28 December 2015

Charlton 0 Wolves 2

A terrible first half (once again) suggested Wolves manager Careful Kenny Jackett hadn't done his research. His team looked tentative and nervous, not bothering to do much attacking. Charlton didn't do much attacking either, but it wasn't for lack of trying, having four forwards on the pitch. Pay attention, Big  Ken! A bit more enterprise and you could have had the game sewn up by half time.

On the other hand, his assumption that he could allow Charlton all the possession in the world without risk was bang on. Those four forwards managed two shots on goal in the whole game. OK, three if we count Makienok's sporting return of the ball to the Wolves keeper after the most entertaining incident of the first half: the accidental demolition of a referee. When Makienok collides with you, large hadrons are produced, and Keith Hill was replaced for the second half, presumably on fears of concussion.

At half time, I can only imagine Crafty Ken pointed out to his team that their opposition was vulnerable. They played with more purpose and inevitably ... well, you've read the headline, you know the score.

Briefly, goaded by the boos after the first goal, Charlton played with a bit more commitment, but it all came to nothing, and the best football followed Wolves' second goal, when the visitors actually put together some quite pretty moves. Or maybe I was hallucinating, dehyrated, by then.

I'm going to say one nice thing about Karel Fraeye. At the end he left the pitch before the team, drawing the boos the performance deserved, with the result that the fans, those who were left, could give the team sympathetic, rather than appreciative, applause.

But that's it. There's nothing else good about him. He's totally out of his depth and at any other club would have been sacked by now. Presumably he's very cheap, which is why he got and keeps the job. A false economy compared to the financial cliff-edge that relegation will be.

The proudest moment was when the majority of the home support stood up for chant "Stand up if you want them out". These are the little victories we can cherish these days.

16 December 2015

Charlton 2 Bolton 2

In this clash of the overpaid v the unpaid there should only have been one winner. Bolton, along with Blackpool, have been a team whose plight lets us think things could be worse.

Indeed they could. Charlton's only ability this season is to make things worse, sometimes twice in one week.

It looked fine for 20 minutes. An easy goal after 26 seconds, followed by a really good goal, put Charlton into a lead that any competent team would have found it impossible to relinquish.

Charlton relinquished it.

Bolton were terrible, but they weren't the most terrible team on the pitch. Charlton - two nil up against the basket case of the division - started wasting time after 20 minutes. The defence looked nervous and fragile whenever Bolton had possession, while the midfield and attack seemed to think its work was done after that encouraging start.

Bolton's players could sense the weakness, and far from giving up, raised their game. It was rarely above the merely competent but that was all that was needed. Their first goal came out of nothing: a hopeful cross from the left finding Emile Heskey unmarked and unhindered. He's been playing professional football for 46 years: he doesn't miss chances like that. The second goal was the inevitable result of the defence's inability to clear the ball cleanly. Sooner or later, we all knew, it had to happen. That it happened shortly before half-time destroyed any hope of a fightback.

Some bizarre substitutions in the second half couldn't add anything, and the game came to resemble Saturday's match: two poor teams clumsily lumping out something that only occasionally looked like football.

The booing at the end was muted. Most of the crowd had already left. In fact, most of the crowd hadn't turned up. Official figure was 12,294, but it's well known that a lot of season ticket holders aren't bothering any more, so the real figure would be about 8,000 or, to put it another way, roughly 20,000 empty seats. Even with the phantoms included, it was the lowest attendance for a league game at the Valley since March 1998.

And the club still, six weeks after the sacking of Guy Luzon, has an Interim Head Coach. We all suspect that the club is waiting for the right moment to drop the pretence and reward Karel Fraeye for good results by making him permanent. Will that moment ever come?

12 December 2015

Charlton 0 Leeds 0

This report will be as stuffed with thrills as the game itself.

An awful first half. Let's blame it on the blustery wind, but neither team seemed capable of holding on to the ball so there were very few clear chances after Reza's near miss on 10 minutes. Some encouraging signs - moments of class by Ricardo Vaz Te, and the clever, taunting running of Ademola Lookman - weren't enough to keep the crowd (officially 15,867 yeah right) warmed up. Even the Leeds fans were silent by halftime.

In the second half, there was no real improvement in quality, but at least the game became more interesting. Leeds will wonder how they ended up goalless, after a 20 minute spell of real threat, and while Charlton didn't have as many clear chances, on another day, in another galaxy far far away, they might have scored too.

It's a game that Channel 5 will bury somewhere after the advert for the Postcode lottery, when even the few people who started watching will have found something else to do that doesn't instill a loathing of humanity. Quite right too. Despite the flurry of incidents in the second half, a terrible advert for the Championship.

29 November 2015

Charlton 0 Similar (but with an experienced-at-this-level manager) Club 3

Losing 3-0 isn't painful any more. Apathy is a wonderful analgesic. The painful thing about today's defeat is that it was like looking into an enchanted mirror. Ipswich are what Charlton could easily be: unlikely to get promoted this season, but efficient and effective, building the foundations of future achievement, followed by a huge contingent of committed supporters. And while they might look enviously at Norwich, their local rivals, currently enjoying life in the Prem, they can at least believe that that promised land isn't far beyond their grasp.

Meanwhile we look at Palace (yes, we must) and currently can't see any way we're going to be up there with them any time soon. Palace is an even more tragic magic mirror: there's no reason Charlton couldn't have achieved what they have. They've somehow put together a team that even P*rd*w can't make a mess of.

Unglücklich das Land, das Helden nötig hat
Once again, our season is all about avoiding relegation. This wasn't how it was meant to be when the Belgian billionaire rescued us from the shady dealers who, to be fair to them, made no secret of their evil intentions.

Maybe Karel Fraeye will prove us all wrong, but he seems to have come to the end of his new manager honeymoon quicker than Peeters or Luzon did; indeed, only David Wagner at Huddersfield is doing worse (moral of the story: never sack Chris Powell, for the Fates will punish you).

Even a football idiot could see that today's defeat was down to hilariously clueless defending and a total collapse in spirit. Something that you can't see someone like - ooh, let's pick a name at random - Mick McCarthy allowing. But absolutely normal at the Valley.

As soon as Johnny Jackson went off injured after 12 minutes, the day was over. He deserves all the praise he gets for the inspiration and leadership he provides, but it's a sign of the lack of engagement among the other players that he stands out so vividly. Without him, the team is a sluggish jellyfish. If his injury is serious, heaven help us.

23 November 2015

What's gone wrong?

The breaking news that Tony Watt is off on loan to Cardiff puzzled a lot of fans last night. While there's a general feeling that his performances haven't been great lately, his early appearances were a ray of sunshine last winter. Surely that player is still there, just wanting the right kind of management to bring him out. So it seems odd to give a rival team that potential opportunity.

Gradually, though, the consensus decided that there must have been a falling out between Watt and Karel Fraeye. Rumours of Watt's difficult personality have followed him around Europe, to the extent that he denied them in some detail. My impression is that he's quite immature, even for his age, and probably a delight to work with when things are going well ... It's sad that his career is stuttering, and I hope for his sake the move does reignite his undoubted talent.

But, if the decision to send him away is justified, what does it say about the decision to buy him? Let's look at the history.

He joined Standard from Celtic in July 2014 for a "seven figure sum", which I've seen quoted as £1.25million, on a five year contract. At that time, Standard was still owned by Duchatelet, and Guy Luzon was the head coach. He seems to have played well initially but after Luzon was replaced by Ivan Vukomanovic in October, Watt's appearances were limited. He had become an expensive luxury for Standard.

Watt joined Charlton for the usual undisclosed fee in January 2015, shortly before Guy Luzon became head coach. It's hard to resist the conclusion that Luzon's name was already pencilled in when the Watt deal was made. It must have seemed as if Luzon was the right kind of management for this expensive asset. Perhaps there was still a chance to get some return on the investment.

Let's assume that Charlton paid £1.25million for him. That amounts to a transfer of that money from one Duchatelet club to another: value that Duchatelet cashed in when he sold Standard in June this year. If Watt is sold for less than that - which seems likely - it means that Charlton's finances have paid for what appears to have been a bad decision by Standard in July 2014.

A lot of speculation, of course, but it's  basically the same story as with the head coaches: if the decision to sack them is correct, then there must have been something wrong with the decision to hire them. Or vice versa. Either way, it's still more evidence of the bad football judgement of the Duchatelet setup.

12 November 2015

Countdown to apathy

Of all the recent wheezes by the Charlton management, the fans sofa seems to be the one that's most successful in annoying supporters. On Saturday before the match Katrien Meire was told in no uncertain terms what she could do with it. Jim Davidson, who was there, said she seemed scared and confused. I think the first half of that sentence explains the second. She consoled herself by laughing and taking a photograph. Fair enough: different people, different coping mechanisms.

I don't mind the fans sofa, personally. It doesn't offend my old school outlook. I have no intention of attempting to get a seat on it, but I can see it could be fun sitting there like the king of the world. But for me, it just means that while the camera pans around for a gesticulating exhibitionist, I just bury my head deeper in my imaginary American newspaper (the Boston Rag, since you ask),  and suck my old teeth.

Same for the piecam. I suppose I ought to get indignant that a club which can do this:

can also give away a box of pies to someone who has, if not for much longer, the ability to jump up and down a bit. But I like pies as much as the next man. Unless the next man is Steve Evans. When Leeds come to the Valley next month, let's hope the pies are well hidden.

What pisses me off more than these is the countdown to nothing, the would-be pearl of the quarter hour before the game. About ten minutes before kickoff the big screen is filled with a digital clock showing two minutes to go and ticking down to dramatic music. Oh my gosh the tension! Wass gonna happen? Red devils parachuting in? Fireworks? An opera singer (I really miss Victoria Stanyon) or some other show biz kids?  A personal appearance by Roland "Razor Boy" Duchatelet? (Now I'm drifting into fantasy land.) None of these: just a competent but unexciting showreel of big events from the club's history (which inexplicably doesn't include the day the yellow lines in the stands got repainted). Massively underwhelming the first time you see it, stupid and irritating thereafter.

I could claim the countdown is a symbol of all that's wrong with the club at the moment: the valuing of display over achievement, the foisting onto the fans of irrelevant fripperies they don't need and don't want. But you can work that out for yourself, I'm sure.

09 November 2015

Charlton 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Like many people I went to the Valley on Saturday for the protest but thought I might as well stay and watch the match with no expectation of anything other than a horrible defeat.

After roundly booing the ownership, it was pleasing that the crowd was completely supportive of the team. Some people still don't understand this: of course it's possible to want the ownership of the club to sell up and go away but still want the team to do well. Throughout the last two months the crowd has always given the team a fair chance, with support only falling away when the performance suggests they just haven't been trying.

No risk of that today. Charlton began the game positively, while Wednesday were pretty terrible - much worse than their recent run of results led us to expect. Everyone in a red shirt seemed to be in form, including those who've recently looked so shell-shocked. From my seat in the west the most noticeable player was Reza Ghoochanejhad, putting in by far his best performance for the team. It was a transformation close to that of Frederic Bulot last season, and when he was subbed off with a few minutes to go he got a deserved standing ovation.

The opening goal was of course scored by Johnnie Jackson. A classic Jackson goal, his sheer presence creating a space around himself as he ran onto Gudmundsson's corner. For a while I struggled to remember what to do when Charlton have scored, and found that my jumping up and down muscles had slightly atrophied.

All three goals seemed to come from Charlton's ability to outwit Wednesday's defence and get the scorer into a position where they could hardly miss (although they probably would have three weeks ago).

A late goal for Wednesday from their only real chance of the afternoon didn't diminish the enjoyment and astonishment at this change in the team's fortunes. After weeks of rubbish, this. What could have caused it? Maybe Ibi Makienok wasn't joking when she responded to her husband's goal with this (you won't see a better tweet all season, Jeff).

04 November 2015

An interim allen key

An interesting comment in the otherwise negligible post-defeat blatherings by Karel Fraeye last night.
He said: “We know at this moment there is a lot of difference in the fitness of the players and we try to manage that. But everybody knows we cannot do that in one or two weeks. “I don’t know [why that is}. That’s the stats we have. It’s up to us as a staff and management to get the players as fit as possible. [emphasis added]
The stats we have maybe shines a light into what's wrong with Duchatelet's approach. Selection based on data analysis. We've heard about his network of scouts, and imagined them gathered in a secret cavern in the Ardennes lit only by the glow of hundreds of monitors showing videos and spreadsheets. Suddenly one of them spots something: Regardez ce type-la! Quelles données qu'il a! He picks up the big red phone. A few weeks later a stocky midfielder arrives by Eurostar and the blameless Tracey Leaburn drives him to a hotel in Bexleyheath.

Analyse the data; the stats tell you all you need to know. Football as algebra, or as an Ikea self-assembly wardrobe. The manager is just the chap who wields the allen key.

No, it's worse than that. The manager (or head coach, or interim mastermind or whatever) is the allen key, cheap and easily replaceable. If you lose one, or throw it away in anger because it can't build a fitted kitchen out of the parts for a medium billy bookcase, you've probably got another one lying around in your toolbox. An allen key doesn't need experience or skill. Have you got a hexagonal 6mm head? Job's yours.

Probably the last two Charlton managers were simply not very good at their job. As I've said before, it's hard to tell. But with both we saw the same pattern: good early results followed by a decline as other teams completely sussed out and negated the team's tactics and the manager could neither offer a plan B nor motivate the team into outperforming itself. That's what good managers do. That's why they cost more than an allen key.

(PS for Chris Powell: in the extremely unlikely event that you're offered the job, for the sake of your sanity, DON'T TAKE IT. Same goes for Eva Carneiro, by the way.)

29 October 2015

We demand an awkward press conference

Almost immediately after Guy Luzon's departure was confirmed, the rumours about Karel Fraeye started, eventually causing betting to be suspended. Early on Sunday evening VW Hamme had posted an interview where Fraeye was asked "[something something something] Charlton. Ess ett officiell?" and answered "[something something something] ja!". I don't speak Flemish, but I understood that.

About 9pm on Sunday night, it was confirmed

 In a remarkable bit of pravda-style reporting we were reminded that

but there was no word on what he's been doing with himself more recently. Anyone would think he'd been playing for Millwall and the fans must not be told.

In fact, he's been masterminding things at VW Hamme, a team currently in 13th (out of 18) in Belgium's third division. Even though the last two years have taught me more about Belgian football than I ever wanted to know, I'd never heard of Hamme (the team or the town). The club's ground has a capacity of 6,000. Clearly, the job as T1, as the Belgians call it, isn't that big a deal: he's thrown it up to take a temporary appointment.

How temporary will it be? Cynically I'd guess that if he scrapes one win out of the next three or four games, he'll be hailed as a rescuer and given the job permanently (ie for a bit less than a year, probably).

His record at Hamme suggests he's not very good at the job, though, and once again we have the sense that Roland Duchatelet is choosing a manager because he feels comfortable with him, rather than on the basis of experience and ability. Maybe he's got no room on his phone for any new contacts.

Even today we have no idea what's going on inside the Duchatelet bonce. Is there any other football club in the country where a managerial sacking and replacement is accompanied by nothing other than a factual statement? I'd actually prefer the insincere nonsense we got last time, where we were told an extensive search had taken place at lightning pace, turning up the next Alex Ferguson. At least we got a hilariously awkward press conference out of that. Imagine looking back on this with nostalgia:

24 October 2015

Charlton 0 Brentford 3

So, this is what I started to write:

The second 3-0 home defeat in a week, and it already feels like this is what Charlton do now. The thudding sense of inevitability as the second half played out was stronger than any anger or sadness, and although there were chants for a certain Belgian to get out of our club, the "sacked in the morning" chant was started by the visiting fans. The Covered End joined in, but without conviction: it's easy to believe that Duchatelet won't make any change; or that, even if he does, the club and team will remain stuck in the spiral of decline.

It had started well. The first milestone - two minutes without conceding a goal - was easily passed, and the team made more chances in the first 20 minutes than they had in the previous 180. But even then they were looking slack whenever Brentford had possession, and no-one was surprised when the first goal was inevitably thudded in by an unmarked Swift.

You could see the confidence fall from the Charlton team like appropriately autumnal leaves. From then on, it was just like Tuesday's game: an incoherent structure, no-one talking to each other or finding space. Brentford - like Preston - needed no further invitation and ran the rest of the game. Second half substitutions meant that any tiny chance of a comeback was dependent on the experience, creativity and ruthlessness of Reza Ghoochannejhad and Karlan Ahearne-Grant. If, as is likely, this was Luzon's last game in charge, we could generously interpret that as a final, satirical two-fingers to the owner.

At this point in my writing, the news broke that Guy Luzon and his backroom team had been sacked. So, yes, my final memory of Luzon will be him saying "Look, Roland, this is the squad you expected me to succeed with." Goodbye, Guy. Probably not your fault you weren't able to do an impossible job. 


20 October 2015

Charlton 0 Barcelona 3

Preston probably aren't a very good team. But tonight, Matthew, they were F C Barcelona, dominating and easily winning a game when you'd imagine they'd have gratefully accepted a point. Instead, throughout the second half, with the points in the bag, they continued to press forward, not even bothering to waste time. A fantastic night out for the unsurprisingly sparse band of Lancastrians; a terrible nightmare for the almost equally exiguous home support.

What on earth has gone wrong? Two months ago, after the win against Hull, I wrote that
These guys really are playing for each other ... This looks like a team that can make us proud.
Tonight they made us angry and in some way ashamed of that early optimism. How could we have been so stupid? Tonight they looked like they had never met. Or if they had, it had been in some encounter so shameful - like a meeting of the Bullingdon Club - that they could no longer look each other in the eye.

No communication within the team, no movement off the ball, no ideas. It's as bad as in the last days of Pardew or Peeters: a team in total collapse. You could blame individuals, but when they're all as useless as they were tonight, it's a sign that something deeper is wrong, something that we, as outsiders, will never know.

Guy Luzon is the obvious suspect. He may not have the squad he'd want, but even the coach of a primary school team would expect to get more passion out of a team than this team showed. On the other hand, he knows Roland Duchatelet's record better than most. He's clearly - understandably - in fear of losing his job and his mental state must infect the players. I still don't know if Luzon is a good manager or not. Maybe no-one - not even a new Alex Ferguson - could meld this bunch of players into a good team.

Tonight was one of those games where the only reason the stadium wasn't empty at full-time is that people stayed on to express their dissatisfaction. On Twitter the overwhelming consensus was that Duchatelet is destroying the club. His model isn't working.
I've never been a huge fan but I appreciate that his investment has been crucial. But his footballing judgement is atrocious. And believe me, I know about atrocious judgement. I could have spent the evening in the warm comfort of a pub with some congenial friends. Instead, here I am at nearly midnight trying to be fair to a man who's wrecking the football club I love.

04 October 2015

Charlton 2 Fulham 2

With 15 minutes remaining Johnnie Jackson got ready to come on. He's been missing, believed injured, for a while and it has shown. While Chris Solly is obviously an admirable player and human being, he doesn't have the presence and charisma that Jackson has, and my feeling is that his own game has suffered from taking the captain's role.

At this point, Charlton were 2-0 down and looking ragged. Not really playing badly, but not creating anything. It's a familiar story I won't go over again. Added to that, Nick Pope's one weakness - his propensity to spill the ball from direct shots - had shaken the team when it led to Fulham's first goal. He does everything else well but this is an expensive weakness. No-one needs to tell him he should have done better - he'll feel it more than anyone - but large parts of the crowd did. It probably doesn't help, but it's totally understandable. A couple of similar, but unpunished, fumbles in the second half suggested that it's a mental problem: he knows his reputation and it freezes him, stops him from doing the simple thing.

Fifteen minutes to go. Surely even Johnnie Jackson couldn't rescue anything in that amount of time. The ball, moreover, obstinately refused to go out of play, and another five minutes passed. Even before he was on the pitch, though, Jackson was changing the mood of the game. Impatient chanting of his name built the sense of expectation. Surely it was over-expectation.

Finally a corner for Charlton. The substitution was hastily made and the next thing anyone knew, Jackson had met Gudmundsson's corner with a firm header into the net. Well, how could we have doubted him? His incredible knack of scoring at exactly the right time had worked again. In some ways there's no secret about it: he just refuses to lack belief in himself, will get himself into the right position and let no-one stand in his way. It's an approach that the rest of the team needed to copy today and in the sixth minute of added time (thanks, Fulham, for all the time-wasting) Jordan Cousins did just that, topping a most unlikely comeback with a goal largely based on sheer determination.

A couple more minutes, and Charlton would have won, but given the balance of the 96 minutes overall a draw that felt like a win was fair.

After the game while the rest of the players left the pitch Jackson was interviewed for the Sky cameras for a few minutes. Maybe half the crowd stayed back while that happened, to give him a huge ovation as he left the pitch. The most stunning 15-minute contribution to a football match that we're ever likely to see deserved nothing less.

As I write this, Arsenal are beating Man Utd 3-0 at half time. He'll be watching it and loving it. It's been that sort of day.

01 October 2015

Katrien Meire: Je ne regrette rien

The Belgian business newspaper L'Echo today features a fairly long interview with Katrien Meire. The provocative opening is "Le passé glorieux du club? Je m'en fous", which roughly translates as "I don't bloody care about the club's glorious past."  Although she later is quoted at more length, saying that the history should be cherished, but not at any price.

Most of the piece is about her restructuring of the club's admin and staffing. She says she reduced the number of staff from 150 to 100, by dismissals and sub-contracting. Apparently the food and drinks outlets were previously controlled by one person, who had no written agreement with the club, but who handed over a percentage of the takings, no questions asked. And there's a story of a near-disastrous exchange with a potential shirt sponsor. Meire claims that she herself negotiates all the transfers.

It's all very much what you'd expect a business executive to tell a business journal: I came, I saw, I swept away mismanagement. Some claims believable, some perhaps overstated. There's as usual no hint of what her boss's long-term plans are for the club.

But one peculiar claim is that she ceased the practice of giving free tea or coffee to fans on matchdays. When did that ever happen?
é glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous
"Le passé glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous"
"Le passé glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous"
"Le passé glorieux de ce club? Je m’en fous"

13 September 2015

Charlton 1 Rotherham 1

What a frustrating afternoon. It was like a Carry On film: everyone clearly, dearly wants to do one thing but their own comic clumsiness and a conspiracy of happenstance prevent them. In both cases, what they want and what they can't is the same thing: score.

A first half where Charlton surprisingly allowed the visitors a lot of space gradually subsided into the expected dominance of the home team, but there was no real goal threat. The crowd silenced. My mind, inspired, if that's the word, by the shape of the visitors' manager - was drifting away into Donald Magill territory.


The referee (Keith Stroud) then gave a very dubious freekick to Rotherham, which safely bounced away behind the goal line off a Rotherham player's back. So naturally Stroud then gave a corner. Outrage! Charlton's played showed their disgust by refusing to defend it, and Rotherham went 1-0 up.

It wasn't deserved, of course, but such shocking defending can't be excused.

The second half saw Vetokele replaced by Makienok after 63 minutes. Vetokele hadn't been making a huge impact - perhaps he's still not quite match fit - and the game changed. Makienok is still improving and he shook up play, eventually creating the chance for Bauer to get his first goal for the club.

No-one had a really bad game, and on the whole Charlton should have won, probably quite easily. But I felt that almost everyone was slightly off their best, and there were only fitful signs of the close, almost telepathic, relationship between players that we've sometimes seen. *shrug* These things happen. A game to forget.

22 August 2015

Charlton 2 Hull 1

One of those days that reminds you why you watch football. Bizarrely, I was offered a free sample of crackling - which I think is the same thing as pork scratchings - before the game. I didn't think I'd like it, but I'd just paid £2.10 for a cup of tea so I took it. I didn't like it but I ate every tiny scrap.

And that was the least of the treats the afternoon had in store. An extraordinary team lineup had Jordan Cousins filling in at right back, only one (if that) forward, and a bench of babies. This didn't look good.

Luckily Hull Tigers didn't turn up. Nothing feral and savage about the away team's first half display, which made me think that the FA's refusal to allow them the name-change was due to pressure from the WWF: maybe we can't conserve the tigers of the world, but we can at least protect their reputation, their brand value.

Steve Bruce was an unhappy man at half time. He wasn't the only one. Here's what some idiot tweeted:

Seven minutes later he had elegantly glanced a header off Gudmonssohn's cross into the net and everyone (every repentant idiot) was calling him #nuYann.

At this stage, Charlton were rampant. I'd have loved to see what Tony Watt could do in this position: goals were there to be had but were hadnt. As the hot, hot afternoon wore on Charlton's defence looked weary and wilted. With 90 minutes almost up they gave far too much space to Hayden, who should have done better than shooting straight at Nick Pope, who should have done better than spilling the ball to Hernandez (who should have been on the pitch much earlier than he was) who scored.

But then 8 minutes of extra time was announced. Absolute despair when Hull seemed to have stolen all three points followed by relief as the goal was ruled offside, followed by mad scenes of celebration as Makienok returned a favour and set up a goal for Gudmondssohn's powerful neck on 98 minutes.

Absolute bedlam for the rest of the game and long after the final whistle. The feeling was not just that Charlton had deservedly beaten a side widely thought to be favourites to be promoted, but they'd done it with a depleted team. And maybe the reason they'd won was there to be seen in the way Makienok's goal was celebrated by the whole team - just as Fox's had been two weeks ago. These guys really are playing for each other.

Eight points from the first four games is more than anyone could have predicted. Early, really early days, but this looks like a team that can make us proud.

04 May 2015

Charlton 0 Bournemouth 3

I suppose I can't really criticise Charlton's players for not turning up for the past few weeks, when I similarly have found it impossible to be arsed to write about the games. This report is late because on Sunday, when I might have spent the usual hours and hours lovingly polishing and ruthlessly honing the cruel stiletto of my prose, I was watching cricket.

Watching cricket is a very unusual experience for me, but it turns out that "watching cricket" is a euphemism for "getting slowly blotto", so I took to it like a duck to whisky. Here's my report: shortly after lunch (a few glasses of wine) one of the teams was all out for 250, then the other team started batting. Then I went for a drink. Then sat in the "Ladies Pavilion" for a while until friends came and took me away to a place where there was beer.

Apart from the almost-continuous drinking, saturday at the Valley wasn't that different. One team played really badly; the other team was really good and was given a shiny trophy at the end of the game. It almost didn't matter who was who. In fact, I could have could have sworn that at least three of the team that was really good used to play for the team that was really bad. Maybe the teams had been picked playground-style to celebrate the end of term.

But, like the cricket, it was a perfectly pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Perhaps I should "watch cricket" more often.

22 March 2015

Charlton 3 Reading 2

Surprising admission: the evidence is building that Guy Luzon is the kind of manager/coach I like. Not just because of the results, but because he seems able to release the inner child inside his players: to get them to play with the sheer fun and enthusiasm you will see on any school playground when the kids get a chance to kick a ball about. No-one takes up football because they want to excel in zonal defensive patterns: it's the pure thrill of doing something clever with the ball that gets people hooked. Get that feeling back, allied to technical skill and physical fitness, and you'll get good performances.

Not always good results, though. The result against Blackburn and the halftime score today showed that the balance can be missing. Charlton had played with some verve but no finish. The energy faded and the game dwindled into snooze, allowing Reading to score a goal that felt ridiculously unimportant.

Luzon's halftime talk must have been something like "Carry on doing what you're doing, just do it a bit better." And so in the second half the performance of the team was more adventurous, and the score could have been higher than it was. Of course, there's a downside. Once again, the defence had occasional lapses, one of which gave Reading late, delusive hope but generally speaking any team that regularly scores three goals in a game is regularly going to win.

Unsurprising confession: I never really warmed to Bob Peeters. It's partly my (perfectly rational) prejudice against really tall people, but he finally lost me after the game against Ipswich in November. Charlton had played brilliantly, particularly in the first half, but lost. Peeters said afterwards he hadn't spoken to the team after that game, because he didn't know what to say. It's obvious (isn't it?) that he should have said "Carry on doing what you're doing, just do it a bit better." Instead, in the following weeks we saw his pattern of play get even more rigid and, ultimately, negative.

Peeters, I suspect, would have destroyed Tony Watt, who is closer than most to the child in the playground. You need to accept that he will do some ludicrous, wasteful things every game, but occasionally he'll do something unbelievable, like setting up Simon Church's goal from an apparently impossible position. Luzon seems happy to give him the freedom to do this.

If you've ever been on a management course you'll recognise that Luzon's management is a vindication of theory Y. But of course you'll also have realised that management theories are pseudoscientific nonsense, so I'm not sure where that leaves us.

Other views:
Hungry (despite the pies) Ted
Chris Powell's Flat Cap
Chicago Addick
Drinking During the Game

20 March 2015

Farewell, Lawrie Wilson

So Lawrie Wilson is on loan to Rotherham for the rest of the season. Hopefully, he'll do his bit in ensuring Millwall's relegation, and I hope he'll get a few more chances to play and get back into the form he had last year.

He's had a difficult season at Charlton. Clearly, Bob Peeters didn't like the look of him, and he didn't get many starts. Some of the times he did play were when Peeters was imaginatively playing everyone out of position and no-one looked as if they knew what they were doing. He looked at home in those games.

What we hardly saw this season was the right-side partnership of him and Chris Solly, a partnership that at times had looked majestic. Instead, he was always seemingly the last resort - last on the teamsheet, last off the bench - and it patently affected his confidence. Half the time he was trying too hard and made a dog's dinner of simple situations, and half the time he backed out of anything complicated or risky.

He probably won't be back, and it's sad that his Charlton career has ended with such a whimper. He deserves better than to be remembered for this season. He used to be all right, you know.

16 March 2015

Charlton 1 Blackburn 3: catching up

I seem to have taken a month's break from this blog, and I've largely missed out a remarkable transformation in Charlton's fortunes.

I think, despite his promising start, Bob Peeters won't be remembered kindly. I've seen it argued that Charlton have been better organised under Guy Luzon. I'd argue they are less organised. Instead, they are set free to improvise and make opportunities for themselves whereas under Peeters they were over-organised into immobility and caution. As results had got worse under Peeters, he'd only increased the rigidity of the team's play, and the players had become frustrated and impatient. Some played for their own self-respect; some effectively gave up.

Luzon's had an even better start. The last time we were gathered together, brothers and sisters, was after the out-of-the-blue win against Brentford. That game saw two decisive changes: Watt and Vetokele playing together, and some brilliant imposter in Bulot's shirt. Those changes have been maintained, and you can see that the players have a new liveliness about them. They're happy to be part of a team.

Four wins out of five effectively brought the season to a happy end: relegation fears swept aside and nothing but a healthy serving of schadenfreude pie to look forward to when Millwall and Blackpool go down. I feel quite sorry for Blackpool fans, totally ripped off and betrayed by the club's owners, but not for anyone else (you know who I mean).

And so it was no surprise that Charlton started Saturday's game with the kind of lackadaisical folderol more commonly seen in late April, when the holidays are booked and players are mainly thinking about how to avoid hidden cameras in the late-night hotel bar.

After 15 minutes Chris Solly needlessly gave away a throw-in. Quickly taken, it set up Rhodes to score the first of his two goals. You might have hoped it would jolt the Charlton team into life, but the second goal, just two minutes later, was even worse. A desperately slack back-pass from Buyens, which Johnson treated with patrician contempt, preferring to concede another goal than touch the ball, and the game was over.

The man next to me was enraged by this. Fair enough, I suppose, but Charlton's defence was so hapless on the day, it felt mean to have a go at them: like swearing at a new born kitten because it can't do differential calculus. The rest of the team did what they had to do, even though it was pretty much pointless from then on.

The result dented Luzon's record, but it's still too early to say if he's a good or bad manager. Someone needs to sort out the defence, and I'm pretty sure it can be done.

The real concern, though, is this. In a normal club, Luzon could use the remaining games to prepare the team for next season: bringing on promising youngsters and planning the replacement of some loanees and senior players. He's obviously got the core of a decent squad which, when given the right conditions, can beat almost anyone. In Duchatelet world, though, nothing can be taken for granted. Luzon, I would suggest, has very little idea what his squad will look like in August, or even if he, regardless of results, will still be here. The club has an opportunity to grow, but will it be taken?

15 February 2015

Charlton 3 Brentford 0

Let me begin with a quote from someone else who saw the game:
What we saw today was a team playing without belief and seemingly going through the motions. Their confidence and pace had been sapped as if by an unseen force as the ball was turned over with monotonous regularity ...
But, for a change, this was not about Charlton, but about their opposition from this - I think - very fair summary of the game by a Brentford blogger.  I actually didn't think Brentford were that bad: technically, at least, they were well above Charlton at their recent worst, but there was a recognisable lack of pep and vim about them.

From a Charlton point of view the match proved what an unpredictable and therefore addictive game football is. After Tuesday's game, when everyone, even Solly, was off-form, here everyone, even Bulot, was playing well.

Especially Bulot. His performance was a revelation - a nice revelation, not a horrible one like at the end of the Bible. What made that happen?

The obvious answer is that for once Charlton played with a free attacking spirit. At last we saw Watt and Vetokele together from the start, and we liked what we saw. They seemed to like it too, with all the signs of a bromance blossoming on the most appropriate day for it. Watt's sheer enjoyment of the game is, I suspect, infectious. He simply loves to run at defences with the ball at his feet, and to find out what he can get away with. He also blatantly loves the limelight, which might be a problem later on when, inevitably, he will turn in a bad performance but for now he's out to dazzle us, and by god we need some dazzle in our lives after the last few months.

Maybe the Brentford blogger is right and they were really bad and Charlton were lucky to meet such a demoralised team. A more demoralised team than Charlton? These are strange days, indeed.

A curious and almost forgotten feeling suffused Floyd Road after the match. Happiness, and a slight aftertaste of optimism. Maybe this will be the performance and result that turns around the mood. Winter isn't necessarily over, but this felt like a spring breeze.

07 February 2015

Ivan Vukomanovic joins the chorus

In my last post, I looked at the press conference where Jose Riga was unveiled as the new head coach of Standard Liege. The elephant in the room at that conference was Ivan Vukomanovic, clearly unhappy at his treatment. Since then, he's unsurprisingly refused the offer to stay on as a coach and now he's spoken out, joining the chorus of managers sacked by Roland Duchatelet. I can't see the whole interview, because it's behind a Belgian paywall, but here is what's relatively easily available from RTL Sport.
I was surprised when the management told me of their decision. I thought it was a joke. Even today, it sticks in my craw. If it had come after a series of defeats, if they had said I wasn't up to it ... but I'd got 13 points out of 15.
The Standard management had justified their decision by his lack of experience. He says
I had the experience of a well-travelled professional footballer, who'd won 5 titles and 3 cups. I have less experience as a coach but the management knew that when they gave me a contract for the rest of the season. Two questions: what experience do Bruno Venanzi [Vice-chairman] and Axel Lawarée [Sporting adviser] have in their roles?
The players, he said, "blew a gasket" when they heard about his dismissal.
They didn't understand the decision. We had worked well together. They did all they could to convince me to stay, but it just wasn't possible.
He talks about the offer to remain as a coach in the organisation.
The offer ... was purely made out of political correctness, to appease the players and the supporters. I could have been a hypocrite and accepted. Could have gone along with Jose Riga and done nothing but I'm not like that. I am someone who's straight and honest. So I decided to leave Standard.
Form your own opinion, of course, but I'll go with the only comment on the RTL site, which says that while Duchatelet is a good businessman, he's "un ignorant pathétique du football", which really doesn't need to be translated.

02 February 2015

Jose Riga appointed head coach at Standard

Following the rather surprising news that Jose Riga has been appointed as head coach, Standard of Liege has put online a video of the press conference. It could hardly be more awkward.

The first thing you may notice about it is the absolute lack of excitement, and that Riga hardly speaks in the first part of the conference. What's really surprising is that the former head coach, Ivan Vukomanović, is there, and really doesn't look happy. Duchatelet, of course, is not there.

Axel Lawarée, who's listed on the Standard website as the "Sports Adviser" begins by explaining that Riga has been brought in, not because results have been bad, but because they might get worse, and the club wants to avoid that. The club wants to keep Vukomanović on as a coach, because he has a lot of potential. Vukomanović, as far as I can see, is uncertain about this, and says he'll need to consider his position. This has obviously come as a shock to him.

Finally, at about 7:20, Riga speaks. He says he was approached very recently (yesterday evening), and understood that the club wanted his help, because it's all about results (sadly Vukomanović is out of shot at this point). Riga says he's had a discussion with Vukomanović and made it clear that his help will be useful.

About his relationship with Duchatelet he says "He is just a chairman looking for a coach, full stop. [...] Just like when he first gave me a job with Standard, or the job with Charlton." He also mentions that had been out of work for a few months.

So, there you go. Still baffling. Look at the video even if you don't understand a word of French: the facial expressions and body language are fascinating. And if your French is better than mine and you hear something I've missed, please let us know in the comments below.

01 February 2015

Charlton 1 Rotherham 1

You know things are bad at Charlton when you hear that Stuart Pearce has been sacked by Forest and replaced by Dougie Freedman and you think, even for just a moment, that he, either of them, might not be a bad option.

But just look at what we have got. A new manager coming into the job with no goodwill at all. If he doesn't start getting wins instantly, he'll completely lose any support he has. He won't get any leeway, or any time to settle into the job.

In fact he got 60 minutes. The usual limp attacking display had been provoking chants for Tony Watt to come on (which Watt himself did nothing to discourage), but the withdrawal of Vetokele (who Watt replaced) when Watt came on gave some sign of how Watt was going to be used, why Watt wasn't already on, and where Watt would be playing.

Watt's body language was encouraging: he obviously wants to play and thinks he can make a difference. He didn't, but that's probably not his fault. Because once again we had a collection of individuals on the pitch, not a team. Some of them, the ones you'd expect it from, were playing for personal pride: stranded in this shambles they want to maintain their dignity. Others, you know who I mean, couldn't be arsed.

So the result, another sodding draw spitting itself out of the jaws of victory, was almost irrelevant.

While I was drowsing through this terrible game, my mind on Penelope Cruz and the question of whether Inma Cuesta, star of Spanish TV's Aguila Roja, is a suitable replacement for her in my increasingly worrying fantasy life, others were watching Guy Luzon's touchline performance. Lots of impassioned if slightly batty gestures, it seems, but no-one in the team paying any attention to them or him. How can they possibly have any respect for him? Those who know him hate him. Those who don't know him know that he got the job purely through a kind of notional nepotism. He's like the idiot son Roland Duchatelet never had.

Sorry, that's a terrible thing to say. For all I know, Roland has lots of idiot sons scattered all over Europe like abandoned VW tourers full of grey, antipodean underwear.

And yes, actually, she is.

22 January 2015

Luzon my religion

So I was wrong. The same office that won't give a visa for people to attend the funeral of their granddaughter is perfectly happy to give one to Guy Luzon.

But maybe that's fair enough. There's clearly a shortage of qualified, experienced managers in the UK. Why, just the other day Katrien Meire interviewed 20 of them. None of them any good.

But after a thorough interview Guy Luzon convinced the sceptical panel. Based on the triumphant press conference, I'd imagine it went something like this:

Katrien: So, Guy, tell us what you know about the English championship.
Guy: Errm. Football. Manchester City? Errm, winning good, losing bad.
Katrien: I think that's all we need to know. Richard, darling, tell the others they can leave now. Watch out for that Italian bloke though, Paolo something. He looks a little temperamental. You have got a work permit, Guy, I assume?
Guy: Liverpool?
Katrien: Great. You start tomorrow. (Gives him a sheet of paper). Here's the team you'll be fielding on Saturday.

Of course, if Luzon turns out to be an inspired, brilliant choice, I'll be the first to eat my ever-so-tasty words. Maybe he can rescue broken, demoralised teams, in the same way that maybe I can play Ravel's notoriously difficult piano-piece Gaspard de la Nuit. I've never tried, so I don't know.

What really rankles is the cheapskate, dishonest way the appointment has been made. Roland Duchatelet has never enjoyed the whole-hearted confidence of the fans. From now on, it's hard to see how he ever will. And the worst thing of all is, he couldn't give a toss.

16 January 2015

Will Guy Luzon actually get a work permit?

My friendly local barrister tells me that immigration lawyers in the UK are mainly lazy, opportunistic charlatans. Surprisingly, then, I am not one, and so you should probably not pay attention to the rest of this blog, in which I will try to understand what's gone on behind the farcical situation that's been revealed today and what the outcome may be.
Charlton are disappointed to announce that Guy Luzon will not be able to take charge of the team at Watford on Saturday due to issues with his UK work permit.
Following his appointment on Tuesday evening, the club had expected the required paperwork to be finalised in time for the Head Coach to take his place in the dugout at Vicarage Road.
However, his work permit was not processed before the required deadline. 
Because Luzon is an Israeli citizen, not an EU national, he has to get a work visa (also known as a work permit) before he can take employment. The fact that he hasn't got one seems to mean that Charlton have broken the law in employing him.

When I first read the news, and after I'd stopped laughing somewhat hysterically, my initial thought was that the famously inefficient Home Office had messed up, or that Charlton had not realised that a work visa was needed (perhaps forgetting that Luzon isn't an EU national), or that they had not submitted the application in time.

But, from what I've read it might be more fundamental than that.

Here are the qualifications you need to get a Tier 2 (Sportsperson) visa, which I think is what Luzon would need.
  • you’re an elite sportsperson or qualified coach recognised by your sport’s governing body as internationally established at the highest level
  • your sport’s governing body is endorsing your application
  • your employment will develop your sport in the UK at the highest level
  • you’re from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) and Switzerland 
  • you meet the other eligibility requirements
  • You need to meet all of them. I think it would be hard to argue that Luzon's record as a coach makes him "internationally established at the highest level" or that his employment would "develop [football] in the UK at the highest level".

    We've seen cases before where foreign players haven't been able to get a work visa, basically because they aren't considered exceptional enough. On his record, Luzon is only exceptional in Roland Duchatelet's head. From my reading of the guidance, there's a very real chance Luzon will not be given a work visa.

    If anyone reading this is a genuine expert in immigration law, I'd be very grateful for your comments.

    11 January 2015

    Charlton 0 Brighton 1

    It was better than last week. Still terrible, of course, but there was a little attempt at playing football, not that it came to anything. The dispiritedness is spreading, and even Bob Peeters is looking depressed: no longer spending the game in the technical area waving his enormous arms in passionate, incomprehensible gestures, he spent large periods sitting in the dugout. Couldn't see his face; imagine it wasn't hard to tell the difference between it and a ray of sunshine.

    A burnt-out shell
    Poor Lawrie Wilson typified the team. He had an awful game, caught between trying too hard and overcomplicating simple situations, and backing out of any chancy decisions or opportunities. It was symptomatic of the loss of confidence that's spreading throughout the squad. Only Chris Solly's late crossbar strike roused any kind of appreciation, and it was almost immediately followed by Brighton's goal. An unnecessary foul by Bikey gave away the kind of set-piece Charlton's fans have learned to fear, and Brighton took a lead, and the 3 points, that possibly neither side deserved.

    But, yes, Charlton deserved them less. Brighton weren't great, but didn't have to be. As every team is finding out these days, when you're playing Charlton all you have to be is organised, patient and willing.

    There's no remedy in sight. Tony Watt looked refreshingly lively when he came on, but it's asking a lot for him to turn around the mood of the whole squad. Reading between the lines of Peeters' statements and Katrien Meire's column in the programme, there's no intention to spend significantly in the transfer window.

    The only hope is that there may be three worse teams in the Championship. So, we're relying on the incompetence of Holloway, Mackay and Clark.


    We'll be fine.

    03 January 2015

    Charlton 1 Blackburn 2

    For the last 20 minutes of this game, after Yoni Buyens had been sent off, Charlton's already low level of interest in the game dropped to zero, as Blackburn played the ball around with humiliating ease. There was nothing left in Charlton's game: no organisation, no drive, no commitment. They played as if there was absolutely no chance of getting back a goal, and exhibiting no wish to do so. Like the crowd, I suspect, they wouldn't have minded much if Blackburn had scored a third to end the pretence that a match was taking place.

    A few minutes earlier it seemed that things might change. Gudmundsson had scored with a superb free kick - which looked the only way Charlton would score - and the chance was on. But almost immediately Blackburn sliced easily through the defence, and everything fell apart. Charlton had been poor up to that moment. After it they were abject.

    I feel I'm repeating myself, but feel I need to, to make it clear how awful this performance was. Even after you've made allowances - the injuries, the youth of the squad, the lack of a competent, confident striker - there was no excuse for it. It was a broken team, pretending to play football until the clock ran down, but looking like a blindfolded kabaddi team.

    One of the many football cliches is "he's lost the dressing room", and I heard it quite a lot as disgruntled fans left after the game. It's hard to disagree. The team presumably knew they were going to get a bollicking after the match, but didn't care. In November Bob Peeters said he hadn't spoken to the team after the game against Ipswich. That didn't seem like a brilliant action at the time, and now I wonder if it was evidence or cause of a fundamental breakdown in trust and respect. Whatever, he's got a huge job ahead of him in restoring this squad to a functioning team, with or without arrivals in the window.

    And just to cheer everybody up, two facts. Roland Duchatelet was at the game today, I think: a car with reg no RDC 33 was in the car park before the game (he'd left the lights on, by the way, ready for a quick getaway perhaps). And someone told me Tim Sherwood was at the match. Go on, then, rumourmongers: I've given you two and two, put them together!