Monday, December 30, 2013

A load of Belgian waffle.

Football as a sport is built on defining landmark moments. An FA Cup final in the blazing sunshine of May, a Tuesday night trip to Plymouth in the freezing January rain, a hectic Christmas festive football frenzy marking the halfway stage of the season watched by grown men in club colour-matched Santa hats. These different junctures of the campaign all contrive equally to delight us with a hobby and lifestyle we couldn't replicate elsewhere, even if the actual game play so frequently disappoints.

It's a long time since I've managed to complete a whole Christmas fixture list, family commitments (read 'a wife that would never forgive me') taking precedence over a Boxing Day jaunt to SE7. This year, as has become the norm, was spent with family in Tunbridge Wells, Rusthall to be exact. A village to the west of the town immune to mobile phone signals and hosting frustratingly sporadic internet connections. A refreshing break from social media therefore opened out far more traditional Christmas entertainment, but it was a good twenty four hours after the final whistle before I managed to read of Lawrie Wilson's brace and the enthralling team effort to go with it that saw off Brighton & Hove Albion.

If I couldn't attend Boxing Day, there wasn't a cat in Hell's chance I was going to miss The Valley's second festive fixture, this time against a rather large club from Yorkshire. Christmas is renowned for throwing the simplest of travel plans into chaos, never more so than this year with abnormal weather and huge Southern Railway maintenance plans. Every football supporter dreads the words 'rail replacement bus' yet despite their efforts to the contrary, I still arrived at the Richard The First in Greenwich in plenty of time for a few pre match ales.A good job too, I was in danger of sobering up for the first time in four days.

Chris Solly had returned for the Boxing Day fixture, but a heavy pitch had obviously taken it's toll on the full back as he was missing for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday three days later. Rhoys Wiggins was also absent but this due to the birth of his first child. Could the momentum of Brighton be carried over to this mid season relegation heavyweight six-pointer clash with such disruption to the team? Perhaps a far bigger question, could an area of grass that you wouldn't want to walk a dog on host a Championship football match?

During my break from the online world I had missed the news of Belgian businessman Roland Duchâtelet and his intentions to buy the club. As tempting as it would be to immediately have the finest Belgian blonde and wheat beers pumping through the North Upper concourse, the first job after tying down the staff with new contracts for any prospective buyer has to be investment in the playing surface. Quite frankly that pitch is shocking and an embarrassment to the Championship, a statement that could also be used for match officials but more on that later. If it isn't puddles of water stopping a pass reaching it's recipient, it's the mud. Yes, I agree they used to play top flight football in these conditions in 1974 but that was forty years ago. The way the game is played has changed since then, technology has moved on, even if the weather hasn't. I find it very difficult to believe this day and age that professional people keeping a professional football can struggle so much. If the kit man were equally poor with his results would the club happily send the players out in pink shorts after the red in the shirts had run?

So could such a surface host a football match? Just. The first half was dreadful, as dire a forty five minutes as you'll see all season but Dale Stephens would turn on a little style to surprise us all just after the restart. Collecting the ball directly from a Wilson throw on the edge of the box he dropped his shoulder, took it inside the defender then out-witted the oncoming keeper using the outside of his right boot. It was delectable, and as they so often say, a goal that could grace a cup final. The sort of goal Simon Church dreams of. Church, perhaps the 'unluckiest in front of goal' of a long line of Charlton front men spearheaded our campaign to not increase our lead. As we started to sit back on our lead Wednesday started firing shots vaguely goal-wards but mainly towards the corner flags. We felt deep down as we so often do that it was only a matter of time.

The table doesn't lie, these two sides are poor and that is why they find themselves consistently in the bottom six. I never like to slate the officials, it's an easy option but it is becoming harder by the match as referees and their assistants continually both falter with and show little fluidity to many match changing decisions. That said, to some extent you make your own luck in football and if you continually fail to take the chances you create and if you play half your matches in terrible conditions you won't be sitting pretty on top of the pile.

The Sheffield Wednesday equalizer certainly hinted at offside and the more you watch it the clearer it appears to the point where you wonder how anybody could have missed it in the first place, yet it's arrival was ultimately an inevitability. We defended in numbers, so much so that we seemed to get in each others way, our only option going forward was to catch them on the break. The obvious thing to do would be to bring on a centre half come very defensive midfielder and a wide man lacking in competitive practice.

Again Mr Duchâtelet, I beseech you, should you spend your pennies in this corner of London, whilst arranging an annual summer pre-season friendly at Standard Liège, could you invest in resurrecting the reserve team. An occasional Wednesday morning behind closed doors friendly is never going to be enough for the squad's fringe players to find that aggressive edge. Perhaps a short time in the 'stiffs' would also ease the likes of Solly (and all those with recurring injuries) back into the first team for a more prolonged period of time.

A dismal effort from Church at the end again begged the admission that no matter how you dress it up, we struggle to score goals. I've said this before but it seems poignant on the weekend when he found himself reaching double figures, but surely now is good time to give Michael Smith a chance providing it possible to recall him. He certainly knows where the goal is, albeit two divisions below, but regular competitive football is certainly keeping him sharper than the bench warmers above him in the current pecking order.

As much as we like to moan, it is just a matter of perspective. We are unbeaten in three and who wouldn't have taken four points from the two festive home games a week ago? So it is with this vision that I shall bode a farewell to 2013 and welcome the new year full of Belgian hope.

That's if the takeover talks don't collapse on the second of January. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

No Way Out

Well there's a man I know, at least I used to years ago. I didn't really mind, he used to come round all the time. Of course he had to be fed, I had to give him a bed. He used to kip on my sofa, they used to call him a loafer.

Suggs sang that, it was fitting for a while as I showed hospitality to an East Midlands lad. He's back in Derby now (this lad, not Suggs) and to be fair, he's bloody 'full of it'.

A week before kick off my phone was restless, every day a text came through delighting in the Rams current good form and his predictions for the Saturday whilst poking fun at our less than satisfactory results, league position and hopes for both the match and the future generally. I didn't really mind, he used to come round all the time. Not any more, that kind of attitude wouldn't get him through the front door, even if he is right on every count.

He knew Derby would win the Wednesday before, I knew Derby would win the Wednesday before yet come Saturday I still obligingly arrived in SE7, spent a fair share of my weekly pay packet, and came away just as depressed as I was on arrival. I wasn't the only one.

The takeover by the rich 'septic' is off, the manager and the majority of the team don't have a clue as to who will employ them come next summer, the consumer, the customer is dejected, the owners have no interest and just want to sell what they see as a lost cause, the atmosphere around the place is one of defeat, if it wasn't football but just another business venture the towel would have been thrown in ages ago. If it were a horse it would have been shot, turned into burgers and would currently be residing on the supermarket shelf resplendent in a yellow reduced sticker.

Chris Powell respectfully, dutifully, and emotionally said his players gave not only him but all the fans everything they had. Unfortunately that just doesn't seem to be enough. Week in week out we play well but always lack two elements, goals and luck. If we could just find one of these the other would be sure to follow.

We conceded two against Derby, the first a free kick which took a major deflection off the wall,wrong footing our keeper and the second a deflating match winner after we had run our hearts out and were ready to collapse. This against a team which are without doubt the in form side in the division. This against an in form side whilst we are without, Leon Cort, Richard Wood, Chris Solly, Ben Hamer, four players that would all stake a claim to a starting place in a full strength defence. Quality in depth certainly isn't a hindrance in certain areas of the park.

Our best chance though also fell to a defender, Michael Morrison, who should really have done so much better with his header. On another day, under different circumstances...

Kermorgant looked lonely up front, often dropping deep for the company. Church was dropped to the bench to consort Marvin Sodall. Both would later come on as Powell adopted rather desperate 'three up front' tactics. Bradley Pritchard got a start (a player out of his depth at this level coming in against the form team!), as did Danny Green who did everything right except for the finding the killer cross. Callum Harriott also appeared from the bench running circles around the visiting defence but, like a dog chasing its tail, with little direction or purpose to all his hard work.

Derby County, who for marketing reasons presumed their white shirts and black shorts would clash with our traditional red jerseys and therefore wore their 'thunderbirds' third kit, knew that if they soaked up the pressure without having to exert too much energy they could counter and find another victory.

I refuse to blame the referee at all, in fact I always see it as being a little despairing when we do, but there is little doubt he was atrocious. As have been so many before him, but no team finds themselves as precarious as ourselves solely on the basis of poor match officials. This is still largely a League One squad that has lost its match winners. Fuller, Haynes, and to a lesser extent Wright-Phillips, all gone and not really replaced, not that that's Powell's fault. If he's got any sense he'll be looking to the future, we won't be adding to the squad in January, it's unlikely he'll get the boot as Slater and Jimenez won't be able to entice anyone else here, no, he'll be watching the managerial merry go round closely to see where his next opportunity lays. Love, passion, pride, loyalty, he has the lot but he's still got a family to feed as have the rest of the squad that are currently faced with no secure future.

They all have a way out. We however are stuck with this melancholy for the foreseeable future, until either fortunes somehow change for the better or the owners finally run this club into the ground.

Happy Christmas.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

One happy Addick

I may well be the only Charlton supporter to have come away from a match this weekend with a smile across my face. It's been an infuriating few days for the Addicks without doubt.

After a poor match against Ipswich last weekend, Chris Powell's side had two important away matches, against sides with varying fortunes yet neither a formality.

On Tuesday Simon Church returned to his former club Reading with a hope (as former players do) of haunting their previous employers and showing the home supporters exactly what they're missing. The Royals needn't have worried, he evidently left his scoring boots at home as did the rest of the squad. In Church's defence, he did have a seemingly good shout for a penalty turned down after being brought to ground minutes before the hosts scored up the other end.

It proved to be too little, Charlton rallied and pressured for the last twenty minutes or so as they consistently seem to, yet the final penetration (again regularly) eluded them. Reading's unbeaten home form remained intact even though they failed to impress, a similar scenario to QPR. These relegated sides from the Premier League either don't seem capable or don't deem it necessary to produce anything more than the bare minimum required to see off their visitors from SE7.

So after the win against Doncaster, Charlton once again found themselves just above the drop zone and facing what was a pre-Christmas six pointer at Huish Park. Yeovil Town would be going into this match in the form of their lives beating both Watford and Blackpool in their last two outings; what back in July would have seemed a certain three points was now looking a formidable task. If our goal shy strike force were to forget those boots again we would certainly require some assistance from the ranks behind them.

Fortunately for Charlton our midfield had been briefed. Cameron Stewart, a future Premier League starlet, wasn't afraid to run at his opponent and scored our first goal in just over four hours of football with a spectacular effort having collected the ball in his own half. Skipper Johnnie Jackson made it two just before the interval settling Charlton hearts down to an unorthodox relaxed pace. I caught news of this at a clubhouse bar many miles from the West Country but my half time pint slipped down much the easier for it.

The second half had a crazy five minute spell when Charlton snatched our content and expansive temperaments back, screwed them up, jumped up and down on them before tossing them into Armitage Shanks and flushing. Yeovil of course had a part to play but, seriously, how could you do this to us Charlton?

A Yeovil ball into the box, seemingly harmless, caught Michael Morrison on the arm and the centre half beat his own goalkeeper. This was unfortunate, Andy Hughes bullying their player off the ball and conceding a penalty four minutes later was just careless. A 2-0 lead wiped away in an instant but worse was still to come. Johnnie Jackson lunged into a tackle in the middle of the park and, having watched it three or four times now, deservedly received a straight red. From being comfortable and in control Charlton had managed to gift the home side a point and had to cling on by their fingernails in the final minutes as to not lose the one they still possessed.

The immediate future doesn't look too good for Chris Powell, high flying Derby visit next and they really do seem to be the divisions on form club at the moment. When you genuinely need a break of some sort, the fixture list always has a habit of 'putting the boot in'.

So why was I still smiling at five o'clock Saturday afternoon. Well I'd decided to catch some level nine football and joined about thirty other hardened folk to watch Horley Town entertain Mole Valley SCR in the Combined Counties League. Horley, my local side find themselves in a similar precarious position in their division as Charlton do in theirs; three points equally as vital for The Clarets as they were for The Addicks.

Mole Valley SCR come from Cobham but originate from Carshalton, the SCR standing for Sutton Common Road. In Carshalton they were known simply as SCR followed by the name Plough or Grapes depending on which public house was sponsoring them. When they started playing Saturday football it changed to simply SCR for they wanted to lose the pub team identity. Yesterday they took to the pitch in a rather fetching pink and purple number which was set off by the pleasing admission of any sponsors name. Unfortunately for them though it gave them a park team look.

Horley, under the caretaker leadership of club legend Anthony Jupp, were soon behind, the visitors running through a sleepy home rear guard in the second minute to score. Ten minutes into the match and Horley led 2-1, their number 10 showing great composure as twice he slotted he ball home; I felt a goal fest was on the cards as I hugged my Bovril.

Horley battled well, their work rate was superb, but tempers started to flair as the game progressed. With every Town attack, the Mole Valley manager took a step nearer an early grave. As animated and vocal as any boss I've ever witnessed we cruelly 'joked' about running a book as to which minute he'd suffer a coronary.

Horley eventually ran out 3-2 winners although they missed a couple of real chances to put the game to bed late on. It was however a vast improvement to the performances I'd previously witnessed there this season, unlike Charlton goals are never hard to come by at this level - at either end!

One thing that always cheers me watching Horley is the ability to hear every word uttered on the pitch. As a Horley midfielder was upended upon entering the opposition's half the referee gave the correct decision and awarded a free kick. The lad picking himself up off the ground shouted out to the official "In all honesty ref I think I'd have gone on to score there" as a ripple of laughter echoed not only on the terrace but on the field of play too.

The referee had a good game, his use of the advantage rule led to Horley's third goal and certainly showed up the decision by a certain man in black a week ago at The Valley. Chatting to a chap with a clipboard next to me, I discovered this gent was also a referee and was this young lads mentor making notes on his performance. When was the last time you went to a game and got such an in depth discussion on the match officials performance? I didn't dare admit to this chap what I've told some of those officials to go and do in the past.

So I left The New Defence having seen a team perform when they really needed to, hard graft that paid dividends, wasn't always pretty but was exactly what the boss demanded. It may well be a long hard season for the team but nobody could ask any more from them; and they can proudly tell their colleagues the same on Monday when they return to their day jobs. Whilst they're doing that hopefully Chris Powell is putting his strikers on a regime of shooting practice.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

You only sing when you're ploughing.

Is there a true, honest to God, football fan that truthfully begrudges losing to a better team? At QPR last Saturday the home teams quality shone though even though they had a (relatively) off day and yet they still picked up the three points. We battled, gave it our all, but still left with nothing to show for our endeavors. Were we bitter? Of course not, we had our pride intact and lost to a team whose salary reflected their ability. So seven days later that pride and belief, which had already been showcased in a tip-top performance against Doncaster on Tuesday, would again come to the fore and we would rejoice in a much needed second successive home win.

Trouble is, it didn't really go according to plan. Nobody could question Chris Powell in fielding the same eleven that ripped Doncaster to shreds midweek, and perhaps you could even argue that lady luck didn't really shine her torch on us today, but nothing hides the fact that for the first five minutes this afternoon we were still mentally in the dressing room.

Even before Ipswich got their goal Ben Alnwick was called into producing two good stops. I even said to those around me that it was probably good for the keeper to be called into duty early before he possibly had the chance to be a touch complacent.

It was to be the only goal, but my gripe is at the fact that Ipswich were never really in the game after that. We certainly didn't lose to the better team, maybe just the braver one.

Our ball into the final third of the pitch was always delayed, players looking for the safe option rather than taking a more direct approach. I can't quite remember seeing quite so much head tennis in the middle of the park, never resulting in Charlton gaining any ground. There was even occasion in the second half when we broke away with seemingly menace only for this attack to result in a sideways pass between our two centre halves less than twenty seconds later!

Ipswich had done their homework well, Jordan Cousins, for example, when receiving the ball on the edge of the box always had two blue shirts on him before he had a chance to swing his leg. The two visiting centre backs kept Church in their pockets whilst dishing Yann Kermorgant a rather tough lesson under the watchful eye of a (rare these days) card shy referee.

Charlton wasted move after move, it was only Rhoys Wiggins that nearly came close at the end of the first half when the keeper struggled to deal with a shot at his near post and nearly claimed an own goal. Danny Green looked lively replacing Jackson, he reminded me a little of Scott Wagstaff last season who needed to shine when the chance came his way. Pigott replaced Church with no real effect, I do wonder why this young lad is not on loan to gain experience and is instead ahead of Michael Smith in our front line pecking order. There was even another cameo for Marvin Sodall although for what good is anybody's guess.

Conceivably one of our clearest opportunities came near the death as Cameron Stewart received the ball via a diagonal cross from Cousins after Kermorgant was cynically hacked down in the centre circle. With only the keeper to beat the referee blew the whistle for the foul on Kermorgant bringing play back to the centre of the pitch. An unbelievably late call, what part of the word advantage he doesn't understand is beyond reason, if I believed that match fixing still occurred these days I'd suspect Ipswich of sweetening this ref with a box of organic home grown root vegetables prior to kick off.

The resulting free kick obviously failed to recreate any chance we may have had and only succeeded in infuriating an already tense situation into a complete free for all. As the players all 'bundled in' the referee should have stepped back and admitted to himself that the blame for these fisticuffs lay solely at his feet.

After the game in West London I predicted we would destroy Doncaster before returning to 'normal service' today. Unfortunately I was proved right, we were over ninety minutes perhaps the slightly better of the two sides yet we never looked like we wanted to be, or more appropriately, believed we should be.

I shall however finish on a positive. Ben Alnwick has been superb for these past two matches. I sincerely hope Ben Hamer has to fight for his place in the team upon his return. If he walks straight back in it will be a travesty, although Hamer is a country boy himself so perhaps he may try the fresh vegetable trick with the gaffer.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

If at first you don't succeed......

Bitter rivalries are usually formed through location, although occasionally a heated cup tie or some such event can sow the seeds of animosity. Has a football team ever been hated due to the weather though? Until this season it is unlikely, but biblical downpours and the ability to cope with such dampness have infuriated the supporters of Doncaster Rovers, so that now my Charlton pin badge is about as welcome in that part of South Yorkshire as an Ian Watkins guest appearance at your local school concert.

I'd have a lot more sympathy for the Rovers supporters if their team had turned up last night, although for some reason this fixture was seemingly cursed as a signal fire at London Bridge caused havoc with the transport infrastructure in and out of South East London; in hindsight it's quite fortunate anybody attended at all.

Heading north out of Redhill I was informed of the impending gloom thanks to the very apologetic train driver. My choices were to alight at East Croydon and return from where I had come or show some initiative and battle on with a new resourcefulness and complete my journey to SE7. I chose the latter.

A train to Victoria, the Victoria line to Green Park and then the Jubilee line to North Greenwich and, hey presto, I landed with my feathers none too ruffled. The bus stops here though were heaving with far too many people and I decided a half hour walk was by far the quickest way to complete the final leg, also giving me opportunity to visit the newly opened Pilot Inn for liquid refreshment. It proved a good call as the beer was delicious and I stumbled across a friend, also diverted from his usual route, which made the final walk far quicker and more sociable.

And so I reached The Valley in good time for kick off, quietly smiling to myself that I had defied logic and raced across a standstill rush hour London. Local authorities, police, the railway companies and just about everyone else must be praying one of these sides is relegated in May so we don't have a repeat performance next season.

I was feeling incredibly confident about the game, lightening not striking twice and all that. Doncaster were only going to score three at The Valley the once, we had shown great spirit at Loftus Road on Saturday and if we took that into this game a severe thrashing could be on the cards. Believe me, it's not often I feel quite so confident. Thankfully this was not misplaced.

Charlton were superb last night, their best performances at home always seem to come under the floodlights of an evening game. Even a pre match injury to Ben Hamer didn't detract from our superiority as Ben Alnwick came in for his league debut and did everything right. Yes Doncaster were poor, possibly the worst I've seen in SE7 for some time, but the rookie keeper pulled off a couple of fine stops and kept that all important clean sheet.

Simon Church up front was fantastic. His commitment is second to none, he missed chance after chance but was rewarded with a goal after an hour which he took round the keeper and slotted home very professionally. Quite how he later managed to stand on the ball then fall off it before landing face first in the dirt is quite a mystery though! I took a long time accepting the lad, strange as how Steve Jones is one of my all time favourite Addicks and he too ran all day after everything with very few goals in return. Church had the Donny centre backs worried from the off though and they looked in awe of him whenever he came close by. He's growing in my (highly influential) esteem week by week.

Dale Stephens is a true Jekyll and Hyde footballer, you never know which one is going to turn up, fortunately last night it was the talented player that can read the game, execute the decisive pass and score goals of sheer memorizing genius. Yesterday we were treated to the whole package, a goal that made Charlie Austin's screamer on Saturday look like a poacher's tap in. Helped with the youngsters Stewart and Cousins being both on song and a handful for the disorientated opposition, and Jackson putting in a true captain's shift, our midfield last night looked as good as any I'd seen in this division. Don't panic though, we still had time to throw in a few meaningless sideways passes to keep the purists happy.

Yann Kermorgant got his first full ninety minutes in for a while, and with it a superb chance to steal a goal. Somehow he managed to curl a distance effort in front of an open goal further towards the corner flag than the target. With two goals, two efforts off the woodwork and plenty of other near misses we were fortunate that we didn't depend on our talisman striker doing anymore than improving his match fitness.

So surely there can't be any gripes at all can there? Well, I'm still not convinced with Wilson at full back and there's always Marvin Sordell. He came on for twenty minutes in place of Church and immediately looked more knackered than the enthusiastic front man he replaced. Dragging his heels like he does can't be doing his boots any good at all. Other than that I was full of smiles and more than ready for an attempt to get home.

It must have been the first time I've left the ground and not seen an away fan. The couple of hundred Rovers fans that had made it surely came by coach, those that caught the train must have been fuming when they could get no further prior to kick off.

The trains were now running of sorts, I got to London Bridge as quickly as I would have normally and there was a connection to East Croydon within minutes. My luck stopped here. It took me another hour to reach Redhill and this is still six miles from home. Refusing to wait at least another half hour I resorted to a taxi which I shared with another chap still trying to get home after his days work. He asked me where I'd been; I told him all about Dale Stephens wonder goal.

Needless to say my smile was much larger than his.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The best and worst of West London

Queen's Park Rangers are a strange football club. As a child I remember they were one of the best in the land, Stan Bowles, Gerry Francis, and co playing the most attractive of football in the late seventies. Then there was that plastic pitch and the cup final, yet afterwards there has been years of misery, administration and scandals. Recently they've had a return to the elite but again only reached the headlines for less than illustrious achievements.

This has all been done without really upsetting, or more interestingly, hindering anybody else. Outside of West London you'll be hard pressed to find a supporter, and I (wrongly I admit) refer to them as London's forgotten club. That said, good old 'Arry, does his best to keep his mix and match of top flight journeymen footballers (and their accompanying sky high wage bill) on the back pages of your favourite tabloids.

So what is the best bit of West London you may ask, as you know I can't be referring to the view from the away supporters section of the Loftus Road Subbuteo grandstand. Well it's a little traditional boozer tucked right behind Notting Hill tube station.

Many Charlton fans took the disco boat along the Thames as has become almost SE7 tradition when playing in West London, but I believe police made this dock in Westminster Saturday. There were no boats for land loving me, as I took the circle line to the home of Portabello Road market along with many others, all of whom were looking for an antique bargain to take back home. Tucked behind the station though is The Uxbridge Arms, a pub time seems to have forgotten. A perfect pint of Tribute, a warming fire and a archetypal London landlady. A strong woman that certainly wouldn't take any mischief but would happily ply you with beer until either you could drink no more or the last bell was rung.

We left it as late as possible before taking the central line three stops and following the blue and white hoards to the ground where we must have had to walk round three sides of the place before finding entry. This was easier said than done. A bottleneck of supporters were herded through an army of stewards who frisked you once , then twice before finally allowing you past. I offered a third young steward the chance to pat  my pockets but he politely declined, ha ha, not one of them looked under my hat. A tip there for you youngsters keen on your flares etc. I do remember it being strict there in previous visits as back in the 90's I recall then Charlton drummer Mark Garvey being bundled to the floor by the men in hi-viz as he tried to carry his drum in.

If you thought entering was tough, you had no idea what treat was in store for us as we tried to escape!

The game itself had it's moments, Ben Hamer was called upon to make a couple of needy stops from distance and although Rangers superiority was obvious for all to see, they struggled to make a mark on the game.

Charlton played well, were organized and obviously stuck to their plan. It's just a shame the plan seemed to be to hold them to a goalless draw. Simon Church up front did was he does best and ran all afternoon but with little support it became clear we wouldn't score in a month of Sunday's. QPR were calm on the ball, never rushed, and showed real signs of being a top flight side again. Never has Bradley Pritchard looked more out of his depth.

The goal was a delight from Charlie Austin, struck cleanly it looked as good this morning on the small screen as it did at the time. In fact our only chance would have been if Cameron Stewart could produce something similar for us at the other end. At 0-0 our plan wasn't really working, at 0-1 it was defunct and we knew five minutes into the second half that Powell needed a change. It would be Pritchard and Church that came off, Harriott and Kermorgant on. We recognize the big Frenchman needs little convincing to fall to the ground but even on the unintentional occasions yesterday it was obvious little would be given our way; again we were unpopular with the man in the middle.

Joey Barton took remarkably little stick considering who he is, Rob Green, who as was frequently reminded had let his country down, certainly made up for it. Andy Johnson made a cameo appearance and again got his deserved share of flack, whilst the arrival of Shaun Wright-Phillips heralded  chorus after chorus of his brothers anthem, 'he's better than Shaun'. Great stuff. The stand out player for me though was the left back, a lad on loan from Spurs I am told. From where I stood, and granted, with rather failing eyesight, I thought I'd been beamed thirty years back in time and was watching the great George Berry!

Charlton can have no complaints, they did lose to a better side but certainly didn't disgrace themselves in any way. QPR however must wonder why, with stands so close to the pitch and with roofs surely designed to keep the noise in, have a support that hardly made a sound. Is that the worst of West London? It's certainly the same scenario up the road at Fulham.

No, the worst side of West London has to be the access, or lack of it. As I said before, getting in the ground was tough, getting out was a nightmare. The narrowest of concourses meant we all shuffled slowly through (at the times we weren't stationary) under the glare of stewards in a manner I can only assume would resemble prisoners at a concentration camp shuffling towards the 'showers' under the watchful eye of Nazi guard. On finally making it out onto the metal staircase down to the street there was a feeling of escaping and an urge to run in case I was captured and sent back in.

A couple of drinks in Clapham on the way home where my companion Jim found himself innocently caught amidst Chelsea - QPR urinal warfare rounded off another London derby defeat. I was feeling quite upbeat all things considered, then stupidly glanced at the league table. It's a little more concerning than I had realised. I don't believe it's too early to call Tuesday's visit of Doncaster a six pointer is it?

In typical Charlton fashion I think we'll rub salt in the wound midweek and come away victorious, just to burn all our Donny bridges once and for all. That's how football goes isn't it, but then come next Saturday and Ipswich and I'm certain normal service will be resumed.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Don Revie Legacy

As posts for a Saturday afternoon football match go, this is pretty late. It's lateness seems rather fitting in retrospect however considering the events of yesterday.

Engineering works disrupted southbound services both in and out of London Bridge, thus resulting in ridiculous travel times and awkward routes. With an irony you just couldn't contrive, I found myself waiting for a connection at Selhurst at half past two, and this with Crystal Palace playing at home too! What a joyous place that was.

Charlton however had obviously heard of my plight and lovingly put the kick off back by half an hour to coincide with my arrival. Well both that and the inclement weather of course. After the Doncaster fiasco you'd have thought we may have invested in a tarpaulin or two for the eastern side of the pitch. With three thousand travelling supporters and the thought of the bar revenue that would generate it was obvious the club wanted the game to go ahead, but looking at it from an outsiders view it must seem laughable that a club of our side struggle to get a game on on time. Is there another professional club that has this problem?

Before you all shout about the clue being in the name and the lack of funds for water dispersing equipment, may I remind you that clubs a lot smaller than us on tighter budgets manage. Colin Powell has done the job long enough, winter has only just begun and the pitch looks worse than a park already. What on earth is it going to be like by the end of January. Perhaps Tony Jimenez ought to host a golf tournament back home in Cyprus in aid of some new turf. I'm sorry to say this but sometimes supporting Charlton is a little embarrassing. Take the minutes silence for those brave souls that defended our country yet never returned home for example.

There are times at a football match where a minutes applause is quite fitting. There are times when a minutes silence is called for though. A group of Leeds fans started applauding, I'm told to drown out a couple of idiots, but then we followed suit as we always do. Thankfully it soon died out and we finished the sixty seconds respectfully in silence.

Say what you like about Leeds United, and many have, but you cannot deny that (apart from the one or two mentioned above and a few who seem to still be stuck in the past with it's reputation of the 'Service Crew') they have a great away following. They packed the Jimmy Seed stand and had plenty to cheer as they ran out 4-2 winners. There are those that will argue they were helped to a degree by the man in the middle but, as good as Charlton were yesterday, you cannot ship four goals at home no matter what the circumstances.

It's common knowledge that Leeds are rather unpopular outside of the city itself. As a kid I rather liked them. Players like Arthur Graham, Brian Flynn, Tony Currie, Peter Lorimer, not to mention our own Paul Hart all resplendent in one of Admiral's finest kits, they had characters aplenty and we got to watch them frequently on The Big Match. I always had a soft spot for the white scarf with the blue and yellow trim too. As an eight year old the tactics hadn't really hit home, The cool badge, the recent history, they had an element of fascination in my eyes.

But that was a long time ago and I now understand a lot more the basis of the success that came to the club prior to my era. Silverware was prominent in Revie's reign but so were the underhand tactics. Brian Clough knew it and so did the rest of the country. Since then managers and players have come and gone but the mentality has remained. You wonder if they sign a special clause in their contract upon arrival at the club whilst being told of the heritage and 'Leeds way' by the chairman. I jest of course but there is no doubting the nickname 'dirty Leeds' is commonplace and therefore has to have some substance.

The number 22, Scott Wooten, felt the urge to go to ground with great regularity despite all the water and the mud. Every time he would hobble off only to sprint back on seconds later. All clubs have a player that does this but I've never seen such consistency to it before. The number 5, Jason Pearce saw the effect it was having on his teams performance and tried it for himself. The defining moment for me was when one of them hobbled off in front of the East stand and then took the resulting throw in. In goal Paddy Kenny had his own method of distraction with time wasting. It says an awful lot when the referee finally decides it warrants a booking in the 38th minute of the game. Kenny then condescendingly applauded the officials decision to book him, is that surely not a second card?

It all sounds like sour grapes but that's far from the truth. Charlton played very well coming from behind twice, the first time with a dream goal from Cameron Stewart. Simon Church came so close with a point blank header saved fantastically by Kenny (who would later pull off another fine save to deny Callum Harriott), as Charlton rallied, piling the pressure on the Leeds goal as the first period came to a close. There was a very good penalty shout as Church went sprawling but as stonewall as it looked at the time I would like to see it again. One Leeds fan tweeted me saying Ashley Young would have been proud of such theatricals.

A penalty was however given at the beginning of the second half, this time as Harriott got himself caught up with the advancing Leeds player inside the box. Ross McCormack stepped up and made no mistake for his second.

Simon Church again ran his socks off yet the ball just wouldn't go in the net for him, he spent most the game with his hands on his head. Good work didn't go unrewarded though as his ball across the byline was tapped in by Johnnie Jackson. The Leeds faithful weren't quiet for long. Three minutes later McCormack got his hat-trick even though Jackson had done his best to barge the striker off the ball. Ben Hamer comes in for more than his fair share (a matter of opinion of course) of stick sometimes but for this goal I think only the keeper himself could talk you through his actions. Or more precisely lack of them.

McCormack rounded off a superb performance with a delightful free kick that sailed into the top corner at the death, finally killing off Charlton's challenge. He was without doubt the difference between the two sides and although the man in the middle did his utmost to steal the mantle, the Scot was by far and away the best player in what could be a very talented Leeds side. If only they'd cut out the antics, but then they just wouldn't be Leeds then would they.   

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Good Form"

A phrase that can be equally applicable to both team and supporters, although usually preceded by a few other words unless you speak like it's still 1952.

Charlton are certainly in a rich vein of this form as they picked up another three points on their travels yesterday at St Andrews. With the win at Blackburn and the draw last Sunday against Wigan, it's seven points out of nine for the Addicks and unbeaten in five. Once again, in repetition of last season, our away form looks likely to becoming vital in carrying us through the winter months. If we can turn those draws into victories back home we could be in for an easier ride that we may have predicted a couple of months ago.

With Yann Kermorgant back in the treatment room, Chris Powell approached this match with a slightly more defensive approach, Simon Church being the only recognized front man in the starting eleven. Johnnie Jackson spearheaded a five man midfield while Dorian Dervite partnered Michael Morrison at the centre of the defence in place of Richard Wood.

Dale Stephens scored the only goal in a game which Charlton were in control of for the main part. After an initial strike from Cameron Stewart was parried by former Charlton goalkeeper Darren Randolph, Johnnie Jackson was then denied before the ball fell for Stephens making no mistake from just a few yards out. I think it's fair to say Birmingham aren't the force they were a year or two back, they themselves must be desperate for fortunes to change if they want to pull clear of the lower reaches of the table. Their fans are certainly disgruntled, a barrage of boos met the team at the final whistle. A different story to the reception that greeted the Londoners at the same stage. Small in number they may have been, huge in stature they stood proud, dominating the surroundings as this you tube clip shows. Without doubt the travelling supporters were in good form, and this after having to endure sharing trains north with Crystal Palace supporters heading for The Hawthorns.

It was indeed a heartily welcomed moment of good fortune for the club, the negativity dominating the news during the previous week being put to bed.

Nobody can have failed to hear about the seven Charlton Athletic supporters jailed on Wednesday for racist chanting on a train after an FA Cup match at Fulham. I don't for one moment claim to know all the facts, I've heard stories from some saying that evidence was inconclusive, that sentences were too severe and that some were just guilty by association. That aside, there is no place for racist chanting, or for that matter any threatening behaviour towards the general public. I do know one of the lads, admittedly not as well as I used to, but suffice to say he has had a record for disturbances previously and has certainly from time to time mixed in less desirable circles.

The video from yesterday proved how superb our support can be, there is very little in life that compares to out-singing the opposition in representation of your team. This really doesn't have to 'cross the line' though. I still join in with choruses of  'we forget that you were here' and other such good humoured jests, but my days of hand gestures to the opposition fans are long gone. It doesn't make me any better than anyone else, it's just not my thing and I don't need the constant hostility and looking over my shoulder that once upon a time was a regular part of football. At the same time I do enjoy watching the lads with the flags and the flares, I love seeing new generations of young lads going to the game with their mates all dressed to the nines, there is still as much a place for these boys in the modern game as their is for the families that the clubs try to encourage, as middle aged men bring their wives and children for a nice (albeit expensive) family day out.

The good form of the supporters can change instantly though as I discovered on Tuesday evening in Sutton. My first visit of the season to Gander Green Lane was an FA Cup fourth qualifying round replay (my third FA Cup match of the season), Sutton United hosting Hemel Hempstead Town after the U's had drawn 3-3 four days earlier in Hertfordshire.

The kick off was delayed as the team coach carrying the visitors was delayed in traffic, fortunately it was ahead of the supporters coach, also stuck, a few miles behind it. Upon entry to the ground I was frisked, an entirely new experience for me at non league football. It transpired that Hemel Hempstead fans were prone to the odd flare; the stewards were certainly on edge and ready for confrontation on reputation alone. As the first half was just warming up the bulk of the away support arrived, they certainly made themselves heard. A large contingent of young lads, they sung their hearts out but you could sense the impending altercation.

Gathered behind the goal on terracing under cover, they soon accompanied their songs with rhythmic banging on the rear of the structure. In moved the stewards, from where I stood it certainly seemed that they were trying to eject the culprits with force. Then it happened again when a huge flag appeared over the heads of the more 'bouncy' section of the crowd, the stewards did their best to antagonize these lads with quite forceful reprimands.

There are rules, we all have to abide by them, but unlike flares none of this was dangerous to anybody and certainly there has to be a degree of common sense used. Following the rule book word for word is a modern policing philosophy that more often than not does more harm than good.

Sutton went on to win the match 2-0, and a great game of football it was too, but the seeds had been sown, what started as good humour became slightly more sinister by the end. Hemel Hempstead had superb support for this level of the game, they sung for ninety minutes and were the more audible even when Sutton's second goal went in. Leaving the ground individuals from both sides verbally attacked each other quite unnecessarily and I honestly believe this hostility was born from earlier treatment inside the ground. In the road outside groups from both sides faced each other taunting and provoking until the blue flashing lights descended, all very avoidable and unwelcome in the non league game, a place where supporters have always mingled with good cheer.

A slight dampener it may have been to proceedings, but a football crowd can be far more electric than any other. When the adrenalin kicks in there is no place I'd rather be than supporting my team, for ninety minutes I'm territorial, I'm part of the pack, but I wish no real harm. In true good form I'm delighted to enjoy a pint in the company of 'the enemy' before bidding them a safe journey home.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Full but for one

It's not right you know, football on a Sunday. Sky might try and convince you it's what makes a Sunday super but I'm not having any of it. Sunday's are about church, roast dinners, and falling asleep through an old black and white film during the afternoon.

It's something I dread about any possible return to football's treasured land. That and a full stadium of fans who choose their allegiance before the season starts as they can't quite afford or are too far down the waiting list for Arsenal's equivalent season ticket. Not to mention that they'd show far more excitement for a Formula 1 Grand Prix when it comes to creating an atmosphere. No, give me Championship (or even League One) football in front of ten to fifteen thousand loyal supporters any day.

A working class game should have a working class kick off time. Three o'clock on a Saturday after the factories and production lines (remember them?) have clocked off for the weekend.

I already had a morning and lunch planned before it was announced that this weekend's game was to be moved to the Sunday due to Wigan's participation in the Europa League, so as the ground filled to near capacity thanks to the clubs "football for a fiver" campaign, one seat was certain to remain empty.

If previous "fiver" games were anything to go by I had clearly picked a good game to avoid. Drab football, a particularly poor performance from the home side, packed trains and ridiculous waiting times at the bar in search of a pint were the known pitfalls. As I got home, just in time to connect to Charlton Player for the live radio commentary, I felt incredibly 'plastic' as the rain auditioned at my window and my full glass of ale caressed and delighted my taste buds. The black and white film had the sound turned down. Maybe this was a super Sunday after all. Don't you believe it, deep down inside I wanted to be in my usual spot in SE7.

Wigan, a town better known for the rugby (a game also watched by those Arsenal families that love the Premier League so much) and for being one of the original homes of Northern Soul, brought a few hundred supporters with them,  enticed by the cheap tickets, who hoped to finally see an away goal. It had been something like seven games since these hardy fans had witnessed such a thing, and Charlton had only scored three (four if you count the abandoned Doncaster match) in front of their home supporters. The club certainly know how to choose a potential thriller to entice these occasional observers to return again.

With storm warnings dominating the news today my feet were very firmly planted on the floor, I was not going to get carried away with unfounded hope, even if we were on the back of an excellent away victory and we had our talisman striker Yann Kermorgant back amongst our starting lineup.

In fact Kermorgant's inclusion was probably the biggest talking point of the day. Scott Carson's return to the Valley in the Wigan goal was contender but he took a knock in the pre match warm up and had to be replaced before kick off. Kermorgant was to only survive for half an hour himself, injury forcing him to withdraw. I don't know if this is a new issue or a recurrence of what has kept him in the treatment room lately but it is certainly another huge blow to everyone except Marvin Sordell.

The Frenchman wasn't the only Addick to retire early. Richard Wood, our most inform player of the moment also had his game cut short with injury, in true Charlton style it doesn't rain - it blows a gale.

The game had plenty of opportunity for both sides, Pritchard coming very close in the first half while McClean put the ball over from six yards out for the visitors. The work rate was there, the quality of the build up was there, the execution of the finish was unfortunately exactly what form had predicted. Thank goodness a missed game is out the way, thank goodness "football for a fiver" is out the way. For the record book, listening to a nil-nil draw on the radio isn't that compelling either. I nearly turned the volume on the film up. That may have had something to do with the commentator though.

This is where I upset two or three of the half dozen readers. Call me chauvinistic, call me Neanderthal, but I don't really like listening to women commentate on football. I appreciate they enjoy the game, good for them, I appreciate they may present football shows on television, but ninety minutes of radio commentary? It grated. She went off on a tangent, quoted stat after stat, gave us insight into who had the ball at their feet, yet never went in depth into either sides tactics, unable to read the game at all. When co-commentator Peter Finch asked her if she believed Wigan were struggling to adjust between  Owen Coyle's style of play and the previous style of Roberto Martinez she was caught in limbo smiling and nodding blankly into the microphone. You may as well have asked her how a carburettor works. If you don't know you don't know, fair play, but you don't make a career of it. Unless you're Andy Townsend.

To constrain my irritation I studied this Manchester United email that has hit the headlines over the weekend. New Order are a Manchester (therefore local) based band, not a Nazi idealism, and study as I might (and I gave this the full first half) I could not have turned that United logo into a swastika without being told to. This is more politically correct claptrap, people so frightened of upsetting anyone that they'll crawl up any backside. Considering I'd been at church this morning, perhaps the red devil on the club's crest is slightly more offensive? I wonder if the Daily Telegraph or Manchester United will latch onto this?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Church on a Saturday

What a week for the Welshman! Charlton's number nine scored the winner for his country in a World Cup qualifier against Macedonia last Friday, then the winner for his club yesterday. It would appear I have misjudged the lad a little, proving yet again that Chris Powell is far more suited to the Charlton job than myself.

Church, like his song, has always provoked me since his/it's arrival. Simon Church, my Lord, Simon Church, sing the Addicks faithful. I love the fact, and always smile an inward smile to myself, when this rings around The Valley. You see, purely innocently and without intention or even realization, fifteen thousand football fans are loudly claiming not only the existence of our creator, but also their own immediate relationship with 'Him' being 'theirs'. This to me is complementing all the running, the hard work and the never say die attitude the former Reading striker displays every time he pulls on the Charlton shirt.

Overjoyed in his efforts these fans, after singing his name all match, will then tweet the words to his song as they relive and rejoice in the club's magnificent away display well into the small hours of the morning. And this is where it kicks me in the teeth. Nobody capitalizes the 'L'. Lord is a name, therefore requiring the use of the capital, a small insignificant matter to all but a handful, but enough for me to repeatedly bang my head against the wall. So much promise, let down at the final straight with a niggly, irritating, lack of, for better want of a word, quality. This was Simon Church in a nutshell, viewed through my eyes.

So here I am now, eating my words. At Ewood Park he scored a goal of exalted technique, collecting the ball on his chest (NOT his arm) and netting with the inside of his foot. Quality with a capital Q. I thought he had been a desperation signing from Powell, I was wrong, he obviously saw something in Church that convinced him to acquire his signature on the training ground long before the thousands of paying know-it-all's were to witness it. As all Charlton strikers do, Church will continue to dismay and infuriate, we will all publicly chastise him for it, but at least i now know there is an essence to his game that warrants not only first team football at Championship level, but international recognition too.

It wasn't by any means a one man show at Blackburn. Dale Stephens had one of his good days for us, the exquisite chip of a pass to pick out Church for the goal was as delightful as the goal itself. We know Stephens has this in his ability locker, has another Charlton player blown so hot and cold in recent times, it just depends which Stephens is turning up for the game. yesterday it was the one that was needed. Richard Wood was a tower of strength at the back, again showing exactly what Chris Powell had seen in the player during his trial, Blackburn's (including that perennial thorn in our side, Jordan Rhodes) rather woeful finishing detracting nothing from the strong Charlton defensive performance as when they did shoot on target Ben Hamer was there with tremendous hands.

Three very big points on the road, so urgently needed too as those around us were adding happily to their tally. None more surprisingly or impressive than Barnsley's dominant showing against Middlesbrough. Find and watch their opener, scored by Paddy McCourt, a creative solo run reminiscent of a certain Ricardo Villa at Wembley.

Another positive was the return of Yann Kermorgant and Johnnie Jackson to the substitute's bench, alongside the returning Danny Green after his loan spell at the franchise. Kermorgant and Jackson did both get a piece of the action, the former trying an audacious chip from his own half with typically French disdain. Six minutes of stoppage time, added to the final twenty of the regular, proved compellingly nail biting in a way every Charlton fan knows only too well. You want to look away but instead look through your fingers, evocative of children tucked behind the sofa watching Doctor Who.

The international break obviously did us good. A solid base to take into next Sunday's 'football for a fiver' match at home to Wigan. A team that can't score a goal on the road for love or money. Heard that one before! Let's hope that twenty thousand fans can take a leaf out of the two hundred's book that travelled to Lancashire yesterday, getting a thorough soaking in the process.

In short then I was wrong about Simon Church. Let's get behind the team rather than picking holes in what we have. Come on you reds!

I'm still not convinced about Sordell though.........

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Non League Break

Or as the press would rather call it, an international break. Now I want England to succeed on the world stage as much as the next man, and I got behind the team shouting at the television as loudly as that same 'next' fellow on Friday night, but the highlight of the weekend for me was another opportunity to catch some level nine action at my local side, Horley Town.

Having lived and worked in the town for a number of years now, the well publicised non league day last month was my first and overdue visit to their New Defence ground. Impressed, I followed them the following Saturday to Whyteleafe where I saw them crash out of the FA Cup. Charlton and Sutton have my heart, but Horley Town, and this level of football in particular, have me hooked.

Yesterday saw another window of opportunity arise, a Combined Counties league match against Windsor. The visitors are a relatively new club, formed by the fans only two years ago after Windsor & Eton's demise. The original club incidentally, were a team I watched a couple of times in the late eighties during one of their more successful spells in the Isthmian League.

Following Charlton I've become used to bemoaning players, almost watching for their mistakes, the misplaced pass, the poorly timed challenge, it's watching football of a certain standard and being frustrated when my loyalty isn't rewarded with excellence. Here I'm not expecting greatness, I'm expecting shots that veer towards the corner flag, I'm expecting goal kicks that go off for throw-ins, and yet I'm rewarded for my attendance with passionate football with plenty of flash points and a surprising amount of fluidity, composure, control and skill. How very refreshing to watch football with a positive attitude, enjoying the moments of flair when they come along as opposed to wallowing in the regular moments of despair.

As I said, I saw Horley go out of the FA Cup at Whyteleafe, I'd also seen them go out of the FA Vase against Newhaven, I was keen to see the side record a win. From what I had already witnessed, the ability was there, it was the confidence and belief in themselves that was lacking. Yesterday it was a different side.

Ashley Nadesan put the home side in front after only four minutes, taking the ball around a defender before picking his spot and slotting the ball past the keeper. Great composure. His second was very similar to the first, again his calmness on the ball belied his nineteen years.

Windsor had their centre forward red carded for a second bookable offense during the first period, after a slow start the cards were going to be out at frequent intervals. Late in the match one quick witted supporter questioned the man in the middle's failure to book the floodlights. At a smidgen over five feet tall, the official certainly had a dose of 'small man syndrome'. The linesman on our side of the ground however was old enough to be the referee's dad, with a balding head and pot belly, I wondered if he'd keep up with the pace of the game and true to form he struggled through the second half misjudging more than one decision.

Despite the difference in numbers Horley were good for their first half lead. The visiting supporters were lamenting the officials display as they trudged to the other end of the ground, our turn would come.
Colourful in their number, special mention must go to their flag. As I tweeted during the game, they are certainly punching above their weight in the flag stakes, this large St George's Cross would have happily graced any League One or Two ground.

Horley started the second half brightly and added to their lead on the hour mark, this emerged as the turning point for both the game, and the referee. Horley were also reduced to ten men as the card happy man in black bizarrely gave a second yellow to the Horley number eight. Shaking his head on his way off, it was quite apparent to all that he made no contact with the player at all. This evened the numbers up although tactical substitutions made it feel like Windsor now had the numerical advantage.

At half time Windsor brought on their number 17, Jason Sheehan. He went on to dominate the midfield, their passing was crisper under his influence and his vision was second to none. He read the game superbly whilst not being shy to run at full backs as well. The all round midfielder.

The Horley keeper made a succession of fine saves all afternoon before the visitors finally beat him, just seconds after resuming play at three down. Along with Nadesan and Sheehan, the man in green put in a fair shout for 'man of the match'. Once Windsor had a sniff of goal they continued to press doubling their tally ten minutes later. Horley held on though for the three points, yet both sides came very close to scoring more, the woodwork denying both teams on more than one occasion.

Both sides had characters, Horley's short Geordie number seven standing out with his vocals, the ref warning both sides more than once with a shout of "control the language Gents", but it was passionate football and we felt at times in the middle of the park it could have easily flared up. The Windsor captain appeared to be looking for a fight, the Horley captain (not a chap you'd argue with) pleading with the ref to use a bit of 'savvy'. With a stand/clubhouse on one side, fences on the other three you feel part of the game hearing every word, it's a great insight that you miss sat in a huge stand with thousands of others.

One thing that really stood out for me, on a ground far more exposed to the elements than these huge stadia we see on Match Of The Day, is the lack of gloves etc worn by the players. These are tough working class lads, there wasn't a base layer in sight. I may be wrong but I think even brightly coloured boots were in the minority.

Horley Town's ambition to avoid relegation is far more enthralling to me than England's bid to reach the World Cup. This is proper football and you can bet I'm going to see plenty more of it before the season is through.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Clean Sheet

We've now played ten (recorded) league games and we've finally kept a clean sheet, even young children go ten whole nights in bed and have a better record. On a similar vein we've only scored once in the last four matches, six hours of football. Six hours of school disco's and the spottiest kid is again going to wallop that record and score more often.

We were uplifted, on a high, after Tuesday's spirited performance. We wanted more of the same please, perhaps one better and a victory. We had beaten this lot twice last season, why not again today? The trouble is, that the chemistry, the emanation radiated from a floodlit crowd doesn't travel well, it loses something come Saturday no matter how much we try to revive it.

Chris Powell, unsurprisingly, started with the same eleven in, again,  the same formation. Blackpool lined up with the game changing, the very confident on the ball, the gaffers son, Tom Ince and a certain former Charlton favourite Ricardo Fuller amongst their very large and physical side. There was no doubt our youngsters would be muscled out of many of the challenges during the course of the afternoon.

At this point I'd like to just remind you all of my love for a sash on a football shirt. Blackpool wore a white top with a tangerine sash front and back. It could have so easily been the best shirt I'd seen adorn The Valley pitch if it wasn't for that awful blue Wonga logo emblazoned across the front of it. Fair play to Errea though for producing such a fine effort. We, mean time, shall stick with our N**e templates.

Jordan Cousins had signed a three year deal on Friday (and how the club milked such breaking news), he looked very lively in his effort to repay the club for their generosity. He was orchestral in many of our early moves as we did start the game where we left off the last. The crowd played their part and tried to turn the place into a cauldron of noise, we were never going to be out-sung by the eight hundred Seasiders enjoying their trip to the capital.

Our build up play was good, Wiggins and Gower particularly shone for me, but we seemed to fall away in the final third of the pitch. Sordell and Church had very little idea of what the other was doing, Harriott just behind them was ineffectual and bullied out of the game. What worked on Tuesday fell down a little today.

Don't think I'm not happy with the point, despite a couple of shaky moments we did still play well and held our own without doubt. We could though have carried on playing until Sunday and still not looked like taking the win. Cousins came closest, a stunning drive of a shot which I thought had hit the base of the post but apparently was turned around by the keeper. It was certainly closer than any of our strikers came.

Simon Church ran all over the park yet again, nobody could dare question his commitment, but, as I tweeted earlier, only Steve Ovett has run further without finding the net. Goal shy (crap) he may be, but he's our goal shy (crap). Sordell on the other hand......

I'm all for giving the young lads a go, look at Harriott at the end of last season and Cousins at the beginning of this. Why not give Piggott a bigger role? Or better still recall young Michael Smith from AFC Wimbledon. He has an eye for goal, he's proved that everywhere he's been, the only recollection I have of him in a Charlton shirt is coming on as a late sub at Halifax in the FA Cup, and he made a goal then!  But then we've got Sordell, that pretentious Bolton player who, when taken off today as we waited to attack with a free kick and the clock ticking, ambled off ridiculously slowly hoping to milk some applause.

As the game progressed today Blackpool sensed we couldn't finish them off and continued to tease us with long throws and good balls into our box. We stuck firm though as the game fizzled out, once again we were left feeling happy for the point.

An international break follows, and it may serve us well as one or two more influential players possibly could have returned from injury by then. For me it's opportunity to catch another non league match following on from the success of 'non league day' last month.

Charlton, and football as a whole isn't the be all and end all as we so often forget. Today we were reminded of life's bigger and sometimes crueler picture. Paul Raisey, a well known face in the North Stand and the Rose of Denmark, plus being a very regular away day traveler, this week lost his beautiful daughter Charlotte. I had the pleasure of meeting this charming and delightful young lady for her 21st birthday a couple of years ago, she was a true shining light that embossed herself in both mine and Heidi's thoughts. I can only begin to imagine how Paul, Bill and the rest of the family must be feeling. My heart goes out to you all.

God bless my friends.

Charlotte Raisey RIP

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Floodlit Forest

I met Jim, my companion for the evening, at The Harp in Charing Cross. A great boozer, albeit small in size, that serves some fine ales amidst it's very affable atmosphere. Jim, who had suffered the trip to Burnley on top of that harrowing display against Millwall, was all in favour of 'settling in' for the evening here as opposed to having to trek to South East London for yet another helping of despondency.

I was having none of this defeatist talk, reminding my good friend of the many great Charlton performances witnessed under the The Valley's floodlights. Yes, if we were to turn this slump around a night game was opportune time to do it. Reluctantly he agreed to accompany me, making it quite clear that this was solely on my head and I would be held accountable to all blame once the nightmare began. Deep down I knew going to the match was a good call.

Forest gave us the biggest footballing lesson of the season during the last campaign and look strong promotion contenders already at this early stage. There was no doubt we'd be up against it, it seemed a little unnecessary therefore for the referee to don a kit similar to Forest's away attire on top of this! As it was, we frequently wondered in the stands why this 'extra player' of theirs shied away from making a tackle.

Callum Harriott got a start playing just behind the front two, Church and Sordell, in a kind of 4-3-3, or more appropriately 4-3-1-2 formation. This should have given us a more attacking edge, indeed we needed that having been not only goal shy but 'attempts' shy in recent weeks. It did leave us very weak out wide though, Forest players finding acres of room in the widest parts of the midway line. At these moments there was a school playground scenario as three red shirts would all dart out together chasing down their man. It was a bold manoeuvre by Chris Powell, nobody could argue he wasn't trying to address our problems.

Jordan Cousins was rewarded for his recent efforts with a full home debut alongside Gower and Stephens, while Richard Wood partnered Morrison in the heart of defence. Lawrie Wilson continued to deputize for the still injured Solly who has Jackson, Cort and Kermorgant as treatment room buddies.

If a bright start against Burnley could be emulated, and perhaps even bettered, we could be in for a special night. Two minutes in and we were behind. Jim gave me that look and reminded me of the comfort we had left in Charing Cross; I started to sing.

We conceded a needless free kick in front of the East Stand, former pie eating champion Andy Reid (I tease out of sadness and selfishness, knowing what a talent we have long lost) stepped up and floated a ball goal-wards. The defence watched, the Forest front men watched, time stood still as Ben Hamer, rather than making a routine save, got his timing wrong and was made to look a little foolish, cue a tirade of anti Hamer tweets clogging up the CAFC hash-tag.

It made a change from disparaging tweets about the owners I suppose. As Jim quite rightly pointed out in regard to Hamer's little faux pas, this particular shortcoming had nothing to do with the board or any money matters, we just really are, in football terms, that embarrassing.

Who didn't expect Forest to then go on and steamroller us? We decided it better they get their goals quick, at three down we could legitimately venture back to the pub, yes it would be better for everyone if this happened sooner rather than later. Night games though, they do something to the crowd that Saturday afternoon's don't quite muster. We made a lot of noise, we kept singing and by Jove I believe the players were starting to respond.

There were still mistakes, Wilson struggled to distribute the ball, Sordell was absent and Church chased everything and got into dangerous positions whilst cleverly disguising any potential threat to appear almost harmless. We were matching them though, making a game of it and it only needed a spark, Dale Stephens came so close just before the break but that wasn't to be it. Our tails were up, a rousing half time team talk would surely tip the balance in our favour.

Four minutes into the second half and the goal came. Marvin Sordell, bugger would I have to eat my words? He was clinical, he's paid to be, and his goal celebration sliding on his knees reeked of pretension, yet the celebration from his team mates emitted nothing less than a desire to go on and claim this scalp. Forest were rattled now and we bombarded them for a good period, oohs and aahs rang around the ground as we came so agonizingly close to doubling our tally, but slowly Forest got themselves back into it.

It ended a draw, it felt like a victory. It was a Charlton performance, the floodlights had worked their spell on the crowd again which in turn had made an impact on the pitch. Positivity and all that, man.

I still have my reservations, Sordell and Church in particular, and I'd rather see Wilson playing further forward, but we saw more than than enough to warrant a couple of celebratory pints of Young's in The Grapes at London Bridge before heading home. All in all I'm very upbeat about doing it again on Saturday against Blackpool, last season don't forget we wanted to play them every week.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

it goes with the Turf

Did you really expect Charlton to turn around last weeks dismal effort in accommodating Millwall with a performance at high flying Burnley? A team that have started this campaign in exceptional form. It was a formidable task from the outset.

Millwall incidentally continued their own resurgence with another three points at the hands of Leeds. Their first goal yesterday a very well taken effort from Martyn Woolford, one of my favourite players in this division who ran us ragged last week, after a beautiful through ball from former Addick Lee Martin. Proof that you don't need to rely on big name stars when confidence is high, these players are no different in ability to those we should be fielding!

In Danny Ings and Sam Vokes, Burnley have two bright young strikers who I believe are going to shoot them into the big time next season. They certainly made short work of our tenuous rear guard yesterday after, according to the radio commentary, we had started quite brightly. Once The Clarets had their noses in front however there was no way back for Powell's side, again depleted of it's more menacing names through injury. It seems early in the season for one to ponder the lack of strength in depth, yet I remember it being a major concern before a competitive ball was kicked back in late July.

Where does the blame lie then? Chris Powell can only motivate a team so much, especially when resources are low and behind the scenes 'atmosphere's' must be at an all time high. It's common knowledge of his frustration with those to whom he must answer directly above.

We had a lack of depth, he addressed that as best he could picking up players discarded by everyone else, footballers who were happy just to play as opposed to how much to gain to play. Simon Church has legs, he chases everything but lacks that deadly eye for goal that strikers need. He was the same at Reading I'm reliably informed, it pains me to say it but I think that was a desperate bit of business by the gaffer.

Marvin Sordell seems disinterested and has done since the start. Whether he feels Charlton are beneath him I don't know, but he emits a facade of grandeur which will only make it harder for him to address the problem of not being good enough for his parent club. And finally Mark Gower is a steady ageing squad player supposedly there to educate the younger heads as opposed to be relied upon to put a ninety minute shift in week after week.

Other than a lack of goals, it isn't much different to last year. What else could Chris Powell have done or, more topically, could anyone else have done? Very little I surmise. His record stands for itself, for a 'young' manager he's got off to a terrific start, and I don't believe a different manager would have enticed any other players, of equal or better ability, to the club with the same lack of funds and enthusiasm that our board radiate. No, I believe Powell is still the man for the ever increasingly difficult job of turning this around, but does he really want to?

Every week the official club website issue's Powell's apology and a comforting reassurance that the team are dejected, how they feel like they have let us down and a strong desire to turn it all about face with a stunning demonstration of what they know they are capable of in the next fixture. Something somewhere has got to give, we've become stagnant whilst those around us have built on what they achieved last season and generally moved forwards making this campaign far more difficult for us than the last. Well all except Bolton that is.

It could be that the only real way out of this is a change of ownership. Fresh faces to come in that believe in the club. Those in charge at the moment aren't going to write anything off though, they'll want to recoup as much as possible, Jiminez and Slater are businessmen first, football fans second. No, they'll hold out for top dollar, all the while the prospective acquisition becoming less and less attractive. If they end up sinking us they'll take us all down with them, some may try and jump ship first.

For Chris Powell that opportunity may arise. Derby County yesterday sacked Nigel Clough. Chris Powell was revered at Pride Park, a former player of the year and he has made no secret of his fondness for the club. I've absolutely no idea on The Rams financial position but I'm willing to bet the working surroundings won't be quite as hostile as he's used to. As I said, something has to change to get out of this rut, it may not be the answer we hoped for or the desirable outcome but football has a nasty habit of kicking you when you're down.

As for now we look forward (with trepidation) to Tuesday evening and the visit of Nottingham Forest. I'll do my bit and sing my heart out, I'm sure there will be a post on the club website telling us how the players feel they've to prove to us their passion and how they'll be doing their bit, the gaffer will do his bit trying to motivate and organize them, while Jiminez will no doubt do his by playing a round of golf back in Cyprus.

Then, on Wednesday, we can regroup and see where all this rallying round has got us. A repeat of last season's Cardiff game perhaps? Or a hunt for a new manager?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Vanishing Act

Not a great time to be a Charlton fan is it. As if losing to geographical rivals isn't bad enough, to do it with the eyes of the nation upon you, and to surrender without the trace of a fight is, quite frankly, embarrassing.

Tuesday night saw the Addicks travel once again to Huddersfield, and once again The Terriers ran out victorious. Now I shouldn't judge some of our opponents on name and standing alone, but Huddersfield, really? They came up with us, looked certain fodder for the drop but appear to have developed a hold over us of late. They had a star striker, Jordan Rhodes, who seemingly single-handedly won them promotion, yet his high profile and very expensive move to Blackburn should have stopped them dead in their tracks, yet they continue to chalk up points and currently sit in a very healthy ninth spot.

They can attract (and pay for) players of the calibre of James Vaughan, clubs like Huddersfield are in great danger of leaving us behind. We aren't one of the bigger fish like so many would like to believe, but are going to have to show resourcefulness and passion if we are to emulate the finish of the last campaign. At least a wonder strike from debutant loanee Cameron Stewart saved some face, the baby faced winger doubling his career goal tally in stunning fashion.

Good old Millwall, they're still on our level. A home tie against old rivals would show the belief and hunger come flooding back wouldn't it? Except London derbies don't really bring the best out in Charlton, mix that with the Sky cameras also in attendance and every jinx known in SE7 was put in place for a truly unmemorable game of football. True to form Charlton read the script. We lacked any goal threat, we consistently played square passes in very dangerous situations, standing off the opposition and letting them take a firm hold on the match.

Many have tried to show some reason and justification with quotes of both sides being poor, the huge slice of luck with The Lions goal being the deciding factor. In truth though they looked far more hungry on the back of a good victory over Blackpool midweek. Nicky Bailey and Liam Trotter could pass the ball with conviction, a very impressive Martyn Woolford would run amok through our defence and they even had the audacity to bring on former Charlton loanee Lee Martin towards the end who also seemed to reap free reign of the attacking third. Woolford in particular ran at everybody, at one point beating two or three, getting tackled but regaining possession after being quickest to the loose ball. A very impressive showing from a player that clearly wanted three points from the match. Combined, our eleven didn't show as much devotion as Woolford alone, even the usually earnest Jackson appeared to be running on frustration rather than any positive emotions.

As magical illusions go, you'd be hard pressed to see a better vanishing act than Charlton's desire, passion, zest and intensity. Even the young Stewart's late cameo couldn't revive any dignity this time around although he did finally send a ball or two into their keeper's six yard box at the death.

Last night I enjoyed an evening with a difference, a local theatre hosted Morgan & West, two time travelling Victorian magicians. It was a great night of comedy and illusion, perfect for forgetting the agony of defeat. As clever as they were, and I seriously recommend catching them if you can during their Autumn tour, there is one trick I doubt even they could pull off, the near impossible and most daring of all known feats of wizardry, conjuring up a Charlton London derby victory.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Mind me Bovril!

Last season, Charlton's trip to Vicarage Road was rather memorable. A thrilling victory, a good day on the ale, New Years Day celebrations and 'er indoors not speaking to me for a week after I'd promised to be home by the time she got in from work. I was still in Euston at six o'clock that day, my evening was cut very short and yesterday's 'fixture anniversary' appeared to be celebrated by my companions of nine months ago. They visited the very same pub where I received 'that' phone call on that fateful day, I just hope they raised a glass in my honour.

This season the fixture passed me by without much activity, or even I'm afraid to say, much interest. The trouble I endure is working in a trade where Saturdays are your busiest day of the week. Any other motorcycle shop and I'd be lucky to get an afternoon off so I count myself fortunate that I only have to work the mornings, despite it playing havoc with any potential away days. You can imagine how popular I'd be with the missus if I used my holiday to follow Charlton around the country, even if the boss did allow such sporadic days off. No, I'm afraid it's been nearly a decade since my regular outings to grounds up and down this land. A fact that has always grated when I've allowed it too much thought. Until now, that is.

I knew I couldn't get to Watford in time for three, in much the same way as I know I can't get to The Valley next week due to the early kick off, so I found a different game to go to, and only twenty five minutes away on the scooter. As two thousand Addicks made themselves heard in Hertfordshire, I was drinking Bovril just south of Croydon with just over a hundred others.

I've seen the highlights, the only professional game of the weekend that I have, and seen the Yann Kermorgant penalty, Watford (wearing possibly the best kit in the division) playing in their familiar and infamous 'Italian' style, and the now obligatory smoke bomb from the young travelling supporters. A hard earned and well deserved point away from home against one of the higher scoring and more fancied sides in the Championship will be seen as good reward and I'm sure if I'd been there myself I'd have bobbed along with the atmosphere and merriment of so many good friends together on another's patch. But I wasn't, I was in Whyteleafe, a place unheard of to the 3 network and not even a twitter feed to keep me abreast of  proceedings twenty eight miles away as the crow flies. Yes, I googled it.

Last week of course we delighted in Non League Day, seven days later life was back to normal and Absolute Radio were thriving on the return of the Premier League as if it had been reported missing months ago. They were almost wetting themselves on the prospect of a radio commentary of the Tottenham versus Norwich match as I wept into my morning tea break cuppa. I'd seen step nine football last week, loved it, and was going to watch some more that afternoon, listeners to this commercial radio station couldn't possibly know what enchantment they were missing.  An expensive group of foreigners may be strutting their stuff in North London for the benefit of the masses, a group of well payed Italian reserves may even be 'entertaining'  South Londoners with their theatricals fifteen miles (yes I did it again) north west of White Hart Lane, but I was going to watch my second FA Cup match of the season, and it's only mid September. The BBC barely recognise the competition has even started, yet part time footballers, certainly playing for the enjoyment as opposed to financial gain, were entertaining small crowds and their dogs in every corner of the country.

The first game I saw was an extra preliminary round replay between Epsom & Ewell and Whyteleafe three weeks ago. This time, two rounds later they entertained Horley Town in the first qualifying round. I'd chosen Horley last week for Non League Day and watched them lose 2-6 to Newhaven in the FA Vase. Surely their route to Wembley wouldn't be wrecked two weeks running.

Whyteleafe being just south of Croydon is deep in Crystal Palace territory. As I walked into the clubhouse for a pre match pint I was astonished quite how many red and blue stripy shirts greeted me. Their game at Old Trafford was shown on the big screen, I was informed that Selhurst season ticket holders were enticed to Church Road to watch the match with the offer of a free drink. There is obviously a good relationship between the two sides as signed framed Palace shirts adorned the walls. That was it, my mind made up, I was supporting Horley again today! I enjoyed a good pint of Revolver whilst chatting to blogging (and Whyteleafe) friends from the Sound Of Football podcast, keeping my back to the big screen yet basking in the fine ale on offer at the club.

I'd been warned about the playing surface at Whyteleafe beforehand, true enough it resembled a ploughed field. A 3G synthetic pitch is on the agenda for the club, not only much needed but also a very possible future money spinner for the Leafe. The rest of the ground looked very in keeping with the ruts and troughs of the pitch, the paint was flaking of every surface, the stands looked dark and cold in their age while it appeared that someone had been fly tipping on the far side of the ground. The love-in with Palace continued!

The match itself was very one sided. The Horley keeper looked shaky last week, he was little better yesterday and at fault for the first of the three goals they conceded, his gloves certainly seem to be coated with something more suitable to frying pans. It's a little dour admittedly but we wondered if perhaps he'd have more success with those big foam hands next week. The second had no bearing on the gloves as he chose to leave his goal line and advance forward just as experienced full back Anthony Jupp guided a perfectly executed looping headed backwards and over the keepers head. Jupp was recently rewarded by Horley Town for his wonderful service reaching five hundred appearances for the club, there can't have been a more well taken own goal in any of them.

The keeper, who was good naturally jeered by the half dozen Whyteleafe 'ultra's' during the first period did enjoy a far better spell during the second half pulling off some fine saves towards the end. Horley had their chances but never really threatened the goal, cup joy was dashed for successive Saturdays, I've seen them twice and they've shipped nine goals. They've certainly got all the attributes I normally require for my undying support. A long and miserable relationship could well blossom.

Once again the food we're usually subjected to at The Valley was surpassed by a team with far less resources. An above average cheeseburger accompanied by a large steaming cup of Bovril gave me plenty of change out of a four pounds, although the hard tackling part timers did their best to send it flying. Stood behind a heel clicking linesman, our refreshments were consistently targeted by the Whyteleafe full back and the Horley winger, both giving one hundred percent to every challenge and the ball hurtling in our direction with ferocious frequency. "Mind me Bovril!" shouted one supporter, a phrase rarely heard at the bigger stadium.

Level nine football has got me hooked. I was relatively used to two or three levels up at Sutton United and crowds of five or six hundred, but this is even more refreshing and even further removed from the things that irk the most about the modern professional game. I was always glum when Charlton supporters went travelling to see the team without me, jealousy raged deep, but know I've found something different that's slightly more honest, far more accessible and I bloody love it.