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.