Sunday 29 December 2013

Mud & The Mundane...

If Roland Duch√Ętelet does take control of Charlton then it's debatable whether he should concentrate on strengthening Chris Powell's threadbare playing squad first or sort out the awful Valley pitch. Both need urgent investment. Unsurprisingly, today's '6-pointer' against fellow relegation threatened Sheffield Wednesday was as awful a spectacle as the quagmire pitch the game was played on.
Ideally, after such an encouraging performance and result against Brighton on Boxing Day, Powell would have no doubt preferred to field an unchanged side, but Solly was not considered fit enough to compete in two games back-to-back so soon after returning from a long injury and Wiggins was unavailable due to the birth of his first child. That meant Evina came in at left back, Wilson dropped to right back and Jackson returned to the side after suspension. Bizarrely, Jackson's inclusion meant Stephens was played in an unfamiliar right midfield role. The usual talismanic Jackson failed to get into the game at any point and I can't recall a single meaningful contribution, whilst we missed Stephens in the middle. Powell needs to find a different way of playing our skipper if he remains determined to include him.
Powell also needs to be braver, especially at home and where his substitutions are concerned. How shit must Sordell be in training if he fails to get onto the pitch when Church is clearly having a stinker? I'm not Sordell's biggest fan, I'll be honest, but I wonder if he'd have dealt any better with that glorious chance that fell to Church towards the end of the game. We'll never know, of course.   
Tactically I thought Powell got it wrong today but he is working with a very limited deck of cards. I for one remain 100% behind him, but I can't help thinking we could end up regretting this result come the end of the season rather than viewing it as a point gained.
Hopefully he will be given funds to strengthen in the January transfer window.
And so, despite a forgettable first half in which we created very little, we found ourselves in front early in the second period. Thanks to some woeful defending Stephens was put clean through from a throw-on by Wilson and he kept his nerve to shoot past an oncoming Kirkland.
The lead lasted just over 10 mins before Wednesday equalised through the impressive Connor Wickham, although just as I felt at the time, the striker was well offside in the build up to the goal (as the screen shot to the left shows). The inept linesmen failed to spot it and the goal stood. I thought we'd shaken off the bad luck? 

Wednesday continued to press for a winner and we looked increasingly like we were happy to settle for a point. Alnwick made a first class stop from a header otherwise a disappointing afternoon would have got a whole lot worse.
All in all, a draw was about right. Both us and Wednesday have a lot of work to do to avoid relegation on this showing. I won't dwell anymore on today's game.

On a positive note, 5 points from the last three fixtures is a good return and one I didn't really expect. We have opened up a 4 point gap between us and the bottom 3 and once we have negotiated a tricky away fixture at Ipswich on New Years Day (I'm not expecting anything there) we should look forward to some winnable games in January.  

Above all else, hopefully, fingers crossed, we can look forward to a brighter future thanks to an incoming wealthy Belgian businessman...

Friday 27 December 2013

Divine Intervention...

For me, going to the football on Boxing Day is as much part of Christmas as turkey, tinsel and Santa Claus. Of course, I know there is a much deeper meaning to Christmas, but although I'd like to think I live my life by good Christian values I can't claim to be a religious man. That said, I spent most of the car journey to the game yesterday chatting openly to Him upstairs. I don't ask for much. I expressed a desire to see a good performance and, if He was to grant me just one simple wish, I respectfully requested nothing more than a change of fortune for Charlton. Whether or not He considers my 'when it suits me' approach to religion worthy of Divine Intervention I do not know, but it had been 10 years since we last witnessed an Addicks victory at the Valley on Boxing Day and over two decades since the last time we beat Brighton at home.

Making my way to the Valley I felt the shameful excesses of the day before weighing heavy on my belly as the growing concern for Charlton's perilous league position and continuing bad fortune weighed even heavier on my mind. We needed a lift and thank God we got one via the one Charlton player who does a very good impression of Jesus Christ!

Lawrie Wilson; scorer of goals, right-back, right-midfield, right-wing dynamo, partner to the boy wonder Solly, full of effervescence...I salute you, Sir. A wonderful performance from a team player who is sadly under-appreciated and whom deserves the plaudits from that most welcome of phenomena; a rare Charlton home win!

Contrary to the awful song sung by a section of the Valley yesterday, whether banter or not, Wilson has never been 'shite' and to suggest he's now only 'alright' is disrespectful to his continued efforts. As fans, we need to come up with a better song than that. This is not reactionary because of his brace yesterday, but if the POTY award was to be considered today, Wilson would be up there for me.  

But it all could have been so different. Brighton, with their attractive, neat passing game dominated possession throughout the entire match. The BBC website suggest they enjoyed 65% of the ball, which seemed a little generous to me, but also serves only to make the 3-2 scoreline even sweeter. Ulloa deservedly opened the scoring for the visitors after just 22 mins. Our friends and allies from the south coast celebrated wildly in the Jimmy Seed. They'd have made the journey up fully expecting 3 points.

The rampant Wilson was having none of it. This was his day. 10 mins after Brighton scored, he equalised with a net bulging shot having been cued up by Kermorgant. On the hour mark he scored again to complete the most unlikely of braces.

Even Saint Yann of Brittany could not upstage Wilson today, although heaven only knows he tried. With 15 mins to go he floated in a glorious free-kick that had the keeper rooted to the spot. The Valley erupted! The big Frenchman is back on form. The beast had returned. Charlton's survival hopes lifted.

But it just wouldn't be Charlton if it was going to end comfortably and Ulloa's second of the game in stoppage time set up a tense, nervy finish. We held on.

Considering the uncertainty off the pitch, lack of new contracts for our beloved manager and numerous key players, yesterday's performance was hugely encouraging. No matter how idiotic some fans can be in those low moments, nobody can question the work rate and commitment of this group of players. The fight will keep us up where technical ability or squad depth may be lacking.

The league table makes for better reading this morning. My smile remains and will do until Sunday at least, when Sheffield Wednesday visit the Valley. If Charlton can produce a performance like yesterday, we may be able to enjoy another Charlton home win.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Broken Record...

According to the Urban Dictionary, if you become known as a 'broken record' it will have been because you continually repeated the same statement with little or no variation. I'll admit it, I'm guilty as charged.

To save myself time it would be a whole lot easier to cut and paste sections from any of my previous blog posts this season that make reference to the seemingly endless bad luck, missed opportunities, lack of quality in the final third, complete absence of a goalscorer and referees who don't seem to like us very much and seem happy enough to turn a blind eye to blatant time wasting.

Today, I'll be adding a new negative, as Powell got his tactics wrong. He must be feeling like he's run out of options in his threadbare squad, but quite how he came to the conclusion that Bradley Pritchard should be playing in the hole behind Kermorgant I do not know. Maradona, Pele, Zico, Baggio and Beardsley are footballers who excelled playing 'in the hole', but with the greatest of respect to him, Pritchard will never join that list, and not least of all as he is arguably our weakest threat going forward. No, I just don't get it.

Not to suggest that Pritchard was the reason we lost today; no, that would be the cruel deflected free-kick that wrong footed Alnwick. The second deflected goal against us in the space of 7 days. As the ball hit the net there was a collective and very audible groan from the Charlton fans followed by a loud thump as Addicks all around the Valley slumped back in their seats. Gutted. Lady Luck kicked us firmly in the nuts yet again!

Derby celebrated the winner, even with an hour left to play.

It's hard enough to see where our chances will come from, let alone goals, so I was up and celebrating when Morrison dived to meet a cross midway through the second half. I was certain that was going in, but in the end it didn't even force a save. That will be the missed opportunity noted above.

As we committed men forward in search of an equaliser, it was inevitable Derby would get another chance. Unlike us, they never wasted it. 2-0.

I can't deny Charlton worked hard. That very fact remains a positive, no matter how it doesn't seem it tonight. Despite off the field turmoil at the club the players still look like they are working hard for each other. Confidence is obviously fragile and sadly effort alone is not going to be enough without an injection of quality. Without investment to bolster the squad in January, survival in this division is going to be a real challenge. The chances of investment look very, very slim.

Derby are flying at the moment, but they hardly looked like promotion candidates today and they will know we deserved something from this game. Yet again we finished up with nothing.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Billionaire Dispair...

Just when you find yourself wondering when even the smallest scrap of positive Charlton related news will arrive to brighten the gloomy mood, along comes yet another sizable kick in the bollocks. News filtered out yesterday via the South London Press that the 'impending' takeover by American Billionaire (it hurts to even write that), Josh Harris, has fallen through. To rub salt in the wounds, it would appear that despite the due diligence process being completed, the sports loving yank could not agree a fee with Jimenez and Slater. Quite what sort of figures they are expecting is anyone's guess, but I can only hope they are not being greedy for their own personal gain over the future of this club.
I don't imagine there are a long line of billionaires queuing up outside the Valley ready to write huge cheques for the betterment of our club, so to allow this deal to fall through is something that needs some level of explanation from our current owners, especially if there is a good and valid reason why they may have stood firm on this deal. Not that I'll be holding my breath; neither Jimenez or Slater seem to feel the need to speak with us, the fans, despite the whirlwind of rumours and speculation that arise from the silence.
But if you'll allow me to play devils advocate for one moment, whilst the association with a billionaire sounds nice, we did not know what Mr. Harris' intentions would have been for our club. Be careful what you wish for, and all that. You need only to look at Hull City to see an egotistical and rich owner who wants to change the name and identity of the club despite universal, angry objections from the fans. In recent times, Cardiff City have changed from their traditional blue shits to red at the request of their Malaysian owner against the wishes of the club's supporters. Above all else I want a club to support, but I would also be heartbroken to have to leave the Valley or change the identity of my club to suit someone with no natural love for Charlton.
Furthermore, whilst I make no attempts to be an apologist for the way Jimenez and Slater conduct themselves, I do need someone to explain to me how it makes any logical sense for them to allow us to slowly run into the ground and potentially loose any investments they have put into the club when they purchased it?
Unless I'm missing something, it would be like cutting their noses off to spite their own faces if Charlton went under. It's clear they don't have the money themselves to bankroll a club with the infrastructure and size of Charlton, but they must be confident a good deal can be found, whether by investment or by selling up to a new owner...or incredibly bad businessmen (I'm aware there is a strong case for the later). 
Still, in the absence of any imminent financial input from somewhere, the future for Charlton is looking pretty dark. Chris Powell is in as much need of new players to bolster his squad as he is in a new contract for himself and many of his players.
Charlton fans are equally in need of a lift...

Monday 9 December 2013

Deep Breath...

I guess it's not surprising that the more we allow ourselves to be exposed to social media (because, yes, we do have a choice) the greater the gulf appears between the rational and irrational fans of this club. I've taken to boycotting the Charlton timeline on twitter post-match as I often find the wild overreactions, good or bad, to be frustrating to say the least.

Where Saturday was concerned, I was as disappointed, frustrated and angry as the next man that despite looking comfortable we'd somehow managed to throw away a two goal lead in the space of a few minutes and ended up clinging on for a point, but rather than slate the team or manager, I took a big deep breath and waited for match reports or opinions from those who were actually there. There's a myriad of reasons why a game can change in a flash - inept tactics, lack of effort, bad fortune, dodgy refereeing decisions and so on.

Someone who was at the game and offers consistent rational opinion can be found here. Kyle's attempts to make sense of the way the game turned in such heartbreaking fashion is well worth the read. As he wonderfully says at the very end of his piece...'Keep The Faith'!

That's something we'll need with Derby up next at the Valley. They thrashed Blackpool 5-1 on Saturday and their good form continues under new manager, McClaren. That's 5 wins on the spin for them now and they certainly won't be fearing a visit to SE7 this Saturday. By contrast to Derby at the top, Charlton are second from bottom of the form guide.

In other news over the weekend, Charlton drew the victors of Wrexham v's Oxford United at the Valley in the 3rd round of the FA Cup. Oxford have already visited us earlier this season, loosing 4-0 in the Capital One Cup. I was dreaming of an away day at Arsenal, but it wasn't to be, for this round at least.

I suppose it's about time Charlton managed to put together a decent cup run, but personally I'd rather lady luck gave us a break in the Championship...and quick sharpish!

One other story that had Addicks groaning was the revelation that our former centre-back, Sam Sodje, has been accused of match fixing along with a number of other players currently in the game. Watching the undercover video taken of Sam chatting with a man who turned out to be a Sun newspaper reporter, it's difficult to believe the allegations are not true. I liked Sam a lot and ironically he once made me a small fortune after he scored in this victory against Cardiff City back in 2007. I bet on him to score the first goal and correctly predicted the final score.

Amazing to even think I would predict a 3-0 Charlton win at any point!             

Tuesday 3 December 2013

The Valley; A Story of Destiny and Desire...

Recently the Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust began a campaign to have the Valley listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Last week they announced that The Royal Borough of Greenwich Council had approved the plans, which means that infamous "Message To Our Supporters" can NEVER happen again! For a full explanation on what the AVC mean, visit here. 
Back in late August I wrote the piece below for the new Charlton fanzine created by Joe from ValleyTalkBlog. It tells the story of how, over a long period of time, I fell deeper and deeper in love with the Valley and how that ultimately lead me to be an Addick. I was blown away seeing it in print on those pages, but it was always my intention to post it on this blog at some point and what better time than this week, when Charlton celebrate the 21st Anniversary of the glorious against-all-odds return to the Valley. 
For most Charlton fans, supporting this great club is hereditary: for others it is simply a case of geography or the location of where you spent your formative years. The story of how I became an Addick is a little different and having never lived in South London the person I have to thank was not family (my grandad gave me my love of football), it was a British historian and writer by the name of Simon Inglis.

In 1983 Inglis wrote 'Football Grounds of England and Wales'. At the time, it was easily the most comprehensive book on football stadia that had ever been written. I had already adopted a huge fascination with football stadiums following the World Cup in '82 and I had received a copy of the book on my 9th birthday. For reasons that I simply cannot explain, there was one particular stadium that stood out; The Valley.
Towards the end of the section on Charlton Inglis wrote (with the help of the late, great Colin Cameron, I may add) "The inaction of several decades, when the ground threatened to become a huge white elephant and nothing but a burden to an average club side has at last been ended, and whoever controls the club, at least The Valley now has a future. It will never stage a Cup Final , nor an international match, but it wears a slightly more optimistic face nowadays, one which Jimmy Seed might appreciate if he were alive to sit in the stand named after him"

How wrong he was. As we all know, reluctantly, Charlton were forced to leave The Valley soon after the start of the '85 / '86 season. So much for the 'optimism' Inglis wrote about. Jimmy Seed was turning in his grave.

I would be lying if I said I was a Charlton supporter at that stage. I couldn't even claimed to have been a follower. My team was my local non-league side, Bishop's Stortford, and my heroes were the part-timers who represented them. But I remember being gutted when I heard Charlton had vacated The Valley under a cloud. Once again, I can't really explain why. I just did.

In '87 (I was 13 now) Inglis released the second edition of his book (now called 'Football Grounds of Great Britain'). This time around, however, Inglis spoke of a far darker picture of The Valley...

"This is one of the sadder chapters in the book; sad not only because Charlton have had to leave The Valley but because, as the story shows, they left in an atmosphere of bitterness, recrimination and concealment". Worst still, he lamented "There was an argument, but no one seemed to speak. There were questions aplenty, but no one prepared to answer".  The closing lines of the section were arguably the hardest to accept for obvious reasons. Under a sub heading of 'Selhurst Park' Inglis wrote "Take the number 75 bus, some sandwiches for the journey, turn to the following section on Crystal Palace and put on a brave face".

Thankfully, that was something Charlton fans were not prepared to do and the battle began...

At this point you have to remember all this pre-dates the internet let alone social media or satellite TV football coverage. My exposure to Charlton Athletic was rare, and so Inglis' books undoubtably led to my fascination of The Valley and Charlton. Whatever the reasons (perhaps it was simply fate), I suppose it was at this point I found myself quietly willing Charlton on, checking results and hoping for better times (something I would get very used to doing). Perhaps you could say I had become a distant follower.

Years would pass and The Valley fell further into disrepair. In 1992 I was driving for an electrical wholesaler and would occasionally pass by Woolwich Road, catching a glimps of the neglected stadium through Ransom Walk, heart heavy with the disappointment of never having seen a game there. Occasionally I'd go to Highbury to watch the Arsenal with my mates if Bishop's Stortford never had a game, but as much as I enjoyed those days out (I will always have a soft spot for Arsenal as a result), I never truly felt at home on the North Bank. By now, Charlton was the result I looked out for after watching my local side.

I'd love to say I was there when Charlton finally came home in '92, although I remember it well. I cannot tell you how much I envy those that were. I was so pleased for the club. Even so, it would be another 2 years before I finally watched my first game at The Valley. I travelled to the game alone, just as I still do. (watching Charlton would not have been an easy day out to sell to my mates). It was autumn '94 and I think it was against Barnsley. Whatever the opposition, we played terribly and lost 1-2 on a cold, grey, rainy afternoon. The game itself was irrelevant. I was inside The Valley and sat on the site of the mighty East Terrace that I'd so much admired in that picture in Inglis' book. I instantly felt at home.

Jump forward to now, nearly 2 decades later, and in all that time I've only missed around a half dozen games Charlton have played at The Valley since...and all of them reluctantly! The heartbreak of 3 relegations, joy of 3 promotions, a glorious Wembley final, those unforgettable Premiership years, the pain of dropping to the 3rd tier. Occasional tears of joy but far, far more tears of despair. Along the way I've met some great people supporting this club and over the years even my dear old mum has become well and truly Addickted!

Perhaps best of all, my son is well on the way to being a 2nd generation Addick!

If you've taken the time to read this you'll know only too well what a magical place The Valley is.

Every time I emerge from under the railway lines on Ransom Walk and set eyes on The Valley, even now, all those years later, my heart beats a little faster and I fill with a bursting pride and sense of anticipation.

As the song says, "My desire can always be found at The Valley, Floyd Road"...