Sunday, 30 December 2007

The Joy Of Sales

Everyone loves a bargain don't they - the feeling of getting one up on the retailer when buying something you've wanted for ages can't be beaten, can it?

Thing is, it's not always how it works in the sales. I can only remember one 'bargain' in the last 5 years - a Junk DeLuxe cashmere sweater for £20 that I've worn a grand total of, er, once. That's how things work in the sales though - the prices drop and all of a sudden we rush in like rats fleeing from a sinking ship.

"Up to 70% off!!!", "Bargains!!!", "1-day 50% special" are the kind of things we're used to seeing this time of year. But of all the purchases in this period, how much do people actually want? We're a nation obsessed with a bargain, and live in a world where price is king amongst all it's subjects.

Case in point - the Next sale. Never before have I seen such an abhorrent display of the worst side of human nature as when those red posters go up. I've literally seen people fighting over underpriced tat - it's like the bastard offspring of a jumble sale and a Nato food dump in Basra, multiplied by a hundred with an LSD-laced amphetamine haze thrown in for free.

These sales go against all principles of shopping. The relaxed environment is non-existent, you can't try anything on, and there is no aspiration to a purchase - your selection is restricted to one area, the stuff that nobody else wanted over the last 12 months.

I discussed this at length with friends who are, for reasons unbeknown to sanity, fans of these events.

Idiot: "It's great - I got all this stuff for £200!!!"
Me: So, would you have worn any of this if it were full price?
Idiot: "Oh, god no..."
Me: (Proceeds to smash head against table until a bloody mush in despair at what the world is coming to)

There's no logic to it is there? People are spending considerable sums of money on utter shyte that they would never even consider paying full price for. If that's the case, why not spend £200 on 1 or 2 items that you absolutely love, rather than purchasing utter crap on the sole basis that it's cheap?

The shops may as well be hanging out signs saying "Our purchasers f*cked up - please help us shift this stuff!". The January sales have become an annual event representing nothing more than an unashamed celebration by the retailers of their own personal failure. "Biggest Ever Sale!" may as well read "Biggest Ever Ballsup!". Yet we still can't see through it.

The truth is it's all about simple psychology. In a sale, people never see the purchase price - they always focus on the saving. "Look how much I've saved - this is a bargain!!!. They fail to consider the fact that they would never have intended to purchase it in the first place, and the more damning fact that the bastard retailers are overcharging so much that they can afford to sell at this price and still draw a profit.

It will never happen, but I can only hope that for one year at least that people see through this piss-streak of a marketing facade. Boycott the sales - you don't really need any of that stuff, do you? If you wanted it that much you'd have paid full-price and be happy.

Fair enough - there are cases where people can't afford things until it becomes a sale item. I can accept this as their aspiration is clear - they want the item, yet can't afford it. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Think about it - how many things have you ever bought in a sale that you would even consider or want at the original purchase price? I can't think of a single 'Sale' purchase that has ever been so much as a fleeting consideration in a non-sale environment.

Don't let price be your marker in the murky world of consumerism - if price is your aspiration rather than the item itself, you'll never be comfortable with a purchase.

Saturday, 29 December 2007

Looking Over The Shoulder - Leicester 1, Charlton 1

Tricky one to write here - not only couldn't I make the game at The Crisp Bowl, I forgot to record The Championship and missed the goals on Sky Sports News. So - in the absence of any first-hand information whatsoever, I'll concentrate on the result and those around us.

It appears that Paddy McCarthy is keen on extending my seasonal humble pie intake by putting in yet another stirring performance. A goal in the last minute against a former club would be in any player's scrapbook, but for a player under the microscope from his own fans it must be even sweeter. Paddy looked shaky at the start of the season, but he's now showing glimpses of becoming a part of this team - a real 'Charlton Type'.

As far as our results go, we still sit 5th in the table, and have neither lost nor gained on Stoke and Plymouth who played out a draw yesterday. Our point at Norwich is also looking more of a point gained after Wolves earned the same result.

What's worrying me more is the resurgence of Crystal Palace. Warnock has turned the team around in recent weeks, and a run of 4 wins and 12 unbeaten places them only 3 points behind us. This only serves to demonstrate the importance of consistency in this division, and how our hit-and-miss form of late could hurt us dearly if it continues - only 4 points separates 6th to 10th.

With this margin of error, there can be no mistakes against Colchester on Tuesday - 3 points will be a necessity against the team propping up this crazy league.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Re-Appearing London

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
I noticed an odd thing on my Boxing Day drive to Norwich – there was a strange patch of dark green on the Satnav screen. On closer inspection outside the car, my suspicions were correct – there’s green stuff outside of London.

Forests, scenery, horizon… it was lovely! All of a sudden I felt a million miles from home on that stretch of the A11. And I liked it.

I love London – I’ve lived here for 7 years now and I honestly do miss it whenever I’m away for a few days. Some things do get you down though, mainly the point that you can never see more than 20 foot in front of you at any one time. Sod never being more than 3 metres away from a rat (if you believe the legend), I’m constantly never less than 3 miles from seeing a horizon.

I envy the dwellers of Muswell Hill, Primrose Hill and Alexandra Palace – the views from those places looking back at the City can be incredible. It’s breathtaking at times, and shows how much you miss when you’re a mindless automaton constantly shoe-horned in between buildings and careers in a quest for greasy-pole remuneration.

It’s one of the main reasons why cities such as Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh are so appealing to me as an alternative. You never feel too enclosed or shut in, and a horizon or a hillside is only a turn of a shoulder away.

Times are changing in the City of London though – despite many construction companies kicking off numerous building works in the Square Mile, the majority are currently in the demolition phase and the results can be quite striking.

Walking out of Liverpool Street Station, through Bishopsgate Church Yard, and up to Houndsditch previously presented you with nothing but a drab grey building in a traffic island. But with this building gone, the view is quite a sight for your average City dweller.

All of a sudden the corner of the City’s busiest street has a sense of scale, impact, a presence, a scene. It really is a lovely view looking down that quiet, tree-lined alleyway into the bustle of the City. Unfortunately, it’ll be a building site again within 3 months for the next episode of poorly architected tat.

Make the most of it while it lasts – I know it’s ‘not the done thing’ to stare at anything other than the pavement the moment you leave the house, but in a City that has grown so organically over time you’ll be amazed what you might see today…

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Red Mist Curse Continues - Norwich 1, Charlton 1

Image © Charlton Athletic
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Norwich, and despite a pretty dire match today at Carrow Road I enjoyed my day out. Ten years ago I was a student there and used to go often for matches, although it did help that they let me in for a fiver!

Carrow Road used to be a pretty horrible place – the ground was okay enough, but the area was surrounded by derelict factories and warehouses. Ten years on and Norwich's ground is abound with nice riverside flats, shops, and bars – the stadium finally feels like part of the city, and it's nice to see the transformation.

Unfortunately for Charlton, Sodje decided to try and make both his legs part of a City player today, and picked up the eleventh red card of his career as a result. Eleven red cards!?!? That's one stat I was pretty unaware of, although the way he stomped off the field before the ref had shown a card was enough of an indicator of a temperament that has been well shielded up until now.

Charlton were actually putting in a classic away performance until that point – the workmanlike 4-5-1 stayed, but with my preferred midfield 3 of Zhi, Holland and Semedo. Zhi got us off the mark with some nice footwork after being found in space by Semedo, lashing home from the edge of the box for a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

It was almost a carbon copy of the goal at Preston, and lifted a quiet away support to give the game the spark it desperately needed. Until that point, it seemed it wasn't just the fans who appeared weighed down with seasonal excess.

The turning point came only ten minutes later with Sodje's sending off, but Norwich still struggled throughout the game to break down ten men. Chances were limited to pot-shots and one excellent save from Weaver, but Roeder's side showed nothing of the form that had them unbeaten in 6.

Pardew introduced McLeod in the second half in place of an ineffective Iwelumo, but sadly the former MK Dons striker couldn't get into the game despite numerous opportunities. The writing is on the wall now for Fizzy Izzy, as he was unceremoniously subbed for Thierry Racon for the final few minutes.

Norwich eventually squared the match from a corner with 15 minutes remaining, but the tense finale which should have ensued never came to a head. The game simply petered out, leaving the travelling fans a long trip down the A11 to the Christmas leftovers.

I think we've found our level now in this division – despite my optimism earlier this week of being top-3 come the New Year, we clearly aren't automatic promotion material. Be it the lack of Reid, the stupid dismissals, the long-ball tactics... we just don't have the quality of West Brom or the doggedness to grind out a result like Stoke or Watford.

We'll be in the mix come May, but I'd be betting on a nailbiter in the playoffs if our season is to end on any kind of positive note.

Humble Pie of The Day: Quick mention for Paddy McCarthy – he's taken a lot of flack from me, but played really well today – keep it going fella!

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Merry Christmas From The Training Ground

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
Gone With The Wind on the telly, mum sorting out the sprouts and carrots, the presents, a crate of London Pride with my name on it... that's what Christmas is all about isn't it?

Well, if I carry on writing today I'll no doubt find my own 'chestnuts' roasting on an open fire, so I'd better get back into it.

Quick prediction for tomorrow - Norwich 6, Charlton 7. Crazy I may be, but it's Christmas eh? ;)

Monday, 24 December 2007

A Christmas Wii

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
It's been a bit of a year for Nintendo – their Wii and DS consoles have continually exceeded sales expectations throughout the year, and getting hold of one for Christmas has been as easy as prising a cake from the pudgy digits of Rick Waller.

Luckily for me, I'm one of the smug gits who picked one up a few months ago. Thing is, it's been sat in it's box gathering dust for a while. Until now that is.

You see, on it's own the Wii is actually pretty boring. There's only so much of Wii Sports you can get through without finding popping out your eyeballs with a toothpick more enjoyable. With new games costing 35-40 smackers I'd rather be accelerating my liver's demise at a rate of knots than spend a night in waggling a remote control.

I am being a tad harsh on it though, as it is probably the most inventive games system since the Atari. The control system is simply a work of art – point/flip/swipe/waggle/hurl the remote around, and your cutestified on-screen alias will do the same. Hit a home-run, swing for a hole-in-one, bowl a strike – it's fascinating stuff. For the first five minutes at least.

It's not until you watch someone else play that you realise although your on-screen persona may be hitting a ball with the sublime grace of Federer, in reality you're bearing more of a resemblance to an adolescent teen furiously masturbating over a copy of Nuts.

This is where the fun comes in though, and I don't mean in the self-abuse stakes. Having a Wii at home for Christmas is an absolute hoot. Watching your Mum, Sister, Nan and Granddad attempt to play Wii Sports provides non-stop YouTube moments – I can't remember the last time I pissed my lungs out laughing, and you think you'd recall such an occasion. I'm still taking stick for getting knocked out by my Mum in boxing and beaten by my Nan in her first bash at ten-pin bowling!

It might be impossible to buy without getting shafted by the shysters with inflated prices on Tottenham Court Road. It might go through more batteries than a bored housewife after a delivery from Ann Summers. You might never buy another game for it.

But if you can get one back for the family at Christmas, my god it's worth it – pure comedy gold.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Time For 4-4-2...

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
Hmmm.... not the best of displays yesterday was it? No fight, no commitment, it was diabolical. I don't usually scream much at games but I came away yesterday sounding like Rod Stewart after 60 B&H.

If we learnt anything against Hull it's how much we rely on Andy Reid. Pardew has often been criticised for playing Reid in a role where everything has to go through him, but on the face of it you can now see why.

The thing that disappointed me the most was that nobody else took the step up to take responsibility. This was Ambrose's chance to be the playmaker. Thomas's chance to show he's not just a one-trick-stepover-pony. Sam's chance to show his skills against a side who would be gunning for him after the trip to the KC earlier in the year.

But what happened? Nothing. I can't remember a single decent move, no invention. All we did was resort to lumping it up to Iwelumo and hoping his flick-ons would reach, er, nobody in the first half and a confidence-shot McLeod in the second.

What I don't understand is why we didn't simply go for it. We were playing at home in a formation that relies on creativity to get the wide men supporting a lone striker, yet we were missing the vital element. If we started with a 4-4-2 of McLeod and Iwelumo it would have given us something different.

For a start, we should have played a central midfield pairing of Zheng Zhi and Semedo. They both have the tackling and the ability to play a telling pass forward, whereas Holland is forever looking sideways. This would have given the opportunity to play 2 from Ambrose, Thomas or Sam to push the Hull defence down the wings and support the forward paring.

We'll see what Pardew has in store for my trip to Norwich on Boxing Day, but I really hope he just goes for it. A point was worth nothing to us yesterday – if we want to have any hope of getting out of this division we need to start showing some desire to attack and scare teams. People fear playing West Brom – we need to be the same.

If the opposition keeps thinking they can turn us over at The Valley, we're in trouble before we've even started.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Any Players Turn Up Today? Charlton 1, Hull 1

Image © Charlton Athletic
One thing I can thank the team for today after this terrible match is the fact I've got bugger-all to write from it. Until Bougherra equalised in the second half, our best and only effort on target came from a wayward back-header from a Hull player.

I'm not sure what's worse – the fact that Hull couldn't beat a team down to ten men for 20 minutes, or the fact that we can't beat a poor Hull side that can't beat a team with ten men!

What the hell was going on today? It was as if both teams were thinking more about shooting to Oxford Street after the match to finish the Christmas shopping. Did either side actually turn up?

Lack of efforts was worsened only further by a clear lack of effort. In fact, there was only one Charlton player putting in any effort at all – Danny Mills doing his best to get every Hull player sent off.

I've been a big fan of Mills, but today he showed the ugly side of his game that you hoped he'd left behind at his previous clubs. He made the most of every bad tackle, fell over at each opportunity, and spent more time talking to the Ref than Pardew had to the team about tactics. He got his just desserts in true pantomime when Bates finally had enough and sent him off.

It wasn't only Mills at it though – Phil Brown had clearly instructed his players to waste time at every available opportunity, it was disgraceful. At one point it took a full 30 seconds for a simple throw-in, and to his discredit Bates did nothing to keep this behaviour under control.

Hull took the lead after Frazier Campbell was the lucky recipient of a ricochet off the Charlton defence as McCarthy attempted to clear. It was a cool finish past Weaver, and should have been the spur the game needed.

The home team didn't appear to have read the script today though, and never got into the game. Reid's absence highlighted the lack of creativity in the rest of the team, the sideways-passing of the Curbishley days rearing it's ugly head. This was the ideal opportunity for Ambrose to stake a claim to the playmaker role, but put in another anonymous appearance.

Another downside to Mills' sending off was Chris Dickson missing out on a much anticipated debut. The match was all set for him to come on with 20 minutes to go, but instead we had to make do with ten men instead.

An early Christmas hangover or the shape of things to come? We'll find out on Boxing day...

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Dental Dillema

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
I used to love going to the Dentist when I was a kid. The stickers, the free kids toothpaste, the lollipop... it was ace. Unfortunately I eventually grew up and saw the flipside after I had my first of many run-ins with 'The Drill'...

My biggest whammy came after a 3-year exile from Dentistry. 6 fillings and a few hundred quid lighter, my wariness of the profession began. But I thought I had the beating of him this time around, yes Siree...

After my latest 3-year stay of execution from a check-up, I prepared myself by taking out a Dental Insurance policy. £184 smackers down, I'd hedged my bets against the huge bill I was anticipating. Brimming with confidence, ready for anything, I came away sorely dissapointed from the surgery yesterday.

He didn't fill a chuffing thing.. Not even a bit of root canal or the odd crown. No replacement teeth.

What the hell had I wasted my cash on?

It got me thinking about Insurance and the philosphy behind it. Effectively, whenever you take out an insurance policy you're betting against yourself. Be it loss from a result of your stupidity, bad luck or otherwise, your hedging your bets against a positive outcome.

Isn't that behaviour frowned upon in betting circles? I got a lot of stick only last month for betting on a Croatia victory, how is insurance any different?

Then you consider how the setup works. You only ever get 'odds' (payout figures) for when you are at a personal loss - many of which cash alone cannot repair. At that point you have to go though all the hurdles of a claims process in the hope that the result of your misery can be turned around with a payout.

Personally, I think the whole insurance concept should change, or at least offer the odds the other way around for fairness. Why can't you take out a policy that rewards you for not getting in trouble? I'd like to take out a bet that I don't end up with a life threatening disease, don't get mugged, or my house doesn't get burgled or water damaged.

Why should the Insurance companies have all the fun setting the terms? We always know the bookie always wins, yet we've let them get away with it all these years! Why should we stand for this scam any longer?

My suggestion - Car Insurance excepted, sod the lot of it. Don't take any. I spend something like £600 on various policies, I'd rather take control of the odds and take it down William Hill's instead.

Think different, bet on a positive outcome - it's much more fun isn't it?

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Quality Flu Time

Image © Lotus Head
I usually enjoy my time out of the office – the lazy lie in, the cooked breakfast, the planned (or otherwise) leisurely pace of a day out... it's bliss isn't it?

Then you get the flipside – the enforced time off from a bout of 'man flu'. The male equivalent of labour pains, it kicks you in the guts flispside onto the couch and leaves you in agony for the day. It's the weakness that gets me the most – I could barely muster the energy to reach for the TV remote, lest change channels.

My entertainment in question yesterday was the controversial Jeremy Kyle show. A lot's been said about Kyle's style of programming – a judge only recently referred to it as 'human bear baiting'.

"8 potential dads", "Pregnant and Penniless", "2nd DNA test - 2nd time you're a potential dad!", "You let me bond with your baby – now I might not be the dad!" were all parts of the 'DNA Results Special'. I won't doubt for a second that it's crass, trash TV, but a solid watch for two enforced hours on the death-couch gave me some more time to assess the format.

On the face of it the show is no different to a Vanessa, Trisha, Springer, Kilroy, or any other generic 'personality' talk show. All the common elements are there – cheerleading studio audience, idiotic guests who believe airing their dirtiest laundry on TV will be their salvation, and a host full of patronising self importance.

But Kyle's show is different in the way he controls and develops the 'plots', because that's what all features on the show become. Kyle cleverly unravels the story the way he wants, to an often eventful conclusion, and holds all the cards throughout the show (quite literally - most of them are DNA or lie detector results).

Springer, Trisha et al rely on the participation of the studio audience to pass pathetic self-righteous judgements on the depressing situations of the guests. This doesn't happen with Kyle – he's in complete control. He is Judge, Jury, and Executioner. He somehow holds authority over the guests through a combination of sheer nastiness, assertions, and occasional compassion. This is all the more remarkable for a man with the appearance of a less attractive Daniel Craig on the Atkins diet.

The thing is, it doesn't take a lot of intelligence for someone like Kyle to spot the underlying problems in practically all these situations. 'Families at war' is the usual outcome, but Kyle carefully allows each participant to gradually incriminate themselves through a set of leading questions. When he doesn't get the reaction he's after, he'll berate, antagonise and chastise them until he can provoke a reaction.

It's like a one-man good cop/bad cop routine that can be quite compelling at times – as a viewer I end up mentally switching off when the latest shallow swimmer from the gene pool starts talking, then re-engage for Kyle's often cutting commentary.

There's often nothing endearing about the guests to feel sorry for, other than wonder about the society that produced them in the first place. As each one comes on stage more fired up and angry than the last, they lose the opportunity for any moral high ground and further compound it by discharging a barrage of violent abuse. Kyle knows this, and is happy to shit-stir this cauldron of bile until it overflows.

So why do people go on these shows? I think history has shown us one thing – a lot of stupid people will do anything to get on TV. 15 years back The Word had people eating sheep's testicles, snogging 80-year-old men and eating pubic hair on a Jacobs cream cracker. Rather than simply being broken, the boundaries had been smashed around the face with a crowbar and bathed in salt.

As a result, shows like Kyle's no longer have the shock value they would have had so long ago, and are now an established part of the daytime TV ensemble for the forseeable future.

Still – if you're stuck to the couch with a fever and a tin of chicken soup, there's a lot worse you can do!

Monday, 17 December 2007

It's Not All Doom And Gloom...

The table at New Year's Day?
I was a bit disappointed after Saturday's game – after getting back to 2-2 I really though we could nick a point with what is effectively a crocked team. However, we get caught out too easily at the back and sadly it looks like this really is a season too far for Powell.

If Pards gets a bit of luck with the injuries to Iwelumo and Reid, the Christmas period could be a crucial time to get back on track. We've 4 games in a period of 10 days which means 12 points up for grabs. Looking at the fixtures, many of our promotion rivals will be taking points off each other along the way.

Our lineup is Hull at home, Norwich away, Leicester away, and Colchester at home. Despite our recent home form, I reckon wins against Hull and Colchester are very good possibilities. If we can continue our away form there's no reason why we can't nick a win and a point on the road. Tempting fate is never a good thing in football, but I can't see us losing those games.

West Brom have tricky away ties at Stoke and Ipswich, and also have to face Bristol City at home. Stoke have to play away at Plymouth, who have a habit of picking up a result.

Watford are anyone's guess at the moment. Every season The Championship follows the same pattern – one team makes an early season lead of 10 points, but by Christmas they've been reeled back in. West Brom finally caught them up yesterday and Boothroyd has a real job on his hands to get things going again. I fancy them to lose away to Sheffield Wednesday, but they should pick up points at home against Cardiff and QPR.

So – if my predictions are correct, I reckon we can start the New Year just 2 points off the top. I reckon five teams will battle it out for the top 2 spots, but for me West Brom will have as good as wrapped up the title by April.

Second place is definitely up for grabs though, with no team clearly having the consistency to see them through at the moment. If Pardew can get the run of results right and strengthen the personnel in January, we've got as good a chance as any.

Have a bash yourself on the BBC Predictor – see if you can get things as wrong as I know doubt will have! Seventh place anyone? ;)


Sunday, 16 December 2007

Suffering For The Arts

Image © Gregor Younger
Wildlife programmes show us some fantastic scenes that only a few of us would ever be lucky enough to see in real life. The desert scenes of stampeding wildebeest, the hunt of the big cats, the undersea world – displays of nature can be genuinely breathtaking.

I've been lucky enough to go on Safari once and got close to elephants, giraffes and a lion amongst others. It's a pretty amazing and humbling experience to see such creatures in their natural environment, and is something I seriously recommend if you're fortunate enough to be in such a place.

One of the dafter things I did on my travels was a shark dive. The format was simple – get on a boat, sail to the most shark-infested part of South Africa, slip into a wetsuit, and jump into the water. In a cage of course.

You'd expect cages in these scenarios to be huge, overbearing pieces of machined steel, build to cope under the most extreme physical conditions. Bombproof. However, the cage I was due to jump into looked like it was made out of a combination of chicken wire and elastic bands left on the street by a postman.

Seeing as a Great White Shark can bite through bone like scissors through paper, my confidence was slightly on edge as I jumped off the boat into my tinfoil-thin shield. Coming face to face with 8 sharks in this situation left me feeling as protected as a wrapped Quality Street dangling in a Weightwatchers convention.

Luckily I survived the experience unscathed, and it was amazing. However, this was something I did for fun – some people put themselves in these situations for a living.

Steve Irwin is the most obvious example, who sadly met an untimely demise at the end of a stingray barb. When you consider his day job consisted of winding up snakes and pissing off crocodiles for fun, he's got to rank as pretty unlucky to be only the third recorded stingray death in Australian waters.

My favourite nature nutter isn't the loveable Aussie with a deathwish fetish though, it's our very own Sir David Attenborough. The voice of British natural history programming for more than 50 years, he's a national treasure.

Watching Parkinson's last ever show this evening (don't ask – the snooker finished early) I was surprised to see a feature on one of Sir Dave's more adventurous exploits. It involved a spitting cobra, protection in the form of a plastic visor, and generally annoying the f*ck out the snake.

After gleefully teasing a reptile with the spitting range of Roy Hattersley and poison that can permanently blind a man in seconds, the cobra took the bait and unleashed its venom over him. Unfazed, with the snake still there, Dave takes his visor off to show the camera the poison-covered plastic. Did I mention the snake was still there?

What a nutter – but I love him for it. Such eagerness to show the viewer the end product of his actions in the face of danger deserves nothing but respect, and demonstrates a clear willingness to suffer for his art – to inform, and as a result entertain.

Get a few more presenters prepared to maim themselves horrifically for the sake of entertainment and I might even start watching TV again.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Addicks Bagged By West Brom – WBA 4, Charlton 2

West Brom proved why they are many people's tip for the Championship title with a clinical 4-2 victory over Charlton at The Hawthorns on Saturday.

The away side had reason to be confident having won the last 4 on the road, but suspensions to defenders Mills and Fortune alongside Grant Basey's injury forced Pardew's hand on team selection.

Midfielder Semedo took Mills' place as a makeshift right-back, Bougherra and Sodje were the central pairing, and Chris Powell recovered from injury to complete the defence on the left. Reid, Zhi and Holland made the centre of a 5-man midfield, Ambrose and the returning Thomas making up the width. Iwelumo continued his role as a lone striker, the match turning out to be an eventful one for him in particular.

As expected Tony Mowbray's side started the strongest, testing the Addicks defence twice in the first 10 minutes. Bougherra did well to clear a dangerous cross from Gera, and minutes later Chris Brunt went just wide with a thumping drive outside the box.

The Baggies almost broke the deadlock after a quarter of an hour. Bednar played a 1-2 with Gera and met the resulting cross with a fierce volley against the post. Bednar then turned provider for Gera minutes later, Gera failing to meet the cross under pressure from Powell.

Charlton did manage to create some opportunities as they tried to establish a foothold in the game, the best being a classy turn and curling 30-yard shot from Reid which just crept outside the far post. A long ball from the back almost released Reid minutes later, but the West Brom defence held firm and the danger averted.

The home side continued to apply the pressure, Brunt again going close with another strike. They came even closer from a corner as Weaver flapped at a punch and missed, although Chris Powell was well placed to clear the ball off the line.

With just over 10 minutes left in the half, Iwelumo appeared to turn his ankle chasing a through-ball. After lengthy treatment and strapping the target man continued to hobble through the half. He then made his time count with a goal against the run of play after some excellent work from Thomas. The winger turned the West Brom defence and lifted a tantalising high cross into the box. Iwelumo leapt and somehow turned his body to power the ball into the net, the unlikeliest of scorelines considering his fitness and the balance of play up to that point.

This didn't phase the home side, and It only took The Baggies seven minutes before they got back into the match. Bednar and Gera had been causing problems for the makeshift defence all game, and when Bednar received a threaded pass through the defence from Gera he cooly slotted past a poorly positioned Weaver for the equaliser.

Iwelumo should arguably have gone off before he scored to avoid further injury, and was finally replaced by Izale McLeod in the last 2 minutes of the half. Pardew will no doubt be anxious to find out the extent of the injury to a player who has been a key part of the campaign.

The second half began as the first left off, the home side continuing to attack and show why they are the highest scorers in this division.

Bougherra was lucky to stay on the pitch after leading with his arm into a challenge, but the luck finally ran out in the 49th minute. The impressive Brunt put a high ball to the back post which Powell should have been defending, but Gera was allowed to leap unchallenged to head past Weaver.

Charlton then showed the determination they've shown on previous travels as they battled to get back into the game. Ambrose came close to scoring, but could only toe-end to the keeper from a cross. The away side then had a penalty shout as Zhi charged into the box, although replays suggested the midfielder may have tripped over his own feet.

Luke Varney was introduced for the last 25 minutes, replacing Ambrose. Sankofa then replaced Reid as Pardew tried to shore up both the defence and midfield. The pace and running from Varney made an immediate difference, and minutes after coming on the striker was unlucky to poke over the bar from 10 yards after a smart run into the box.

Varney impressed further as he turned provider eight minutes later. His cross was met by McLeod, whose shot was poorly handled by the West Brom keeper as it rolled in for a deserved equaliser. 15 minutes remained and it seemed McLeod's long-awaited goal may have earned the Addicks a crucial point.

It wasn't to be though as Charlton's defence crumbled with West Brom pressing for the winner. In an identical goal to their second, Powell again failed to deal with a high cross from Brunt and Gera nodded in his second of the game.

McLeod then came close after a flick-on from Holland, and Weaver turned a goal-bound shot round the post with a fantastic save. West Brom made certain of the points from the resulting corner as Charlton failed miserably to clear. The ball fell to Kevin Phillips, who lashed home from close range to complete a convincing 4-2 scoreline.

The win was deserved – West Brom were the better team, and on this evidence look like the class of the division. Unfortunately for Charlton, results around the division also went against them. Wins for Stoke and Bristol City capped off a disappointing day for the Addicks, who drop to fifth in the table and 3 points off the automatic promotion spots.

Friday, 14 December 2007


Image ©
Steve McClaren's successor as England Manager was finally confirmed today as Fabio Capello signed a four-and-a-half year deal with the FA. Capello, 61, will be revealed at a press conference on Monday, his role starting early in the New Year.

Much discussion has been made about the importance of the nationality of the England manager, but I'm firmly in the 'doesn't matter' camp – so long as he is the best man for the job, is within our budget, and can deliver results.

Eriksson was actually a reasonably successful England manager, but despite his club skills currently being demonstraed at Man City, he lacked a 'Plan B' all too often at International level. Despite the glory of the 5-1 win in Germany, Eriksson's reign will be remembered by many as a passive figure in his failure to inspire his side to victory against 10-man Brazil.

McClaren seemed to lack all necessary skills to command the team and showed signs of desperation toward the end of his reign. Flying out to the USA to watch Beckham play in a charity match was sheer idiocy – anyone who has watched even a testimonial game will tell you they have no use in judging a player's fitness, form or ability. What was more important at that point in time was to track the form of English-based players who had the potential to spark the team to victory against a Croatia side with nothing to play for.

The task Capello has to answer is turning a team of Champions League regulars into a team capable of generating results at International level. This is no longer about individuals, it is about getting the team working, getting results, and getting pride back into an England team that has been a joke at this level for too long. For these reasons, I believe the FA have got the best man for the job.

Fabio Capello is a winner, and if you take a look at his record it speaks for itself:
- 4 Serie A titles with AC Milan (92, 93, 94, 96)
- La Liga title with Real Madrid (97)
- Serie A title with Roma (01)
- 2 Serie A titles with Juventus (05, 06)
- La Liga title with Real Madrid (07)

9 league titles in 15 years, and in 2 of the toughest leagues in the world, is a record rivalled only by Ferguson in recent times. Capello has been criticised for moving around clubs, but that could be a bonus when coming into the International setup for the first time. It proves the ability to continually work with new players, produce new teams over time, and get results.

Over the same 15-year period, Ferguson has always had access to the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, and until recently Roy Keane. Capello has had no such luxury of continuity, and has had to scout and bring in suitable players from transfer funding.

Capello has a history of being an uncompromising manager, an authoritarian. As intimidating as that may be to a player, as a professional you can only respect such a track record and buy into his methods if you want to perform and win. Winning at International level isn't about winning pretty – we don't have the likes of the Madrid fans who demand to win in style. England have under-performed for so long we simply want to win again.

His first task will be to sort out a dressing room culture which has been a creeping issue since the start of the Premier League, and moreso since Keegan's reign. The personalities and drinking culture had already existed under Venables, and although Hoddle's period did appear to instil more discipline, it was at a cost. Hoddle's lack of man-management skills handling the Beckham situation put the sympathy back on the side of the players.

The card schools came back under Keegan, as did the image of the manager being a 'friend' to the players. This continued more graphically under Eriksson, with stories of player power and the influence of key players on team selection. McClaren was already a dead man walking from day one as he was a continuation of the old regime.

Capello won't stand for this – the WAGs will be out, as will the personalities. His methods will be the only agenda. His record is clear – buy into his approach and the statistics show you will be a winner. The England players need to realise that this is the case and respect this. There may be key players in a squad, but you can only unlock everyone's potential by playing as a unit.

My personal hope from this appointment is that we will see a side that truly cares about the results. Too often we see 'superstars' underperforming in an England shirt, despite running the show only 3 days later against Europe's elite in the Champion's League.

We may not win a World Cup, but if Capello can create a passionate team that will do anything to wear the shirt he will have achieved more than any England manager in recent times.

If the Italian can inspire the belief and desire the England team displayed in his home country in Italia '90, he will be a resounding success.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Dickson Watch

As a free transfer from Colchester, Chris Iwelumo is turning into one of the bargain buys of The Championship this season. He's strong, can win the ball in the air, and has shown he's handy with his feet as well. He's essentially everything that Bartlett and Marcus Bent should have been, but better. And free!

A glance at the club stats makes for some interesting reading as far as goals go though. Iwelumo has 8 and Reid 6, the closest striker being Varney with 3. In our last 5 matches, 6 of our 8 goals have come from the midfield.

In fairness, a lot of this can be put down to the formation used so far, 4-5-1 appearing the most effective. Also, Varney was injured for the early part of the season. However, we have been guilty of spurning chances up front, especially in our home matches. At this level we simply have to finish teams off.

Compare this record against the current top two, Watford and West Brom. King and Henderson have 19 between them, and Phillips and Miller have 17. At this stage in the season we've scored 5 less than watford and 17 less than West Brom. With the chance of all 3 of us making a break for it in January, goals could be the important factor in who goes straight up and who's left scrapping in the playoffs.

4-5-1 has had it's success, but when it doesn't work you need a Plan B. There will be times we need to go 4-4-2, and if Iwelumo gets injured it's the only way we could really play with the current personel. Varney has shown promise, but hasn't yet found the killer instinct he had at Crewe. McLeod is completely shot of confidence after the step-up, and Todorov's Charlton career is probably over before it really began. Pardew could go to the market for another striker in January, but there is another option.

Chris Dickson's final loan spell with Gillingham will end in January, and I would urge Pardew to take a chance on him. He's on fire for the Gills after a dissapointing spell at Crewe, and already scored 7 league goals for the Gills, 11 in total.

He has a lot to learn and is far from the finished article, but we need someone brimming with confidence and an eagerness to score. He's a poacher, and playing alongside a player like Iwelumo for the last 15 minutes of a match could be a cracking combination - if he can finish off a few of those flick-ons from the big man we'll have a real asset to the team and a chance to push up the all important goal difference.

Bringing back Dickson could give McLeod the opportunity to go out on a short loan and rediscover the fantastic form he had for MK Dons last season. He's scored 60 in 135 appearances, which is a great record - if he can find that form again he could be an excellent asset for the final few months of the season.

Hopefully we'll see some of Dickson before the end of the January transfer window - if he manages to earn a place in the team and performs, we could have an alternative to our current plans and a real strikeforce on our hands.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Teams Heading In The Right Direction

I'm not keeping too keen an eye on the Prem for rather obvious reasons this season, but you can't help but cast an admiring glance over the progress of Arsenal. Unless of course you're a Spurs fan, and will have spontaneously combusted by now at the mere mention of your North London neighbours.

Wenger has put together a young team playing probably the most exciting football in the Premiership, and aside from the fading Man City, have been the real surprise package in a contest that's been devoid of excitement for so long.

They're a team heading in the right direction - it's just a bit of a shame their coach driver for the match at Middlesbrough on Sunday wasn't in quite the same league.

Paying far too much attention to the Satnav rather than engaging common sense, he took a bit of a wrong turn and headed for Darlington instead. The squad eventually arrived at The Riverside only an our before kick-off, and suffered a 2-1 pasting. [Read all about it]

The irony must have slapped them round the head with a cricket bat when they saw the sponsors on Boro's shirt - Satnav manufacturers, Garmin...

After I'd mopped the floor from pissing myself laughing, I realised the daft Gooner isn't alone in all this - I picked up a TomTom the other month.

If you haven't got a clue where you're going, they really are ace. I managed to get from London to my mate's flat in central Manchester, via an away match in Hull, with minimal fuss and no maps. Easy peasy, and for the first month it was fantastic. The problems come when you actually know the place you're driving around, at which point they become as helpful as Calista Flockheart in an eating contest.

I'd heard the stories about Londoners being sent through Piccadilly Circus for any journey through Central London, but it had to be an urban legend. Surely no piece of technology could be that stupid. Yet, on a trip from North London to Heathrow, guess where I ended up. Unbelievable.

It does highlight our over-reliance on technology these days, and our unwavering acceptance of all things digital. People have stopped questioning things. "It's on a computer, it must be true". It's far easier to devoid yourself of responsibility when a machine can do it for you. "Not my fault, it's the computer". People forget too quickly that behind every piece of technology created there's a human brain designing it. Guess what - they make mistakes.

So, will Chelsea suffer similar problems on their trip from West London to The Emirates on Sunday?

Avram - a word of advice. Get the boys some Oyster Cards and put them on the tube. It's only 45 minutes from Fulham Broadway and it'll save Roman a coupla quid. He'll probably need it after paying off that Jose fella. It might even get those overpaid nancy boys realising what life is like for those of us who don't kick around a bag of air for a living.

Even better - it's a 5 minute walk from Arsenal station these days. Lampard might lose a few pounds... ;)

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

2 Weeks To Go...

I've always been a bit on the unorganised side – I generally live by the rule that if something can be left until tomorrow, I'll do it in a fortnight. After all, what's the rush for anything these days? There's enough stress around, live a little.

Unfortunately, the same doesn't ring true around this time of year. That Christmas thing everyone goes bonkers over these days strikes fear into the heart of every lazy sod like me.

It means we have to go shopping. At the busiest time of year.

The crowds, the despair, the 'out of stock' signs, the frustrated parents... Christmas shopping is up there on the fun stakes with teabagging a deep fat fryer. How anyone can enjoy this archaic annual event is surely beyond help. It's almost as if the process is designed to make us want to ritually commit suicide en-mass as part of an absurd religious cult. (Hmmm...)

Not to fear though, I have a trump card out of my shopping nightmare – the Interweb. Yep, as sceptical as you may be of modern technology, you simply can't beat it for Christmas. Whereas half an hour in Oxford Street would result in me murdering people with a spoon, arm me with a credit card and a laptop and I'm sorted.

There is of course the upside to this time of year – that bastion of free booze, the office Christmas Party. They're fantastic aren't they – in the space of a few hours you can get yourself fed, wasted, sacked, promoted, sacked again, snog someone you've sat next to for 3 years and never spoke to... cracking stuff, and I love it.

It's the annual gameshow I call Wheel of F*ckwit. All the opportunities for life-changing events are available at the spin of a champagne bottle, neatly packaged in your own personalised reality TV show.

There's even the 'results' programme the following day as the office collectively attempts to assemble the 1,000 piece jigsaw of debauchery. If you can somehow get out of this one without an ounce of self-loathing shame, you've obviously not tried hard enough the night before.

But let's not forget about what this time of year is about – the all important day of the festive season dear to so many of us. The one day when you can sit down in the company of like-minded individuals, relax, have a beer, and forget about all your frustrations.

It's Boxing Day when Charlton play away at Norwich. I can't wait!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Double Dare

I've got a double apparently – yep, whilst hard at work today in the Tower Hill area, I was seen in Berkeley Square in London's West End. Luckily my spotter realised their mistake before tapping 'me' on the shoulder for a rather awkward moment of embarrassment.

It got me thinking though – if I've got a clone walking around, one of his mate's is going to mistake me for him one day. Imagine if we've got the same voice, mannerisms and everything – this could be ace!

Thing is, unlike the poor unsuspecting chap in Berkeley Square, I'm prepared for it. Oh yes. I can't wait to confuse the hell out of the first person who taps me on the shoulder thinking I'm someone else. You could fake amnesia, pretend you snogged them last night, maybe even cash in on any drinks your stunt double is owed.

Try and find out where they work as well – if it's somewhere cool, blag it! Could be freebies all night and partying with models until your drinks tab convulses. And to finish, sign it in the other guy's name...

OK, so the chances of this happening are pretty slim, but you can have a similar level of mirth in other cases of mistaken identity.

We've all had the 'wrong number' phone calls, the annoying ones where the person calling you is mistakenly convinced you're the person they're after. I still don't get those situations - I'm generally a pretty good judge of knowing I am actually me and not Bob from Fife. Next time you get a call like this, have a bit of fun.

Pretend you really are that person. If you're a bloke and they're calling for a woman, put a girly voice on or convince them you're in the process of a sex change. Try and find out some juicy gossip about them. Start an argument. If you're feeling really evil, arrange to meet them for dinner.

It's like a reverse-the-charges version of Fonejacker. For anyone yet to see this, check out This is your toolkit - pull off something on this scale and a career change could be on the cards for you...

Saturday, 8 December 2007

The Price Of Fortune - Charlton 3, Ipswich 1

Image © Charlton Athletic
Three goals at The Valley has been a bad luck sign for Charlton in recent weeks, but they finally got the home win they so desperately needed in a thrilling contest. The match had everything – great goals, excellent attacking play, a missed penalty, hit posts and crossbars, a sending off... easily the most exciting home game so far, and a nightmare to watch for a home fan.

Both teams started strongly from the kick off. The shape of the Ipswich side suggested they hadn't come to lie down, happily pushing players up the park to attack. Charlton replied to this pressure and pace in the best possible fashion in the first half, and played some exquisite football at times.

The home team broke the deadlock in only the 6th minute. A header from Iwelumo found Sam on the edge of the box, who held it up long enough to let in Holland on the overlap. His inch-perfect cross to Ambrose was met by a bullet-header, ex-Ipswich 1, Ipswich 0.

The Addicks continued to press and started showing levels of skill and confidence missing all too often from home performances. Lloyd Sam impressed with a neat turn and shot, Reid kept the midfield ticking over, and Zhi was having possibly his best game this season with a number of great tackles and intelligent passing.

The second goal was scruffy but no less deserved on the balance of play. Ipswich needlessly conceded a corner, and Alexander in the Town goal failed to collect Reid's delivery. Iwelumo only had to touch it over the line - such was the 'pace' on the ball it took the North Stand a few seconds to appreciate it was a goal! After a look at the replay I'm not convinced it wasn't a handball but it stands regardless, 2-0 to Charlton on the half-hour.

Ipswich's first real chance came after the introduction of Counago. A free-kick was nodded into his path, but both the post and linesman's flag saved the Addicks on this occasion.

Moments later a long, high ball from Mills found Reid in space behind the Ipswich defence. He laid the ball into the path of Ambrose, who thumped it into the bottom-left corner for his second of the game. Charlton had finished the first half on a flyer, leaving Magilton's side with a mountain to climb in the second half.

Whatever happened in the half-time team talk must have inspired Ipswich as they went for broke in the second period. The Addicks back line suddenly looked vulnerable under constant waves of pressure, culminating in the upending of Counago for a penalty.

Lee stepped up, but his poor penalty was saved by Weaver, the Ipswich man also slipping to miss the rebound with the goal gaping. Charlton had got lucky. This good fortune was extended 5 minutes later as Haynes could only head onto the bar from the impressive Counago's volley.

Charlton gradually clawed their way back into the game and put some pressure back on the Tractor Boys. Holland picked up a header from Iwelumo and fired a goalbound drive that Alexander turned onto the post.

More penalty controversy followed from the rebound as Ambrose drove back across goal to see his shot blocked by Wilnis. The referee initially blew for a penalty, but from the view in the North Stand you could clearly see the ball hit the player's chest. The linesman over-ruled and the game continued.

Ipswich finally got a goal back to set up a nailbiting final 20 minutes. Good work from Haynes caught out Powell, and was too quick for Zheng. His cross to the edge of the box left Mills dealing with 2 attackers, giving Counago the space in the box he needed for a classy back-heeled goal past Weaver.

Pardew attempted to shore things up by bringing Semedo on for Sam, and in the last 5 minutes Varney came on for Reid. Charlton held on for the victory, but it came at a cost.

Mills was unfortunate to pick up a yellow card as he was booked for running into the falling Walters, and Powell was taken off injured. As the nerves jangled up to the final whistle, Fortune lost it and lashed out at Lee. The referee had no choice but to send him off.

On the face of it it's a fantastic win – Ipswich's excellent home record makes them clear promotion contenders. However, we have now lost 3 and possibly 4 key personnel for next week's trip to West Brom.

Mill's card means he's suspended, Fortune will be out for the next 3 games, Sam was already suspended for that match, and Powell's injury and lack of fitness could keep him out as well. I wrote last week about the importance of the defence in this campaign, and with Basey still injured we look in real trouble at the back.

Still, an important result for all at The Valley, which keeps us 3rd but only 2 points off the top.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Expensive Hangover Cures

The world of science has come up with some remarkable discoveries over the years. The Theory of Evolution, discovery of DNA, putting a man on the moon... Modern medicine continues to amaze, with micosurgery, transplants, test tube babies, all remarkable stuff.

What amazes me more though is how they're still yet to sort out the condition that affects most of us at least once a week – the Hangover. Even more surprising considering most doctors I know could cause a supply crisis at a brewery on a night out.

2 school nights out in a row is normally the death me these days, so the absolute stinker of a hangover on Friday morning was no real surprise. Trademark pint of water and a couple of paracetamols in hand, I had a plan.

I've tried all the hangover cures I can think of over the years. If you can actually stomach Alka-Seltzer without sending it back up you can't be that bad. Painkillers just dull the ache of despair and lengthen the process. Fry-ups never work. No, what you need to get out of these situations is something to keep you excited, awake, and alert.

You need to buy something. Expensive.

My recovery involved a quick trip to PC World and a spangly new MacBook – and boy, did this work as a cure! It was instant – the moment that white slab of electronica came out of the box the threshing machine in my head that was so intent on turning my brain to mush faded away.

Granted – this isn't the kind of get-out-of-jail card you can afford to use on a regular basis, but my god it's ace!

So – next time you wake up feeling like your head's in a vice, don't check for the ibuprofen supply first – check the credit card limit. Boys – that plasma telly you've always wanted is just a short trip away... Girls – sod the budget, go and buy that pair of Chloe's. Blow the lot. Go crazy.

After all, it's a credit card – not like its real money is it... ;)

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Dodgy Weather?

Image © BBC
It's happed to all of us hasn't it - you take a peek out of the window, decide the brolly can stay at home, get down the road and it pisses it down.

You arrive at your destination a soggy, miserable wretch, cursing your lack of foresight for not checking the weather report on the telly. But even that doesn't always help.

TV weather reporting has a history of presentational one-upmanship, from glitzy 3D graphics to even more glamourous presenters. And Michael Fish. The goal of the programme is to inform, but it it really giving us what we need?

The terminology used is baffling to the average man in the street. Ask him to explain the point of Isobars, what happens when a cold and warm front meet, what wind speed registers as gale force compared to a light breeze, how you measure 1mm of rain... Chances are you'll get an expression blanker than a cheque for a Government IT project.

With the thirst for over the top graphics and information overload, TV weather has lost the meaning of why it exists in the first place - people simply want to know what they can wear today.

They don't care about high and low pressure. They care even less about wind patterns over the North Sea. Lucy from Stevenage just wants to know if she can wear her crop-top today or if packing a dinghy and a life jacket would be a more sensible option.

I have a simple suggestion for how we can make the weather reports more relevant to the audience - make the presenters dress up in what people can wear that day.

It would be ace wouldn't it? No need to worry about what to wear - just look at the bloke or bird on the screen! They can even quick-change outfits in a 'velcro meets Bucks-Fizz' blaze during the report for morning, noon and night. Fantastic!

Think of the opportunities for the TV companies as well - no need to find someone with Met Office training and good looks and a semblance of a personality. They only need to tell the presenters how much to wear. Fashion houses could even sponsor the outfits - a weather programme could actually make money!

Someone get me Mark Thompson's number, I think I'm on to something here...

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Back On Track - Cardiff 0, Charlton 2

Image © BBC
Charlton got their season back on track at Ninian Park last night, finishing off a sorry Cardiff side by a two-goal margin and climbing to 3rd in the table.

Pardew made the expected switch back to the 4-5-1 formation that had recently produced 4 consecutive wins, with just one change in personel as Lloyd Sam came in at the expense of Luke Varney.

And this is where my first hand knowledge of the game evades me - it's the first game I've missed since starting this Blog! Too busy at work lazy to make the trip to Cardiff, I was one of many Addicks reduced to listening to the game via BBC London's internet commentary. Don't tell 'em though - they're not supposed to be broadcasting fizzy-pops matches any more! Shhhh... ;)

Anyway - from what I could hear from the radio and the 15 seconds of coverage on Sky Sports News, it sounds like our opponents barely turned up. Which is a bit off really seeing as some of us travelled 200 miles. All I remember hearing of Weaver was one save the first half, such was the level of quality from the home side. However, this will serve as a great confidence boost for a back line who've shipped 6 goals in the last 2 matches.

Matt Holland eventually broke the deadlock 11 minutes from time, driving home from the edge of the box past a flat-footed Schmeichel after Cardiff failed to clear a corner. Some relief for the away fans - this was the first away goal in normal time in the last 5 road trips. Seems I got it wrong on the Holland/Semedo argument this time!

The second half didn't get much better in terms of entertainment value, but the result was all important for both managers in this match. Not only was Pardew keen to get the promotion push back on track, another home defeat could lose Dave Jones his place in the Ninian Park hotseat.

In the end it was Charlton who scored the only other goal in a tired-sounding affair. A slip by Darren Purse let Ambrose into the box, who was then wrestled to the ground by the Cardiff defender for a penalty. Reid made no mistake from the spot, and with 10 minutes left the game was over as a contest.

Charlton shored up the midfield by taking off Ambrose for Semedo, and gave Varney and McLeod a run-out for the last 5 minutes in place of Lloyd Sam and current Championship Player of the Month Chris Iwelumo.

Things only got better for the Addicks as the results came in from around the grounds. Ipswich continued their poor away form by losing to Bristol City, Plymouth lost at Norwich, and Barnsley beat Wolves. The result of the day though was at The Hawthorns, West Brom going down 2-4 to Coventry.

So, we're back up to 3rd and only a point behind The Baggies - who remain my tip for the title. The most important thing for Pardew is to tranfer the momentum on the road through to the home performances. Charlton have won only 4 at The Valley compared to 6 away wins.

Saturday's opponents Ipswich are yet to win away this season, but on the flipside Charlton have won just 2 games against top-half opposition.

This weekend's outcome is likely to give us a good indication of whether we really are contenders for automatic promotion, or are facing the prospect of a nailbiting fight for a playoff place.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Case For The Defence

Image © Charlton Athletic
First the good news - Big Chris has been named The Championship's Player of the Month! There you go - we've won something! Iwelumo has been great for us so far and has shown the attitude and commitment we need at this level - keep it up.

It's a shame a number of questionable refereeing decisions have gone against him, Saturday's penalty claim for one. He seems to suffer from the 'Crouch Effect' - any time he jumps with a defender the ref can't help but give a foul against him. Anyway, get some more of those headers on target and he'll be a cert on the teamsheet.

So on to the bad part. 6 goals conceded in the last 2 home games would be grim reading for a club in the relegation spots, but when you're in 4th place with promotion aspirations you have to wonder when the rot will stop.

You can forgive the first few matches of the season, a spell where the team relied on simply scoring more than we let in. Any completely new back four needs time to gel, its not so long ago that Fortune struggled to get a first team place. And up until the 2 recent home games, gradual improvements were coming to the fold.

The first casualty from the early matches is McCarthy. He was found lacking for pace and skill and I can see him leaving in January. The second casualty in a more physical sense is the unlucky Moutaouakil. Our best player on the opening day, he was unfortunate to get injured so soon in the season away at Stoke. As a result, his return has been hindered by the surprise loan of Danny Mills who has generally impressed so far.

Confidence seemed to have been the main issue up until this point, and the loan signings of Mills and Sodje have strengthened us in 2 key areas:

1. Mills is confident on the ball, experienced, and knows how to handle himself at this level. This has filtered through to the rest of the defence. Ok, he lost it a bit on Saturday, but on the whole I think his influence has been positive

2. Sodje will attack anything with his head - even at ground level in some cases! He's not afraid to get stuck in, which is essential for this campaign

Whilst Fortune looks classy at times, pairing him with Bougherra in central defence was an accident waiting to happen and makes their occasional laziness apparent. They play too similarly - Fortune has always been prone to 'ball-watch', and having two players like this leaves you hideously exposed at set pieces. This is where Sodje has been a revelation and allows Fortune to do what he does best - tidy up and release the ball.

Where we are still weak is on the left. I really think Basey could be great for us this season, but he does lack experience and was tested at Preston. Powell will always be a legend, but he showed on Saturday that he still isn't 100% fit and might not last the distance. Lucklilly he'll only have Hasselbaink and Fowler to worry about tonight. ;)

So, what happened in the last 2 matches. My gut feeling is a 'blip' after getting things together so well in the previous games. It would be harsh to blame Sheffield United's goals on the back four, and despite poor marking I'm happy to give Burnley the credit for turning us over on Saturday. I really think the defence will be more than sufficient for the remainder of the campaign, especially with the added confidence from Weaver's performances. Before then we hadn't conceded a goal in 4 games, including 3 away outings.

The biggest worry is January. The 2 players who have made the biggest impact in the defence (Mills/Sodje) are loan signings, and we could lose them both. Losing half the defence at this time of year would be nothing short of catastrophic, especially when the likes of Ipswich will have money to spend.

I seriously hope we keep them both - Bougherra can't play with Fortune, Moutaouakil has promise but has only played 2 games, Basey is inexperienced, and more importantly there's no cover left after that! Corey Gibbs looks more likely to draw a pension before being seen in a Charlton shirt again.

Tonight's game is all important after 2 morale-sapping defeats, and the performance of our back line is sure to be well scrutinised by both Dave Jones and Alan Pardew at Ninian Park tonight. If there ever was a case for the defence, this is it...

Monday, 3 December 2007

Death Of The Album?

Image © Aidan C. Siegel
I loved my Walkman - it was a right of passage when I got that shiny red Philips Skymaster for my birthday. Yep, I could finally take my tapes on the move, wherever I wanted, without my parents listening. The joy of Public Enemy, 808 State, and the guilty pleasure of 'Now' albums... I went through more batteries a month than a desperate housewife with an Ann Summers catalogue.

Even when CDs came along, my trusty tape deck was still with me - by this time I'd upgraded and it had a radio as well. Progress huh? The usage pattern still stayed the same though - get an album onto tape and listen to it.

These days everything has changed. We have convenient, instant gratification available to us thanks to the Internet, iTunes, and mp3 players. You can fit an entire CD collection in a player the size of a wallet, with room to spare for movie files of every episode of Family Guy and South Park for the bargain.

I bought my first iPod in 2004, a 40gb music-only player. It was amazing - all those years of tunes now in my pocket, I could finally catch up on all the albums I'd meant to spend time listening to. Only I didn't. Modern music players brought in a new way of listening - playlists.

Playlists are like a digital compilation tape, but limited only by the size of your music catalogue, creativity and inspiration. Used well you can tailor your music to whatever mood you are in. Used lazily and you end up recycling the same old tracks you always listen to in a random order.

My bet is that for most people with iPods, it's the latter. 'Shuffle' mode was a fantastic idea, but it just promotes laziness. You no longer listen to albums - just songs. Isn't that a good thing though? Doesn't that sort the musical wheat from the disjointed chaff?

Well, not really. The best albums are made to be listened to as a whole, not as a collection of singles. Some great albums simply don't have the impact as songs on an individual basis, but played together collectively in the intended context can form the most brilliant pieces. Dark Side of the Moon, Pet Sounds, Ziggy Stardust - all classics. The likes of Screamadelica, His 'N' Hers and Homework are all great examples of modern complete albums.

In the digital world I barely even know the song titles these days - you rip your CD to your library with a fleeting glance at the cover. Although I can tell you that tracks 1, 3 and 6 on the first Art Brut album are ace, they might be 7, 4 and 9 the next time they get shuffled.

As much of a breakthrough as iPods are in getting people closer to their music collection, they're having the unforeseen effect of killing the album culture that's been the heart of music for as long as we've known.

Whereas with a tape-based Walkman you'd happily listen to an album, you can skip away to your heart's content with an mp3 player - the design positively encourages lazy listening. Do that with a walkman and you'd need your own power station in batteries and a rucksack the size of a cupboard to carry the tapes.

Music downloading was popular before the iPod became big news (Napster was around in 1999), but the equipment available at the time wasn't enough to change listening habits - nobody was going to lug their PC around in their pocket. It's not until the iPod came to popularity that music became a commodity of convenience.

Today's kids are the 'Ringtone Generation', where the single rules supreme. The iTunes store appears to exist mainly to allow people to buy individual tracks rather than a complete album. When a physical CD can be purchased from at the same price or cheaper than iTunes, why buy a lower quality digital version? It's even worse with lower-capacity players as it's all too tempting to only copy over the tracks you 'like'.

It doesn't have to be this way though, and I appeal to manufacturers of mp3 players to help bring albums back to life with a simple change to their user interface. And it's a really easy one.

Whenever you're listening in shuffle or playlist mode, make it simple (i.e. no more than 2 button clicks) to jump to the rest of the album. I've lost count of the times I've heard a track and wanted to listen to the rest of the album, but get completely hindered by the 'award winning' interface.

By the time I've worked out what album its on, and the fact that I've got to press 10 buttons just to navigate to it, I'm bored and want the next track. It's crazy, and it could be so much easier.

Yes, I'm lazy. Yes, I could have chose to listen to just an album in the first place. But these players are devised in a way to positively discourage you from listening to albums as they were intended. It takes 2 button clicks to get to a playlist, so why not 2 to jump to an album?

'Menu', 'Jump To Album'. Piece of piss! It's yours - it's free! My gift to you. I won't patent the idea, just put it in your bloody players.

Do this and with any luck the next Klaxons album might have more than 4 songs worth listening to.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)

Perhaps I'm looking back at Saturday night telly with slightly too much of a nostalgic view, but is it just me or is it simply unbearably shit these days?

Unfortunate enough to have to fill in time between yesterday's thumping and a rather more enjoyable party in Camden, TV was my only available solace. And what a treat I had in store.

My background entertainment for the evening consisted of X Factor, something I've happily managed to avoid from the moment of being single. I'm not looking through rose-tinted spectacles here, but previous memories of such programming revolved around the often heartwarming stories of the performers involved.

The days of loveable serial stammerer Gareth Gates, powerfully voiced but cake addicted Rick Waller, and equally weight-troubled warbler Michelle McManus (who possibly ate Rick - has anyone seen him since?) have now become a sideshow.

The previous Popstars/Pop Idol format was fundamentally different in the respect that it was all about the collaborative production of untapped talent. This allowed the viewer to focus on the individual artists themselves, appreciate their backgrounds, and see their progression throughout the show.

X Factor made a drastic change by making individual judges totally responsible for the development of participants. With a vested interest involved and egos at stake, the show is no longer about the performance - it's about the judges. I didn't have a stopwatch to hand, but I'm sure that between them Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne, Danni Minougue and Simon Cowell had more collective airtime than any of the acts involved.

What transpires after each performance is nothing other than woeful one-upmanship in the form of a human bearpit, which would make an argument in an infant school playground appear civilised. Each 'judge' tries to outdo the other with pathetic reasons for why their act is 'better', and why the poor plasticised on-stage drones don't deserve to go through. At one point Walsh practically blamed the mere existence of one act for eliminating his the previous week. Who would have thought the act of human respiration could be such a heinous crime.

What conclusions can we raise from quality programming like this? For one, the judges clearly have nothing but contempt for the acts they supposedly 'mentor', showing only callous disdain for any rival in the show. Shouldn't these bastions of industry be lending the helping hand of experience to all participants? It seems the acts aren't there for the record-buying public, they exist only as a vehicle to support the judges' own egotistic absurdity.

This isn't about the best act winning, or even nurturing of raw talent - it's pure balls-on-the-table, plaintive machismo. Osbourne and Minougue are prepared to show testosterone levels that would make a scientist doubt their chromosome makeup - a fact made more disturbing when it's Danni we're talking about.

Surely we are only one step away from 'Judge Factor' - a show in which the public vote to keep on the judge that proves themselves to be the biggest, most cantankerous piss-streak in existence each week.

After all, if the ratings stay as they are it serves only to prove that this dreadful simmering shitfest exists purely to satisfy our own sick delight in sadistic suffering.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Early Christmas Stuffing - Charlton 1, Burnley 3

Owen Coyle's Burnley claimed their second top-three scalp in a week with a battling win over a Charlton side still reeling from a 3 goal drubbing on Tuesday.

After 5 outings with a 4-5-1 formation, Pardew opted for 4-4-2, Varney joining Iwelumo up front. The biggest change came in midfield with a nod to experience in the form of Reid, Holland, Zhi and Ambrose, with Powell filling in for the injured Basey at left-back. Sam was on the bench, with Thomas ominous in his absence.

Personally I found some of the changes puzzling - despite Holland's undeniable experience and commitment, Semedo for me is a better player and has continually been a controlling force in midfield. I've not been Jerome Thomas's biggest fan recently, but he does have the skill and ability to make an impact - moreso than McLeod on current form.

Things started poorly for The Addicks as Andy Gray headed in unchallenged from a Burnley free kick after only 8 minutes. This could have been considered a blip for a defence that has been solid until recently, but the misery was compounded 7 minutes later as McCann headed in from a practically identical set-piece.

Pardew will need strong words with his players about marking, both goals being completely defendable despite the players being strangely absent from duty.

Burnley's confidence rose after the second goal, and they continually pressed the home side with a display of neat passing and tidy defending. They were the better side and could have been 5 up before the break.

It took Charlton until the last 15 minutes of the half to make an impact, and after continual pressure got themselves back in the game. A run from Ambrose set up Zhi inside the 6 yard box, but could only turn the ball wide when he should have hit the target at least.

Things improved for The Addicks in the 36th minute as they halved the defecit. A high cross from Mills was deflected to the back post into the path of the unmarked Reid, who volleyed home exquisitely.

This gave the home team the initiative they needed as they closed the half strongly. There were also claims for a penalty as Iwelumo was blatantly manhandled inside the box in first-half injury time, although the referee inexplicably decided to award the visitors a free kick.

The second half saw a complete change with Burnley happy to soak up the pressure. The home side seemed galvinised by the efforts of the closing period of the first half and swept forward in search of an equaliser.

A superb swerving drive from Reid was parried by Kiraly into the path of Iwelumo, but the target man's header went straight to the former Palace keeper.

The Valley faithful thought the equaliser had come in the 68th minute as Iwelumo headed home from a Varney flick-on. The cheers soon subsided at the sight of the linesman's flag, the goal chalked off for offside.

The cruel script for the home supporters was complete just a minute later as Mills needlessly handled in the area, his hands well above his head. The ref had no option but to point to the spot, which Gray cooly dispatched for his second of the game.

This stunned Charlton, and the game was no longer a contest from this point. Further changes came in the form of Bougherra, Sam and McLeod for Sodje, Zhi and Varney, but all failed to make an impact as the match fizzled out to the final whistle.

2 home defeats, 6 goals conceded, and a lot of questions to be answered in Tuesday's trip to Cardiff. Charlton now sit in 4th place, Watford's 3rd loss in a row today only emphasising what a missed opportunity this week has become.