Saturday, December 29, 2007

What might have been (part 3189)

Manchester Evening News, 9th August 2004:

CHARLTON are poised to test City's resolve with a £2m bid for Joey Barton.

Addicks boss Alan Curbishley has long been an admirer of the spiky England Under-21 midfielder and is armed with money to spend after selling anchorman Claus Jensen to London rivals Fulham.

Curbishley has been pipped in the chase for Liverpool midfielder Danny Murphy, who is poised to join Spurs today
[!!!!] and is now prepared to turn his attentions back to Barton, who played 70 minutes of Saturday's friendly win against Lazio. (more)

I wonder, eh?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Norwich 1-1 Charlton

Well, my lift was in better spirits so I was able to leave the tartan blanket and weak lemon drink at home as we chugged up to Norfolk. But Sam Sodje's dim-witted lunge at Darel Russell threatened to spoil matters, the defender walking off before a red card was even produced.

Shame, because we were looking good before then. It'd been a nervy start and Zheng Zhi's 21st minute goal, with a simple, low shot, was somewhat against the run of play. But it'd shattered the hosts' fragile confidence and we were purring.

What came after Sodje's dismissal, though, was something to be proud of. We continued to attack in the first half, and while the second half was a dogged affair a win never seemed out of the question, even after Russell's equaliser. Nicky Weaver's shot-stopping skills saved our skins, and Holland and Semedo were immense in midfield.

The one real blot on the landscape was Izale McLeod - brought on in the second half, he was substituted himself towards the end of the half after a lousy display. The end of his Charlton career must surely be approaching.

Norwich - now under Glenn Roeder - performed better than they did at The Valley, and were lucky with many of the ref's calls. Whatever happens to them this season, it's to their credit that they can still attract 25,000 people to the Carrow Road, week in, week out - even if their Premiership dalliance is becoming a distant memory. Our large away following didn't mean a lively crowd - it was a slightly odd atmosphere, and one of the few times at football where I've felt a little self-conscious after swearing. Probably because I had a copper over my shoulder. Ho-hum.

Indiscipline once again meant we had to do it the hard way, and arguably cost us a couple of points today. We need to hold our nerves for Leicester and Colchester - and whoever joins us in the January transfer window, hopefully they'll be wiser than Sam Sodje was today.

Canaries for Christmas

Merry Christmas! As the small hours of Boxing Day tick by at All Quiet Mansions, it hasn't escaped my attention that I've ignored the Hull match - frankly, the 1-1 draw wasn't an experience I wanted to repeat in my mind. While we had trouble coping with Hull's direct brand of non-football. I don't think we'll have the same trouble at Carrow Road as we prepare to face Norwich.

It's likely Danny Mills' last act in a Charlton shirt was to be sent off for verbally abusing the ref. To his credit, he's used his website to say sorry.

Using that wonderful word hindsight, I know perhaps what I said was not correct particularly in that situation and I’m sure if I could turn the clock back I would react differently, but turning the clock back is something we cannot do and I am really sorry for losing my self control and discipline and I just hope that those final few moments are not what the fans will remember me for. In my defence I will say that the challenge that led to the sending off left me with a bruised eye and that three of their four players booked were for fouls on myself. However I am not looking for excuses.

Going forwards, we will have to wait and see what the future holds for me and whether it be at Charlton, Man City or another club, I’m sure during the next couple of weeks things will become more settled and final.

It's funny, really, how an articulate and smart guy such as Mills can have such a self-destructive short temper. Then again, with his family in the north-west, the loan spell's held its own pressures for him. "On the flip side I won't miss getting up at 5a.m. in the morning to travel down on the train for training 2 or 3 times each week. Football and family life do not often mix well and this has certainly been the case for me," he wrote before the Hull match.

Despite all this, he's made a vital contribution to our promotion push. If he goes, he'll be badly missed. Fingers crossed, though, it won't be.

So he won't be at Norwich, and my own presence there isn't guaranteed, despite being in possession of a match ticket. In fact, the Norwich match has so far proved to be a bit of a curse for me.

My wallet, containing my match ticket, was pickpocketed on the Barcelona metro a couple of weeks back - I'd forgotten it was in there until I was in Spain. Charlton's box office was unable to supply a replacement for bizarre reasons which suggest the 21st century is yet to hit the Floyd Road ticket desk (because I'd, er, had the ticket bought for me on a matchday - online and phone sales are recorded, counter sales aren't) so I had to cough up for another one.

And Christmas Day brought news that my lift to Norwich might not happen after all, since our driver has spent the 25th laid up with what doctors call "the shits". Contingency plans for a last-minute, breakfast-time coach booking have been made, which'll take the cost of the match to £69 for me, and a tartan blanket's been ironed in case we're lucky. So it could be a interesting day. Or I could end up at Welling v Fisher (1pm kick-off if you're at a loose end.) Hopefully, all this hassle will be worth it....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Darren Bent - a credit to his mum

A really good interview with Darren Bent in today's Guardian about his difficulties at Spurs, and with England. Good to see the big money move hasn't changed him.

This is his first interview since signing from Charlton Athletic and he is acutely aware that many of the questions might have a negative slant. Yet nothing is out of bounds and he does not insist on vetting what is written. His only request is that he is sent a copy of the photograph for his mother, Shirley.

And the only flicker of anger is when the conversation turns to Sven-Goran Eriksson, the manager who selected Theo Walcott ahead of him for last year's World Cup. "I saw him when we played Manchester City recently but I wouldn't even look at him," he says.

The nightmare before Christmas

Apologies for the break in service this week - I didn't have much to say about the West Brom match since I only saw a tiny segment of it, and then other commitments, a minor crisis and general Christmas stuff took me right out of the arena. I've not even read the proper blogs. And being on my hols two weeks ago means I feel like I've missed several episodes of a much-loved soap opera, and I'm expecting to come back this afternoon and find Sam Bartram back in goal, explaining away his absence by saying he'd only just popped out for a shower.

But at least I'm back in the traditional Saturday morning blogging mode, which is a frankly a bit crap if you write a football blog, because you're down the pub right now and I'm not. Hey-ho.

So, what do I return to? A NIGHTMARE!, that's what? Andy Reid? CROCKED! ZZ? BROKEN! Ambrose? KNACKERED! Basey? STILL BROKE! Varney? LURGY, MORE LIKE! Big Chris? MAYBE CROCKED! Danny Mills? GOING BACK TO MAN CITEH! Promotion? YOU'RE HAVING A LAUGH, AREN'T YOU?

Bugger. So I'm going to be watching today's match against Hull from between my fingers, to be honest. But there are bonuses - we might get to see the kids get a chance, and cometh the hour, cometh the man - Chris Dickson's been recalled from Gillingham. (I won't mention the fact that Ghana might want him for the African Nations Cup, because that might send him over the edge.)

So, Christmas - a time to relax? Hah! As we look back one year to the Wycombe farrago which marked our lowest point, hopefully this will be the time we show our strength to clamber out of the mess we tumbled into. Perhaps another anniversary - 50 years since our 7-6 win over Huddersfield - will inspire us. Some reaction will follow later in the weekend...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Di Canio on Capello

A busy week - was pickpocketed on my travels, so there's been lots of sorting stuff out after that - so I've not had time to touch on my experiences watching Barcelona v Deportivo, my annoyance at having not managed to see a second of the Ipswich match, and Dean Keily's pop at Curbs in the South London Press. Gutted not to be up at West Brom, but the time shift make it impractical to travel up to the Hawthorns, so the radio's fired up and the pub has been selected for the second half.

In the meantime, here's Paolo Di Canio's thoughts on England's new boss, from an AC Milan pre-season tour of the Far East...

"Why can't you just let me play the whole game", I said to Capello. "Because, Paolo, you've got to understand that we have to maintain a tactical equilibrium," he said.

"What equilibrium," I told him. "Against a bunch of Chinese who can't even play proper football? We're here to entertain!"

Capello just gave me a dirty look. He probably genuinely thought that 60,000 Chinese who had paid to see us had forked out their cash to see his 4-3-2-1 system in action, not to watch the likes of Baggio and Paolo Di Canio.

The next night we played in Beijing. Baggio, Lentini and I were up front. We took a 1-0 lead.

Naturally, Capello decided to take off a forward and send on a defender to protect the lead even though it was an irrelevant exhibition and he was leaving in two weeks anyway.

And naturally, I was the one he picked on. I got angry. Once again, I felt I had been singled out for speaking my mind.

"What the f*** are you doing," I asked him at half-time when he announced that I would be coming off.

"F*** off," he replied. Capello wasn't the kind of man who minced words. "You're coming off because you're not trying."

"You're crazy, you're sick in the head," I shouted back. "You go f*** off!"

Capello lunged at me; he always had a quick temper. I shoved him, we took a few swings at each other. I was furious. Capello is a big, strong man but I was not afraid of him. Milan's coaching staff steamed in and tore us apart. I was still livid.

"You can't treat me like this!" I yelled. "You already signed for Madrid, you are a nobody here! I still have my contract, you'd better learn to respect me!"

Capello must have had four people holding him back.

"Get the f*** out of my sight," he bellowed. "Go back to the f****** hotel!"

I looked him straight in the eye and replied: "You're not going to tell me what to do. Whether I go back to the hotel or not, it's up to me, it's my decision. You're going to stop deciding things for me!

"One thing is for sure, I'm not going to hang around here and look at your penis face any longer!"

He got his wish. I walked straight out of the stadium, grabbed a cab and returned to our hotel.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The loneliness of the long-distance fan

To: The Inspector (3:00pm)
You lucky sod. Regular updates throughout today's game coming up, but only if you promise never to send pictures like that ever again, weather is bloody horrible here.

To: The Inspector (3:08pm)
Goal! Great ball wide right Holland. Ambrose diving header from six yards. We're all over 'em.

To: The Inspector (3:21pm)
Much tighter game. Ipswich more in it. Great shielding of the defence by Holland.

To: The Inspector (3:33pm)
Two-nil! Big Chris from close range following a corner. It's all too easy.

To: The Inspector (3:34pm)
Total Charlton possession. Ipswich yet to have a single shot.

To: The Inspector (3:41pm)
Three-nil! Ambrose drive from outside the box after good play from Reidy.

To: The Inspector (3:44pm)
Still swarming forward. Ball nearly turned in by Reidy.

To: The Inspector (3:48pm)
Chants of 'You might as well go home'. Ipswich singing: 'We're gonna win 4-3'.

To: The Inspector (3:50pm)
Half-time. Total Charlton dominance. Comedy boos from a few wags as the players go off. Not a single shot from Ipswich - only Counago with any fight and he came on as a sub. Fine performances all over the pitch.

To: The Inspector (4:09pm)
Fireworks on the estate mark the restart. Two further changes by Ipswich. Charlton pushed right back. Weaver saves penalty!

To: The Inspector (4:16pm)
Ipswich miss open goal. Real trouble in the Charlton defence. Covered end responds with huge sound. Black skies open and lash the Valley with cold rain.

To: The Inspector (4:21pm)
Ref gives Charlton penalty, then changes mind after consulting linesman. All us again. Holland hits post with controlled drive.

To: The Inspector (4:26pm)
Ambrose has been a revelation.

To: The Inspector (4:31pm)
Goal for Ipswich. Back heel from Counago inside box after Charlton fail to clear.

To: The Inspector (4:47pm)
Last five of normal time. More chances at both ends. Reidy and Sam off to standing ovations. Varney and Semedo on.

To: The Inspector (5:00pm)
All over. 3-1. Could've been any number at the end though. What a game. Players come under the covered end to celebrate. Jonny Fortune looks disconsolate after being sent off at the death for attacking a farmer. Enjoy Barcelona!

To: The Inspector (5:15pm)
Yeah we were all over the shop second half, but we still could've scored another five. We won at home so its fiesta time. Adios.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Agony and ecstasy by the Med

Hostal Gat Xino, Barcelona: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh! Why do I do this to myself? Book a holiday, then find myself in TORTURE because strolling through sunshine streets is no substitute for a rain-lashed Valley victory? I thought I´d just be able to play it cool like I try to do when I´m not at an away game.

Haha - yeah, right. The first text messages coincided with me passing an Irish bar showing Soccer Saturday. Then it was commandering an iBook in an Apple display in a shop. And then it was chaining myself to a hotel computer, frantically refreshing a Charlton Life thread and getting other info from the ground. And I´m supposed to be on holiday relaxing...

I´ll leave proper discussion of our win to Stuart, but it sounds as if Darren Ambrose was a revelation. But with Danny Mills picking up a suspension and Jon Fortune getting sent off at the death, a hairy second half will give the moaners something to get their teeth into.

And now it´s time I switched off, and returned to getting a rest...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday night's alright for Palace

Using the common sense for which they are justly famous, the Metropolitan Police have decreed that our match against Crystal Palace should be moved to Friday 8 February, with a 7.45pm kick-off. Because, of course, moving the match to an evening is going to cut the risk of trouble, isn't it?

I understand that a Friday kick-off is preferable to Charlton - it gives us more time to prepare for our next match (against Watford) and revenues are higher for night games than they are for early kick-offs on Sunday. But for crying out loud, what planet are these people on? People will just take time off, spend the afternoon getting smashed, while a big policing operation's going to have to work around the evening rush hour at London Bridge and in Charlton ourselves - a surefire policy to piss our neighbours off around SE7, and anyone else who needs to catch a train to do something frivolous like, er, get home from work.

Add this to the aggravation of Charlton suddenly being in love with 7.45 kick-offs (clearly done for the benefit of the silent fans that we bus in from Christknowswhere, for that extra 15 minutes is a godsend for anyone coping with public transport in London) which limits the choice of trains fans and coppers can squeeze onto. It is not the brightest of decisions, to put it mildly.

Still, it's something to look forward to...

I haven't mentioned the win at Cardiff since I wasn't there and so can't really add much that's sensible, but I'm pleased for those who went - the real fans and not the tossers that boo the team at The Valley. And I can't really say much about Ipswich since I'm not going to be there tomorrow - so I fully expect a win. So Stuart will be dispensing wit and wisdom while I go hunting for winter sunshine and text message updates from The Valley. See you next week.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The jitters set in

So we've got West Brom at home in the FA Cup third round, and you know what? I'm quite happy with that. Playing a Premier League side would have been a distraction, playing a lower league side would have been nervy, and we could do without the chance to make arseholes of ourselves at some non-league side. Instead, we get one of the best teams in the Championship, and it's more or less business as usual.

Anyway, we're proving too good at making arseholes of ourselves in the league, with an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at The Valley to Burnley. I've slept on it, thought about it, and I still can't explain what's going wrong. To be fair on Burnley, though, they're a tidy outfit and they did a job on us, while we weren't helped by a lousy ref who turned a blind eye to too many claret and blue digs. All this would be academic if Danny Mills hadn't handballed in the box in the second half, mind.

Theory number 1: We have a good side, but Pards doesn't know what to do with it.
This is what I'm leaning towards. We have a great midfield (even if it wasn't showing yesterday). We have two talented strikers and some wise heads in defence. But Pards can't get his formations and his squads right. Matt Holland wasn't much use for us yesterday, while the gaffer's attachment to Darren Ambrose baffles many (although I thought he had an okay match yesterday). Is the wing the right place for Andy Reid? And can Varney and Iwelumo really play together up front? Didn't we play some of our best stuff in a 4-5-1 formation, with Luke powering up the wing?

Theory 2: We're too lightweight/we don't have the pace.
Two contradicting statements which suggest the balance between grafters like Mills and artistes like Thomas isn't quite right. We've definitely toughened up since August, but our heads are going down too quickly - not helped by the crowd. One of Burnley's key men yesterday was David Unsworth, the ex-Everton man now resembling a beer barrel on tree trunks. Could we do with a couple of tanks in there? Or do we need the pace of Thomas?

Theory 3: Something has gone wrong in the squad. Discontent in the ranks? Who knows. I doubt, because team unity is one of Pards' strengths. But it's not easy for a relatively new team to gel together and there have certainly been losers - Paddy McCarthy is history already, and poor Izale McLeod hasn't even had a chance. Both are rumoured to be heading for early exits, a real shame for the latter who's had some terrible abuse from a Valley crowd which is quickly starting to resemble a minature version of White Hart Lane's whingers.

Whatever, while Watford have also slumped, we need to turn it around. Ninian Park's an unlikely place for a revival, but the boos from The Valley can't be heard in the valleys. I hope the real fans, the hardy lot that make the trip, are the ones that see us get back on track.