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.