Saturday, 26 February 2011

Notts County 1 - 0 Charlton

The problem with luck is that, by definition, it is random. You can't rely on luck - well you can but you can't make accurate predictions, unless you're lucky, or course.

I have worked in Financial Services for years, most of it, like, I guess, most industries requires an element of 'sales'. If not sales than clients to transact business with. One can be very skilled with one's job, but with no clients there is little work to be done, or money to be earned. I have heard this quaint little phrase many times "You make your own luck". what a load of rubbish. That's sales talk for we can't give you more business chaps so just make it happen. It is interesting to note that those that earn ten times more than their peers are not ten times better, just ten times luckier. It all depends on who just happens to pick up 'that' call.

Anyway, I'm getting a bit off topic. The truth is that since the summer break-up of our Championship (I clearly mean division not league winning) side we have been lucky when we've won and when the luck deserted us we have lost or drawn.

I know we had good wins at Swindon and Peterborough, but I think two good wins out of thirty look more like luck than form or class.

So, we had Parkinson put together a squad with peanuts, then we proceeded to have poor games that we won, and a combination of luck that led to an extended run undefeated. Basically we are in a very poor league and still we don't seem to be able to beat the teams in the division without luck. Parkinson's luck ran out and he lost his job. I'm not saying I disagree with this outcome, by the way, just noting the relevance of luck.

In fact the biggest slice of luck Parkinson had on that eleven game unabated run was that we played teams from lower divisions on no fewer than five times. In fact, not only were we not good enough to be convincing to beat teams in our division, we needed five games to record three wins over Barnet, Luton and Southend. Only one of those games was won by more than one goal, and that was Luton away as we deserved to lose.

Chris Powell looks like he had his whole season's luck in his first four games. I have already made a comment about the first four games being lucky and us losing the opportunity to push on from there. With three straight defeats (something I believe Parkinson never suffered with us in this division) we look like we have learned little and progressed even less.

I know we don't have much of a decent squad, but the board seem to believe that with the right coaching this is a good enough side to get us out of this division. The four win streak, combined with real strengthening in January would have given us a real shot at the automatic promotion places. However, for what ever reason we have not invested in the squad anywhere near enough. I don't know why we haven't brought in the quality we needed, nor do I really care (at this point) but the fact remains that we have a side that seems unable to win in the terrible decision unless we are lucky.

That suggests that we should be preparing ourselves for an even longer stay in this division. Sure, we can still make the playoffs, and once in them we can win them with nothing more than luck. The problem with luck is that it is random.

I am more than happy to be nothing more than lucky, just as long as the luck doesn't desert us, but in the end it always seems to.

The loan signings are going to have to be an instant success. I'm guessing the chances of players that can make enough impact being available for the run in are slim.

We can only hope.

Otherwise we are facing a third season in this division. My view is that if a club spends three seasons in one division then they definitely deserve to be there. All the talk about us being a big club, or punching below our weight will be confirmed as rubbish, in my view, if we are here for three seasons.

It is time for the board to wake up and realise that getting out of this division is not as easy as appointing an old favourite player and giving him a couple of players to add to a below average squad. Michael Slater mentioned Bobby Robson and Brian Clough. I seriously doubt either of those managers, in their pomp, would be able to get this team winning convincingly.

We need change, and we need it now.

Or, of course, we need more luck than Harry Potter on a 'luck potion'.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Life begins at 40

I'm not so sure about that, but with my 40th birthday coming up (on Friday) I thought this would be a good time to review my first 30 years as a Charlton fan.

It's interesting how consistent a football club is in one's life once it is 'adopted'. Clearly my parents and my sister have been ever present in my life (my sister is there years my senior) but they are the only survivors from before I attended a Charlton game when I was 10.

My best friend (ignoring my family) I met at senior school and despite being friends now for 29 years, I was already a Charlton fan by the time I met him.

In fact, it wasn't until I started writing this post that it occurred to me just how many of my current friends (and family) have come along since I started going to The Valley. My son, who is my best friend and fills most of my waking thoughts has only been here for six years (nearly seven actually) which is a fifth of the time I've been an Addick.

To be fair my association with Charlton has changed over the years. A new girlfriend tends to reduce interest (obsession) for a week or two, and University and certain jobs have been very demanding on my time and thoughts. Being a parent is also a massive life changing event (not something I intend to get into here) but the ever present has been my football club.

I would say that my obsession has grown significantly in recent years for two reasons. Firstly we have been in the Premier League and that has increased interest and coverage. It has also been responsible for the major changes around The Valley - which is unrecognisable from the tired and tatty stadium that I first attended in 1981. In fact I wonder what on earth made me want to go back then. The second cause of my obsession in Charlton has been the advancements in technology. This is both the advancement in the Internet and television coverage and the new array of devices that mean that I can stand outside the women's toilets at Bluewater while Mrs KHA has a pit stop and check for news or views on my mobile phone.

It is this latter development that I think has made the biggest difference to me. Not only do I write a blog, but I also read many others. This is before you add up the amount of time I spend on Charlton Life. In fact, one of the main reasons I wanted an iPad (which I writing this post on) was so that I could always just check on the latest without having to boot up the laptop or faff about with the mobile phone which is ok for the odd bit of browsing, but it's very small.

This season has seen my interest wane a little as has been discussed elsewhere, but when I first came to The Valley in 1981 we were in this division, and if you'd told me then that when I turned 40 the last game at The Valley would have been in an all seater stadium (at 10 I might not have even known what this was) in front of 24,767 fans playing Exeter I would probably have just laughed at you.

The fact that I have seen us play at Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Villa, Leeds, Forrest, Blackburn, Man City, Derby and Wembley twice - and win at all those places during the 30 years is also testament to our success during my Charlton following. That list is all the more impressive when you take into account that fact that all but two of that list have been the English Champions during that time. Actually we have beaten them all home and away during my first 30 years following them. Interestingly the only other team that has won the league since I started going was Everton, and we have beaten them home and away, I just haven't been Goodison Park.

Interestingly we are on Sky on my birthday. What makes that interesting is that my Dad was celebrating his 60th birthday in 2001 when we won 4-2 at Highbury in front of the Sky cameras. Maybe I'm clutching at straws, but I do have another one for you. My 18th birthday was on a Saturday, and we won at Villa Park with Carl Leaburn scoring his second goal in two years, and bearing in mind he scored on his debut, this was a significant event.

Overall the last 30 years have seen some real disappointments, but also some real highs. I can't believe it was really 30 years ago that it all started. Back then I used to remember how many times I'd seen us play, now I have no idea. I don't know when I stopped counting, but clearly I did at some point.

Despite the fact that we are where we were when I started going the club is much bigger now than it was then. I really believe that we are on the way up again too.

Let's hope that the next 30 years are as good as the last 30 - even if we end up here again when I turn 70 it will have been a great ride, again.

Up the Addicks!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Charlton 1 - 3 Exeter

Normally I try to look for positives, but today there were none that I can think of. Our luck ran out on Tuesday and today we didn't have any, but probably got what we deserved based on the balance of play.

It was great to see a packed Valley again - I had wondered, on and off, if I would ever see the sight again. the atmosphere was good, but not twice what we normally have, but then there were a lot of 'day trippers' there today. Some of them will be football fans (opposed to Charlton fans) that wanted to come to a game of football for £5. I mean, you can't buy a PS3 magazine for £5 these days, and the game lasts longer than it takes to read.

The sad thing is that some of the 'extra' paying customers were probably true (if not regular attending) Charlton fans that just might have come back had the game been different. To be fair it wasn't rubbish - the quality of the football on offer wasn't anything like you see from the Premier League Top Four love in, but it had all the necessary ingredients. There were goals, we were in the game for most of it, and we scored the last goal - all be it that many had left by then.

Interestingly one of the Mum's that I talk to in my son's playground was going today. She was going with her family (all Charlton but don't go regularly). She was taking her two boys (aged 5 and 7). I believe it was their first visit to The Valley. Something tells me that she will not be in such a rush to take them back when the tickets for the family go up from £20 to £60 - especially based on the game experience as a whole. I will ask her after half term and I'll report back.

Which reminds me, I had a Dad siting next to me today. He was there with his son and daughter. I'm guessing, but they looked four and five to me. Now I do the school run and I like to think of myself as a good and confident Dad, but I wouldn't have taken my son on my own when he was four (his Mum came on the odd occasion he did come - he doesn't really like it yet) but this chap had brought two children on his own. He had a couple of rucksacks with him, one a little pink one that I'm guessing was his daughters. He had them packed with drinks and treats and he managed to keep both the children interested for the whole game. He did, however, keep promising his children that we had time to score enough goals to win, right to the end. By the end I'd started to believe him and felt really cheated when we failed to get the goals.

Some of you will know that I sit in the last row before the executive boxes in the East Stand, so this Dad was just in front of the box where a fan in his 20s (a guess) insisted on standing for the whole game and doing that 80s chant/song of ooooooooooo, you're shit. Ahhhhhhhh every time Exeter took a goal kick. Now it's possible that he paid a lot of money for his seat (it was an executive box after all) but if football for a fiver is going to attract that kind of ingrate then I'm happy for us to give it a miss. I tolerated it a few times before I turned to look at him for a couple of times, before I had to say something. I know I might be being a little dramatic but what is the point of going to all the trouble and cost of getting in families (with young children) only to behave so appallingly. Please comment if you think I am wrong, but I can't stand that sort of thing around children.

To be fair to them I think they did have a decent day out, and maybe they just can't budget for another day like that at full price, I don't know, but imagine how much it is worth if those two children become regulars. Then imagine how likely that is if one of them decide to shout ooooooooooo, you're shit. Ahhhhhhhh the next time Mummy walks into the living room.

Anyway, rant over, I'll get back to the game. We started very slowly again. I can't believe that the players wouldn't have been buzzing with the crowd there, but they didn't all seem to be.

Individual mentions for Jenkinson, who I thought had a good debut. Ironically he might have been better off playing his first game in a less atmospheric scenario, but I thought he did ok, rather like the Brentford cup game. I think he'll make it. Having said that, and this might be in part due to the line up and system, I think we really missed Francis's crosses today. I know he gets some stick for not being the best full back in the world (which could be why he is in the third division) but when he is missing it is noticeable - which is, I guess, a compliment.

Ecclestone looks class. He did a number of things today (and I know he didn't score) that none of the other members of the squad have looked like doing - ever. I'm not going to include Bradly Wright-Phillips in that as I've not seen enough of him, but I doubt he could do it either. I spent a few minutes in the second half thinking about previous loan signings and could only think of Costa that came in and offered something much better than we already had. The recent loan signings have been comparable at best. Lita scored a few goals, but took ages to settle and McEverlyngs today (and I know he didn't score) that none of the other members of the squad have looked like doing - ever. I'm not going to include Bradly Wright-Phillips in that as I've not seen enough of him, but I doubt he could do it either. I spent a few minutes in the second half thinking about previous loan signings and could only think of Costa that came in and offered something much better than we already had. The recent loan signings have been comparable at best. Lita scored a few goals, but took ages to settle and McEverly looked a decent player before getting himself injured. All the others have been short term replacements for injured players or unfit players coming for a bit of match fitness and not been better than what we have. I've actually just thought of Danny Mills who did add something, but I didn't think of him this afternoon.

Anyway, you get my point, he has been a great signing. I can see why Powell played the three strikers today. BWP is on fire, Abbott offers something different than two pacey wingers that are not great in the air, but Ecclestone has more class than anything else we have. He was a real pleasure to watch at times.

Matt Fry looked weaker today than he did earlier in the season. This might have been due to no real width in the midfield, of course. With Bessone looking out injured for a few weeks we are likely going to need Fry, and I'm very pleased to have him back.

Then we get on to the players that I think let us down today. McCormack puzzles me. I really don't know what his role is, what his strengths are, or what it is that Powell sees in him that I can't see. I can only assume that Racon has been injured (as I've read elsewhere) and needed a few weeks rest. For me, and I don't like to slag off our own players, the worst thing about this division is that we have to accept that players of McCormack's ability are as good as we can expect. I don't want this to be a slur on the man, but I believe that he wouldn't have got anywhere near the first team of any side I've seen us put out for at least ten years, probably twenty. I wish him well, and all that, I'm sure he's a nice chap and he loves his Mum, but I really want to be watching so much better on a Saturday afternoon.

That just leaves Gary Doherty for individual mention. I was surprised to see Norwich release him in the Sumner. I know he was frozen out by Lambert last season, but their results faltered and he was brought back in. I had perceptions of him being the sort of leader that could drag a team up to the plate. I just thought he was going to be a huge character in the defense and that his personality would rub off on other players. Half a season in and he has, quite frankly, disappointed me. I can now see why Lambert didn't fancy him. It's very difficult to know if a player protects his teammates or vice-versa. I thought Doherty had been a 'rock' in the Norwich defense. I now wonder if he was more than a cog in a wheel that had stronger cogs along side it.

To be fair to him he has been ok this season. Perhaps time is catching up catching up on Dailly and this is making Doherty's job harder. We have seemed a lot less tight at the back this season. In fact after 29 games last season we'd conceded 32 goals, this season it's 42 goals - that's a third more (near as damn it). Interestingly last season we'd scored 52, this season it's 48, so the big difference is at the back.

Doherty has been referred to as a disaster waiting to happen several times this season, and today he was a bit of a disaster. In his defence he has been ok this season, and let's not forget we hardly had a bundle of cask to spend in the summer, but we have too many players that wouldn't get into the first team of the sides that I expect to finish in the top two, and would struggle with the other play off candidates too.

My best guess is that we will need to bring in some real quality from the loan market if we are going to make a decent stab for promotion this season - something I am less convinced of right now. I know I have been talking about lucky wins causing us to be 'Fooled by Randomness' but I have probably been fooled a little too.

Right now it looks like Slater was hoping Powell could coach us to success where as the latter know we needed better players. To be honest though we can hardly expect much more when you consider how much money has actually been spent on this squad.

After an uninspiring first half where we probably shaded it, we were a little sloppy in the second half at the back. The first goal was hardly against the run of play but it did make it a little more difficult for us. The second killed off the game, and you can't legislate for that. The third was a disappointment, but the consolation was nice, especially for the children in the audience. Who knows that goal could be coming up in discussions for years to come. "The first goal I saw scored at the Valley was......"

This brings me on to the manager. I think all managers have to learn things for themselves. I have often questioned why something is done a certain way, even if it's something I know a lot about. The answer might be very logical and reasonable, but I still don't forget why I asked the question. Then later (in life) I am in a position to make a decision about the exact same thing. Clearly (with no disrespect to the advice I was given) I go with what I thought back when I asked the question. I'm wrong, and I realise (even though I already knew it) that the way it was being done was the right one all along.

I guess this is the same logic that makes children touch the hot kettle when their patents, that have never lied to them about stuff like this before, tell them it will hurt them. "He'll never do it again."

Chris Powell needs to go through that process, and it might take him years before he has enough experience to prevent the kind of mistakes that cost games. I'm not saying he got something specific wrong today, but at some point the starting eleven needs to be based on an ideal. That can be to build a team around a specific player or 'spine', or it could be to select the best team even if it means leaving out the best player, or it could be to select the best eleven players and then find a system that includes all of them.

I'm thinking about BWP, Ecclestone and a forward/link player/target man that can play with them. I don't think I would have started with a 4-3-3 today, but I can see why we did. We wanted to go out there and score goals for our big crowd. We wanted to play Ecclestone and BWP while keeping Abbott as the other two don't have everything to play together. There must also be an element of needing to keep Ecclestone playing to keep him. I read his tweets and it would seem he is staying in a hotel/motel and hardly loving his time in London. I don't have a problem with him saying those things, by the way, and don't want him censored, but if he is putting himself through that and not getting any game time he is soon going to want to go home, or elsewhere.

It's a shame as I was really hoping that with four straight wins we might have settled on a team and formation without the learning process costing us any points. However, Powell has been open enough to confirm that he wouldn't change a winning team. I'm not so sure about the logic when some of the wins have been very lucky, but he is the boss, and he, for sure, knows a lot more about football than I do. I just feel, now, as though personnel changes and experimentation are required, and we are now battling to stay in the playoffs.

Having said all that those twelve points will be defining this season. It wouldn't have been a hanging offense if we'd lost those opening four games while we brought in new players in January and in the emergency loan markets. We do, however, need to get a result on Friday as three defeats in a row would seriously threaten to undo the work done in winning the first four.

My last comment regards the ticket pricing, both match and season. On the face of it a reduction on match day tickets looks like a good idea. Get some fans in and hope that they'll come back. There does need to be a balance to ensure that season ticket holders aren't tempted to pay on a match by match basis next season. As attendances have been lower than tickets sold I can only assume that some season ticket holders don't go to all the games. Just how many Saturday's need to be reduced to reach a tipping point I don't know, but it is potentially very important.

As for the season tickets, I was very impressed to hear that next season's tickets would be £50 less for all (well most - including me) adults. I was less impressed when the club used the same language as last year to suggest that this offer is only available until 4th April. 4th April seems a lot later that 31st March, but in reality it's only four days, and two of them are the weekend. Maybe it is for tax reasons, the 4th April is this tax year. However, I suspect that it's more likely that it's just a cash flow exercise. This worries me. This worries me a lot. This suggests to me that those that have bought our club for £1 may well not have the kind of serious money that we will need to keep this club afloat and challenging for promotion in this division - especially if success is expected to be from coaching a load of free transfers, journeymen and young players rather than signing better players for serious money. I just can't help worrying that the new owners think that winning promotion is a lot easier than, in reality, it is.

Also, one last point on the season ticket price reductions. How will this make those that paid for 5 year season tickets last March feel?

Anyway I think I've waffled on enough, and it's well past my bedtime.

Up the Addicks!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Next... 20,000 plus at The Valley

It must be a long time since we managed more than 20,000 in the third division, if at all. I, sadly, have little interest in looking it up, but I'm confident that it will be a milestone, and a huge achievement.

I have been very sloppy at writing my blog this season - this being the first post for over a month.

I'd like to say that I've got better (more exciting) things to do. I do have a family, and that will take up as much time as you give it, and then some, but it's not that either.

I seem to have lost the obsession in Charlton over the last twelve months. I don't think it is because our fortunes on the field have diminished, although there is no doubt that since the early run last season our performances and results have been rubbish relative to how big a club I perceive us to be.

I don't really know why it is, but I must confess to feeling no increase in my enthusiasm when we replaced Parkinson with Powell. I liked Chris Powell as a player, and he is clearly a good man, but with the transfer window now shut we have effectively replaced Lee Martin with Bradley Wright-Phillips and Nathan Ecclestone with Akpo Sodje. The new left back from Leeds is really only a replacement for Kelly Youga as Johnnie Jackson has moved from being a left back to being a left sided midfielder - something many of us already knew.

I think Parkinson was given a tough time. Sure, he inherited a team and a position that I will always believe was recoverable in November 2008, but take away his failure that season (something that many don't agree with) and he has been given few chances to 'build a squad."

Many will say that he had a huge wage bill last season to work with, but we should remember that included two players that we actually paid to leave for free last summer. The rumored takeover in the summer of 2009, that I believe was played out in the public arena to help sell season tickets, prevented Parkinson from making any changes, and he was left with a very unbalanced side, and in the end it showed.

Fast forward twelve months and with Sam, Burton, Bailey and Shelvey gone we needed to rebuild a team from scratch. I suspect that we paid all of the players that we signed too much money, but then as a big team in this division that was always going to happen. Like it or not I am confident that Football Agents are sharper, cleverer and more devious that anyone that owns or works for a football club. This, I believe, is why we have ended up with so many poor players on silly contracts over the years.

Anyway, with this in mind, I suspect that our playing staff are not twice as good as those at a club with half the budget, because no one sees them as a soft touch.

Anyway, I digress, I was aiming for the position where I could point out that our recent run of results looks just like the run under Parkinson way back in November. Playing ok (based on the rubbish division we are in) but winning games that we probably shouldn't have. I was advised back during Parkinson's run, by New York Addick, to read a book titled 'Fooled by Randomness'. I have finished the book now, it is a little academic and hard going in places, and clearly written by someone that wants to rubbish many of his peers achievements by suggesting that they are mostly down to luck, but it does compare very well to Charlton this season.

In essence we have been lucky, and the combination of a series of random events have 'fooled' many into believing that we are something we are not. I wasn't at Yeovil or Hartlepool, but we were not very convincing against Plymouth, we were lucky against Colchester and even more so against Peterborough.

The point of all this is that Tuesday's defeat was always coming. If you win convincingly (even if by one goal) then you can be confident that you will keep winning. If you keep winning with a large slice of luck, in the end luck will run out and you will lose. Unless we are lucky, or we bring in some impressive loan signings, we are, in my opinion, unlikely to get anywhere near the automatic promotion places come May. That is not a complete disaster - the playoffs require a win over two legs (on penalties if necessary) and a victory in one more game - again penalties would be good enough. Thus it is not simply a case of top two or another season in this terrible, terrible division.

In fact, it looks like the club have come to a similar conclusion. If we were gambling on a top two finish we would have brought in loan players last week so that they were available for the last two games we have played, along with the next two. The fact that we have not done so suggests that we are wating until the end of next week so that we can sign players on loan that will be eligible for the playoff final (emergency loans are for a maximum of 93 days).

This suggests that we are not taking huge gambles - something that has failed miserably to work in the past. In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that the new board are very reluctant to make any financial gambles at all. At the recent Q&A Michael Slater pointed out that Charlton were a no brainer at £1 for the lot. The one loan player and the one signing (small fee and 18 month contract) don't constitute a significant investment either. this does bring me on to the one worry I have with the current set up. Despite suggestions elsewhere that there is a significant amount of money behind the new owners, they don't seem to think they need to spend any of it. Michael Slater suggested at the Q&A that one doesn't need to spend money on players, one just needs to coach them well. He made reference to Brian Clough and Bobby Robson, as if finding another manager like those two was easy. He thought that if Chris Powell achieved what was expected of him we would win promotion with the current squad and good coaching. Interestingly it was less than ten minutes later (on a different subject) that Chris pointed out that the only way to improve a squad was to bring in better players.

All this waffling probably makes me look negative and argumentative. Not at all. I'm very glad that we are in a solid financial position and as I've always said I'd much rather have Charlton in the third division than in liquidation, and the latter has been hanging over our heads since Pardew's spending sprees.

Ultimately I believe that the current board (well the two that we know of) thought that they could pick up a Premier League football club for peanuts. I think they believed they could buy it for a pound, put in enough to bankroll it for two or three seasons, tweak the squad slightly and hey presto, promotion to the Premier League. On the basis that most Premier League Clubs, these days, have c. £50m of debt, that makes us a fantastic bargain. The only thing missing is that back to back promotions (even if not in consecutive seasons) is, actually, quite tricky to achieve.

Anyway, Exeter at home. The game itself, along with the opposition, is now irrelevant. It will be a big crowd, massive by third division standards, and we need a big performance to win over the fans that are there for a cheap day out.

I really hope we win, but most importantly I really hope we look like we deserve to do so.

Up the Addicks!