Sunday, August 23, 2015

Viking revival

For those not in the know, we are currently enjoying a very large Mod revival. The clothes, the haircuts, the music and the scooters haven't been this popular for half a century. But then everything keeps on coming back, it just needs a little publicity; who'd have ever thought the baker boy cap would enjoy such a resurgence (especially south of Watford), and that particular item can give thanks to the superb Peaky Blinders television series for it's new found popularity. After Saturday's game against Hull City, don't be surprised if Viking helmets become de rigueur in SE7.

It was very much the tale of two Nordic explorers, Simon Makienok and Johann Berg Gudmundsson. The big Dane scored his first goal for the club whilst the tricky Icelandic wide man scored a last minute winner after earlier missing the opportunity to put the game to bed.

Makienok hadn't looked much like a Charlton hero when he first arrived at the Valley. A big imposing man, he struggled to make that advantage count and looked far too soft in the challenge. But game by game he's improved, to the point where the North Stand's rather tongue in cheek shout of 'Leaburn' has almost disappeared. The occasional header still goes off at an array of unprescribed angles and Usain Bolt he most certainly is not, but he's a target man for when we break and that's been missing for some time now.

I had always said his first goal celebration was going to be something elaborate, I'd secretly expected (hoped for) a Metallica style air guitar solo, it wasn't quite James Hetfield but we got so much more than an axeman impersonation. The roar of a lion as his hair was set free, falling to his knees on the way back to the half way line, getting there and again raising his arms skywards (as we later found out in homage to his mother), then once play had resumed there was still time for a quick fist pump! The man has a battle cry of a true warrior, the best (and most prolonged) goal celebration I've seen at the Valley, you can keep your backflips and somersaults. If you're interested, he'd pounced at the near post to get on the end of his fellow Nordic seafaring comrades cross to score the goal, but what followed outshone it in every way possible.

The goal came near the start of the second half, the first had been truly forgettable and had given no indication of what we were in store for. If Hull are truly one of the promotion favourites then we've nothing to fear this season. Other than the now traditional end of match nerves we outplayed them in every department looking keener and sharper both on and off the ball. Gudmundsson had perfect opportunity to double the lead when he broke through and was one on one with the keeper but failed to capitalise in a true Tucudean moment, while young Karlan Ahearne-Grant who had replaced Ceballos midway through the first half was desperate to add to his goal against Dagenham & Redbridge and seal the victory shooting whenever he had sight of goal. It wasn't to be and a second league home win was to be snatched away from us, or so we thought.

Hull had given us a couple of warning shots, one of which hitting the upright as we struggled for the first time in the game to keep the ball and move it forwards up the pitch. Sure enough as Charlton is Charlton the visitors pulled level with just sixty seconds remaining of normal time, Pope in the addicks goal stopping a fine shot but unable to gather it and Abel Hernandez knocking in the rebound. On the whole an undeserved point for the Tigers but lessons on professionalism to be learnt. Eight minutes of stoppage time were only going to affirm our disappointment, Hull again dominant in attack and once again getting the ball in the back of the net only to spot the linesman's flag saving the day.

Plenty of Charlton supporters had already started their journey home when the Nordic pair once again pillaged in the Hull half and pulled out a 98th minute winner. This time the Dane was provider heading the ball into the path of Gudmundsson to nod home for a rare headed goal. The place just erupted. Luzon ran from the dugout like a crazed man and jumped on the pile of red shirts mobbing the goalscorer, right in front of those on the fan sofa who had place of honour to watch the celebrations. I'd have joined in if it had been me  pouncing off that couch, and no doubt I'd also have been sent off alongside our manager to watch the last couple of kicks in the stand.

It was that type of moment you only ever get once or twice a season, I walked out the ground feeling like we'd either just been promoted or reached the cup final. We've seen two of last seasons Premier League clubs at the Valley this month and beaten both of them, not to mention two great away points at Derby and Forest. Not bad for a club that's reportedly relegation fodder!

I know kids designed them, but who's for replacing the new knight and robin mascots with Hagar the Horrible from now on?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Watt's with the sofa?

I didn't expect to discover this until Tuesday evening's cup visit from Dagenham & Redbridge, but the Valley is still a goal music free zone, my biggest fear from the summer break hadn't materialised. There are other shockers of course, it's a club that embraces naff, but we still haven't fallen to the standards of certain other South London clubs.

Taking my seat yesterday (far dirtier than it has been on any other opening day fixture) I was impressed with the ease of gaining entry to the ground. I was one of the lucky few that had not only received my season ticket, but had the correct details on it. A quick scan and I was in, no questioning which ticket number it was this week, although my choice of lucky turnstile is no longer an option as the three I can now use are a further ten yards walk and add nearly thirty seconds to my initial toilet dash upon arrival.

I felt for the many in queues around the ticket offices as they risked sunstroke trying to put right a cock-up of gigantic proportions by the club when they had all summer to organise these new tickets. I've printed my cup ticket off at home, perhaps the club should have left it to us to print our own season tickets as well.

The three thousand QPR fans with paper tickets entered the ground without fuss and were among the first to gaze with astonishment upon a settee next to the pitch in the north west corner. With all the class of something the crass Soccer AM could wish to muster, fans can win the opportunity of watching a live game while pretending they're at home. At a time when real supporters campaign for safe standing, we get slouch seating. I can only assume Roland saw it as a money making venture, come May he'll be down the back of it looking for loose change to bank.

The sofa is bad, and the new screen showing the game and replays (minus any contentious decisions of course) is not much better. At this early stage of the season when nine out of ten supporters have no idea who's who on the pitch, the line ups have never been needed so much. Not to mention the lack of the fiiiissshhh desperately avoiding a net. You'll be glad to note however that I rather like the knight mascot. Something good has come out of all these changes then, although unsurprisingly I'm informed this mascot was chosen by the paying customer, not the club. An enthusiastic character, it must have been hot in that get up, especially when escorted off by the cute redhead.

And so to the team. Old Roland has sold the mothership, Standard Liege, to the delight of its clubs supporters. In the short term this means we won't have to endure second rate bench warmers being paraded in our shop window, while in the long run it could mean that we'd become a certain Belgian's number one priority. Finally a real possible fruition from the network. There were plenty of new signings, but these signings were actually ours with only one of the seven being a loan deal. I believe four started yesterday, I'd have been a little more self assured for you if it wasn't for that blinkin' big screen.

Patrick Bauer, the big German centre half started alongside Diarra in a solid looking partnership and the cafc twitter hashtag will boldly proclaim how he had Charlie Austin in his back pocket all afternoon. I believe the number 22 in the middle of the park was Al-Hadji Ba, although I am basing this on the fact that I could only see two letters on his shirt above the number. A quiet game from this lad but I'm sure we'll grow to love him, as we will the big viking up front, Simon Makienok. Looking like an extra from Sons of Anarchy, this giant of a man had an abysmal first half playing alongside Karlan Ahearne-Grant, so much so that I was weeping for the loss of our dear friend George Tucudean from the side, yet the big fellow grew into the game during the second period after an inspired substitution. The shining star however was Ahmed Kashi, an Algerian defensive midfielder. Wearing the number three shirt (thanks again twitter for helping with this conclusion), he mopped up all the loose balls and was as confident passing back as he was building the play back up again. I believe a couple of others made a cameo but, in reality, I failed to notice.

Something nobody failed to notice was Tony Watt's arrival after the break. A dire first half had the sofa family reaching for the remote, yet with the Scot up front we displayed ambition and desire, and it was only a matter of time before he showed Luzon what a mistake he'd made leaving him on the bench. A training ground bust up had been to blame, but this squabbling is detrimental to the club. They will never send each other Christmas cards, and I'm sure the Coventry rumours were pleasing to Luzon, yet Watt epitomizes the passion we once always expected to see in a Charlton shirt years ago.

Special mention must also go to both Nick Pope in goal who showed no nerves in pulling off a string of excellent saves, and Morgan Fox who scored a peach of a goal to seal the victory. Last season there wasn't a bigger critic of the young full back than me, but stepping out of Gomez's shadow he looks far more fearless.

Our record in London derbies has never been as good as it is this season, QPR though have got a lot of work to do if they're going to repeat their last season at this level. What should have been a really stern test became a stroll in the park, even the traditional last five minute nail biting failed to materialize. If I'd been sat on a sofa I could have sat back and properly relaxed.