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 AndrĂ©  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.