Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nightmare on Zampa Road

When you can't find the words, let someone else say them for you.

She ain't wrong, though.

What happened? Why can't we arrest a slump in the team? Why is the spirit in the side so seemingly non-existent? Why do things feel so bleak... even though we still seem fairly comfortable for play-offs? Did we expect too much? Or has the manager and team let us down again? And what can we change on a budget of sweet FA?

Answers on a postcard, and all that.

Friday, January 15, 2010

And after the break...

Sorry for the huge gap in posts. And don't even ask what's happened to the comments. Actually, all will be explained about the comments soon.

In the meantime, here's a man in the 1980s wisely preserving his moments of Liverpool being good. Will somebody please tell the media that Liverpool won't ever be in a crisis until the receivers' padlock is wrapped around the Shankly gates? Someone, please?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From silence to a roar

Not much to complain about over the past few weeks, eh? You know what? I'm actually enjoying this season. Football's become what it should be - something to help us escape from everyday life. We know we're financially secure for this season at least, and there's the hope we will be in future ones. Is it the fact that we're winning so much which is making League One enjoyable? Or is it being back to basics, reliable 3pm Saturday kick-offs, instead of being mucked around for TV, or having loads of it shoved into weeknights like in the Championship?

Yeah, it's probably the winning. In the weeks since the spineless surrender at Northwich, we've developed a pleasing ability to win while playing poorly. Not every game's going to be an all-guns blazing thrashing of MK Dons, but there's going to be quite a few Southends and plenty of Stockports. It's those matches that'll determine our fate, not the joy of beating one of football's vermin clubs.

Which brings me to... ah, yeah, you've beaten me to it. My hatred is of Crystal Palace rather than Millwall, and I'm frankly revelling in the Nigels' financial woes. Those who try to kill other clubs should not expect any sympathy. Whereas Millwall - feh, may our spell being on the same level as them be brief and fleeting.

On a basic level, the decision to dedicate the match to murdered SE Londoners Rob Knox and Jimmy Mizen - one a Charlton fan, the other Millwall - is a wonderful gesture from both clubs, with both teams wearing a special kit for the day. It also takes some of the sting out of our first match with Millwall for 13 years.

Emotionally, it's a reminder of the immediate communities around both clubs. You can show as many videos of good deeds in deepest Kent as you like, but in places like Lee, Sidcup, Lewisham, Bexleyheath, Eltham, Greenwich, Catford, and Kidbrooke - those places contain the streets in which our two clubs' rivalry was formed. It's good to see Charlton and Millwall remembering their responsibilities to those streets.

And, frankly, it is very, very difficult to imagine Crystal Palace taking part in such a scheme.

There will, of course, be some idiots that don't get the message. But hopefully, enough of both clubs' resident cretins will take heed of it.

With all the hype, I'm actually expecting a really good match. I went to the New Den to see Millwall beat AFC Wimbledon last month, and while the Spanners started sluggish, and the Dons bested them for chunks of the match, their speed and strength won out in the end. Forward Jason Price seemed to be the key to their victory after he came off the bench, and he played a key role in their defeat of Walsall last weekend.

The pressure will be on both sides. I'm sure Lions icon Neil Harris would love to put one over us, but we've got two Sodjes... and they know the score too. Hopefully it'll be the right one at 5pm.

But whatever, considering his disastrous loan spell down there, news that Hearts are interested in taking Izale McLeod on loan will be news to unite fans of both Charlton and Millwall in merriment. Reports of a queue of Charlton fans waiting outside Sparrows Lane to drive the duff striker to Edinburgh in the snow cannot be confirmed...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wheels come off up Victoria way

"One day, he'll be able to say, 'I was there...'"

The youngest of the All Quiet travelling party had just been dropped off and we were winding our way through the streets of Eltham, his uncle rediscovering his swearing muscles and telling us why he'd taken the youngster to the match. In football, it's best to get your disappointments out the way early. At five, it's unlikely he'll remember much of today at Northwich. He's the lucky one.

You've probably seen the game, you may well have read semi-literate rants from fans who didn't travel much further than the "on" switch on their TV, questioning the commitment of our team. So you won't need me to tell you that today's performance at the Victoria Ground was embarrassing, a low to rank alongside the Wycombe League Cup defeat in 2006, the 6-1 home thumping by Leeds in 2003, and the Dagenham & Redbridge FA Cup fiasco of 2001. Oh yeah, and it was on TV, so all your mates saw it too. Thanks.

Northwich fully deserved the win. They invested in a Haynes Guide to Televised FA Cup Giantkilling, highlighted the words "hustle", "harry", "intimidate", "pass the ball" and "just bloody go for it", and, well, bloody went for it.

We, collectively, crapped ourselves under pressure. There is no other way of describing the spineless scenes. Early in the second half, you really could see the dread in Lloyd Sam's eyes. Phil Parkinson had picked a team which wasn't up for it at all. Like Leeds at Histon last year, Charlton faced a modest team at a modest ground, far from their comfort zone... and buckled.

To a great extent, though, this was a match lost before a ball was kicked. The stubborness of Phil Parkinson has intrigued me. In good times, this has been steadfastness. In bad times, this looks like lunacy. Playing 4-5-1 at a Conference North ground? With Izale McLeod up front? Even fewer Charlton fans would have made the journey if they'd known that in advance.

On the pitch, this was a terrible collective failure of nerve. With Rob Elliot injured, it's unfortunate that Darren Randolph - so strong in our last Premier League match at Anfield two-and-a-half years ago - dropped a horrible howler in humbler surroundings today.

After the disappointment of Gillingham and the defeat at Carlisle, the sheen of the start of the season is a distant memory. With the Football League Trophy match at Southampton and a home match against MK Scum coming up this week, this doesn't leave us in a good position. And it also makes you wonder whether this team really can cope with high-pressure occasions. At the moment, it appears not.

I'm left with some odd memories - parking at neighbouring Witton Albion and clambering over a muddy embankment to get across the river to the Victoria Ground; the shudder at seeing a Charlton flag tied to a Blue Square hoarding and realising how close we were to the Conference; the bar where, after queueing, one of the staff announced she was too young to serve alcohol; and the bantering ginger-haired steward in the corner. "Highest earnings per head in the country, Cheshire!", he chirruped as "we pay your benefits" sort-of erupted from the away fans.

Just like their steward, Northwich had all the answers today and fully deserve their day in the sun. The questions left behind for Charlton won't feel anywhere near as comfortable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Of Parky, ethics and Kent

Sorry for the lack of posting recently - the slow burn of the third tier doesn't do much to spark a desire to hold forth on this and that. And, to be honest, the Thrilling Big Match Action has spoken for itself.

Firstly, there was the drudgery of the Oldham game. What did we do to deserve that? The Latics proudly parked a fleet of buses in front of our goal, and we struggled. A week later, Huddersfield at least did us the honour of coming to play a game of football. I thought Phil Parkinson flattered them by praising them, but by starting Izale McLeod up front and giving Jonjo Shelvey a rest, he showed that yes, he actually does have a Plan B that can come into use from time to time.

I've been fascinated by how Phil Parkinson has quietly put his stamp on the team, and on the club as a whole. A couple of weeks ago, I stood at the back of Bartram's as he spoke to a meeting of the Charlton Athletic Disabled Supporters' Association alongside Rob Elliot. He was disarmingly frank about the failings of last season - in particular, the egos that weighed the side down. The Parky creed is all about the work ethic, and as he spoke, I couldn't help thinking that he's probably Alan Curbishley's true successor. (Remember, Charlton approached Colchester to speak to him in June 2006.) I think he may want to be recognised in that manner. So far, he's doing a good job in achieving that honour.

Unlike Curbs, though, he's actively seeking out opportunities to talk to fans, and seems to enjoy it. When a mother spoke about how she and her son follow Charlton both home and away, and pick a European side to follow each season, he called for a round of applause for them.

With all this in mind, it seemed particularly cruel for one of last week's papers to suggest he'd lose his job in a possible David Sullivan takeover of Charlton - in favour of Mr Curbishley. With Crystal Palace now mentioned as a possible target it could well be that all this is part of a big game to make sure the ex-Birmingham City boss gets control of West Ham. Sullivan, David Gold and Karren Brady turned round the Blues over a number of years, but the porn baron's background and poor relations with City fans may suggest he's not one for us. We'll see.

And then there was the odd Sun story about Tony Jiminez - the fixer who almost pulled off the Zabeel deal last year - being involved in another bid, which, unhappily, featured Dennis Wise. Which led to a surreally bad South London Press story misquoting the boss of a moribund supporters' club as saying he was backing it.

It's all noise, though, because the real deal is still what happens on the pitch. I[ve still got to get my tetanus jab for the trip down to Gillingham tomorrow, which for me feels about as much as a derby as playing Reading, but there you go. At least it's one train all the way. Gillingham fans on BBC London News were itching to teach us a lesson. They were probably itching as well. Test of character, crappy old away stand, nasty dump, blah, blah. With many Charlton fans having far shorter journeys than me to Priestfield, and feeling this one a bit more personally than me, we're sure to have some decent support tomorrow. It could make all the difference. We'll see in 24 hours.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The perils of fearing failure

Ladies, gentlemen, I return from Essex with news. We are mortal, my friends, and as liable to a deserved stuffing as the worst of them.

If it wasn't for being in rollickingly good company, Tuesday's trip up the A12 would have been swiftly consigned to the bin marked "bad memories". We overcame dreadful traffic conditions to get to the Care In The Community Stadium on time... except there's no signs to direct drivers to the ground. Up, down, and back up the A12 again, signs were finally tracked down somewhere off the dual carriageway, leading to a traffic jam. At 7.50pm. Colchester had also banked £7 in car park money... and then told us it was full up and we should park anywhere.

No sooner had we settled in our seats than Miguel Angel Llera guided the ball towards Rob Elliot... well, so he thought. He actually guided it into the back of the net, a furious keeper unable to do anything about it. Llera continued to have an awful match, and wasn't much use for Kayode Odejayi's second goal a couple of minutes later.

And apart from a couple of second-half spells, it didn't get much better than that, with Odejayi scoring again after Elliot collided with Nicky Bailey. Charlton were outmuscled, out of sorts, and looking knackered. I couldn't help wondering if too much is being asked of Jonjo Shelvey, while Bailey looks like a man desperate for a rest.

With Colchester's new boss Aidy Boothroyd winning friends and influencing people at the Us, it must have been galling for their old boss to be thumped there. But while Phil Parkinson's fine start to the season has lifted his stock at Charlton, hopefully he can deal with the first major hiccup of the season and make sure he and the squad learns from it. His decision not to substitute Llera until welll into the second half was a worry, though...

Colchester will, no doubt, be there or thereabouts when the League One spoils are handed out at the end of the season. With a tiny, tidy, if inaccessible new ground, it doesn't seem there's much to lose for them. But the fear of failure is going to haunt Charlton all season. Having been away for a few weeks, our nervy performance against Exeter (whose substitute goalkeeper was spotted in Harvey Gardens minutes after the final whistle picking up and paying for post-match pizzas) showed the early-season sharpness was wearing thin.

While last week's news of boardroom changes and a £7m investment in the club was welcome, it was also a reminder of how fragile Charlton remains. The directors' cash will plug this season's financial gaps. With big debts still lurking below the surface, it remains to be seen how we'd cope with a second season in the third tier, if that was to come about. There's an underlying assumption that we cannot afford to fail this season. And that's an awful amount of pressure to wear on anyone's shoulders.

If Colchester was tough, Leeds will be tougher. But they also know more than most the perils of fearing failure - in their third League One season, but now the only unbeaten team in England. They'll hit a rough patch soon. We just have to have the strength to guide them there on Saturday. And that'll mean overcoming the fear of failure. We can do it... can't we?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

So, who's up for the Trust, then?

A potentially significant moment in Charlton's history took place on Tuesday night - I nearly missed it, eyelids drooping due to jetlag (thanks to Stuart for holding the fort while I swanned around the US and Canada), but it definitely happened. The Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust has been given fans' backing.

Well, I say that, but only about 20 people bothered to show up at the Charlton Conservative Club. A show of hands revealed about half came from the immediate locality. True, the weather was dire, and almost three times that number had attended the putative trust's first meeting in early August - and had been warned the second meeting (a technical formality) would go over much of the same old group.

But really... 20 people? Is that really how many people care about our club? It's worth pointing out, as Ben Hayes - the prime mover behind setting up a trust - said, early meetings of the Valley Party were also poorly attended.

Some things need pointing out, though - yes, we may be unbeaten and still be top of the league. Yes, things are looking rosy at the moment. But what would happen if we fail to win promotion this season? What if a takeover or outside cash doesn't materialise? Charlton are still in a perilous state, and have the highest wage bill in League One. Quite simply, it's time for us to be a little more vigilant about what happens to our club in the years ahead.

The next meeting is on 14 October, when roles like treasurer and secretary will be decided upon. Want to get involved? Or just want to see what goes on first hand? Don't rely on other people to do the work for you - get the date in your diary now and come down.

Tonight (Thursday) sees Phil Parkinson's Q&A at The Valley - I can't make it, having had something planned for ages that night, but tickets are still available if you want to go.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Put your Trust in Charlton shares

As many will be aware, some people believe that an independent Trust should be set-up to deal with the uncertainty that surrounds Charlton's finances and long-term ownership.

Personally I remain on the fence about the pros and cons. But the idea seems to have got a shot in the arm today, with the announcement that a mystery Charlton shareholder has 'donated' 524,894 shares.

The press release issued states that:

Assuming a decision is made to establish the Supporters' Trust (ST), we will grant it voting control in respect of the 524,894 shares that we own. As I mentioned before, if it were necessary or beneficial to the ST, we would be prepared to go further and actually donate the shares to the ST providing that, in the event of a financial return upon the shares, the net proceeds of that return were donated to a charity (say Demelza House), assuming that the legal advisers to the ST don't see any difficulty with that.

The press release gives the motive as:

While, in my view, my shares now have limited economic value they can regain meaningful value if they can be combined with significant voting proxies and/or share donations from other shareholders (large and small) with the aim of empowering supporters collectively with a permanent and independent voice with the owners of the Club, whoever they may be. If that were achieved, in current circumstances I am sure that all who contribute their voting proxies or make share donations to the ST would, like me, consider it a very satisfactory "return" on our shares.

Curiouser and curiouser. If you'd like to know more there is a Supporters' Trust meeting at the Conservative Club, 51 Charlton Church Lane on Tuesday 15 September at 7.30pm. Kent football journalist Tony Hudd, former AFC Wimbledon Chairman Kris Stewart and a representative from Supporters' Direct will be answering questions. All Charlton fans are welcome.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Pardew's welcome?

Well, will you be booing?

I personally don't know. He didn't do his job and deserved to go, but are we making him shoulder more than his fair share of blame?

Either way, I'm wary of his return. His record against previous employers means no-one should expect a walkover against our fellow travellers from the Championship, Southampton. The thrashing of West Ham that arguably gave us false hope of Premiership salvation. Regular wins against the Palarse too. I reckon Pards knows how to motivate a side against those he thinks wronged him.

Nice to see a mention in Dispatches for the brilliant start Lloyd Sam has made, albeit with a bottle of Coke for a trophy. I'll bet that one will take pride of place in the fridge. Shocked but not surprised to hear that Sam's award is the first monthly prize a Charlton player has won for almost two years. Here's to more regular prizes in the rest of this season.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Can I look yet?

Is the deadline passed? Can I count our midfield and not see some conspicuous holes?

Sad to see Yassin Moutaouakil leave. I always thought he looked quality. But good lord, players IN.

Anyone care to comment on quality or otherwise? Have we bought another member of the walking wounded in Leon McKenzie? And of course I'm sure AQITES' large Rhyl-based readership will have a view on Luke Holden.