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.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The New Defence

While most Charlton eyes spent the week fixed on the 'enthralling' transfer window deadline day, mine were wandering towards the weekend and Non League Day. One Charlton supporter was guaranteed in seeing the New Defence.

Movement wise in SE7 we witnessed the short term arrival of winger and sometimes striker Cameron Stewart from Hull City, a direct replacement for Danny Green who himself was rewarded with a short term loan deal, unfortunately in no man's land at MK Franchise. A much needed goalkeeper, Ben Alnwick, a free agent, has also joined on a one year contract. All of these deals were overshadowed somewhat by the announcement of Chris Solly putting pen to paper on a new four year deal. The cynical amongst us will no doubt notice how much more of an appealing acquisition a football club is when it's best/most valuable players have long term deals.

For those that thrive on all things Charlton Athletic, that was your lot and with no game this weekend due to the international break, a website run August goal of the month competition was not just the pick but all of the excitement on offer. Far better use of everybody's time was the opportunity to watch some grass roots football and make the most of non league day. Football at a personal level and a movement which has gained a new level of popularity and momentum every year since it's inception in 2010.

As a big supporter of non league football, and in particular Sutton United, I was always going to find a match. The U's were playing at Tonbridge Angels in a Skrill South league fixture, I had a cunning plan. My wife's grandparents live in Tunbridge Wells, the idea was to travel there first leave Heidi with her Nan to talk cake recipes, flowers and other female only topics whilst I took her Grandad to the match. On paper it was a winner all round, in reality it was foiled by their itchy feet and their love of a foreign holiday. Drat, thwarted before I began.

Whyteleafe were at home to Greenwich Borough, I watched the Leafe only two weeks ago in their FA Cup victory over Epsom & Ewell and know one or two staunch supporters. This was of course very tempting, if only for the half time beer and catch up, but deep down I knew there was only one game I could really commit to, a ground I'd put off visiting for far too long.

I've lived in Horley for five years, worked here for twice that but never once watched the town's football club. It's not as if they play in a park on a Sunday morning either, the Combined Counties league is of a standard many of us could never have dreamed of achieving ourselves. I nearly made it last year as they hosted Guernsey for a league fixture during the Channel Islanders successful promotion campaign, but the kick off time was altered, I presume to give the away side time to fly home, more irritatingly though to hamper any plans I had of attending.

Today there was no such excuse, I was going to The New Defence, home of Horley Town to watch their FA Vase 1st qualifying round tie with Newhaven.

The good old days of one to eleven

It's ten years since Horley moved to this new ground, and like Millwall it's named after the old one. The Defence I believe is now a housing estate, as are so many football pitches of old, and that original ground was named in honour of people from the town who had died in defence of their country. A worthwhile continuation if ever there was one. The clubhouse is on two levels while adjacent to the football pitch Horley Rugby Club have their own pitch complete with strange shaped goals, the two sports share the amenities. Both were at home today, the rugby finished first and big burly prop forwards watched the final moments of the association game swelling the crowd immensely, I would estimate that we were close to three figures.

I had once been to the clubhouse, four or five years back for a wedding reception. Funnily enough there was one there today too, and with big plate glass windows along one side of the building the guests could watch the match during their meal giving the best man stern competition for people's attention during his speech! A half time beer was very surreal as I looked through the glass door and saw wedding guests sipping champagne.

On the subject of beer, this is my one disappointment of the day. Sutton United keep a great pint of Tribute, Chipstead (who's ground Epsom & Ewell share) a couple of weeks ago kept Youngs perfectly, Horley however cater for lager drinkers as a priority it would appear. I was with my father-in-law, we both enjoy a real ale but were reduced to bottled beer as there wasn't a single hand pump in operation. A small dampener but still far more preferable to a pint of awful fosters in a plastic glass at The Valley!

Shaking hands before the off

The pitch didn't look too bad, fairly even with a nice surface considering the level we were watching and the rain that had fallen during the morning which had stopped prior to kick off allowing us moments of glorious sunshine. A good cup tie was on the cards. Twice Horley took the lead, only to be pegged back quickly. The home side looked very threatening whenever they had a set piece, a very tall centre half caused the Newhaven defence problem after problem and the blue shirted number ten chased absolutely everything. Newhaven though were good on the break, their number seven had both pace and ball control in equal quantities. The two captains, both wearing the number four shirt stood out too, Horley's looked tough and the sort of player to scare the life out of centre forwards whilst Newhaven's was a short lad in the heart of their midfield that looked confident on the ball and always at the centre of their build up play.

Unfortunately the other player to leave a lasting impression was the home side's goalkeeper, it's fair to say he had a mare. At fault for at least two of Newhaven's goals he seemed to flap with not only every cross but every ball played into his area. I need to go back if only to witness that it was just an off day for the lad, I'm sure for next Saturday's FA Cup tie he'll be back to his confident self. There is a photo of him hereabouts shaking hands with the assistant referee before the match started, proof he does have 'Action Man' style gripping hands after all.

Quote of the day went to one of the Newhaven supporters, a father to one of their players I believe although in all honesty they did appear to have a larger contingent of the crowd than the home side did. The Horley number two was stood just in front of us waiting to take a throw in, a teammate of his was on the ground being sponged down by the club physio, a rather attractive looking lady. Needless to say the older gentleman in attendance found this particularly amusing and shouted their wishes for the lady in question to swap sides and return to the coast with them that evening. The full back didn't seem to share their jollity at the situation, one fella shouted an apology to him, "sorry lad, is that your Mum?"

The game finished 6-2 to Newhaven, their Wembley dream is still alive. Through to the next round they may be but it wasn't without controversy, their fourth goal was a belter from twenty five yards out, it hit the woodwork, bounced down and out akin to Lampard's World Cup 'goal'. The linesman gave it although I doubt very much from his position he could have really seen it. A very similar thing happened again a short time later, lightening was never going to strike twice.

After that the Horley defence struggled, they changed their left back for a young lad with impeccable hair, I seriously wondered if he'd head the ball but fair play to him for getting stuck in. All credit to them though, even with the game lost they still never gave up going forward but if truth be told the best side on the day deservedly won.

The only thing the keeper didn't drop all afternoon

It's taken me a long long time to visit my most local of football clubs, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon and at seventy five pence a goal exceptional value for money. Non league day has worked it's magic once again, for it has certainly enticed me to go back and visit again. Charlton and Sutton will always hold special places in my heart but one things for sure, I'm going to support my local team as well.