Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Weekender

Every now and again during the course of a season, a weekend will appear on your calendar that involves two or even three events rolling into each other. This weekend was one of those.
The visit of Huddersfield Town to The Valley was still a long way off on Friday afternoon when my weekend got under way, i had a lot of drinking to do first.

It started in Islington with fellow blogger and all round good guy, Hungry Ted. Now this is a man who knows his beer and just as importantly where to drink it. The Craft Beer Company has a wonderful selection of fine ales under it's roof, whilst providing a majestic environment to drink them in. Clean, classy and spacious, we found a corner with armchairs that invited you to settle in and get comfortable. My favourite tipple here was a beer called 'Happy Chappy', it seemed fitting for my mood as a weekend 'bender' was about to begin.

White Lion Street N1

From White Lion Street we then ventured to just the other side of the Angel tube station to Danbury Street where we found The Earl of Essex, another gem of a boozer situated in a lovely residential area, fortunately well out of my price range. How the residents manage to conduct a life outside the pub remains a mystery to me. More locally brewed masterpieces here, the names of which elude me ( i admit that in a rather embarrassing fashion), and i knew i'd had an unbelievably long overdue good old fashioned Friday afternoon booze. Now many people (my age at least) would have quite happily called it a day there and gone home to sleep it off in front of a film on the sofa, but not me. No sir, i had other plans. I was headed to Camden for an evening i'd been looking forward to for literally months. Myself and yet another fellow blogger, Marco were going to watch The Wedding Present at Koko, a venue next door to Mornington Crescent tube.

Now i thought i had some front, Marco's sister Becky had plenty more. After a quick chat and photo opportunity with David Gedge, the Weddoes frontman, we hunted for a good view for the show. After climbing some stairs Becky pointed to a shut door with the words 'directors box' on it and beckoned us to follow. High up in a box, with it's own private bar, we settled in to watch the support act, an all Japanese girl band Toquiwa. I'd seen them before a couple of years ago in Brighton at another Wedding Present show although they billed themselves under a different name then, so i had a good idea of what to expect. Infamous for their cover of Kennedy, a Gedge classic, they didn't disappoint jumping off the speakers and giving it their all. Good fun and obviously a favourite of David's as he's now released their album on his label.
And then the hours, days, weeks, and months of waiting were over, The Wedding Present took to the stage to perform their iconic Seamonsters album.

The boy Gedge doing what he does best

The album made up the middle of the set opening an opportunity for the band to 'knock out' a selection of other classics both before and after. It's hard to pick out highlights when the set is of such quality but everyone i spoke to enjoyed the rare rendition of My Favourite Dress.
A surprise for the three of us was the unexpected arrival of two fellow addicks, Flynny and Louis, both regulars from the Rose of Denmark. It would appear they had stumbled in on accident but were both suitably impressed with what they saw and heard.

As the songs came and went i looked over the edge at the dance floor below. The first six or seven rows were full of forty somethings moving around in what i believe you would call these days a 'mosh pit'. Try as i might i couldn't resist it's lure and raced down to become a part of the sweating mass. It was while i was down there swaying with the crowd wherever it chose to go that i could have sworn i heard David Gedge say he'd be back to perform another album, The Hit Parade, sometime in the future. I'm already counting the months down.

The venue turned into a club after the set, we knew beforehand we were a little old for that. Instead we met friends at the Cittie of Yorke pub in Holborn where we kept going till last orders before venturing back to Woolwich to rest the eyes a little, well there was a football match to attend just a smidgen over twelve hours away.

A nice early start in the Rose and we soon turned our attentions to the match. With three wins on the trot, many Charlton supporters were full of expectation leading up to this visit of Huddersfield, so much so that we hit the 20,000 mark for bums on seats for only the third time this season.

Emmanuel Frimpong came straight into the starting eleven, Stephens was back in the middle but there were noticeable absentees in Dan Seaborne and the in form Danny Haynes. Fuller started up front with Hulse, Kerkar filled in at left back whilst the biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for Yann Kermorgant returning to the match day squad after his injury enforced lay off.

The Terriers have started this season in surprising fashion having lost their talisman striker to Blackburn in the summer, many would have tipped them as relegation fodder before a ball had been kicked. Talking to a slightly tipsy away fan in the Kings Head at London Bridge after the game i was informed that they may well have used their season's luck up already, he assured me they had been second best to most they had played so far but had grasped good fortune with both hands once it came their way.

I thought Huddersfield matched us quite well, even when they went down to ten men. Does every club struggle to play against ten men in the same way we do? I really can't recall an occasion where we made numerical advantage count and truly dominate a side wearing them down.

The conditions were awful (although i fail to believe this could have had a bearing on why blue and white stripes clash with red), the rain lashed down although not quite to the standards of the Hull match earlier in the season. This could have had a bearing on the game as the first half struggled to get going, the straight red (which i've yet to see again) being the main talking point. The second period was much more eventful.
Charlton took the lead with a wonderful goal, a nice run and cross from Bradley Pritchard and a sweet clean finish from Rob Hulse raised the spirits of the very damp home fans. Now to capitalise and kill the game off.......

A very hard working and influential Frimpong went off seven minutes later, not through a bad challenge but just a tweak due to a lack of real match fitness. This highlighted a real problem with the loan market, a chance for other teams to use us to get their players match it, a similar thing happened of course to the Arsenal midfielder with Wolves last season.

Chris Powell must have felt we'd done enough, big Yann came on for a cameo, the gaffer obviously keen to please the crowd and make the popular substitution. He replaced Fuller who again showed moments of class yet frustratingly mixed this with an occasional sloppiness.  Four minutes later things were a lot different, the buoyant atmosphere silenced. Chris Solly allegedly challenged unlawfully and the away team had a last minute penalty.

Of course they scored, we really had thrown this away. Hulse twice had chances to snatch it in stoppage time, the first a mix up and lack of communication with a team mate, the second foiled by some magnificent goalkeeping.

We left feeling like we'd lost. It was a case of two points being thrown away, something that always leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. There was nothing else for it but a couple of sobering pints on the way home!
My wife had been shopping with her sister in Camden so we caught the same train out of town stopping for a curry just to round off what had been a very heavy couple of days. A true weekender.

On Tuesday Peterborough arrive in SE7, i'll be a lot more upset if we throw points away against them.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is Jamie Stuart dench?

As i celebrated my twenty first birthday in a manner which i've now long since forgotten, although i assume in a South London public house, a baby boy was born many miles away in Kumasi, Ghana. This lad would go on to live the dream we all had as children, to play professional football.

By my twenty first birthday i'd long since ruined any chance i had of fulfilling this dream with the help of a concoction of alcohol, nicotine and motorbikes. The complete lack of talent and five years of being forced to play rugby at grammar school also partly contributed, hindering any ambitions of an appearance on The Big Match.

Emmanuel Frimpong is the latest in a long line of young footballers to pull on a red Charlton shirt and 'live my dream'. The young midfielder was snapped up in the week on loan until the end of the calendar year from Arsenal. Graduating alongside a certain Jack Wilshere, Frimpong has represented England at youth levels, already made his bow in the Premier League for Arsene Wenger and suffered injury heartache whilst on loan at Wolves.

A young player with a big personality, Emmanuel Frimpong is likely to make some loud noises in the dressing room too, i'm certain a little 'gangsta rap' will go down a storm with the more youthful elements of our squad.

All young footballers are now taught to manage their finances responsibly, Frimpong seems to have an astute business brain already at his tender age. Alongside his rapper cousin Lethal Bizzle (one presumes a stage name), the midfielder has started the clothing brand 'Dench', the word originating from a modern teenage variant of slang. Cool became sick which became dench and one day might just become groovy again, let's hope not but you get the gist.

A pacy midfielder likened to former Arsenal prodigy Alex Song, it's certain that with continued hard work and dedication this young lad has a bright future in the game. Learning from your mistakes is important, learning from the mistakes of others is key.

I missed Charlton's trip to Burnley last Saturday completely. Another victory on the road after success at Ashton Gate, not to mention the third win in a row makes for a much more palatable league table. With two home games now in the space of  four days, starting with the visit of Huddersfield on Saturday, we have the perfect opportunity to continue this winning streak and put a really good run together. Danny Hollands has gone to Swindon on loan and we've hardly batted an eyelid, that's how different the club is in just a month.

Whilst the hardy few made the trip to Turf Moor, i made a far shorter journey to Gander Green Lane, home of the chocolate and amber Sutton United. Regular readers will know of my soft spot for the U's, having lived on their door step for the best bit of twenty years. This was a long overdue visit, my first of the season and the first since a Conference South play off defeat at the hands of Welling United last May.

Little has really changed down the Lane since then other than the form. In their first season back at this level the play offs were a staggering achievement, far more than they could have hoped for, yet this second season is proving a much sterner test. Second season syndrome hits at every level it would seem.

An always very welcoming club house meant the opportunity to catch up with old friends and make new ones whilst enjoying a pint or two of Tribute, a beer they always excel in keeping, putting many a good old fashioned boozer to shame in the process. I was keen to throw into conversation whilst enjoying this liquid refreshment the small matter of summer signing and club captain Jamie Stuart.

"You've been Frimponged."  
Stuart was of course a Charlton marvel who came through the youth ranks and made his first team debut, ironically enough, against Huddersfield Town. Rather than follow the path of many youngsters towing the line and aspiring to be the best, Stuart followed my lead and blew it. Not in quite the same way, he didn't go the whole Hells Angel route, just the cocaine and cannabis although his temperament would certainly have fitted in with the biker fraternity i knew.

Infamously sacked by Charlton he still had enough ability to grind out a professional career playing lower league football but the question always remains, how well could he have done?

Sutton fans on the whole are a little underwhelmed by his arrival from the not so popular (down the Lane at least) AFC Wimbledon. The clubs internet fans forum, like every other clubs, is full of scathing remarks and constant moaning, and it would appear that plenty of this is aimed at their aging centre half.

Watching him for myself against visitors Bath City, his ability to read the game was obvious, his ability to carry out his duty on the other hand, a little harder. Kings of the backpass, Sutton constantly played the ball around their back four during the first half with it frequently returning to Kevin Scriven in goal, much to the irritation of the five hundred odd crowd. I noticed when defending a corner Stuart used his chest (he's filled out an awful lot since leaving Charlton) to barge a player out the way. Their foreheads met like two rhino's about to lock horns before the Sutton captain moved away and found the player he was supposed to be marking. Intimidation is obviously the name of the game, he hasn't changed that much.

The second half provided slightly more determination from the home side who had gone into the break a goal down. If the finishing had been just a tad (or in hindsight a lot) better they could have justified a point from the fixture, but alas it was too little far too late and Bath pounced again at the death to make victory certain.

Despite the result it's always a pleasant experience taking in some non league football, it harks back to the 'good old days' in so many respects. Bath City looked like Newcastle United in their black and white striped shirts, complemented with black shorts and stockings (that's what we used to call them).
At no point did the referee or linesmen think their very traditional all black attire would clash and therefore make the visitors wear an away kit.
And in case you're interested, Paul Doswell, the Sutton manager's job is secure and still will be even if they fail to get through to the third round of the Surrey Senior Cup next week, unlike the circus that is Chelsea and their need to keep buying success.
There is proper football, played in the mud and then there is soap opera television football played in London SW6.

So is Jamie Stuart dench? He certainly threw away a great opportunity to fulfill his potential, although in his twilight years as a player he still lives a dream i never even came close to. That's kinda cool innit?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A day to remember

This is the commemorative five pound coin produced by the Royal Mint for today, remembrance Sunday. One of the most important days of the year in my estimation, as we remember those who fought and fell for this great country and also those left at home that lost loved husbands, brothers and fathers.

It puts football into perspective a little doesn't it. However, the world keeps on spinning and although we all stopped for a minimum of two minutes today, there was still the small matter of a Championship fixture to fulfill.

I had a couple of reasons for choosing this picture over a more conventional poppy. First up, Bristol City blogger Paul, aka The Exiled Robin who invited me to answer some questions on his site prior to the match works for the Royal Mint, and secondly i won a fiver of someone for the subsequent  Charlton victory.

The game was on the back of Tuesday's stunning home win over Cardiff, we were relying on the players to recover from that epic in time to carry the momentum forward down at Ashton Gate.

Chris Powell had dabbled in the loan market during the week and brought in a couple of fresh faces in the shape of Dan Seaborne and Eggart Johnsson. Seaborne, a left sided full back from Southampton went straight into the starting eleven in place of Dervite, thus allowing Solly to revert to the right hand side and Morrison back to partner Cort in the heart of defence. Other than that the Addicks were unchanged. Johnsson, an Icelandic midfielder from Wolves will have to wait a little longer to get his chance under Chris Powell.

An impeccable minute's silence was observed after the sides were led out of the tunnel by members of the armed forces, City quite rightly not ignoring the importance of the occasion.

The home side lined up with Sam Baldock up front, a player we had been linked with a lot during the summer transfer market. With six defeats in a row, the natives were desperate to see a change of fortunes yet failed to get behind the side as a '12th man', a tactic we discovered works wonders in the week. In fact it was very similar to some darker days at The Valley with a chorus of boos being their most vocal moments.

Danny Haynes was returning to his old hunting ground and therefore almost guaranteed a starring role. Word perfect with the script, his pace caused the Bristol defence all sorts of problems and he got his opportunity with a rebound after Dale Stephens had hit the upright after twenty minutes.

The one thousand travelling supporters were bouncing and even let off a smoke bomb as the party atmosphere continued where it left off Tuesday. My twitter timeline entertained this 'ultra inspired' spectacle with mixed emotions, it was interspersed with praise for the balti pies on sale at the ground. I've yet to decide which topic is the more important.

A second half goal from Michael Morrison just before the hour did in all honesty seal the victory although City rallied for a period after our goal as they 'enjoyed' their best spell of the match.

Matt Taylor saw a long awaited cameo appearance towards the end, as did Ricardo Fuller - a very welcome return to the match day squad! Fuller got a ten minute run out replacing Rob Hulse who once again did his reputation no harm at all as he continues to attract prospective clubs.

How different it looks for the two managers now. Chris Powell has had his critics but with back to back wins is once again the man of the moment. Derek McInnes still has the respect of the bulk of the City fans but you have to wonder if seven straight defeats mean the writing is on the wall.

Charlton are now sixteenth in the table, seven points clear of the relegation zone below, and an identical number off the last play off spot as we look up. Things appear much brighter now, especially as players slowly start to return.

Have we got through the worst of it? I really do hope so. Come on you reds!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Oh What A Night!

Over the years there have been some pretty memorable evenings down at The Valley, last night was up there with the best of them. In my last post great comebacks were the topic of discussion, who'd have thought that would be followed up by another of equal magnitude!

I was fortunate enough to miss Saturday at Charlton due to work, something i don't often say, therefore missing a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of Middlesbrough. The prospect of the division's top club, Cardiff City, following suit didn't fill me with hope and so i ventured to SE7 full of trepidation and fearing the worst.

Chris Powell picked a starting eleven from an injury ravaged Charlton squad that included the forgotten Danny Haynes in for Lawrie Wilson and Michael Morrison at right back with Chris Solly on the left. It looked a little disjointed at the back and this was found out to our cost after only three minutes.

Poor defending from a corner gave Cardiff the lead early on, only to be repeated twenty minutes later as the visitors doubled their lead. A brief rendition of the relegation song 'Charlton till i die' followed as the fifteen thousand home fans readied themselves for the battering to follow. Cardiff however failed to convert further chances and the covered end sensed this game wasn't all over.

'Chrissy Powell's red and white army' rang around the ground endlessly as Charlton started to mount some pressure. Fortunately for us, Cardiff's defending was as comical as our own, Johnnie Jackson capitalizing on their errors and pulling a goal back five minutes before the break. Game on.

To go in a goal behind was deserved, to go in level was a little surprising. Once again the skipper got his name on the score-sheet, this time with a powerful controlled header. We left the pitch full of momentum, Cardiff left it shell-shocked.

We started the second half much the same as we finished the first, full of confidence. Dale Stephens scored direct from a sublime free kick that left us all speechless. By this point i was getting rather good at the old fashioned goal celebration of throwing my hat in the air. By the time Haynes and Hulse had made it five only eleven minutes later i had perfected it. An unbelievable comeback was complete, 5-2 up against a side that had fallen apart, and all still with twenty five minutes left on the clock.

Charlton have never done anything the easy way though have they, we are almost famous for it. From somewhere the referee found six minutes of stoppage time, i can only presume it was from goal celebrations. Our defense used these six minutes to disastrous effect as they tried to mimic what they had seen over the past hour from the visitors. Cardiff got two and very nearly a third as the comeback story almost took a completely new twist. Charlton held on and limped over the line, Cardiff have the unfortunate tag of scoring the first two and the last two in a game and still losing.

For those of you concerned that we may have come through unscathed, may i add that my own personal man of the match, Danny Haynes, came off midway through the second half with, we believe, a possible injury.

Chris Powell's delight was obvious for all to see, as was Johnnie Jackson's. What could have been a fourth straight home defeat turned into a memorable game where not only the team showed some grit and determination, but so did the crowd. How refreshing not to be surrounded by boos and negativity. The Valley was positively electric last night, if we could only put that kind of performance in every week!

Myself and my good friend Jim McGinty headed to The Grapes at London Bridge afterwards to celebrate and try to digest the events that had unfolded before us. A couple of pints of Young's finest and a cheeky glass of port left me feeling very content and comfortable. Nothing was going to be able to put a dampener on this particular evening. Not the escalator maintenance team working at London Bridge who worked on the down one when we wanted to go down, and then the up one when we wanted to go up. Not Southern railway whose train i needed from East Croydon to home was delayed by half an hour. Not the lone Palace fan, a little elephants, who proceeded to tell all and sundry on the platform two facts, 1 his team had won five nil and 2, he was a milkman (a very badly dressed milkman at that). Not the fact that another train pulled in and the place was awash with slightly intoxicated Palace fans in full voice singing a 'top of the league' song that i thought we had, to quote reality pop show judges, made our own. Not even the fact that they then got on my train home and continued with their merriment would rain on my parade. Living deep in Palace territory is a truly awful thing.

Today i suffered a little, my head was slightly groggy and the afternoon dragged like six minutes of stoppage time.

Occupational hazards though when you're Charlton and proud. And boy am i proud.