Saturday, 31 May 2008

Next... An Audience with Richard Murray

Last year a meeting was set up with a number of leading Charlton bloggers and Peter Varney. Well it would seem that a similar meeting is being planned with Richard Murray, and yours truly has been invited.

Now I have always liked Richard Murray, and if I have ever posted anything to the contrary it was nothing to do with me.

Richard, you can stop reading now!

Seriously though I think that this is one of the reasons that our club is so different from many others. I also have to confess to being very excited about being invited, and suddenly I am, sooner than expected, massively interested in all things Charlton again.

The dramatic fall in form that we suffered towards the end of the season is now becoming little more than a distant memory. I am more able to focus my memories of last season to the away games at Palace, Southampton and Plymouth, all of which I attended, the home wins against Stoke and Palace, the back to back 2-0 wins in September that really gave us all optimism for the season ahead and, of course, the season finale with Chris Powell scoring one of the most special goals I've ever seen at The Valley.

Yes, I can confirm that I have now officially put last season behind me. I have even got over the disappointment of England not qualifying for Euro 2008. I have even, despite my earlier reservations, selected a nation to follow in the tournament. Yes, I have certainly put last season behind me. Which, of course, means that I have officially started looking forward to next season.

Holland and Todorov have signed new one year deals and we have snatched Palace's Captain from under their noses. Those three players could well form the 'spine' of our team, especially if there is any truth in the current rumours that ZZ is on his was to Fulham (or Newcastle). As for the latter, I suspect that if there is any real interest then he will go. Lets not kid ourselves, these decisions are well out of the hands of the Managers or the board of the Tier 2 clubs. If he has a contract with his name on it at a Premier League club he will clearly get his way and be off. That said, the integrity of his agent was literally blown away last season, when he confirmed to the press that both Birmingham and Newcastle had made his player offers and he, (the agent) was going to choose the club he signed for. So, assuming that the agent is trying to drum up business, and income, for himself we can still expect to see ZZ in a red shirt next season.

This makes our squad look solid. Hudson was involved in most of Palace's games last season and they had a very tight defence, and despite some fans being (understandably) spiteful about him there is a clear disappointment that he has left. Quite how well he compares to Sam Sodje is another matter, and frankly irrelevant, we are where and he is probably as good as we what we have, and certainly as good as we could have hoped to sign for nothing.

That makes three good signings with no transfer fee required.

I believe that we are a creative midfielder short of a team that can confidently hope to break down the defences of the relegation candidates that will come and put ten men behind the ball but we still have over nine weeks before the season starts.

So back to Richard Murray. The suggestion is that the meeting 'is on the record', but that there might be some areas of the conversation that we will need to "show some discretion and judgement when reporting" makes it less clear exactly what will come out. There is also a suggestion that no reports should be released until lunchtime the following day to prevent a race to post first. Not something I have ever been any good at. Chances are the whole conversation word for word will be in the public domain before I get round to writing something, but I will clearly add my thoughts and observations.

The details of the meeting are to be kept back to prevent a stampede, so all I can tell you is that there will be no news from me until an unknown about of time after lunchtime the day after the day that you cannot be told yet.

So with a new enthusiasm for Euro 2008 and the season ahead I just hope that we keep signing players regularly enough for me to have something to say.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Transfer Dealings

Well I'm not sure what I prefer, Premier League clubs raiding our squad for our players (Marcus Bent, Madjid Bougherra and previously Andy Reid) or no Premier League teams being interested in any of them.

The latter confirms to some degree that we have no players that are good enough to play at the top level, which I find unlikely, and depressing. I would accept it if Man Utd and Chelsea wanted none of them, but I'd like to think that all of the bottom six (or those that expect to be) would be interested in something that we have.

The reverse is, of course, that teams like Wigan raid our squad for players that we could do with keeping, and as they are in such a strong financial position, and as the players (or their agents) really make all the decisions in football these days, they go for a lot less than we want. We can't really complain as we have benefited from this over the last decade, and we have left several managers whinging in the wake of us helping ourselves to their best player, for a lot less than they believed (or claimed) he was worth. In fact, we have even done this since we were relegated, Andy Gray was clearly 'advised' what we would, sorry could, be earning at Charlton before a transfer fee was agreed with Burnley.

It is just sad that we have grown the club (specifically the support) to the best level for many years and we now have to convince players that they are better with us than Wigan. No disrespect to Wigan, but their average home gate this season was 18,165 and they managed just 14,007 against Middlesborough in their first home game of the season. They are not as big a club as us, but with the Premier League money that makes them a bigger business than us, and in the end all players will tend (just like the rest of us) to move to the employer that offers the most. It's not always about money, but normally it is.

It comes as no surprise to me that we haven't yet signed anyone. It was just unrealistic that we would sign any players before the end of the season, and now all players (and agents) thinking about moving to a team challenging for promotion to the Premier League, is looking at Reading, Birmingham and Derby. Those three teams have benefited from the massive payday from the new and improved Sky deal that started in August 2007, and they have two parachute payments to come. I have no idea if the parachute payments have gone up for teams that were relegated this season, but I'm sure they won't have gone down. Last summer we could have convinced just about any player outside of the Premier League to join us, and we probably could have afforded them too, this year is somewhat different.

Having said that Pardew has made some very astute signings at clubs where expectations were a lot lower, so I have no doubt that he will be able to source some decent players at the right price, it just might take a little longer this summer than last. I also doubt that with the parachute money due to finish next summer we can afford to offer high wages to any players on long term contracts.

My personal preference (even though I have little, or no, information on the actual financial status of the club) would be to hold on to any player that can do a job for us next season. Clearly I mean regular starters, not squad members, unless we receive a massive offer for them. Bougherra for £1.5m for example would be a definite no for me. I would expect that with the tv money having gone up so much he would be worth at least what we paid for him if not more. Either way I would be reluctant to sell him at a loss. Marcus Bent, however, has, in my view, demonstrated that he has little or nothing to offer to us, and for that reason, especially as he only has one year left on his contract, I would be more than happy for him to stay at Wigan. I have no axe to grind, but I genuinely expect him to under perform next season compared to this one, and would probably not help our promotion challenge if he came back.

There are times when I would like to be involved in the day to day running of the club. Not especially in a decision making role, just involved with what's going on. However, this season has taken it's toll on me, and as such I have little interest is what's going on at Sparrows Lane. The Coventry game was like something out of a dream. I deliberately didn't post a match report as, for me, it was more about a personal experience than a football result. There is nothing more I need to add to that, except to say that I imagine that a lot of people went away from The Valley happier than they had done since we beat Palace in February, and if we ignore that game, the whole season. This, I think, bodes well for the season ticket sales, as does the clubs new pricing policy. My ticket on the half way line in the East Stand is the same price as last season, but then I am happy to pay more for a better view, and to 'subsidise' the reduction in prices for the parts of the ground that we need full, both for revenue and atmosphere purposes. Let's also not forget that at a time when prices of food and energy bills are rising so sharply a nil increase in the price of my ticket is, in fact, good news.

The Coventry game aside, however, I am feeling dis-interested in Charlton and football in general at the moment. The FA Cup Final, for all the pundits celebrating the 'Magic of the Cup' was the least inspiring since I have been watching football. I don't particularly like, or hate, either of the teams involved, and as predicted Portsmouth won with no flair or danger of not doing so. Despite the whole point of knock-out competitions, a one sided match, or more specifically a predictable result, is no good for anyone.

The all English Champions League Final? Well you can keep it. It says a lot about our football in this country when you consider that Liverpool put Chelsea out last season, and this season no English team will have been knocked out of the competition by a team outside of our own league. We clearly have enough strength to compete (and obviously win) in this competition, but I remember the New Wembley showpiece last spring when Man Utd and Chelsea fought out one of the worst games of football in living memory. European games are supposed to involve European teams, or have I missed the point entirely? I may still have the game on, but I really don't think I can be bothered.

That only leaves Euro 2008. In June 2006 I went with a couple of friends to Germany to see England play Ecuador. The whole weekend was an experience, and I loved every minute of it. I vowed to attend every championship in the future that I could get to, i.e. Europe. It is going to be devastating to not be involved this summer. "Which team will you support?" Oh go away. I'm English, I don't have a favourite country when we fail to qualify. I just wish it would all go away.

Thus, not unlike New York Addick and Chicago Addick our form and performances since Christmas have left me feeling so dis-interested in Charlton that it has taken me over two weeks to post following our last game of the season. To be fair I offer little in the way of interesting material to offer other than a preview of the game ahead and a summary of the match afterwards. For this reason I will probably not have much to say now until the start of next season, save the the odd comment on signings in or out.

I will be back in August, however, when I expect to have a renewed optimism and enthusiasm for the battles ahead.

Have a great summer.

Up the Addicks!

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Next... Coventry at home

Well here it is. The game that is due to be meaningless as we all prepare to accept the Football League Championship Title. The 'Old Lady' that Liverpool used to parade around Anfield so frequently during my childhood in the seventies and eighties. That famous trophy that we won with such style in 2000 will again be resident at The Valley.


It seems like such a long time ago when we were starting a new year and hoping to have a mid table (ish) position earned as soon as possible, so that the remaining games would be meaningless and that out Premiership survival would be secure for another season. I was always one of those that believed that just staying on the Gravy Train was an achievement for Charlton. I was as excited as the next man when we were in 4th place up to the sale of Parker, and indeed I was ecstatic when we finished 7th that season. The highest the club had managed in my lifetime, and by the looks of things now the highest that we will achieve in my son's lifetime.

However, mid table obscurity this season feels nothing like an achievement, and I am not relishing seeing the players that have, by all accounts, shown no passion or desire at all in the last two games. As I didn't go to either QPR or Barnsley I cannot really comment, but a gutless stroll around the famous pitch that I have always dreamt about gracing will not be acceptable to me on Sunday.

Pardew says "The players need to show some spirit, and we are looking to finish the season on a high note." So that's alright then. I've been critical in recent weeks of the 'spin' that we have been hearing as it has all seemed like an effort to placate the fans when we are (and have a right to be) fed up. After making such a big fuss when we lost at QPR about how we were going to steal a march on new signings over the teams that are still chasing a play off place we now hear that nothing has (or will) be done until a budget is prepared. With the new CEO who is going to be responsible for setting the budgets starting on Tuesday 6th May it is likely that we have now lost whatever that perceived benefit was. So I ask was there any truth in that soundbite or was it just the best thing Pardew could come out with after a performance that was (reportedly) dire?

After all the spin I've heard this season, some of which was born of good intentions, and some of which was clearly just damage limitation, I have little trust in what Pardew says transferring into reality. The latest brainwave is that we are going to cut short the player's summer to ensure that they are really ready for next season. I have two issues with this; firstly we didn't start this season badly, it all went wrong about the time Pardew decided to bring in five players at one go; secondly we are about to enter to transfer arena. Now I don't know a low about professional footballers, but from what I've seen they are not likely to have 'half a summer holiday' high up on the wishlist they have for choosing a new team.

I've read that maybe it's time for the press conferences to be shared around. Maybe that would be a benefit. Of course it could well mean that someone else would be in the firing line and could well have their credibility questioned like Pardew's. Either way we need to start performing or we need the club officials to stop telling us we are genuine promotion candidates. Already - and I am aware of the fact that the club are now trying to sell season tickets - we are hearing comments about how the squad is going to be rebuilt for a promotion challenge. I know that is what they have to say, and indeed believe, but if this continues all summer there is going to be a very hostile atmosphere at The Valley if we lose two or three homes games early in the season.

I guess that I, like may others, are so disappointed with the second half of the season that I am perhaps subconsciously looking for things to moan or complain about. I think a significant signing soon would give the fans (me included) a real boost and perhaps start the process of restoring the faith that I think has ebbed away over the last three months. It may even help to boost season ticket sales.

Let me be clear, I do not want Pardew to be sacked. I do not want a massive overhall of the paying staff. I believe that we have underperformed, and that with a bit more luck and a slightly more settled team we would be in the top six right now. The lost revenue from what will now be two seasons out of Tier 1 has already ensured that should we gain promotion next season we will be a Championship team in the Premier League. My view is that we are many years (or a massive injection of capital) away from being a Premier League team that starts the season with no significant worries about relegation. These are the facts (as I see them), so I am inclined to believe that a change of manager will not make any real difference. As such I think Pardew should be allowed the time to develop the young players he has brought in, and some money to supplement them with a couple or three signings that might just bring back the style of football that we all crave, along with some better results.

Sadly I think we are currently far from being the best team in this division, and as such we should be expecting a season that doesn't mirror the Championship winning season of 1999-2000, or the play off winning season of 1997-98. I think a season rather like the one that Palace or Hull have had this term that finished with a late run would be a massive achievement. Sadly, due to Pardew's promises this season that we were going to do just that, I think the team will need to be in the top six all season to keep the pressure off.

After spending three or four months telling anyone that would listen that we needed to finish top two to have a couple of weeks head start on signing new players over the play off teams, I fear that I would take 6th next season if you offered it to me right now. I expect some will think that is a bit negative, but I have serous doubts that the club is set up to be able to challenge for the top two, and 6th is about as good as 3rd when all's said and done.

Anyway, Sunday we have a game to play. Coventry are probably safe, but will need a draw to be sure. I thought that at Barnsley we would see fearless football, but I was wrong. I would like to have a look at Shelvey and Wagstaff, and it wouldn't do them any harm to play in front of a (hopefully) full house at The Valley. Other than that I wouldn't want to see any of the players that are not going to be here next season (apart from perhaps Matt Holland and Chris Powell). Thus I would expect to see Halford and Thatcher dropped unless Pardew is thinking of having them around next season. I would like to see what Racon has to offer, and I would like to see Andy Gray Start upfront with Luke Varney. On the basis that we have paid £4.5m for the pair it is not unrealistic that they get some playing time together.

What ever team goes out there I want to see decent football and I want them to to give their all. That way if we don't win (or draw) we will at least have seen some nice passing football and will not believe that the failure is due to a lack of effort.

Then bring on the summer.