Monday 30 March 2015

First Rule of Watching Football...

'Thou shalt not leave the match early...'
With no Charlton fixture on Saturday my son and me took the opportunity to go and watch our local side, Bishop's Stortford. Fellow relegation threatened Farnborough were the visitors. Stortford huffed and puffed but it was a woeful performance and a minute into stoppage time and with 'The Blues' trailing 2-0 I said to my boy (who's nose had gone blue in the cold) "come on, let's head home". He never argued and feeling despondent we trudged off alongside others who decided they'd seen enough. As soon as I got home I decided to check the league table only to discover goals in the 3rd and 4th minute of stoppage time had given The Blues a most unlikely point! In reality, I doubt I'd even gone 100 yards down the road and by that time I'd missed the most dramatic end imaginable.
I sat on my bed shaking my head wondering how I was going to break the news to my son! What an amazing game football can be!    
Allez Les Bleus! Image by @RedneckNath
I've got previous with this, so you'd have thought I'd learn my lesson. Those with a better memory might recall Charlton's clash with Norwich at the Valley in February '97, when, with just a couple of minutes of normal time left plus stoppage and the Addicks trailing 4-2 I decided to beat the traffic and left early. As always, as soon as I jumped in my car I turned on the radio to get the classified check, only to hear James Alexander Gordon dropping the bombshell that two late, late goals from Jason Lee and the legend that is Carl Leaburn had given us a most unlikely 4-4 draw! I remember having to pretend to my mates that I saw the drama unfold as I was too embarrassed to admit the truth!
I guess both games drew a bittersweet feeling from me: gutted to have missed the drama and the euphoria of the moment, but ultimately immensely pleased that the goals came none-the-less, especially for my home-town club as they are teetering on the edge of the trap door in the Conference South and that point could well prove the difference between survival and relegation. 

Sunday 22 March 2015

Pies, Pints & Points...

The last time I sat with friends enjoying a pre-match beer in the Plume of Feathers in Greenwich was on Valentines Day when there was a very distinct lack of love for what was going on at Charlton, both on and off the pitch. At that point of the season we were without a win in 15 games, with just 4 wins from 30 and we sat 20th in the table, staring at the dark abyss below. I was certain we would go down as nothing whatsoever suggested otherwise. But that day we would beat Brentford three-zero with a great performance that came out of nowhere and the transformation since then has been nothing short of amazing. 7 wins out of 9 to be exact! Up to 11th and with 54 points on the board.
No, I don't get it either!
I've said before, football has a habit of making an absolute arse of your opinions. Luzon is a case-in-point with many, me very much included. Whatever impact he has had is quite astonishing and I am already excited about the prospect of this team moving forward together next season. For the time being, I'm going to enjoy the positivity and blatantly ignore that niggling, persistent voice in my head telling me Roland's ready to cash in on our star performers in the summer and leave us with a whole new squad of unknown continental players and untried youth.
I'm also going to hope I've got Mr. Duchatelet wrong, just as I did Guy Luzon. The summer will speak volumes about his ambition for our club. Build on this current team and I may dare to dream next season. And why shouldn't I after seeing the performances of late?
Ironically, the last victory before that Brentford game was against yesterday's opposition, Reading. Charlton started OK, but fell away slowly as Reading's neat and tidy passing just about gave them the edge. Charlton struggled to make anything happen up top with Eagles proving a better wide man than a second striker. Reading's Pogrebnyak was a thorn in our side with great movement and link-play and he found space in the box to score from pretty much the only goalmouth action of the half. It wasn't great viewing, but so often a different Charlton immerge from the tunnel in the second half.
Thankfully that was the case yesterday...
If Luzon is the influence, then once again he must take the credit for the turnaround. Charlton moved the ball much quicker and with purpose and as the pressure mounted we got a penalty that is as good as a goal with the super-cool Buyens around. The Belgian midfielder then put us in front 10mins later after a decent cross from young Gomez. The ever-popular, Church, added a third from close range on 80mins after some fantastic play from our new hero, Tony Watt, Watt, Watt (you Watt, You Watt...).
Reading's stoppage time goal left us with a nervy finish, but Charlton held firm. A great day topped off by a good win.
There is nothing better than a matchday when everything goes right. Literally nothing better. I'd started the day by meeting up with Marco and Al for pie & mash at Goddard's in Greenwich and then enjoyed a few pints before the game in the Feathers. And before you ask, I fancied gravy instead of liquor! Marco and Al kept a very polite silence on that even if they were inwardly frowning. If I thought I'd got away with that, Marco did remind me via a text later in the evening that proper pie & mash should be eaten with a fork and spoon.
An otherwise perfect day ruined by my inability to choose the correct utensil!      

Monday 16 March 2015

What Else Would I do?

I got my first chance to review the details of the 2015/16 season tickets this morning whilst crammed like a sardine on my train into London. I would be very interested to hear how the early sales are going, especially with so much talk of fans not renewing; some in favour of buying match-to-match whilst the uncertainty remains around the direction of our club, others suggesting they will not return until Mr. Duchatelet goes.
I remain hugely concerned regarding the true intentions of Mr. Duchatelet going forward, but I will not try and offer any bravado to this situation. I will renew around the start of April, both for me and my boy. I am in no way enough of a wordsmith to articulate the void that would be left if I just decided not to go to the football anymore. In reality, I am a million miles away from that. It's what I've done regularly since I was 8 years old and the thought of Saturdays spent being dragged around the shops or doing DIY means my tolerance in times of uncertainty will hold firmer than my desire to work out how to fill the void if I gave it up.
Just over a month ago I sat in a Greenwich pub with friends before the Brentford game feeling as low and fed up as I can ever recall in nearly two decades. At that point I was convinced we was going down and doomed off the pitch. In four weeks things have changed on the pitch at least and in the most dramatic fashion imaginable. So much so, with the pressure of relegation lifted, I can honestly say I enjoyed my day out with my young son last Saturday against Blackburn, even in defeat. Spending the day with my lad means everything to me.
If you can find something better to do with your time on a Saturday afternoon, then good for you. I'll continue to take the rough with the smooth. I've spent the last two decades doing that anyway.
Concerns about Roland's masterplan aside, there's something that bothers me more at this point anyway. As an East Stander who sits in the most expensive Block E, zone 2, I find it very hard to swallow the fact that anyone buying the cheapest adult Valley seat in zone 6 of the same stand could, without any resistance whatsoever, move to a free seat in my block. That means there could be people around me on a matchday that will have paid £300 less per season for the same view. I've seen nothing anywhere to suggest the club even recognizes this potential problem, let alone have something in place to stop it happening. Very disappointing.  
A word of caution to those intending to buy 'match-to-match' next season. When I was much younger I can recall doing the same thing. The Valley back then, as it is today, was not remotely full on a matchday, so tickets were easy to come by. I felt I didn't need to commit to a season ticket. That was until we got drawn at home to Liverpool in the League Cup in '96 and despite not missing a home game for two years I failed to get a ticket. Gutted was not the word. I stood outside the Valley that night pleading with people to sell me their tickets, but to no avail. It was that disappointment that lead to me purchase my first season ticket, which I've held every year since.

Monday 9 March 2015

More Craft Beer in Copenhagen...

Back in September 2013 I wrote this post on places to drink craft beer in the wonderful Danish city of Copenhagen. Myself and a few mates have been back a few times since, most recently in January of this year, and so I thought it was about time I wrote an update to include a few of the new bars we've got to know. The original piece has since become my most read post of all time, and I would love to think it has offered travelling beer connoisseurs a helpful insight into the venues of one of Europe's leading cities for sampling good quality craft beer.
Just as before, I will point out quickly that this post is intended only as a pub-crawl style guide to the numerous bars specializing in craft beer, and although I will inevitably list the odd beer drunk along the way I'm no beer writer! For tasting notes on anything you see listed in this piece please click on the beer name.
January 2015
Just like the last time we visited this fine city, my mate, Bolts, and me stayed in the Copenhagen Crown on Vesterbrogarde, which is a short walk west of the main train station in the trendy Vesterbro district. The twin room was reasonably priced, simple and clean, but to be fair, to us it's nothing more than a place to sleep for the night!

We arrived in the city just before midday, and just as the snow began to fall. Keen not to waste any drinking time we dropped off our bags in the hotel and headed straight out to Olbutikken on Istedgade. Although not technically a bar, this excellent little bottle shop has a bench seated area so you can enjoy your purchases on-site if you want (unlike off-licenses in the UK, of course). The shop  is owned by Morten, a big friendly native who could talk enthusiastically about craft beer all day (and F.C Kobenhavn). We met him back in 2013 when he was working in the Lord Nelson bar. Bolts and me shared a 'Jule IPA' from Ebeltoft and a 'Black Nitro black IPA' from Amager (pic above, left). Both brewers based in Denmark.
Leaving Olbutikken we took a stroll east, back past the train station and the famous Tivoli amusement park, to Taphouse on Lavendelstrade, near the city's main shopping area. Taphouse is Copenhagen's newest craft beer venue and as this was our first visit we very deliberately planned it to be early enough in the day that we would be sober enough to remember it! The modern interior was spacious and set over two levels with a sizable bar offering 61 draught taps from micro-brewers around the world (pic above, centre and right). It was an outstanding selection! The bar staff were friendly and knowledgeable, which is always an essential element of enjoying a good drinking session! First drink for the both of us was by local brewer, Flying Couch, who had created a 'Black Shade IPA' with American craft brewer, Cigar City. Of the beers we had there, my personal favourite was the 'Campfire Stout' from Pittsburg's High Water Brewery. A really creamy, sweet and comforting stout that fitted the freezing temperatures perfectly.

By mid-afternoon we left the warmth and comfort of Taphouse and wandered through the snow over to the Orsted Olbar on Norre Farimagsgade (pic above, left). The interior of this excellent bar reminds me of a British boozer, with flickering candles and sporting memorabilia on the walls. We have made a bit of a habit of timing our visit to this excellent venue to watch the Saturday football results roll in. Just like last year we challenged the big-bearded barman (who had recognized us from our last trip and even remembered what teams we supported) to create some 'black and tans' which he done by mixing an Amager Brewery 'Winter in Bangalore IPA' with a Bryggeriet Djaevlebryg 'Gudelos Imperial Stout'. The result was so good we had a couple of them, although heaven only knows what the ABV would have been!
By late afternoon we decided to depart the Orsted Olbar in search of a bit of food. The chilly walk back into the city's shopping area cleared our heads and got some air into our lungs and after enjoying a snowball fight in a park and a bite to eat we headed over to Mikkeller Bar on Viktoriagade in the Vesterbro district (above pic, centre and right) to start our evening session. This small and cosy venue is about as good as it gets for craft beer lovers and the 20 or so taps highlight perfectly the wonderful imagination of the Mikkeller micro-brewery and those brewers they regularly collaborate with. We sat at the bar and enjoyed 3 or 4 Mikkeller offerings including the 'Beer Geek Brunch Weasel Imperial Stout' and 'Crooked Moon Double IPA'.
Being so close to our hotel, any sensible folk would have called it a night at this point, but Bolts and I felt we owed a visit to one of our favourite Copenhagen bars, the Fermentoren on Halmtorvet, which was a short stroll south west from the Mikkeller Bar (passing Olbutikken en-route). This small bar is located near the trendy and rejuvenated Meatpacking District that boasts art galleries and restaurants during the day (I can highly recommend the Fiskebaren if seafood is your thing). Neither Bolts nor I can remember what we drunk there, which is probably the best indicator that we'd had our fill. Time to head back to the hotel. Day one over!

The next morning we rose early and headed out in search of breakfast in the city centre. With time to kill we decided to take advantage of a crisp and clear winters day by walking up through the Botanical Gardens, past the northern end of the Lakes and on to Telia Parken, home of F.C Kobenhavn. It was a deliberately long-winded route to get to the Norrebro district, and just after 2pm we finally reached our destination of Mikkeller & Friends on Stefansgade (six pictures above). This bar is probably my favorite current Copenhagen craft beer venue. The interior is all about that minimalist-but-modern wooden style instantly recognizable as Scandinavian. It's large, light and airy and is a wonderful environment to enjoy a Sunday afternoon session. Around 40 taps provide plenty of choice dependent on how your taste buds are feeling, but if by chance that isn't enough, there's the Mikkeller Bottle Shop right next door (pic above, bottom left). From the taps we particularly enjoyed the 'Sort Maelk' (Whisky Barrel Aged Milk Stout) from local brewers To Ol and Mikkeller's own 'Vesterbrown Ale'.

As tempting as it was to stay there all day we decided we should move on, heading over to Olbaren on Elmgade (pic above, left). This tiny, dimly-lit bar has a decent bottled selection which compliments the 10 or so draught taps. The stand-out beer was a sweet dark stout from American brewer, Dark Horse, called 'Too Cream Stout'. With time getting on we made the difficult decision to sacrifice a visit to the Soernes Olbar on Kroghsgade at the northern end of the Lakes (pic below, right, from last year). This venue is the sister pub to the Orsted Olbar with around 20 tap offerings and would ordinarily be well worth a visit, but we was very keen to spend the best part of the evening back in the Mikkeller Bar on Viktoriagade (pic above, centre and right) and, perhaps more importantly, a rather more focused visit to The Fermentoren (pic below, centre).

As the evening grew longer, we enjoyed a number of beers new to us, including the wonderful 18th Street Brewery's 'Hunter Coffee Double Milk Stout' in Mikkeller and the 'Phister de Noel Imperial Stout' from Flying Couch in The Fermentoren.

So that was that! We would have loved to have tried the Mikkeller cocktail bar, Mikropolis on Vendersgade which outside of the obvious cocktails serves a decent selection of bottled beers. In reality, though, it's probably not worth the risk in succumbing to temptation and mixing strong craft beer with fancy cocktails! For the record, some other venues that due to time constraints never made the cut for us this year but might be worth considering included the Norrebro Bryghus on Rysegade (bar and restaurant set in the brewery), the Lord Nelson on Hyskenstraede (still allows smoking inside which is not ideal if you value your health), the Bryyggeriet Appolo on Vesterbrogade (limited selection of beer brewed on the premises and a bit too touristy for us) and the BrewPub on Vestergade (disappointingly uninspiring selection on our only visit a couple of years back).  
Thanks to my mate and travel companion, Bolts, for helping to put this piece together with regards to the various beers drunk. If you're planning a trip to Copenhagen it would be great to know if this post proved to be helpful via the comments section below. I would also appreciate notice if there's any craft beer bars we've not listed. There is little doubt that Copenhagen has more to offer than beer, but what a reason to go? I would argue there's no better reason!  

Wednesday 4 March 2015

Forest Felled...

I always look forward to a night game at the Valley, but despite the recent up-turn in fortunes I couldn't see us getting much out of an in-form Nottingham Forest. Walking to the Valley last night my heart sank a little when I read the team. Players absent through injury will obviously enforce changes, but I wasn't convinced by the choice of replacements.

What do I know? From the outset Charlton competed well against a very good side and appeared as disciplined and well organized as I think I can ever recall. Luzon may not be too familiar with Championship football, but he clearly done his homework on the visitors.

When Watt was felled on the edge of their box after just 7 mins you could have been mistaken for lamenting the loss of free-kick specialist, Gudmundsson, but up stepped Bulot to fire us in front with a goal not too dissimilar to the one Johann scored on Saturday. Keeper no chance. Antonio equalised soon after, but Bulot restored Charlton's lead just before half time after some decent play down the right from Wilson.

In Frederic Bulot, Charlton have as good as a new signing. The Bulot that ambled about the pitch, offering nothing whatsoever and showing even less interest under Bob Peeters has reinvented himself under Luzon. My fellow Charlton blogger, Brian Haines, suggested to me via Twitter last night that he "got the feeling that Peeters insisted players keep to a strict role, whereas now they're much freer to improvise". It was a great point. It would appear a number of players have benefited from this freedom to express themselves in their more natural game and Charlton's form has improved as a result. Credit once again to Luzon.

Credit also to the way Luzon made a couple of decisive half-time changes that made Charlton more competitive in key areas. Gomez was moved to the right of defence, replacing Wilson, and instantly got tighter and more physical against the impressive wide-man, Antonio. In the reorganization Bikey came on for the hapless Harriott, who managed to somehow injure himself falling over his own feet.

I felt Charlton coped with the steady wave of Forest attacks well, absorbing the threat time and time again. Having witnessed the decline under Peeters, I don't even want to imagine what sort of scoreline we'd have faced against this lot just a few weeks ago, but Charlton's resolve has returned in abundance.

Tony Watt's hold-up play near the corner flag, sapping vital injury time seconds, was brilliant. A real moment to remember. Footage of the incident can be found here. That kid has the potential to become a future Charlton legend, up there with Darren Bent of recent times, perhaps even Mendonca if you want to go back further.

We held on for a very well-earned victory. Three more points to Championship safety.

After the game Luzon stated that he was "proud to coach this team". Well, Guy, I have to say that your impact is far greater than I ever thought possible when you took over and I doff my hat in your direction. Your mark and personality on the team is visible now, and I'm pretty impressed with the recent up-turn in form. What pleases me more is that unity on the pitch has returned. I can accept defeats along the way if I know the players are giving everything.

When I see total commitment and a winning Charlton team I cannot be happier.

I have no problems admitting that I wrote Luzon off way too early, although I would add in my defense that I failed to find anyone who had anything good to say about Luzon and his appointment and 'network' connections left a hugely bitter taste in my mouth (still does, if I'm honest). I fell for Riga quite quickly (even after the agony of losing Powell) and I was also keen on Peeters from the outset, but my starting point with Luzon couldn't have got lower. In reality, that's something I have to deal with a bit more fairly and positively now.

In fairness to Luzon, he's keeping his end of the bargain.

Sunday 1 March 2015

The Tale of Two Dugouts...

The last time I saw Chris Powell, nearly a year ago at Bramall Lane after that hugely disappointing FA Cup quarter final defeat, he looked a dejected man who knew his time with Charlton was coming to an end. Before I'd even got home that day speculation was rife that Roland had pulled the trigger. I worshiped the man as a player and loved him equally as our manager. It was never going to last forever, but it just wasn't the way I wanted it to end. Losing Powell hurt like hell and I don't mind admitting it.
Yesterday I finally got a chance to say thank you. There is, for me, a sense of closure now. I've got to accept Powell will not be back at Charlton any time soon if at all, although you will never stop me from hoping. The standing ovation he received as he walked towards the away dugout was heartfelt and universally observed. Powell, showing humility and class in abundance, waved to us all whilst wearing a muted and respectful smile, before making a point of acknowledging the fans of his new club. What a man.
A tough moment for us all, but we'd seen it before. Almost exactly 8 years ago another legendary Charlton manager, Alan Curbishley, returned to the Valley for the first time since departing and enjoyed a similar warm reception pre-match. On both occasions, however, the good-will didn't extend onto the pitch. Yesterday's three zero Charlton victory would have been slightly easier to swallow for Powell than the four zero Alan had to endure all those years previous.
And what a difference on the pitch! From a state of utter despair earlier this month, Charlton have somehow managed to find unity again and, most importantly, a formula for success. Three wins out of four since I predicted with some certainty that "I have no doubts whatsoever that we are going down".
Trust me, I'm only too pleased to be proven wrong...just as I will be about Guy Luzon, who I perhaps rather hastily predicted was "so far out of his depth it's embarrassing".
Only one embarrassed face around here, it would appear! I still have a very bitter taste in my mouth after the lies and deceit surrounding Luzon's appointment, but I may have to accept it could be replaced over time by the sweet taste of (a rather large slice of) humble pie!  
Credit where credit is due, Luzon has got Charlton organized and well-balanced. The smiles have returned and the players look confident. That comes with winning games, of course, but it may also be a sign that the players are being asked to play a system they are better suited to. Luzon has taken us back to basics. His playing style may not win awards for flair, but it has given the attacking players an opportunity to make things happen. Yesterday was a great example of a clinical Charlton performance: 8 shots on target with three going in.
Two of those goals coming from Tony Watt, who could well become the new Clive Mendonca. High praise, high expectation, but the early signs are good. So much so, we've all forgotten just how much we needed a target man. His unselfish relationship with Vetokele continues to grow from strength to strength. Similar in style, they can play together regularly, and to devastating effect.
At the back, Roger Johnson continues to marshal the defense. I loved watching him gesticulating non-stop yesterday. Always vocal. Solid. The decision to bring him to the club looked more than questionable, but there's clearly enough humble pie to cover him as well.
Football never ceases to amaze me. Two and a half weeks ago I though all hope was lost, and yet on the pitch we've somehow turned things around. Is it too much to expect that off the pitch things may improve as well, starting with more transparency from Mr. Duchatelet?
I for one would much prefer to enjoy days like yesterday whilst looking forward to a more positive future without the cynicism and suspicion surrounding the true intentions of Mr. Duchatelet lingering away in the background.
One step at a time, I guess.