31 December 2013

Happy New Year!

That's it, really. Especially if you've had a tough time this year, I hope next year will be better. My only advice and resolution is that no-one should waste their money on mediocre cheese. Eat less but better. Bonne année á toutes et á tous!

30 December 2013

Charlton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1

The most unpopular man at the Valley yesterday was, bizarrely, not the assistant referee who failed to notice that Wednesday's goal was blatantly offside, but his colleague, the fourth official, when he indicated there would be one minute of extra time at the end of the first half. Even one more minute of that was more than most people could stand. There should be a rule where time can be reduced if the quality of play has failed to reach an acceptable level. After 30 minutes, the referee should have called a halt, forced both managers to give a public apology and promise a better display in the second half. I've never been a big drug user but if there had been a shady looking hippy near me, I'd have killed and eaten him to get the benefit of any mind-altering substances circulating in his blood.

The second half was better, in the way that Eastenders is better than Hollyoaks. A quick goal for Charlton, a quick reply for Wednesday, and a bizarre communal decision by Charlton to defend the draw rather than go for a win. I'd like to say the game petered out, but it had never really petered in.

The draw extended Charlton's unbeaten run to three games. Joyful news but no-one seemed happy except the shady looking hippy I saw at Charlton Station on the way home. He was blissful and surprisingly chewy.

01 December 2013

Charlton 0 Ipswich 1

If I can get a grant for it, I'm going to do a PhD in Charlton studies. I'll call it Directionality and Deviance, because that sounds quite sexy, but in reality it will look at (interrogate, as we say in academia) the way in which the toss-winning team chooses which goal to attack first.

My first point of enquiry will be to establish whether everyone else feels, as does the writer, unease (existential aporia) when the game starts with Charlton attacking the north end (which I shall call premature septentrionality). It's not normal, and such deviance hits me with the transgressive force of a deep taboo being broken: like incest, cannibalism, or asking Alan Shearer to speak.

The standard approach, that of attacking the north end in the second half (orthodox meridionality), suggests that the home crowd's support is more useful (materially productive) when situated behind the other team's goal (the object of teleological desire), and thus can facilitate a secondary resurgence, or comeback in the second half .

Picture from WikipediaThis should apply equally to both teams, of course, and so for either team to fail to follow the orthodox meridionality is an act of violent challenge to the hegemonous ludic ideology.

As regular readers know, though, I'm a dullard when it comes to football tactics, so it's fortunate I'll never get that grant. But even I could see exactly what Ipswich's game-plan was: to start fast and furious, hope to get an early goal in front of their support, then see out the rest of the game by snuffing out any attacking threat by the home team. It worked out perfectly, only slightly delayed by Ben Alnwick's three excellent saves in the first four minutes. But then came the fifth minute and, I think, already Ipswich's fifth corner, and the goal. Go home, we might as well have gone home.

Charlton didn't recover from that five minutes' battering. Though they weren't as bad as some people have suggested, virtually everyone looked off their best. Ipswich had done the research, and knew how to stop Cameron Stewart, for example, causing any damage. He'll have learned a lot from the game, I think, as he had to keep trying something new, but wasn't able to find an answer in the 90 minutes. He'll be a better player when he goes back than he was when he arrived on loan. You owe us something, Steve Bruce.

And you, Mick McCarthy, I am aware I've called you a deviant, but I mean it in a nice way. Please don't sue me.

27 November 2013

Charlton 2 Doncaster 0

There weren't many of them, but the Doncaster fans who made the trip to London last night must surely hate the place more than they ever did. First, of course, it was a trip they shouldn't have had to make. As we've seen again recently, there's something badly wrong with the pitch drainage at the Valley, by which I mean there doesn't appear to be any. The pitch is looking in bad condition already even after a fairly dry period and by February it is likely to resemble the famous Chelsea Beach.

Then the combined farces of Southeastern Trains and Network Rail treated the travelling fans to an exact and accurate version of the London Commuter Experience, with London Bridge station closed for a couple of hours before the game. People were still arriving at the match at half time. Actually, there probably were loads of Doncaster fans who got no further than London Bridge, but took themselves to a pub where they could moan happily about pissy southern beer and London prices.

But the few who made it then had a pretty miserable display to watch. It's hard to say if Charlton were as good as some people thought, because Doncaster didn't offer much. Ben Alnwick, making an unexpected debut in goal after an injury to Ben Hamer in the warm-up, was almost not needed, but looked fine when he was.

In total contrast to the rained-off game, Charlton were in total control for the whole match and only some sloppy finishing prevented a big lead by half-time. But the first goal was worth waiting for. This youtube clip will probably not last long, so see it while you can.

The second half was similar, and after Charlton's second goal - Church finally converting - the team put their feet up on the mantlepiece and smoked a meditative pipe.As did I.

11 November 2013

Charlton 2 Leeds 4

I've got my hand up. I'll take the blame. Before the game I tweeted that the last three games I'd seen at the Valley had been 0-0, and I hoped that would change. Careful what you wish for, someone said.

But on the other hand, I discovered later that I was wearing my shirt inside out. That's the sort of thing that a lot of people would consider lucky. Obviously it wasn't, so I don't have to get superstitious and start wearing that shirt that way forever. Readers, if you see me with a shirt on inside out, it's just my trademark, some might say loveable, incompetence. Feel free to point it out, or simply to point and laugh.

It rained all morning. Not heavily, but persistently. It shouldn't have threatened the game, and my only concern, as I kept checking was whether the rain would stop in time for me to cycle to the Valley. It did, and I got there in plenty of time (2:30) to find a surprisingly sparse crowd. I sat down and checked twitter and found the start had been put back to 3:30. Fortunately I had a stimulating magazine with me to read and here's a top tip from it:

Make your cheese and wine party more appealing by having no cheese or guests.

The pitch at the Valley is a problem, to state the bleedin obvious. Although the rain had stopped, the ground wasn't drying at all, and especially on the east side remained splashy throughout. It's as if there isn't any drainage, but any drying is left to evaporation. Evaporation doesn't happen at this time of year and it's hard to see how the pitch can survive if winter is as wet as autumn has been.

So, finally, I suppose I must turn my attention to the match. Must I? Really? A frustrating game where bad luck, atrocious refereeing, and a top performance by one player steal the points. Leeds are a horrible team. Remarkably, whoever's in charge and whoever's in the squad they continue to be thoroughly unlikeable: the Millwall of the North. Annoyingly, when we think of this game we'll remember the pitch and the result and the unpleasantness of the opposition, when we should be remembering one of the best goals we've seen for a while, from Cameron Stewart. You can probably find it on youtube. I can't be arsed.

28 October 2013

Charlton 0 Wigan 0

Another goalless draw, if you like, or another clean sheet, if you're feeling positive.

Basically, if you want my view on the match, read this report in the Guardian, and reverse everything. It wasn't a great game but it was constantly entertaining and nil-nil was the most unlikely score, achieved only by poor finishing by Charlton and absolutely awful finishing by Wigan. That, and their inability to keep their feet. Well, it was quite windy. The referee quite understandably considered the wind to be a Charlton player and kept giving free kicks against it.

A big crowd, in response to the "football for a seasonally-adjusted fiver" offer, seemed to be gripped throughout, and there was none of the negativity that these games sometimes bring out from the less committed supporters. Charlton were by far the better team in the first half, but a couple of forced substitutions - Kermorgant and Wood going off with knocks - clearly weakened the team in the second half, with Marvin Sordell in particular not doing much to rebuff the criticism he often gets. One day, he'll suprise us all, maybe.

So, another re-assuring performance, if a disappointing result. The team is much more stable than it was only a month ago, and could be laying the foundations for a run of better form.

I'm quite aware, thanks, that this is a dull review and I'm sorry about that. Here's a picture of a kitten and a duckling.

02 October 2013

Charlton 1 Forest 1

If the Millwall game had left me speechless (and blogless) in a bad way, last night's 1-1 victory defies analysis in a different way.

Before the game the opinion was that it would be a difficult evening. Forest were a good team, enjoying a good run of results. Charlton were anything but, and with Solly, Jackson and Kermorgant all unfit, had to fear the worst. Ah well, I thought, at least we might see a virtuoso display by Andy Reid.

Be careful what you wish for. Within three minutes, he had scored. It was difficult from my position to tell if it was a fluke, or bad defending, or brilliance; but with Reid we'd better assume it was brilliance. The night suddenly looked like it would be even longer, but the Covered End, maybe remembering last season's game against Cardiff, shrugged it off and carried on singing. And the team responded. The first half performance wasn't great: there was still an element of nervousness in some of the decision-making. Time after time a high ball failed to find a Charlton head and possession was lost. Forest weren't looking particularly dangerous, though. Billy Davies, their manager, said after the game that they had scored "too early", which sounds like nonsense - can you ever score too early? - but if what he meant was that his team didn't have any urgency about them after the goal, then he was right. Their best chance came from a bad lapse of concentration in the Charlton defence and Lawrie Wilson made a dramatic goal-line save.

The second half was one of the most thrilling 45 minutes of football I can remember. Marvin Sordell equalised after about five minutes, and from then on Charlton put together wave after wave of attack, probably creating more chances than they've had in all previous games this season. It looked impossible for Charlton not to score, but somehow they managed it. Meanwhile Forest had a huge number of corners, which they failed to exploit.

You could argue all night about whether it was a point gained in a game we probably should have lost, or two points lost in a game we could easily have won. Doesn't really matter, though. The team will know how well they played, and as long as they remember that feeling and how to get it, happy days should be here again.

Readers may remember that I used this game last season to draw an unlikely comparison between Andy Reid and Penelope Cruz. Savvy readers will already have realised that was just a ploy to justify including a picture of her. But it's become a tradition, and who am I to defy tradition?

02 September 2013

Charlton 2 Leicester 1

Wearisome clichés. I know all about them. You don't spend so many afternoons in the West Stand without hearing them all. One of the wearisomest this is where the season really starts which should be banned except when it's literally true, ie just before kick-off of the first game.

But, dear reader, I'm tempted to use it. I have to admit, it's partly because I haven't really got into the season yet. It's still too hot, for a start. Ooh, it's so hot I haven't even written this blog until two days after the match.

Some things you don't need to be told: Kermorgant was booed by the visiting fans, scored, and Charlton won 2-1. This is all routine for games against Leicester.

But what was encouraging was the style of the win. Charlton lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, with Wiggins and Wilson playing wide in midfield. It's a very attractive formation to watch, partly because it gives the opposition more possession. As always, Leicester were efficient and well-drilled, but lacking a final bit of spark. Charlton were transformed from the way they've played so far this season, using creative passing to create dangerous positions.

Both Charlton's goals came from corners, though. I'm not sure what to make of that. It should be a worry for Nigel Pearson that his team couldn't defend them, but the first one, in particular, was brilliantly taken -  Morrison scoring from Stephens' kick - and Leicester would have been further behind without some moments of brilliance by Kasper Schmeichel.

Leicester went down to 10 men early in the second half. There's a thesis to be written on how teams can turn a numerical deficit to their advantage. Not by me, obviously, but Leicester noticeably improved their game, and got a goal back to make for an unnecessarily tense final 20 minutes or so (including a ludicrous 6 extra).

The points were safe, though, and from a thoroughly sound performance too. All the doubters shouldn't need to be told that last season's team hasn't suddenly become rubbish, but that's what was proved. What a pity it's now three weeks before the next home game.

24 August 2013

Charlton 1 Doncaster 3 Tlaloc 5

A bizarrely enjoyable afternoon. Perhaps every game should contain just 45 minutes of play, with a little underwater gardening at half time.

The pitch was saturated before the game began and constant heavy rain mean that the referee suspended the game after 27 minutes. By then, Doncaster were 3-0 up. A slightly flattering score for them, as their keeper had kept out 2 or 3 strong Charlton chances, but they were clearly better at adjusting to the conditions and exploiting the chances it gave. Unsurprisingly the home supporters called for the game to be called off. Equally unsurprisingly, the always charming Paul Dickov argued vehemently against it. After a short break, it was announced there would be an inspection within 30 minutes. Ground staff started forking and squeegeeing the covered end goal area, while Johnnie Jackson jokingly poured the contents of a water bottle on to the pitch. Dickov sent out his team to stay warm on the pitch by splashing about in the puddles, and some of them grabbed forks and brooms and joined in. (Picture by @patrickcromb)

So the game restarted, although there really hadn't been any improvement in the playing surface and the rain was still falling. Charlton fans howled indignation every time the ball stuck in a puddle but gradually it became clear that the team were playing better. A goal back for Charlton, and a sending off for Doncaster, and the prospect of going into a second half suddenly seemed not so awful. The calls for abandonment eased off, and there was a feeling that the game was really on.

But during halftime the referee abandoned the game completely. The right decision but one he should have made earlier.

Doncaster fans have apparently been fiercely critical of the decision to abandon. But the game wasn't theirs. Anything could have happened in the second half, especially with them defending the boggy end. The only certainty was that there would have been weapons-grade time-wasting from the visitors. So at least we were spared that.

Next week Leicester City come to town.

19 July 2013

Nostradamus and Charlton

I've recently discovered two lost quatrains of the 16th century visionary Nostradamus, whose predictions are invariably correct. Thanks to his clear warning, the American government was able to prevent the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Oh, no, wait, that didn't happen. Well I'm sure it's just because they weren't reading him properly. Let's not make that mistake again.
When the Spanish come to the valley
The defences will be solid
A Breton giant will lead the charge
And a man from the west will rule.

But Oh, the woe that will befall
The speaking man will become silent
The clocks will cease from marking the hours
And death death death death doom.

It's pretty clear what's going on in these lines. At first it seems we might be talking about a military campaign, but that mention of "The valley" means "the Spanish" can only refer to Tony Jimenez. The "Breton giant" is obviously Yann Kermorgant, and the man from the west is an oblique reference to Chris Powell's heritage. All looks good so far, yes? How wonderful that Nostradamus could have predicted Charlton's resurgence under Chris Powell so clearly!

But then, there's a dreadful prediction. "The speaking man" is a clearly a reference to the head of communications, who has indeed just become silent. When clocks mark the hours, what do they do? Of course they strike, and so we realise that Nostradamus foresaw Charlton's lack of a regular striker.

The last line is far from ambiguous.

So, there we have it. The people who are predicting disaster for Charlton (as they always do at this time of year) aren't just acting out of ignorance and pessimism (as usual), they're heard of this prediction. For once they're not talking uninformed nonsense, but are basing their statements on solid, ancient wisdom. And I, for one, am terrified.

16 July 2013

The curse of a literal mind (5)

The Guardian is running a course in setting up your own mobile food business. For just £129 you can benefit from the wisdom of six speakers, one of whom is Charli Matthews.

I hope she washed it first.

(Thanks to Nikki for spotting this.)

13 June 2013

Apple Tree Yard

Note to most of my regular readers: no football  here; be strong; the new season's not far away.

Recently I found a couple of copies of a magazine called Acclaim from 1993. It was the bi-monthly magazine of the Ian St James awards, and the Ian St James awards were an annual short story competition.

Louise Doughty was a previous winner, and she contributed a column to each issue, giving aspiring writers tips on What Makes A Winning Short Story. In effect, I suppose, she was passing on some of what she'd learned while doing the MA in Creative Writing at East Anglia.

Attentive and long-memoried readers of this blog (which narrows it down substantially) will recall that I've written about Louise before. And seeing this photo again has reminded me of what first attracted me to the beautiful Ms Doughty. Yes, I'm shallow, but just look into those deep dark eyes for a while. I may need to throw you a rope ...

And now she has a new novel out, Apple Tree Yard. I've given links below to a couple of reviews, which will give a better idea of the kind of book it is. What a lark it would be to analyse it in terms of Plot and Theme! What is it all about, huh? But it would be pointless. Louise is technically brilliant and the new book manages an intricate timeline with impressive ease. There's an ingenious and selective use of the present historic, which is no gimmick but a studied way of indicating which part of the story we're reading about now, and large parts of the book are written in the second person, addressed to the narrator's lover.

The effect is to make the gradual revelation of what happened more compelling. Although it is easy to guess what will have happened to have brought the narrator, Yvonne, to the predicament she outlines at the start of the book, there's enough uncertainty about what exactly had happened to keep one's interest engaged until the end, or the ends. Because you think you've heard all the story with a few pages to go, and you think you're just reading through a decompression zone, when one further fact is revealed that makes you think again about the whole story. Obviously, I won't say what that is.

As in the previous book, the first person narrative has a prose that sometimes flattens into triteness. But Yvonne's style gets a bit unhinged as the novel goes on, and those final few pages make you reconsider your opinion about what you've read.

There's a suspicion of improbability in the way an apparent plot-hole is plugged up. Again, no spoilers, but it involves police procedure, and the ostensible solution doesn't sound plausible at all. But the depth and detail of Louise's research is apparent throughout the book: it's unlikely this is her mistake, so it must be Yvonne's mistake or mistruth, which again makes you look again at everything she's said.

So, it's a strong recommendation from me. Here are some other views.

Alfred Hickling in the Guardian: "a compelling cautionary tale of what happens when fantasy begins to occlude real life"
Amber Pearson in the Daily Mail:  "A disquieting, perceptive and gripping read."
An interview with Louise on the Faber blog

And you can buy it a local bookshop, eg these nice people The Beckenham Bookshop

13 May 2013

Off target

Advertising anything to me is pretty pointless, because I just don't buy much. But there's been a lot of concern about how much Facebook knows about us, and how it delivers us to advertisers with sinister precision.

Here are the advertisers who've presumably paid a tiny fee to Facebook to get my attention this morning.

First up, a hotel in Manchester. I've no idea how I could have given the impression I might be interested in this.

Then American Express. Like I need a new way to pay for things I don't even buy.

Bizarrely, a Brazilian dentist.

Michael Parkinson wants to sell me some kind of policy.

Oh well, if I'm staying in Manchester, I might as well do the Great Manchester Run. As if!

And then, if it turns my fingers white - whiter than they already are, I presume - here's someone to help my claim compensation.

I think we're a long way off from being Facebook's property yet.

04 May 2013

Charlton 4 Bristol City 1

Once again the season ended with a happy day and a feeling of optimism. While there weren't the spectacular scenes of last year, once again we could reflect on a season that turned out to be a bit better than most people expected, and much, much better than some feared a couple of months ago.

I won't go into details of the game, particularly not the first half.

Just as we were all settling down for a similarly uneventful second half, Yann Kermorgant scored a brilliant goal - an unstoppable volley from a cross by Mark Gower - that threw wide open the goal of the season contest and ushered in a free-flowing display by Charlton. Although Bristol City were understandably not very good and not very interested, in that form Charlton could have beaten anybody in the division. One more goal from Kermorgant, one from Obiobiobika, and the last from Johnnie Jackson couldn't have gone to more popular players.

But, then again, every player is popular. You can search through the team and you won't find anyone who doesn't deserve their place. There are no skivers in the team, and what's more they all seem to be decent human beings. It's all so different from when Pardew's mercenary millionaires were underperforming on a weekly basis. I often wonder if fans of Chelsea, say, ever get bored of sighing "Yes, I know, perhaps he has shagged his mate's girlfriend/has shot a work-experience trainee/is a racist - but he's a really good player". We never have to do that. I've never met the man, unfortunately, but get the feeling that Chris Powell has high moral standards, and he infuses them into the squad. (Oh, I love him so much it's embarassing!)

As in all good parties, the guests get party bags, and Bristol City's was a silly goal. I hope they do well next season. It's always struck me as ridiculous that Bristol - England's sixth most populous city - can't seem to sustain a top-flight football club.

In other results, Millwall (bastards!) were saved from relegation by Crystal Palace (bastards!), who managed to stay in the playoffs. Wolves, disastrously but deservedly, whimpered into League One, and in a dramatic series of events Hull City became hot favourites for relegation next season.

All the drama elsewhere means that very few people will pay attention to Charlton's performance today, so Nick Pope will have to wait for his name to be used wittily in a witty headline. But those of us who were there will wonder what might happen next. Chris Powell took half a season to work out how to win League One. He's had a whole year to suss out the Championship. I'm really looking forward to next season.

20 April 2013

Charton 2 Wolves 1

I'm going to slightly adapt my last post.
As so often at the Valley this season, the game was settled by a very late goal, but I think this was the first second time that Charlton did the scoring. Five minutes into added Just before the end of normal time Jonathan Obika met a cross from Rhoys Wiggins and headed it struck the ball firmly into the covered end goal, to give Charlton the three points their display absolutely more or less deserved.
The two other goals aren't really worth describing. They were scrappy goals in a scrappy game, particularly in the first half, when both teams treated it as a meaningless end-of-season fixture. Which is understandable, if not excusable, for Charlton. Other results meant that even if Charlton had lost, their position in the Championship would be secure. But Wolves' attitude was astonishing. Criminal. They're on the verge of a second consecutive relegation, but always looked as if they'd be happy with a point. The only time they looked at all concerned was for the nine minutes of the game they were losing.

In the second half, though, Charlton did look as though the game meant something, and the result means a thoroughly improbable combination of results could see them in the play-offs. What larks that would be, although no-one would have any great expectations. It would feel so beautifully cheeky to sneak into the big boys' playground, not caring what the result would be. It's very, very unlikely, though: a long shot, as unlikely as Karl Henry's 45-yard attempt midway through the first half, which beat everyone but the crossbar. It would have been a goal to remember, and the home crowd applauded, almost wishing it had gone in. That's something that generally only happens at the fag-end of the season.

The win didn't matter, but it was nice to get it. A third home win in a row. I'm not superstitious. I don't believe in lucky pants or anything like that. But is it a mere coincidence that Charlton have won all three home games since I've started cycling to them? Is it, huh, is it?

Of course it is. But actually, laydeez, may I mention: any pants I wear consider themselves lucky. Allow.

06 April 2013

Charlton 2 Leeds 1

As so often at the Valley this season, the game was settled by a very late goal, but I think this was the first time that Charlton did the scoring. Five minutes into added time Jonathan Obika met a cross from Rhoys Wiggins and headed it firmly into the covered end goal, to give Charlton the three points their display absolutely deserved.

Earlier, the first half had seen a smart opening by Leeds dwindle away, and Charlton took control of the match, but failed to score. Shortly after the restart, though, it was who else but Johnnie Jackson who got the scoring started. The ball was rattling around Leeds' penalty area and bounced off a defender into his path. He took a moment to steady himself, and perhaps to give thanks that the defender had played him onside, and slotted the ball under the goalkeeper. It was a classic Jackson goal: he was in the right place at the right time and just had to keep his head.

Charlton only showed a little of the headless chicken syndrome that has followed them taking the lead in earlier matches, but unfortunately it resultled in the Leeds equaliser, Luke Varney showing a ruthlessness that he didn't often display in a Charlton shirt.

It looked like it would be a draw, and that felt unjust. Charlton had been much the better team, with everyone putting in a good performance. So Obika's goal restored a little equity to the world. That's one less problem for Dr Who to sort out. It also sent the home crowd into raptures, for at least three reasons:

1. It makes relegation pretty damn unlikely now.
2. It's always good to get a winning goal in the 95th minute.
3. It's always good to beat Dirty Leeds.

For they were quite dirty, and lucky to finish with 11 players on the pitch. They also benefited from a referee who had apparently decided to give the concept of handball a day off. Some fans half-heartedly booed him at the end, but it wasn't a day for that.

You have to admire the Leeds fans, though. They've had years of disappointment, with incompetent or borderline dishonest management, but still sold out the Jimmy Seed stand, and kept singing their dreary song all through the second half. And they hate Millwall.

02 March 2013

Charlton 0 Burnley 1

A super goal from Charlie Austin gave Burnley all the points on an intermittently sunny after ...

No. No match report tonight. I want to speak directly to the man sitting next to me, and probably to the man sitting next to you.

You, my neighbour, do nothing to support the players. You don't clap the team onto the pitch. You never cheer or applaud good play, or wince and sympathise when a good idea doesn't work, or when a bold attempt at a brilliant pass misses by inches, giving the ball away. When a particular player makes a couple of mistakes you start grumbling "What a waste of space - get him off, Powell!" As the game goes on, you fold your arms tighter across your chest, determined to be unimpressed by all you see. (If the wind changed, you'd be stuck with that angry frown forever, you know.)

You may be a spectator but you're not a supporter. Suppporting a football club is more than turning up every fortnight and expecting to be entertained. It's about giving something to the players, in the bad times even more than in the good times. You, my neighbour, don't have the right to criticise players for not giving everything, when you've given nothing. You don't have the right to say they're too slow to find a teammate when you're too quick to find fault.

Charlton's home form is a problem. It's complex, and no-one seems to know what to do about it. But what's obvious is that getting on the players' backs isn't the solution. It's a very old principle, but true: if you've nothing helpful to say, shut up. Or go and watch Chelsea.

Editor's note: just imagine how many expletives I deleted in preparing this post for publication.

23 February 2013

Charlton 0 Nottingham Forest 2

But does she have a magic left peg?
When two men are in love with the same woman, they have, despite their rivalry, a mutual respect for each other. For example, while I know for certain that Penelope Cruz would be happier with me, I can't help thinking that Javier Bardem must be a decent bloke to value her as much as he does.

It's like that with Charlton and Forest fans. We both love Andy Reid, and we both know that he was at his best with us. And we both despise Tottenham Hotspur, who didn't know what to do with him. (They were very much the Tom Cruise in the relationship.)

Reid was on brilliant form today, unfortunately. I'm pretty sure his pass that set up Forest's first goal was a piece of brilliance, which I'll want to see again. He was always at the heart of a very accomplished performance by his team, which brought out a lacklustre display from a tired-looking Charlton squad. How did that team achieve such a great result at Leicester in the week?

The opening of the game was sometimes embarrassing, with Charlton losing the ball again and again. Things were beginning to improve (I think) when Yann Kermorgant was sent off after about 35 minutes. Apparently it was a fair decision. He reacted badly to blatant obstruction by Greg Halford and lashed out at him. From then the only question was how badly Charlton would lose, and a 2-0 defeat was pretty good in those circumstances.

Lots of unhappy people at the end of the game, but really it was just a bad day at the office, an office in which the heating had broken down. We'll get over it. Like eventually I'll get over the fact that Penelope bizarrely chose to live in Los Angeles with a handsome sexy actor, rather than in Catford with me.

10 February 2013

Charlton 1 Birmingham 1

As is Charlton's way this season, you found yourself wanting Charlton to score, but fearing the consequences if they did. Birmingham were possibly the worst team who've turned up at the Valley this season, and for 86 minutes Charlton - in particular Ricardo Fuller - were creating chance after chance, but never converting. Two main causes, I think: the pitch, after 10 months of continuous rain and a bit of snow, is in the worst state I've ever seen it; and Jack Butland in the Birmingham goal. Apparently he's only 19. Who knows how good he'll turn out to be when he grows up?

But finally the goal came. It was the right kind of goal for the conditions: a cross from Chris Solly headed in by Yann Kermorgant after 87 minutes. I was stupid enough to believe that was enough to win it, but the usual happened. As four minutes of injury time started, Chris Powell made two substitutions, presumably just to waste some time. And a late Birmingham equaliser followed. I don't know if the substitutions were a mistake, but a lot of people thought so. I do know that if he hadn't made those substitutions, there was still every chance of Charlton conceding and if that had happened, he'd have been pilloried for not making them. I believe it's known as a no-win situation.

No-one in yesterday's team wanted to lose that lead. Every one of them will feel gutted about it and will know that it's part of a pattern. Glibly, one could say that they panic now going into the last ten minutes of a game with any kind of lead. But what does that mean? I wish I knew, but even more I wish I was a sports psychologist. You could earn a fortune analysing that kind of team behaviour, and no-one will be able to say you're wrong. In the end, you'll appear to have earned your money, because the team will change its ways and stop throwing away leads. It'll do that anyway, with or without your help, of course, but you'll be on your way to a really well-paid job in Manchester by then.

So, not much of a match report today, but really good careers advice. When you're minted, remember me. Ten per cent of net earnings should be sufficient.

31 January 2013


It's a law of blogging, and possibly a law of the land, that sooner or later every blogger has to tackle the Ricky Gervais question. So, readers, we'll do this once and never again, and we all know you won't read it anyway.

I can still remember listening to Ricky Gervais on the radio as I was driving to Darlington for my friend Sally's wedding. He was talking about a new television show that was going to be on BBC2 quite soon, about the people who worked in an office. It sounded good, and I loved it from the start right through to the sentimental but happy ending. A lot of the people I worked with, in an office, as it happens, hated it, and I would try to defend it, but the one argument I could never entirely counter was the allegation that Gervais wasn't acting - he was only playing himself. People, I thought, didn't realise that that didn't matter. David Brent wasn't the star of the show, but a grotesque subplot to the real story of Tim and Dawn, both beautifully acted characters, both generously given all the best stories.

But it's been downhill all the way from there for me. In Extras he continued in the same character, but it became central. The character of Maggie should have been the star, but as the programme went on she was increasingly excluded from the story. Instead, the show was filled with cameo roles for celebrities. These were sometimes funny, but seemed like a huge boast about the contents of his address book. By the end of the second series the programme had broken under the weight of the celeb burden and Gervais gave us a long final episode in which his character and Maggie were finally reunited, and Gervais launched into an embarassing and hypocritical tirade against celebrity culture, so contradicted by his own life that he was not even biting the hand that had fed him but kissing it.

By this stage, I was predisposed to dislike anyting he was associated with. He got into twitter storms for his insensitive use of words like "mong" and it seemed his career was in trouble.

Then came Life's Too Short. I honestly think that even if this had followed The Office, when I and most people still loved his work, I and most people would have concluded it was rubbish. As a comedy it just didn't work. It looked as if Gervais didn't have a true understanding of comedy, with comic scenes being played out laboriously, as if he had read a manual on the elements of farce, but just didn't get it. There was one sequence where Warwick Davis's character had a new washing machine delivered, and set out to fly-tip the old one down an embankment, little knowing that he was in fact dumping the new one after a switch-over. It was clueless on so many levels.

But if Gervais wasn't funny, at least he was clever. Building a sitcom around Warwick Davis meant that he could be accused of bullying, of exploiting Davis's stature unfairly. That wasn't what he was doing at all, but it meant that discussion of the programme centred around that question, and on that I'd defend him. The show wasn't offensive in that way: Davis's character was generally sympathetically drawn, with only a few crude slapstick elements.

Same thing with Derek. Now the lead character has some kind of learning difficulty. So again, the discussion has been centred around the question of whether the portrayal of Derek is offensive. Gervais has pre-empted this, talking about his view of Derek as just a good, simple soul in a wicked world, and there was a pointed passage in last night's first episode where Derek dismissed the importance of attaching any kind of label to his behaviour. Again, I'd defend Gervais: the portrayal of Derek isn't inherently offensive.

But Gervais's acting is. If you believe that the skill of acting is to appear to become a real person who is not yourself, then Gervais can't act. To be fair, it is a three dimensional performance: Derek consists of a bad cardigan and haircut, an awkward stance, and the voice of Sam Gamgee. That and a lot of other people telling us how sweet, kind and funny he is.

Some of Gervais's generosity remains. Kerry Godliman, as Hannah the home manager, gets some good lines and the chance to show the rest of the cast what acting looks like. But she's trapped by a scenario that's flawed. A council inspector, twirling his invisible evil moustache, threatens to cut funds. "Well, we'll raise our own funds then" she says. What does that even mean? What kind of care home manager could say such nonsense? The kind who finds a drunken, sex-obsessed outsider naked in the bed of one of the residents, and lets him back into the building, that's who. Yes, I know it's a comedy not a documentary, but comedy only works if it bounces against a believable reality.

The last point I want to make about Derek is the portrayal of the residents. Maybe it's a satire of how too many residents are in fact treated, but here there was little or no autonomy shown by the residents. We caught a few names, but no characters. I don't think it is a satire, and maybe this will change as the series develops, but at present it seems like the residents are just a backdrop for Derek's troubles.

Which is a shame, because Gervais' intentions appear honorable. The fate of people in residential care can be horrendous, and ostensibly he's trying to do something about it. But at present, the programme's just perptuating residents' role as passive beneficiaries of Derek's kindness, Hannah's determination and Gervais's understanding.

But I've got trapped into discussing the programme as if it were a documentary or a polemic. As I've suggested this may be helpful for Gervais, as it stops us considering it as comedy. It's generally foolish to discuss tastes in comedy, and some people will have liked this very much. I have to report - I told you, it's the law - that I sat through the show without a laugh.

Of course Ricky Gervais is too big to be affected by anything I say. Channel 4 let him write, direct, executive-produce and star in his own series. My whispering in his ear "Remember you are mortal" will be drowned out by his 4 million twitter followers, constantly telling him "You are a comedy god". But that adulation and that power look more and more like they are destroying any comedy gift he once had.

I'll end by linking to a fairly old blog post by Christina Martin - a funny woman, a campaigner for disabled people, and formerly a stand-up comic. The whole post is worth reading, but here's the best bit.

I've been struggling with my feelings towards Gervais for a long time now. I loved the XFM years and The Office. I thought he dealt with reactions to disability really well in the latter. Brent's behaviour towards the employee in the wheelchair was so well observed.

He did sail quite close to the wind in his stand-up sometimes and that made me recoil a bit, but I thought he was smarter than that and concluded it must have been done with irony.

Then I met him. Or rather didn't. And had to conclude that, yes, he is just a jackass. Here comes that anecdote. I've been sitting on it out of respect. It's not classy to bad mouth other comics. But I am no longer a comic and he no longer deserves my respect.

So, I did some stand-up at the Bloomsbury Theatre a few Christmases ago. I was really excited about it as I was on the same bill as Stewart Lee, Richard Herring, Mark Thomas, Josie Long, Chris Addison, loads of really good people. Gervais was also on the bill.

We had a massive green room, full of food and stuff that we were autographing for auction. As it was Christmas there was a lovely festive feel and everyone was having fun backstage.

I was waiting for Gervais to turn up but he never did. After a while it was explained to us by the organiser that he refused to share a green room with anyone, in case we bothered him. Can you imagine Stewart Lee going all fan boy over Ricky Gervais? Please!

They'd had to make him up an impromptu dressing room out of one of the spare rooms backstage. Food and drink was removed from our room for him, and the stuff to be autographed was collected and taken to him when we were all done signing it.

When the show started we all stood in the wings, cheering each other on and watching each others' sets. Then the organiser informed us that Gervais didn't want anyone standing in the wings when he was on, and that we were all to go back to the basement dressing rooms before and during his performance. Twenty performers, many of them top names, being bossed about by this diva-ish man.

I thought 'screw that - you don't tell me where to stand' so I hid behind a giant beanstalk (panto season!) and waited for him to go on.

He emerged from the dressing room area, with a miserable face on him, and did a quick check of the wings to make sure no oiks were hanging around. He didn't find me. Don't know what he'd have done if he had.

Oh and he had a man following him, carrying his bottled water. All he was missing was a chiuaua in a bag.

What a jackass. What a shame.

28 January 2013

Charlton 1 Sheffield Wednesday 2

After a forgettable first half, Charlton put together an exquisite team goal to take a lead which was retrospectively merited by the way they played in the next 30 minutes or so. But then it started getting a bit slack and the team hardly seemed to notice as Weds got the two late goals.

It wasn't depressing to see, it was annoying. There will always be unexpected defeats, but there was a kind of slow motion car crash feel about this one as if all the players had decided there was nothing they could do to stop it.

I've written before about Charlton's propensity to give away goals in the last 10 minutes, and this was perhaps the clearest example. After the game, there were predictable questions about why no substitutions were made until it was too late. Those questions are fair enough, but Chris Powell obviously thinks it's best to leave the team unchanged as much as possible, rather than risk disrupting their pattern of play. Normally I'd agree, and no-one can say that earlier subs would definitely have made the outcome any different.

But the late switch-off is a recurrent problem, and we still don't seem to have an answer.

13 January 2013

Charlton 2 Blackpool 1

A rather alarming opening gave way to that rarest of things this season - a comfortable home win on a Saturday afternoon.

The first twenty minutes saw Charlton totally fail to make an impact on the game, losing possession at every opportunity. But perhaps even in these early stages it was becoming clear that Blackpool, for all the tidiness of their midfield play, lacked a real goalscoring threat.

After Charlton had scored - Jackson, untidily but opportunistically - Blackpool never really looked dangerous. Around me there was a certain amount of disatisfaction with Charlton's willingness to sit back, but perhaps it was just a brilliant tactic based on close scouting; maybe you can let Blackpool dominate possession and territory with impunity. And the forced selection of Morrison and Taylor in central defence would in any other circumstances have looked like a brilliant decision: they had the solidity that had been the bedrock of last season's success.

No-one had a bad game, in fact. Another returning player, Scott Wagstaff, didn't make a big impact going forward, but it wasn't that kind of game. He perfectly played his part in the five across midfield keeping Blackpool anodyne. And he did score the second goal: he knows how to be in the right place at the right time. It's a pity we haven't seen more of him this season. Probably.

But the man of the match for me was Lawrence Wilson. He's getting better all the time, and is developing a really good understanding with Chris Solly. The interplay between them was crucial for the second goal.

A comfortable result brought out the best in the Charlton crowd. When Nathan Eccleston came on as sub for Blackpool he got warmer applause from the home fans than from the visitors. We even applauded Kevin Philips off the pitch - it was his 550th match apparently. The Covered End chanted "We beat you at home, we beat you at home. How shit must you be? We beat you at home" and possibly even rarer than a home win, we had a referee (M Jones) who was so good at his job that no-one noticed him.

It was a freezing cold afternoon, but one of the best this season. And I haven't even mentioned the dazzling debut of Callum Harriot.

07 January 2013

How bad are Charlton in the Cup?

How I done the sums
Like every Charlton fan, particularly after Saturday's embarassment, I assume that Charlton are uniquely awful in the F A Cup. Since the 1999/2000 season, the length in ties of their involvement in the competition has been as follows:

4, 2, 2, 2, 1, 3, 4, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3, 3, 1

To put it another way 5 times out of 14 they've gone out after just one tie.

How bad is this, statistically speaking?

Let's make the simplistic assumption that on average, a team has a 50% chance of winning any cup tie. This isn't true, but it's a starting point.

On that basis, Charlton should have won 7 of their first tie fixtures, but they actually won 9. Hmm, not bad.

If we go on to the second round, and again assume an average 50% chance of winning, there's a 25% cumulative chance of winning both ties. Charlton have won their first two rounds 5 times, which is more than 25%.

The chances of winning the first three rounds - the best Charlton have done in the period - are 12.5%. Charlton have actually managed about 14%.

But, dear reader, can you spot the flaw in my reasoning? The point is that if you are a premier league team, or in the third tier, your chances of winning your first match should be higher than 50%, because there are so many lower level teams in the draw for that round. When you factor that in, it's likely that Charlton have underperformed in the Cup, but not by very much.

A good run in the Cup is a rarity for all but a few top teams, and is statistically unlikely. Charlton's cup performance isn't uniquely awful, and maybe we just need to lower our expectations. 

06 January 2013

Charlton 0 Huddersfield 1

I wasn't planning on attending Charlton's game on Saturday. Call me plastic all you like, but I'd come back at you with the riposte that only a fool would ignore history's habit of repeating itself, first as tragedy, then as farce, then as slightly amusing sitcom and finally as tedious soap. This was a poor episode of Eastenders.

"The magic of the F A Cup" hasn't existed in South East London for many years now. I don't know if anyone's done the statistical analysis - and with the sad death of Colin Cameron at Christmas, probably no-one ever will - but it wouldn't be surprising if Charlton were the worst team in F A Cup history, at least since 1947. And it's contagious: even our horrible neighbours in New Cross can't beat the curse. Improbably getting to the Final a few years ago, they then served up an insipid display that managed to unite the country in joy at a Manchester United victory.

Talking of insipid displays ...

I hadn't intended to go. But my plans for Saturday afternoon had suddenly fallen apart, somehow I'd got it into my head that tickets were only a tenner, and and wouldn't it be nice to sit in a different bit of the ground for a change, and how bad could it be? I soon found out the answers to all these questions, which I shall enumerate as follows:

1. Tickets were £15. Which isn't bad in the great scheme of things, but the chances of a Charlton cup match being worth £15 are much less than of it being worth £10. But it was too late by then to change my mind.

2. You've probably never heard or heard of "Robin and Wendy's Wet Weekends". It must be the most unappealing title in history of Radio 4 sitcoms, and it occasionally pops up on Radio 4 extra. It's written by, and stars, Kay Stonham who has an irritating high-pitched voice. Well, she, or someone improbably doing a first rate impression of her, was sitting behind me. Worse than that, she really has it in for Bradley Wright-Phillips, to the extent that she was happy when he was nowhere near the ball ("Where is he now?"), but even happier when he had it ("You watch - he'll mess this up!"). She was probably secretly upset when he was subbed off. I shall return to my regular seat next week with a new-found respect for my neighbours.

3. It was pretty bad. Once again, it struck me how last season's success was built on the stability of the team selection. Here, though, we had Jordan Cook, looking quite lively but not in sync with the players around him, and BWP clearly out of practice. Huddersfield got their goal fairly early on. They didn't have to do much after that, and didn't. Charlton should have, but didn't, until after they were down to 10 men, Dorian Dervite having been sent off for a blatant DOGSO foul after being easily turned and outpaced. I think that means Charlton have only two central defenders available for selection at the moment.

An afternoon to forget, mainly, then. The only consolations are these: there wasn't much on the telly yesterday, so I didn't miss anything there; and next year surely I won't be mug enough to expect anything better. I think what we all need now is a picture of Samantha Janus in the shower, and I just happen to have one.

pics on Sodahead