19 March 2017

Sheffield United 2 Charlton 1

My first Charlton game in months and, surprisingly, my first visit to Sheffield and my first experience of the Greasy Chip Butty song. Sheffield, it turns out, is compact and buzzing and Bramall Lane football ground is tucked in neatly, very near the city centre.

There was a crowd of 23,000 watching United's seemingly untroubled progress towards the Championship and when they sang together it was an impressive noise.

But soon after silenced, as Ricky Holmes - as in all the few games I've seen this season, outstanding -  scored within 3 minutes: a perfectly struck free kick from just outside the box. Charlton were dominant for the first ten minutes and looked more like the team that was walking towards promotion.

With their first attack, though, United equalised. A poor goal to concede with the first sign of how United would learn to take apart Charlton's defence. Declan Rudd is the scapegoat of the day, it seems. I don't know what his recent performances have been like but would have to agree he should have done better.

As the half went on, United attacked more, initially getting caught offside too easily. What looked to me like a clear penalty was denied them, and they figured out how to time their runs to avoid the offside. The last ten minutes of the half were perilous as they created and wasted chance after chance and Charlton fans were grateful when it was over.

After the break United simply picked up where they'd left off and quickly took the lead. From then they gave a lesson in how to do enough and no more. It was thoroughly competent, and none of the home fans would be complaining but by now they surely ought to be playing with a little swagger. Maybe that's a sign of how good Charlton were: United couldn't relax until the game was over. There were a few tweets circulating from United fans about how Charlton were strong opposition. Here's one I got:

Probably the best of the few Charlton performances I've seen this season. Much too late to make any difference of course and a loss is still a loss and the relegation zone is still too close.

01 March 2017

Too many coaches?

After a disastrous February for Charlton, here are some thoughts I've been having for some time. I haven't seen Charlton play this year so this is speculation on my part and I'd be grateful for comments from people who've seen the shambles recently.

The Charlton website lists four first team coaches supporting Karl Robinson.

Ritchie Barker is Karl's old colleague from MK Dons, and it's safe to assume they have a good working relationship.

Next listed is Simon Clark who by all accounts is a very promising prospect - a future head coach or manager in his own right.

Then there's Chris O'Loughlin. No-one's exactly sure of his role, but the general suspicion is that he's Duchatelet's spy in the camp, and a warning to Karl that he's replaceable any time Roland has a grumpy fit of indigestion.

And then there's the goalkeeping coach, Lee Turner. I've no idea if he's any good or not.

That's the formal team. We've also heard that Lee Bowyer and Robbie Fowler have played a kind of consultancy role - Bowyer was in the dugout last week. And Johnnie Jackson is supposedly taking a greater role in coaching these days.

To sum up: a whole lotta coaches. There may be more that I haven't heard of. And I've nothing against any of those I've listed - except O'Loughlin, obviously, but that's only by association. But with so many coaches there must be different opinions, different approaches, and different motivations. That could be positive: it can helpful for an established way of working to be challenged. But at Charlton, right now, I'm not sure it is.

There can't be a clear, unified message coming through, and it's hard to imagine that the players know what's going on anymore. Those who allegedly don't want to make an effort have somewhere to hide and those who do can't be sure what's expected of them. It's a perfect, Delia Smith-ish in its infallibilty, recipe for chaos.

26 February 2017

Greenwich Borough 3 Faversham Town 2

Another new ground, this one very conveniently situated just opposite Eltham Green school, a short bus ride away. Borough play in the Isthmian League South - the same league as Tooting and Mitcham, Walton Casuals and Whyteleafe - and are doing pretty well, but have the worst ground I've seen so far at this level. There's a small stand at each side of the pitch, but that's about it. And it was easily enough to cope with the 150 or so crowd. The most notable feature is the slope from one end to another.

Borough started the game playing downhill, but didn't seem to make the best advantage of it. I'd have expected them to be able to get attackers into the Faversham penalty area quickly, but that just wasn't happening. More often Faversham mounted the most threatening attacks, but couldn't work them into goals.

Shortly before halftime Borough scored. It was a little against the run of play and I wondered if they'd be able to hold out in the second half, with gravity as Faversham's twelfth man. But they did and by 85 minutes were 3-1 up. There was a cold wind, a fine rain was falling and the Eltham GPO was beckoning so I missed the final stages when Borough had a player sent off and Faversham got a very late goal.

So, the usual inadequate match report from me but, if you're interested, Borough produced a highlights video. 

So, what of Bradley Pritchard, one of the reasons I chose to go this game. He played a full 90 minutes in the no 15 shirt as a defensive midfielder. He looked very fit (and a note in the programme says he's one of the best trainers - "the man just enjoys running", says his teammate Glenn Wilson). He reads the game well but his passing wasn't always accurate or well-judged. Most importantly, that smile was still there.

I don't think I'll start following Borough. There wasn't the friendly, mixed feeling of the crowd at Tooting and Mitcham, or the inventive chanting of Whyteleafe ("Leafe, Leafe, Leafe - All you need is Leafe!").  And the programme (£2) is very poor. Of course the team I really want to follow is Charlton but that remains impossible while it's owned by a deluded old twit in Sant Truiden.

15 February 2017

Karl and the C-word

Warning: in this post I quote the c-word several times. Look away now if this offends.

As we all know by now, Karl Robinson got a little over-excited at Wimbledon on Saturday after a volunteer at the home ground allegedly said "You fucking scouse cunt! I hope you die" and home fans unfurled a banner accusing him of being a "lying cunt". Terrible stuff. As Karl said "Certain aspects of it were disgusting and shouldn’t be part of any industry." I suppose we should be grateful he realises how offensive language can be.

But it was intriguing to discover, thanks to the Guardian's Fiver, that Karl had himself been found guilty of calling an opposition player a "fucking French cunt" (on 16 September 2014). The official record of the disciplinary meeting makes interesting reading. Karl's defence, taken straight out of Fawlty Towers or some other sitcom, was that he'd been misheard. Rather than saying "It's nothing to do with you, you fucking French cunt" what he'd actually said was "It's nothing to do with you, you should be on the bench, you cunt", following it up with "Fuck off back to France." The FA didn't buy it: he was given a four match ban, a £3000 fine and costs.

05 February 2017

Whyteleafe 0 Corinthian-Casuals 1

My second visit to the Whyteleafe ground, this time to see the real home team take on Corinthian-Casuals, a club with an astonishing history. The present day club is the result of a merger between Corinthians and Casuals in the 30s, but before then Corinthians had an amazing philosophy, epitomised in this quotation from Wikipedia:
Committed to the amateur game, the club only played friendlies, despite attracting the most gifted players of the age. Deprived of competition at home, the club made overseas tours, helping to establish football in Brazil, where the club Corinthians still bears their name. And today - and presumably at every match - the Casuals fans displayed a banner bearing the words "Obrigado por fazer parte da nossa historia" (thank you for being part of our history). One of their fans was even flourishing an old-fashioned wooden rattle.

We were far from Brazil. Neat passages of play by both teams but very little goal-threat. As I've said before, the ground is picturesquely situated among the Surrey hills, but those hills mean sunset is early and cold on a winter's day. As the chilly air settled into the valley after half-time the game grew even less animated. With about 15 minutes to go, Casuals got the only goal from a well worked free kick.

Both clubs seem destined for a mid-table finish. Most of the 168 crowd accepted the defeat with an appropriately stoic resignation, while the 20 or so travelling fans were attic in their celebrations.

08 January 2017

Goodbye to Morgan Fox

I've only seen four games this season, and I'm a notoriously bad judge of football and footballers, so who am I to comment but ...

When they write the book on confirmation bias, Morgan Fox won't just be a footnote, he'll have his own chapter, illustrated with screenshots from the twitter response to the news that Sheffield Wednesday have paid seven hundred thousand undiscloseds to get his services. Here's an extreme example, from someone who obviously never saw Yohann Thuram's hilarious impression of a goalkeeper.
Yes, he had bad games. Who hasn't, under the revolving door management regime at Charlton these three years? My feeling was that he needed a better, more defensive, left midfield in front of him than he usually got. But he had good games and he played a part in some important goals.

Above all, he somehow rode out the disgraceful abuse some fans would give him, never seeming to be affected by it. (But of course he was. He must have been. The culture of denial got to him. Unable to directly address any feelings of anger, it's likely he internalised it, and that may be why his play this season was apparently worse - but again, what do I know?)

I'm absolutely sure that Wednesday's scouting team know more about football than I do, and I'm prepared to bet they have looked at Fox with a more balanced, less prejudiced eye than many Charlton fans. I really hope he does well, not just for his sake but because it will really piss off all those who wanted him to fail, laughed and jeered when he did, and somehow didn't see when he didn't.

04 December 2016

Letter to Roland Duchâtelet

Yesterday the Belgium 20 delivered around 200 letters from Charlton fans to Roland Duchâtelet in Belgium.
One of them was mine! In case Roland somehow lost it and wants to read it again, here it is.
Dear Mr Duchâtelet

May I belatedly and sincerely wish you a happy birthday. You have obviously been a very successful businessman and have shown a genuine concern for the future of your society which goes beyond many businesspeople’s selfish and overriding search for greater profits at any cost. Now, as you said when you sold Standard: “Quality of life and personal happiness are the most important things in my life”. You have clearly earned the right to enjoy yourself and to indulge in the things that make you happy.

It’s hard to see how your continued ownership of Charlton Athletic can be one of these things. As you and Ms Meire have pointed out, it’s costing you a lot of money to run the club and there’s no guarantee you’ll recover that investment. It looks like an expensive hobby and a hobby you simply don’t enjoy.

One of the reasons Charlton fans don’t like your ownership is that you show no interest in the club. Famously, you don’t attend games, and any recent trips to SE7 have been timed to avoid attendance at any match. If Charlton win, are you happy? Does it ruin your weekend if they lose? Probably not. When Charlton were relegated last season, completely avoidably, did you find yourself furious with anger at the mismanagement that had caused it? Probably not.

To us, the supporters, it seems as if you have bought the club and forgotten why you did that. There has never been a clear statement of what ambitions you have for the club. When you bought the club it was in a position of great potential, given clever investment. Instead, the team was weakened by some disastrous decisions from the start, culminating in the appointment of an interim head coach who was clearly out of his depth and made relegation certain. None of this needed to happen. Would you tolerate this level of mismanagement in one of your industrial businesses? Probably not.

When you have expressed an opinion you have tended to blame the fans. Most recently you said that the protests in Belgium recently were the work of a group of core actors and you were reported as saying that fans are unhappy because they don’t like the idea of a female CEO.

If you look at Charlton’s history you’ll understand that the club’s fans have a reputation - sometimes quite smugly so - for social progressiveness. I think many fans were, like me, delighted with the appointment of a female CEO. We can see that women are underrepresented in football management and were glad to see the club doing something to change that. For most people, the issue with Ms Meire is not her gender or her nationality but her competence. The team has not succeeded, and revenue, with diminishing ticket and merchandise sales, must be savagely reduced. Presumably you have given her achievement targets and unless they are incredibly minimal, she can’t have achieved them. If she were a manager in one of your core businesses, or in something you care about - STVV, perhaps - would she still have the job? Probably not. I don’t wish her ill, but her performance and your acceptance of it is another demonstration of how little you care for Charlton.

I wasn’t one of the “core actors” who visited Belgium recently, but they have my admiration and full support. I’m one of the much larger group who are protesting by staying away from games at the Valley. I have supported Charlton since I was a child and had held a season ticket for 12 years. It wasn’t an easy decision not to renew it but I simply want to make owning Charlton as expensive and unprofitable for you as possible, so that in time you will look for and find a buyer who will give the club respect and develop the enormous potential. Potential not just in terms of the facilities and location of the club, but in terms of the fans. Look at the energy, creativity and imagination that has gone into the protests. Imagine having that behind you! It could have been yours but you blew it and the chance won’t come back.

Again, I’ll quote your comments following the sale of Standard: "I have felt it was complicated for me at Standard. For the Standard fans too - those who didn't see in me the leader they wanted".

You’ll never recover the trust of Charlton fans, just as you’ll never recover the money you’ve spent.

Cut your losses. Sell the club.

(Source of quotations: )