Wednesday 29 December 2010

Back To Reality...

The sound of my alarm ringing at 6am this morning signalled the end of my Christmas break, albeit part self-imposed as my work levels enticed me back to work earlier than planned. No complaints though, it has been a real pleasure watching my two kids bounce off the walls for the last 4-5 days, the highlight of which was my 4 year old son's insistence on constantly wearing a full Spiderman costume that comes complete with bulging muscle padding.

My dearest wife keeps telling me that I'm looking old and my confidence took a further blow yesterday when I went out to run off the Christmas dinner. It felt like I was running in treacle. I'm only 37, but I definately need a break from peanuts, chocolate, volovants, turkey sandwiches and alcohol. It won't be long before I feel like a gazelle once again, but the bags under my eyes may take a bit more TLC!

Santa bought me a ticket for the Tottenham game, albeit in with the Glory Boys of Spurs. I just never had a chance to get to the Valley to grab a ticket in the Charlton end so I'll have to settle for hiding my colours and refrain from joining in with 'Valley Floyd Road' when it rings out from the packed away end at The Lane. My numerous Spurs supporting friends and family will be very keen to keep in close contact on the day, no doubt.

At least being in work gave me the opportunity to dust off my laptop and check over all that I'd missed in the last few days. I'll avoid checking my bank balance for a few days more: what I don't know can't hurt me.

Like many others, I made a futile journey to The Valley on Boxing Day. No sooner had I pulled up at my regular parking spot did a fellow Addick knock on my window to tell me of the postponement. I wasn't surprised: I spent most of the journey down checking my phone, fully expecting bad news. Considering a family get-together around my Mum's had been part-tailored to account for my absence until 4ish, it was more than a tad frustrating (although it was probably a blessing as my Mum would have been neglecting dinner in favour of following the Addicks progress on the internet!). I couldn't help but feel sorry for the Southampton supporters I spoke to in McDonalds. The club may well have good reason to claim referee and scapegoat, Andy D'Urso, was wrong to have called off the game at such short notice, but I can't help but wonder if Charlton's stubborn determination to ensure the game went ahead - especially in light of the news that the postponement may have cost the club in excess of 60K, of which had already been budgeted - may well have played a significant part. All in all, an untidy affair from which the greater loss would have been felt by the common supporter, once again.

Only consolation for my wasted journey to SE7 was a music compilation CD I'd thrown together of my unofficial 'best of' David Axlerod. For those in the know, Axelrod is a drummer/composer dating back to the early 60's who was best known for experimental, highly atmospheric, almost film-score-like drum-based funk. For those not in the know, I urge you to give it a go.

So with no intention of enduring the truly awful away end at the Withdean Stadium for the second year running, Sunday's postponing meant a Christmas break without football. I can't recall the last time that happened. Incidentally, having spent yesterday visiting friends in Brighton (by coincidence, a stones throw from the Withdean) I urge any travelling Addicks to wear waterproofs head-to-toe if the drizzling, misty rain continues down on the South Coast. You know the sort of rain I mean, where you become soaked to the skin before you even realise it's raining! I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for a result of any description, but I'm not confident.

With a tough game at Colchester this Saturday, the next two games could well set the tone for the new year. Charlton must deliver.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Banana Skin...

If there is ever such thing as a down side to a lengthy unbeaten run, it's the knowledge that the longer the run continues, the harder the fall will be when it inevitably comes to an end.

This game had banana-skin written all over it. Typical Charlton...we've fallen foul of that banana-skin many times in the past!

As disappointed as I am in completely wasting 5 hours of my life in what rates as one of the dullest afternoons of football witnessing one of the worst Addicks performance that I can recall, I will try and avoid getting too carried away. For the last 11 odd games Charlton have given us hope that we may be in the shake-up come the season end: I'm not about to ignore the excellent hard work of the last couple of months after today's horror show. Today is a fixture to forget, and hope and pray that come the end of the season it doesn't come back to haunt us. Time will tell.

But today there is no defence. Not one single player in red turned up. A team on a good run may be able to carry a couple of players having an off day, but not 14. Truly awful! Parky must find out why, but excuses appear thin on the ground.

The question is how well the team can recover and push on again. With another fixture on Tuesday, Parky doesn't have long to lift his battle-weary charges.

Thursday 9 December 2010

The Ego Has Landed...

So, the man with the biggest ego in football has somehow landed a contract for 5 years at Newcastle! God help them! Quite how he does it I don't know, but I can safely predict his interview patter is clearly far better than his team talks.

It certainly looks like the post is not a popular one with seemingly universal surprise and amazement at this appointment. He'll be on an up-hill battle from the off.

Thankfully, I see no need to watch Match Of The Day these days so I'll not have to endure Pardew's smug face blaming everyone else but himself when things go wrong (and they sure as hell will) but taking all the credit with that annoying grin when things go well.

Oh, and watch out for the new round If there's one thing I do admire Pardew for, it's his obvious love for a good quality timepiece. All those sackings have paid off in some way, at least.

As Charlton began slipping dangerously down the Championship, I completely lost faith and respect for Pardew when he wrote a piece in the Charlton matchday programme (following a heavy home defeat from a team I can't quite recall at this moment) 'reassuring' us all that he wasn't about to leave us despite our worryingly poor form. I've never read such a disgraceful piece of writing that clearly attempted to distancing himself from Charlton's descent down the league, which, as we all know only too painfully, lead to relegation. Thankfully, as he wrote that piece with his head firmly stuck up his own back-side, he was unaware that Mr. Murray was sharpening the knife and printing off his P45. Good riddance!

Wednesday 8 December 2010

Hungry Ted - A 12 Month Retrospective...

Normally - such is my patience for such things - anything that involves 'signing up' or 'registering as a user' pretty much counts me out, so it still surprises me to this day that I overcome the hassle of doing so to create this Hungry Ted blog exactly 12 months ago today. I've long since enjoyed the written word and I'm certainly not without opinion (as I keep getting told by my Father-in-Law), but my life as a 'blogger' started out as one of those completely spontaneous moments born out of one of those afternoons where I had nothing much better to do.

On the whole, I've really enjoyed the creative experience of having a blog.

I very rarely look back over my ramblings (why would I?), but last night I flicked briefly over my 50 odd posts and if I'm bluntly honest, it was an odd experience. As a seasoned Addick I shouldn't have been surprised really, but the ever-changing moods ranging from optimism, delirium, frustration, disappointment and anger was very strange to read back and quite tough to do so on occasions (particularly the 'Dark Clouds Leads To Fair Weather Blogging' in February). If nothing else, it's made me realise why my missus has long since given up trying to understand my Addick-related mood-swings and how hard it must be to put up with them with seemingly never ending tolerance.

There are plenty of fellow Charlton bloggers offering numerous angles on all-things-Addicks and it's a tad difficult to set yourself apart when commenting on one subject (with the exception of Cometh the Haddock, perhaps). Despite the all-to-familiar low moments (where genuine emotion takes over, I guess) I have attempted to keep things positive, light-hearted, honest and all without trying too hard to force out a post for the sake of it. I have purposefully avoided match reports, not least of all as I figure that the majority of people who read my posts will have attended the games anyway and don't need me to state once again what they saw for themselves.

Ironically, if I could direct you to read just one of my posts then it would be one that is not related to Charlton at all. Towards the end of May I wrote 'My World Cup Memories - Part One, Spain 82' and of anything I've written, it is that post that I take some great personal pride in as I felt I got the emotion of what I wanted to say over completely.

It goes without saying that the one post I quite literally dream of writing is one that will sum up how I feel following a promotion. My fingers are poised, my mind has already got it mapped out!

Rather predictably, I will end this post by thanking anyone who has bothered to read anything I've written in the last 12 months, and more so, those who have taken the time to comment. It is greatly appreciated.

Onwards and upwards to a more prosperous 2011.....Come on you Addicks!!!!!

Sunday 28 November 2010

Incomming text...

FA Cup 3rd Round draw...It seems like every Spurs fan I know wants to tell me how much of a beating I'm going to get...and there are a good number of them ranging across friends, work colleagues and family. There I am, firmly in my place as small-fry amongst the big boys with whom we once mixed. Oh how I remember that scuffed, shinned, scrambled effort by Powell that earnt us a 0-1 thrashing of Spurs at The Lane in the all-to-painfully distant past. There I sat amongst the Glory Boys of Spurs, unable to celebrate the goal, bursting inside, loving every minute.

Not least of all, we have to overcome Luton, who themselves lament of better times. Big boys against those that have fallen on hard times. I'll take your long odds because, like Luton Town, we've not got anything more to loose.

I will not take anything for granted, and if we're lucky enough to go through against Luton...I will stand proudly as an Addick!

Thursday 25 November 2010

Get Well Soon, Mrs. Pettyfer...

I normally have a quick check of my e-mails whilst I wait for the kettle to boil in the morning and so it was with some considerable shock and sadness to read within the club's Bulletin e-mail that Lifelong supporter, Lynne Pettyfer, was hospitalised after being struck on the head by a coin thrown from a fellow 'supporter' in the Upper North late on in the game V's Rovers.

Evidently Mrs. Pettyfer has followed the Addicks home and away since the 50's, and despite her and her husband, Kieth, clearly being very shook-up by this incident, both are still aiming to attend Saturday's game. That's the Charlton spirit! Good on her.

I simply can't comprehend what would motivate anyone to do such a thing and I hope the club find the idiot responsible and ban him for life.

If by extending the coverage of this story to a handful more people in the hope that the culprit can be found, then it will have been worth the effort in posting it.

Meanwhile, get well soon, Mrs. Pettyfer.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

West Country Woes: Addicks Winning Streak Halted...

We've been a bit spoiled lately, so I guess it's inevitable there will be some that will be disappointed with last night's draw against lowly Bristol Rovers, especially having to come from a goal down. Rovers had gained a very well earned point away at league leaders, Brighton, on Saturday and so it shouldn't have come as any great surprise that they had no intention of rolling over easily for us to continue our winning run. I didn't think Rovers were great, but in truth, as was the case against Yeovil on Saturday (of whom I was quite impressed with), the gulf between top and bottom in this division is not obvious enough for any game to be considered easy.

It was interesting to note that the statistics for the game (via the BBC) had possession at 50% - 50%: I would have said the Addicks had more of the play, especially in the first half. We certainly had the better chances, although you had to admire the quality of finish to their goal. Our goal, wrongly credited to Reid by the PA announcer at The Valley, was a scrappy affair, but most welcome when it came from the shin of Benson.

In my keenness to write this post before I get deep inside my work for the day, I haven't breezed over my fellow Addicks blogs as I would normally do, so please excuse me if I repeat anything wrote elsewhere. Not that I expect that the views of the fair-minded Addick would differ that much. What we saw last night was a decent, hard working performance with positive signs and almost excusable down-sides, notably the gaps left by important absentee's and the effects of the heavy fixture list of late. We could well have had a win but for two first-class saves from their keeper, firstly from Benson's close-range shot in the first half and then from Sodje's diving header in the second. I thought after both incidents that it may not be our day. I feel worn out with 3 trips to the freezing cold Valley inside a week, so I'd forgive the players for being a little bit leggy. I'll be pleased to see Anyinsah back soon as I think his pace and movement would have made a difference tonight. I'd like to offer a special mention to Francis, who I thought played well last night. In my opinion, he seems to have had some rather unfair criticism this season. Generally, I thing the quality of set-pieces from both him and Jackson have dramatically improved an area that has been such a weakness in our game for as long as I can remember. They are not perfect, but this is League One.

None the less, I'm hugely encouraged by the spirit shown after we conceded. Perhaps in recent years this is a game we would have gone on to lose. We seemed to pass with a greater confidence and purpose (that comes with winning games, of course) and this must be encouraged even if we do make a mistake every now and again. I can see a shape to the team that was so desperately lacking against Brighton. Of course, we all know if we are to push for promotion this season, we will need to turn draws in to wins, especially at home, but the signs are far better than this time last month.

One notable disappointment from last night was the crowd. Officially noted at 13,468, I suspect it was actually far lower, which is a real shame. Quite what is keeping the casual or occasional fans from attending more regularly (or the season ticket holders, for that matter), especially with the team on a good run and nicely placed in the league, I don't know.

And so on to Saturday and another trip to The Valley. This time it's the FAC and I welcome a break from the far more important pressures of the league. Luton will bring a big following and they will be lively and loud: it will be a tough and uncomfortable afternoon. For the good of the club's finances, I hope we sneak a win in the hope we can draw a big premiership team at home in the 3rd round. It will be the first time I will have seen Charlton in the 2nd round of the FAC. As was the case with the 1st Round, I hope it will be my last for all the right reasons!

And worst of all, this week I forgot my hot soup for the journey home!

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Hot Soup...

Other than Robbie Elliot, it's hard to imagine anyone enjoying the match day experience last night. These are nights to endure...get out of the way...and then forget about as our attention turns to the far more important matter of two home league games inside the next week. With the North Stand empty the stadium was completely devoid of atmosphere; a totally uninspiring fixture, an extra burden of a game that nobody wanted on a desperately cold night. And all this served only to guarantee a low turn-out. None the less, the gate was far lower than even I'd predicted. A few hundred less than 5000 bothered to brave the cold...but I couldn't be critical of those that stayed away. All around you on nights like this are constant reminders of how low we have fallen. Fingers crossed that's the last time we will ever see the 1st Round of the FA Cup! Thank God we was spared extra time.

I know what you might be thinking: nobody bends my arm to go to these sort of games. Of course they don't, but it's what 'supporters' do and it's what I'll always do. If I attempted to think too deeply about whether it really made sense I'd probably have given up on football a long time ago. Good times with the bad, rough with the smooth, highs and lows, peaks and troughs. But then if you're bothering to read this blog then I know you'll know what I mean. I have, however, endured enough of these sorts of desperate nights to have had the foresight to make a warm flask of soup for my drive home. It was the best thing about the evening!

Not that I will be critical of the players. Last night was certainly not the time and place to judge too deeply the recent change in form or whether it has the legs to continue. If the brief was to get a goal - however it came - and just somehow survive the remainder of the match without conceding, getting someone sent off or picking up an injury, then it was a job completed successfully, if not with distinction. Reid's individual goal was very well crafted, but you could almost see him dropping down the gears in his celebration afterwards and he may as well have not been on the pitch in the second half. Elliot was truly outstanding throughout with some top-draw saves. It may well have been his best game for Charlton. He needed to be good: Barnet had nothing to loose and considering we made little effort to get a second, their chances were coming around pretty frequently.

And so on to Saturday, where the mood and gate will thankfully be totally different even if the temperature remains the same. We have a very good opportunity with the two back-to-back league games to further cement our place within the top 6.

Things will be a little different for me on Saturday as I will have the company of my good friend, Bolts, who is taking his young nephew along to what will be only his 3rd experience of a professional match (he's been to a couple of Norwich games, which is his home town club). Lets hope The Valley and Charlton leave a good impression on the young lad.

Saturday 13 November 2010

Dare We Dream?

Another away win. 5 more goals. Second in the league. In the words of Jim Royal...I can't smile wide enough!

Wednesday 3 November 2010

A Most Welcome Tuesday Night Treat

How pleasant it is to have that little bit extra spring in your step today (assuming you're an Addick!). I love those private little moments when you rise out of bed still half-asleep, flick the kettle and then all of a sudden your ever-focusing mind recalls the result from the night before forcing your face into a wide grin that would look strange if observed by anyone with no knowledge of what you're grinning at. The opposite emotional morning feeling has been all-to-frequently felt over the last 3-4 years in particular, so I welcome this added daily boost.

What appears to have been a comfortable win at a potentially tricky place in The County Ground is very encouraging indeed. We should guard against getting too carried away, of course, but this is a big result none the less. Strangely, I was quite confident that we'd not get beat last night at least, but a win: I wasn't expecting that!

Nice to see the two front men on the score sheet once again. It looks like they are forming a very well balanced and dangerous partnership. Well done to Parky who has managed to keep calm and remain professional amongst the growing army of discontented Addicks who question his leadership and ability to take us back to the second tier of English football. Interesting that we never made any changes throughout the game: I wonder when the last time that happened? Well done, also, to the 400 odd travelling Addicks who made their way to Wiltshire. As was the case against Carlisle, their efforts have been rewarded.

Perhaps the mauling at the hands of Brighton was just one of those freak results and the unified critical response - which gained substantial support for the 'Parky Out' brigade - may well have been a tad harsh upon reflection. The exit route from this division is for anyone to grasp. Brighton may well be on a roll at present, but their own history indicates they are prone to 'derailing' throughout the season.

A good day to be an Addick...

Sunday 31 October 2010

Irrational Hatred Of Symmetry

I have always had an irrational hatred of symmetry. It irritates me immensely and if I'm subjected to the 'harmonious aesthetically pleasing proportionality' of symmetry (as defined by Wikipedia) I can very quickly get cross. For obvious reasons I don't tend to publicise this grievance with geometry, but given that when writing this blog I hide behind a meaningless and ridiculous alias and remain faceless it doesn't really matter that much. 

There is a point to may well be totally worthless, but it's a point none the less!

Before Saturday, Charlton's season was in danger of becoming a bit too symmetrical for my liking: winning as many games as we loose, scoring as many as we concede. Winning a game, loosing a game, winning a game, loosing a game. Happy.....sad.....happy......sad...

It's taken a while to understand my emotion, but I'm not angry at Charlton's indifferent or regretfully well-balanced form; I find it bloody irritating...just like I'm staring at a fireplace with two equally proportioned candles at either end and a clock dead-centre.

But in reality I realise the symmetry link is not really in the aesthetic sense but more to do with balance. Ironically, Charlton seem to have found some balance and I'm very pleased to see it! 

What a load of nonsense!

I'm going to bed now...

Thursday 28 October 2010

Nicky Weaver...

Saturday's visit of Sheffield Wednesday will see a return of ex-Addicks keeper, Nicky Weaver, and inevitably this will lead to some very interesting thoughts regarding the reception he will get from the Charlton fans. Weaver - a self-confessed Wednesday fan - became a hate-figure at Charlton following a number of run-ins with the Addicks supporters down the years, notably with those within the Covered End. I always felt there was an element of humour to the banter - albeit very dark at times - rather than anything truly sinister, and this was in part down to Weaver's ability to take the stick like a man, often giving as good as he got.

At the time Pardew signed Weaver he would have easily featured in a top-10 list of players least likely to ever play for Charlton and so I can remember being totally dumfounded when he signed given his history with our supporters. In a way, I instantly admired Weaver for having the balls to move to Charlton and face the hostility (he would hardly hit the ground with the fans behind him after all). Furthermore, I saw it as a positive sign of his character and determination to help us back to the top flight. I wasn't entirely won over, but the big lumbering keeper with the scruffy beard seemed the sort of bloke you could have an argument with down the pub and he'd end up shaking your hand, offering you a pint and a lift home!

Following a decent start to the campaign the relationship between player and supporter soon grew to such a level that Weaver became a bit of a cult hero...a villain turned good. Ok, perhaps the term 'hero' is not really the best, but you know what I mean. His form was mixed throughout his stay and ultimately he wasn't able to lift us back to the Premiership and following our relegation from the Championship he left: just two years after arriving.

So I'll give a gentle clap when his name is called out on Saturday, but for one overriding reason that goes beyond his relationship with Charlton. For me, Weaver represents a rare bread of pro-footballers who don't take themselves too seriously, and I like that.

Saturday 23 October 2010

This Is All Very Confusing!!!

Yet again the Addicks teeter on that immeasurably fine line between success and failure. What should have been a comfortable victory after an excellent first half became an unacceptably tense ending. This may well be 3 points gained (when nobody, including me, predicted anything other than a defeat) but I don't feel convinced I should be celebrating too keenly. In fact, I think I feel more angry than happy that yet again we showed a complete inability to perform consistently over an entire 90 mins.

I take my hat off to the travelling Addicks who deserved the late winner more than anyone.

Benson may well have given Parkinson  a stay-of-execution, but if I was him I wouldn't be sleeping too comfortably tonight. 

I will be very interested to hear how we managed to throw a 3 goal lead away, with further questions raised on the teams mental resolve and Parkinson's ability to influence the pattern of the game, especially when things are not going well. 

On a plus note, we did manage to score 4 goals away from home. Furthermore, we have a very healthy habit of scoring late goals, which in part contradicts my concerns about mental resolve and lasting 90 mins!

This is all very confusing!

In fact, this is a very testing time to be an Addick, perhaps the most testing in the 16 odd years I've been regularly watching Charlton.

I just don't know what to make of it all. 

Friday 22 October 2010

Today It Became Obvious...

Sometime towards the end of the Brighton game, with the scoreline at zero - three, the chap I have sat next to for many years turns towards me, leans in and whispers in my ear "today it became obvious" before turning and slumping back in his seat. I nodded. I have sat next to him for long enough to know I'm likely to have agreed with him regardless of exactly what had 'became obvious' at that point. He never gave me the impression he wanted to discuss further anyway.

Such is the way my mind works (I would rather it didn't, I can promise you) I have thought about that throw-away comment a lot this week.

So what did become obvious?

He would not have been surprised by an indifferent performance that lacked direction, conviction and verve, but perhaps the sheer gulf in difference between us and Brighton became undeniably obvious. Even the most partisan Addick couldn't fail to accept that. Even if you take the view that Brighton had a good day - after all, despite the huge disappointment of the result, I don't think they were four goals better than us - it still was a shocking spectacle to watch. Furthermore, a good number of fellow bloggers have rightly pointed out that man-for-man Brighton did not have a stronger team of individual players, which serves only to make the failings of the Charlton management even more obvious. It was one thing watching the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea et al run rings around us at The Valley but not a side from League One. A long-term fall from grace became embarrassing on Saturday. Obviously so.

Perhaps Saturday was the tipping point that finally made my companion recognise that we are an average side in League One. Despite still having an enviable squad of players when compared with most in this division, we are not one of the better footballing sides by a long stretch...not even close. We have tried to guard against it, maybe even deny it, but if we're honest, we all secretly hoped to challenge for a Play-Off place this season at least. Now even that is looking unlikely. What next, talk of relegation? Maybe my man thinks that's inevitable...or obvious...given our current unconvincing form.

Perhaps the much-maligned Parkinson's failures as a manager became shovel-in-the-face-obvious to my fellow Addick. Once again, the limitations of Parkinson has been well discussed throughout the fans forums and the like, but never has one man's leadership, tactical know-how and organisation seemed so lacking when compared with that of another, in this case, Gus Poyet. He may well be a likable sort of chap, but can Parkinson lift this club back to it's arguably rightful level in the second tier of English football? The signs aren't good. If Parkinson is not to loose the limited fan base he has, then he must find a way to maximise the attributes of this group of players...this League One group of players. At the moment that seems beyond him. There will be some that will want to see Parkinson (and therefore Charlton) fail over the next few games to speed up his exit. I am not amongst them. I would love nothing more than to see an Addicks team successful under his management.

But maybe the flippant statement runs deeper...

We are a League One side: how more obvious did it need to get Saturday? Maybe the descent into football's backwaters are not over yet. How we all want to say that we have seen the lowest point and we are on our way back...however slow a process that may be, but maybe not. Obviously not yet, at least.

For what it's worth I expect us to get beat again this Saturday. I don't have this fixture down as an away win at any time, least of all at the minute.

But then obviously I could be wrong...this is Charlton after all!

Saturday 16 October 2010

Devoid Of Direction

Another hugely disappointing Saturday afternoon at The Valley. Outclassed and outplayed by a team far better organised by a very talented young Manager with an idea of how he wants his team to play. Direction, dedication, decisiveness: everything we lack.

Worryingly, there were too many occasions today, particularly in the second half, when our players were staring at the ground and shaking their heads following yet another misplaced pass or mistake. Hardly the signs of unity.

I can't believe Brighton fans boo'd their team last week for not getting the ball forward quick enough. Top of the league and still not happy!

I'd love to be as unhappy as a Brighton fan!

Thursday 14 October 2010

Spirit Of The Adventure - Part Two

I returned home late afternoon Sunday from my trekking weekend in the Southern Lakes as physically shattered as I've ever felt, but hugely content in what was a truly awesome experience. The opportunity to walk for three days in this breathtaking natural wilderness left me feeling completely privileged and humbled. Setting out from Great Langdale, our overall aim was to climb England's highest peak, Scafell Pike, by mid-afternoon on the Saturday. It was a tough and testing route we had set ourselves, especially for me as I am a novice amongst more experienced trekkers. Thankfully, whilst I'm not the most physically strong person you will meet, I have the stamina of an Ethiopian runner (I road-run regularly) so I coped far better than I thought (especially with nearly 20kg on my back!).

Reaching up to just over 3,200ft, the summit of Scafell was visible in the far distance from where we camped on the first night. It was an incredible incentive to rise early and push on but it's huge ominous bulk never seemed to get any closer to us the next day as we climbed the peaks and then dropped down in to the valleys. None the less, slightly ahead of schedule, at 13.40 I was officially the tallest person in England. To some that will not mean an awful lot, and it's not the greatest achievement a man could have, but I was thoroughly proud of myself!

The descent downwards from this monumental giant showed us the dangers of complacency in this unforgiving environment as a fellow trekker within another party had fallen and cracked his head so badly we were forced to call Mountain Rescue when we reached a point we could gain the merest of mobile signal. As we continued our trek to our proposed camping spot for the night, we could hear the helicopter droning away in the valley just passed: I don't think a word was spoken between us for some time.

The second night we camped at a truly beautiful place called Angle Tarn (pictured above). My overriding memory of this place will forever be the 5 of us laying on our backs staring up at a clear night sky for two hours watching the most amazing light show courtesy of a million and more bright stars. They are always there, of course, but so rarely do you get an opportunity to experience their splendour in an area unspoilt by light pollution. No TV could provide such entertainment and we were very luck the early-October weather was so kind to us.

The whole experience was, for me, enhanced by the fact that a year ago my four fellow trekkers would have been total strangers to me. Our relationships have grown out of the school playground as our young children frequent the same primary school. We are all different, and in any other situation we may never have been drawn together as a group, but the camaraderie shown over the weekend leaves me with some very cherished memories.

And for once, Charlton never mattered! I learnt of our draw with Plymouth when my Mum's text finally found it's way to my phone some time just after we joined the M6. It would have topped my weekend off to have seen an Addicks win, but then again, for once, even a defeat would not have bought me down!

Thursday 7 October 2010

Spirit Of The Adventure...

For the next few days I will be fulfilling a long-term dream by heading out into the hills and getting as far away from civilisation as is possible in this country. Granted it is not quite like climbing Everest or walking the length of the Andes, but my three day trekking weekend to the Lakes represents a challenge that will take me well and truly outside my comfort zone. I'll be carrying a pack that weighs more than my 4 year old son for three days (which will test my less-than-muscular frame), doing a bit of wild camping and facing the prospect of having to locate our own drinking water (which shouldn't be too difficult in the Lakes!). None the less, I've never found myself in that position before and I can't deny being a tad nervous. But then that's the point of it all: if it was going to be a 'walk in the park' (pardon the pun) I wouldn't do it. When my 4 companions and I conceived the idea we wanted it to be as challenging as possible. Our unofficial team leader, Rich, is as well-drilled in trekking as you could hope: he's the opposite end of the spectrum to me with regards to experience. His attention to detail is hugely reassuring.

Just as Charlton kick-off against Plymouth, I'll hopefully be edging my way to the summit of Scafell Pike (pictured). At just over 3,200ft it is visually not as imposing as Ben Nevis, for example, but it is England's highest point after all. I will be hoping that I can get a signal up there so my Mum can text me the result of the game...I know I said I wanted to get away from civilisation, but there are always exceptions!

One thing that you can be assured of is that there will be an Addick looking down on the entire nation on Saturday often can we say that!

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Benson Bags To Break Down Dons

It wasn't faultless, but one thing I could not ask anymore of tonight was effort. With the memories of Saturday's frustrating and disappointing draw still fresh in everyones minds, we needed a performance and a win tonight to get our season back on course and thankfully we got both.

The defence held firm all game, with the most welcome sight of Jon Fortune back in an Addick's shirt once again. The midfielders ran their socks off to close down any available space for the ball-playing Dons (I thought tonight was Racon's best game for some time). The front men worked tirelessly throughout - on and off the ball - with Benson getting his reward late on. A special mention for Reid, who changed the game when he came on. He may not like the tag, but as an impact super-sub, there can't be many better options at this level. An honest performance if not spectacular, but good enough to lift us into a credible League One position after 9 games.

Thankfully I can say this without sounding like sour-grapes, but can anyone recall a referee being so bias towards an opposition? I have never seen an official appear so reluctant to award anything, even a simple throw-on to a home side. Normally you'd expect to get your share of 50-50's, but not tonight! A very bizarre refereeing performance! Thankfully, in the end it never mattered.

Onward to the league's basement team, and a chance to improve our recent poor form against the lower league sides. We must take the opportunity.  

Pre-Match Musings...

I already feel a little apprehensive about tonight’s game as I’ll confess I’m finding the sparsely populated Valley on a matchday a difficult sight to accept (the walk from my usual parking spot seems a very lonely affair these days). I suppose it could prove a real blessing to have another game at home so soon after Saturday’s disappointment, but it could also work the other way if fate, luck, inevitability or whatever you want to call it decides to stick another hefty studded boot in where it hurts. And all this drama played out in a stadium that will struggle to be half full tonight: the occasional supporters uninspired to venture out and part with their hard-earned cash. For me, there are few things better than a floodlit game at The Valley. The atmosphere always seems more intense under the dark cover of night as if there’s nothing else going on in the world around you (certainly not more important, anyway). The players need to put a performance in tonight to avoid further apathy and a drop in home gates. As fickle as we football fans are, momentum can be built as quickly as it’s lost, so a win tonight, coupled with a decent performance, will change the complexion in a flash.

Upon further reflection, within the first 30 mins on Saturday there were some decent enough signs of hope from a newly-constructed team that is still work-in-progress. It was far from perfect, but that sort of play could well be good enough to win matches in this division. On the downside, our inability to keep a steady and consistent momentum throughout the full 90 is worrying, especially when we’re at home and so dominant and untroubled against a poor team. It’s Parky’s prerogative to believe that the ref changed the course of the match on Saturday, but I’m disappointed with that view as I believe this Charlton team should be mentally strong enough to overcome a setback (as Sunderland showed on Saturday after that bizarrely conceded goal). Whatever Parky said at half time clearly wasn’t anywhere near good enough motivation or direction, but then the players themselves shouldn’t really need it.

From what I’ve seen this season, the one over-ridding criticism I do have of the new-look Addicks is that nobody appears to be sticking their chest out and taking the responsibility on the pitch when things are not going to plan. Take Racon, for example: for all his obvious promise he must start to dominate the midfield, particularly at home.

Anyway, I’ll be heading down to The Valley tonight full of hope as usual…

Saturday 25 September 2010

Totally Uninspiring

What a disappointing afternoon of football: totally and utterly uninspiring. A draw that feels like a defeat. 3 points well and truly thrown away against a very, very average side who have their work cut out to stay in this division. 

There is no obvious sign of a Plan A, let alone any Plan B if things aren't working out.

Worst still, after such an awful performance, we face the very real prospect of a home gate on Tuesday that will struggle to get too far in to 5 figures.

Dark days ahead...

Wednesday 22 September 2010

That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

In every respect my own recollection of the loss of the Valley in ‘85 and indeed the return in December 1992 means nothing as I was at neither game. None the less, I remember both periods very well. It will forever be a regret of mine that I never stood in the ‘old Valley’ (I was 9 when we left, with no family history of following the Addicks). I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to watch Charlton ‘at home’ from inside the stadium of one of our greatest rivals.

One thing I can empathise with – and you will have to respect my perspective on this - was the loss of the stadium. Just as the Addicks were all set for a highly emotional return home, my local non-league side, Bishop’s Stortford, lost their ground to the determined developers who exploited the financial plight of the club at the time. It was an indescribable and monumental blow to me, not least of all as the heart-breaking demolition of the George Wilson Stadium was the last tangible link to the memory of my beloved and dearly-missed Granddad, who had introduced me to football in the first place and with whom I had spent countless games cheering on our local team. The day before the bulldozers turned up I stood on an empty terrace that would never see action again and cried my heart out until I was asked to leave (with a souvenir if I wished!). Bishop’s Stortford never had the opportunity to move ‘back home’. I miss it to this day.

I have wrote within my postings a few times previous that as a very young lad I had a deep-routed fascination with football stadia after my Mum & Dad gave me Simon Inglis’s book ‘The Football Grounds of England and Wales’ for Christmas in 1983. I was 9 years old at the time. From within these pages I first fell in love with the lumbering, suffering and neglected bulk that was The Valley. The name itself conjured up images in my young and impressionable head. Why that stadium in particular, especially given it’s desperate state, I will truly never understand. Destiny? Maybe it was. Simon Inglis was naturally and understandably far from complimentary, but even at such a young age I picked up on the melancholy in those words reflecting on the glorious past when The Valley regularly had gates amongst the biggest in England. I read The Valley enrty over and over and it may well be an unusual admission, but it is almost entirely down to this one book as to why I first began to follow Charlton’s results and later became a supporter.

Chicago Addick lamented in his blog today that “8,858 were left to mourn a 66-year old friend alone. No one else gave a shit”. Our Bermudan connection has earned the right to say such things and I urge you to read his post at ( CA also rightly points out the value of Rick Everitt’s book ‘Battle For The Valley’. I have a copy, and out of respect I intend to read it once again over the next few weeks.

But none the less, this unforgettable and unforgivable chapter in the history of our club is the reason why I’m a supporter today and perhaps in my son and daughter a new generation will follow. Furthermore, perhaps the solidarity and resolve that came from it has shaped the character of the club that I’m proud to support. For anyone involved in the return to the Valley, I extend my genuine heartfelt thanks. This football club has broken my heart far more times than it’s made me happy, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.

To quote from Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger”.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Rodney 'Charlton' Trotter

There have been a few posts in the last week noting the recent appearance on TV of anything Charlton related. It started with the gorgeous Gemma Arteron’s very public show of allegiance on daytime tele, to the appearance of a CAFC flag on ‘Albert’s Memorial’ starring David Jason. It kind of reminds me of when I first started to follow the Addicks (long before the glorious Premiership years) when there was a real novelty factor to seeing Charlton appearing on TV. Similarly, if I happened to be wearing my colours around my home town, it would prompt comment as if I’d just dropped in from a spacecraft (I ignored the looks of pity!!).

But the David Jason connection interests me, as I find it coincidental that his most notable piece of TV, Only Fools & Horses, also featured a tenuous link to the Addicks in the character of Rodney. I’m not sure on his influence with the writers, but is David Jason a secret Addick?

According to the sometimes-questionable Wikipedia…

“Rodney's middle name, "Charlton", was revealed to the world during his wedding in 1989. The registrar officiating wisely decided to leave it out and refer to him as simply "Rodney Trotter" when the guests from the Nag's Head could not contain their laughter. According to Del, Rodney's mother gave him the name because she was a fan of Charlton Athletic F.C”.

Up the Addicks!!!

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Room For 22,481 More…!

I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the game last night. It’s hard to get excited when looking out across the empty expanse of the Valley, whilst packed like sardines in the Lower West (the only section of the ground open for home support on the night)! In years gone by I used cup games such as this to move around the Valley to view a game from a different perspective to my usual East Stand seat. Nowadays, the demise into mediocrity has taken even that away from me.

My seat towards the southern end of the stand was traded for one in the northern end as my patience grew weaker and weaker with the unnecessary over-aggression and language that was being banded about by the minority group of youngsters who had taken up residence at that end. This was a game one notch up from reserve football, and yet you would have thought this was CAFC v’s Millwall. I had had the briefest of thoughts that a low-key game of this type may be a good opportunity to introduce my young son to the wonderments of supporting the Addicks. I’m glad I didn’t. I’m all for trying to create an atmosphere and, to coin a well known phrase, “make some noise for the boys” but Mr. Murray must have been squirming in his seat knowing his family fortune is on the line so some questionable idiots have a team to 'support'.

None the less, on a slightly more positive note, we won. Well done Racon for a well taken goal; why does/did it not happen more often? Better still, I am really pleased with the ‘new look’ Charlton this season. It is clear that Parkinson has patiently put together a group of players who both want to play for the Addicks, and who look hungry for the challenge. Having 6ft+ players across the team – and in particular, across the back four – bodes well in this division (and, of course, to get out of it). Benson looked useful up front, and certainly placed himself in decent positions inside the box. Once the understanding is there with his new teammates, I’m confident he will get goals.

Dare I mention Super Clive…?

Thursday 19 August 2010

Wish I was There...

Saturday's game at the Valley will be a little odd for I won't be there. For only the 5th time in over 16 years, I will miss a competitive Charlton game at the Valley due to a wedding taking place in Sicily. I have been able to influence the arrangements of so many social events around the fixture list of my favorite team over the years, but on this occasion there was no movement!

Not since Feb 2005 - an FA Cup defeat at the hands of Leicester City - has my seat in the East Stand been vacant on a matchday, and in that case I was attending the stag doo of one of my closest friends. Before that, I blame two other weddings and a pre-planned holiday for my disappointing lack of support!

When I was much younger, I would have been secretly praying for a freak weather front to bring snow to South London (or something similar) in the hope of a postponement, but, as I've got older, I take a far more relaxed view on this subject. Ok, I admit, what I mean is I realise the chances of snow in August is remote and unrealistic! As I have resigned myself to the inevitable, all I'll be hoping for in my absence is another 3 points. If I'm honest, my away support over the years has not been even remotely as consistent, so I'll try and mentally treat the day as though we're away from home.

When writing this, I recall a story from some years back that was broadcast on a radio football phone-in show hosted by that Deptford-born friend of Chris Evans where the theme was something like 'to what lengths have you gone to get a game of football postponed?' There was a chap who took a shovel to a football pitch in the dead of night on the eve of a game to ensure the resulting holes he dug would postpone the cup final he was evidently suspended from. Without wishing to leave you on tenterhooks, I can't recall the outcome, other than the radio station's chubby host lording the caller and perpetrator as some sort of hero for the common man.

It's got me thinking.....

Thankfully, the wedding is Friday, so I can hopefully keep abreast of the action in SE7 on Saturday.....with a cool Peroni in hand looking out across the Med!

Not quiet the same though, is it?

Come on you Addicks.....Wish I was there!!!

Saturday 14 August 2010

East End Goals

A quick look over the usual bloggers and I realise I’ve nothing much to add to the positive comments following last nights hugely enjoyable victory at the Orient! It was a memorable and highly dramatic night in the East End, that’s for sure. It’s still way too early in the season for me to be dreaming of glory, but what the hell, without hope you have nothing! Even ending up soaking wet from the rain on the way home could not wash away the smile from my face! The ever-impressive travelling Addicks support seemed to be greater in volume than last season’s game at Brisbane Road, despite being only half the number. I wonder if that constant wall of noise came out on the Sky TV coverage.

Even at this early stage of the season, it’s certainly a common opinion that we appear to have a team better suited for League One football, and for that I must once again praise Parkinson and Mr. Murray et al. If we are to escape this back-water of English football, that’s exactly what we need. It’s encouraging to see a sizable and experienced back line - all of whom stood taller than 6ft - repeatedly heading away the bombardment of Orient balls in the second half with a welcome consistency, unity and confidence. We have creative and energetic midfielders who are prepared to get behind the ball and graft when needs must, and strikers that appear willing to run and run, even without the carrot of personal glory.

Collectively they will get better; and with that brings great hope. We may well be shy of cover in certain areas, but the signs are already there that the Addicks have the foundations of a side capable of challenging for the top 6...or perhaps better. Better still, a team made up of Charlton players who have chosen to be at this club for the long-haul.

For the second year running I’ve enjoyed my night out at the O's. Thank you and best wishes, but fingers crossed we won’t see you next season.

Never a dull moment following the Addicks, eh?

Wednesday 11 August 2010


I note with only a passing interest that the reserves lost what appears to have been a rip-roarer of a game last night. Hopefully the resting superstars will avoid this sort of drama when they take to the field on Friday.

I do believe Parkinson was at the game last night, no doubt viewing the brave young charges of the future.

Monday 9 August 2010

Real Ale & Red Cards

A few Saturdays back I had the great pleasure of enjoying a splendid pub crawl with some old friends in the plentiful real ale establishments of Cambridge*. It was, as you might imagine, a long and heavy day. As I stumbled wearily off the train at the end of the evening in my home town of Bishop’s Stortford, I decided to pass by the taxi rank in favour of a ‘Shanks Pony’ route home. I don’t mind a walk - even when a tad tipsy - especially as I hate paying grumpy cab drivers large sums of money to take me less than 3 miles, whilst expecting a tip despite bragging about how wealthy they are.

As I passed through the town centre and up a side street, I see someone I recognise. It was the confident swagger of the man that caught my eye. He wouldn’t recognise me. I’d seen him about town before, but not for a while. At that point a little devil appears on my shoulder and mischievously encourages me to shout some abuse, or, at the very least, offer a witty comment. Thankfully, the respectful and sensible side of me ensures I do neither. I pass by, and he enters one of those fancy wine bars looking sharp and dapper with his missus (I assume) and some friends. I detest those places! I looked back; half expecting him to glance out of the wine bar checking the paparazzi isn’t following him. He doesn’t, of course, and why would he?

I joke with myself that I hope that’s the last I will see of him this season...

Unfortunately it wasn’t, because just a week later, there he was again, standing in the centre circle at the Valley, complete with that same over-confident swagger…Grant bloody Hegley!

Unnecessarily fussy and whistle-happy throughout, he was over enthusiastic towards the Addicks first half (which always unnerves me) and then predictably proceeded to balance the scales in the second with some awful decisions against Charlton. Having reviewed Semedo’s red card a few times since, I feel no different than I did first time around on Saturday; it’s a yellow at worst. Sadly, you could see that sort of decision coming.

None the less, despite the best...or worst efforts of Mr. Hegley, we rode the nervy end and held on for a very welcome win. A good start. It could, and perhaps should have been more convincing, but I will not complain. In my opinion, Parkinson has done brilliantly over the summer to attract decent players whilst retaining the likes of Daily and Semedo et al. Despite his knockers, few could surely doubt Parky’s commitment. The 16,000 plus gate was also encouraging, especially in holiday season. Furthermore, we appear to have a team that we might be able to trust in once again; a side who are under no illusions of what they face this season and how hard it will be. Take, for example, young Chris Solly, who played with the very spirit that the Addicks have lacked in any consistency for too long. He looked like he gave a shit; he looked proud to wear the shirt. How refreshing that is. At the final whistle he punched the air with the same euphoria I did on the slopes of the East Stand. That’s what I want to see; I ask for nothing else.

Yes there were still some sobering reminders of how far the Addicks have fallen, with the lack of the big screen the most notable. As the excellent Charlton Casual wrote in his blog…“I didn't realise how often I looked at it until it wasn't there”. Ditto! Back to the old trusty timepiece and the back of the programme then...for now at least!

It was nice to be back at the Valley though, wasn’t it?

* Recommendations available on request!

Friday 30 July 2010

More Important Matters To Attend To...

I normally quite enjoy close-season. For a couple of months at least, football is put on the back-burner, and I can concentrate on all things non-Charlton that should really take priority all year round. I dip in occasionally, of course, but for the most part, I purposely try and steer clear of the usual websites and forums to avoid the speculation and doom and gloom (I have enough of that throughout the season). It’s nice having a break from the mixed emotions of following the Addicks, not having my Saturdays spoilt by indifferent results and juggling my social life around fixtures. I’m certain the missus likes it as well, but it doesn’t last long enough (especially in a World Cup year). Before a ball has been kicked in anger, I’ve already upset the Wife after she told me she’d made plans with some friends for next Saturday. Perhaps I could have picked a better response than “well I won’t be there, I’ve got more important matters to attend to…”.

In fairness to my missus, she may not like it, but she knows after all these years there’s no point putting up a battle. That’s most definitely to her credit and my shame.

After yesterday’s brief (thankfully) run-in, it dawned on me just how close we are to the season kicking off once again. Add to this the arrival of my season ticket this week and I’m already finding myself checking the usual sources for pre-season news with a greater frequency.

As I cling desperately to positives in a very gloomy time, perhaps the one thing that may look different this season is the desire and motivation of the players. Gone are the relics of better times; those big wage players who’s indifferent or poor form contributed to our downward spiral. Perhaps it will be a more ‘honest’ Charlton team this season. Perhaps it will be a Charlton team full of characters with the spirit and desire of a Robinson, Rufus, Kinsella, Mendonca or Brown (he won’t let you down): the very names of those individuals who contributed so massively to our rise to the Premiership. After all, let’s face it, anyone who signs for the Addicks this season can’t be doing it for the money and will be under no illusions about the difficulty of the task ahead, especially being a ‘big’ club in the third tier of English football. If all this is true, then I’m really looking forward to getting behind the team, come what may.

On the face of it, by retaining the likes of Wagstaff and Dailly, re-signing Reid and Jackson, whilst adding decent seasoned pro’s in the form of Doherty and McCormack, I believe we can challenge at the right end of the table (with a sizable bit of luck, admittedly). In addition, the signing of Simon Francis today is a very positive move. I thought he looked decent against us at Roots Hall last season, particularly from dead balls. Of course, we all know we are still a good number of players short, not least of all up front. Perhaps - and I don’t want to tempt fate here – the thing that pleases me the most is that we look likely to hold on to our Portuguese powerhouse, Semedo; my favorite current Addick by a mile. If it were up to me, I’d give him the armband this season.

Oh, and in case you’ve not caught it yet, keep an eye out for posts from ‘Cometh The Haddock’ (link on the right). There’s not been much Charlton-related stuff to smile about in recent years, but this wordsmith has bought a smile to my face on more than one occasions. The ‘It Came From Portugal’ post is genius! Semedo as a superhero? I'll buy in to that any day!

Anyway, I’ve dusted off my keyboard and made my first post of the new season. There are no great revelations, but then you won’t get that with me.

And finally, a message to my Mum: here we go again!!!

One week and counting…COME ON YOU ADDICKS!

Friday 11 June 2010

My World Cup Memories - Part Five, France 98

When I watched Italia 90 with my mates I was just 15 years old without a care in the world. By the time I would watch England play once again in the world’s greatest football tournament, I was 23 years old with my own flat and all the responsibilities that went with it. I had just spilt with my then girlfriend, and the World Cup proved to be a very welcome distraction! England had assured their qualification by gaining the point they needed after a dramatic goalless draw v’s the Italians in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome in late 97: a game I recall very well. Despite the lack of goals the game was on a knife-edge throughout and given the importance of the result (especially after the failure to qualify for the previous World Cup in USA 94) my good friend Bolts and me had decided to watch the proceedings away from the partisan (but sometimes distracting) atmosphere of the our local pub (just 100 yards up the road) in favour of my flat. As the game hung in the balance, there was the truly heart-stopping moment in the dying seconds when Vieri headed over when it seemed easier to score. It was almost too much to bare! For the last 20 minutes or so, Bolts and me sat in total silence: not a single word spoken. Then, when the ref put us out of our misery, we both spontaneously jumped from our seats and hugged each other. England was back in the World Cup Finals. Thank God…or should it have been ‘Thank Hod’, as the Sun’s headline read the following morning?

For me, this tournament would be watched from my local pub, The White Lion, in Sawbridgeworth. I was growing ever tired of watching games in such venues (too many idiots who were more interested in throwing beer around), but one notable memory I do have was the whole pub chanting ‘Ang-ler-terre, Ang-ler-terre’ throughout the England games in place of the more standard ‘Eng-er-land’ chant. Thankfully the 3 syllable replacement worked equally as well. France 98 was opened by Scotland’s credible and brave attempts to thwart the mighty Brazilians, eventually loosing the game after an own goal late on. The group matches never really took off for me, with only a few games sticking in my mind; the Italy v’s Chile game amongst them. It appeared the whole world was intrigued by the USA v’s Iran fixture, but despite the hype, it just didn’t have quiet the ‘bitter rivalry’ feel of say a Brazil v’s Argentina fixture (although I appreciate this game transcended football to political opinion). Iran won, by the way, although I doubt the States went in to meltdown as would have been the case in any other nation. Then there was the unbelievable game between South Africa and Denmark in which the Columbian referee, John Tor Rendon, proceded to book 7 players and send off 3 more! Unsurprisingly he never officiated again in the World Cup. England started with a typically unconvincing win over Tunisia that never satisfied the red-top press, and things went considerably downhill with a defeat against Romania (was this the game where the Romanians coloured their hair en-mass?). This all meant a final ‘winner takes all’ group match v’s Columbia, who had recorded a victory v’s Tunisia in their previous game. Thankfully Darren Anderton (I can’t believe I’ve just wrote his name in a blog relating to the World Cup!!!) and the emerging David Beckham sealed a 2-0 victory, the latter with what would go on to be a trademark free-kick. Despite the 8 years wait to see my national team back in the World Cup, things were a little uninspiring at this point. Next up, Argentina in the second round.

In the last 16, FIFA had introduced a ‘Golden Goal’ rule to attempt to promote attacking-minded play should games enter extra-time. Sounded exciting enough, but everyone was pessimistically predicting England would face this agonizing way to fall. In reality, it was far more painful with the dreaded penalty shoot-out ending England’s unconvincing World Cup dreams. At least the dramatic Argentine game left us with some memories of note: some good, some not so good. A young Michael Own took on the Argentine team single-handedly with a goal that must have left even the great Maradona drooling. Beckham’s sending off was harsh (pictured above), but was a petulant error of judgment that would leave him as a national figure of hate. What if Sol’s goal had been allowed to stand? All in all, England had failed to raise themselves for the biggest footballing tournament in the world. If only they had played with the same passion as we had witnessed in Rome in October 97.

The quarter-finals played out their drama with Bergkamp’s wonder goal v’s the Argentines a notable highlight for me. Elsewhere, there was a shock with Croatia beating the Germans comfortably to book a semi-final place. Brazil and France beat the Netherlands and Croatia respectively, with the French victory soured by the Laurent Blanc sending off mid-way through the second half after an innocuous incident with Croatia’s Bilic. Even with a dislike for the French team, you couldn’t help but feel sorry for Blanc, who missed the final as a result.

From the moment the World Cup Final kicked off in the impressive Stade de France there was only going to be one winner. For all intents and purposes, it looked like the Brazilians had grown a little bored of World Cup Finals and decided to get the game out of the way and go home to laze about on Copacabana Beach. But back home, Christ the Redeemer must have been hanging his head in shame at the awful Brazilian performance and the bizarre and unforgivable Ronaldo farce less than an hour before kick-off. Arguably one of the best Strikers the world has seen in his prime, Ronaldo was not playing, then he was…then he wasn’t….then he was. Rumors of fits and seizures circulated, but a strangely subdued Ronaldo eventually took to the pitch, but looked genuinely relieved when it was all over. Credit to France, they deserved their World Cup win.

Another World Cup passes. Another chance for England glory ends in the all-to-familiar disappointment. Next up Japan in 2002: a World Cup that for me rates as my least favorite.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

You've Got To Hold The Ball...

I had one of those magic moments yesterday as I got home from work armed with a CD I'd created with all the England World Cup football related songs I could recall (ready for a party on Saturday night).

Picture the scene, the whole family in my conservatory dancing away to New Order's 'World In Motion', which is head and shoulders my favorite England song (if not one of the more evocative tunes in my 'favorite' list). Cue John Barnes rap, and off I go, giving it everything I've got...joined word for word by my 6.5 year old little girl (who had taken to standing on the sofa to replicate a stage)!!! I couldn't quite believe it.

Now I will confess to singing / rapping it around the house intermittently over the years, in those random moments when it just pops in to your head (should I admit to that?), but World In Motion hasn't been played in my house since 2006.

Just goes to show what kids pick up, but what a fantastic moment.

To add to that, my 3.5 year old lad asked for an England shirt after his Great Grandad gave him a wall chart and some football cards. I'm off to the shops this afternoon...

Tuesday 8 June 2010

My World Cup Memories - Part Four, USA 94

Four years between World Cups is long enough to wait, but to have to endure 8 long years after the monumental disappointment of Italia was incredibly hard to stomach. England’s failure to qualify for the USA 94 was beyond my worst nightmare, and yet it happened after a difficult qualifying campaign ended in failure after a 2-0 reverse by the Netherlands in October 93. I recall the classic commentary line from the legendary commentator, Brian Moore, “he’s going to flip it, he’s going to flip it” as he foresaw Koeman’s intentions with a free kick from which the Dutchman scored (he should have been sent off earlier in the game, you may remember).

I was 19 years old when the World Cup kicked off, and had just left hospital after an operation and found myself in a two week recovery period at home. I couldn’t have timed it better to have had a bloody abscess on my backside!!! Even if I was trying to kid myself I wasn’t interested, one consolation of this rather embarrassing ailment was that I could focus on watching the World Cup; and all without the anxiety of following England. It is something I hope I don’t experience again, but I’ll confess that I enjoyed the World Cup from a neutral point of view. It had all the razzmatazz you’d expect from the Americans, but that was easily forgivable for a worldwide tournament. For me, USA 94 was a great World Cup.

It was no real consolation that Eire had made the finals, although there was at least some familiar faces from English football on show. I didn’t really have an adopted nation I’d support in the tournament, but (and you’ve probably guessed this already if you’d followed any of my previous World Cup posts) I was looking forward to watching Maradona on the worlds greatest stage once again. Being a football stadium anorak I was left a little disappointed by the featureless, open-topped arenas that are still commonplace in US sport. Even the 91,000 capacity Pasadena Rose Bowl in Los Angeles failed to interest me.

As the group matches unfolded, players like Stoichkov of Bulgaria, Romario of Brazil and Hagi of Romania stood out for me. I recall fondly the goal celebration of the Nigerian striker, Rashidi Yekini, after he scored against the Bulgarians (picture above). The sizable African scored from the simplest of tap-ins, but reacted as if he’s won the World Cup itself. As his momentum carried him into the back of the net, with his huge clenched fists pushed through it, he began screaming in utter delirium (I seem to recall a story that he began reeling off the names of his family members back home). For me, it is a football celebration bettered only by Tardelli in 1990 for raw emotion (and marginally above Stuart Pearce after the penalty conversion v’s Spain in Euro 96, by the way). Maradona’s expulsion from the tournament after a positive drug test was a massive blow to me but not entirely unexpected after the bizarre goal celebration against Greece (the difference between raw emotion and lunacy). Another notable and regrettable incident that sticks in my mind in the group matches was the own goal by the Columbian, Escobar, which would eventually lead to the defenders murder in Medellin just a week or so later (supposedly by a crime syndicate that lost money betting on the result of the game). It was a shocking reminder of the pressure some of these players were playing under. One thing still puzzles me to this day is why Al-Owairan’s wonder goal for Saudi Arabia vs Belgium is not commonly noted as one of the best goals of all time. Running from deep inside his own half he passed 4 or 5 men before shooting past the keeper from just inside the box.

There was a notable shock in the last 16, with Hagi masterminding Romania’s victory over the Argentines. Elsewhere Brazil knocked out the hosts in a game that saw the world’s worst goal celebration by Bebeto, who proceeded to ‘rock his new-born baby to sleep’. Rubbish! It was fantastic watching the German’s fall in the quarter finals after the bald-headed Letchkov headed the winner mid-way through the second half. After that, everyone in England became Bulgarian overnight. Rather encouragingly, both semi-finals were concluded in normal time, with the mighty Brazil meeting Italy in the final. If football was ever to catch on in the States, then nobody would have wanted a final that played out 0-0 after 120 mins and ended in a penalty shoot-out. How boring! The masterful Roberto Baggio will be remembered for missing his kick, but he wasn’t alone, with the legendary, Franco Baresi, another notable spot-kick failure.

A few years ago I had conversation with a friend of mine who’s Dad was out in the States during the 94 World Cup. My friend had asked his Dad to bring back some souvenirs of the football and he duly obliged as my friend is the proud owner of an ‘England USA 94’ baseball cap and matching T-Shirt. Apparently, the American’s continued to produce England Merchandise despite us not participating. It could only happen in the USA…

Sunday 6 June 2010

My World Cup Memories - Part Three, Italia 90

After the controversy and disappointment of England’s exit in Mexico, the four years wait until the next World Cup seemed like forever. I had followed the qualifiers intently. It wasn’t entirely comfortable, and it was with considerable relief that we gained the vital point we needed to qualify for the 1990 World Cup v’s Sweden in Stockholm in September of 89. The game may have finished 0-0, but it’s a game that will never be forgotten for the iconic image of the talismatic Terry Butcher drenched head to toe in blood following a head collision that required numerous stitches. His white England shirt had quiet literally turned red. To a young impressionable chap like myself, Butcher typified the English spirit.

At the start of Italia 90 I was 15 years old; the final would be on my 16th birthday. Unlike the previous two World Cups, this one would not be followed from the comfort of the family home. This time around I was going to follow the drama with my mates. The tribal, patriotic emotions took the viewing experience to a whole new level, as did the odd drop of alcohol here and there! New Order’s ‘World In Motion’ was played back to back wherever you went. Easily the greatest football song of all time, it is a lifetime defining anthem that conjures so many evocative memories, good and bad. I was bursting with pride for my country. It is perhaps a little sad when looking back in retrospect that Italia 90 was probably the peak of my World Cup experience in some ways. I viewed the England players as heroes: every one of them. In particular, Gazza, who had so much passion, skill and invention plus the lovable slightly daft character to go with it. It would be the last time in a World Cup I would look up to England players with such awe and admiration.

The World Cup in Italy came with all the cultural sophistication you associate with the Italians. This was no ‘Pie and a Pint’ sort of World Cup. Constant reminders of the history of the country were evident throughout, with the final itself being held in the ancient city of Rome. Even Pavarotti’s Nessun Dorma gave a dramatic and emotional operatic theme to the TV coverage. My fascination with football stadia was satisfied with such venues as the impressive Stadio Olimpico in Rome and Milan’s San Siro. I already knew of the Stadio San Paolo in Naples as it was Maradona’s home ground at the time. There is, however, a common opinion that due to the defensive nature of some teams and the low goal-scoring ratio throughout the whole tournament, Italia 90 was the worst World Cup ever (Brazil, for example, despite all their flair and ability played with 5 defenders in some games). I don’t think that it was a coincidence that this happened in a country famed for their defensive approach. But then this was a World Cup: the stakes were at their very highest. Take England’s group for example, things were so tight that only England managed to win a game, nobody scored more than one goal in any one game and no less than 5 of the 6 games played ended in a draw (two of them goalless). But despite all this, Italia 90 represented England’s greatest World Cup adventure since 1966. And what an adventure it was!

The favorable time-difference meant I’d get a chance to watch both the late afternoon and evening kick-off’s. For one month I was completely surrounded by football at an age where nothing else appeared to be more important! I remember quite clearly the first game of the tournament between the current holders, Argentina, and the Cameroon. Despite my admiration for Maradona, I found myself rooting for the underdog Africans. Played in a packed San Siro in Milan, the Cameroons pulled off one of the all time World Cup shocks and out-muscled and bullied their far more talented opposition winning 1-0, and all this despite having every one of their players and substitutes sent off for not being able to tackle! The result would not prove to be as much of a fluke as first thought, as the huge Africans went on to win their group (Argentina scrapped through as one of the four best 3rd placed teams). England’s campaign got off to a disappointing start with a draw against Eire (I recall the typical doom and gloom in The Sun the following morning), a slightly more respectable 0-0 draw against the Netherlands, and, thankfully, a vital and decisive 1-0 win over Egypt, courtesy of Mark Wright’s only ever England goal. We were through to the last 16.

The first round of knockout games featured some mighty encounters; a strangely defensive looking Brazil v’s Argentina and West Germany v’s the Netherlands amongst them. The latter of the two games will unfortunately be better remembered for the bizarre Frank Rijkaard spitting incident on Rudi Voller that saw both men sent off (if memory serves me correct, the TV cameras had picked up an earlier attempt by Rijkaard to spit at Voller, but the ref never saw that). England was drawn against Belgium, a side who was in good form and had been impressive in the group matches. The game was a typically nervy and tight affair that looked to be heading to a penalty shoot-out before David Platt somehow swiveled on to a ball into the box (I seem to recall it was Gazza from a set piece?) and put the ball passed the Belgian keeper. It was a magic moment shared with friends and although I don’t recall a huge amount about the game itself, I can picture the moment the pub erupted when we realised Platt had bagged the winner. The beer was dripping from the ceiling and there was utter pandemonium. England were through to the Quarter Final’s once again, but this time a stocky Argentine genius would not be amongst the opposition, rather it would be colossal Africans built like clay village huts that stood in our way.

If this World Cup was indeed the worst one ever due to the reasons noted above, then the quarter finals done little to disprove the theory. A dull 0-0 after extra time, Argentina relied on a penalty shoot-out v’s Yugoslavia (despite Maradona missing his spot kick) to go through to the last four. The hugely impressive and eventual Golden Boot winner, Schillaci scored for the Italians v’s Eire in an all-to-predictable 1-0 win, and a penalty put the Germans through against the Czechs. The game of the round was most certainly England v’s Cameroon. There were some that thought this game would be a formality. It was certainly true that England were the favorites against an African side that appeared to be over-performing and riding their luck. But the Cameroons were no mugs. They’d beaten Valderrama’s Columbia in the last 16 thanks to two goals from Roger Milla, who, despite being over 40 years old, became forever famous for that dancing goal celebration in an earlier game. Before the Cameroon match I was concerned about our ability to cope with the brutal tackling and relentless raw power that the Cameroons had displayed so well against the Argentines in the opening game. Everyone was nervous that Gazza would react to a strong challenge and get sent off. It was, I think, the only England game I watched outside of a pub in 1990. A few of us had gathered at a friend’s house to watch the drama unfold. First we scored through Platt, and then the towering Africans hit us with two goals midway through the second half. Without the anxiety of a packed and twitchy pub, I remember sitting quietly; keeping the faith we had another goal in us. And thank God, we did! The England Captain, Gary Lineker, scoring from a dubious looking penalty with just 7 mins left. Another dodgy looking penalty converted by Lineker would win us the game in the first half of extra time, and England were in the semi-finals. Just saying it sounded fantastic. Just thinking about the possibilities beyond that was…er…well, unthinkable! The whole nation got behind Bobby Robson: a man we had all grown to love as a second father figure.

I began dreaming of a very special birthday on July the 8th in the Stadio Olimpico in Rome. I swear, I’d have never asked for anything else…ever!

But it wasn’t to be. On the 4th of July 1990, late into the evening, I was left totally heartbroken. 15 years old and crying on the shoulders of friends, who themselves were inconsolable. I can honestly say the pain of the defeat – and the nature of it – is still very hard for me to try and recall nearly 20 years later. I simply don’t have it in me to put on a brave face and re-live the game (which I admit is not ideal considering this whole series of reminiscing posts was my idea!). Hand on heart; I have never been able to watch a re-run of the failed penalties. And that image of Bobby’s face as he turns away from the dugout knowing his dream is over gets me every time.

As Waddle’s penalty attempt rose high into the Turin sky, the 1990 World Cup was over. Even the thought of watching Maradona in the final wasn’t enough, and don’t talk to me about 3rd place matches (is there a game anywhere that has so little value?).

Four years to the next World Cup and a chance to heal the pain. But four years of hurt would turn in to eight...

Wednesday 2 June 2010

My World Cup Memories - Part Two, Mexico 86

Four years on from the bewildering experience of Spain 82 and the World Cup had moved on to South America and Mexico. I was now 12 years old and far wiser to world football. Unlike the previous World Cup, this one could not sneak up on me with little time to fully take in what the month-long festival of football really meant before it exploded in all of it’s colourful splendor, played out it’s drama and died in a flash. In fact, this time around I’d followed England’s qualification for the greatest tournament on earth. My excitement was steadily building many months in advance.

Once again, my ‘Mexico 86’ reference book was read back to back, over and over as I familiarized myself with yet new countries and their whereabouts, national flag and footballers. Out had gone countries like Honduras, Peru and El Salvador and in their place on the world stage were intriguing national teams like Iraq, Morocco and South Korea. Like the previous World Cup, I stared wide-eyed at the stadia from where the football would take place. If Barcelona’s Camp Nou - with it’s 94,000 capacity - seemed big, then you can imagine how awe-inspiring the sight of the mighty Azteca Stadium in Mexico City was for a young lad who was already developing a fascination with football stadia! When full, it would take some 114,600 people to fill it! I was used to a few hundred each week following my local non-league team: I just struggled to comprehend the sheer size of the Azteca.

Mexico had created a thoroughly likable World Cup mascot in ‘Pique’, who was dressed in the national team colours with a huge moustache and big sombrero. He was commonplace in kinder eggs at the time. It was some years later that I realised he was a jalapeno pepper! Perhaps the Mexicans alternative mascot should have been their very own striker Hugo Sanchez, who seemed to find ways of spectacularly overhead licking everything! Searing heat was once again a feature throughout the whole tournament. Advances in technology had bought better quality TV pictures and sound, with the clarity of the colour enhanced by the Central American sunshine.

The time difference meant that I’d miss the weekday early afternoon games because of school, but I’d be home in time for the second round of daily matches, of which, in the group matches at least, England thankfully featured. I don’t recall much about our first two games (a defeat and a draw), other than Robson going off in agony holding his shoulder against Morocco and me thinking the world was coming to an end. Thankfully, a 3-0 victory over Poland, via Gary Lineker’s hatrick, was enough to see us in to the last 16, where England tasted the Azteca experience for the first time in this World Cup v’s Paraguay. We won 3.0, although I don’t recall a single thing about the game (it’s likely I was at school).

Our reward for the Paraguay victory was another visit to the mighty Azteca, and a quarter final v’s Argentina. The game - played early afternoon on a Sunday - gripped the nation as memories of the Falklands conflict a few years earlier still evoked intense emotion. Typically, the red top newspapers went to town. This was Maradona’s Argentina. The Azteca was packed to the rafters (in fact, a report at the time stated over 121,000 were thought to be present, well above it’s official capacity noted above, and more than the final itself). In terms of world football, games just didn’t get more meaningful. This game possibly represents the one and only time I can remember my entire family sitting down to watch a TV game together. Even my sister watched! I had my Dad’s seat: the best position in the house for viewing the TV. In many respects, I was as excited about seeing Maradona as watching England. The left-footed, tiny-but-stocky, big haired Argentine with the low centre of gravity had left me spellbound in the tournament so far as he looked to be almost single-handedly carrying the full weight of Argentina on his back. And then, in the space of 90 minutes, two very different moments that would be etched in football history forever. Firstly, the ‘Hand of God’. I make no apologies as a very proud Englishman to say I have always been embarrassed by the English response to that ‘goal’ (in many ways, a non-typical English response that was hyped up by the poor quality newspapers of the day). I just couldn’t fault Maradona. I was twelve years old and I deeply admired his cheek, defiance, arrogance and will to win. I would argue with anyone that had Lineker committed the same offence up the other end we’d have called him a hero. But for all the criticism that came with the first goal, even the hardiest of England fan could not have done anything other than admire the second. For me, it remains the best goal ever scored (I take in to account the occasion and stage). Maradona’s run was far beyond genius: beyond imagination. I had never seen such genius with the football. You could have put the entire English nation in front of Shilton that day and the world’s greatest footballer would have gone through us all. He was unplayable and unstoppable. Above all else, I wanted with all my twelve year old heart for England to win, but the truth was that day belonged to someone else…El Diego!

By the way, in only one Englishman have I ever seen that sort of maverick natural brilliance, albeit on a much-reduced level - comparatively speaking - and I will cover Gazza in my next post.

Maradona scored twice again in the semi final v’s Belgium, avenging the shock 1-0 reverse at the hands of the same opposition in the previous World Cup. The necessity to be educated scuppered my chances of watching the other semi, of which West Germany proved victorious (knowing me, I was staring out of my school classroom window daydreaming of lifting the World Cup, wishing the hours away).

So on to the final. In England we were torn on who to support: our arch-enemies, West Germany, or the Argentines, who had so controversially (in the opinion of many) knocked us out the competition. For me, it was easy; I wanted Maradona to lift the World Cup. The final was a gripping affair with West Germany fighting back from 2-0 down to draw level via Rummenigger and the stereotypical caricature of a German, Rudi ‘The Spit’ Voller. Not long after the equalizer Maradona waved his magic wand once again sending Burruchaga through to score the winner for Argentina.

Mexico 86 had passed with so many memories and emotions imbedded in my young mind. Next up, Italia 90. The lump is forming in my throat as I write…

Monday 31 May 2010

My World Cup Memories - Part One, Spain 82

By the time the ‘Soccer City’ of Johannesburg hosts the 19th World Cup Final, I will be just 3 days in to my 37th year. Nine World Cup Finals have passed me by in that time, and it’s the memories of the eight I can remember that I would like to share with you in a series of posts leading up to this years finals. This is not intended to be the definitive summery of World Cup Finals since Spain 1982: I am neither that good a wordsmith, but nor do I want to stray too far from what each World Cup meant to me personally. I have made no attempt to research what I can’t remember. It may seem like a sad attempt to justify a life-long obsession with football, but I believe my early experiences of sports greatest spectacle helped in no small measure to shape the person I am today. Amongst other things, an interest in geography and world music might very well be traced back to those early World Cup experiences.

Spain ‘82

I was far too young to remember the glorious ticker-tape scenes of Buenos Aires when Kempes fired the Argentines to glory against the Dutch in 1978. But four years on from that, and at the age of 8, I was facing up to my first World Cup Finals in the sun-soaked surrounds of Spain. Already a football mad kid, my awareness for the tournament began around the Easter beforehand when I got an ‘Espana 82’ book detailing everything you wanted to know about the forthcoming festival of football. I never put it down. Whether or not that publication really gave me a sense of the magnitude of the forthcoming World Cup tournament I would doubt, but within its pages endless curiosities were released in to my impressionable mind. This was something I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams, and there it was, months away. The colourful details of participating countries I’d never even heard of like Honduras, Cameroon and El Salvador captivated and intrigued me. I needed to know more about them. I had only heard of Peru thanks to Paddington Bear, and yet all of a sudden ‘Darkest Peru’ became a reality: a place that actually existed beyond Children’s TV. I imagined those dark-skinned chaps with huge afro hair wandering out of the Peruvian Jungle to take on my heroes, Shilton, Wilkins, Butcher, Robson, Francis and co. It just didn’t seem real! Then there was the Panini sticker book that made these world cup superstars recognizable: Rossi, Rummenigge, Platini, Socrates, Falcao, Zico and Maradona, to name but a few.

And so it began: football played in such bright sunshine that relentlessly beat down upon parched looking pitches inside stadiums of the like I’d never seen before. Enormous venues like the Camp Nou, Barcelona and Madrid’s Santiago Bernabeu towered vertically in seemingly endless layers above the pitches, casting odd-looking shadows in the balmy-hot sunshine.

I ran home from school to watch England’s first game v’s France and ended up watching it on my own on a portable TV in my Mum & Dad’s bedroom (no doubt my sister had pulled rank on the TV downstairs). I waited just 27 seconds to see the talismanic Robson score for England. I can only imagine what must have been going through my mind with my eyes far wider than the TV screen I was watching! I can recall the muffled commentary that sounded more like a phone conversation (of course, in reality, that’s exactly what it was). I'm certain it was the first time I would have shown any form of patriotic affection towards the St. Georges cross.

England’s participation in the tournament was cut short in the 2nd Round despite the fact we never lost a game throughout the World Cup. Three initial 1st Round wins followed by two 2nd Round draws was not enough and my heroes were sent home. I think I was too mesmerised by the whole colourful spectacle to really feel a sense of disappointment and given our final game v’s Spain was an evening kick-off on a school night, I doubt I would have actually watched it live.

The game I remember most clearly in Spain 82 was Brazil v’s Italy in the 2nd Round. It was an absolute World Cup classic played out in a packed opened-topped stadium somewhere in Barcelona. Even at that age it was impossible not to admire the free-flowing, free-spirited Brazilians with their ever present samba drum accompaniment. I was totally captivated. The game swung back and forth but Brazil lost the game 3-2 (and left the World Cup) following a hatrick by the player of the tournament, Paolo Rossi (who hadn’t scored in the tournament beforehand).

It was my first introduction to world football, and how I value those memories: the Sun’s headlines of yet more hooliganism, Maradona’s red card against the Brazilians, the German goalkeeper, Harald Schumacher’s ‘assault’ on the Frenchman Battiston in the Semi Finals (my goalkeeping friend still claims it was not a foul)!

But the one defining memory from that tournament that still lifts the hairs on the back of my neck to this day was Tardelli’s goal for the Italians in the World Cup Final v’s West Germany. Not the goal itself, but the celebration that followed (image above). Following his goal, Centre-back Tardelli sprinted towards the Italian bench screaming his own name, clenched-fisted, open armed and reduced instantly to tears at the magnitude and importance of his goal.

If I needed to understand the importance of a World Cup victory, I had just understood completely.