Wednesday 27 January 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For…

I greeted the news that our South London neighbours had gone in to administration with a groan and a genuine sense of disappointment. This is not about the implications for Palace, or concerns for the well being of the dislikable Simon Jordon - I couldn't care for either. It’s more about the anticipated response from some Charlton fans that fills me with a sense of dread. I can almost hear the laughter from SE7, and whilst it is easily explained and largely understandable given the circumstantial history and immense rivalry between our clubs, it doesn’t sit comfortably with me one bit. As saying goes, ‘you must be careful what you wish for’. Our financial situation is perilous at best and what we laugh at today, may well come back to haunt us sooner than we may hope. Some will not believe in tempting fate, whilst others will fear it. All I know is laughing at Palace at this present time just doesn't feel right to me, and I'll happily admit it. He who laughs last…and all that!

A subtle, dignified and very deliberate silence would be more appropriate at this time, but sadly, I don’t think it will happen.

As I said earlier, I don’t care for Palace as a football club one bit, but I’m not heartless enough not to empathise with any genuine Palace fan (or a fan of any club in a similar position) who will inevitably be concerned about their clubs future. As confident as I am in the efforts of those at Charlton who are attempting to safe-guard our future, Mr. Murray amongst them, I can’t deny that I have had many dark thoughts about what may happen if it all goes horribly wrong. I struggle badly with Saturday afternoons without football; safe in the knowledge a game is only a matter of days away at worst. Sooner rather than later a notable club will go out of business as the appalling state of football finance finally catches up. Naturally, the thought it could be Charlton is truly frightening.

As Thomas à Kempis, author of ‘The imitation of Christ’ (c.1420) wrote, “Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be”.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

L’union Fait La Force...

A home defeat! It’s been a while, but in all honesty, it doesn’t come as a surprise. It’s been on the cards for some time as we’ve teetered on the edge of games. Right from the off it felt like ‘one of those nights’ when every loose ball seem to fall to the opposition or 50-50 decisions seem to go against The Addicks. Added to the frustrations of bad individual decisions once again, the night was destined to be a disappointment. Of course, this is not by coincidence or bad luck entirely (or at all), and it is true that Orient thoroughly deserved the three points as their desire and effort was greater than ours: simple as that! Worryingly though, it’s beginning to look like when Bailey doesn’t play well, we don’t play well - a bit like Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. I’m a huge Semedo fan, but for the first time last night I wondered whether a player more comfortable with the football may take the pressure off Bailey a bit more in the middle of the park - perhaps a player like Matt Holland springs to mind, or a Matt Spring, perhaps! If Racon’s heads in the right place, perhaps he should be given another run? The trouble is, Semedo should be the man picking up the ball off the centre-backs with a view to feeding the more creative midfielders, but he hasn’t done that very well lately meaning Messrs. Dailly and Llera end up hoofing it forward too many times, by-passing the midfield with little end reward. A lack of left-sided balance is perhaps our biggest issue, especially as this would take the focus off of Sam and allow him a bit more freedom. Up front our problem is pace, which is not easily remedied if the personnel isn't available.

Good runs, or at least unbeaten runs, will come to an end (Norwich, Leeds and others are not exempt from this rule), and sometimes you have to take a step back to push forward again. That’s exactly what Charlton will have to do now and we’re more than capable. It's not like we're not use to knocks, after all. I have a work colleague who follows Leeds United and he's very concerned the FA Cup may have distracted his teams focus away from the league as he's seen Leeds slip away 'many times before'. But promotion is not won or lost in January, and nor does a bad performance make you a bad team overall. None the less, I have to go back as far as MK Don’s in mid-November for the last time I watched the Addicks with any real belief we could blow this division away. Games have been getting tighter and the frailties are more visible. Suspensions and injuries haven’t helped, but these are the cards you’re dealt so you have to deal with them. I have faith Phil Parkinson will do so.

Therefore, a calm and sensible response to this defeat is what’s required. Thankfully, we have a home game against Tranmere this Saturday, which represents a decent opportunity to get back to winning ways, especially with three tough away games looming directly after. In fact, I predict that two wins and two draws from our next 4 games, however tough a task that will be, would put us back on track to where I think we need to be to maintain an automatic promotion push.

By the way, I’m left footed, Mr. Parkinson!

Wednesday 20 January 2010

A Magic Moment Amidst The Mundane

What a dire night of football at a rather chilly Valley last night. I mentioned briefly in a recent post that with regards to following Charlton, I’d love nothing more than to lose that seemingly ever-present twisted, nervy feeling inside my belly in favour of a season of mid-table mediocrity, just so long as it was in the Championship. However, if last night’s game was any form of representation of what that might be like…perhaps not! The metaphorical Charlton roller-coaster ride took a well earned rest and was replaced by a kids spinning teapot ride! I have nothing but admiration for the hardy visiting northern souls who ventured down for the game: all 80 odd of them! It says something that the brief cheers from some Charlton sections of the ground who thought Elliot had kept out the penalty were louder than the goal celebrations.

Personally, I thought the Charlton players were trying too hard early on in the game. Not for the first time this season, the players caused their own frustrations with ill-judged one-two attempts or cross-field passes, when holding the ball up or making a simpler pass would have been the better option. Those who were at the Leyton Orient game will recall a similar first half performance that, thankfully, was contrasted in the second half. With this particular game in mind, I was hoping Parky was going to calm the boys down and we would come out second half with greater efficiency. I was wrong. This game will go down as a 'done enough....just' match! With Hartlepool suffering a hammering at the weekend, I sensed the average fan considered this to be a formality and more about how many we’d score. It rarely works out that way, and the expectation can often prove counterproductive. That’s not to offer any excuses. We should have won the game. It would have been totally unacceptable if we hadn’t. As fans we can perhaps ask for no more than a win, but what I’d like now is a comfortable win (as Norwich are brilliantly managing every week). As was the case at Wycombe on Saturday, last night's game highlights the fine lines between sucess and failure. Magic Moments or disappointment. They can turn on a knife-edge. At the moment, we're having a bit of luck and fortune go our way, but we need to close out games earlier and more effectively.

Young Scott Wagstaff deserves a mention, though. Up until the early part of this season I have failed to understand what he had to offer Charlton. I’d been left a little baffled by management comments telling me Wagstaff was a great talent. This season, however - granted against weaker opposition - I do understand. It comes down to desire, and Wagstaff clearly has that in abundance. He’s improving his game with every appearance, showing patience and his confidence is clearly growing. At times he looked like a boy amongst men: now he’s a young man amongst fellow pro’s. Good on him. He seems a level-headed lad. I’m left confused about Dickson, though. If anyone can help me out I’d appreciate it!

Of course the most important factor was the 3 points.

Sunday 17 January 2010

Oh, Nicky Bailey...You Are The Love Of My Life!

In yesterday’s matchday programme, there was a feature on Charlton Legends of the past. I won’t get drawn in to debating the notable names it left off the list, but if it had attempted to predict a name for the future, then the writer would have needed only to have followed our copper-topped, talismatic captain throughout yesterday’s game. I noted on the clubs website an excellent, passionate summery of the match, and in particular the statement “his sheer bloody-mindedness saw him snatch the loose ball, take a touch, and crash a superb shot past the home keeper”. Spot on! Nicky Bailey leads by example. He epitomises the ‘never say die’ attitude. In this division, that extra effort and desire will overcome obstacles more often than not, and succeed where his talent alone may not be enough. The way the players universally responded to Bailey’s goal shows how much the team values these magical moments as much as we did behind the goal. How refreshing, also, to see a pro-footballer able to kick comfortably with both feet, as can Shelvey and Burton. The rewards of this under-valued talent were highlighted yesterday.

It is easy to compare Bailey with Kinsella, and in fact, as I drove home I reminisced about a game at Norwich in the 1996-97 season. From memory, I seem to recall we lead the game, conceded a disappointing equalizer, only for Kinsella to thunder a 30 yard effort in to the roof of the net to give us 3 immensely valuable points as we struggled just above the relegation places.

So all in all it was another good day for the Addicks, and those travelling would have been grateful the game was on after the continuation of the thawing snow and heavy rain. Hat’s off to Wycombe in this regard. Despite the rain, I had a good, trouble-free drive to High Wycombe, stopped off for a nice bite to eat and arrived plenty early enough to have a good look around Adams Park’s surroundings and chat to a few locals and Charlton faces. As usual, and if I’m honest, as I prefer (being a man who values solitude), I travelled alone to the game. I off-set my carbon footprint by telling the missus she and the kids couldn’t have the heating on whilst I was away! Adam’s Park is a pleasant enough stadium, set against the back-drop of the picturesque Chiltern Hills. It was a little spooky seeing the fog drift off them and hover over the stadium towards the end of the game, but the brief chant of “The mist rolling in from the Hills…” made me laugh! In fact, the Charlton faithful are showing great humour with their vocal support, not least of all with the generous offers made to young Nicky Bailey! It’s good to hear, and the enthusiastic manor in which the Charlton fans cheered the local under 8’s team, on the pitch at half-time taking spot kicks, is a measure of the feel-good factor I think we all have at the moment. Long may it continue! Wycombe are a decent club with what I’m guessing is a hardcore of 3-4,000 local supporters. It’s nice to see their young fans wearing the colours of their local team despite the fact they’re unlikely to see glory days too often, if at all.

It was disappointing that Norwich hammered Colchester, but Leeds defeat made up for it. It’s funny how the anxiety I sensed at our last game at Brentford regarding Norwich’s run of good form seems to have lifted, and all of a sudden, with some attractive looking home fixtures ahead of us, we can concentrate on the top two with real confidence.

Yes, that’s the top two…

Monday 11 January 2010

The Greatest Game In Panorama

I hate Saturdays without football, but Saturdays without football due to a postponement is even worse! I struggle to focus, and as a family man with two young kids, that goes down badly, especially with the missus, who just gets more and more annoyed with me as I mope around. It’s always the same. Anyway, that’s not the point of the post. I’ll work my way back in the good books by Tuesday.

On Sunday afternoon, my thirst for a ‘Charlton fix’ was satisfied by me digging out my small photo collection of the 1998 Play-Off Final. It had been some years since I set eyes on them. The images, taken with a dodgy disposable camera (no camera phones in them days), depict the time period of the 5 or so hours I stood/sat/stood/sat/stood....and so my position behind the goal.

Being reasonably creative, I realised early on that by linking the photos here and there, I could make a panoramic image of the very view I had of the game, looking outwards across the vastness of the old Wembley Stadium. The quality may not be great, but you must consider that this panoramic image was pieced together from no less than 8 individual images. It will be good enough to have printed and framed. The wife will get the hump again, but this time I won’t care. I wear the trousers in my house when she’s out! Naturally you don’t get the full effect in the small area I can post the image on (although you can click on it to make it slightly bigger) but none the less thought I’d share that image with you all.

Noted in a recent Europe-wide poll as the 19th greatest game of football ever played, and voted elsewhere in the top ten greatest games ever played at the old Wembley Stadium, I feel honored to have been there. Surprisingly, it doesn’t make me lament the demise of Charlton any more than I already do: rather, I know enough of the beautiful game to realise you need to experience the lows to add the correct value to the highs.

Our time will come again.

Come on you Addicks!

Friday 8 January 2010

Time To Get Behind Parkinson...

As I exited Brentford’s Griffin Park at the end of our recent game there I thought I heard a ‘Parky, Parky’ chant. It was enough for me to stop dead and turn my ear towards the away end to confirm what I thought I’d heard. Perhaps I did: I’d certainly like to think I did. But although successful enough to have gathered enough voices to have carried the chant to just outside the ground, it clearly must have died down no sooner was it created. None the less, I felt happy it may have happened in the first place, especially after a disappointing draw.

I like Parkinson, and always have done. He represented the sort of player I wanted to be when I played the game (albeit at a low level). Like Kinsella and the stocky and steady Breaker, he’s the sort of chap you want in a battle. Parkinson’s got a good ability of saying the right thing at the right time, without going overboard and appearing like he’s made the statement just for the benefit of the fans. He’d make a great politician in this regard. Unlike Pardew, he doesn’t appear to need the spotlight or fame that goes with football management. In fact, in this regard, Parkinson’s programme notes rarely cover the space he has available to him. Not that it’s about written words, it’s about tactics and team leadership and I think he’s more than capable in both points. He will get things wrong; no manager is exempt from mistakes. I also accept he did have the time to turn around our situation last year but didn't manage to do it (although I don't blame him alone for relegation). But with the players he has at his disposal, and the crippling financial situation at The Valley, I think his job is a tricky one, to say the least?

So it was with great alarm that I noted in the excellent ‘Addick’s Championship Diary’ a post drawing our attention to today’s South London Press, and Parkinson’s alleged link with Reading. On first glance I see this as paper talk. As Parkinson himself reassuringly points out, “I’m in the middle of a project here and I’m fully focused on seeing that through”. I’d feel better if I was naive to the fragility of such quotes in football, though.

As I said, I like Parkinson, and I don’t know why Charlton fans have been so reserved in getting behind him. OK, he’s not from Charlton stock. I accept that, but so what? At the Withdean in early December, as the players and management passed us by at the end of the game, we sang ‘Kin, Kin, Kinsella’ but nothing for Parky. Whilst Kinsella will forever deserve our admiration, surely Parkinson deserved slightly better than his head coach taking all the applause! Perhaps it’s just because his surname doesn’t easily lend itself to chants.

I was involved in the construction of Colchester United’s new stadium, and as such, got to know some of the clubs staff quite well, and in particular, the two groundsmen. Parkinson led that club to promotion in recent times on a shoe-string budget and is very, very highly thought of within the club (although not by the fans if our visit there this season is anything to go by). They were devastated when he went. Their stories about Parkinson’s focus, professionalism and relentless determination was constantly impressive and believable, if not slightly humorous on occasions when told by an assistant groundsman who was phoned 3 times late one Sunday evening by Parkinson who needed to confirm everything was 100% in place for Monday morning’s training.

Anyway, back to Charlton. I think we should get behind the man. He gives me the impression he cares and values his role at our club and does it with some dignity considering the problems the club has faced in the last few years. I’m certain he will be a decent manager for this club for years to come. Should he succeed in gaining promotion, we may just get a short burst of 'Park, Parky'!

Thursday 7 January 2010

Oh Snow, Not Again....!!

OK, it's not much of a snowman, and arguably I could have done better, much better. I have many times in the past. Last year's one had arms fashioned in to it's upper-torso and legs protruding outwards from the base as if to suggest the snowman was taking a well-earned rest (not that snowman typically have legs, of course, and nor do they generally need to rest, as far as I'm aware). The year before that I made a snowman that required the snow off my neighbours lawns it was that big! I try and ensure the facial features give character to the snowman, defining it as male or female and different to those around it. My kids are carefully managed throughout the construction process to ensure there are no random lumps of snow placed in areas that don't require it. God help me, I encourage my little girl to name them!

None the less, the inclusion of the Charlton scarf hints to what was perhaps on my mind whilst helping my kids create this sub-zero, sub-standard snowman creation!

As my two kids are at that 'right' age to get an instant buzz off the arrival of snow, I greatly value those relatively spontaneous family moments. But when it threatens a Saturday afternoon at the Valley, I take a very different view. However unlikely it looks at the moment, I want Saturday's game on. I think most Addicks have been slightly unnerved by Norwich and Colchester's reluctance to leave us alone. I haven't lost faith one bit, I just think a game Saturday, culminating in a good performance and a win would settle us all down a tad. Financial problems may limit the positive activity in SE7 this month, but I am more than confident we have the manager, players and most certainly the fans to push forward to a genuine promotion challenge.

Not least of all, what else do I do on a Saturday? Saturday's are for football, not for shopping. I'd rather run a hoover around the house than go shopping.

The only plus is that I think a postponement of the entire League One fixture card looks likely, meaning teams relevant to our position woundn't be able to edge closer or further away, in the case of Norwich and Leeds.

Another slight plus is another Tuesday night game at the Valley. Night games always seem to generate a better atmosphere and with the added bonus of less away support, the odds look better for a home win.

Monday 4 January 2010

Fine Lines & Nervy Times...

So, The Addicks 'plummet' to 3rd, and Norwich, if the majority of the press are to be believed, are coasting to promotion alongside Leeds. I can't deny that I'm disappointed to give up our position for the first time this season, but hats off to Norwich for putting together a fantastic run of results which has seen them gain some 29 points from a possible 33 available since they lost to league leaders Leeds United in mid-October. By comparison, the Addicks have acquired just 20 points in a similar number of games. The goal difference between the two clubs is 5 in favour of the East Anglian team, and as tight as things are, that could prove a massively important element.

But here I lament the fine balance between success and failure. Charlton's draws against Yeovil, Millwall, Swindon and Brentford could all have turned out very different for varying reasons, not least of all the discipline of our experienced players. Despite being two down at one stage, Millwall was two points lost, as was Swindon, despite the excitement of the finale. I believe that Sodje and Burton would both have made a significant impact at Brentford, not least of all where Sodje is concerned as his inclusion in the team would have no doubt meant Semedo playing in midfield, where I believe we need him.

But I wonder, now the roles have been reversed, how well Norwich will cope with the pressure of sitting second in the division, and whether Charlton can match the pressure required to remain automatic promotion challengers. I can recall numerous games leaving the Valley in the last few months feeling slightly less buoyant with a victory given the results elsewhere, and from Norwich and Colchester in particular.

Perhaps my greater question is when I'm going to loose the twisted feeling in my belly that seems to have been an ever-present feature of following the Addicks over the last four or five seasons...

Oh, how I'd settle for a boring season of sitting mid-table, winning as many as we loose.....just so long as it's in the Championship!