Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Turn back the clock

When I was 17 I passed my driving test and my Dad agreed to buy my sister's car from her for me to drive. It was a V Reg (8 years old at the time) Ford Escort (Mk II) 1100 Popular Plus. It was white. It was basically what would be called an 'Old Banger'. Especially after my sister had driven it around for a couple of years. My sister does not drive like Miss Daisy.

I drove that car everywhere. To the local shops; to the cinema; to shopping centres; to college; to friends houses; to pick girls up to take them out on dates. I loved that car, and the new freedom that it gave me. I haven't even mentioned the massive rise in interest from girls when you have your own car. Oh yes, I loved that car.

Now some twenty years later and I am now on my sixth car. I now have a convertible sports car which I bought from new. It is obviously faster than the Escort, although I clearly don't break the speed limit (much). It is much more reliable, it is much more luxurious and it has gadgets (that are common these days) that the Escort could only dream about. I rarely use the car for non-essential trips these days. At seventeen I would go out for a drive just because I could, not any more. Clearly now that I am married I don't use my car to pick up girls (even though I suspect that they would be much more impressed with this car than the Escort) and as I am a Dad I rarely drive over to friends houses for the evening during the week. As I work from home I don't even have to drive to work.

Do I love my current car any more than I loved the Escort? Of course I don't! Do I approach the sports car and have that flutter in my chest that I used to get with my Escort? No I don't. However, would I trade my convertible sports car for a Ford Escort (Mk II) 1100 Popular Plus? No chance! I wouldn't even swap it for the actual car I drove in 1988.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, I suddenly find myself looking at our great football club and even though I was there in the 1980s, at Selhurst and Upton Parks, and even though I sat up until late waiting for my Dad to come home from the winding up order in 1984 I feel as though I just don't want to go back those days. I appreciate that even with the debts we currently have the club is much bigger and stronger than it was when I last missed a home game in 1987. We lost 3-0 to Liverpool that day in the First Division. However, due to our current circumstances we are a bigger club than we were then with no ground, few fans and much less TV money for all league clubs.

I grew up with Charlton being a Second (sometimes Third) Division club with just four seasons fighting relegation in the top flight. We never looked like making it back then and with what Lennie Lawrence described as 'Third Division crowds' there was no shame.

I'm not being a 'snob' I'm not saying that I've out grown Charlton Athletic, but I think I might have got a bit too used to the Premier League. Last season was always going to be a victory year. We were only on loan to the Championship and we were going to privilege it with our presence. One year down there to regroup and we would be back in the Premier League looking nothing like relegation fodder and making inroads into being a stable mid table team again.

Failing to earn relegation last season was disappointing and the manner of our fall from fourth place to finish eleventh was nothing short of disastrous. But the events of this summer have been really hard to take.

I don't have a problem with the board making changes that make us more financially stable, and I would rather sell half the squad now than have to sell them all next summer along with the family silver. I don't even have a problem with Pardew and the board telling us that we were going to make a real effort to win promotion this season while they were trying to sell season tickets, and then waiting until the deadline went before announcing that we were going to sell much of the team, and possibly not have enough money left to replace them with players as good. What else were they supposed to say?

My issue, and I'm not looking to apportion blame (not at this stage), is that I just don't want to go back to the days of selling any player that is any good at all.

No disrespect to West Brom, but three years ago they couldn't wrestle away from us any player that had a sniff of the first team. Here we are, they have signed Carson (who we would have loved to have back) and they are rumoured to have signed Bougherra for less than we paid for him eighteen months ago. I can't help thinking that with a season or two in the Premier League Bougherra will be worth twice what we are selling him for. I understand the reasoning behind the decisions, and I'm sure that they what is best for the club right now, I just don't like it.

Maybe we've all been spoiled for the last ten years. Maybe we should have all enjoyed it while it lasted and been prepared for what we now face. I just find it really difficult to prepare myself for what could be a very difficult season. Maybe Pardew will demonstrate that he is a really good coach/manager and the 'forgotten' men of last season will come in and show us what they were bought for, but I just fear that we will have insufficient quality to break down enough teams to be anywhere the top two, and the play-offs are nothing more than a lottery, and also look out of our reach this season.

Don't misunderstand me I'm not blaming anyone, and I'm not angry with anyone, I'm just disappointed that we have gone from being a relatively secure Premier League Club to a tier two selling club. I mean West Brom? Who are they?

On the happy bright note, I'm going to get back to work as I intend to take Friday off to attend out training session. At least I'll be driving there in a car that has speakers that don't slide off the back seat when I go 'round the corner.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 14 July 2008



Pld W D L F A
2 2 0 0 7 0

Well if we start the season like that I'll be more than happy. I know the teams are nothing like the quality of tier two, but you can only beat what is in front of you. As Ian Holloway would say "we got the girl in the taxi home" To be fair, at Ebbsfleet, we had her sister and best friend in the cab too.

Welling. Well it was the first game, the conditions were terrible. I have only myself to blame, I have been to the Welling game every year for over ten years, and every year both my Dad and I declare that the following season we will secure a seat. This year the tickets were available in advance, and it's hardly as though we were going to be put off by the weather. All in all I was very satisfied with the performance. Luke Varney looked very impressive. I still think he will justify the £2.5m transfer fee in due course. Fleetwood looked like he has all the tools required, but failed to score from a couple of chances that I would have expected him to. This could be for a number of reasons, and to be fair he was in the right place at the right time, and with so many goals last season he clearly must know where the net is, so I'll assume that he will start to score sooner rather than later. Hudson looked very, very strong at the back. I don't think he missed anything in the air (something that we have needed) and he is clearly a leader. Both Semedo and Fortune looked strong alongside Hudson, and I believe that Semedo will be a defender this season, which I have no worries about. Lloyd Sam looked ok, but I think there must be much more to come from him. I believe that this is a big season for Lloyd. He is no longer a kid, and at this level he should be making much more of a contribution over the course of a season than he did last season. Jerome Thomas looked like he really wanted it, but to be fair I think he did so at Welling last season as well. With just one year left on his contract, and with the likelihood that he is earning more than we can afford with no parachute payments, I believe the club should be looking very closely at what we could sell him for this summer. I guess January would be a good time to find a desperate club, but I would expect the player to hang on for a free transfer by that point, so sadly I'm tempted to suggest it might be time for him to move on. Shelvey came on and again failed to give any indication that he is only sixteen. There is little to say about this young man, as from the little I've seen of him he has everything, and I can't find one element of his game that stands out as being weaker than the rest. I guess the real test will be when he has played a dozen games and fatigue sets in, but something tells me that he will be an ever present and win the player of the year award this season. Long at right back looked good going forward, but not quite ready for the first team yet. Wagstaff looked like he would be the toast of the youth team had Shelvey not be there. Bearing in mind how long it took Scott Parker to establish himself in the first team I think that a dozen first team appearances would be a good season for young Scott, and I believe that he will not disgrace himself. Yussuff looked a little lightweight on the wing, but showed in the middle that he does have some ability. I suspect that we will, however, see little of him in the first team this season. Dean Sinclair was, in my view, very poor. There also seemed to be a reluctance from the other players to pass to him. Maybe I imagined that, but either way I believe that by the time we have so few players available that we need to play him, we will be in serious trouble. even if we don't sign another midfielder and we sell ZZ, he must be behind Holland, Shelvey, Racon, Semedo, Ambrose and Harry Arter and Josh Wright. I never really knew why we bought him in the first place, but either way I think we should consider moving him on now.

Ebbsfleet. As a non-league team playing a tier two side the last thing you want to do is concede a goal in the first minute. It was an o.g. but I don't think that really matters, it set the tone and we were rampant. Special mention again for Luke Varney, Mark Hudson and Jonjo Shelvey. As you can imagine there is not much criticism from a game where we score six and concede none. Ebbsfleet have a player with one of those haircuts that suggests that he must be good, or at least think he is. Their left back, Sacha Opinel, seemed very popular with the crowd, so I'm going to assume that it is the former, but Wagstaff made him look less than average all afternoon. I genuinely believe that we have a real contender in Scott, and he could be significant this season, even if he only plays a limited role. Other points that I noticed: Andy Gray looked more like the player we (thought) we'd signed; Racon looked impressive in midfield (better than the cameo at right back at Welling); Semedo looked comfortable at right back; Thomas, again, looked up for it; Elliot confirmed what I saw at Plymouth last May, he is good enough. If we miss Weaver for periods this season I will not be nervous with Rob in goal. Fortune played in both games and looked good enough, although Semedo and Fortune looked weaker than Hudson and either of them. However we were six-nil up and the game was coming to an end, so I'll not be too judgemental. Moo2kill came on and looked great going forward, didn't see enough of him defending to comment to be honest. Dean Sinclair was, again, not really good enough, although he did have a decent shot late on.

So, overall I am more than happy with what I've seen. With Marcus Bent due to leave today and with Big Chris already gone that reduces the number of strikers from ridiculous to just a little bit silly. Marcus Bent never looked like he was going to deliver for us, even though he clearly has the ability. As a lazy person myself, I can hardly criticise him for not giving his all, despite what he earns, but I can't help being surprised that Cardiff would want him. Having said that, I thought there mad to sign Hasslebaink last summer, and I suppose we should remember, that their Chairman is the man that oversaw the player purchases at Leeds that (allegedly) started the chain reaction that saw them fall from European Cup semi-finalists, to tier three.

Big Chris, unlike Marcus Bent, goes with my best wishes. He was signed as an established tier two striker that has height and not limited ability. He was our leading scorer last season, and scored some very important (and enjoyable) goals. The winner at Southampton will probably stay with me for a long time. He was criticised for being the target of the long ball at times last season, but I believe that this is harsh as he was not the one whacking the ball up from defence. Either way I agree that we are probably not going to need him enough this season to justify keeping him, and with the fee being estimated at circa £900k we have made a decent profit on him. Compare that to McLeod, Gray and certainly McCarthy.

There seems to be rumours about Faye and Stoke. I believe that if we can remove him from the wage bill Pardew will be able to bring in the midfielder and or defender that he thinks he needs. Injury seems to have put pay to ZZ's move to the Premiership, but I have a niggling feeling that Bougherra will be off. Maybe that's why Semedo has been drafted back into defence, and why Pardew thinks we need to strengthen there. However, £2.5m would be too much to turn down. I know that's what we paid for him, but right now £2.5m is a massive sum for a club with such budget constraints.

The team are of to Spain now, and unlike Valencia two years ago, I have no intention of following them. I guess that means no more transfers for the time being.

VIva Espania!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Back to School

I have never been a professional footballer (this is clearly no surprise) but I did go to school many years ago. I remember (fondly now that it is way behind me) the start of the new school year. At the time I clearly didn't want to go back to school although as I got older and went off to University I found the end of the summer less and less disappointing.

I can only imagine that this is what goes through the mind of a Professional Footballer in July when pre-season training begins. Having read Garry Nelson's book it is clearly not a pleasant time for a player the wrong side of thirty, as it is a real physical challenge, but for the younger ones I guess it must be kind of exciting. Or maybe not.

Everything we have seen of Professional Footballers in the last few years has been focused on their huge incomes, lavish lifestyles and glamorous WAGs. Just this week a camera crew has been following Frank Lampard about on his family holiday. I have to confess I didn't notice where he was (not really all that interested) but he didn't look like he was missing 'work' too much. So what are we to make of all the claims, promises or even pledges (a really popular word in sales management) of the players and staff about the season ahead? Is Luke Varney really glad to be back and determined to lead the club back to the Premier League, or did he just not think that saying he wished he was still on a beach was suitable?

I, for one, have never been glad to be back at work after a holiday. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, and I have what I think is a great lifestyle bearing in mind my abilities (or lack of them), but I wouldn't trade an extra week's holiday for the chance to go into the office.

So the holidays are over. The hard work begins here, and now. It is up to Pardew and his team to mould this squad (which the manager can claim to be his own now) into genuine challengers. Man for man our squad should be as good as any in this division. Clearly Reading and Birmingham are going to have some very good footballers, but it is entirely possible that they will be forced to sell them all. Not only would it raise some cash and reduce the wage bill, but if the players (and their agents) demand a move they normally get one in the end.

There is little point in going over and over the failings from last season. As long as we learn from them I am happy to put them all behind us. I think that a stable first eleven with all the players playing in their best position is the way to get out of this division. My preference is for a 4-4-2, which may well mean that the players better suited to a five man midfield should be on their way to be replaced with players than can operate in a middle four. Alternatively if we are going to play 4-5-1 then we probably don't need as many forwards and may well have to get used to Big Chris upfront looking to get on the end of lumps up the park. To be honest I don't really care how we play, or how attractive it is as long as we are winning, but I think last season showed that the teams that try to pass the ball about are more likely to be successful in the end. Watford's style (the only real option available to them) saw them fall away when other teams worked them out. If we are not going to win with ugly football then I would rather lose with pretty football.

What I don't want to see is players playing out of position and the tactics and formations chopping and changing each week. The Championship winning team of 1999-2000 played the same style in just about every game, and the players all knew their jobs and played in their best positions. I think we need a style of play and a formation and then we pick the players to fit it. We also need to hold our nerve if things don't fall into place immediately. I'm all for admitting mistakes and making changes if things don't work out, but I think Pardew needs to show more faith in his original decisions and needs to give the players a real chance to show what they can do. Frankly I'm glad it's not my responsibility, but there can be no excuses this season. We need to win promotion or look like we are very good candidates for 2009-10 by the end of this season or there will have to be major surgery to the squad, and could well be a change of management.

Before we get carried away with all that doom and gloom I am going to publicly give Pardew all my unconditional support here and now. I will continue to do this until at least Christmas, and probably for the whole season. What we need now, more than ever, is that 'Charlton Spirit' that the club used to be famous for before we became an established Premier League team. The Premier League is gone for now, and possibly for the foreseeable future, but the club will go on and will ultimately be more successful with the fans behind it than at odds with it.

Up the Addicks!