08 December 2012

Charlton 2 Brighton 2

When we last played Brighton in the third division, they were like a breath of fresh air with their attractive passing game contrasting delightfully with the defensive clogging most visiting teams served up. They don't stand out so much in the Championship, but it was still a pleasure to watch them today. They also brought a huge and noisy crowd, helping to create a good atmosphere. It was a bit of a love-in really, even on the packed train afterwards (thanks, Southeastern, for making the train especially short to encourage healthy male bonding) only partly caused by a shared dislike of Crystal Palace.

So, how nice that the result probably struck everybody as a fair one. All four goals had a touch of the streaky about them and better chances were missed as the two teams seemed to cancel each other out. There was lots to enjoy but it was all a bit shapeless.

It was one of those days, anyway, when we take a longer view. Twenty years since the return to the Valley was a chance to remember that even in the worst Dowie-Pardew-Parkinson days, the fact the club was still going was something that was far from guaranteed 25 years ago. Thanks again to Southeastern for delivering me to the ground too late today to see the video: fully-grown men were apparently reduced to tears by it, so I would have been an embarassing wreck.

But it was good to see and hear Richard Murray at halftime. I still think he's the most important figure in Charlton's recent history, not just in keeping club going, but the success of Alan Curbishley's management was built on the understanding the two men had. One day they ought to name a stand after him.

 Today's result meant Charlton move into the top half of the table, only four points off the playoff positions, but more importantly eleven points clear of relegation. There's still a long way to go but it's looking good so far.

03 December 2012

Yann Kermorgant - un footballeur pas comme les autres is a website for French speakers abroad. They've recently published a feature about Yann Kermorgant, which is very interesting. The original is here and I hope they won't mind that I've rushed together this translation. Please go to the original site and click on a few adverts to thank them. And if I've mistranslated anything (highly likely) please let me know. Thanks.

Yann Kermorgant's career looks like a revenge on fate. The return to the pitch of The Beast, as Charlton's supporters call him, after a fractured ankle in September, bears witness to his fighting spirit. The doctors said he'd be out for three months, but he returned to the field after two. And he didn't do things by half, scoring his team's second goal in their 2-0 win over Peterborough on 27 November.

He was one of the key architects of Charlton's rise to the second tier - scoring 12 goals in the most prolific season of his career - but Yann Kermorgant only just managed to become a professional footballer.

At 14, this child of Vannes, where he was born in 1981, joined the academy of Stade Rennais, the region's prominent club. But the club's doctors detected leukemia. With his football career apparently over, Yann clung to life. Four years later, in 1999, he was cured but the world of professional  football seemed forever closed to him.

He recalls: "I returned to football with a district-level club in the Vannes region". His friends and family encouraged him, and the reserve team trainer of Vannes OC offered to bring him into the team. "So I got back into training, so I could play at a high level".

But he was rarely a first choice, and not always in his favoured position. He decided to take his chance with Ch√Ętellerault in the fourth division, and gave himself 2-3 years to break through. But after one good season, the world of football smiled on him again. Grenoble recruited him to play in Ligue 2. But he was not a footballer like all the others.

"I was never in an academy, and I have lived enough to know that football isn't everything. When I go home after training, I forget about football. Besides, my wife wouldn't let me just watch matches and chat about nothing but football", he laughs.

His first steps into professional football in the 2005-06 season were promising. He scored 16 goals in two seasons, then joined Reims in summer 2007. After an average first season (4 goals), he played a full season in 2008/9, during which Luis Fernandez gave him the captain's armband. With 9 goals and 9 assists, he hoped one day to play in Ligue 1. But it was another country, England, that gave him his chance.

"With my physique and style of play, it's true it seemed to be my ideal destination" he says. But his time at Leicester left a taste of ashes in his mouth. Not a regular player, he was the chosen scapegoat after his team's defeat by Cardiff City in the play-off semi-finals, after he missed in the penalty shoot-out. "In fact, it was not just me who missed my shot. But the media had it in for me a bit." He left England for a year, on loan to Arles-Avignon.

Released by Leicester after the loan at Arles, he who was not yet "the Beast" tried his luck once more in Her Majesty's kingdom. "At first I wasn't too keen on returning to England. I hadn't succeeded at Leicester, but I was no worse than the others. The English didn't like a Frenchman taking their place. So as not to annoy the rest of the dressing room, the coach never really gave me a chance", the Breton explains.

At Charlton his luck would change. "Right from the start things were different. The trainer wanted me, and had faith in me." It is true that Chris Powel, the Addicks' coach, praised his "power in the air and [...] his good finishing." A declaration of love which did not displease the striker, happily for Charlton. If his journey stands out in the world of professional football, it is also what has given him the strength he has now. On top of his quality as a goalscorer, his will to win and sense of perspective in good and bad times have made him a dominant character among the Addicks. "Everyone appreciates him here. He is a key figure in the dressing room and has helped me integrate into the team" says Dorian Dervite, who joined the little French colony in Charlton last year.

After quite a bit of wandering, Yann sees himself staying some time at Charlton. "The public have a real passion for the game, and this makes you play at a high level. Last year, in the third tier, we played three times in front of a sold-out crowd of 27,000. Football in general is lived totally differently. For example, people bring their family along to the ground."

At 31, the attacker still dreams of one day making it into the Premier League. "Why not with Charlton?", he smiles. But he still knows where he comes from and keeps his feet on the ground, far from the glitz and glitter. "I don't flaunt my money with big cars or 10,000 € watches. In any case, I don't really have the wherewithal", he laughs. "I can't complain, but I have had a rather short career, and I must be careful." This prudence is already making Yann prepare for life after football. At his home, in Vannes, he is building a five-a-side centre, a way of ensuring he stays active after his retirement as a player.

But, until then, the Beast will continue to roar in the land of the Three Lions.