone who's gift to the game is his defensive tactual awareness and skill?

It was widely noted how Riga's name was sung on Tuesday night. Not by me it wasn't. I'm behind him simply because he's the manager of my football team but it's far too early in the relationship to want to invite the chap round to dinner. Yes, his body action at the end of the Bournemouth game was encouraging but so far, four games in, the only real difference I can see between the two managers is Riga's earlier use of the bench. I'm a long way from persuaded that he's the man to guide us to beat the drop, and I'm even less convinced he knows how to address the scoring problem.

I've been supporting Charlton for over thirty years. Over that time the club have made some dreadful decisions and got an awful lot of things wrong. But they've also got a lot of things right because they cared about me. And you. They respected and applauded your support, the club realised that we, the fans, were the club. Right now it feels like somebody has just come and bought that. Bought thirty years of my life and tossed it away without a thought. No amount of enticement with hospitality packages (keeping the potential revenue inside the club and away from local hostelries) , price structure reorganization offering me huge savings on my season ticket will soften this hurt. And Roland will have to do an awful lot more than offer to buy me a pint on an away day to win me over. The club was for sale, we weren't. Things were far from good under Slater and Jimenez but they were purely in it for the money and certainly didn't appear to want the club to tread water and just tick over. We won't be content to just be a feeder club for the flagship of the empire, a testing ground for European employees that need match fitness, a club that will settle for League One obscurity. We need to build on the Powell legacy and not just survive but grow into an established Championship football club, and we won't do that unless we start scoring goals. Over to you José Riga, make us all want to sing your name every week.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The King is dead. Long live the King!

José Riga's red and white army sang the Covered End as the AFC Bournemouth players stood shell-shocked in the ninety something minute of a game they were always going to take at least a point from. It was, don't forget, the first goal they had conceded in a month.

With all the euphoria around me from scoring a sudden death winner, and it not coming from the suspected source, new recruit Jonathan Obika, I took a second to listen to the Charlton faithful. It was an odd sound. Chris Powell's song for sure but they'd only gone and changed the words. Too soon? Weren't we still all in mourning? A little like the girl who's reputation goes before her, three points and we're obviously anybody's.

I had boycotted both Huddersfield and Millwall, yes work had got in the way of both but I didn't lose any sleep over it. It wasn't that Powell wasn't there, I just struggled with the speed of the new "yes man's" arrival, the underhand tactics and the general unpleasant feeling about and around the club. I was all for erecting a picket line and shouting scab at you as you went through the turnstiles. But, I suppose curiosity got the better of me, and this new chap does wear a suit on match day so he can't be all that bad. Plus of course there was the added bonus of Yann Kermorgant returning to London, the chance to sing 'we all dream of a team of Kermorgant's' at old Roland. Mischief won the day; I boarded the train.

As matches go, it was very ordinary for over ninety minutes. Another goalless draw looked a certainty, especially when Danny Green hit the upright for us and their best opportunity was a foot too high. The second half saw a comedy of errors in the visitors box as the ball point blank refused to enter the net. A good Jackson free kick, albeit helped by Jordan Cousins's superb falling over distraction produced a corner that led to the Covered End Choir's hasty new remix. The ball floated in, Dorian Dervite rose above good friend Kermorgant, who's feet were firmly planted on the floor, and powerfully nodded the ball home. Our first goal in eight years. Or thereabouts. Conspiracy theorists have had a field day today about the French Connection!

We never did sing for a team of French strikers (in fact at the end we had three recognized front men on the pitch in Sodall, Obika and Church), but the former favourite did get the reception he deserved. As he warmed up in the north west corner he waved and a lump came to the throats of all. But, as hoards have tweeted of late, we move on.

Another good performance from Diego Poyet must have cemented his departure from the club this summer, but does highlight the fortunes of other youngsters. Before the pin up Uruguayan broke into the first team it was Cousins who took all the plaudits. Ever since I feel his performances have slipped somewhat. If it was down to me I'd rest him for a while in the hope it would revive some of the hunger in his game. And Callum Harriott; I'd rest him even longer. Along with Danny Green, our wide men looked very League One last night, when they departed for Obika first and then Sodall, we suddenly looked like we possibly knew where the box, if not the goal, was. Yes, you read right, our (Bolton's) Marvin actually noticeably improved our attacking options, words I thought I'd never utter. Perhaps under the new regime we have turned a corner after all.

This was a game in hand, never a more important three points have we earned this season. Out of the bottom three, five points out of nine and three clean sheets for Riga, optimism has made a welcomed return. Any doubt we may have harboured that the players would feel aggrieved and pine for Chris Powell was extinguished as we saw them rejoice at the end. I watched Riga hug them like he'd been their manager for three years rather than three matches. This silver haired fellow in the whistle has I believe caught the bug. I think there may just be a little bit of Charlton in him and that'll do for me!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The End Of An Era

Today was always going to happen eventually. In some ways, having heard the events of recent weeks and the final explosion prior to the FA Cup match Sunday, I'm surprised it took as long as it did. Deep down though I don't think any of us were prepared for Chris Powell's exit from The Valley.

Whether the lovable gaffer was/is a club legend remains a topic for debate, but there are three things nobody can deny. Number one, he is probably the nicest man you'll ever find in the game. Number two, he's a bright young manager learning his trade and has more than enough potential to become a great manager. Number three, he's been treated unfairly and unjustly by Roland Duchâtelet.

There is no question he's got it wrong from time to time, just look at that game at Wigan, but he was paid to manage the football side, the playing side, of the business. That was his job title and job description. He may very well have failed to save us from relegation, heaven knows he's already worked wonders with next to no budget, and if he wasn't who he is we probably wouldn't be angry at his departure. Sacking a man through either incompetence in his job, or a need for a new direction is fine. Not letting him do his job, then sacking him because he complains is something else altogether.

Roland Duchâtelet himself said the money side of things were fine, it was the footballing side that created problems. A big reason for this was the owner sticking his oar in. He doesn't treat Charlton as an independent football club, he treats it as part of a footballing dynasty and it's very clear where we stand in the hierarchy. He is quickly taking our identity from us, has no passion or love for the club and sees Charlton as merely a stepping stone in the ultimate success of his flagship, Standard Liege. Why else would a businessman with no tactical on pitch experience tell the man he pays to look after such events how to do his job? It's not only laughable, it's ludicrous.

José Riga was today seen at the training ground hours before the club announced he was appointed as Powell's replacement. Quick work? The Belgian who has worked at Standard Liege surprise surprise had, I suspect, been waiting near his phone ever since Duchâtelet arrived in London for the promised call. Obviously a 'yes man' he will undoubtedly be in Duchâtelet's pocket when it comes to team selection. I heard a rumour from a goalkeeping coach that  Yohann Thuram-Ulien was brought here for match time in an effort to make the French World Cup squad. It's just one example of what to expect. I've no problem with who plays as long as they are there on merit. I guess that was Powell's argument too.

Chris Powell has treated us to a wonderful spell at the club getting us out of League One and giving us plenty of memories from towering wins but that is now all history; the swinging from the Hillsborough crossbar already seems an age ago. A new chapter is well and truly underway now, one that I will still follow but that already leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. And to think we thought we had it bad with Slater and Jimenez!

It's all rather emotional, I've felt dejected all day. I feel like my relationship with the club will never be quite the same again. I knew there were darker days to come, I just couldn't comprehend how much they would hurt. It feels like the heart and soul has been removed and boxed up in storage somewhere; we can just hope that one day somebody will find that box, blow the dust off it and return it to us. It's our Charlton and we want it back. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

United in Sheffield

Five thousand Londoners stood side by side and in fine voice, united in rare hope of a day at Wembley as their football club embarked on taking apart the red side of Sheffield having already condemned the blue side to once again 'concentrating on the league'. Their football club is the mighty Charlton Athletic, perennial FA Cup underachievers.

A twelve o'clock Sunday kick off thanks to the fat walleted controllers of British Telecom would prove the smallest of barriers to cross as South London proudly boasted the largest away following of the weekend. A fleet of coaches and a stack of cars drove up on the morning whilst many made a weekend of it and went up the night before. We chose the latter, myself and Jim, as the thought of him clinging to the back of my scooter as we wobbled up the motorway struck me with the coldest and darkest of fears. No, men of our standing were going to travel and stay in the comfort we were accustomed to. Step up East Midlands Trains and Travelodge.

We met Saturday lunchtime at The Betjeman Arms at St Pancras to fill our bellies with familiar ale before the journey up. Without doubt the best two dressed gents in the establishment, we consumed fine Young's beer amidst the varied selection of Tottenham fans ready to invade Stamford Bridge later in the afternoon.

This set us up a treat, I bought a scotch egg at the station from a young girl who's sex I couldn't distinguish and stupidly addressed as sir, and we were off. The train journey was remarkable only for the old boy sat behind us with the strongest Yorkshire accent who got on at Derby. He was busily telling his disinterested wife that he was getting the earlier train as Millwall were at Pride Park adding a superb shuddering noise to emphasize this. I think she hung up on the poor fellow, a shame as I could have listened to him all afternoon. A top boy.

The trouble with an overnight stay is of course the paraphernalia involved as you attempt to travel light . One night on the beer followed by a football match shouldn't require hand luggage, but clean pants and socks have a part to play so on arrival in Yorkshire we found our accommodation and dropped the bag off to save losing it in a far flung Sheffield boozer. Now fair play to Jim, he took it upon himself to book everything and a fine job he did too, but McDonald's trainees have more stars on their name badges than Travelodge can boast in their brochure. The twin room was one bed and a disheveled sofa, whilst the heating was set at thirty degrees in an effort to kill off any bugs that may have lunched on the last occupants. What would Alan Partridge have made of this? I believe he upgraded from the Sheffield Richmond Travelodge to the Linton Travel Tavern for more reasons than it's accessibility to Norwich alone.

A short cab ride took us to The Fat Cat where we met Rod, Marco, Crispy and Bolts. A nice ale house where customers like to grow plenty of facial hair and eat their beer with fighting irons. From there Rod, quite expertly considering the alcohol intake, directed us to The Dada bar. I was a little worried as we walked in, a huge drawing of a penis with feet adorning the wall, but once again friendly bar staff, fine real ales and what should have been an eighties night had the DJ turned up made the experience superb. Turns out they have a Northern Soul night too, on a Sunday! There was just time for a curry before heading back to watch the teams around us all win and leave us bottom of the table on the BBC's Football League Show back at chez Partridge.

We may be bottom of the league, but we have games in hand and that's not just due to the state of our pool, but because of our continued advancement in the FA Cup. Oh yes, this was Sunday, there was the quarter final at Bramall Lane to get excited about, the purpose of our trip oop north. Feeling relaxed after such a good nights sleep (read fully hungover and a tad fragile), we checked out of our ring road residence with two hours to kill before kick off. There was no need to rush into a town full of closed pubs so we walked the four miles to the ground, enjoyeing the scenic suburban streets of a council estate with youths riding noisy motocross bikes up and down the road on the back wheel alone. The sun beat down on us, still dressed to the nines in fine coats and knitwear, as we dehydrated and fought that strong morning after urge for fried pig. By the time we reached the station we were almost hallucinating, it didn't bode well. A stereotypical northern cafe just a minutes walk from the ground (or seconds if you hadn't just trained for a half marathon) meant we finally dined on egg and bacon whilst the home supporters gorged chip butties.

And so we were there, a quick search on the gate as the steward peered at the dirty underwear in my bag, and we were inside the ground, side by side with five thousand others. Valley Floyd Road sounded as fine as it ever has, the hairs stood up on the back of our necks. This was going to be our year. What could possibly go wrong, we had beach balls.

Chris Powell interestingly picked a starting eleven that didn't include any of Duchâtelet's January signings from other outposts of his empire, Marcus Tudgay being the only starter that's been at the club less time than Roland. There would of course be rumours as to the reason for this later in the day, none of them making for pleasant reading. As it transpired, tactically we were inept and any plan the management team had for the fixture backfired monumentally. It seems almost unfair to pick out individuals but I suppose I must. United ran through our midfield unchallenged with more bravado each time. Diagonally they carved their way through the middle to box, Poyet, Morrison, Wood, all falling foul of their pace whilst up the other end Cousins looked uncomfortable out of his preferred central role and Harriott blundered frequently without any direction. The skipper puffed, his legs looking as shaky as mine at the time, and as for the reckless looking late challenge, what was he thinking? Tudgay really wasn't up for a return to his former rivals, Church chased as he always does but was then taken off with twenty five minutes still left on the clock. Chris Powell again seemingly failing to maximise the use of his substitutes. Two minutes later we were two down and our most likely goalscorer still putting his jumper on.

This is not me shouting Powell out. But I pay enough money towards this club every year to warrant being upset. Five thousand supporters bothered to turn up. Eleven footballers didn't.
Chris Powell said afterwards how goals change everything. Harriott had a chance, it didn't happen. United had them and took them. Underlying that though, they made their chances because they wanted to go to Wembley, they brimmed with confidence and they took the game to us. We looked like rabbits in car headlights, we froze on the day. If the incentive of Wembley doesn't fire you up I really don't know what does. Of course I'll be back, twitter was full of keep the faith tweets all evening long, but right now I feel I deserve to wallow in the disappointment of witnessing a fourth FA Cup quarter final defeat. Something is going to happen, have no doubt. Powell is still in dispute with Duchâtelet over footballing matters and that new contract remains unsigned, unrest reigns behind the scenes and as loyal supporters I expect us to go through more heartache before the tide turns.

An adventure that started for me in August in Chipstead as I watched Whyteleafe beat Epsom and Ewell in the replay of their extra preliminary round tie finally ended with a spineless no show. If I'd had a tin foil cup it would have found itself damp with tears and discarded in the waste paper basket of The Sheffield Tap as we solemnly drowned our sorrows waiting for the train back to London. It must be pointed out here that Sheffield United are a fine football club. They have a superb old fashioned football ground the atmosphere when full is bursting and the noise they made when they scored simply deafening. Nigel Clough is proving to be an equally adept manager as his father and I know it's commonplace to wish your conquerors luck, the phrase 'I hope they go on and win it' is so overused, but nobody can begrudge the red half of the city their day at Wembley.

That season ticket renewal pack will be through the post soon. There's a rather bizarre Crossbars package option should you choose to go that route. It's my opinion there won't be many paying an extra £230 on top of a possible League One season ticket. Many may not renew at all. Chris Powell included.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Silver Fox

With all the carnival atmosphere surrounding Charlton Athletic and the FA Cup quarter final next weekend, it was easy to almost forget about today's Championship clash at Leicester City.

Fortunately, football is full of 'characters' and no matter how much you may be focused on a weekend away and all the beer that that entails, somebody is always going to steal the headlines and make this a week to remember. That headline grabber today was a rather despicable Premier League manager and unfortunately not a Horley Town footballer heroically saving his club from their continuing perilous flirting with relegation.

Always a man of extremes, I was more than happy to distance myself from next week's trip to Bramall Lane and plant myself firmly on the ground at the other end of the footballing spectrum, by visiting my local club Horley Town today. The Combined Counties Premier Division, level nine in the grand scheme of things, is light years away from BT Sport and ITV fighting over matches they can schedule for ludicrous kick off times. There isn't an armchair season ticket holder in the world that would want to watch the football I witnessed today. To be fair, there weren't many in the small crowd that really wanted to watch either.

Horley find themselves sitting twenty first in a twenty two team table, and today they entertained the bottom club, Bedfont Sports. As six pointers go, this was leaning to a seven. With dwindling crowds, a fixture congestion common to all small clubs that have endured recent flooding, and an injury crisis that has prematurely recruited heavily from the youth team, Horley Town are without doubt facing a crisis. With this in mind they thought up the incentive of half priced admission and a free half time alcoholic beverage on presentation of a flyer on arrival at the turnstile. The need for a half time alcoholic beverage is greater every match I'm told.

I've been to The New Defence, home of Horley Town, a handful of times this season and today was without doubt the poorest I've seen them play. The passing was misdirected, the mistakes were playground-esque, the heads were down and they looked beaten from the off. I spoke briefly to Anthony Jupp, the caretaker manager at the end of the game who was a little lost for words really. He knew it was poor, he bemoaned the injuries that forced his hand with team selection and he was, quite understandably, running out of excuses. Losing 2-0 at home to the one team below you is probably, for a football manager, as low as it gets. I certainly didn't envy him trying to pick those lads back up afterwards in the dressing room.

My attention was unsuspectingly drawn back to Charlton and their game at Leicester when I bumped into an old Charlton supporting friend at half time for my free pint. As well as an Addick, he's also a South Park supporter, a club top of Horley's division (not just an American cartoon), and with their game called off took advantage of the reduced admission price, coming to see life at the other end of the table. Used to watching level nine football of some standard, he openly admitted his surprise as to how shockingly bad the football he was witnessing today compared. It is of course all relative but believe me, no matter how much Charlton disappoint us on a regular basis, it doesn't often get quite as desperate as this.

News of The Foxes wasn't quite that which I expected. Another fox, that of the silver variety, Alan Pardew had sent twitter into meltdown after headbutting Hull City's David Meyler. The former Charlton boss was red carded amidst the fracas that followed, it's not the first time he's got physical on the sidelines either. With a squad of international superstars at his disposal, 'Pards' week in week out lets himself down with dreary monotone press conferences and classless interviews. How a young lower league manager would relish the chance to work with such talent; Anthony Jupp in the face of impending disaster is ten times the man Pardew is and a lot more deserving of success to boot.

So how did Charlton fare today? Leicester's bogey team, on a run of two back to back victories, yes, sure to form we got beat. Three-nil quite convincing, but Leicester are head and shoulders above the rest, the South Park of the Championship. Besides, whether we admit it or not, supporters and players alike we've all got one eye on next week's trip to Sheffield haven't we. Ninety minutes from Wembley; ninety thousand miles from Horley.