Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Why my love for football is diminishing

In the last twenty years the game has changed. Since we came back to The Valley in 1992, the year that the Premier League was formed, the whole sport in England (and much of Europe) has undergone a transformation that makes it totally unrecognisable from what I started watching in 1981.

Some of those changes have been for the better. The stadia the clubs play in are fantastic, by comparison, the facilities for the fans have improved and the sport is both fashionable and respected in a way that would have been unthinkable during the dark times of hooliganism.

However, not all of the changes have been for the better. Football has developed many hangers on as the money into the game has risen. Agents, (and many players have more than one) mercenary players that will move to a club they've never heard of and will never care about for the vast sums of money they can earn, and owners that are not fans but buy a club hoping to make money or go on an ego trip.

The money into the game should have ensured that the 'industry' is as financially secure as any other. Demand from football fans, and their loyalty to 'their club' must be second only to drugs (if we exclude mandatory purchases - petrol, food, housing). The TV money has moved football from a working class 'disease' in the 1980s to one of the biggest leisure pursuits that Europe has ever seen, in terms of income and turnover. Yet, still, very few clubs are able to keep their costs anywhere near their their income.

The truth is that irrespective as to how much football players earn (and some of those in the Championship are earning much more than £200k) and how hard they try, they are bankrupting football for decades. Most, if not all, clubs have debts that they can never hope to repay, ever, and they will continue to run up these debts all the while none of them (well a collective all of them) dare to say “No more!”. When clubs like Bolton have debts in excess of £100m you have to assume that the players that have, for the most part, retired now, have spent money that Bolton will have hanging around their necks until they go into Administration or find a multi-millionaire that has £100m they don’t seem to know what to do with. The numbers are crazy!

Even with FFP, in the Championship the clubs are allowed (allowed!) to have a trading loss of £5m this season and £3m a year after that. All the while players in the Premier League are haggling over, and refusing to accept, £140k a week (£7.28m a year) because they know someone else is earning £160k a week and they want as much as him!

I suspect that most clubs in the Premier League have three of four top earners who earn more (between them) than most teams outside of the Premier League turn over a year.

In the Football League (celebrating 125 years this season) very few clubs can ever hope to break even and if you get into the Premier League the wage bill that is forced on the club by the players and their agents ensure that they cannot hope to avoid financial meltdown if they are relegated. In order to stay up they need to borrow c. £50m (on top of the Sky money) to hope to avoid relegation.

In recent years the list of clubs that have fallen out of the Premier League and ended up in the third division within a few seasons is ridiculous. Charlton, Norwich, Southampton, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, Sheffield United, Nottingham Forest, Leicester and last season Wolves went straight through. They are in the third division with parachute payments for goodness sake. It is, frankly, a total disaster.

With the money coming into the game and with the vast majority of players unable to earn a fraction of what they get to play football it is disgusting that these levels of over spending are allowed to carry on.

The Government should announce that they are going to, literally, take all the Sky money and use it to clear all the debts of football clubs and then force them out of the league if they ever make a trading loss again. That would, soon enough, stop the debts.

If nothing is done, and I mean really done, soon (within the next ten to twenty years) I fear that we won’t have a football league in this country any more. All the clubs will be forced out of business and the football stadia will be replaced by housing that will be built to clear the ever expanding debts.

I believe, from what I read in the press, Cardiff that, until last summer had never been in the Premier League, had £83m of debt? £83m for a club that had never been in the Premier League – there is no excuse for over spending to that level. They hardly had to compete with Premier League clubs for players signatures.

When I look at Charlton I see a business that is running at a loss of c. £7m a year, nowhere near getting promoted and even if we did we would never be able to stay up and would come down with even bigger debts and much higher running costs as the Premier League players would be earning a fortune and wouldn't move on as no one else would pay them enough. Rather like what happened in 2007.

With that being the case I just can’t be bothered about the results of matches any more. Why should I care, whatever happens we are totally doomed unless we find ourselves a billionaire that wants to drop tens of millions on a football club that will, almost, certainly never win anything or manage to run at anything other than a loss.

And this is before the match fixing scandal that is clearly not a work of fiction. Sam Sodje had some very obvious red cards playing for Charlton. I’m not saying there was anything going on, but it is very hard, now, not to look at these things suspiciously.

I, almost, wish I’d never started following football. I wish I’d found something else to do with my time. I can’t think of any other hobby that would be able to disgust me like football does right now, and this is the thing that I have loved most in the whole of the world for the vast majority of my life.

Football is like a drug, once you are hooked you are never going to not be a fan. Watching matches often brings enjoyment from something that has no impact on the result - a great tackle or pass or run and dribble. These things still make me want to come to games, and, of course, it is a social event that I share with my Dad. I can't see me ever deciding to stop going, but I do think that my love affair with football is diminishing, and with it my enthusiasm for much more than turning up watching the game and then coming home to forget all about football again for a fortnight.

Maybe a takeover will sure up our financial position, but until the wider issues of over spending (mainly on players wages) are addressed I'm not sure that football outside of the Premier League will ever be taken of life support.

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Charlton 0 - 0 Blackpool

Following on from a great game on Tuesday night where I thought we played the best football I've seen from us this season we followed it up with our first clean sheet in the league this season.

Sadly that is probably the only real positive to take from the game. We looked strong at the back but Blackpool didn't look very good going forward so I'm not sure that we can use this as confirmation that the defense is 'rock solid' just yet.

In fact I would suggest that it was a game of two strong defenses, and with the way the two teams played it was going to take a mistake at the back and as neither side looked like making one we could have still been playing now and it would still be 0-0.

However, you can only beat (or not concede against) what you have in front of you, and Blackpool are still 6th in the division, and despite having the 12th best scoring record, they have the 3rd tightest defense, so a 0-0 was, by no means, a poor result.

I do have some reservations as to whether Blackpool will finish in the top 6, but I suspect that will depend, a lot, on Tom Ince who is clearly talented, but failed to achieve much on Saturday. I thought Rhoys Wiggins had him well covered and he also seems to have a swagger about him that was not justified based on that performance. If he moves away from his Dad (and his white jacket and white trainers) in January I can see this side struggling to be anywhere near the playoffs come May. Having said that I can't see us being anywhere near them either so I guess I should keep my thoughts on that subject to myself.

Overall I thought it was a credible performance. Neither of the strikers showed much that was encouraging, but in their defense they didn't have many Chances. I thought the midfield was set up to provide more protection to the back four - as I thought it was on Tuesday. That clearly worked as we only conceded one goal in the two games but it relies heavily on Harriott, who I thought struggled a little on Tuesday but looked completely out of sorts on Saturday.

I suspect that we don't have a natural candidate for the tip of the diamond and it made sense to give Harriott a go at it, but I'm inclined to suggest that it hasn't worked. he is still young but he looks like he is struggling to have the same impact from the start of the season as he had coming into a side towards the end of one. I have a lot of faith in his ability and don't doubt that he will make a significant contribution this season, and hopefully for a few to follow, but I think he is finding a little harder with the attention that he is getting from the opposition just now.

Jordan Cousins, on the other hand seems to look the real deal. Clearly this is his first season so we will need to wait until he's played 20 or 30 games before we make firm decisions, but from what I've seen of him there is plenty of justification for the plaudits that he has received on his way through the youth and reserve set up towards the first team.

I said before kickoff that I would have been more than happy with a draw on Tuesday and would have taken two points from the two fixtures in the week. I wouldn't have taken a draw before kick off on Saturday, but in the end I was happy with a point and a clean sheet.

We now have a couple of weeks to get Kermorgant back fit and with the rest of the side starting to gel again I am confident that we will be able to put a little space between us and the stragglers at the bottom.

Up the Addicks!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Charlton 1 - 1 Forest

There are some games that are rubbish irrespective of the result. There are some games that are great because of the result. Tonight was neither, yet both.

I know I've not written much recently, and this is not because the football has been uninspiring - I have moved house, my wife had chosen to move away and leave my son (her son also) behind and I have become a 'single parent'. None of this has been anything short of an adventure for my son and I - we are very close and I have constantly reiterated that his Mum loves him and is just living elsewhere as she is not as keen on me.

Anyway all this has taken up a lot of my time, and I've not felt as enthusiastic about this blog since my wife informed me that she 'Didn't fancy me any more' in June last year. I have not, exactly, been depressed, but I have found myself reevaluating my priorities and this blog has suffered. I've been through the 'Maybe I've put a few too many pounds on' and lost close to four stone - that didn't help. I've worked much harder and made much more money - that didn't help. I've done the 'agree with everything she say says' and help around the house more - that didn't register, either.

I came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to matter what I said or did, my wife was going to leave me and my son and we (the boys) were going to be starting a new life together. I only mention this as it it, kind of, explains why my blog has been, let's be honest, shockingly unreliable for over a year now.

I can't promise that this is going to change from now on - I have a lot to learn about being a single parent, but I spent years wanting to write a blog and be part of the 'Charlton Bloggers' and since I started I've made some great friends, some of whom have been very supportive during my 'troubles' and I don't want to walk away from this - or my new-ish friends.

Anyway, now that I've bored you all about my personal history I'll share my thoughts about tonight's game.

I'm normally quite optimistic about games, and I'm certainly a glass half full kind of chap. However when, just before kick off, my Dad asked me if I'd take a draw (a usual question we share) I said that, under the circumstances - no Kermorgant, Jackson or Solly, I would take a two goal defeat.

I wasn't being negative, but I fear for the manager and the teams confidence. I thought that Blackpool would be the easier game this week, and I thought that a credible defeat tonight would give us a great chance on Saturday.

In the end I needn't have worried!

A fluke of a goal in the second minute shared the life out of me. I could see a massive defeat coming. I just thought that if it get's to five or, worse, six Powell would struggle to keep his job. Then something changed.

We started to do several things. We played neat football (clearly we are not Barcelona, but we did pass the ball - a lot); we put Forest on the back foot and created chances, many of them; we had players that had looked bereft of ideas against Millwall pulling off great passes, dribbles and tackles.

Basically we looked like we'd replaced our whole team (of nervous players with limited ability) with players that knew how to pass, hold the ball and create chances.

Granted it was like watching Barcelona take apart Gillingham, but it was a revelation compared to Millwall. You should take into account that I was not at Huddersfield or Burnley so didn't have a perception of the performance there, just the results.

My one disappointment (and it is tempered with the fact that I really enjoyed the game) is that until we equalised I thought we were really dominating the game. Once we got back to 1-1 I felt as thought we reverted to a tight, non adventurous, game. I can't help thinking that if we'd played the same way in the second half as we started it we would have come away with three points.

However it was a great game of football and I would have taken a draw before kick-off. What made it for me was the melee in the Forest penalty box towards the end where the ball was going everywhere and I believed that at any second it could go in. There were blocks, saves, failed clearances and more shots. It reminded me of my early days at The Valley when this seemed to happen every week (it's probably my memory playing tricks on me).

Overall I would say that it was a great game of football - the kind of game I would love to watch on the tele as a neutral.

We didn't win but we also didn't lose. Forest are a good side but not only did we match them I, genuinely, believe that we out played them. All but for a fluky goal it could have been a very different game, but I can honestly say that I can't remember enjoying a game more than this one for a while.

And hopefully I'm back.

Up the Addicks!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Next... Doncaster at home

So far this season has been somewhat disappointing. Losing to a newly promoted side and, by all accounts, deserving to was followed up with a defeat to a team that hadn't won away since December, and had only won three league games in that time (P22 W3 D3 L15). Then last week we managed to go two goals behind to a team that only stayed up last season because they and Huddersfield stopped playing as they thought that a draw was enough for both of them.

I'm, deliberately, ignoring our 4-1 win over forth division Oxford with a reserve team, despite the fact that it was a fun evening.

Thus we are only out of the bottom three on goal difference, and we face the team that also finished in the automatic promotion places last season in a game that would see us above them should we win by two goals, but a massive six points behind them should we lose. Interesting times!

I must confess that I was a little more worried about relegation than many others were last year, and in the end we had such a strong finish to the season that it looked that I worried needlessly, but with modest additions to the squad I believe that the difference between a very good start and a very bad one could well be a challenge for the playoffs in May or a battle to avoid relegation.

I'm not worried at this early stage of the season but, as I've suggested above, the start can have a bigger impact than just the number of points a team has after ten games. Confidence can be vital and I was hoping that we would take our end of season form into the new campaign - something that we have clearly failed to manage.

Tomorrow is a big game. It's not a must win and it's, probably, not a six-pointer over the course of the season, but another defeat and we could fins ourselves scrapping at the bottom until October and that brings pressures that might make it harder to pull up the league.

Without the Skipper we look lost in midfield, and with Bradley Pritchard being absent at the same time we have looked over run. I'm hopeful that Jordan Cousins can step up, but it is asking a lot of a young player to come into the first team (at our level) especially if the team is having a bit of a bad run.

After coming back from 2-0 down last week I'm optimistic that we have 'turned the corner' and that confidence will return and those players that have seemed to be a little off their best will come good. A win tomorrow and a draw at home to Leicester next week and I think we will all be looking up the table again, opposed to looking down.

This could be the last time we get to see one or two of our favorite players as well. Any player that is the subject of a big (relatively) money move will, almost certainly, be rested next week (August 31st) so I'm hoping that we get a good result as otherwise it might be a little while before we feel like smiling again.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Financial Fair Play

Financial Fair Play, or FFP as it is becoming referred to is going to become more and more important over the next few years. Following a post by my fellow blogger at Wrong Side of the Thames I found myself having a read of the Football League website that explains the rules and, more importantly for my purposes, the sanctions that failure to comply will bring about.

As we all know football in this country has become more and more expensive, as a business, since the rules to make stadiums all seated. The initial cost of this change was massive and all clubs underwent major redevelopment or moved to alternative stadia and sold their current one to help finance the move.

Clearly there are a few clubs that have looked for cheaper routes to comply with the new rules and regulations and literally put seats on open terraces, but the majority of clubs have modernised their home grounds to make the modern day football experience unrecognisable to the 70s and 80s.

This change, that I think, personally, is for the better, has used vast sums of money to take football into the twenty-first century and secure its future. However, many of the clubs have funded these developments via loans that some nineteen years after the deadline for conversion are still not repaid in full.

There were many grants, and some sponsorship, but on the whole football has funded this change by itself. One of the major changes to football income has come in the form of TV revenue - Sky Sports, in particular. I am not going to debate the rights and wrongs of the TV deals - those conversations have been done to death both on this blog and others, but the money raised has, in part, funded the changes to the stadia that we benefit from today.

When I say in part I mean that there has been much more money available. Clearly the Premier League teams have taken the lion's share of the money, and those teams have much better (and bigger) stadia than those in the lower divisions. The surplus money has tended to end up in the pockets of players and their agents. Again nothing new, but the main driver for the FFP regulations.

I suspect that football clubs have always tended to lose money. The difference was that those sums of money were much smaller relative to other industries and businesses when the income in the sport was less. I have done no research but if we assume that the average football club turned over less than the average local business it was always possible for a new local businessmen to come in and bankroll the club for a few years before passing the torch on to the next one.

Thus a football club in crises could be saved by one of, probably, dozens of local businessmen that could be persuaded to throw a few quid at it for the prestige that comes with being a Football Chairman for a few years.

When the Sky funded Premier League launched those days were numbered. It seems incredible, now, to think that the initial Sky deal (in 1992) was £305m over five years. Breaking that down (with 22 teams in the Premier League) it meant an average payment of £2.77m per club. Even that made the top division so much richer than the rest that it created an unlevel playing field, financially, with the Football League. £2.77m added to the turnover of even the poorer clubs in the Premier League took them out of the reach of virtually all local businessmen.

As we all know the new TV deal guarantees the bottom team in the Premier League c. £65m next season. Staggering!

During the rises in the TV money that we have seen over the 21 years of the Premier League the kind of money required to buy and/or bankroll clubs has just ballooned. Add to that the billionaire owners that have way too much money to ever have to worry about running out, and a habit of getting everything that ever want, and it is no surprise that most of the football clubs in this country and unsustainable without capital injections - or periods of administration.

The subject of administration is one that I have a passion about, but this is not the place for that. I have written about it before, however, and you can read it here. All I will say is that Portsmouth should never have been allowed to carry on trading, Palace should never have been able to acquire Selhurst cheap when settling their debts with 1p in the £ and Southampton should never have been allowed to go on the spending spree they did, after they wiped off the total debt that they ran up building a new stadium for £32m.

So if we assume that we are going to, eventually, run out of multi-millionaires to wipe off huge debts, and that HMRC (and the Government) are going to stop football clubs from knocking tens of millions of pounds and carrying on as though nothing has happened something needs to change.

I have skated over the financial drain caused by players wages and agents fees as it is common knowledge, but it is clear that with most football stadia now up to standard the major area that needs tackling is players and agents remuneration.

Salary caps are unpopular, and probably unlawful, so the clubs need to be forced to reduce their spending in total. This will be tackled by FFP differently, based on what division the club is in. As we are in the Championship this is what I decided to read about. I discovered something that tempted me to write this.

Sadly I have probably been waffling on for so long that many have given up reading, but if you're still with me then hold on as I'm getting the interesting bit.

The rules allow for reducing amounts of 'loss' and 'equity investment' that are, combined, £5m by season 2015/16. The numbers are a little irrelevant as they are still to big for anything less than a multi-millionaire to fund them. However, the sanctions are very interesting.

The sanctions don't apply until 2014/15 but then they are different based on promotion or relegation. If the club is in the Championship then a transfer embargo applies until they comply with the FFP rules. This could, potentially, run for several years. In the event of relegation to League One the club would have to satisfy the rules for that division (which I'm not going to discuss) and would not benefit from the money in the pot raised from the Fair Play Tax.

The Fair Play Tax (which may or may not be referred to as the FPT) is the most interesting part of the whole thing.

Basically if a club fails to satisfy the FFP rules in the championship and is then promoted to the Premier League - a likely scenario, they would be hit with a fine. Clearly there is little point fining clubs that are losing too much money as they wouldn't be able to pay it, but with a bumper Premier League TV deal on winning promotion these clubs are fair game.

The fines would be as follows:
1% of the excess overspending between £1 and £100,000
20% of the excess overspending between £100,001 and £500,000
40% of the excess overspending between £500,001 and £1,000,000
60% of the excess overspending between £1,000,001 and £5,000,000
80% of the excess overspending between £5,000,001 and £10,000,000
100% of the excess over £10,000,000

What this means is that should a team lose £24m above what is allowed and is promoted to the Premier League they would be fined £24m and this would become the Fair Play Tax and would be split among the Championship clubs - £1m each in this example.

Without the financial figures of all the clubs, and bearing in mind that by 2014/15 they will have reduced their costs (we hope) it is difficult to put a value on this, but it will mean that those clubs that gamble on winning promotion could well see a 100% tax on all their spending if they want to go the extra yard to win promotion. Thus a £2.5m player to get them over the line will, ultimately cost them £5m, and, presumably, double the wages that they pay him for the rest of the season.

Where this gets really interesting is with teams that have been relegated from the Premier League. In their first season they would not be subject to the Championship FFP rules so long as they have satisfied their financial obligations under Premier League regulations. However their would be the potential of a Fair Play Tax if they achieved promotion in their first season in the Championship.

What this means (as far as I can tell) is that if a team gambles on going back up in their first season and has a £29m loss (which seems very likely to me if they are used to getting £40m more a season in the Premier League) they will be hit with a £24m fine when they are promoted {I'm using the figure of £24m as it divides nicely with 24 clubs}. Thus if the new TV deal ensures that relegated teams get promoted in their first season down, the Championship clubs are going to get to share a big chunk of their TV money the season they go back up.

This will, I imagine, make it harder than ever for yo-yo clubs to establish themselves in the Premier League (as they will, potentially, have a multi-million pound fine to pay) and it will also be another massive kick in the teeth for any established team that is relegated from the Premier League. An estimate is that a large proportion of the parachute payment will become, effectively, an interest free loan as it will be paid in fines on promotion.

The Premier League have not agreed how these Fair Pay Tax payments will be paid, yet. but I suspect that it will be deducted from the TV money. Either way it does look like 'buying' promotion is going to be very harshly treated.

On the whole the sanctions are justified because unless the overspending is stopped football in this country will be permanently damaged. The super rich clubs don't, actually, care who they beat week in, week out but even though Sky TV believe that there are only really a handful of teams worth bothering about the whole idea of a league system depends on a thriving (or at least a financially viable) set of clubs. Even Sky would struggle to sell subscriptions if we had six teams that played each other six times a season.

There is an argument that every club in the whole league, from Premier down to League Two, should apply for administration at the same time and wipe out all it's debts forever. Clearly HMRC would go mad, but if the clubs stuck together and allowed for liquidated businesses to reform and start in the same division as they were in before, the whole of football would be debt free and the FFP regulations would, suddenly, seem a lot less onerous as no club would have to budget for interest on debts or loan repayments.

Alternatively the footballers are going to have to 'cost' a lot less. I say cost as I'm referring to their wages, their benefits in kind (support staff, cars, houses etc.) and most importantly the agents fees. I'm ignoring transfer fees as they are, to a large extent, kept within the game itself. It is a process that allows the top clubs to pass money on to the smaller clubs. Sadly this is going to be reduced due to the Premier League rules about signing young players and the subsequent closing of academies.

So we should soon see discussions taking place where clubs are telling players that their wages will be massively reduced and reduced further unless the agents waive some of their fee. I can imagine that if a player is told that if he wants his agent to earn £1m from a deal they the player will earn £1m less the agents will struggle to justify their fee to their client. Until now this has been difficult because if the club doesn't agree to what the player (or most likely his agent) wants he will go somewhere else. Once FFP really starts to work there will be a limit on what the clubs can afford to pay and, more importantly, what another club will pay.

There will always be super rich clubs that will pay more than the rest, but that's true of every company with employees representing different talents. However, it is hoped that players wages will become much more sustainable. As much as I've enjoyed watching Ricardo Fuller this season if he was earning anything like the £13k a week that has been reported we paid £676k (well less actually as he wasn't with us for a full twelve months, but you get the picture) which is unsustainable. Realistically I suspect he would not have retired and/or done anything else if those wages had been £3k a week so FFP might not effect the players we watch, they will just cost less.

Already we are seeing players released from Premier League clubs and they will probably still be looking for a new employer towards the end of August. The likes of Carlton Cole, who is 29, being reported as demanding £45k a week to join Stoke a year ago is not deemed to be worth enough to West Ham to even offer him a contract with the potential of getting a transfer fee for him. He is 29, he is far from past it, and with all due respect to him, I can't see him being able to command in excess of £2m a year for doing anything else.

As for Charlton, I can see the trend (as with Carlton Cole) being that better players than we have (or have released) will become willing to sign for a Championship club for less than we have been paying. I would imagine that the Premier League clubs will start to reduce their budget by having cheaper squad players, and the lists of those players that have been released demonstrates this. Very few of those players will retire, and to keep playing they will lower their wage expectations. They will have to!

What we will need to do is lower wages of any top earners. Sadly, for many of our players that means wage cuts that will make a drastic difference to their standard of living, but in truth they (like many following the boom years) have been spending money that was borrowed (all be it someone else was borrowing it) and it has to stop.

I am confident that we will see us signing a few free transfers that would have been thought to have been way out of the price range of a Championship club three seasons ago.

Time will tell but as I've mentioned on this blog before, my greatest desire is to be able to watch Charlton with my son for the rest of my life, and with my Dad for the rest of his. The more financially stable football, and Charlton in particular, is the more likely it is that I will be able to achieve that. Friends, wives, jobs and houses come and go but family and football are constants that stay with you for your whole life. It makes sense to protect those things that you want around you for as long as you live. I think FFP is a great idea and might be the savior of our game, and our club in particular.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Charlton 0 - 2 Millwall

Predictable and disappointing. That just about covers it I think.

We were the better side from the off until they scored. Their goal came against the run of play, and was scored by a player that had only just come onto the pitch. These facts don't change the result or the feeling of disappointment but they do, in my view, go some way towards removing any blame or discontentment at the performance.

On another day one of our chances would have gone in and we would have been 1-0 up before Easter slipped the ball between Button's legs and the whole day (and potentially the season) would have had a completely different slant on it. We lost home and away to Palace, but they clearly have a better side than us this season. With luck they will stay down, lose Zaha to Man Utd and Bolasie and maybe even Murray and they will be a lot weaker next season. I hate Palace but I can live with losing to a better team.

Millwall, on the other hand are not as good as us based on the first hour or so on Saturday. I know they played midweek, but they looked tired and well short of confidence from kick off. In fairness that might have been their game plan, and they might have always intended to come out a bit more in the second half, but either way they looked the less likely to score until they did and then we fell apart.

Losing to the weaker side (and one that always seem to lose to) is a disappointment in itself. The fact that they are having a great season in the FA Cup makes it a little harder to stomach, but the real disappointment for me is that with the run of form they are on they could have been real contenders for relegation had we beaten them. With two of the bottom three winning Millwall would have been just two points above second from bottom today had we managed to get that first goal.

Not beating either of them, and losing to them both removes any silver lining on a poor season. I know avoiding relegation was the target, and that does look likely, but the icing on top would have been a win in a derby. With the price of football these days (including the cost of petrol and/or public transport to get there) every team needs to give their fans a little icing. Otherwise the total price of attending begins to look too high!

I should point out that I think we had a better season than both of our local rivals in 2011/12. I know we were in a lower division but I still think we did. This season if Palace make the play-offs (even if they don't get to Wembley) and with Millwall making the FA Cup Semi we needed to win on Saturday and really needed them to be relegated for us to have a better season than either of them.

I know this is not the only criteria of our season, but it does matter to me.

As for the game it was similar to so many of our season. We didn't look outclassed but we did come away with no points. I can't bring myself to be critical of Millwall, they played to a plan. It was probably, in some part, dictated by having a midweek game (that was more important to them that this one) and probably relied on us being a little less than clinical in front of goal. We were and they stole the points. They didn't kick us up in the air nor did they lie on the ground after every tackle.

In truth, as much as I hate Millwall, and I think I do, I can't begrudge them winning a game that they didn't dominate for most of it. We have done that for many years - especially when we were in the Premier League and I think that as Powell becomes more experienced he will find ways to increase our chances of success in these type of games. In the meantime, however, we just don't have the playing staff required to be much more successful than we have been.

There is an issue with our home form compared to our away form, but this has been the case for us in the past, and many other teams suffer from it also. The very charitable, and predictable, praise for the fans by Powell (and others) fails to mention the fact that the crowd at home games do put pressure on the players to win, more than they do away. I have been to many games this season where the moans and groans have clearly affected some of the players to play a more urgent ball that is less successful. Huddersfield at home was probably the worst example of this. We were playing ten men and we were a goal up with less than fifteen minutes left and the fans were screaming at the players to go and attack. Successive long balls from the defenders with fans groaning in their ears led to increased pressure and we let in an equaliser.

I'm not getting at the fans, and I completely understand why the club officials keep avoiding saying it but I understand why our away form is better than our home form. The big difference, these days, is that attending football matches is very expensive. Ignoring the fact that we don't all live close to The Valley, even the cheapest seats are probably more expensive than going to the cinema. Certainly the one that I sit in is.

The decision to attend cannot be completely disconnected with the price of going any more  This makes it harder for those selling the tickets. It is also a different landscape now as the majority of fans have a season ticket these days where as in the past you just paid on the day. With terracing you and a group of friends, or family members, could turn up, without tickets, just before kick off and be guaranteed to all stand together.

This change in behaviour makes the season ticket marketing window much more important. Going into the last couple of weeks before the discount deadline finishes with just four home wins all season and losing 2-0 to our biggest rivals the week they secured an FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley is hardly ideal.

I wonder if a message from Chris Powell saying that unless the fans are more patient, and accept that we are not a big club in this division just now, things are not going to get better, would help? It could just be the tipping point for a few hundred season ticket holders to decide to have a season or two paying on a match by match basis.

We all know that giving up the season ticket is the first step to giving up coming at all. Like many other industries it is so much easier to keep customers than it is to get new ones - especially when the cost of a season ticket is so high.

We also have a problem with the pricing of the season tickets. Charlton have charged less than most of it's peer group for a long time now. At some point we needed to change that. We can't be expected to complete with teams that generate more income by charging more for the tickets for ever. All the time we had more season ticket holders we were able to charge a little less than, say Millwall, and generate as much income, or more. We have seem our season ticket numbers drop off, probably, every season since relegation from the Premier League so we do need to 'fleece' those that will never stop coming more and more as those that are sensitive to attendance decide to do something else with their Saturday afternoons.

This is all depressing stuff and is not helped by the fact that we have been poor at home this season and we are rumoured to have less money for transfers this summer than last. There is not a lot to encourage fans to renew, save for 'because they always do'.

As long as we avoid relegation I can't see how the club, or more specifically the performances and results, can have any bearing on next season. No one will be fooled by us winning a couple of games against mid-table teams once their (and our) season is as good as over. This was the last opportunity to give the fans something to feel good about and, frankly, that's not what happened. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Anyway I shall be there again next season, as I will be for the remainder of this one. I would probably take avoiding relegation again next season if you offered it to me now, but I would do so with the caveat that we win at least one of the derbies, preferably at home, please!

Up the Addicks!

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Huddersfield 0 - 1 Charlton

It seems a long time ago now that we played Huddersfield at The Valley on a cold November Monday evening when they were unbeaten for 43 games and we thought that we, and they, would be contenders for the League One Title. That was the last time we beat them. We've lost up there since then. And drawn at home twice.

That game was one of the most exciting I remember going to. The anticipation, the (all be it third division) giants meeting to decide which team would keep it's run going and we came out victorious and, despite an onslaught in the last ten minutes from a team that were not used to losing, we never looked like not winning as soon as we went 2-0 up a few minutes before half time.

Huddersfield today are a shadow (again, in a higher division) of the team they were in November 2011, and truth be told, so are we. We are probably better than we were then and they are probably not - due to Jordon Rhodes leaving. However, today's game was important. Even though we are, neither, as close to the bottom of the division as we were to the top back then we both need a few more points to ensure that our promotions last season are not wasted by us falling back down.

Huddersfield started this season much better than we did but our consistency has been better than theirs and they have changed their manager again - like they did last season. Their recent form has been better, but they are still in the pack that could be caught of one (or two) of the bottom three go on a great run.

From what I read from today's game we were not terribly convincing and we took our chance and held on. That sounds familiar doesn't it? That's what Burnley did to us last week. It does signify, to me at least, that we have very small margins in most of the games we've played this season. We have not lost by more than one goal much, and we haven't inflicted any crushing defeats either. That suggests that we will, almost certainly, avoid relegation this season but more positively it suggests that with a couple of additions to our squad and the benefit of a whole season's experience for some of our younger, or less experienced, players we could make a genuine challenge for promotion next season.

I don't, actually, think that Huddersfield will be relegated this season but I also think that they would not have been promoted without the goals from Rhodes last season. This leaves them as a team we should be looking to get points from, and this season we have taken four from them. A much better return than the other promoted side who managed to take all six from us.

I have been very supportive of Chris Powell and I don't see the need to change that approach now. I am in the camp that believes that we have a limited (compared to many other Championship sides) squad and that we need to be more tactically astute and/or need to give more effort. I think we are getting there on the former and there have been very few games where I've been worried about the latter.

We have nine games left and even though the playoffs are, technically, still a possibility I think we all know that our goal is to avoid relegation and, to a lesser degree, finish as high up the table as possible.

Today's win, and specifically taking four points from the last two, takes much of the pressure off and leaves me feeling much more focused on Millwall next weekend than the potential three points at stake. They are in a terrible run of form and are genuine candidates for the drop. Eight defeats in nine, including losing to three of the bottom four, suggest that they could fall out of this division and still make an FA Cup semi-final. He latter would disappoint me but the former would please me no end.

We need to beat them to keep them on track for third division football next season. Ironically a win for them next Saturday would, probably, be enough to leave them with just a couple of lucky results to stay up.

At the end of the day it doesn't matter when the points come as long as we have enough by May but those four points in a week make me feel much more comfortable and I am not really looking forward to playing Millwall next weekend. Surely it's our time to win one of these derby matches.

Up the Addicks!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

We're all Doomed!

I have no idea if Mr Scott actually ever said those words in Star Trek, and if he did I doubt it was more than once or twice but it is a common comment amongst one of my group of friends. It is used in a humours way and is never meant to signify that there is any real chance of trouble ahead.

Charlton are still, probably, not in any real danger of relegation this season, but if one wanted to, one could make a case to suggest that the danger is real and is very close.

Until yesterday Burnley had managed just two points in their last six games. They should have been the easiest home game we have left. I know we have to play all of the bottom four and Millwall, who are one of only three teams with worse form than us (based on 6 games - Wolves and Derby being the other two) but on a bad run and mid-table Burnley should have been a win target - and probably was!

We are currently 7 points above, third bottom, Peterborough who have a game in hand and we play them on Tuesday. If they win that game, and their game in hand, they will be one point behind us. In the last six games they managed 10 points to our 4 so they beat us and they would overhaul our lead in the following 6 games with something to spare - assuming form continues. Despite their form Peterborough are a side that we need to avoid losing to. After that we have Huddersfield away - another team with less than fantastic form (5 points in 6 games) then we face Millwall at The Valley in a game that might well be more important for our league position than local bragging rights. Millwall have amassed just thee points in the last six games, in the last seven games, in fact, and they have managed just seven points in the last eleven games - they haven't been the same since they lost a couple of loan players in January.

Yesterday was another drab game. Losing to Forest was bad enough, but with them having spent some serious money and us being down to ten men I could live with it. Yesterday's result was worrying on an entirely different level.

Irrespective as to who we all blame (and there seem to be many candidates) we are just not competitive enough in this division. I don't really see any logical scientific reason for our away form being, relatively, much better than our home form, but the same was true last season so it can't just be a random coincidence.

The away form does make me more confident of us avoiding relegation as the teams at the bottom don't seem to have that 'bonus' but if it is more random there is a chance that it could suddenly stop  and then we look a lot more precarious. Our last six games home and away have yielded 5 and 9 points respectively. For interest we are 8th in the form table for away results and 23rd for home games - based on the last six games of each.

Powell tried something new yesterday. There was a large attendance announced and irrespective as to how we got to that figure, there were a lot of fans in the Lower North stand yesterday so it is possible that fans were given comps and or discounts to get them in for a chance to see a 'great game of football' during the season ticket sale period. I have no idea if the owners of the club are putting the kind of pressure on the manager that motivate him to make rash decisions. The kind of win or bust decisions that we all make when we see that carrying on as we are is going to end up in disaster and we decide we might as well try something else.

I can't really understand why we would play all three strikers when we have no other options in that department. I never really know what the conditions of loan players are and maybe we needed to play the Spurs youngster or they would take him back. Irrespective I wasn't very impressed with him. I am confident that Bradley Wright-Phillips would have been a better option yesterday, but that fails to address that fact that we have no creativity in the middle of the park.

One of the things that I use to measure a game is how much I remember of it the next morning. Some games seem to pass quicker than others. Clearly defeats (by a small margin) seem to pass quicker as I want the clock to slow down to give us longer to score, and the reverse is also true. There are, however, some games that have so little excitement, class, flair or significant events that I come away completely underwhelmed with what was on offer.

A very good goal apart there was nothing to see yesterday that I will mention to my Dad when he returns from his holiday. I am the first to say that a 1-0 win in such circumstances is, perfectly, acceptable and I imagine the Burnley fans all went home very happy, but our home form (both results and performances) are becoming a real concern now.

Season tickets are going up by about ten times inflation, and the football on offer this season has been absolutely terrible. I suspect that the club made a big mistake keeping the prices as low as they did for this season. I have no data to reflect this but I would imagine that it would have been much easier to sell tickets at the new prices twelve months ago and then they could have issued a price freeze this year and that would have put less pressure on the players to deliver.

I know all the arguments about live sport and I fail, completely, to fall for the rubbish about comparing The Valley to a top theatre in London, or the O2, where live entertainment is just down the road (from SE7). However we are not comparing like for like. If one wants to compare football to the Palladium then you must look at Arsenal, Tottenham or Chelsea. You  must compare a top of the table clash or a Champions League game. You just can't compare Charlton 0 - 1 Burnley with Michael McIntyre at the O2 - except on price, where you may be surprised to discover that a seat in block E of the East Stand is just a few quid cheaper than I paid for a night out at the O2 - and I went on the Saturday, so it wasn't a discounted price.

With this being the case one has to look at value for money for the enjoyment as well as the 'I always go so I'll always go' attitude. I can't rank all football fans and for that reason I don't know if my decision to keep going puts me in a select group of 11,000 or 5,000. It means that I have no idea how many others will choose to keep going (and maybe even pay for a year in advance) but if we keep losing dire games like this one and keep dropping towards the potential unthinkable spell in the third division it is going to be a bit of a hard sell, I would imagine.

As already mentioned I can't remember much about the game except that I wouldn't bother to watch it again. Without new signings, which I think are unlikely now, we have got to find a way to claw out three more wins by the end of the season. I was confident that Burnley would be won of those. It wasn't! We have, by my reckoning  five genuine targets for those wins plus Millwall at home (they are in poor form but it is a derby - and we never beat them). The next two games (and they are both away) are two of those five so by the time we play Millwall we should have a very good idea as to what our run is is going to be like.

As exciting as it might be to survive relegation at the death I'd be more than happy to make Millwall a third win on the bounce, please!

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 28 January 2013

Charlton 1 - 2 Sheffield Wednesday

Until last season I just didn't really like Wednesday. while at University (in Sheffield) in the early 1990s I decided to be a united fan so I didn't like Wednesday. They were both in the Premier League at the time and one year they contested the FA Cup Semi-Final at Wembley. Anyway I did go to Wednesday a couple of times - to watch the opposition. Tickets were not c. £60 in those days.

Anyway until last season I didn't like them but was not really all that bothered about them. Last season there seemed to develop something of a rivalry between us and I do like a bit of rivalry. I thought Megson's comments about us and them last season were a little insulting He continually suggested that they were better than us - even though we led the table for most of the season.

In the end Megson was sacked but by then I'd been to Hillsborough and seen us win by the one goal we defended like crazy.

So into this season and with them in a bit of a relegation battle, and with us desperate to stay out of one I really wanted us to win up there. As we all know we lost that game but I was hopeful that we would be able to beat them at home. Having already lost at home to Barnsley and Ipswich and being a little fortunate to beat Peterborough this was a chance to get it right against a relegation threatened team to give me (and presumably others) confidence that we would stay away from that dreaded third from bottom place.

Sadly we lost, but what was worse was that it was a rubbish game.

I thought for most of the game that we would be lucky to see either side score. In fact by half time I was totally convinced that it was going to finish 0-0.

Our goal came from the first real attack we had of any quality and then I was convinced it would finish 1-0. I couldn't see either side getting on the score sheet again.

Wednesday, obviously, threw caution to the wind and looked dangerous for ten minutes or so, but we stood firm. Then it became a little more end to end, but I still thought it would finish 1-0. I thought we would tire, but if I'm honest we looked very tight at the back. Clearly we were defending more and more deeply, but that is what I'd expect us to do, and that is what worked at Hillsborough twelve months ago.

That is something that I don't understand about some fans. They always come out after these type of games and say that if we'd been more aggressive and attacked more we might have got the second goal and then gone on to win. This is, of course, completely true, but there are, literally, hundreds of 1-0 victories in football. Each and every one of them must have had a team one goal in front for the last ten minutes, and chances are that the losing team was throwing everything at them to get an equaliser.

Scott Wagstaff, who had been running all over the place all afternoon had still not slowed down, and even though Kermorgant had been in the wars he was still chasing and harrying and this is the same side that saw out many one goal leads last season.

On reflection a substitution might have made all the difference, but often changing an eleven that have been defending deeply and hanging on causes goals to be conceded.

There was no way to know that we were going to be overrun at the death. Clearly it was easy to predict that we were going to be defending for our lives in the last ten minutes, but it was, by no means, certain that we would not hold out.

Maybe, just maybe, we should have seen it out for a draw at 1-1. I would have been disappointed but it would have added another point to our tally, and would have ensured that Wednesday stayed ten points behind us. Naturally we attached looking for the winner that I think all home fans thought we deserved.

Inevitably teams that concede a late equaliser then open up and attack for a winner leave gaps at the back.

It was a fantastic end to the game for Wednesday and even though I don't like them they had a game plan and they stuck to it. I don't like the way they play and I don't want us to resort to the negative kicking and pushing that they seem to be happy with.

We are still seven points in front of them and I suspect we will finish above them. Their dogged style of play will probably keep them up, but they will struggle to ever do much more than survive playing that way so if that's the pinnacle of their aspirations then good luck to them.

We now have a run of six tough fixtures against teams that are currently 5th (Palace), 17th (Birmingham - the only team below us), 3rd (Hull), 2nd (Leicester), 10th (Forest) and 8th (Burnley). By the end of that run we will know what we are playing for in the last eleven games of the season.

I would be more than happy if we are still ten points above the team in third place - we are currently 13 points clear. If we manage to beat Palace we will be just six points behind them. and no more than two wins from the top six. It is still all to play for but with two of the top three to play away from home in the next four weeks we might be as close to the playoffs today as we are going to get.

I'll take mid table right now.

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Charlton 2 - 1 Blackpool

It wasn't until last week that I realised (when I read it somewhere) that we hadn't won a game at home on a Saturday all season. I knew our home form hadn't been great, but that stat had alluded me.

I am not superstitious about football and even though I believe that runs (or form) are indicative of results I think that random facts like days of the week, being on TV, Boxing Day etc. are all random and we were just as likely to win on a Saturday as any other day of the week, so sooner or later we would manage it.

One fact that does effect football results is upheaval in the dressing room. Having two managers walk out for 'better' clubs in the same season must have a massive demoralising effect on the players. Tom Ince is clearly destined for better things, but the rest of the squad are probably left wondering what the future holds if they have lost a manager to Palace (who are probably going to be in the playoffs at best) and one to Blackburn (who will need a great run in to even make the playoffs).

So I was confident that Blackpool would be far from out toughest opponents this season, and I was right. Take out the three defeats in nine days in December and we have managed 19 points in 9 games, which is top two form. In fact if we'd won just one of those three games we would be third in the form table for the two months once we settled into the division.

From what I've read we were the better side at Bolton (the first of the three defeats), we were in the game into injury time at Sheffield Wednesday, and Ipswich on Boxing Day - well, we deserved to lost that one if we're honest didn't we?

All things considered we find ourselves in mid table and with a decent haul of points and an outside chance of making the playoffs ourselves. I think promotion this season is very unlikely, and probably not terribly desirable as we would, no doubt, be whipping boys and I worry who the club will be sold to as soon as we get to the promised land.

Anyway we are in a situation where the outlook can change drastically from game to game. A defeat and the relegation zone seems closer and the playoff places seem even further away, and vice-versa. Thus a back-to-back league win was imperative, and apart from the opening minutes where Kevin Phillips (is he the only player still in the game from that Wembley Final?) had a chance cleared off the line I don't think we looked in any real trouble all afternoon.

I don't want to go for 'lazy journalism' but Blackpool really did play like a team that had lost it's second manager in as many months. Maybe Holloway was as good at managing as he is at providing one liners to the media! Blackpool look like a team that is not going back to the Premier League any time soon. Sadly, for them, their best year was last season and they just failed to beat West Ham in the playoffs and for a team that has spent all but the last six seasons in the third division or lower (since 1978) I think they might have had their day in the sun for the foreseeable future.

Either way, after the initial scare we grew into the game and fully deserved our two goal lead at half time. I have been critical, elsewhere, of the fans groans when we look to kill off a game so I won't complain, but from the break we looked like we just didn't want to let two goals in. I text my Dad (who is away) and said that I'd take a 2-1 win, and thought we would be unlucky to concede twice, but I thought it unlikely that we would add to our tally.

Interestingly Powell brought on Fuller late in the game and that changed it slightly and we created a few more chances. We also conceded at the death. With hindsight maybe we should have kept the 4-5-1, but I do sense pressure from the crowd for us to go out and score, score, score. I do understand it, football is no longer a cheap hobby and even though a win is the ultimate goal entertainment is also expected, to some degree.

The result, despite the very late goal, was exactly what we needed. Two wins, one at home and one away, following a month where we failed to win even one.

At the end of December I looked at where we were and what we probably needed to do to avoid relegation and I came up with a simple guide of winning 6 points in each of the next three months. Thus when we face Brighton away on 2 April (with seven games still to play) we will be as good as safe from relegation. I know that winning the last game of the season to secure safety is just as acceptable (and maybe a little more exciting) but I want to get to safety as soon as possible so that the club can start to plan for the following season and what I hope will be a decent challenge for promotion.

So in 2013 we have a league record of played two, won two and scored six goals. I'll take that!

Up the Addicks!

Monday, 7 January 2013

The magic of the Cup?

I've not posted much recently. In fact, it's been three months. A lot has happened in that three months, but a lot has happened in my personal life too and that has been the main reason for my absence. Sadly it looks like my own 'problems' are not going to go away, but Charlton's future, however, looks a lot more positive.

December was a bit of a disaster, particularly in light of what we saw in the six weeks before, but the fantastic win at Watford on New Year's Day puts that month behind us and sets us up very nicely for the run in. I am still a little torn between getting excited about the possibility of making a late run for the payoffs and being worried about being dragged into a relegation battle - one that could well end badly for us!

I'd take mid table safety this season and would consider it a huge success. I know that at the start of the season I was rather bullish about a potential promotion, but after the first ten games, and especially how we went from seven games unbeaten to not winning for a whole month I think we are not strong enough to finish top six.

Anyway this meant that the distraction of the FA Cup was welcome, and I was looking forward to seeing us tested against a team that we probably ought to consider a peer. They finished a few places below us in 2012, half a dozen paces above us in 2011 and three places below us in 2012.

The dynamic of the game was, I decided retrospectively, changed with our respective results on New Year's Day. We managed a fantastic fightback at Watford while they lost 6-1 at Leicester and hadn't won a game since 10th November.

They needed (their manager really needed) a result against us and they must have known that we would field a number of reserve team players. Under normal circumstances they would have done the same but, as I've already pointed out, they needed a result, they needed a win!

We started sluggish, and made two, obvious, individual mistakes at the back. One led to a goal the other would have until Dervite brought down Beckford and earned himself a red card in the process.

Ironically we were drawn against Huddersfield shortly after we'd played then in the league and it was hardly a 'Magical Tie'. In fact I would have preferred a lower league team. Obviously I really wanted an way tie to a top side for a fun day out, but the luck of the draw had given us that for the last two seasons, so it wa a bit much to ask for again.

Anyway we dropped three first team stalwarts, Huddersfield didn't and they went through.

Dervite's suspension with Cort being injured does demonstrate why the cup games are more of a hindrance than a benefit. My Dad and I have attended just about every home cup game for the last twenty years, but this year felt like a milestone. He was quite angry that were watching a reserve side, again.

The club made all the usual noises about genuinely trying to win the game - they do have tickets to sell, after all. However, in the end it was the same as usual. The proper description should be that we will pay a few first team payers and the players will play, but they know it doesn't matter to the cub, and it might just show.

Anyway, we lost and after the draw for the 4th round I'm pleased that we did.

Now we can concentrate on the league.

Up the Addicks!