Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A New Era

Today is the first time (and I hope not the last) that three generations of my family will be going to The Valley with season tickets.

My son has been a few times before, and he came with my Dad and I, and our wives, for the Hartlepool game, but this is his first game with a season ticket.

In all honesty he is not a great football fan, he doesn't really have much talent when it comes to playing (neither did I) and he doesn't really want to watch it on the tele. We do play FIFA on the PS3 occasionally, but he is even a little indifferent about this.

Back in the 80s football wasn't as welcoming as it is today - terracing and football violence and all that, so I wasn't taken to a live football game until I was ten. My son was first taken when he was four. He didn't really like it much, but I did take him again a couple of weeks later, but his enthusiasm didn't grow so he didn't come again until last season. I brought him to a couple of mid-week games, but I suspect that his interest in that was influenced by the idea of a late night.

By the time the last game of the season came 'round he was very excited about having his birthday party (well the family one anyway) at The Valley. This was a lovely day, and the corporate hospitality was faultless, but the fact that we were there from before 1pm and the celebrations didn't finish until close to 6pm meant that he was bored by the end. He was a little too young, or indifferent, for the trophy celebrations, which was not helped by the players having their back to us and then before the cup came anywhere near the East stand each player welcomed what felt like twenty members of his family on to the pitch.

It was a great day so I'm reluctant to complain, but I have to say that if I'd been asked to plan the trophy presentation event so as to spoil it for the fans I couldn't have done a better job. I know the families have to accept some less than ideal circumstances for having a professional footballer (certainly Christmas is not the same for them as it is for us fans) but I would like to think they are well compensated. There was no need for every member of their family (including what much have been 'extended' family) to walk around the pitch as though they were part of the first team squad. I also felt no satisfaction, not do I think it enhanced my day out to see our goalkeepers bickering with stewards trying to bring someone onto the pitch from the North West Corner.

By the time the League One Trophy got anywhere near the East stand (after all the extended families had had their photo with it on the pitch) There was just Kermorgant and a couple of other players left on the pitch - I think one of those was Solly. I do understand that these players wanted photos with the trophy in front of a packed stadium, but on the whole I think the fans could have witnessed a much better spectacle.

Anyway rant over. for a club like us it is difficult to ever get much experience of arranging these events, and I'd genuinely rather have a fumbled trophy presentation event than not have one at all, and I only remembered this as I was discussing my son getting bored.

So tonight there will be three generations of my family there. It only seems like a few months ago that my Dad lifted me to sit on a freezing crash barrier on the East terrace at my first game. The view was magnificent, but the conditions in which I experienced it were, frankly, terrible. In fact, just thinking about it is making me feel the cold in my backside that comes from sitting of a freezing  metal bar for an hour. The Valley is a much, much more family friendly place now, and football is, in my opinion, all the better for it.

For £49 there is little risk of me not getting my money's worth, even if my son decides that he will only come to a handful of games. It secures the seat, and if he is not pressured to come too often I am confident that in due course he will learn to think of The Valley as his second home, just like the rest of us. Interestingly I have lived in eleven different houses since I first visited The Valley. Maybe, on reflection, it is my first home.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 20 August 2012

Next... Leicester at home

Leicester are one of the favourites for promotion this season, but then so are Birmingham. I have said for a while now that we can't assess the players that haven't played at this level until they have a few games under their belt. Of those that have played at this level (BWP, Kermorgant, Morrison, Jackson, Cort) none of them have underperformed and looked out of their depth.

In fact Kermorgant and Morrison were involved in the Leicester side that made the playoffs the season after they won the third division. Leon Cort was involved in the Stoke side that finished second in 2008 - and he went on to feature for them in the Premier League.

The players that we might find wanting are those that are younger and have never played above the third division - where they were part of a side that managed to secure 101 points.

Thus tonight will be a real test of how far this side can go. Birmingham was another test, and despite the result being fantastic based on where the two teams finished last season, to have the win snatched away from us so, so late was a little disappointing. I'm sure we will have further disappointments during the season, but I'm also sure that earning a point at St. Andrews will look like a good result by the time May comes 'round.

Leicester have some big name players in their squad, and they also have some experience, but the player that most Charlton fans will be looking forward to seeing is Paul Konchesky. Paul was, I believe, the youngest player  to play for Charlton, and he had a great career with us, including an England Cap, before going on to play for three other Premier League Clubs and was there long after we were relegated. He played in an FA cup Final for West Ham and a UEFA Cup Final for Fulham before moving to Liverpool, where he was one of the players that was, later, thought to be a little short of what they wanted on Merseyside. On the whole he has had a fantastic career and has played over 300 games in the Premier League. This is a player we should be proud to list as a former Charlton youth graduate, and I do feel a sense of pride in what he achieved.

Having said all that he is still only 31 (not 32 until next May) so he probably has a lot more to offer football, and if Leicester live up to their early season billing he could well be adding to those Premier League appearances next season.

I am not convinced by the bookies (and the pundits) when they make predictions for the season. We have failed to finish where those that think they know have predicted in recent seasons, and there is no sure thing in football - especially in a division as competitive as the Championship. However I do think that anyone that finishes above Leicester will be unlucky to miss out on the playoffs at least.

Thus tonight is a good chance for us to make some ground on one of the teams that we will be challenging for promotion, if we should be so lucky.

There is also a little bit of needle for Morrison and Kermorgant. I doubt the former had much animosity with the Foxes' fans, but I'm sure that Yann will feel he has a point to prove. I don't know how popular he was while he was there. I did see his penalty and didn't know much about him at the time. I felt that his arrogance was misplaced and that he was responsible for their playoff failure. It wasn't until I read what New York Addick discussed it that I changed my mind. needless to say there are no Charlton fans that think his signature a was a mistake now.

It is possible that Kermorgant was less impressive in the Championship for Leicester than he was for us in our title winning season, but either way I suspect that his treatment from a small number of their fans will make him keen to perform well tomorrow night - and I suspect he will. There is still a song on YouTube of the night Kermorgant failed to convert that penalty, and as funny as it seems to someone that has no interest in the player or Leicester I suspect that it will help motivate him. I hope that the chap that wrote/sung the song is there tomorrow night!

I wouldn't change our side after Saturday. Clearly there will be some tired legs by the end, as I imagine there was on Saturday after some of the players had played 120 minutes on the Tuesday before. I would think that there would be justification in picking substitutes to come on to see the game out, but I guess that will depend on how we look with ten minutes to go.

I predicted a 1-1 for Saturday so I'm tempted to stop my predictions here and finish with a 100% success record, but if I was going to go for a prediction I would go for a 2-1 home win. I know that is optimistic but we had a good game and result on Saturday and I think our promotion confidence is still high. If I'm honest I wouldn't be too disappointed with a draw, even if we concede late again. The goal this season needs to be to avoid relegation as soon as possible and then if we have enough games left to push on for a mid-table finish, and if/once that is achieved we can see if we can finish in the top six.

Even though I went to Orient, I'm looking forward to a much more full Valley tomorrow and the excitement that comes with that atmosphere.

Up the Addicks

Friday, 17 August 2012

Next... Birmingham away

Well this is the big one, This is our first outing in a league game against a team that has genuine aspirations of the Premier League for a couple of years at the least. I know some will point to Southampton, but I think they were hardly realistically expecting to get where they are now. Birmingham have had seven of the last ten seasons in the Premier League, and this is the first successive season out of the top flight since 2001.

Clearly that could suggest that the nucleolus of the side that was of Premier League quality could have all gone now and they are in for another spell (the last one was sixteen years) outside of the top division, which I suspect many of their fans believe is their rightful home. However, they did make the playoffs last season, and were still in with an outside shout of the top two until the final six games.

These days the benefit of the parachute payments can easily be offset by the excessive wages that players, that a team can't move on, are earning. If the parachute money is £10m a season, and it is different from what we had now due to it lasting for four seasons, a club only needs six and a half players on £30k a week and it is all gone. Many relegated teams end up with players past their best on that kind of money that they can't give away.

Even average players earn much more in the Premier League than in the Championship, but I suspect that the parachute money does help, just not as much as many would think.

As far as Birmingham are concerned I think their success this season will depend as much on the three relegated sides as anything else. If two of the three clubs that came down fail to finish in the top three then I can see Birmingham being in with a shout of top two and certainly playoff contenders, but if two of Wolves, Bolton and Blackburn get their act together the top two could be beyond the Blues and the playoffs are much harder to win, psychologically, if you failed in them the season before - especially as the chances are that the side will be weaker.

This season is much more unknown for us I believe. The success we had last season would suggest that that we might be able to make the step up and challenge at the top. Equally we could be just not good enough to do that and we might have to settle for avoiding a relegation battle. Time will tell, starting with tomorrow.

Today the club announced the signing of Dorian Dervite-Vaussoue on a 1 year contract. This looks a little like the signing of Kermorgant last year. I'm not comparing the two players, or their expected contribution, but it is a player that is little of a gamble, on account of the fact that he is only on a one year deal and a free signing, but he could well turn out to be a decent acquisition.

I know that we would all have preferred to have been signing million pound players with a proven track record at this level (or higher), but we clearly don't have the money for such signings right now, and probably don't want to commit to the kind of wages that these players would demand - see the explanation of Birmingham's finances above.

I thought we'd play a first eleven on Tuesday night and expected a 2-1 win on that basis. My error was in team selection rather than predicting the score - we would have probably won if we'd played the first team. However the loss was little of an issue for me, and I was more than happy to see the reserve players get an outing, and I thought some of them have a good account of themselves.

As for tomorrow, I have little idea as to which way it is going to go. I think Birmingham should have too much for us. Two years ago they were about to start a season two divisions above us, yet we were relegated to the third division in the second season out of the top flight.

As much as I would like to sit on the fence I am going to go for a 1-1 draw. Certainly I would take that now if it were offered to me, but I just have a sneaking feeling that we will still be tough to score against at this level. Apart from fatigue of those that played the whole two hours on Tuesday I have full confidence in our defence, and we should be able to snatch a goal away from home with the way we play with our backs to goal and hit on the break.

Chris Powell has suggested that four straight defeats at the start does not necessarily mean disaster. I'm not sure if this was a throw away comment or a chance to manage expectations at the start of the season. I don't completely agree to be honest. After the year we have just had we should be looking to carry that momentum into this season and start well to give us further confidence. Maybe he really does think that avoiding relegation is the ultimate goal.

What ever happens, we are back to playing games against clubs that we believe have the same ultimate aspirations as us and that is very welcome. I don't mean to be disrespectful to any of the teams in the third division, but promotion out of that league was not a target all of it's own. It was a stepping stone to what we really want to achieve, and what we all believe we can achieve.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 13 August 2012

Next... Orient at home

Well the new season starts tomorrow, but it doesn't quite feel like it. I don't want to open the debate about the importance of the Cups - especially this one, the Capital One Cup. However, there is almost no chance if us winning it, and the fact that the Semi-Final is over two legs means that we are about as likely to make the Wembley Final as we are to win it. Thus there is an argument that any points that this competition costs us is not worth it.

That might sound negative, and probably it is as I don't have a lot of interest in this competition, but it is just how I feel. For this reason I don't feel like the season is starting tomorrow, the league season is when it starts, proper, for me.

That doesn't mean that I don't want to go tomorrow, and I am going. It feels a little more like a pre-season friendly than an official first team game, but then these cup competitions have been a little bit like that for a few seasons now. It's ironic, the teams that can (and probably will) win it rest their best players as they are not bothered about it until they get close to the final, and the teams that can't really expect to win it rest their players as they don't care which round they get knocked out of, and most clubs fail to make much money unless they draw one of the top sides. The odds are against that as there are probably plenty of teams that will be too good to beat, that will not make any money, that you have to get past to face Man Utd at Old Trafford.

However, this season this match will probably be closer to our first team than the two games we played in the competition last year. I think it will probably be a good chance for Chris Powell to try out what he hopes to be his first team this season. Certainly there seems little point in playing a reserve side this close to the start of the season when we have been booking friendlies to get the players up to speed.

I'm finding it mush easier to predict our first eleven for this season that I did twelve months ago. There is little doubt that we will have the nucleolus of the side that won the third division title last season. The fact that we haven't really made any signings confirms that. Wilson is unlikely to dislodge Solly at right back, but could play wide midfield, and Cook is going to struggle to displace either BWP of Kermorgant. Kerkar has had some rave reviews, and we might want to protect Hollands due to his operation and subsequent late start to pre-season training, but other than that I expect the same team that started against Fulham.

It does look, from the pre-season games, that Cort is going to be favoured to Matt Taylor. I have said a few times that I'm not sure of the latter's pace in the Championship. When I say that I mean I'm not sure. I don't have any feeling either way and he could well be ok, but he is not the fasted centre half in the world, and I suspect that the Championship teams are all likely to have faster strikers. That is a factor of the divisional differences, the higher up you go the stronger and the faster the players have to be to survive. Either way the line ups this summer suggest that Cort might have taken Taylor's place in the side - something that looked like it was happening towards the end of last season anyway.

I think Chris Powell has been a loyal manager, and if anything he has kept sides unchanged for longer than I would have expected. I'm not saying that is wrong, just that I can see how a player can have to really wait his turn for a run in the side. I think this, actually, removes pressure from players in the team. One will feel less nervous about making a mistake if the end result isn't going to be an instant dropping to the bench.

Anyway I see the line up as being very similar.

There is an argument, of course, that we did do rather well with these players last season. There is also the question that we might have won promotion to the Premier League with this squad last season had we been a division higher twelve months ago. This is based on the fact that with 101 points we can't really have expected much more. I have mentioned before the last (and only) two times a team managed 100 plus points in the third division they were in the Premier League two seasons later. I'd take mid table this season and promotion next.

The noises coming out of the club - especially those reported on Charlton Life are worrying. There seems to be little doubt that a major benefactor to the club has walked away. This has left the club with a massive shortfall between what they wanted to do this summer, and what they can afford to do. This explains why we haven't signed any big names. However, there is always the possibility that those running the club believe that we have enough already to achieve this season's aims.

The worry for me is that we have spent a sum of money (rumoured to be between £400k and £500k) on a right back with rumours that Chris Solly is going to be leaving. If he is going to go I'm fine with that. It's not my first choice, but I am more than aware of the financial implications of running a business and sometimes assets need to be sold to balance the books.

If, however, we are not planning to sell Solly then one does have to wonder if that £400k plus could have been better spent elsewhere. This does, of course, ignore the fact that buying players is not the same as doing a food shop in Waitrose. You don't have to decide if you want to buy steak immediately and can browse the whole shop before making your selections. If you had to buy the steak there and then or it would be gone then you might end up with steak but not enough money for a nice bottle of wine.

Orient shouldn't really pose us many problems tomorrow if our players really want to win. The defeat against them on New Year's Eve was revenged at the end of March, and the players probably want to win the first home game of the season (even if it will feel like a friendly). Thus I'm going to go for a 2-1 win. I think the Orient players will want the scalp, but I don't think they will be good enough to beat the team that walked the division last season, even with no real additions to our squad since then.

I hope we have a decent crowd tomorrow night, but I'm not all that hopeful. The Olympics have only just finished, and we are still in tough economic times, and this is an unimportant cup competition against a team from a lower division that we have played six times in the last three years. Anything over ten thousand would be great.

Up the Addicks!