28 December 2017

Farewell, so long, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye

It will be the Kennedy moment for a generation of Charlton fans. "Where were you when you heard that Katrien was going?" Personally, I was on a bus (the 185 from Lewisham, if you must know). Logged on to Twitter, saw a lot of happy comments and scrolled down to find out what everyone was so happy about, and found the news, the official on-the-club-website, confirmed-by-Duchatelet news that Katrien Meire has quit as CEO of Charlton and that Duchatelet is in discussions with a potential buyer.

A few days late, but what a Christmas present!

But what a disastrous effect she's had on the club. It could all have been so different. Clearly she has some talents and qualities, but with no experience in running any business, let alone the specialised, complicated beast that is a football club, she was a poor choice by Roland (one of many, but I haven't got all day to list them.) Worse, it seems she lacked the humility to realise she needed help, and pressed ahead with her own crazy ideas (again - had we world enough and time I could list them).

It could have been different. There was general goodwill to her when she started. Apart from a few sexists, no-one minded that she was a woman. For most of us, it was a matter of right-on pride that Charlton was leading the way with her appointment. And she and Duchatelet followed in the steps of Slater-Jimenez, the extent of whose mismanagement is still being revealed.

But it all went wrong very quickly. The arrogance, the contempt, the lies ... No-one made her do those things. As everything went wrong, on and off the pitch, you had to wonder what she had to do to get sacked. Relegation, dwindling crowds, massively increased borrowing - what kind of performance targets had Duchatelet set her?

We'll probably never know what's been going on inside his head these last four years. But now, it seems his time is nearly up. We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing.

01 December 2017

Vinegar Pissers 1 Duchatelet 0 (a.e.t)

Roland Duchatelet broke his silence in an interview today, in which he conceded that his involvement in football has been a huge mistake.

I think we already knew that.

Talking about foreign ownership of Belgian clubs, he says "It makes no difference if the owner is foreign, so long as the day to day management stays in Belgian hands. What matters is that the owner should have empathy for the club, and respect its identity and local roots." Change "Belgian" to "British" and it's exactly what we've been saying all along about Charlton.

But it's not his fault. He has, oh so slowly, learned that "Football is a passionate, complex world; there are many underground forces, many decisions are based on emotions, rumours can make or break your image, and social networks create groundswells that are hard to answer." The mixed metaphor is typical Roland, of course. He means, I think, that a wave of opinion can be stirred up on social networks that his coastal defences cannot contain.

Talking of his poor reception among Sint Truiden fans, he says "I understand these people because they are attached to their club and were influenced by false information about me. They didn't know me and sometimes took me for an idiot. Doesn't bother me, because I know I'm not."

"If I were starting again, I wouldn't invest in football," he says, again much too late. On selling Charlton and his other remaining clubs he says "I haven't decided anything. I'm open to offers that may come along. I will take time to consider it."

Basically he wants out, and as one of the groundswelling, fake news-peddling vinegar pissers of social media, I couldn't be prouder.

02 May 2017

Charlton 3 Swindon 0

Only my second visit to the Valley this season, but both times Charlton have won 3-0. What on earth is everyone moaning about?

Unlike those people who went to grammar school and were regularly thrashed by a sadistic deputy head and it never did them any harm I'm not going to treat my personal experience as anything more than anecdotal. Charlton's season has been awful. The two victories I saw at the Valley were against teams - Coventry and Swindon - who've been relegated. Both of them were poor, with Swindon on Sunday throwing a complete lack of interest into the mix.

With a "top six budget" and promotion the priority, Charlton have just about managed to be top of the bottom half of the third division. And that's not unlucky, it's incompetent (all that money so badly wasted) or dishonest (there never was all that money). Duchatelet's regime has made immaterial and pointless the distinction between incompetence and dishonesty. Such a pile-up of catastrophes can only be proof of the Manichean heresy: some things are simply evil - who can say why? - and must be opposed.

One of the most distressing effects of being a part-time supporter this season is that I hardly know the players any more. With the obvious exception of Ricky Holmes, who is clearly gifted and has what we used to call a proper Charlton attitude, I hardly even recognise most of the players (my pet cataract doesn't help) and have no view (haha) on the merits of players whose role is less obvious.

As always, a joy to watch Chris Solly and Johnnie Jackson, the Captain making his last appearance as just a player. Officially a player/coach from now on, I would hope he'll develop the role that Andy Hughes had: most often on the bench but an inspiring presence there and in training. It was worth attending the game just to join in his ovation. He's navigated skillfully through the troubled waters of the past three years: wisely silent but his presence and actions have made him unassailable. Any new owner (please please please) would be an idiot not to put him at the centre of any reconstruction.

Yeah, reconstruction. Again. 

19 March 2017

Sheffield United 2 Charlton 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01 March 2017

Too many coaches?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26 February 2017

Greenwich Borough 3 Faversham Town 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 February 2017

Karl and the C-word

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

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

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

05 February 2017

Whyteleafe 0 Corinthian-Casuals 1

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

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

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

08 January 2017

Goodbye to Morgan Fox

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

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

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

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