Monday, April 20, 2015

The Guessing Game

You can say what you like about the Belgian regime, but there are always those worse off than yourselves. And they came to the Valley on Saturday, in droves too. Leeds United have always had large (and in the main, good) support, whether travelling from Yorkshire or London based and once again they filled the Jimmy Seed to support what is in all honesty right now, a shambles of a club. But I'm not in the mood to start pulling apart football club owners. They came to the capital, got bladdered and made plenty of noise prior to the the match, then created a great atmosphere for three quarters of the game, only to venture home far quieter.

On arrival at a very sunny London Bridge I fancied I just had time for a very quick pint to quell my thirst in the Grapes before heading to Charlton, rather than suffering the generic lager inside the ground which was the other, slightly less appealing, alternative. As I made my way up St Thomas Street I had to dodge two very young lads dripping burger sauce down their Sergio track tops as they expressed their wit and charm on every female walking past them. With my shoes free from relish, I continued my journey to find their older travelling ensemble swamping the pub. In good voice and swaying (although not from song) I realised that the plastic glass of piss in SE7 suddenly seemed so sensible compared to a thirty minute struggle to the bar through, what would inevitably be, my new found chirpy train companions. From the tales of others, I gather these were not the only merry Leeds fans in London. Those at Greenwich had no idea what side of the tracks they needed to be to get a train to Charlton, and that was obviously worthy of a song in itself.

Great numbers to see a rather meaningless mid table end of season affair indeed. Unlike the home areas, which in my part of the Upper North seemed full of empty red seats. And who can blame the absent, the team have certainly been dreaming of their summer holidays since at least Good Friday, why shouldn't we?

During the first half Charlton had the look of a pre-season friendly about them as Leeds dominated, creating plenty of chances to fire themselves in front. A combination of poor finishing and a stunning penalty save from 'player of the year' front runner Stephen Henderson kept the lacklustre Addicks in it for majority of the first half but (thankfully?) Leeds did go into the break a goal to the good with Steve Morison's superb volley direct from a corner. Sometimes it needs an opposition goal to get us going. It certainly needed something on Saturday.

Whether it was the shock of going behind, the arrival of Gudmundsson for Eagles, or an uplifting message from Luzon in the dressing room, the second half was a different ball game from Charlton's perspective. A stunning ball from the Icelandic international found Tony Watt free on the left of goal to volley home, and he came close himself five minutes later shooting from distance, Igor Vetokele winning a penalty from the resulting keeper's parry. It was a great burst of energy from the striker to get to the loose ball matching a similar burst earlier in the game where he lunged out in similar fashion for a booking. Yoni Buyens was as cool as the proverbial cucumber slotting away the spot kick. As good as he is from twelve yards, he's really struggled with the pace of the English game. It turned out a good victory, three points snatched from the grip of defeat yet, except for the last twenty minutes, we were debating what would be an acceptable time to leave and frequent a public house. You'd take tenth place over a relegation dogfight every day, but I'm craving some true excitement and hysteria. That final game against Bournemouth could be hard to watch. Good luck to them and all that, but I don't really want to stand by and witness a party I'm not invited to.

When it isn't going well on the pitch, as it wasn't during the first forty five minutes on Saturday, my mind tends to wander. I started to ponder on which of our European bench warmers would hang around and which would once again board the fairground ride. Then there are those homegrown lads who have broken into the first eleven, what would become of them in the Summer? One or two could get snapped up and enjoy a big money contract. Gudmundsson and, er, well Gudmundsson must be on a few clubs shortlists after his efforts in SE7 this season. Of course there is always talk of the big boys watching our youngsters but I'd be shocked if anyone really came in for the likes of Morgan Fox. I watched him and him alone for about fifteen minutes of the first half and was genuinely surprised as to how much room he let the visitors have to attack on their right hand side.

I fully expect the majority to move on, and it's a certainly a shame to have to say that this really doesn't bother me. I've not easily bonded with any of them. Yes, Igor and Tony Watt have given the crowd something to cheer of late, but they're definitely no Andy Hunt. Chris Solly isn't a patch on the player he was, and the one true Charlton spirit in the squad, skipper Johnnie Jackson can't have long left at this level. I do ask the question though, that with the revolving network door surely a permanent fixture in the foreseeable future, will we ever truly love again as we did with the likes of Rufus and Robinson? Is Johnnie Jackson the last of the line in this respect?

On the whole I'll miss the majority of them about as much as I'll miss that rotten kit we've played in all season. Thank goodness that has now made it's last appearance at the Valley. Maybe Gudmundsson will still be here in August, maybe he won't, but I guarantee he wont reach Johnny Robinson's three hundred odd appearances. As Tennyson quite rightly said, "It's better to have loved and lost than to never to have loved at all."

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Upon hearing the name Fulham, for some of us, it conjures up the notion of 'jolly hockey sticks', a game of 'rugger' with the chaps, and a certain comedy character from the nineties. You know the one, "What an absolutely, thoroughly, bloody nice bloke!" For others of us we immediately think of Danny Murphy's wife. But we are football supporters and if anyone is going to milk the phrase 'stereotype' it's football fans, heaven knows, the Daily Mail readers are mindlessly tarring us with absurd regularity. Yes, I know what I did there.

Surely though there has to be some basis behind stereotypification? Well if I should have ever fancied a game of 'rugger' myself, the 19.01 train to Charlton from London Bridge last night was packed with suitable team mates. Harry Enfield couldn't have mimicked the accents any better, it was a public school outing into unknown territory, a thoroughly exciting time which was to be had by all. I say unknown territory for one lad, speaking to his father (master?) spotted our train pulling into Deptford and proudly proclaimed we had arrived in the Isle of Dogs. Another two were scrolling their smart phones looking for team news. They 'goshed' and 'guffawed' at the away sides selection, yet stared in puzzlement at the Addicks starting eleven. Not one of these fellows had they heard of! Terribly nice lads to share a train with certainly, but bloody dim.

Thankfully around fifteen hundred of them managed to find their way to the ground from the station to watch their side take a step closer to Championship safety. With Rotherham and Millwall both winning over the Easter weekend Fulham had found themselves back in serious contention to join Blackpool in League One next season. I'd like to think if we found ourselves in such a situation (again) we'd manage to encourage slightly more to make a short hop across the capital to rally the troops.

If Fulham are up for the fight we definitely gave some assistance and made it look easier for them. An early soft goal set the tone, to which they could have added if it wasn't for a couple of fine saves from Henderson in either half. If you thought the dreadful day in Bermondsey on Good Friday was just a blip, be warned, we've taken our foot well and truly off the gas and have an eye firmly planted on the June sunshine and sand of some far flung destination. And who can blame them. We've worked our socks off over the past couple of months to ensure safety, now the end can't come quick enough.

In the Charlton way and true to form this wasn't going to be just an end of season game to forget. We've long memories in SE7, Fulham and bad refereeing decisions go hand in hand. Poetic justice then that our equaliser rustled a few Fulham feathers as they believed a flag should have been raised for offside. A lot of us thought the same but, well, what goes around and all that.

Then of course there was Scott Parker. If you wanted to go down the stereotype road again you'd presume we'd boo him all night long. Well, long memories to the rescue again, we did. I've seen articles today on forums and other such dreaded places I really shouldn't venture near stating that it's time we grew up, he was a young lad influenced by pound signs before the eyes. Well I say bugger that. He knew what he was doing and he could have moved on to the 'big time' with a lot more class than he did. But of course that's all water under the bridge for him isn't it? Judging by the way he squabbled and made gestures to the supporters in the North stand he despises us more than we do him. My biggest grumble was our choice of song. "One greedy bastard" sang the covered end choir forgetting of course that there is Jermaine Defoe in a similar bracket and Diego Poyet too for that matter. Perhaps "Average greedy bastard" would make him feel less superior should he ever return? However, the chorus of "that's why you're going down" after the most calamitous of quick free kicks was nothing short of superb.

A Fulham free kick on the edge of the box in stoppage time had the makings of a Parker finale but thankfully we were spared the arrogance as he left it for a teammate to kick high and wide. A point a piece and on reflection a fair outcome. The last floodlit fixture at the Valley of the season and the last late night train ride home. As we queued by the shut platform gates we caught brief moments of conversations around us. This Fulham chum was mentioning something about how both he and his lady friend had shed a tear when they went to see Les Mis. I kid you not. But as my comrade Jim quite rightly pointed out, next time we are stood here it will be in the middle of a group of Leeds fans. Now if you're going to start talking about stereotyping...