Friday 30 March 2012

Dark Thoughts...

There’s no doubt about it, I’ve not slept well this week and I don’t have to search too far within myself to realise the catalyst for my insomnia. Charlton’s recent slump has made things a little less comfortable at the top and despite trying really hard to convince myself I’m relaxed about the whole thing, I’m scared shitless that there could be a sting in the tail as this season begins to draw to an end. I like to think of myself as a ‘pint half full’ sort of chap, and there’s no doubting Charlton are in a fantastic position to gain automatic promotion, but a man’s mind can be his worst enemy at times, and I need Charlton to ease the dark thoughts tomorrow afternoon.

In truth, I doubt I’d be able to relax even if we was within a point of going up with 7 games left.

Charlton never do things easily and I don’t care for style and swagger at this stage; it’s all about gaining those vital points to get over the finishing line. That said, a decent performance wouldn’t go amiss, and asides from sending out a message to the chasing pack, it would be a boost to the Addickted who are desperate for a sign that Charlton are out of their recent slump and capable of showing the form required to escape this league.    
I’ll have a good long run in the morning and then head for The Valley, full of hope as always. I know I’ll feel better about things then. I fully expect Charlton to be too strong and focused for The O’s and 3 points would take us a quarter of the way to promotion. A Charlton win and results elsewhere are completely irrelevant.

I’ll echo the words of Al from God, Charlton & Punk Rock when I say I can’t wait for this season to end. It's like waiting to have a troublesome tooth pulled out: you know you'll feel better in the end but you've got a fair bit of pain to endure before you get there! I'm looking forward to that summer period when football doesn't matter.

Come on Charlton! So nearly there..  

Last word to Richard Murray, of whom I wish a speedy recovery. I can’t hold Mr. Murray in higher regard for what he’s done for Charlton.

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Social Circles...

There can be no doubting the impact that social media has had on the way we digest football nowadays. Fans opinions spread free and easy across the numerous sources available whether it be internet forums and blogs (like this) to social networking and micro-blogging sites like Facebook and Twitter. The options are vast; it’s just a question of how much you can or want to take in. Fans aside, even some footballers have stepped out from the comfort of their ivory towers and made themselves directly contactable by virtue of a simple ‘Tweet’. Charlton’s very own talismanic skipper, Johnnie Jackson, is amongst them, and he’s not alone, with Euell, Hayes, Solly, Evina, Hamer and Sullivan all regular ‘Tweeters’.

Up until quite recently I’d stubbornly resisted the whole Twitter thing. I’d tried Facebook some years back and quickly become disillusioned and Twitter was just not appealing to me one bit. But its was when Charlton played away at Yeovil over Christmas that my wife advised me to try Twitter as a way of keeping up with the action whilst at a family doo. It was a revelation! The club’s official Twitter feed provided the up-to-the-minute partisan coverage I needed and furthermore, alongside that in glorious unison was the views of my fellow Addickted. I felt close enough to the action to celebrate wildly when Green bagged a late winner!

Account and running. The big question for me, is for how long?

The trouble is, no matter how credible and valued some fans opinions are - especially in defeat when you seek some sensible and measured perspective - there really are some idiots out there. Last Sunday there was even a young Addick actually calling for Powell’s head via his Twitter account, claiming ‘we need to get someone in for the remaining 7 games’! When some people’s views are so incredibly ludicrous from the outset, I just don’t have the desire to even question it, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t annoy me.

But perhaps the extreme differences between the benefits and downsides of the growing trend towards social media could not have been more evident following the awful Fabrice Muamba incident a few weeks back. Just as your faith in humanity took an almighty leap forward as the greater ‘football community’ rallied in support, so the rug was pulled away by the undercurrent of society’s most despicable idiots that came crawling out of the woodwork with their knuckles dragging on the floor behind them. These extreme and deplorable views you have allowed into your own personal space by simply ‘logging on’. You’ve only yourself to blame if the opinions offend or leave a bad taste: you have invited them in after all.

Whilst I was out running the other day I did wonder about how things have changed. My mind instantly flashed back to May 98 and that monumental day out at Wembley. Back then my only line of communication was my phone, which done two things; made calls and woke me up (it was also the size of a house brick)! It may well have offered a text service but another few years would pass before I mastered that function! No built in camera, no internet access or links to social networking sites (which hadn’t been invented, of course). It’s almost inconceivable looking back that I felt content with a verbal ‘good luck’ from my Mum as I left home that day and a voicemail message from a good friend after the match. I’d even stopped off on-route to buy a disposable camera from which the site header image above was created; no such luxuries of digital cameras. There was no forums with which to revel in the victory with your fellow fans and no blogs such as this to give a more personal account of the day. Nowadays, aided by my iPhone, I can freely interact with fellow fans via Twitter before, during and after the game should I wish, and furthermore, I have the technology on my phone to video a moment in time that could be posted on my blog or YouTube account for the entire world to see (if they knew where to find me!) within seconds of the event taking place.

The last time Charlton gained promotion back in 1999-2000, fanzines like ‘The Voice of The Valley’ or ‘Goodbye Horse’ would have been the media source linking fans. So different now.

As one who can appreciate the changing times, I have seen great value in areas of social media where following Charlton is concerned. Never have I felt so connected with my fellow fan (other than that idiot who calls for SCP’s head) and never have I looked forward to celebrating alongside like-minded people.

Monday 19 March 2012

The 12th Man...

Despite our league position, recent midweek games have seen some pretty disappointing gates at The Valley as the floating fan has presumably decided that his/her sofa and the lure of Champions League is a favoured option. At the start of this month we was down to the come-what-may hardcore as the rather generous official gate v’s Colchester United was recorded as 13,650. In reality, it was a good few hundred less than that as the figure would have included season ticket holders who never took up their seats on the night.

All in all it’s pretty disappointing that despite the tremendous chance Charlton have to finally escape League One – let alone win the league - the midweek atmosphere has more in common with a side in mid-table with little to play for.

Tomorrow we take on Yeovil, who, with the greatest of respect, will not be bringing much more than a few hundred fans with them. We could well be looking at another poor gate and a rather subdued and nervy atmosphere against an in-form team who will come to The Valley fearing nothing. Yes Charlton have a responsibility to lift the crowd and force the game, but surely the best shot to the arm for a Charlton side that have hit a slump in recent weeks would be to see the Addickted turn out in numbers.

Granted we’re in tough economic times and despite our lofty position the football on show has not always been top-notch, but as a regular home fan it does urk me a little to think that when Charlton are over the finishing line (note: confidence rather than complacency) those floating fans will all be out in their droves. It’s likely that with just 5 home games left this season some fans may even have considered their disposable income and chosen not to attend Tuesday’s match in readiness for the impending champagne-popping game, whenever it may be (note: confidence rather than complacency).

Of course, the reality is that it’s NOW that Charlton need that little extra bit of encouragement from the stands, not when the job has been done.

So, if you’re reading this and care enough, get down to The Valley tomorrow night, take up your position as Charlton's 12th man and get behind the team. For me, floodlit games at The Valley are something incredibly special and I look forward to each and every one. Charlton are tantalisingly close to the finishing line and three point Tuesday will be an almighty step forward.

Come on you Addicks!

Monday 12 March 2012

Keep The Faith...

It's always been my preference to write a piece a day or two after a game. This way I let the dust settle a little, make sense of my mind state and I can attempt to avoid over-jingoistic or, perhaps more importantly, over-critical posts.

Had I have written this post in the hours straight after Saturday’s game it may well have been mixture of the two emotions noted above based on the truly awful first half performance and the much-improved second.

At half time on Saturday I said to the blokes I sit with that knowing Charlton's habit of Jekyll & Hyde performances, we'll come out second half all guns blazing and we'll end up agonizingly close at 3-4, which, in many ways, would have rubbed salt into the wounds still further. It looked for a while as though my throw-away comment was going to come true as Charlton scored two early goals and flooded forward with all the verve that was missing from the first half. Had the generously proportioned referee given Charlton what appeared to be a stonewall penalty on the hour mark, things may have been different and I could well have been writing about one of the greatest comebacks ever witness at the Valley (other than that one)! In the end, it was as if that moment took the wind out of Charlton's sails and we never really looked like scoring again. As positive as the response was second half, it just doesn't hide how bad we was in the first.

Ironically, the general response from the Addickted has been reasonably measured, compared to earlier in the season when the team was getting some really unfair criticism and on occasions despite winning games. Even on Twitter, which tends to attract some real brainless idiots, there has been an overwhelming ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude, which has been encouraging to read. That approach is totally correct: after all, Charlton are 10 points clear at the top on merit, and Sir Chris and the team deserve a greater level of faith from every fair-minded Charlton fan.

How I despise those who left at half time on Saturday and especially those who seem quite proud of themselves for doing so. The Valley was absolutely rocking in the first 30 mins of the second half as Charlton, cheered on by real supporters, halved the deficit and fought back in splendid fashion. 

The trouble is, no matter how illogical it may appear to some, our lead at the top will always feel perilously fragile to me right up until the very second it becomes mathematically impossible for us not to go up. After all, it just wouldn't be Charlton if we done the unthinkable and won this bloody league at a canter! I’d like to think of it as not getting complacent rather than suspecting Charlton will fall short, but it’s likely I’m subconsciously guarding myself against disappointment. It was interesting that on Five Live 606 following the Bournemouth game the pundits spoke briefly regarding the race for promotion in League One and never mentioned Charlton once, as if to suggest we was already up.

So even following two straight home defeats, Charlton remain in an enviable position, with the finishing line just visible in the not-too-far distance. Repeat once again (and as required thereafter): Keep Calm & Carry On!

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Charlton is not those teams below them; it is the battle going on in their own minds. After all, it's far easier to get to the very top than it is to stay there. And let’s face it, Charlton’s lead is so big you could hardly even refer to Sheffield United (in second place) as ‘breathing down our necks’. Furthermore, the tension amongst the chasing pack will almost guarantee more twist and turns from which Charlton will benefit from, as we did following the Bournemouth game.

As things stand we need 7 wins from our last 10 games to guarantee automatic promotion, but the reality is that we are unlikely to need quite that many victories as those around us will drop points along the way. Another way to view things is that we’d need to show relegation form in the final 10 games to slip up now, and I just don’t believe that will happen.

For what it's worth, I think we may be looking at Wycombe at The Valley on 21st April to break open the Champagne!

Thursday 8 March 2012

Change Is Coming...

It was very nearly a year ago that I returned home from work to be greeted with a letter from our new Chairman, Michael Slater, urging me to renew my season ticket. I don’t say it easily, but I’m also not embarrassed to admit the letter left me wiping away the odd tear. It was a particularly desperate time to be supporting Charlton and the arrival by post of the renewal forms a week or so beforehand could not have been less timely. Without question, being asked to part with £375 of my hard earned money to continue doing something that was making me so unhappy was tough, really tough. With the greatest respect to Mr. Slater, far tougher than he will ever know as a little known, self-confessed Manchester City fan who was now in charge of my club; a club he would have to learn to love over time.

“Supporting Charlton at the moment isn’t easy. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but please don’t give up on your team” wrote Mr. Slater, before going on to say “I can well understand if your patience has been stretched to breaking point”.

The letter was honest and to the point, but most importantly it offered hope for the future. I wanted to believe every word of it, especially the line “I want to assure you change is coming”.

“I’m confident that next season will be better than this one and that in years to come you’ll look back with pride in the knowledge that you stuck with the club through thick and thin”.

In reality, whether I’d received that letter or not it would have made no difference to me as by coincidence I’d renewed my seat earlier that very same day. There was no question I would do so, but I had never done it before with such a heavy heart.

At the time I wrote a small piece announcing that I’d signed up again, ending with the words ‘now all I ask from you, Mr. Chairman, is that you give me a Charlton team I can be proud of’. Thank you Mr. Slater (et al), a man that appears as good as his word. You have and I am.

Early next week I’ll be signing up for what will be my 16th consecutive year as a season ticket holder and God willing, looking forward to seeing Charlton back in the Championship.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Essex Boys...

Charlton sneak back in to the comforting surrounds of The Valley tonight. The 3 point booty ‘stolen’ from Bournemouth securely stashed away in Sir Chris’s handsome black leather Hugo Boss man-bag ready to be handed over to the beaming, open-armed Mr. Slater. I envisage our heroic manager being flanked by his most bravest of foot soldiers, Kermorgant and Morrison, as Charlton’s leading men meet in the plush, refurbished boardroom. “More of the same tonight, please” announces Slater: his grin gaining width across his face as he speaks. “We’ll do our very best, as always” proclaims Sir Chris confidently – chest puffed out like a pigeon - before looking up at Big Yann beside him. The sizable Breton returns the glance with a reassuring glint in his eye and his nostrils begin to flex like a disgruntled bull. “Now if you’ll excuse us, Mr. Slater, there’s some lads coming over from Essex…".

If I’m bluntly honest, I can’t quite get my head around why so many Addicks appeared embarrassed to have gained 3 points last Saturday via what Powell himself referred to as ‘smash and grab’. Personally, in order to get out of this division, I’ll take the points however which way they come and without wishing to drag out an overused footballing cliché, you do make your own luck after all. Unfortunately, work stopped me from joining the travelling Addicks on the South coast last weekend, but my own celebrations following Yann's goal (image above) would have been every bit as euphoric despite being on my own! I felt the pressure-cooker feeling of 6 years of agony lifting slightly. God willing, He will allow it to continue...  

I will be at the Valley tonight as always for the arrival of an in-form and improved Colchester United. In recent years CUFC have proved a stubborn obstacle to overcome, and at one stage were a bit of a bogey team to us. Of course, the last time we met at the Valley, in February 2011, we won 1-0 but it was a truly bizarre refereeing decision by referee, D. Sheldrake, that stole the headlines that night. Steven Gillespie looked to have given CUFC the lead, before the ref disallow the goal for what appeared to be offside. Seconds later he changed his mind and deciding it should stand, before the fourth official intervened and following a lengthy discussion between the officials, the ‘goal’ was finally chalked off. Charlton got lucky that night, as we did on Saturday just past.

I end on a word of caution. The law of averages suggest Charlton are due a stumble at some point and don’t be surprised if there’s more than the odd freak result between now and the end of the season. Something tells me tonight could be a very tough night, but perhaps I'm just guarding myself against getting carried away. Surely Chris Powell’s brave charges can’t keep on with this relentless push to the finishing line?

Or can they? Come on you Addicks!