Thursday, 31 January 2008

Good-bye Reidy...

Image © Charlton Athletic
It's now official – Sunderland have had a bid accepted for Andy Reid, and it's now down to agreeing personal terms.

I'm still disappointed by this – the £4 million fee will of course be welcome, but I worry about the effect this could have on our run-in. He's often criticised for pace and the way he dictates the play, but the fact remains that he offers a flash of class that can win a match that so few players at this level possess.

There will also be times when we have to play 4-5-1, and in these instances we are distinctly below par without Reid's creativity. Much of our resurgence in style and pace has been seeded from the presence of Youga and Moutaouakil – if we were to lose them to injury, I don't think 4-4-2 would be as effective as in recent games.

However, everyone has his price, and the money is too tempting when the reality is that we need the cash.

Thankfully it hasn't been as protracted an affair as the Parker situation – back then, Parker was the heartbeat of the side and wanted to get away when Chelsea came sniffing. Reid, although clearly not as key to the team as Parker was, has kept quiet throughout the speculation and can walk away from Floyd Road with the respect he deserves.

One thing I can't see happening (although there's 11 hours left for me to get it wrong) is the sale of any more midfielders. There was talk of Thomas going to Portsmouth, but despite my criticisms of him we simply can't afford to let any more go without people coming in.

Our recognised midfield now consists of Holland, Zhi, Ambrose, Sam, Thomas, Semedo and Racon. Thomas can cover Sam, Semedo can cover Holland, but we're yet to see much of Racon. With that situation in mind, it would be madness to thin the squad further.

As a result of the deal, defender Greg Halford may come in on loan. Keane's first signing of the 2007 summer window, he's yet to make an impact with the Black Cats so far. Phil Parkinson obviously rates him from his time at Colchester, so time will tell how he will fit into a back-four that's beginning to show signs of solidity.

Anyway – a big thanks to you Reidy, you'll be missed in SE7 and will no doubt get a fantastic reception on your next trip to The Valley.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Transfer Speculation Continues

There's a day to go until the transfer deadline, and if the reports are to be believed it looks like the movement is outwards rather than incoming.

The future of Jerome Thomas and Andy Reid has been speculated recently, and this morning there is news that Portsmouth are interested in a deal for Thomas for £1.5 mil, and Sunderland are chasing Reid for £2.5 mil.

I stated in an earlier post that I didn't expect Thomas to leave, and that I hoped the vultures wouldn't be swooping around Reid. However, in our present financial situation and the way we are playing recently, the club may decide to accept these offers.

I'm really not too fussed if Thomas goes. Yes, he's a handful. Yes, he can be exciting to watch. However, the reality is that once you get past the step-overs and close control, there's not a lot of end-product to his game. He rarely scores (although he has got some crackers) and his crossing is often wayward. If rumours of £1.5 million are right, I'd personally take it. It would pay for the Gray transfer, and I would imagine he's still on Premier League wages.

Reid is one I really don't want us to let go of. It's arguable by some that we don't need him as much now – our switch to 4-4-2 doesn't necessarily give us the luxury of protecting Reid to create, and he doesn't have the tackling of Zhi or the pace of Ambrose.

However, we need to think what might happen towards the end of the season. If Youga and Viewtoakill pick up injuries, we might not be able to play with the same attacking shape we have. There may be games where we have to play 4-5-1. In these instances without a clear attacking formation, Reid has proved to be our only source of creativity, which poor results over the Christmas period only served to prove.

Then there's also the question of the proposed fee. £2.5 million is only half what I value Reid at, especially when you consider the frankly ridiculous sums Sunderland have been dishing out recently. If Kenwyne Jones is worth £6 million, the sums mentioned so far are frankly an insult and smacks of Keane and Quinn playing on their Irish connections.

The fact that we don't appear to be linked with bringing in any fresh blood as a replacement is further indication that any more transfer activity may simply be a book-balancing exercise. I really hope this isn't the case.

Murray/Pards – Let Thomas go to pay for Gray if we have to. But with the push for promotion heading in the right direction, the loss of a match-winner like Reid could really hinder our prospects.

The riches that could meet us in the Premier League will dwarf £2.5 million in the short term.

Coals Stoked For A Run – Charlton 1, Stoke 0

Charlton's promotion hopes were given a major boost last night with a battling 1-0 win over promotion rivals Stoke. With other results going in favour of The Addicks, we're right back in the hunt for cementing a play-off spot and are only 4 points off the top.

Last night's game was a fast and furious affair, at least until the ball found the hands of Stoke 'keeper Steve Simonsen – although his shocking display of time-wasting somehow vanished the moment Lloyd Sam opened the scoring with 7 minutes remaining.

Charlton had many opportunities throughout the game, yet struggled to translate them into shots on target. There was some delightful passing on display at times, but all too often the final ball was missing – there's a real need to find a killer instinct in the side.

That can be my only real criticism of the team though, as they out-muscled one of the hardest teams to play in the league. Stoke put up a worthy defence for much of the game, resorting to hopeful punts up to the lively Fuller, and a host of long-throws into the Charlton box.

Luckily, the defence were equal to the test. After almost every recent game I've had to treat myself to another slice of humble pie regarding Paddy McCarthy – he exercised the ghost of his poor performance at The Brittania earlier this season with yet another sterling display last night.

Bougherra was solid as well, and also played a hand in the attack. He came close to opening the scoring with a header going just wide in the first half, and a surging run and shot in the second was unlucky not to end in a goal.

Moving forward, Matt Holland was leading by example in midfield. This was probably one of the best performances I've seen from the veteran, who never backed out of a challenge and kept the ball moving. Zheng Zhi was also full of running, although will probably feel his end-product could have been better at times. Sam was lively and Ambrose often involved, although I feel they need to have a bit more confidence to put in a shot rather than look for the extra pass.

The strikers did their job last night against a physical side. Pardew opted for Iwelumo's strength and Gray's guile, and although they may not have had much of an impact in front of goal, they offered the ability to hold the ball up and bring the midfielders into the attack.

The anticipated late introduction of Varney gave the pace that was needed to unlock the game in the final stages. With 7 minutes remaining, the ball found Varney in the box via Holland with the goal begging. Varney could only strike air, but luckily his fluff left the ball at his feet in front of an advancing Simonsen. A smart cross found Sam on the line to nod in between 2 Stoke defenders.

The final stages of the game were tense, and Parkin was denied a dramatic late equaliser by a superb point-blank save from Weaver. Charlton then had a chance to make it 2, but Zhi made a mess of the opportunity after a quick break from Thomas. Stoke then appeared to lose it and resorted to kicking our players around, but luckily no injuries, no yellow cards, and an important 3 points were the result.

Pardew will be well pleased with what was achieved at The Valley last night – we proved that that playing football against even the most physical of teams can win you games at this level, providing everyone on the pitch gives it their all.

Let's hope this can continue in a winnable away tie at Scunthorpe on Saturday – an away win could really make things interesting at the top, and stoke the coals for an end-of-season run.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Potters Preview

Image © Russ London

It's getting pointless really calling each home game a 'must-win' at this time in the season – the simple fact is that going forwards, anything less than 3 points at home will markedly hinder our chances of getting promotion, playoffs or otherwise.

Stoke are our visitors tonight, and the league position between the two teams only stands to highlight this – a win by 2 goals for us will be enough to leapfrog Stoke, an away win will see them 6 clear of us and automatic promotion dead and buried.

If I took one thing away from my trip back from The Potteries earlier in the season, it's that Stoke are a physical side who don't mess about when it comes to getting stuck in. After the comedown of the home draw to Scunthorpe, the reality of the brutality of this league really set in at the Britannia.

We went a goal up, but an injury to Viewtoakill in the build-up unsettled the back-four. Ricardo Fuller levelled only 2 minutes later, and his replacement Jon Parkin finished the game off minutes after coming on.

Tony Pulis's side have only beaten Preston in the last 5 league matches, sandwiching ties against Newcastle United in the cup. That said, the last side they beat prior to this run was West Brom 3-1, and are the highest scorers in the division behind the leaders.

There's no real reason for Pardew to change the shape much in this outing. Andy Gray will most likely start against Varney, and it will be interesting to see how he will shape up in this role. After losing Todorov, we needed a forward man who can so something a bit different. If he can hold the ball up and release Varney's pace, he could cause the Stoke defence some problems.

I can't go any further without acknowledging the result at Leicester last night – the 1-0 result for Holloway's men gave us a big hand at the foot of the playoff positions, and will leave Palace asking themselves a few questions. Hopefully Southampton can have a new manager in place before the weekend to answer them.

The match at Portman Road between Ipswich and Plymouth is the other tie to keep an eye on tonight. The Tractor Boys are practically unbeatable at home, and Plymouth will also be without David Norris due to transfer speculation.

Call me in for stating the pigging obvious, but a lot more will be clearer come 9:45 tonight. And hopefully I'll be feeling happy about it.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

A Financial Weak-End?

After a week without football or any reasonable transfer speculation at The Valley, I've had to do something that fills me with dread this weekend – return to the real world.

And what a week it's been – since the 1-1 draw at Vicarage Road, share prices have plummeted world-wide, our Home Secretary is to scared to walk the streets, and our Darling still hasn't managed to offload Northern Rock.

In a nutshell, the financial situation for the country isn't looking too rosy. That is, of course, unless your exposure to the rose industry has been limited to the deaths-door reject blooms on a petrol station forecourt.

The problem is a simple one really – as a nation, we've been spending money we don't have. Over the last 10 years, interest rates have been historically low, banks have been all to happy to lend, and consumers have been more than ecstatic to spend. How many of us have been guilty of jumping at 0% interest credit cards, only for the overall debt to rise? (Hand help up...)

The housing situation has worsened things further. We're constantly having it drummed into our skulls about how we all need to be home owners, and how important it is to have a mortgage. This, combined with low interest rates and dubious practices from some mortgage providers, has led to many desperate people being in a situation where nearly half their income is paying the mortgage.

People have also been taking money out of the 'imaginary' future value their property may have – if the values don't continue to rise, then they have to pay the money back. Yet, if the prices do continue to rise, the cycle is almost certainly doomed as salaries aren't matching the increase. How are first-time buyers going to prop up the pyramid?

And, to top it all off, people aren't saving so as a result can't afford the huge deposits necessary. When a bank like Northern Rock can't afford to borrow money to issue a mortgage, it shows something is seriously wrong.

Doesn't make for pretty reading does it? People have been calling for the Bank of England to issue rate cuts like the 1.5% cut in the US, but this won't help – making lending cheap again will only amplify an already bad situation, as people will simply spiral into further debt.

Yep, I'm afraid that times don't look good in the financial world at the moment.

Although I mention 'people', it's unfair blame the situation on consumers - we can only react to the conditions put in front of us. Unfortunately, a combination of Gordonomics and greedy, short-termist elements of the financial industry seem hell-bent on doing their best to serve up a dish that can only collectively screw us up.

There is one thing that can soften the blow from all of this though.

If we sing our bloody arses off for the rest of the season, there's always that free Premiership season ticket to look forward to in August...     ;)

Friday, 25 January 2008

A “Thank You” For Frankie

Well, I wondered if he was being serious, but it looks like it’s the end of an era for Charlton blogger Frankie Valley.

If things are indeed no more, I’d just like to voice my thanks – I read your blog every day since I stumbled across it a year or so ago.

Always humorous, even in the rants, it made a refreshing change to the p*ss-dull, bog-standard, inaccurate reporting of our club that we get subjected to in the national press. That’s if we’re lucky enough to get more than an amoeba-sized postage stamp in the first place.

It gave me links to the many other Charlton blogs I now read on a daily basis, and to be perfectly honest I wouldn’t even have thought about writing this blog if I hadn’t discovered the wider blogging community. The comments section even kept me checking throughout the day for further gossip.

Anyways – Frankie, if this is the end I salute you. You’ll be missed.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Age Before Beauty

Yesterday’s musical question gave me a little food for thought this morning. As much as I see myself as a bit of a spring-chicken solely because I was a nipper when Wham, A-ha and Culture Club were making singles, the reality today is quite the opposite – I’ll be hitting the big 3-0 soon.

The fact I’m writing this might make it seem an issue to me, but it doesn’t really bother me that much to be perfectly honest – I don’t act or do that much differently to ten years ago, although perhaps I might go about things in a shade more sensible fashion. And the hangovers last 2 days now.

In fact, I’m almost happier being a bit older these days. I’ve always looked up to and respected people with a couple of years on me, and it’s interesting to think about that effect in football terms.

When I bumped into Deano in the West Brom car park the other day, he was exactly the kind of person to look up to. 37 years old and rewarded with a new contract, for his sake I wish him the best playing Premiership football next season.

It got me thinking about the rest of the Charlton squad, and I was amazed to realise that only Amdy Faye, Ben Thatcher, Chris Powell, Andy Gray and Matt Holland are older than me. Realistically, only Gray and Holland will play again this season.

Yep, Cap’n Reidy is in nappies compared to me. I could have nicked Paddy McCarthy’s dinner money. I even went to the same school as Darren Ambrose, but swapped College for cross-country runs before our paths met.

We’ve got a surprisingly youthful squad here, even if it is at the upper end of the 20's. And for that reason, I think the introduction of Andy Gray could be a good compliment to the mix.

When you look at the team, who’s the guy galvanising the side and pushing people on? Who’s the one who puts in 100% every match? Who’s the player who always, always comes over to the fans at the end of the game, regardless of the result?

Matt Holland.

The oldest squad member after Chris Powell, and at a ripe 33, I’d imagine Holland's wise head is a massive help in the dressing room through what is a difficult season. If he speaks, I’d listen – and I hope the youngsters feel the same way.

If another old head in the form of Andy Gray can step up to the challenge and take some of the burden away from Matty this season, that’s another feather in his cap in my book.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Making Plans For The Nigels

It’s not too long to go until the clash against Palace, and although I expect a tasty tie with the Nigels, it will be far from an easy prospect at The Valley come February the 8th.

After fleeting with the relegation spots at the end of Peter Taylor’s reign, Neil Warnock has moulded Palace into a side that are a genuine promotion contender. Unbeaten in 15 league games, they’ve not only leapfrogged us on goal difference, they can get within a point of the automatic promotion spots with a win away to Leicester on Monday.

You wouldn’t bet against them on current form – of the last 6 away games, their worst result has been a draw. So then - time to start on the homework.

If you look deeper into the statistics, there’s one element that sticks out. The form of Clinton Morrison has been fantastic – 11 goals in the last 14 games, and the next-closest scorer is Scowcroft on 3.

Before Warnock took over at Palace, Morrison was on just 2 goals and had been limited to a number of substitute appearances. Now he’s banging in almost a goal a game, and if Pardew’s got any sense he’ll be studying the videos of the gobby git already.

It may sound daft, but you only have to look at the last 15 results to see where they’re picking up their points – get him out of the game and I think we’ve got a real chance to keep up the pride on South London.

Oh, and a bonus point for whoever spotted the song title in the headline. ;)

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Points To Prove - Watford 1, Charlton 1

Charlton slipped to sixth in the table after a battling draw at Vicarage Road yesterday. Despite the relief of rescuing a point after coming back from a goal behind, Pardew's side will be disappointed they failed to take all three.

The Addicks opted for the same side that started at West Brom on Tuesday, but with the exception of Iwelumo replacing McLeod. Chris Dickson and new signing Andy Gray made up the striking options on the bench, and McLeod's absence may back up reports of a £1m bid from Crystal Palace.

The game was no classic by any means – the conditions were atrocious, and both sides struggled to cope with the swirling wind and rain. Watford created little in the match, and failed to give any indication of the form they'd shown earlier in the season.

Iwelumo had a few half-chances, but the first clear opportunity came after half an hour when a Varney flick-on released Lloyd Sam, who fired just wide from ten yards. Ambrose missed another two great chances before the half was up, and the away fans were beginning to wonder if it would be one of those days.

Sadly, Calum Davenport left the game in a neck-brace after a collision with Darius Henderson – full news is yet to come through on his condition, and I'm sure I'd echo the feelings of other Addicks by wishing him a speedy recovery.

The second half saw Watford impose themselves more on the game, and McAnuff should have done better with an early chance. The Addicks fought back though, Ambrose forcing an excellent save from Lee, and Sam shaved the post with a fizzing shot.

Despite this pressure, Watford opened the scoring on the hour mark. Moutaouakil failed to pick up Ellington, and after a sweeping move from the home side the ex-Baggies striker found himself in acres of space to slot the ball past Weaver. It was all too easy, and a real disappointment to go a goal down after having so many clear-cut chances.

The remainder of the game stayed on a knife-edge, but despite the tension there were fewer opportunities on goal to be had. Pardew introduced Andy Gray for the last 20 minutes as the Addicks searched for an equaliser, which finally came with 10 minutes remaining.

Ambrose made a surging run at the Watford defence, and his speculative shot from outside the box somehow caught out Richard Lee who could only palm it into his own net. A fortunate goal, but no more than Charlton deserved for their earlier endeavour.

Chris Dickson was introduced for the final stages, although he sadly failed to make the most of what should have been a straight-forward one-on-one with Lee. Clearly he has more to learn at this level, so hopefully this will lower some of the huge expectation mounting on him.

No more goals followed, and the spoils were shared. A mention has to go to Paddy McCarthy, who had an excellent game and looked solid. I've been one of his critics after a shaky start to the season, but in the last few games he has been a real asset to the side.

It remains to be seen if this will be a point gained or lost – I'd possibly have settled for a point before the game, but after an abject display by Watford it really should have been a full haul.

Results around us didn't offer much comfort – we've now been leap-frogged by a resurgent Palace side, although the consolation is that the automatic promotion spot is now only 4 points away. A win against Stoke in 10 days time is vital – the next 4 home games see us play top-six teams, the results of which will go a long way to determining the result of our season.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Money Down The Back Of The Sofa?

So, the Andy Gray deal is almost done and dusted - £1.5 mill to Burnley, which could rise to £2 mill, although for now he's officially on an 'emergency loan'. A lot of money for a 30-year old, but I'll reserve judgement on a player that has scored 11 league goals this season.

The thing I'm unsure about is where the money's coming from.

It's no secret that the coffers at The Valley have shrunk dramatically after Dowie's spending spree last year, and our eventual relegation. I'm no accounting expert, but the breakdown of our finances in Wyn Grant's excellent post suggests we have a debt in the region of £23 million. £23 million – that's a rather large pile of cash to find, and highlights the importance of this season's campaign to the club.

I'm guessing Richard Murray's not just found the cash down the back of the sofa, so how will the move be financed?

Well, for a start we're already £200k down - James Walker's move to Southend is reportedly off after a failed medical, and he'll be returning to The Valley.

Despite his lack of end product and rumours of bids, I think Jerome Thomas may stay – I've a feeling Pards thinks he can get something different out of him, although hopefully more than a few bloody show-pony stepovers.

My feeling is that Marcus Bent will be the one to leave. According to the Charlton website, Andy Gray has already been given Bent's number 9 shirt, which is hardly an indication of desire to get him back from Wigan. It makes sense – Bent could command a similar fee to Gray, and with any luck we'll get some offers on the table soon.

The one thing I desperately hope is that clubs don't start sniffing around Andy Reid. Things have gone oddly quiet about his recovery from injury, and a £5mill+ bid from a Premiership side for possibly the most gifted midfielder in the league may be too attractive for the board to ignore...

Friday, 18 January 2008

Watford Without A King

Charlton’s away trip to Watford tomorrow was given a boost by the sale of the Hornet’s top scorer, Marlon King.

King’s departure to Fulham may not have been a huge surprise due to the nature of the £5 million fee and the madness of the January window, but Watford are a team in a run of faltering form and will miss a player with a record of a goal every other game.

10 points ahead earlier in the season, they now stand 3 points off the top in 3rd position, and would be leapfrogged by the Addicks if we win by a 2-goal margin.

In contrast, Charlton seem like a team in the ascendancy after the recent tactical shift. The defeat at West Brom on Tuesday may have produced tired legs, but it also gave an indication of grit and determination we haven’t seen a lot of so far this season. With our record on the road, Watford could be a team for the taking tomorrow.

I expect Pardew to stick with the same shape, but I’ll wager on the re-introduction of Iwelumo at the expense of McLeod to add a bit of aggression to the attack. It’s possible that Semedo could replace Holland if his substitution on Tuesday was for anything other than tactical reasons.

Last year’s fixture saw us come from 2 down and almost snatch it with the last kick of the game – let’s hope the front pair tomorrow haven’t borrowed Lisbie’s shooting boots…

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Hawthorns Heartbreak – WBA 2, Charlton 2 (4-3 pens)

West Brom booked their place in the next round of the FA Cup, but it took extra time and penalties to knock out a resilient Charlton side. It was an enthralling tie – the hosts led 2-0 at one stage, only for the Addicks to fight their way back and find an injury time winner.

The Hawthorns may have only been half-full, the weather was atrocious, but none of this dampened the spirits of the 12,000 that turned up for the match.

Pardew opted to stay with the formation that has looked promising in previous games, but it was West Brom who opened the deadlock only 14 minutes in as Bednar finished from close range.

This didn’t appear to hinder Charlton’s resolve as they continually pressed for an equaliser. McLeod almost managed to get the ball past Kiely, and in the final minute of the half, Varney somehow managed to sky a shot over from 6 yards with the goal at his mercy.

Both sides came out with clear intent in the second half, and West Brom extended their lead 5 minutes in. Holland and Zhi made a mess of a clearance, allowing Morrison space to slot past Weaver from 15 yards. 2-0 to the home team, and a real test of character.

Iwelumo was introduced for the ineffective McLeod, and took only a minute to make an impact. Kiely failed to hold his shot on the break, and Ambrose was in the right place to mop up and halve the deficit.

Charlton continued to press for an equaliser, as West Brom started to look shaky and on the back foot. Dickson was introduced with 8 minutes remaining, and brought a fairytale ending to the 90 minutes. A cross from Zhi found Sam just outside the box, who then fed Dickson who made no mistake with a predator’s finish. What a fantastic end to normal time, and set up a nailbiting half an hour.

The first half of extra time passed largely without incident, as both teams sized each other up. Weaver made a fantastic save from MacDonald, which Bougherra duly tidied up.

The second half saw Charlton on the attack, and Dickson come close to a hat-trick. After taking the ball past the last man and Kiely, his attempt to roll the ball in from a ridiculous angle almost paid off, but sadly rolled into the side-netting. With only 3 minutes left he again broke past the last man, only to see his fierce angled shot come back off the post and rebound to safety off Kiely.

With neither side able to break the deadlock, it came down to penalties. Varney hit the crossbar, Weaver saved, Zhi missed, and it was all over – another FA Cup run over, but a lot of positives to take on the late drive home.

We played the best team in the league and came back – people had questioned our mental toughness, and we answered those critics. Dickson looks a real livewire and looks ready to play at this level. Varney covered every blade of grass despite his disappointments. Holland was phenomenal.

In summary, we can take a lot away from this game, even if it’s not a trip to Peterborough in a few weeks. Hopefully we can carry the determination and desire through to a tricky tie at Vicarage Road on Saturday, where a win could lift us as high as 3rd.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

An Audience With Kiely

Just wandered past the West Brom car park and bumped into none other than Deano! Sadly my wit deserted me at the crucial moment, so nothing more than a hello and a handshake.

Guess we'll find out in a few hours if it should've been more of a knuckle-cruncher!

M1/M6 Playlist

I’m a big fan of away trips – it’s not so much the match, but the build-up itself. It’s always fun to check out a new ground and the surrounding area, and work out the chances of finding your windows intact when you return to your car after the match.

One of the best bits is the drive. Being a Londoner, getting above 30mph is a bit of a novelty for me – the thrill of driving at the NSL for a few hours with the music blasting out is ace.

My views on today’s match are pretty simple – same side as Saturday. No need for a change, plenty of time to rest before Watford, we need to get a good run-out. Far more important is sorting out my playlist for the M1/M6! Here’s what I’ll be checking out on the road:

  • Nouvelle Vague – downtempo bossa-nova covers of Love Will Tear Us Apart, Teenage Kicks, Just Can’t Get Enough – it’s ace, and a necessary bit of relaxation whilst I chew through my steering wheel getting out of London and the Luton roadworks

  • Art Brut – Emily Kane is still one of the funniest tracks I’ve heard in the last few years. Top stuff & clever lyrics to boot

  • Air Traffic – Fractured Life was my second favourite album of last year, excellent vocals and guitar hooks make it a kind of Muse-meets-Coldplay. But good. And I get to see them for free next week! ;)

  • Hot Chip – I missed out on The Warning in 2006, but easily the best album I bought last year. Simply brilliant, every track is different, if you don’t end up humming along to ‘Colours’ you’re not human

  • Foals – Not actually released an album yet, but you have to hear ‘Balloons’. It’s like a New-Wave Dexy’s Midnight Runners after a one-night stand with the Klaxons, brushing past New Order hurriedly on the way out. My tip for 2008, they’re quality

Let’s hope it’s done and dusted in normal time, I could do with being tucked in by 1am…

Monday, 14 January 2008

Who's Paying The Wages?

Footballers have always been know for their off-the-field antics – George Best and Rodney Marsh were renowned playboys, Tony Adams, Paul Gasciogne and Paul McGrath have had documented problems, and we've even had a few issues of our own down the years.

Thing is, in this modern age of football where top players earn the GDP of Afghanistan in a week, can we carry on accepting it?

Yesterday I was told that members of a Premiership team (which I won't name for fear of my ass being sued off) were out in a bar the night before a match. Now, they could have been sitting down for a relaxing meal. They may have only been letting isotonic sports drinks down their overpaid gobs. But is this really what the fans are expecting from their players these days?

As the gulf between them and the average man in the street widens further, the level of respect the players have for their fans should increase comparatively. Supporters up and down the country struggle, scrimp and save to pay inflated ticket prices that line the pockets of those on the field. Surely the players should be putting in their all to earn this pay rise?

I'm one of the few lucky enough to say that my club has actually made football more affordable over the last 5 years, but I know this is far from the norm. I sit in the North Stand (cheapest part of the ground), and have enjoyed stable season ticket prices for this period. I've no kids either, so this massively increases my opportunity to support the team on the road.

Yet, I know there are stalwarts out there across the land that are used to paying far less comparatively in the past, even considering the effect of inflation. Today they can pay some enormous sums to watch their team. I wonder what their feelings are on value for money for watching what is still the same game, the same club, the same concept of 22 guys in shirts kicking around a bag of air for 90 minutes.

Has the standard improved in line with the cost? That's debatable, and also difficult to prove. The influx of money into the game has brought many foreign stars into the top-flight, but has also arguably been at the cost of development of home-grown talent as local academies close. The lower-league clubs who have been forced to raise prices to stay alive have long been the proving ground for young talent, but the fallout from TV deals over the years is leading many teams to the brink of extinction.

So, in the face of all this, the players need to make some serious consideration about their conduct. Sure, they found themselves in a position where wage inflation has spiralled out of control, rather than necessarily seeking it. It's not their fault that clubs are so desperate to sign players they'll put an average player on 40k a week. But they can at least act in a fashion that befits their artificially inflated status. Youngsters across the country see them as role models, and grown men shout their names in awe from the stands – this should be a two-way thing, right?

To be out in a bar the night before a match is disgraceful in my opinion, regardless of whether players are drinking alcohol or not. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be sacrificing an afternoon off work, £15 on a ticket, and around £35 on petrol to travel to West Brom for the FA Cup. If I were to bump into any of the team in a pub tonight, I'd be on the phone to Richard Murray straight a-bloody-way.

Footballers – please remember the efforts we put in to come and watch you play, and pay your wages. We sacrifice finances, relationships, and precious time to come and support you.

All we ask is for you to recognise this effort, and give it your all. After all, aren't the most satisfying things in life the ones you've worked the hardest for?

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Playing With Intent – Charlton 4, Blackpool 1

Well, it looks like Pardew's got it right – yesterday's match was one of the best Charlton performances I've seen in a long time, and the 4-1 scoreline barely underlined the superiority of the home side.

Sticking with the 4-4-2 that showed promise the previous week against West Brom, Blackpool couldn't cope with the constant waves of Charlton attacks. I lost count of the efforts on goal by the end of the match, which will hopefully raise the confidence levels of a team so bereft of creativity after the continued absence of Andy Reid.

Bougherra headed home the first as Blackpool gifted a free header in the box. Only minutes later, a great run from Varney saw him slip his shot between the Seasider's defenders and past ex-Addick Rachubka. 2-0 After 10 minutes, and Charlton were flying.

Blackpool threatened to make a game of it just 2 minutes later as Ben Burgess hit a cracking volley past a helpless Weaver, but Zheng Zhi restored the 2-goal cushion with a cool finish after more tireless work from Varney.

For once we were a team playing with intent, and we threatened to score even more. Youga and Viewtoakill were fantastic in pushing forward to pressure the Blackpool defence, and there were many times that Mou was playing ahead of Lloyd Sam to support the attack.

Youga was particularly impressive, playing with an air of nonchalance yet always being in the right place to challenge, and distributing the ball effectively. Other bloggers have noticed a similarity to Alex Song, and I'd echo that sentiment. A real find at left back, and he was under our noses all the chuffing time!

The star of the game for me though was the hardworking Zhi, and his tireless effort was rewarded with his second of the game in the 52nd minute. In a defensive lapse all too similar to the first goal, Bougherra crashed a header against the post and Zhi duly smashed home the rebound.

You really did get the feeling that we were capable of scoring on every attack, and it should have been 5 when substitute Thomas somehow blazed over an open goal from 6 yards after yet another great run from Varney.

Iwelumo and Dickson came on for the final 10 minutes, and I hope the starting line-up from now will be Varney +1 on the basis of this display. McLeod again disappointed and failed to threaten with 80 minutes on the pitch, and I think he has to get out on loan quick.

Iwelumo would be a great partner to Varney, but only if the team can stop the temptation to launch the ball to him at every opportunity. I'm sure Pards has made it clear to Big Chris that he's been out of the side purely on a team basis, and that it's always the intention for him to return when we start playing football again.

I think the corner could have been turned though after two good displays, and a lot of it is due to the nature and intent of the two wing-backs.

If you have players who want to keep the ball at their feet, it will stay there.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Half Time Oranges

I can’t tell you too much positive stuff about Blackpool I’m afraid – I know bugger all about tomorrow’s opposition, but if they’re anywhere near as bad as the town it should be a walkover.

Luckilly this is a home game, as Blackpool actually ranked lower than Cardiff on my ‘away-trip-ometer’ when I looked at the fixtures list – nothing against Cardiff as a city, it’s just that I prefer to come back from an away game without resembling a pin-cushion. ;)

My last visit to Blackpool was a few years ago to meet a mate for the weekend, and what a time I had. Anyone with a romanticised view of this seaside town in recent years must be either bordering on insanity, or posses the honesty levels of a dodgy MP on donation day.

The seafront is littered with more tacky wares than a closing down sale in a pound shop, and the visitors are equally as cultured. I can’t recall ever seeing as many stag and hen parties in one place – you couldn’t move for drunken tossers staggering out of pubs at noon, and this wasn’t even a match day.

It’s a shame for the locals as the town could be so much nicer, and I do blame the influx of boozed-up cretins. Residents must be continually frustrated to the point of suicide by the weekly arrival of some of the shallowest swimmers in the gene pool.

Anyway, now I’ve managed to make myself welcome on the North West coast, on to the home side…

I hope Pardew intends to stick with the same side from the West Brom game, partly from a purely selfish viewpoint as I want to see what I missed out on last week. I’ve been calling for a serious look at 4-4-2 for ages, and a run out against a team unbeaten over the Christmas period will be another good test.

I expect Blackpool to turn up looking for a point, so a switch back to 4-5-1 would be a negative step suiting an away side hoping to snatch something on the break. Sticking with the shape from last week with the support of Viewtoakill and Youga on the wings should hopefully keep Blackpool pressed in their own half, something we’ve been crying out to do as a home team for so long.

I’m going for a home win on this one, and anything that can raise the morale further before a tough trip to West Brom on Tuesday will be a bonus.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Cotton Wool Culture

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
I spotted an absolute corker in the kitchen today. Whilst reaching for the washing tablets in order to fade what little colour remains in my home kit, a gem on the detergent box caught my attention.

“Do not ingest.”

I'm not making this up – take a look at your detergent back home and check it out for yourself. I mean, FFS – I know I was hungry, but what the hell is the world coming to when companies feel compelled to inform you not to dine on washing powder???

It gets worse though. After the disappointment of missing out on a non-biological meal, my attention turned to my fabric softener from the same manufacturer. Perfectly safe to drink apparently – it must be, no ingestion warnings! Although you're buggered if it gets in your eyes.

Ridiculous isn't it – if anyone is stupid enough to require a warning on one of those products, won't they need it on both!?!

Sadly, risk-aversion in business and establishments is becoming increasingly common in UK society, and this latest episode shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Practically anything that has the slightest potential to cause so much as a warm cuddle has to be plastered with disclaimers and safety information.

My beer tells me to “drink responsibly”. My iPod cheerfully tells me “don't steal music”. My packets of nuts informs me it “may contain nuts”... People are simply becoming sh*t-scared of getting sued these days, and it's getting plain daft.

In contrast I spent last Christmas in Thailand, and the place was like a breath of fresh air. OK, perhaps not literally – I felt like I'd smoked 40 B&H the moment I took my first gulp of Bangkok 'oxygen', but the place teaches you to take care of yourself.

Electric power cables dangle perilously above your head. Stalls with questionable hygiene (but incredible food) line the street. If you're feeling crazy, you can walk into a tiger sanctuary without cages. All things with varying degrees of risk in terms of Western society, but it makes you feel so much more alive. More importantly, you take responsibility for yourself.

It's always somebody else's fault for so many people these days. "Didn't get a warning - not my fault". No room for common sense in this place, no Siree. We're becoming a nation clinically insulated to risk, being led a merry jig by a motley crew of consumer-law killjoys all too busy suffocating us in cotton wool.

What people seem to be forgetting is the impact of common sense and learned behaviour. It's often said that “the man who makes the most mistakes learns the fastest”, but we're not even getting the chance these days.

Isn't this what evolution and progress is all about? Losing the ability to make a mistake robs a person of their ability to question, and to discover things for themselves. If this progresses further, the natural conclusion is to devoid yourself of making any kind of decision and live life on a perpetually dull auto-pilot.

Could this be reverse-evolution? With less mistakes and discoveries through choice, it's arguable that the basis for progress as we know it could be blighted.

I suppose at least we might see some honesty on our season tickets in future though...

“Ticket may provide only limited entertainment” - it could happen yet...     ;)

Monday, 7 January 2008

Cashing In The Chips

Well, I've made up for my plasticity after staying away from The Valley on Saturday – I've got my West Brom ticket for my first ever trip to The Hawthorns, and I've finally contracted Cup Fever.

Why? Well, it's the prospect of another away tie to come, and Peterborough lie in wait for the victors.

I always enjoy the road trips, and you've only got to look at this season's results to see why. So far I've had the fun of Stoke, Palace, Coventry, Hull, Preston and Norwich – Stoke result aside, that's a pretty good haul.

The team seems to dig in so much more away from The Valley – perhaps the pressure to perform isn't as great, the weight of expectation lessened, the support stronger... only the players can be sure what makes them tick.

One thing I know I can rely on against the Baggies next week is a bit of comeback from a certain comedian pictured above – Frank Skinner owes us one. He's the one on the right by the way - apologies for blanking out my boat-race, but us bloggers have to keep some level of mystery... ;)

I met him a few years ago in a London pub and he was a genuinely likeable guy. Didn't know me from Adam, but chatted for a while about random stuff, football, the 4-1 stuffing they dished out at The Valley the previous season, and staying up thanks to the Palace result. I wished Frank well for West Brom and he did the same for us.

Well Frankie boy, it's time for me to cash in my chips. I'll take a result next week please if that's alright with you. Nothing flashy necessary – no hat-tricks in 10 minutes like a certain Mr Earnshaw was gifted, a nice tidy 1-0 will suffice.

After all, you'll want to concentrate on the league won't you? Your mate Adrian Chiles must be gagging for West Brom to be back on Match Of The Day!

Come on matey, you know it makes sense... I've another away trip to plan!

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Changes Rung – Charlton 1, WBA 1

Image © Charlton Athletic
Looks like I missed out yesterday then – Viewtoakill, Youga, Varney, McLeod, Basey and Dickson were all given a chance, and by all accounts we actually played some football.

With a 4-4-2 formation the emphasis had to be about keeping the ball on the deck, especially considering a forward pairing who won't trouble too many defenders in the air.

I've no problem with playing it long occasionally, but after 10 games or so of constant hoofing it was time for the ball to be reacquainted with the Valley turf. Iwelumo's been great for us this season, but the temptation to lump the ball forward when he plays has clearly proved too great at times.

It's really promising to hear about Youga's performance – I'm yet to see him in a Charlton shirt, but the glowing reviews on the back of yesterday's result make him seem like a new signing for us.

The combination of him and Mouataouakil at the back could give us the attacking spark we so desperately need at the moment – despite the experience of the Mills/Powell pairing, their occasional bursts forward looked all too telegraphed at times due to their lack of pace.

We've looked flat on the wings for much of this season, and with Reid's prolonged absence, this new combination could provide a basis for the creativity we've needed. The linkup with Thomas and Sam on the flanks could provide a real scare to defences at this level. Equally important, the added excitement will help get a recently disillusioned crowd back on side.

The performance yesterday could aid the club as they consider their moves in the transfer window. Basey and Youga have the left covered, Mou and Bougherra can operate on the right, leaving the focus on improving the cover at centre-back. The midfield and strikers need a kick up the arse more than anything else at the moment, so I can't see too much movement in the dressing room this month.

So, hats off to Pards for having a go at it, and giving me another chance to take my first trip to The Hawthorns. Let's hope the kit-man uses his second chance and packs the right shorts this time... ;)

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Case For The Kids

I'm wondering if I'm going to regret missing the game today. There's rumours that Pardew's selection will have a whiff of a 'run out' for some of the younger fringe players, and I for one would wholeheartedly support this approach.

This may aggravate some fans who feel the cup is special and should be respected, but let's be honest – in the last few games has anyone really deserved to keep their place? We're always screaming to give the young blood a chance, and today is the ideal opportunity. Change it up and see what happens.

The reality is that the league is more important to us this season than the last few years. We've always done enough recently to cling to mid-table or thereabouts in the Prem and looked forward to the prospect of cup glory, which sadly always ended in miserable failure.

Things are different now. We're in real danger of going stale at the moment, and are playing like a dull mid-table team a league lower than we're comfortable with. The opportunity of playing a team like West Brom with a changed line-up is a gift right now, and one that should be taken.

If we were playing a team from another division, higher or lower, we'd simply be playing to avoid embarrassment. We'd try hard to grind out a result and learn nothing from it. Playing the best team in our league totally removes the pressure – we've an idea of what we're up against, and can try out some different tactics.

In fact I'm kicking myself right now that my day will consist of 2 trips to Essex and back in the car (which passed with flying colours by the way!), rather than an afternoon out at The Valley casting an eye over a youthful side hungry to stake a place in the first team.

Today could possibly see any of Viewtoakill, Racon, Dickson, Christiansen, Arter, Youga, Sankofa and Basey, some of which are players I won't get a chance to see normally unless I get off my lazy arse and finally attend a reserves match. Varney could get a chance to shine in a standard 4-4-2, and McLeod may have a shot at showing his goal at The Hawthorns wasn't just a fluke.

Having said all that, Pardew might still opt for the same boring toss we've been subjected to for the last few games. I urge you Pards – take a risk today! No-one's expecting us to win, you've seen what happens when the Woolwich Rejects play the kids! Be a devil...

There's 4½ hours til kick-off as I write this Pards, you've still got time...

Friday, 4 January 2008

Anyone For A Sing Song?

There's been a lot of talk of late about stadium atmosphere after Ferguson's latest lambasting of the Old Trafford prawn sandwich brigade faithful, and it's interesting to take a look in our own back yard at The Valley.

Charlton have never been flash enough for prawn sandwiches (a rip-off Wimpy joint at best), have never really been fashionable, but are well known for being friendly, welcoming, and passionate about what we stand for. Along with Richard Murray's investment, the fans are how the club is still in existence today.

We're often criticised for being one of the quieter clubs, and although there are times when we create a lot of noise, we do sometimes emulate the North-London based Woolwich rejects of Arsenal in the library stakes.

The clich├ęs are always there about the effect of the 'twelfth man', but I do believe it has an effect. However, in customary hypocritical form, I'll put my hands up as being one of the quiet ones a lot of the time. I'll happily sing Valley Floyd Road, Red Army, CAFC, SAP etc, but I'd never be the one starting a song and won't always join in.

You see, sometimes I just want to concentrate on the game. I don't always feel I want to sing, but there are other times when I feel the team needs a bit of a spur and I'll pipe up. If I'm quiet it doesn't necessarily mean I'm not backing the lads.

Who's responsible for the noise though? If the team puts in an abject display and doesn't appear to be trying, why should we even bother? You can't really win with this one – if you don't sing, it will all too often be noted by the manager that we're not getting behind the team and it becomes 'our problem'. But are we responsible for the ones creating the spark, or does this lie with the players and the manager?

Personally, I think it rests on the attitudes of the team. A flash of brilliance, a neat turn, a clever pass, chasing down their man, a crunching tackle, just bloody trying – that will get me going, get me out of my seat, and squawking like a demented reject from X Factor. Alternatively, if no-one on the pitch is giving a toss, I'm not sure they deserve it. It shouldn't take a song from people getting paid a tiny fraction of a player's salary to spark them into it in the first place - these are professionals who should want to win.

Cutting off our noses we may be in such instances – but as much as a football fan has the right to revel and join in the success, don't we also have the right to show our dissatisfaction? The Wycombe cup game last year was a case in point – after such a disgraceful display, if it wasn't for the berating of the crowd it's arguable we may have missed out on getting Pardew in before Christmas.

I'm no fan of the 'boo boys' by any means – I can't stand it when people start booing after the fist misplaced pass, but on that bleak match last December I'll put it in the 'time and place' bracket.

What can the club do to help though? For a start, there has to be the acceptance that not everyone wants to sing through the game. After their relocation to Eastlands, Manchester City attempted to generate atmosphere by introducing a 'singing section'. Despite fears such a move may keep the noise isolated to a single area, by all reports it seems that this has led to noise spreading throughout other areas as people are more confident to join in.

Whilst I'm not keen on having designated singing sections, one thing I would be keen on is the re-introduction of standing areas in the ground. This would have a number of benefits to the club and supporters:
- capacity would increase
- prices should reduce as a result
- standing generally encourages more vocal support
- people who want to stay seated can, and without the problem of persistent standers

One thing I definitely don't want to see is the relocation of away supporters. I'm very proud that Charlton carry on the tradition of giving away fans their own end behind the goal, and I find it sickening that clubs such as Newcastle and more recently Aston Villa are putting away supporters in less 'intimidating' areas.

It's the cowards way out isn't it? Hide the away fans, keep them out of sight, away from the penalty areas and places where they could have a stronger effect on the match and have an influence on officials. In fact, I positively welcome vocal away support – the banter can be excellent and I think in many ways it spurs us on to give the same backing to our own team.

The reaction at the Blackpool game next week will be an interesting one after tomorrow's result – if West Brom knock us out (as I expect), the league means more to us than ever.

Let's hope the player's feel the same way – I could do with a good old sing song...

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Wish Me Luck...

There's a lot of things that scare us in life – checking the New Year bank balance, a trip to the dentist, commitment, the worrying red-print envelopes in the letterbox, bumping into Jo Brand at the end of a hunger strike...

Essentially, the root of all fear is the element of the unknown, and the anticipation of the event is often worse than the result itself. The unscientifically proven fact to counter all your fear is that the worst very rarely happens.

We all think we're the unluckiest people in the world don't we? The weight of everything on our shoulders, just shuffling from one head-bollocking catastrophe to the next. But think about it – things are never really that bad, are they?

For a start, bad things are mostly your own doing – it's a rare occurrence that the actions of someone else can totally screw you up. Being the architect of your own undoing is the thing that gets you grabbing for the noose quicker than a Texas high-court judge.

”Why did I say that???” “Why did I do that???”

The self-loathing makes the pain so much harder – it's far easier if things are outside of your control, or if it's something you have no understanding of. Out of your hands, no responsibility. ”I don't know any better – not my fault”.

Well, you'd think it would make things easier – but I'm terrified about what could happen tomorrow. My car is up for a service and it's first MOT...

You may have read my story a week or so back about my dabble with the dentist, but baby – that has nothing on this. My last stint at the garage cost me more than 500 big ones, and with a post-Christmas bank account looking emptier than a supermodel's head on Mastermind, it's a bit of a concern.

Again, it's the unknown that's scaring me here. My knowledge of automobile engineering is up there with Ricky Butcher's outlook on Quantum Physics. I haven't got a chuffing clue how a car works – as far as I know you simply turn the key and put your foot down. And avoid hitting things.

I'm just waiting for that phone-call from the garage informing me that my something-fluid is low, or the gear-something needs replacing, or the jizzmatic-wazzmadoodle is borked. They could be making the whole sodding thing up, charge me Northern Rock's government debt, and I'd be none the wiser. In fact, I'll probably even thank them for it and buy them flowers for their trouble, like an idiotic car-maintenance-phobic sado-masochist.

So, wish me luck on this one – anything fishy I get charged for, I'll let you know. And you can chuckle your spleen out about what a gullible, shagwitted auto-luddite I am.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Transfer Window Tactics

Image c/o Wikipedia Commons
The New Year not only heralded the start of 2008 and our first spanking, it also ushers in the ludicrous bi-annual nonsense of the Transfer Window.

A lot of managers have spoken out against this player merry-go-round, and I have to agree wholeheartedly with them. There's no good reason for it, the only justification I can think of is at a buerocratical level to synchronise the process across leagues and regions.

I also presume the authorities believe this will minimise potential player unrest and tapping up. The thing is, transfer talk still forms the daily staple of every newspaper, as the agents do their day-to-day business of blowing tempting tit-bits up the ar**holes of a few lazy "can't think of a better story today" sports journalists.

Anyway, back at Planet Valley, I have a suggestion for Pards and the Charlton board now we can officially conduct player business again.

It's a simple - Don't sell anyone. Anyone. Not even the tea lady.

I know we're a selling club, but practically every attacking player we've ever sold bloody scores against us. In the last 5 years I can think of Defoe, Parker, Jensen, and now even Kevin bloody Lisbie is in on the act. Even Danny Shittu hit the bar against us in pre-season a few years back at QPR, and Bryan Hughes had one disallowed earlier in the season at the KC.

We're jinxed aren't we? Without those goals from Jensen and Defoe, Fulham could have gone down and we might even have stayed up.

If you're listening Mr Murray - I know we're a bit skint after the recent financial report, but please don't sell anyone! Unless we really, really have to of course. If that's the case, you can offload them to anyone except:
- Any other Championship club
- Derby, Wigan or Boro
- Swansea, Forest or Leeds

At this rate we'll be playing them all next year - please spare me another Lisbie moment!!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year? Charlton 1, Colchester 2

It seems the New Year does bring some good tidings - the excess of the previous night kept me away from The Valley, a major blessing combined with the reports of today's performance.

Two goals from Kevin Lisbie (who else...) sank us in the first half, and by the sounds of it he could have walked off with the matchball. Perhaps he remembered where he was after the second and starting missing again.

Varney got one back just before half time, but continual reliance on woeful long ball tactics continues to be our undoing. I could bemoan the absence of Reid continually, but what's the point if none of the team are prepared to take the responsibility.

It also makes me question what Pards is actually up to at Sparrows Lane at the moment. We started the season with a promise of playing good football, but mixing it up with the long ball where necessary. Unfortunately, the mixture now has a consistency of 1-part 'attractive passsing' against 99-parts 'hoof at all costs'.

I'd had high hopes for the start of 2008, and looking at the predictions for the other teams around us I wasn't too far out. However, my optimism clearly hasn't spread to the pitch, as we find ourselves looking over our shoulders at an increasingly large chasing pack.

The truth is we're now in a real fight to keep a playoff spot - if the results go against us in our next match we could be as low as 9th and 1 point ahead of Cardiff. I seem to remember placing them in a relegation scare only 2 months ago, which is a sobering thought...