Sunday, February 26, 2006

Fixtures and Fittings

Former US President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorius triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."

It has always been one of favourite quotes since it contains such a valuable lesson about life's inevitable ups and downs. I'm guessing 'Teddy' didn't have Charlton's fixture planning in mind, but he should have done.

I should have known that the exhiliration about the scheduling of the FA Cup game on the Thursday night wouldn't last long. My wife and I sat down this morning to discuss our plans for our London trip and she cheerfully reminded me, "Remember we're taking my mum out for lunch on Sunday 26th March for Mothers Day."

I just about put my cup of tea down without dropping it, put my head in my hands and starting moaning in a Basil Fawlty-esque fashion. They have only gone and put back the Newcastle game to the Sunday haven't they? 'Teddy' was right all along - there would be no gray twilight on this trip; plus anyone with a mother-in-law will know all about suffering.

And talking of Basil Fawlty, I couldn't help paraphrasing him during the ensuing 'discussion' with the wife. "You won't be going to football now will you?" "No dear, that particular avenue of pleasure has been securely shut off." To be fair to the wife, she did make a particularly insightful comment during the 'debate' - "They're sh*t anyway, or so you keep telling me."

How can they do this to me? I've already missed one Newcastle clash due to the weather, and now I've got to make a tragic choice about another. When I read other fans' consternation about the fixture change, I didn't realise it was affecting me also. Those fans are right of course - the amount of screwing around that these FA Cup fixtures have caused is frankly a joke. And moreover, what is preventing millionaire footballers from playing two games within 48 hours? After all they managed it twice over the Xmas period (or at least would have done if the Newcastle gritters hadn't have knocked off early). I also pity those Newcastle fans who have bought flight tickets or train tickets - but as they'll know only too well, since when do the Premier League fixture planners give a toss about the fans?

I suspect I'm not the only one affected by the fact that it's Mothers Day - perhaps some other fans haven't realised it yet? Oh, and that handy 2pm kick-off falls nicely bang in the middle of the day thus ruining everyone's Sunday. Could the club not have contemplated a 12pm kick-off to allow fans to sneak away for a late lunch with Mum, apologetic bunch of flowers in hand?

As I mentioned in my Colin Powell vs Colin Powell post, it's not unknown for me to do entirely the 'wrong' thing (in other people's eyes of course, not mine) when these unfortunate clashes occur. However when I missed the then girlfriend's (now wife's) birthday in 1997/98 to go to the 'Boro game (ironically), the ensuing row could only at worst have led to an upsetting break-up. If I miss this Mother's Day lunch, the ensuing row could lead to divorce, and frankly I'm not sure I can afford that right now.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Curbs Lays Down the Law

"You played better when the fans were booing you."

As I suggested on Friday, our League season is rapidly fading into obscurity leaving only a winnable FA Cup quarter-final keeping things alive in a disappointing season.

We now find ourselves in the midst of another mini-slump, winning just one our last seven League games and scoring just six goals in the process. Admittedly after the defensive fun and games in Nov/Dec, a few goalless draws at least preserve our sanity I suppose. If we now begin our usual end-of-season slide, then paradoxically it may be less frustrating than usual as we don't have anything to play for anyway, even if we just limp over the 40-point mark.

If you are one of the optimists who sees Charlton's cup as half-full not half-empty right now, you may be about to throw something at your PC, but I am struggling to find any positives to take out of this season, Darren Bent aside of course. Indeed, in the absence of his monumental 13 goals, I shudder to think where we might lie in the table right now.

For fear of repeating myself, the facts are stark: no away wins since October; 20 points from our past 21 games; and perhaps most worryingly, just 44 points from our past 41 games. Us stattos don't need to remove the aberrational opening four wins of this season, because the stats are pretty dire even if they're included. This season, we have won ten games, and only three have been against sides outside the bottom five (Wigan, West Ham, Liverpool). I suppose given the club's stated priority of Premiership survival, beating the League's worst teams is a pretty good way to ensure it, but I for one have higher expectations.

Which brings me nicely onto the 'hottest' topic on the message boards recently, namely the 'Kishishev debate.' I figured I'd wait a few days before putting my views on the web.

Let me get one thing straight, the so-called fans that booed him earlier in the season should be ashamed of themselves. In my view, players deserve to be booed only if they are perceived to lack total effort - booing for any other reason is wrong, since the manager picks the team and thus perceives them to be good enough to wear the shirt. If the fans disagree, the vitriol should rain down upon the manager, not the relevant player. And in Kishishev's case, you can't accuse him of not giving 100% nor playing as if he doesnt care.

However, that's not really the point in my view. The defensive midfield holding role is one of the most important in the side, if not the most important. Anyone who watches Chelsea's efficient machine will know that Makelele is the fulcrum around which the team moves, allowing the likes of Lampard the freedom to get forward and score goals. Similarly, it is no coincidence that Arsenal are a shadow of their former selves without Viera; likewise Man Utd and Keane.

Whilst I am willing to accept under duress that Kish may be the best player we currently have in that position (though I'm more of a Smertin man myself), I simply don't see how we will progress to the next level, whatever that may be until we can somehow find someone of Scott Parker's class to play there. Ironically Curbs has recently moved Kish to right midfield which seems odd to say the least - part of his masterplan to play constantly players out of position I guess.

As a club, we clearly can't afford Parker-esque players in every position. However in my view, we can 'get by' with mediocre players in less crucial positions. Witness our revolving goalkeepers shirt this season, or the Spector/Powell rotation at left-back. I think we can even get by with an average second striker - let's face it, before Darren Bent, we didn't even have a classy first striker, let alone second yet it didn't really hold us back too far. However games are won and lost in the central midfield battle, and we don't stand a chance with the Kish/Hughes/Holland triumvirate. To be fair to Kish, you can make a case that about two-thirds of the whole squad are potentially 'not good enough', but of those, only he and perhaps Hreidarsson seem automatic selections.

The 'Boro Cup game is of course enormous for the club, just as the Brentford one was before it. The fans deserve a proper 'day out' - we haven't had one since the Play Off Final, and as I never cease to remind my wife, my wedding day was the '2nd most memorable day of my life.' (Fortunately she was with me to share in the most memorable too). In a Premier League which is increasingly bifurcated, these types of games can draw fans out of a tedious malaise.

Footnote: I may be being optimistic, but is there a chance that 'Boro will not play a full-strength side if they overcome Roma in the UEFA Cup, and thus face a quarter-final just a week after the FA Cup tie (with a League game in between)? I may begin to take some interest in the competition.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Like the Alamo

Football managers have been known to describe an attacking onslaught as " the Alamo..", so keen to find out what they meant, I visited the said fortress in San Antonio, Texas.

I must admit I'm still no clearer but if one thing is definitely 'like the Alamo', then it's the Alamo itself, so here's a photo to help readers decipher post-match interviews.

Talking of fortresses, Aston Villa visit Fortress Valley on Saturday, where Charlton will attempt to keep its rapidly fading League season alive.

I continue to maintain that relegation is of no concern not least because I think there is every chance that 34 points will be enough for safety anyhow. Frustratingly however, our disinclination to win another away game this season is preventing us from closing the gap with the top six (just 7 points), which implies that our season will essentially end for all intents and purposes if and when our FA Cup run ends.

Someone pointed out on the message boards that the five teams we dispatched away from home at the start of the season currently occupy the five bottom places in the table. Hence, our outstanding start to the season could very easily be put down to a quirk of the fixture list. Unfortunately this quirk caused fans expectations to be unrealistically increased, which might explain the level of pessimism that our subsequent form has generated.

In order to assess the degree to which our form has dipped, I took the time to work out on a game-by-game basis how many points our form at that time suggested we would take over the course of the full season. Obviously four wins out of the first four games suggested a meaningless 114 points (!), but after a more significant 12 games, we were still set to take 60 points. The trough in form occurred after the Arsenal defeat, at which point we were set for 49.2 points. Although we got back above 53 points after the Birmingham win, six points from our last six games has seen us back on course for 49 points or so. Given that this extrapolation includes the first five 'easy' away games, 49 is likely to be highly optimistic given that trips to Liverpool, Arsenal and Man Utd await us.

When I write this blog, I do wonder if I'm being overly pessimistic at times, but the stats don't lie. Taking 19 points from our last 20 League games is hardly going to get our pulses racing and it is no surprise in this context that the prospect of an FA Cup quarter-final is causing so much excitement. The fact that the tie has been confirmed for Thursday night has been met with mixed feelings by some fans (due to the fixture changes it causes), but I hope readers will permit me a degree of exhiliration that I will be able to attend without needing to change any plans.

It's hard to overestimate how important that Cup tie is for the club. Given that the only fans that have seen us in an FA Cup semi-final are at least in their late 60s, it is fair to assume that all the frustration with our League form over the past year will be forgiven should we win. The possibility of playing in the first Cup final at new Wembley would have been mouthwatering, but in true British style the stadium won't be finished. Nonetheless, I find myself able to think about virtually nothing else Charlton-related right now, and I can't think of anything else interesting to say about the Villa game, so I won't.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Millions Missing in Kent

Police were today scouring the Kent area following concerns that 'millions of pounds' had gone missing in the area.

They are keen to speak with a Mr F Jeffers whom investigating officers have nicknamed the 'fox in the box.' Police have advised members of the public not to approach him, as he may be dangerous (except when near a penalty area).

Police also confirmed they had finished questioning a Mr D Rommedahl, although confirmed that he remained a potential suspect.

Mr D Murphy has been eliminated from the enquiry.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Go Figure

There isn't much I can realistically say about a goalless draw that I didn't see, so instead I will write about my new favourite sport, figure skating.

Although the Winter Olympics are much derided, I have actually rather enjoyed watching them. Although NBC here in the USA have paid a small fortune for the TV rights, their coverage can be a little trying to say the least. "...and now we interrupt this exciting ice hockey tussle between two countries that don't speak English and probably didn't support the Iraq invasion, to bring you exclusive action from the uphill boblseigh where our own Hank Bubbleberger III is currently lying 37th..."

There is a pivotal moment in every sports fan's life when a special performance ignites previously unconscious passions. Moments when a simple sporting event seems to transcend its status as 'sport' and becomes a metaphor for life itself. For my generation, it was Ian Botham's 149 not out at Headingley in 1981, the McEnroe/Borg 1980 Wimbledon final, the 1985 Ryder Cup victory at the Belfry, or perhaps England's monumental World Cup semi-final against Germany in1990.

However my figure skating 'moment' occurred just a couple of days ago when American pair Tanith Balbin (pictured) and Ben Agosto took to the ice in Torino. Although they compete in a pairs competition, Agosto didn't impress me as much as Balbin and I couldn't decide why. Perhaps it was her effortless execution of the triple salchow (with pike), double toe loop and inside axel? Either way, it was strange because I never felt this way about Jayne Torvill, despite her achievements easily surpassing those of young Balbin. My wife is similarly confused since I had previously spent the entire Games berating the status of figure skating as a 'sport.' Perhaps it's just that unpredictable 'magic' of sport?

Super Kev loaned to Rams

According to the official CAFC website, a player by the name of 'Super Kev' has been loaned to the Rams (a.k.a. Derby County).

If any readers are able to elucidate on the identity of the aforementioned 'Super Kev' I would be grateful.

Although I am aware of a fairly prominent squad member named 'Kevin' (or 'Kev' for short), he is anything but super.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Colin Powell vs Colin Powell

I've just awoken in Austin having completely forgotten to set my alarm for the 7.30am Cup draw, but then again finding it out via text message certainly took away some rather undesirable tension at that time of the morning.

Given that all ten teams remaining are Premiership clubs, it was near impossible to get another 'easy draw' but home to 'Boro was on paper the 2nd best draw we could have been given (home to Birmingham was the best).

Now I have to wait on tenterhooks to find out which date the game will be played. I am due back in London anyhow on Mar 23 so if it happens to be played on the Thurs night, I will definitely be able to attend. I'm not sure how they intend to organise the dates, but it would seem sensible unfortunately to just play them in the order they came out of the hat.

However if this is not the case, and the game is organised for let's say the Weds night, then I will have a difficult dilemma. I am due to be at a conference from the Sunday until Weds lunchtime, and the keynote speaker on the Tues night is none other than Colin Powell. Admittedly my first reaction was, "Why on earth would a load of hedge fund types be interested in hearing from our former winger and current groundsman?" I pictured myself listening intently to Paddy talk about The Big Match 'goal of the season' when he delivered the cross for Derek Hales, whilst the rest of the room asked, "Who the hell is this guy?"

However I then read the small-print - it was the other Colin Powell, former U.S. Secretary of State, and despite being part of the Bush administration, a rather good one too and therein lies the dilemma. It's not every day you get the chance to hear the private views of such a prominent politician who has served during such tumultuous times. I'm sure the topics discussed will range from the lead-up to the Iraq war, to Iran's uranium enrichment programme and to the true threat from Al-Qaeda, all vital issues which will shape the future for the world.

It's probably a sign of my own maturity when I don't even consider the prospect of trying to fly back to London a day early to watch a football match in such circumstances. Unfortunately however, on prior occasions when I faced similar dilemmas, I always justify my decision based upon the result which ironically has always been positive. I'm not particularly superstitious but I may begin to become so.

There was the time when my girlfriend's mother (now my mother-in-law) told me she was organising a surprise birthday for her daughter on the same afternoon we entertained Middlesbrough in Jan 1998 (our promotion season). My suggestion that my absence would ensure a 'double surprise' was met with the type of icy stare only a future mother-in-law could give. We won 3-0, thanks in part to a cracking opener from Shaun Newton, fully justifying my decision.

More recently there was a wedding ceremony in Feb 1999 which sadly for the happy couple clashed with a home game with Liverpool, Keith Jones backing up my decision that afternoon with a timely late winner. (I have since been assured that the bride looked a delight, and the vicar's sermon was very moving).

And so back to Colin Powell. Will it be the 'lead-up to the Iraq war' or the 'lead-up to the big game'? Will it be 'Iran's nuclear programme' or the 'official matchday programme'? Will it be 'the threat from Al-Qaeda' or 'the threat from Yakubu'? Will it be 'Colin Powell's well-prepared pitch' or 'Colin Powell's well-prepared pitch'? I will keep you informed.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Don't Mess with Texas

I'm currently writing this from Austin, Texas where we are spending the President's Day weekend.

Talking of Presidents, George W Bush spent a number of years here as the Governor of Texas (it's the state capital, despite only being the fourth largest city). I can't imagine he liked it too much because it's a very liberal place and the self-proclaimed 'live music capital of the world.' The Yanks do an awful lot of self-proclaiming, but in this instance they may have a point judging from a stroll down Sixth Street, the main nightlife hub where music blares from literally every venue. Indeed in a few weeks time, many of the top British indie bands will be here for the annual 'South by Southwest' festival, perhaps the largest event of its kind in the world.

Later today we are heading to San Antonio which is surprisingly perhaps the 2nd largest city in Texas (ahead of Dallas, but behind Houston) and the 8th largest city in the US. The seven largest (in order) for those stattos amongst you are New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and San Diego.

Unfortunately it's unseasonably cold here (below freezing) which wasn't what we had in mind when we chose to come here, but at least I'm warmed by the thought of an FA Cup quarter-final for only the third time in my lifetime. I'm even tempted to fly back for it (I'm due back in the UK on Mar 24 anyhow), but my current thinking (even for a semi-final) is 'if we win, I'll go to the next round, and 'if we lose I won't care that I missed it'.

I've no wish to tempt fate (though us foreign-based fans do need to plan ahead) but it would be helpful if the FA could make their minds up where the final will be played. My schedule won't allow me to leave NY any earlier than the Friday prior to the final, so it would be nice to know whether I should book a flight to Bristol (for Cardiff) or Heathrow (for Wembley) - both would be fully refundable of course.

The draw has been incredibly kind to us up until now (and for once we've dispatched the minnows) and thus it would be hard to get too annoyed if we drew either Liverpool or Chelsea, the only heavyweights left in the hat. Obviously the dream would be for those two to play each other for the umpteenth time this season, and thus leave the way open for a lesser team to reach the final. The best we can hope for I guess is a home draw which would (I trust) ensure a full-house and a special floodlit atmosphere which might just spur us on. If we are drawn away outside London, it would be nice to think our missing away support would return to the fray and give the lads some decent vocal backing.

Friday, February 17, 2006

New Abuse Images Leaked

New images of systematic abuse at the high-security Sparrows Lane training ground have been published.

Although grainy in parts, the video images clearly show a man who is named only as 'Mr A.C.' dishing out unusual and unwarranted punishment to various players. The images confirm ongoing rumours of such abuse and civil rights campaigners have demanded a full inquiry.

In one image, a player referred to as 'Jason' is seen being thrown a bag of cement, with 'Mr A.C' bellowing, "I BET YOU CAN'T EVEN TRAP THIS!"

A more recent image shows a player referred to only as 'Franny' (or occasionally 'Francis') forced to repeatedly hit a cow's arse with a banjo whilst the other players are seen laughing in a humiliating fashion. A second player, known only as 'Rado' (or occasionally 'Kish') then appears in shot and is seen donating the wounded animal to a local farmer whilst 'Mr A.C.' screams, "I BET IT'S NOT THE LAST TIME YOU'LL GIVE THE BULL AWAY!"

In perhaps the most disturbing images, a skinny blonde-haired wisp of a player known only as 'Dennis' is forced to tie a toy rabbit around his midriff before being chased by a greyhound. Fortunately for 'Dennis', the greyhound soon gives up chase. The camera then pans to a shot of a player called 'Talal' (or possibly 'Halal') who is forced to wear a headless chicken around his neck.

In the most recent image, a player spoken of only as 'Deano' appears to have suffered extensive facial injuries, although photos from several years earlier confirmed he has always looked like that.

Oddly perhaps, 'Mr A.C.' is also seen showing acts of great tenderness and kindness towards certain favourites. One player for example, referred to only as 'Bryan', is seen repeatedly given treats for performing seemingly simple tasks.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The Next Level

Recent critics of Curbs (including myself) have argued that he may not be able to take Charlton to the 'next level', however that may be defined.

If one was to sample most fans today, the most popular definition would probably be 'European qualification.' A few seasons ago it would have been 'establish ourselves as a Premiership club'.

In this regard, I couldn't help noticing that Bolton v Marseille only attracted 19,288, following on from their Sevilla tie which attracted 15,623. Middlesbrough attracted just 9,436 in the previous round against Liteks Lovetch.

To be fair to Boro's fans, Liteks Lovetch are perhaps not the biggest draw - I would struggle to guess whether people would be 'dancing in the streets' of Liteks, Lovetch or neither should the Bulgarian side ever win the Cup. However, in the case of Bolton, whilst hardly giants of European football, Marseille (especially) and Sevilla are surely attractive enough opposition to ensure a fairly full stadium? And if not, and if thus the prospect of watching your side face unfamiliar European opposition is not especially exciting, why are fans constantly badgering their Board and management to make a 'push for Europe'?

It is well-observed that most clubs sell out Premiership games fairly readily (although this trend is beginning to break down), but it does seem a little odd that 25,854 fans will show up for Bolton vs. Wigan, but far fewer for Bolton vs. Marseille. And assuming that should Charlton ever qualify for the UEFA Cup, our own attendances would be equally disappointing, then should we not re-define the 'next level'?

The Champions League is clearly a world-class competition which has delivered the types of famous nights Charlton fans can only dream of right now. Although Arsenal's plight this season has again opened up a right-royal battle for 4th place, Charlton are a long way from generating the 60+ points in a full season that is required. Moreover, as Everton proved finishing 4th is meaningless if you trip up in the pre-qualfication rounds.

Which brings me handily back to my conclusion - with the UEFA Cup such a non-event, at least perhaps until the final stages, and with the Champions League out of reach for now, then Charlton's priority in the near-term should be winning the FA Cup or Carling Cup with all the razzmatazz that a day out at the Final would bring to the fans. As a bonus of course, we would get UEFA Cup qualification thrown in as well.

The irony is that whilst Curbs may not be able to push us onto European football via the League, he can certainly do it via the Cups. It is worth noting that since we returned to the Premiership in 2000, the Carling Cup has been won by Blackburn and 'Boro, whilst Birmingham, Bolton and now Wigan have made the Final. Similarly, Charlton fans will hardly need reminding that Millwall qualified for Europe via the FA Cup.

In this context, it seems strange that we seem to under-prioritise the Cups (or at least it feels like we do given recent performances). Of course relegation would be a disaster for the club, but I would much prefer to finish say 14th instead of 8th, and win a Cup (yet the club seems to set itself up differently). There are some financial implications of such an approach of course, but any Premier League bonuses would be partly offset by the extra income a Cup run (and thus European qualification) would bring. The high 'boredom' factor experienced by Charlton fans right now would also be allieved for a while.

Hence, and here is the point of my whole post, I continue to argue that Saturday's tie with Brentford is a huge one for the club, and defeat is unthinkable. Should we win of course, the next tie will be just as huge. At some point we will have to defeat tougher opposition than Sheff Wed, Leyton Orient and Brentford, but I don't think fans will easily tolerate a tired 5th Round defeat as they did last season in similar circumstances.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Bent: The £12million Question

During a season which could serve as a definition for 'inconsistent', there has been one near-constant bright spot, namely the finishing and all-round forward play of Darren Bent. To have scored 16 goals for an average side, many of them whilst playing as a lone forward, is a phenomenal early dividend on a bargain £2.5m investment. Moreover, I suspect we haven't even seen the best of him yet by any means.

Unfortunately however, the realisation that we potentially have a world-class striker on our books, and certainly the best player to have worn the Charlton shirt since Scott Parker, suggests we may before too long be facing the inevitable question, "If a club bid X million for him, would we accept it?"

Bent seems a level-headed type and he will be well-aware of the way Parker's career went sideways for two years before he arrived in Newcastle. Moreover, the selfish actions of the spotty one left the club with little option but to allow him to move for a fee which with hindsight, was perfectly fair. It is to be hoped that if bids arrived for Bent, he will only be allowed to leave at a time of the club's choosing.

Clearly Charlton can never hope to truly progress if we constantly sell our best players, but watching the tired performances of recent weeks, and being aware of the academy's failure to provide any first-team players, has got me wondering whether a Bent-financed full-scale clear-out may be our best long-term option. Consider the ages of the following key squad members:

Thomas Myhre (32)
Hermann Hreidarsson (31)
Chris Perry (32)
Radostin Kishishev (31)
Matt Holland (31)
Jason Euell (29)
Talal El Karkouri (29)
Shaun Bartlett (33)
Bryan Hughes (29)
Chris Powell (36)
Jonatan Johansson (30)

It doesn't really leave one hugely optimistic about the future. Clearly we have some players on our books who are young or nearing their prime, most notably the Bents, Ambrose, Andersen, Rommedahl, Fortune, Bothroyd, Lisbie, Thomas, Jeffers and Young, but we are already aware that some of these are not settled nor in Curbs' long-term plans. The lack of any homegrown players in the squad less than 25-years old is frankly absurd. Unless we build some real quality around this core, either from the academy or from outside then we run the risk of losing the better ones to more ambitious clubs anyhow.

Hence we come back to the £12million Bent question - if this type of bid arrived on the fax machine, would it be in the club's best long-term interests to accept it? If it meant we could purchase 5-6 of the most promising Championship players and begin to build a young vivacious team that will serve us well for several seasons to come?

Don't get me wrong, I love watching Darren Bent - how many of us were shouting 'GOAL' a good few seconds before he caressed the ball into the net on Sunday? But I'm also a realist, and the club's incredible piece of business in signing him may have to be sacrificed to make up for some of our transfer market errors, and the lack of productivity of our own academy (which remains, as you can probably tell, my biggest gripe with the club right now).

Sunday, February 12, 2006


"You've scored four goals against us this season, and we've STILL done the double over you."

Broken Record

I am writing this too soon after the final whistle to know what Curbs has said in his post-match interviews, but I am daring to guess he is beginning to sound a bit like a broken record...."...I don't think we gave ourselves a chance....we have got to set our stall out....blah blah blah...."

He is clearly aware of the problem, but what exactly is he trying to do about it away from home? Here are the times of the first goal conceded in our last nine away games, the most recent first (for the sake of completeness, I've included the Cup games at Chelsea and Sheff Weds): 21, 13, 18, 15, 8, 8, 68, 2, 41, 15. In other words on average we are conceding a goal in the first 23 mins of every away game. Is it any wonder we haven't won a League game on the road since October?

In my view, it is not a case any longer of terrible defensive errors (we seemed to have solved that problem for the timebeing) but we go into games inviting the type of pressure that inevitably leads to goals. Despite not winning away from home for four months, we are still the League's 6th highest scorers on the road, so I don't understand why we approach games with such a negative attitude.

A midfield containing Kishishev, Hughes and Smertin is never going to give you much attacking thrust, and strangely (for me) Hughes again began in the centre as he did versus Liverpool. As Wyn Grant pointed out in his excellent analysis of Kish, he has plenty of weaknesses of course, but he's probably the best option we have right now for a central holding midfielder (personally, I think El Karkouri could play this role perfectly, but more about him another time). Playing Kish out of position has an opportunity cost of course, because it deprives a more suitable player (Ambrose?) of playing in right midfield also, thus weakening the side in not one, but two places.

Hughes didn't have his worst game for the club by any means, but I'm really at a loss to understand what he brings to the team. When we first signed him, I pictured him as a lightweight but skillful winger, a bit like Mark Robson all those years ago. However he's never really been played in this role so we are forced to evaulate his value as either a central midfielder, or a narrow wide midfielder, and sadly the jury isn't so much 'out', as ready to deliver a unanimous verdict....he isn't good enough. He's an honest player, don't get me wrong, and I'm not querying his workrate, but he just doesn't seem to do anything especially well (or badly). And frankly, that's a description that applies to most players in the Championship where I am afraid, like JJ, he belongs.

When we line up like this, we have little chance of keeping the ball and putting the opposition on the back foot. Smertin does an admirable job of harrying but he needs an outlet, either on the wings or via a central playmaker. With our main playmaker now at Spurs, and with Kish on one wing and Thomas probably told to worry more about defending than attacking in the first period, was it any wonder we went into the break behind? Young Micah Richards must have been pleased that we gave him a 45-minute induction to the Premier League before putting him under any pressure.

Talking of Richards, we are presented with another example of the benefits of combining an efficient youth policy, with a manager prepared to throw them in at the deep end to see if they can swim. Sadly at Charlton these days we have neither. One wonders whether the academy players are told on their first day at Charlton, "Lads, well done for getting this far, but don't neglect your education, because let's face it none of you will be breaking into the first team."

The second half was more promising of course, but the 25/1 odds available on Betfair for us winning at half-time indicate the size of the mountain we had built for ourselves. As it happens, those odds quickly fell to 5/1 when Darren Bent's brilliant finish brought us level, though it was ironic that it was created by El Karkouri, and not a midfielder. The momentum should now have been with us of course, but a wanton lack of concentration at the back allowed Samaras a free header and then Barton unleashed his rocket putting the game beyond us. Marcus Bent gave another indication that he will be a good player for us, with a bullet header from Kish's cross, but it would prove to be another day on which fans would be left asking more questions than receiving answers.

The final 15 minutes could have been interesting, with Curbs daring to try a triple substitution. Perhaps he has learnt that when a team is 3-2 down they have nothing, so they have nothing to lose. More interestingly perhaps, City's response was to use attack as the best form of defence, limiting us to El Karkouri's last gasp effort. Another lesson here for Charlton perhaps? You just know that if we were 3-2 up at home with a quarter-hour left, we'd be defending deeper than the Woolwich Road.

After the Liverpool result, I questioned whether we could go on from there and string some results together. Instead we resemble a drunk trying to find his way home - we are just about moving in the right direction, but for every two step forwards, there is one back and one sideways. Saturday's game at home to Brentford however is no time for toppling over, because I don't think it's an exagerration to suggest it is our biggest game for several years. Fans have been crying out for a Cup run for years now, and it has been galling to watch the likes of Southampton and even Millwall (!) reach the Cup final whilst we've been in the Premier League. With Man Utd or Liverpool going out in this round, with Arsenal already out, and the draw having been ridiculously kind to us thus far, there will simply be no excuses for us to limp out of the competition in typical fashion at this stage.

Breezy like Sunday morning

We woke on Sunday morning to blizzard conditions, with over a foot of snow expected to have fallen by the time it's all over later this afternoon. A perfect day to stay indoors and let the rip-roaring Addicks warm us up with a fighting away performance (here's hoping).

Footnote: NYC Mayor Bloomberg would not confirm whether the clean-up process had been outsourced to Newcastle City Council.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Dog-ged Determination

I'm pleased to introduce you to our new pet labrador; naturally we have named him Charlton and as you can see, we have bought him a personalised bandana because as you might imagine, he's an Addick through and through.

I asked him to name his all-time best Charlton XI, and he came up with the following, stressing the importance of the fluid 3-5-2 formation:

Graham MUTT

PAW Konchesky
Richard WOOF-us

Radostin DISH-ishev
CLAWS Jensen
Scott BARK-er
TERRIER Bullivant

Colin PAL
STRAY Treacy

Manager: KENNEL Craggs

He is keen for any suggestions for potential replacements since he is well aware that these days, it's very much a squad game.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

New York Supporters Club Grows by 500%

New York Addick is pleased to report that the number of positive identifications of Charlton fans in the city has increased by 500% in just 12 months. If this rate of growth is maintained, then extrapolation suggests that the entire New York City metropolitan area will be Charlton fans by 2014, and the whole of mainland USA by 2016.

After myself, the first positive identification was 'Andrew', a part-time model and fishmonger. Then 'Carlos' revealed his Charlton connections, proudly unveiling a Dean Kiely-inspired Charlton goalkeeper's top during a Brooklyn kickabout. There was simply no stopping the momentum now, and 'Murray' was next, an advertising animation guru working in SoHo. Sensing a revolution may be occurring, an American couple called 'Deborah and David' confessed their secret admiration for the Addicks, and unbelievably admitted they had been at Newcastle for the postponed fixture.

New York mayor Mike Bloomberg has not failed to notice the trend, agreeing (see inset) to light up the Empire State Building in Charlton colours to popular acclaim across the city. And rumours abound that the world-famous Rockerfeller Center may soon be re-named the Markkinsella Center. Across the city, street names are already being changed to recognise Charlton's recent League finishing positions eg. 11th Street, 7th Street etc..

President George W Bush, ever the opportunist, admitted he had been aproached regarding the possibility of renaming his home, the 'Red and White House.' Speaking through an interpreter, he admitted, "The possibility is a real one.....I haven't declared war on the idea, put it that way."

Peter Varney meanwhile acknowledged that the news had justified the club's confidence in stadium expansion, and may explore the possibility of launching transatlantic Valley Express services using specially adapted Boeing 747s. "We may have to charge more than a fiver," he admitted however.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Euell Inspires Charlton to Vital Win

Ok, so I'm being facetious, but there must have been gasps of disbelief around the Valley when the name of Jason Euell was uttered over the tannoy for the first time in months. Perhaps Curbs can forgive and forget after all?

Curbs swung the axe again, replacing the injured Fortune (who had been terrific until the Spurs game) and retaining the services of the underwhelming Hughes (but dropping Ambrose) to accommodate livewire Thomas. The replacement of Powell was perhaps no surprise, after all he isn't the future, but then again neither in all likelihood is Jonathan Spector.

It seems like we were a trifle fortunate to go ahead not only because Liverpool had bossed the game until then, but because the highlights showed Dudek didn't come anywhere near touching Bent. I've seen more physical contact at a monks and nuns 'singles night'. As for Young's goal, full credit to the defender for showing more attacking nous than the likes of Lisbie and Bartlett - I'd love to know what he screamed at Darren Bent to get him out of the way, "LUKEY'S BALLLLLLLLLLL"

Nonetheless we'll take it because I can't recall the last time we won a League penalty at home (a free New York Addick t-shirt to anyone who can remind me). After that we sounded pretty comfortable and with a bit of luck could have won by three or four. Given Marcus Bent hit the bar at Spurs, he's unlucky not to have three goals in four after hitting the woodwork again.

No-one ever said supporting Charlton was easy. I've been known to use statistics to help add some objectivity to an inherently subjective and emotive topic. However this season we continue to defy any rational attempt to make predictions, or if I'm frank truly assess if our cup is half-full or half-empty. Should we be optimistic because we are on course for 52 points? Or pessimistic because we're so inconsistent, and those early wins might have been an aberration? Should we be optimistic because we're six points from 6th, or pessimistic because we're seven points from 16th?

How do you explain why we can win our first five away games, and then fail to win any of the next six? And then how do you explain how we can limp through our first seven home games, only winning one, and then concede just one goal in the next six, winning four of them? I want us to win all our games of course, but it's better for business to win the home games - those season-ticket renewals forms will start hitting doormats in a couple of months.

I maintain the criticism of Curbs is valid. As I've reiterated before, we don't expect to win every game but the manner of a number of our defeats this season was unacceptable (Wigan, Man City, Everton, Villa, Blackburn x2) following on from a worrying trend from last season. No-one has ever suggested he's not a good manager, or has not been an overwhelming success for Charlton, but has merely questioned whether he was inflexible or had gone stale.

Either way, it really has been a peculiar season. I think the lack of draws (only 3 in 24) has not helped our schizophrenia - I hate draws (too much time spent in the US maybe?), but they at least keep you on an even keel.

Somewhat poetically, we played Liverpool at home last season exactly 38 games ago (a full season). That game was also midweek and the disappointing defeat that night really took the wind out of our sails, and frankly we never recovered. Let's hope the surprise win tonight has the opposite effect and hence let's see if we can build on this win against an equally inconsistent Man City.

We followed our home wins against Sunderland and West Ham with dire defeats against Wigan and Everton respectively, dashing hopes of fans who thought we had turned a corner. With the European Champions dispatched (it feels strange saying that, but let's say it proud), let's put our away form back on track as we lead towards the Brentford game, which I'm daring to describe as our most important game for years.

ps - Thanks to everyone for taking this blog past the crucial 20,000 hits mark since I put the counter on sometime in the Autumn of 2005 (that's 'the fall' to me and you). Admittedly about 6,000 of these are me checking to see how many people have hit the site but anyhow, it makes it all worthwhile.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Curbs Cartoon Sparks Outrage

Violent protests have taken place across South-East London after the publication of offensive cartoons depicting Addicks boss Alan Curbishley.

An angry mob of at least six Charlton fans describing themselves as 'Curbists' descended upon the culprit's home to throw rotten fruit, eggs and 5-year season tickets. One protester held up a banner that simply read, "Curbs is right - Bryan Hughes IS quality." Another was more prosaic, "Euell pay for this."

One Curbist, who preferred not to be named, said that any satirical depiction of the great one or criticism directed towards him was hugely offensive. "We're not a big club....transfers are like the housing market....Marcus Bent gives us flexibility....I still rate Kevin Lisbie....we don't give ourselves our chance with that defending....," he added before being handcuffed and detained under the Mental Health Act.

Another Curbist caused great offence by turning up dressed in a Millwall shirt and was immediately returned to prison.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

"I told you they were cr*p without me"

What is Danny Murphy saying to Tord Grip in the attached photo? Answers on a postcard please. The winner gets a pair of tickets to Charlton's next home game. All losing entries receive two pairs of tickets to Charlton's next home game.

I promised myself that I wouldn't imbibe any alcohol whilst watching this game, despite the fact that I was in a pub. It was 8.30am after all. But after watching the first-half, I'm not sure even the Dalai Lama could have resisted a pint if he supported Charlton (he's a Millwall fan).

I'm desperately trying to avoid hyperbole, and am writing a good few hours after the game ended in the hope of being more rational. It certainly wasn't the worst performance I'd seen and let's be honest, they only created a handful of chances (but they happened to score with most of them) whilst we did hit the bar and forced Robinson into a great save at the death. However, what obviously concerns me is that they exhibited far more quality in their passing and movement, and frankly we only came back into the game when they naturally took their foot off the gas. We lacked ideas in the final third, gave away the ball as often as usual (their third goal was 'vintage Kishishev') and our defending was dire on all three goals.

Spurs have clearly taken a big step forward this season, and to be fair they've done it in a sensible way, buying English talent and mixing it with more experienced foreigners. By my reckoning, they have spent approx net £22m since the start of 2004/5 which is more than we can afford, but frankly it's not that extravagant. Their wage bill is higher of course, but you might call it 'sensible ambition' and it is paying off currently, as much as it pains me to admit it.

Moreover, they seem to have been able to offload some of their surplus players at very generous prices, not least Simon Davies (£3.5m), Pedro Mendes (£3m), Frederic Kanoute (£4.4m) and most notably Timothee Atouba (£1.7m). Given the prices received for Paul Konchesky (England international) and Danny Murphy (England international), I do have to wonder whether Richard Murray should be renting 'The Negotiator' from the video store.

In prior seasons, we have competed with (and outperformed) the likes of Spurs by pursuing an alternative path, blending hard work and solid teamwork with a little quality, to produce a team that is more than the sum of its parts. However Charlton fans are concerned not because we are failing to win many matches (realistically just winning 2 in 5 is a reasonable return), but because those valuable attributes are often notable by their absence. We simply don't have enough quality within the squad to succeed without them.

When the new fans' director addresses the problem of our poor away support, perhaps he should just play the other board members a re-run of today's game. In recent seasons, we would turn up at away grounds knowing the fans thought it was just 'little old Charlton' and thus probably three points, whilst we all knew we'd likely get in their faces, rile the crowd and often leave with a point or three. Instead, those hardy few hundred who made the trip north of the river, knew they'd be watching defensive tactics, their team under pressure and a notable lack of self-belief.

To sum it up, in just the 12th minute of the game, Marcus Bent produced a fine sliding tackle on his own byline to deny Stephen Kelly a cross. I'm sure Curbs and Merv were saying, "great work Benty" when I suspect most fans were thinking, "what the f*ck have we spent £2.5m on a 'striker' for?" Just a few minutes later, we won two free-kicks in quick succession on the edge of their box - lo and behold, both were hammered straight into the wall. Where were the ideas? For goodness sake, just show the fans that you've actually been working on things in training instead of standing there seemingly clueless about who is even meant to be taking it. I'd rather see an original free-kick routine end up in Row Z than watch this garbage.

If there is one thing we have become the best at this season in the Premiership, it is 'providing out-of-form teams with the chance to get back on track.' First there was Wigan, and then Arsenal and now Spurs. You can almost imagine Martin Jol telling them at Fulham, "..heads up lads, it's Charlton on Sunday." It never used to be like this you know. I know we can't compete with the likes of Spurs financially in the long-term, but I believe we set our expectations too low with respect to the rest of the Premier League and we are now getting found out.

I fully respect the opinion of Curbs-backers that getting rid of him is not the best solution. However any fan denying the existence of a problem is being overly-optimistic, and no longer realistic. When dealing with inherently subjective topics, I like to draw upon statistics to flesh out an argument.

Over the course of the last 38 games (equivalent to a full season), we have taken just 42 points - not quite relegation form (though West Ham fans might disagree) but not far off. If one wants to go back 76 games (two seasons), we have accumulated a slightly healthier 93 points (46.5 points for a full season) but this is still below the 48.8 points we have averaged for the five seasons since we returned to the Premiership. Hence the concern is that a) our form is in decline, and b) it has occurred despite having a stronger squad (on paper). Curbs-backers may argue that this doesn't matter and perhaps represents a reversion to the mean, and whilst I agree to a point, I don't see much near-term prospect for improvement.

Perhaps more worryingly, and related to my argument about us previously being harder to beat, is that of the 27 games we have lost in the past two seasons, only 10 have been by a single goal. To put this in a little perspective, in our 30 total defeats in 2002/3 and 2003/4, fully half were by a single goal only. Again, the statistics don't lie and it is occurring when one would reasonably expect improvement not deterioration.

As well as drawing upon statistics, the world of investment also provides useful lessons for football. If you have owned a profitable stock for a long time, you should still ask yourself every day, "..would I buy it today at these levels?" If the answer is "no", then tax-considerations aside, it should be sold immediately. Despite the success that Curbs has brought us, I'm not sure I'm a 'buyer' of his today. Again Curbs-doubters will argue, "...if it wasn't for Curbs, we wouldn't be here now," and this is of course a truism, but it also not the point. If he is beyond criticism, then the board will never know when the right time to part company might be, unless he makes the decision for them.

Without wishing to get too technical or involved, there is another investment-related concept called 'anchoring'. It relates to the human tendency to rely too heavily on one trait or piece of information when making decisions. In Charlton's case, it is the tendency to use the 'small club' argument to defend certain decisions. Now, Charlton are certainly not a 'big club' but neither are we a 'small club' either any longer. However, perhaps more importantly, we have not only grown in an absolute sense, but a relative one also. The Premier League today looks far different to the one we first joined in 1998. That season we faced amongst others, Leeds, Derby, Leicester, Sheff Wed, Wimbledon, Notts Forest, Southampton and Coventry, all of whom we are now way ahead of in terms of finances.

And that is precisely my point....we are not 'little old Charlton' any more, we are infact one of the richest 12 or 14 clubs in the country and expectations are higher as a result, which may in part explain why our away support has disappeared (the novelty has worn off). The 'size' of a club is now mainly a function of the number of consecutive seasons spent in the Premier League (due to the Sky money), and not crowds and certainly not history. Believe it or not, of the 20 current Premier League teams, we have been promoted less recently than ten of them - it needs to be put in bold because it's a remarkable statistic.

Of course, much of this is down to Curbs, Richard Murray et al, but we need to start looking forward instead of back, and stop drawing on those tired 'David vs Goliath' analogies. The game has moved on - we successfully navigated the 'bubble years' which tore the heart out of the likes of Leeds, Forest and Derby, and we should now be well-positioned to move onto the next level.

I'm not suggesting we blow up our wage structure, but surely we can start to play more expansive football, expand our transfer market horizons (not least from abroad where we trail our peers), bring through some talented youngsters and begin to play with ambition instead of fear? By pursuing their low-risk policy, the club threatens to drive away the less-committed fans at precisely the same time it is seeking to expand the stadium.

I don't believe a big stadium is a pre-requisite for competing anyhow, particularly with fully 12 teams averaging less than 35,000 and Sky providing the bulk of revenues. It's hard not to draw upon the example of Bolton in this regard, another club surrounded by bigger rivals, yet able to carve out a forward-looking strategy which never had 'small club' at its core, from which it is now receiving dividends.

So then we return to the Curbs issue again. Is he the right man to grasp the opportunity that I believe exists? Given that our League season is effectively already over, one could argue that changing the guard now makes some sense. Then again, Curbs now has 15 games (and a vital FA Cup game) to prove that he is able to improve things and stick it to us doubters.

Next season's Premier League is likely to include Reading, Sheff Utd, Fulham, WBA, Wigan, West Ham, Bolton, Blackburn, Villa, Everton, 'Boro plus another via the play-offs - what is 'little old Charlton' so frightened of?

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Earning Our Spurs

In the midst of the furore about the Murphy transfer, it was easy to forget there is a vital game between the clubs this Sunday. I don't detect any special 'edge' however because a) Murphy isn't playing, and b) you can't really fault Tottenham's approach. However it is clearly vital for both clubs, not least Spurs whose Champions League hopes will disappear quicker than Sol Campbell unless they re-find their form.

It is also an important game for us too with us now down to 14th place. Admittedly we are still a tidy ten points clear of relegation but we are only five points above hapless 'Boro in 17th, not a position I would want us to take up in the final weeks of the season with 'Brum and Pompey fighting for their lives.

Our record at White Hart Lane is exceptional, and we have not lost there since March 1990. It is hard to explain why we should have such a good record there, yet we always struggle say at Villa a club with a similar history, similar form in recent years and a similarly lukewarm atmosphere. I had always assumed it was just down to random factors and not a trend to read too much into, but maybe there is more to it than that? Either way, as a North-East Londoner I would rather have bragging rights over Spurs than any other side.

Clearly Spurs have improved markedly this season and I admire their attempts to monopolise any available young English talent. However the key word is 'available' because I suspect they didn't face much competition in the 'race' for Jermaine Jenas' signature for example. Moreover, although it's hard to deny they are stronger than us right now, I don't really envy many of their players, perhaps only Robinson, King, Defoe and Davids aside. Let's recall also that Charlton sat in 4th place at a similar juncture just two seasons ago and we not only faded then, but have gone backwards ever since.

When Curbs mentioned that our average final League position had been higher than Tottenham's over recent seasons, I went to double-check his accuracy. However here it is in clear terms:

2004/5 Charlton: 11th Spurs: 9th
2003/4 Charlton: 7th Spurs: 14th
2002/3 Charlton: 12th Spurs: 10th
2001/2 Charlton: 14th Spurs: 9th
2000/1 Charlton: 9th Spurs: 12th
TOTAL Charlton: 53 Spurs: 54

Nice one Curbs (not that I didn't trust you of course). I am not going to claim that Charlton are a 'bigger club' because the facts don't back it up, nor that we have more 'potential', but if crowds and away support was all that counted (Murphy's words, not mine) then players would be leaving the likes of Charlton, Wigan and Blackburn in droves to join Leeds. Spurs may have found some near-term stability (albeit by accident after the Santini debacle), but they have put their fans through over a decade of humiliating underachievement whilst watching their neighbours Arsenal go from strength-to-strength.

I rather like Martin Jol however, much to my chagrin, and I naturally admire his decision to continually drop Jermaine Defoe which is not only amusing in of itself, but it should by rights open the way for Darren Bent to take his seat on the plane to Germany. Jol will be concerned at his side's recent form, namely a failure to score in their last three League games punctuated by an embarrassing Cup defeat at Leicester. He will rightly see us as providing a good opportunity to get back on track, and that is what concerns me.

When the fixture-planners decided to opt for 1.30pm kick-offs on Sundays this season, I suspect they didn't think of the US-based fans who have to crawl out of bed at some ungodly hour to find a suitably dingy pub to watch it in. At least I have an hour's advantage over Chicago Addick. If we play to our strengths, avoid the silly individual errors and believe in ourselves, it might be a chance to see us win away for the first time since Oct 22 which feels like an awfully long time ago (because it was).

Friday, February 03, 2006

Premiere League

Curbs tends to play a straight bat with the media, but he has really risen to the occasion with his quotes to Sky Sports News. "...I'd imagine his social diary will be that much fuller because he's a Spurs player as opposed to a Charlton one....Perhaps they get invited to more premieres than our players do....As long as Martin Jol doesn't leave him out for any reason, it'll be a perfect move."

Great stuff. Admittedly it doesn't excuse Curbs for implying Murphy wasn't unsettled over the past few weeks, but full credit to him for putting the boot in. Given that Murphy was married to a TV pin-up (with all the inevitable PR bullsh*t) before he joined Charlton, it's a shame we didn't take the trouble to check out his character in greater detail before signing him. I'm sure a quick call to Gerard Houllier or Rafa Benitez might have been informative.

Anyhow judging by the photo above, it's pretty clear to me whose got the better deal in that marriage. Maybe Danny is great fun at parties, but he's definitely no looker. At least he won't have to worry what she might be up to during the World Cup as he'll be at home to keep an eye on her.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Murray Speaks Out

I hesitate to criticise Richard Murray. After all, his stewardship of the club has been exemplary not only in an absolute sense, but also a relative one (we should wake up every morning and thank the Lord that our club is not run by Freddie Shepherd or Malcolm Glazer). He seems approachable, he tends to make good decisions and he always gives a positive impression of the club in public. But I would have thought that as a successful businessman, he might have realised that his statement on the club's website raised more questions than it answered.

There are really two issues here: 1. Why was the club forced into a corner by Murphy (or more likely, his agent) and thus potentially obliged to accept a below-market price literally at the last minute? and, 2. Why did the club fail to not only bring in a replacement for Murphy, but fail to reinforce the squad at all, Bent aside?

I'm prepared to accept his explanations for 2. although even here he is beginning to test the patience of some of the country's most docile fans. However, his explanation for 1. namely, "Danny Murphy signed a contract in August 2004 to June 30th, 2008, and I am bitterly disappointed that he has decided he no longer wishes to play his football at Charlton,"..."The deal was finally signed off by the Premier League at 10 minutes to midnight on transfer deadline night, and that creates a number of difficulties in trying to bring anyone in..." simply doesn't add up.

Judging from Murphy's general demeanour, I suspect he regretted his move to Charlton as early as 2004. However, let's assume that he began to fall out with Curbs after his childish sending-off against Arsenal, and that the situation worsened materially after he was not picked for the squad against Birmingham on 16 Jan. It should surely have been apparent that he was unhappy at this juncture, and assuming Curbs' man-management skills did not stretch far enough to talk him around (and not for the first time), this gave the club fully two weeks to negotiate a deal that benefitted the club, and not just Murphy.

By Murray's own admission, Murphy had over two years left on his contract. Hence the transfer fee received is frankly scandalous, not least in light of deals achieved in the same week for the likes of Earnshaw, Akinbiyi and Brown. If the fee was not right, he should have been left to lanquish in the reserves until he saw the error of his ways. Instead the club has been mugged - I can't fault Spurs; I only wish we were as opportunistic when required.

Moreover, Murray ought to have at least acknowledged that the signing of Murphy was a mistake to begin with. He was never a 'Charlton player' to begin with - his comments upon leaving Liverpool (and their subsequent success) tells you all you need to know about his inflated ego. Admittedly if I was earning over £1m pa and was married to Joanna Taylor, I'd also be a bit cocky, but then again I wouldn't expect to be signed by a down-to-earth club like Charlton. As I said in a previous post, it would be nice to think that we'd one day learn what possessed the club to splash out £5m in the space of a few days for Murphy and Jeffers. I'm assuming clubs take reference checks on players? Maybe that's too much to ask.

The only silver-lining might lie in the possibility that Curbs might realise that Darren Ambrose is most beneficially utilised through the centre, and not out-wide. As has been well-documented elsewhere, Murphy's disinterest in tackling back forced us to either play 4-5-1 or an imperfect 4-4-2. Given that Ambrose has as much talent as Murphy, but plenty more pace and twice the heart (two times zero is still zero, but you get my drift) then on those occasions when we play 4-5-1, we could be stronger not weaker if Ambrose takes over the Murphy role. Moreover, now that Curbs need not feel 'obliged' to play his sulking 'star' in a 4-4-2, then two of Holland/Smertin/Kish flanked by Romm and Thomas might conceivably be a useful option here also.

I think the prospect of an FA Cup 5th Round tie at home to Brentford has served to appease fans who might conceivably be angrier and not only about the Murphy debacle, but the fact that our League season is effectively over given the lack of reinforcements. As far as that tie is concerned, there can be no room for excuses because our season and Curbs' future rests upon it.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Murphy: What REALLY Annoys Me

Murphy is now a Spurs player so to hell with him. But what really aggrieves me is that I'm down in Florida for a conference and as usual brought an old t-shirt in case I choose to go running at some point. Unfortunately the t-shirt I brought happens to be the one that says 'MURPHY - 13' on the back. I suspect very few of the locals will give much grief about it but it's the principle really.

Looks like I will have to go running in my suit.

Bitter about Murphy

In many transfer situations, one set of fans are made to feel like mugs. The late, late transfer of Danny Murphy to Spurs may be one of those rare occasions where both sets of fans should feel like mugs. For a talented, yet limited player, Murphy doesn't half have some chutzpah.

Although other bloggers have pointed out his hypocrisy, it is worth re-examining in detail, and let's not begin at Charlton but in Liverpool. Upon departing the Scousers who have since clearly missed his contribution, he intelligently pointed out, "...Liverpool have lost some camaraderie with more English players leaving and other players coming in..." "...I wanted to come to a club that was perhaps not so cosmopolitan..."

Yes good point, I did note a distinct lack of cameraderie on that famous night in Istanbul last year. That night when heads dropped at 3-0 down (oh no, sorry that's just your style Danny). And as for cosmopolitan (I assume he was referring to the adjective, and not his wife's reading material), that famous all-English side known as Spurs with that cheeky Eastender Martin Jol in charge should fit his needs a little better now I trust.

It's fair to say that my dislike for Spurs knows few bounds, but if their fans give him the treatment they deserve, their club would go up hugely in my estimations. I suspect they won't forget his comments when he signed for us, nor his baiting of their fans when he scored against them last March. And when they realise that the slowest midfield in the country just got a little slower, and that he only plays for 75 minutes, this move will hopefully mark the beginning of the end of a career of a 'big time Charlie' who never actually hit the big time.

As for Charlton's role in this sorry affair, they come out of it nearly as badly as Murphy. We'll probably never know the reasons for his sudden disappearance from the squad, but we deserve an explanation in light of Curbishley's now ridiculous comments about him. Perhaps if the England job isn't available, Curbs could become Iraq's new 'Comical Ali', the P.R. spokesman without credibility. As Curbs confidently told us all on 21 Jan, "...I'll be glad for Danny's sake when it goes away and it will only go away when the transfer window closes.." "....everyone keeps asking him if he is leaving and I gave him the answer that he's not. It's as simple as that."

The irony of course is that no-one believed Curbs (a bit like Comical Ali infact). Of course a team like Charlton can afford to keep it's best-paid player out of a 16-man squad for vital matches. We've been treated like mugs as much as the Spurs fans and we deserve explanations. At best we've been misled in the club's best interests; at worst we've been lied to.

I fully expect the club's explanation, assuming they bother to give us one, will say that if Charlton had admitted to other clubs that he was unsettled, his transfer value would have fallen. This is a bit like saying that you shouldn't put a 'For Sale' sign outside your house because people will know you're selling it. Moreover, Murphy has been sold for 'up to £2m' (less than we paid 18 months ago) and a few minutes before the deadline, hardly the result of hard-fought behind-the-scenes negotiations during the whole of January. The stench of the whole affair has wafted all the way over here in Palm Beach (where I'm meant to feel relaxed but I'm writing a furious blog).

The Parker situation in 2003 was different in my view. We got a fair price (with hindsight), the player not only gave 100% in every game for us, but he clearly improved us as a team also and he belongs on a bigger stage. His subsequent 'replacement' (my emphasis) often played like he couldn't care, didn't improve the team's fortunes and the club botched a transfer that should have been conducted in full openness. Indeed the signings of Murphy and Jeffers were now clearly terrible errors for a club of limited means. It's a shame that the club isn't forced to open its archives like the government, because decades hence I dare say the scouting file on the pair would be about a page-long and with character references notable by their absence.

So here we are on Feb 1st, with the transfer window closed for the season and let's evaluate our newly reinforced squad. Assuming Deano was sold for £500k, we've raised about £2.5m and we have signed........Marcus Bent. We didn't manage to offload Euell, we're stuck with Lisbie and Jeffers (not hugely surprising that one), and there's no new centre-back or left-back. No disprespect to Bent who may grow into his valuation but this really couldn't be an awful lot worse. Just to put it in perspective, our opponents tonight managed to persuade Norwich to part with £3.5m for equally unsettled Robert Earnshaw (that's a Murphy, a Kiely and a Konchesky to you and me).

Given that Murphy's debut could conceivably be against us, it would be nice to think Curbs could just pin his photo in the dressing room as motivation enough, but I don't think he's capable of it any longer. Regardless of how we finish the season (and pessimism surely now reigns), Curbs remains a legend but it's time for a fresh start.