22 April 2012

Charlton 2 Wycombe 1

I really hate Queen. The seventies pomp-rock band, I mean. Their music has always seemed a bit fascistic to me, with its insistent beat and demagogic posery. It doesn't allow any individuality and tries to force everyone into a uniform emotion, of the kind that can lead to hatred and oppression. I'd sell my worthless soul if some satan could guarantee I'd never have to hear Bohemian Rhapsody or We Will Rock You again.

If only Nick Drake, say, had written a song about how nice it is to win something for once. Then the Valley would have been singing a folk-inspired melody yesterday with an accompaniment of guitar and strings. Maybe Nick Drake would have been inspired by his own song to not kill himself.

But that's one of only two ways yesterday could have been improved. (The other would have been if the opposition had been a more hate-worthy team. Wycombe were great, like Walsall before them, and I'd much rather we'd beaten some ugly team like Oldham.)

But until someone discovers Nick Drake's lost happy album, yesterday is as good as it gets. Next season looks like being big fun! But meanwhile, next week Charlton could reach 100 points and in two weeks' time, we've got an "ignore the cup final" party to go to. The memorable days keep on coming.

16 April 2012

Sometimes I get things right

I am the world's worst football pundit, as regular readers know. But in January last year I wrote this about the possibility that Chris Powell was going to be made Charlton manager.

If he does well, if he leads the team to promotion, won't that be a much better feeling than getting there with Phil Parkinson, or some other manager who's slumming it in the third division to resurrect a faltering career?

Football, thank goodness, isn't about always doing the sensible thing. If it was, I'd be supporting a team that wins something occasionally, or Arsenal. Following a club like Charlton is foolish and romantic - it's daring to hope against expectation that some dreams come true. And there aren't many dreams bigger and better than seeing Chris Powell leading Charlton to glory.
Bugger me, I was right!

14 April 2012

Charlton 44 Third Division 0

Now that promotion is confirmed, maybe we can stop being superstitious, and start talking about how good Charlton have been this season. We can no longer jinx the team.

Top of the league since mid-September. Promotion gained with three games to spare. 94 points (and 100 a real possibility). 20 clean sheets. 15 away wins. A goal difference of +44 (the best outside the Premier League). According to 25-1 on to win the title. With that sort of performance, Charlton should have been promoted long ago. In a normal season they would have been.

Which just goes to show what a strong competition League 1 has been this year. In particular, the two Sheffield clubs have not let up in their pursuit. Now one of them, probably Wednesday, will face the torture of the play-offs. In a normal season, the league would have been a straight and thrilling contest between them, and they could probably both have got and deserved promotion.

But this wasn't a normal season. Charlton's achievement has been phenomenal. All the more so, when you look at how it started. An almost entirely new squad was assembled over the summer, and lots of established players left. We've seen similar changes before. In the years of post-Curbishley decline the turnover of players was dizzying, but the common factor always seemed to be that the incoming players were no help at all. You just need to think of Hasselbaink, Jeffers, Faye and others too appalling to mention to be reminded of those years.

The difference this time seems to be that Chris Powell was involved. He has spoken about his intention to change the mindset of the club, to get in players who shared his approach to the game. And it's worked. One of the striking things about Chris Powell, once you get past his huge charisma, is his football intelligence: he has an exquisite eye for a good player. The best example of this is Yann Kermorgant. Powell knew him from Leicester, where he was out of favour and unwanted, but obviously saw something in him that no-one else did. He's gone on to be one of the stars of the team, not just for his skill and physical presence, but for his indomitable spirit. He must be one of the most fouled players in the league, but he shrugs it all off. As he's a Breton I'd liken him to a menhir, but of course he's far more mobile. More of an Obelix, perhaps.

So the result has been that a rookie manager, in his first full season, with a squad that had never met before the season started, has achieved one of the best performances ever in an English football season. Yes, it really is as good as that. It has been a privilege and a huge pleasure to follow Charlton this season

We knew what had to happen for Charlton to be promoted today. They had to win, and Wednesday had to fail to win at Colchester. It could happen, but I didn't think it would. Be honest, you didn't think it would. That's not how it happens with Charlton. The rulebook says we don't get these breaks. But now, Charlton fans, we've got a new rulebook. I was following the game on twitter and once BWP scored, I felt secure. Charlton don't give away the lead these days. All we needed was for Colchester to hold out against Sheffield Wednesday. And that happened, and suddenly my eyes were full of salty water and I lost the ability to speak.

My only regret about today is that I wasn't there. But next week there's a similar situation. For the first and only time in my life I'll be wanting MKDons to win. This pains me, but if Charlton beat Wycombe, and Sheffield United don't win at Milton Keynes, Charlton will have won the league. And then we can celebrate properly, all of us, at the Valley.

10 April 2012

Charlton 1 Walsall 0

When the Jeremiahs behind you are talking about who Charlton'll get in over the summer to deal with the Championship, you know the mood has changed. Two wins in three days makes such a difference. If the stubborn resistance at Oldham showed the strength of character in Chris Powell's team, this win showed their ability to ration their effort, once again doing just enough to hold on to the win and keep something in reserve for the four remaining games.

Walsall were much better than anyone expected, and brought a refreshingly positive approach to the game. They deserved more than the 227 fans they brought with them. It's hard to understand why they're on the fringes of relegation, and I hope they stay up. I even liked their strip: black shirts and shorts with a white diagonal stripe on the shirts. It's obvious that Charlton's deal with Macron isn't going to be renewed and there will be a new kit manufacturer next season. Let's have a diagonal stripe, please. I love a diagonal stripe.

For once, also, we had a referee who seemed generally competent, although there were two glaringly wrong throw-in decisions that were basic errors. He was booed off the pitch, which was unfair, I thought. Booing the ref has become a habit, like smoking or Greggs pasties, that you keep doing even when you know you shouldn't.

So: well done Walsall; relatively well done the ref. All this bonhomie from me can only mean that the game wasn't memorable. If I were to open my book of football clich├ęs I'm sure the phrases "business end of the season", "winning ugly", and "results matter more than ..." are waiting. You can assemble them into a sentence perfectly well for yourself. Any fool can do that. Even Steve Claridge. Actually, I'm even going to be nice to him and say that, as far as I know, he's never eaten anyone's pet poodle. He's not totally evil.

Here's your link to the reliably excellent offical site report.

01 April 2012

Charlton 2 Orient 0

Another step nearer: this win means Charlton are, at worst, in the play-offs and still have a 6 point lead over the rest, with just 6 games to play. It shouldn't feel precarious, but it still does, and some of the nervousness was evident on the pitch in the first half, which had started so well, with a goal within 7 minutes. But then some bizarre (I'm being kind) refereeing seemed to leave the team - especially Kermorgant - grudgeful and uncertain. Ben Hamer pulled off a couple of fine saves towards the end of the half, which in a way saved the game.

The second half felt calmer, and the referee finally realised he had to do something about the real fouls that were being committed, which resulted in five yellow cards for Orient, who weren't particularly violent, just prepared to do what was necessary as long as they could get away with it. The second goal, which I might even watch on the Football League Show, was a brilliant one, with newbies Cook and N'Guessan linking well.

Once again, the return of Kevin Lisbie prompted a couple of the blokes behind me to say how good it would have been if we could have kept him. Once again it took all my self-control not to point out that he was - statistically at least - a disaster as a Charlton striker. It was one of the mysteries of the Curbishley years why he kept getting picked for the first team, and one had to assume he was absolutely dazzling in training. But he scored fewer goals in his entire Charlton career than BWP has scored this season. To be fair to him, he still looks useful and fast, especially considering he's now 33, but as usual all that speed resulted in him leaving the Valley without scoring a goal.

If we're talking about former strikers, how about one who's available and has experience in getting promotion: Arthur Horsfield. He scored an impressive 53 goals in 139 games - some of those playing at centre back. His name's rarely mentioned these days, his fame being rather overshadowed by his contemporary, Derek Hales. His wikipedia entry is unusually chatty, and reveals something I didn't know before: there's a road named after him in Dartford. He played a huge part in Charlton's escape from the third division in 1975. I came back from University for the promotion-clinching game. For the first and only time I invaded the pitch after the match and remember the look of pleasure on Horsfield's face as he took a mighty drag on a celebratory cigarette. Let's get him back!

Other views, focussing more on the match than the above ramblings of an antient supporter:
Charlton official website
Charlton casual
Drinking during the game