Thursday, 28 February 2008

Chartered Athletic

It seems like an age since the Watford game, and as I can’t get to Bramall Lane on Saturday due to other arrangements I’m thankful for an alternative football fix this evening.

I’ll be doing my best Nicky Weaver impression between the sticks tonight – I’m the ‘official’ ringer goalkeeper for my flatmate’s accountancy firm footy team, Chartered Athletic.

I’d originally suggested Accounting Stanley as a name, but luckily sense on their part prevailed – this is as close as I’ll ever get to represent our boys in red. Unfortunately, the kit looks more like a Newcastle home shirt minus a sponsor, but maybe that’s a precursor for next year seeing as we’re all stakeholders in that little venture now…    ;)

As far as the trip up the M1 goes this weekend, last night can’t have done our chances any harm. Heavy-legged and down after a cruel defeat at the hands of Boro, I’m hoping that Blackwell’s United side will have had some of the wind knocked out of their recently rejuvinated sails.

Let’s hope for a display of pace and trickery – Cook and Sam could make a real impact on this fixture.

And, if all else fails, get some shots rebounding off the post to Paddy Kenny. With any luck I won’t be suffering the same cruel fate tonight – as a goalkeeper, there’s nowhere to hide…

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

The Alternative Away Trip

Well, I'm back now, and by all accounts it sounds like I didn't miss a lot by avoiding Blackpool at the weekend. In fact, perhaps rather worringly, I didn't miss it at all.

I was in Manchester of all places, not too far away from the depravity and tackiness of the Blackpool coast. What a difference – the city is fantastic, full of culture, vibrancy and an identity so sorely lacking from so many other places in this country.

I've long had a bit of an affinity with the place due to the music scene – The Smiths, The Roses, The Mondays, Joy Division, New Order... loads of pioneering stuff came out of this area of the North West, and the locals aren't shy to embrace it.

The Urbis had a rather neat Hacienda exhibition charting the birth, life, and eventual death of one of the most original clubs in the country. It's hard not to admire the sheer balls and confidence shown by Tony Wilson and the Factory crowd to have created something so different, and in the face of ridiculous financial losses – if you believe the legends, New Order were propping up the club to the tune of ten grand a month at one point.

Speaking of financial losses, those were never far away from me last weekend – the bloody shops there are ace. King Street took a fair chunk of my wallet, and Selfridges wasn't too far away in the retail therapy stakes.

I wasn't completely immune to the on-pitch events – 3 brief breaks to check the scores on the mobile saw relief at drawing level before half-time, but the result was confirmed when I got back to my hotel.

The weekend was fantastic though, as was the company, and it reminded me what we can look forward to after May. As football fans, we tend to lead a double-life. From late August to May all we can think about is football. Our weekends are consumed, family, friends and loved ones miss out for at least a day a week, and our state of mind throughout this period can be completely determined by the performance of eleven men on a pitch.

Yet, for the best part of 3 months a year, we're different. We find things outside of football to occupy us, and it's a time to enjoy. The pressures, joys and despair are of our own making. Despite the escape that football gives us, it's a fantastic feeling to be back in control again. There's no excuses – the time is there to be taken, and more importantly, used wisely.

I'll still be kicking every ball for the rest of the season, still be keeping up with all things CAFC, still be writing here, and it's because I love it.

Yet, whatever happens come the end of the season, I'll be enjoying my time away from the game and the alternative away trips it brings.

Football may be more important than life or death, but there's still plenty of time for the other two.

Friday, 22 February 2008

On Me Hols

I'm off in a bit for a weekend away, so no updates until Monday I'm afraid!

Ironically I'll be barely 30 minutes away from tomorrow's opponents, Blackpool. If you read the preview before the corresponding home fixture you'll know I'd rather swap my bog-roll for sandpaper than visit the place anytime soon, so I won't be sneaking to Bloomfield Road on the sly.

What do I expect from tomorrow? Well, Blackpool's form should be worrying us for a start. Not because they're on a particularly good run by any means - quite the opposite in fact. The seasiders have had only 2 wins in 2008, and based on our record of polishing off out-of-form teams, I can see a struggle on the cards tomorrow.

The simple fact is that we're failing miserably to win what should be the 'easier' games in this league. The players seriously need to address this, and soon - the ability to rise to the occassion will be invaluable in the Playoffs, but we're not there yet. If we fail again to pick up 3 points, it won't be long before we start paying for this as the likes of Plymouth, Burnley and (dare I say it) Palace creep up on us.

Concentration and commitment tomorrow please chaps - let's hope I'm the only one on holiday tomorrow...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Off-Topic Time..

Apologies to the CAFC crowd today – going off-topic for the first time in a while!

I'm sat on a train right now and I'm seething. Not for the usual reasons – it's not half an hour late, doesn't reek of pee, and as yet I've not managed to present myself to the world after pressing the wrong button in the automatic toilet.

No, its about an article I just read in this morning's Metro (p19) about the world of Internet Dating. I'm not about to bash it – a friend of mine met his fiancĂ© this way, and a few other friends have had varying degrees of success as well.

In theory, it's great – you get to plug in everything about you (all true of course), and depending on the site in question, get presented with a virtual 'wish list' of the qualities you look for in your potential partner. It's almost kind of like a 'Weird Science Lite' as you go through your shopping list.

Tall, short, race, religion, age... one site even gives you a percentage match of how much you fit a potential partner's criteria, and how much they fit to yours. Or, as a friend of mine puts it - “I meet her criteria by 100% - she only meets mine by 85%. So she has to try a bit harder...”

This is all well and good, and in many ways is simply a bit of harmless fun. However, the interview I read in the paper today concerns people specifically looking for partners who are financially secure. Some quotes from a particular site's director aiming themselves at this demographic:

“We do often get questions about the men because some of these women are wealthy and successful and want someone of similar quality”

“People say it's the basis of shallow... ...We do strongly believe it's not just one thing: money and financial stability suggest quality and drive”

“Is it any less shallow than someone being attracted to someone because of their looks?”

Now, I'll hold my hands up here – I've got a bit of a chip on my shoulder about people with pots of cash, so this kind of thing can rile me for starters. That said, it's due to the fact that I don't rate myself as having much - others would possibly disagree.

But the interesting thing about the article, and something I've discovered whilst I've been in the process of writing this, is that my initial disgust and anger from reading what initially appeared to be distastefully materialistic, gold-digging comments, gradually eased off.

The thing that hit me was simple – the last quote really is true. People just want to find what makes them happy.

The classic, commonly acknowledged quote out there is that 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. In the same way, it can be argued that success can be measured in the context a person can relate to. Therefore, it stands to reason that a wealthy person's view of 'success' will be somewhat different to yours or mine.

We may see success as completing a project, winning a football match, getting a bonus at work. As the money levels step up, so does the bar of success. That project becomes a company take-over, the football match nailing a multi-million-pound deal, and the bonus could be an equally extravagant proposition.

Are things really that different between the rich and the poor in this respect? As human beings, we all look for things we can relate too, something we have in common. It's not so surreal for beautiful people to be in tow, and to complement the status quo the vice-versa tends to stand the same.

For centuries people have looked for 'their equal', and the modern human being will adapt to it's circumstances – if there are millionaires or people of a certain raised level of wealth out there, it's only natural that they will seek out the same type of person.

So, tonight I will sit in my corner of comparative averageness. I will bathe in the salary that the high-class city worker won't bother to get out of bed to earn.

There is, however, compensation in all of this – despite 'average' being seen as a dirty word in modern times, it stands simply to represent the median. If qualities hold true for the levels above and below average, it the same must be true for the median. If the median holds true, it is real for all of us.

Taken to a logical conclusion, this can only be a comfort for us all – so for the singletons out there, don't go rushing to save for the luxury yacht just yet... there's something here for us.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Minutes Of Madness – Charlton 2, Watford 2

Watford put what looks to be the final nail in Charlton's automatic promotion coffin yesterday as the Addicks managed to squander a two goal lead in as many minutes.

Charlton started the match well and were a cut above Watford for most of the first half. Varney came close in the third minute with a dipping volley, and had another chance with a close range header minutes later.

It was Ambrose who broke the deadlock though, who turned in Zheng Zhi's cross from close range for a deserved opener.

Both sides traded efforts for the next 20 minutes, Watford guilty of screwing some good opportunities wide. It was Charlton who added to their tally though, this time as a result of the advancing Greg Halford.

Halford and Sam had been trading passes down the right flank all game, and a speculative cross from the defender was clumsly turned into his own net by Shittu.

The home side were 2 up, and Watford were on the ropes. Despite the pedigree of both sides coming into the game, Charlton seemed to have the better of the physical battle. Varney in particular was winning plenty of headers and putting in tackles, and there always seemed to be an Addick in the right place.

Watford were far from beaten though, and as McAnuff''s shot came back off the post moments before half-time, Boothroyd was readying the changes for the second half.

And how things changed. Watford were a different team after the break – gone was the poor long-ball football that has typified their season so far, and the physical side of their game returned.

As we've seen all too often at The Valley, a two-goal margin is never enough, and a fired-up Watford side clearly wanted it more as the home side backed off too much, and it took only 10 minutes for parity to be restored.

The first came as substitute O'Toole stole in behind the Addicks defence, and slotted past Weaver. There were cries of offside from the North Stand, but I'll have to reserve judgment seeing as nobody could see where O'Toole came from in the first place.

As so often happens after a goal, Watford got another within a minute when Shittu headed in from a corner. The home defence had gone completely to sleep at 2 key occasions, and who knows what the outcome may be on our season as a result.

The match petered out as a contest after this, as Watford failed to keep the initiative and a shell-shocked Charlton couldn't find a way back in. It was a scrappy affair for the last half-hour, and was constantly stopped by some extremely fussy refereeing which only achieved to wind up the home crowd.

The only bright spark for the last 20 was the introduction of Lee Cook, much to the derision of the Watford support. I've never seen much of him, but on this evidence he's an extremely skilful, quick-footed player who looks capable of putting in a telling cross. In comparison with another lethargic cameo from Thomas, I could see Cook being a player to get us a few goals during the run-in.

The full-time whistle was greeted with much abuse for the match officials, but after calming down from the occasion you simply can't blame results like this on referees – we had a 2 goal cushion and blew it.

We can definitely forget about automatic promotion now – the reality is that the teams below us are closer than Watford, so our concern has to be cementing a play-off place.

We could never be certain of an automatic spot this season, but anything less than a play-off place now would be a disaster.

“No” To Game 39 – Part 2: Exploring The 'Cons'

Following on from my previous piece looking at the apparent 'Pros' of an additional overseas match in the Premier League, this post looks at the Cons. For me, these are:

- Imbalance of the league through unfair fixtures
- Seeding system flaws
- Impeding on other national leagues
- Damage to the national team
- Complete disregard for regular match-attending supporters

Firstly, the English football league has historically been conducted on the basis that each team plays each other twice, home and away. This promotes a level playing field in the fixtures list as no team can claim to have an easier ride than another – each team will have to play Man United twice for example.

Adding an extra game completely throws this concept of a balanced league out of the window. An extra game means potentially playing Man United, Arsenal or Chelsea 3 times in a season. It means a team could win the league on the basis of getting an easier match than a rival, or on the flipside a team could be relegated due to an additional hard fixture.

This, coupled with the proposed concept of seeding, only exacerbates the potential injustice that could be served up by an additional fixture. Any kind of seeding to 'protect' the top teams would be inherently biased against the needs of the teams facing relegation, and turns the process into a lottery.

Also, at what point would seedings take place? The fairest possible time to take seedings would be the last minute before the games would be played. However, this would be logistically impossible as the teams would need to prepare for where they would travel to, and the venues would need to promote the games in advance. Seedings made in December or at the start of the season could be vastly inaccurate when it comes to the time the matches are played.

Playing games abroad will also tread on the toes of national leagues that are already struggling to promote themselves in the face of popularity of the European leagues. Stamping on the leagues emerging in Asia and the USA will have a negative impact on the development of World football, as it is likely that many foreign fans will only be interested in attending Premier League matches rather than those of their local clubs.

There could be disappointment in the fixtures for the bidding countries – everyone will want Man United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea, but will nations bid the anticipated sums for Wigan and Fulham?

This could also damage the national team for two reasons. Firstly, I've lost count of the times I hear the FA and managers complain that players have too many matches a season. There has continually been talk of reducing the Premier League to 18 teams. Yet, they are considering bringing an additional match into the calendar that would not only tire players with an additional fixture, but risk further injury, illness or tiredness due to the effects of a different climate and unnecessary travel.

The other impact on the national team could come from the increased revenue. If the teams receive more money, this will simply be used for wages to buy the best players, or to keep them if they already have them. We are already seeing the policy of buying abroad in action in the top league, and with the additional money I can't see this improving.

Alongside the imbalance of the league, the most important issue for me is the disregard for the loyal football fan. The suggestion has been made that this has no effect on supporters, as it i an additional gam and therefore they don't 'lose' one as such.

However, fans will want to attend any game they can. As a season ticket holder I attend every home match, and around half the away fixtures. I would obviously want to attend the additional game if I could, which is likely to be at considerable expense. There are also fans out there who have never missed a game in years, and the thought of missing a their team in these cases must be unbearable.

The arrogance of the League is shocking – to think it doesn't affect us as the game is an additional one frankly shows what regard they have for the loyal football fan. The clubs are the heart and soul of many parts of this nation, and any attempt to devalue the input of fans that have built and supported the clubs for so long is one that is hard to stomach.

One thing that isn't beyond the bounds of possibility is that of teams uprooting. If foreign fixtures are successful, why would a team need to be constrained to their current homes? What would be the need for a club having a stadium when playing around the world is more profitable? One Premier League manager has already been quoted that this could turn clubs into the football equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters.

An extreme thought maybe, but in a world where money is running our game as a commodity and the average football fan is becoming a smaller part of the equation, are we that far away?

Thursday, 14 February 2008

"No" To Game 39 – Part 1: Rubbishing The 'Pros'

I was pleasantly surprised this morning as I read through the BBC website this morning regarding the plans to take Premier League games overseas. Assuming the report is correct, none other than our own Peter Varney is apparently strongly opposed to the idea.

The factor of an additional game wasn't mentioned in the report, but this was part of the League's proposal. Now, it’s hard for me to write objectively about this as I’m totally opposed to the idea myself, but let’s look at the ‘Pros’ as they stand:

- It will generate more money for the clubs through television and fanbase
- Fanbase will increase globally as a result
- Global fans who couldn’t normally see a match will have the opportunity

The money is the obvious plus point for the Premier League and its clubs. Let’s face it, football at the top level has become about milking the money, unless you happen to have a Russian billionaire treating the club as a loss-making plaything.

However, all that happens when more money comes into the game is that it goes into the pockets of players and agents – reduced ticket prices for fans are almost unheard of, apart from some notable exceptions.

Clubs say they will be able to attract the best players, but I thought we already were apparently? And if this is the case, all that will happen is that the same players will be paid more and nothing will improve. What’s the point?

There is a counter argument that the better players may go elsewhere to more money if we don’t take this step. I’ve 2 answers for that – firstly, I don’t want a player at my club who’s only interest is money. Secondly, this scenario would affect all clubs in that league, so the standard would at least level-out when the greedy players go. Personally, I couldn’t care less if we see any superstars, I just care about my club, the football, and desire to win.

So, onto the fanbase. Who really cares if fanbases increase globally? Firstly, I want to excuse ex-pats from the equation – they’ve had an affinity with their team in the past, and this is the only group of people I would actually feel sorry for if they miss the action.

That exception aside, I really couldn’t care less if we don’t have supporters in Asia, Africa or the USA. Can you really class yourself as a ‘supporter’ if you’ve never attended a game or stepped foot in that country? Why not support a local team instead and take joy in the development of that team and their league?

I don’t see why the needs of fans in other countries should affect the bread-and-butter home supporters who turn up every week, even taking midweek trips and days off to follow their club away as well. Buying the odd replica shirt and watching games on telly thousands of miles away is hardly in the same bracket.

Leagues exist in all countries, and the Premier League will brazenly trample on their development by dangling a ‘glamour’ match in front of people in this arrogant fashion.

I’ve still got the ‘Cons’ to discuss in detail, but I’ll leave that for tomorrow – the imbalance of not playing all teams twice, travel, the potential ‘MK Dons effect’ etc will all be covered…

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Playoffs It Is Then – Sheff Weds 0, Charlton 0

Charlton’s away record of late is getting as good as mine of actually attending – we haven’t won away since December, and a glance at the table will tell you all you need to know as a result.

No match report as I was shamefully enjoying a rather good curry in Brick Lane last night rather than taking up room in the Leppings Lane end, but from the reports I’ve read it doesn’t sound like I missed much.

It’s becoming almost inevitable these days that a morale-boosting win is followed by a depressing draw or loss. The games we simply should have won are now racking up, and I find it amazing that we’re still only 6 points off an automatic promotion spot. The problem we have is that the only consistency we can find right now is in our own inconsistency.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if we absolutely wallop Watford on Saturday. 2, 3, 4 nil – would it be that much of a shock? Then you look at the two away fixtures that follow (Brighton and Sheff Yoo) and it’s hard to see further than snatching a point if we’re lucky.

(Not Brighton - Blackpool you fool!   Ed)

It’s so frustrating at times – the start of the season was all about our form on the road, and the poor displays at home. The only positive to take from this performance turnaround is that we’ve got the opportunity to take points off the teams that matter in our home games.

3 points at home against Watford, Bristol City and West Brom would go far to cement our place in the play-offs – but as long as we continue to struggle on the road against the poorer sides, this will be all we can hope for this season.

Still, the leg-room at Wembley is fantastic…

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Eagles Wings Clipped – Charlton 2, Palace 0

Charlton put paid to Palace's recent surge up the table with a comprehensive 2-0 victory at The Valley on Friday. The match was hotly anticipated by both sets of fans after the recent resurgence of both teams, although the game turned out to be a one-sided affair.

2 second-half goals from Luke Varney sent the home crowd into delirium, and the overall performance of the team was magnificent – possibly the best display I've seen since the 4-0 demolition of West Ham.

Pardew kept the same shape as in previous games, and opted for a front pairing of Gray and Varney. The midfield stayed the same, and Greg Halford made his debut at right-back in the place of Viewtoakill.

Charlton dominated the early passages of play, and although Palace seemed to win a lot in the air, the passing and movement of the Addicks created numerous opportunities to break the deadlock.

A neat turn from Halford almost presented the opener, but he dragged his shot wide. Zheng Zhi had a shot saved spectacularly by Speroni after a flowing move, and Varney rattled the post from a tight angle. Throughout this passage of play, Palace had created nothing – the Charlton back-four were on great form, and the intelligent distribution was a joy to watch.

Warnock clearly had words with his players at half-time, as Palace looked a different side for the first ten minutes of a telling second half. Our midfield suddenly looked shaky, and a few needless corners were conceded. Youga also made an excellent last-ditch challenge to prevent a one-on-one with Weaver.

Charlton gradually got themselves back into the game, and once again appeared to be the side most likely to break the deadlock.

The opener finally came from a free kick. Gray's deft flick fell into the path of the advancing Varney, who managed to touch the ball past Speroni under pressure from the last defender. 1-0, and The Valley exploded.

Thankfully the home side didn't try to sit on the goal, and continued to press forward to finish off the tie. Varney had a good penalty shout turned down as he was tugged back in the area, but in fairness this cancelled out what looked like an earlier handball from Bougherra in the Charlton box.

Varney was also clattered by Hudson with a horrible looking two-footed challenge, which amazingly went unpunished by the referee. Varney was to have the last laugh though as he settled the match 4 minutes from time.

A pass from Holland release the striker down the wing, who then opted to run at the Palace defence rather than square to substitute Iwelumo. His decision paid off as he rifled his shot into the goal, ironically via Hudson, and wrote his name into Charlton history.

It really was a great performance all round – Youga was rock-solid, Bougherra and McCarthy bossed the back-line, and Halford made an impressive debut. He's not as fast as Viewtoakill, but his long throw is fantastic and he looks to have both a good footballing brain and an eye for a pass.

On this evidence, a great signing Pards – we've now got a back-four brimming with confidence, and perhaps with the possibly harsh exception of McCarthy, a defence that are confident in passing and moving the ball rather than taking the obvious hoof.

Holland and Zhi put in another great display in the middle of the pitch as well, Zhi's performance being particularly impressive considering his midweek game in Dubai. If there are any criticisms to be made, Sam wasn't on his best form, and Ambrose was guilty of giving the ball away far too much.

Up front, Gray didn't have the biggest of impacts – aside from the first goal, the partnership with Varney will need more time as they understand each other's games. Varney of course was excellent, and I was happy to see him be both greedy and ruthless for his second – at this level, we simply need to get the ball in the net.

Sadly, I need to knock some marks off myself for being so late with this match report – I'm currently sitting in a pub in Soho at Sunday lunchtime trying to find somewhere with a wi-fi connection after a ridiculously busy week!

Anyway – hats off to Pards and the team. I made the walk back to the Dome and home to North London a very happy man on Friday night. The results may not have gone our way yesterday, but we're still only 5 points off the action.

A win against Sheffield Wednesday could really put the shakes on the teams above us – let's hope the players can carry the momentum into what should be a tricky, but winnable, away tie.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Appointment With The Palace

Not a huge amount to report before tonight’s game really – the main news for us is that Greg Halford may make his debut, although I’m uncertain if Pardew will risk the recent defensive harmony for a match of this volatility. However, Halford may offer a ‘tougher’ edge to the defensive unit.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Semedo start in midfield after Zheng Zhi’s recent appearance for China, and I reckon Pards might take a punt on Varney’s pace alongside Gray up front.

I won’t even try to make a prediction on this one, when it comes down to local derbies form generally tends to go out of the window.

Let’s hope that the players realise how much this fixture means to us, and show the same determination as at Selhurst.

Bugger it – I’ll have a go then, 2-1 Charlton!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Off To Wembley

As the end of the season nears, it’s looking increasingly like the playoffs will be our best bet for promotion. With this in mind, I’ll be paying particular attention to my surroundings this evening – I’ve managed to blag a ticket for tonight’s England game against Switzerland.

My first trip to the new Wembley was the opening Under 21’s game against Italy, and it gave a glimpse of what to expect if we can make it there later this year. The stadium is fantastic, and despite the rip-off prices and awful transport situation, it’s hard to fault the overall experience.

The first thing that hits you about the stadium when you leave Wembley Park is the chuffing scale of the damn thing – it’s bloody HUGE. There’s plenty of room when you get inside as well, and despite being a bit ‘bland’ when walking around, it’s a pleasant experience.

I’m looking forward to casting an eye over Capello’s first game in charge, and if the reports are anything to go by, the disciplinarian approach our national team is desperately in need of has already begun. Let’s hope the overpaid lumps take heed.

I don’t think we’ll see many goals tonight, but I am looking forward to the possibility of seeing David Bentley and Ashley Young bringing some pace to the wings. If they can unlock the space to bring Gerrard into shooting range, I wager we’ll see a goal from tonight’s captain.

Let’s hope for a good display – and judging by the sunshine outside, there won’t be a brolly in sight…

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

We Shall Not Be Moved

According to this report, Pards is calling for away fans to be moved from their current location in the Jimmy Seed stand.

Now, I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the report or if he’s been quoted out of context, but I’m against this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, if away fans are to be put to one side, it would be tricky to move them anywhere other than the south section of the West Stand. The East Stand would have accessibility issues with segregation, so I can’t see it being much of an option.

Secondly, if we want more fans behind the goal there’s already plenty of room in the North Stand! I sit in Block B, and for each match this season there have been plenty of empty seats. Some of these may be non-attending season ticket holders, but I’d rather see a packed Covered End than a threadbare Jimmy Seed.

Thirdly, it would inevitably mean moving some supporters. Now, after 5 seasons in my seat, I’ve come to think of it as my own. I’m happy there, and wouldn’t want to be forced to move. I know the people around me, and I wouldn’t expect any other season ticket holders to have that taken away from them for the sake of a stadium re-shuffle.

Fourthly (not even sure if these are words now…), if anyone were to be forcibly moved to the Jimmy Seed stand, I doubt they would enjoy the facilities much! In my stand we can head downstairs to keep warm, have plenty of outlets to buy food and drink, and can watch Sky Sports for the scores.

Without significant redevelopment of the area, or lower prices, it would be unfair to expect people to move to a lesser environment. And if their prices were lowered, would mine go up? Unless they want a threadbare end, it would have to involve movement of season ticket holders to avoid embarrassment. This may be less of an issue in the Premiership, but let’s get there first.

Finally, I am proud of the fact that away fans have their own end at The Valley. It’s long been a tradition to have opposing fans at each end, and frankly moving the away supporters is a cowardly way of attempting to resolve issues of stadium atmosphere.

I find the banter with away fans to be part of the game, and there are many times that the reaction of the away fans can make us louder and more passionate as a result. Can you imagine a stadium with no away fans? I reckon it would be practically silent. By that token, moving away fans to a ‘less intimidating’ area would have a similar effect on the noise levels from the home support.

Don’t get me wrong here – I want us to get behind the team and have a great supporting atmosphere at The Valley. But I think it’s against the spirit of the game to do a Villa or a Newcastle and simply try and hide away supporters like they don’t exist - they have paid for the right to be there as well as us.

The atmosphere at home has been fantastic on occasions, and I reckon it will be electric on Friday. Pards – concentrate on what’s happening on the pitch, this really is something I don’t think needs changing.

Monday, 4 February 2008

In Search Of Entertainment

After missing the weekend's exploits at sunny Scunthorpe and a particularly shitty start to the week at work, I'm in need of some entertainment this evening.

Luckily, the gods are smiling on me tonight – no crappy ITV sitcoms or docu-dramas for me tonight though, I've been catching some Freeview sport at it's best.

I'm not a big fan of egg chasing, but at least the Superbowl allowed me some sporting interest of the non-round variety without getting my shoes thrown-up on by a rugby-supporting 'gentleman'.

BBCi got it right on this one – watch the rolling highlights special and you're in for a treat. No adverts, no stop/start dross – this was pure entertainment, and a genuinely thrilling finish. It was also great to see the underdog come out on top, as the New York Giants won at the death to destroy the 100% record of the New England Patriots.

So far so good – the licence fee was beginning to pay off.

My next televisual treat comes in the form of the African Cup of Nations, and boy can it be entertaining at times. You might have read Frankie Valley's assessment of the quality on display, but now we're getting towards the final stages the skin is beginning to form on the custard.

I've just seen some fantastic shots, goals, and action – and this was just in the highlights segments at half-time. Some of the goals have been frankly amazing, and the Ivory Coast's 5-0 destruction of Guinea simply has to be seen as a footballing master class.

The thing I like about the teams in this competition is that they're not afraid to have a go, and have no fear of looking a bit of a twat after thumping the ball nearer to the corner flag than the goal. But when they eventually catch the ball right, they bloody well fly in.

Right now the game is perched on a knife-edge – Cameroon are 2-1 up against Tunisia in the quarter-final, and we get to see Alex Song back in action alongside the likes of Samuel Eto'o.

Hope you're watching Pards – we could do with a midfielder with an eye for a pass...     ;)

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Missed The Lot – Scunthorpe 1, Charlton 0

Things started badly for my attempt at covering this game, and the result didn't really do me any favours either. A tricky month financially and a low fuel-tank kept me away from the charms of Glanford Park, compounded further by the fact I couldn't get a DAB or AM reception for BBC Kent's coverage of the game.

So, sadly this is the first game in a while where I can't really add any critique on the performance. This doesn't change the fact that we've slipped up again, and it took a Southampton equaliser at Selhurst to save us from slipping further down the table.

Scunthorpe, without a win in 6 and at busy propping up 22 other teams, looked ripe for the taking today on recent form. Even though we went a goal down, a second yellow card and sending-off for Butler should have given us the opportunity to unlock the Iron's defence.

Those who were at the game will be better placed to tell you if our 11 shots posed a real threat, or if our 10 corners were a sign of dominance, but at the end of the ninety minutes there's only one statistic that counts – Paterson's 11th league goal has cost us the chance of catching up with the league leaders.

In fact, I spent the entire match updating the BBC league predictor with the scores as they came in. It was an interesting way of looking at the games as they progressed – Palace for example managed to be fifth at one point, before slipping to seventh at full-time. Ipswich jumped 4 places to sixth after finally getting an away win. Norwich were the biggest benefactors, leaping to 13th and closer to safety with a 90th minute winner against relegation rivals Preston.

It's a fascinating way to look at the shape of the league as the matches progress – if you're ever unlucky enough to be restricted to the joys of BBC text commentary, swap to the predictor instead – it's much more fun.

So, were back in the thick of it after yet another poor result against a relegation candidate. Anything less than a win against Palace could be a disaster, as Wolves, Hull and Ipswich are sniffing around the playoff spots.

3 points today should have separated us from the rest of the pack, but the reality of today's result is that we're in a real scrap now, and one I expect to last until the final day of the season.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Cap? Hell, No...

In amongst yesterday's transfer deadline scramble came the news of Fabio Capello's first England Squad. The major absentee is of course David Beckham, currently one cap short of the magic 100.

It would be all too easy to be sentimental about the occasion, but Capello has taken the tough decision to leave Beckham out. And I agree with him. In my opinion, this isn't the gutless 'token dropping' that McClaren made when he started the job – it's a case of Capello wanting to find out as much as he can about young and exciting English players.

Beckham, despite all his criticisms, has been a magnificent servant to the England team. In a squad of players who all too often flatter to deceive, Beckham is one of the few to be able to say they put their all in on a regular basis.

There have of course been low points – missed penalties, sendings off, and purposely getting booked against Wales despite the risk of injuring another player (Ben Thatcher of all people).

That said, there's been so many highs as well – the penalty against Argentina and that free kick against Greece being the two that always spring to mind.

The thing is though, England isn't about one player – it's about the team and the nation behind it. We have to think to the future, and giving Beckham what would amount to a token cap isn't the right way to bring life to a new regime in English football.

The facts are important to consider. Beckham hasn't played a competitive game for months, and the few appearances in an LA Galaxy shirt are hardly a test at the highest level. Training with Arsenal is a positive step, but training and matches are completely different scenarios.

I have to completely agree with Capello's reasons for not picking Beckham on the basis of match fitness. Friendly or not, it's Capello's duty as manager to pick the best squad available to him, and it's especially important in the early days to see as many new players as he can.

The new squad shows signs of promise – the inclusion of the pacey Agbonlahor was widely anticipated, but perhaps not so much Ashley Young, Curtis Davies, Nicky Shorey, and David Bentley.

These are the kind of players that will form the basis of the England team over the next 5 years, and giving them a chance sooner rather than later is far more important in a Friendly match than playing an unfit player who we already know everything about.

This does not shut the door on Beckham by any means, and I fully expect Beckham to be back in the England fold sooner rather than later. Capello will need no introduction to his talent, and once he starts playing competitive matches again he can prove he is ready to return to the England set up.

After all, I'm sure that fighting for and earning that hundredth cap will be a far sweeter feeling for Beckham than any token gesture.