Saturday, April 29, 2006

Thanks for the Memories

Well it was a day we knew would eventually come, and although it still came as a bit of a shock, my first emotions were gratitude for what has been achieved, then a sense of excitement that a new chapter is about to be opened in our proud history.

To have turned a struggling club without a stadium into a stable Premiership outfit is an incredible achievement that may never be matched. Charlton fans are not used to turnover at the managerial level, and Steve Gritt aside, the bulk of my supporting years have seen just two men at the helm. Hence it is not surprising that it feels a little numb.

Curbs performed his miracles with the consistent support of a fantastic Board who now have a hugely important decision to make, and I trust them to make the right one. Back in 1991, the decision to appoint Curbishley and Gritt was borne mainly out of necessity, and whilst clearly a risk then too, to be honest the club had little to lose because it had very little to begin with. Today's Charlton, thanks of course to Curbishley, are in pretty good shape and hence the risks are commensurately higher. Having said that, I have stated before that I am ready to embrace uncertainty, and to quote a former US President, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

It would be interesting to know the full story behind his decision. I simply don't believe he suddenly sprung it upon Richard Murray on Friday, and his recent implicit comments in interviews were clearly a ruse to prepare the fans for today's announcement.

I had always been wary of the idea that Curbs would effectively get an open-ended contract until only he decided it was time to move on. In my view, our performances this season have not been acceptable and it would be reassuring to think that Murray at least hinted as much to him, without threatening the unthinkable. By leaving now, albeit at the end of an anti-climatic season, Curbs can hold his head up high, the fans had their chance to say thanks and the new manager has something to work with. It's 'win-win' all round. Leaving mid-season to join another club would have led to resentment and he didn't deserve that.

Watching another somnolent performance, it is near-impossible to escape the conclusion that Curbs has indeed taken us as far as he can, and credit to him for realising it also. It is vital that a new manager be appointed as quickly as possible because there is a vital restructuring job to be done in the summer. Several players have been in the comfort zone for too long under Curbs, and it's about time some of them were told the future of the club does not lay at their feet any longer.

I have it on fairly good authority that Curbs will be the next Newcastle boss, and he deserves the chance to take on a club with greater resources and a more passionate fanbase. The England job would have been a step too far at this stage but if he succeeds elsewhere, he will find the media more supportive of his claims.

In my view there is no shortage of interesting potential candidates, particularly young ambitious managers threatening to perform their own miracles at clubs that Charlton used to consider its peers. Examples would include Mike Newell, Gary Johnson, Phil Parkinson, Martin Allen, Adrian Boothroyd, Kevin Blackwell, Steve Tilson and Billy Davies.

Personally I think the club should try to do whatever it takes to get Steve Coppell or Paul Jewell to the Valley, but both are backed by wealthy Chairmen that can probably out-negotiate us. Some interesting out-of-work options would include Mick McCarthy and Alex McLeish. I would not be supportive of the appointment of the likes of George Burley, Peter Taylor or Glenn Hoddle whose records are flawed, and whose hunger for the challenge would be questionable at best. The least appropriate type of appointment would be someone like George Graham unless appointed as mentor of one of the young coaches listed above.

However the most realistic and appropriate candidate may be plying his trade just a few miles down the road at Crystal Palace - should he fail to win the play-offs, I would be very comfortable with the appointment of Iain Dowie. He combines passion and intelligence, as well as a good record of performing with limited resources. Nigel Worthington falls into the same category, and his teams play great football.

In short, there is a rich pool of interesting candidates and I am excited about the future. I'm surprised that an intelligent man like Richard Murray would have publicly suggested so early that they are not considering a foreign manager given the success that most have achieved in this country. There are risks of course, but as Spurs fans will tell you, for every Christian Gross, there is a Martin Jol.

But before we think about the future, it's only appropriate to say 'thank you Curbs' for a wonderful fifteen years that made me so proud to say I'm a Charlton fan. That perhaps is the single greatest achievement of an honest, decent and successful man.

Friday, April 28, 2006

A Gentleman and a Scolari

The imminent announcement that Luiz Felipe Scolari will take over as England coach after the World Cup has left Curbs and his fellow English peers in the lurch. Although there is still a near 50% chance of his recruitment falling through (according to Betfair), the sudden spate of news reports are clearly the smoke amidst the fire.

Unlike fellow US-based blogger Chicago Addick, I never really felt Curbs had a genuine chance, but was simply being used as a pawn to appease those in the media clamouring for a English manager. Reasons range from the blindingly obvious (no experience of European football), to the somewhat more obscure (not slick enough with the media). Indeed with regard to the latter point, his ability to have given several interviews in recent weeks about the England job and without having said anything of great import nor depth was a little odd to say the least. On this occasion at least, silence would have been golden.

From my standpoint, those very qualities that have served Charlton so well under Curbs' stewardship are perhaps very different from those required to succeed at international level. His inherent conservativeness and preference for solid pros over primadonnas has been just fine for Charlton (until this season perhaps) but of little use when trying to explain to the biggest egos in the game how to conquer Brazil or France.

So where does that leave Curbs? In many ways he has been a victim of his own success. By turning Charlton into a solid midtable Premiership outfit, he has by definition limited the number of clubs he could join which would represent a clear 'step up.' This is particularly relevant given the biggest clubs in the country have achieved such success with foreign managers. In truth, it probably just leaves the likes of Spurs and Newcastle as clearly 'bigger' clubs, which naturally leaves one wondering if Curbs may soon be househunting in Northumbria in light of his implicit comments about it possibly being time to move on.

Indeed with Scolari likely to follow another foreigner at the England helm, and with none of the top six in today's Premiership managed by Englishmen, it has to be asked why we are not producing top-level coaches. I believe the last English manager to win the League title was none other than Howard Wilkinson at Leeds in 1992.

It is notable that none of the top three non-British coaches in the English game (Wenger, Mourinho, Benitez) had much of a playing career, if any. Instead each are highly intelligent self-made men who command respect from what they say and do, and not from their medal collection.

Judging from the barbed comments coming from some former players regarding the involvement of the likes of Sir Clive Woodward in their precious sport, it is clear that most of them would like to retain the 'old boys' network rather than dare to challenge their long-held views. One even dared to claim that appointing Scolari was a mistake because he didn't speak very good English, which suggests they haven't heard Curbs interviewed in a while.

I don't have any obvious answers to this question, but suspect part of it must lie in that old boys network that creates a self-reinforcing cycle via media pundits and their cronies. This need not necessarily be a bad thing except that English footballers are notoriously unintelligent generally. I recently came across Espen Baardsen (former Spurs/Watford goalkeeper) in a business context, and his new boss in the financial world explained that he knew it was time to leave football (he is only 28) when George Graham knocked his Financial Times out of his hands and accused him of reading a 'poof's paper.'

Unfortunately as Kevin Keegan found out, the classic English rabble-rousing style can only take you so far. Hence is it really any surprise that the FA are inclined again to seek a thoughtful foreign coach?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Back from the Health Farm

A four-day trip to Vegas is probably the antithesis of a trip to a health farm, though perhaps for the first time in my life I was relatively sensible. Any time spent there is a constant battle with the temptation to drink, eat and gamble too much, and the bright entrepreneurs that have developed the city do little to dissuade you.

I had high expectations for Vegas having not been since 1990 when few of the giant new luxury super-hotels had been completed. I had read a lot about the city's transition from a seedy desert bowl part-controlled by the Mob to one of the world's great destinations, with a speculative property boom to match.

Steve Wynn himself is credited with having kickstarted the 1990s Vegas 'revolution' with the development of the Mirage hotel, which was the first of several themed giant hotels. His new self-titled creation has however taken the concept of Vegas luxury to a totally new level, and unlike essentially all of its peers, it is not themed and as a result it oozes class throughout. As nice as the themed Bellagio or Venetian hotels may be (amongst others), anyone who has travelled much will find them tacky, and tacky isn't generally what you pay $500 a night for. Naturally we stayed in New York New York, which has been described as the largest piece of 'pop art' in the world, and as much as I wanted to hate it, the exterior in particular is undeniably impressive.

Vegas has done a reasonable job of steering its focus away from gambling and towards a broad range of entertainment options ranging from world-class restaurants to Broadway-imported shows. However Vegas is a gambling mecca that would simply have remained a desert outpost without its casinos and that was the one factor that played on my mind the whole trip as I did my best to enjoy it.

As much as the likes of Wynn may try to build resorts that are as luxurious as any in the world (the Wynn hotel was the most expensive ever built), you can't help thinking that without the ability to gamble, they'd be no reason to be there. Why would you opt for the Wynn over an equally pricey and luxurious resort in the South of France or the Caribbean where the views are of beaches and not building sites? Other than its hotels, Vegas has few redeeming features if any.

Having said all of that, gambling is fun of course. I was encouraged to learn that all the casinos widely distribute the extent of their 'edge' over the punter, which ranges from 0.5-1.5% for Blackjack to 20%+ for Keno. Nonetheless it still amazed me how seriously some punters take games like Roulette which not only have an obvious 'house edge' but which have no skill factor whatsoever. Given that the casinos are so transparent, I no longer felt sorry for anyone that turned up in Vegas with a real cashflow problem they were hoping to solve. As they say in Latin, 'caveat emptor.'

Conversely it was much to my chagrin it was only towards the end of the trip that I discovered the ease which one can count cards in a single deck blackjack game, particularly if you play head-to-head with the dealer. In short, once the number of cards revealed from 2-7 materially outnumber those from 10 and above, it's time to load up your bet.

We also discovered another neat trick. If you play roulette (house edge approx 5%) and stick to the minimum $10 bets per spin, then you should expect to lose say $5 assuming ten spins per hour. Given that cocktail waitresses will happily ply punters with free drinks, and assuming three drinks per hour, you are essentially being paid to play and to drink. Should I ever end up as a tramp, you'll find me in Vegas. Cheers.

So all in all, Vegas was a slight disappointment. Maybe it took it all too seriously - maybe the idea is to drop your principles and taste at the airport, have a great time, and then to pick them up again on your way home. Unfortunately that was easier said than done given that the city's focus on life's various vices inevitably attracts the types of chancers, wannabees and bullshitters that one tends to spend one's life trying to avoid. Viva Las Vegas, but a few days was enough.

ps - Charlton naturally got well-beaten by Bolton whilst I was away - if ever there was a 'sucker bet' then backing Charlton away from home right now is it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Osei Can You See the dawn's early light. What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight's last gleaming.

Oh sorry, you caught me humming the US national anthem there. Ironic really given that it was our sole American representative that forced Curbs to do what he finds exceptionally uncomfortable, namely to dare to develop our own talent instead of Manchester United's.

Clearly I don't wish Jonathan Spector ill, he seems a nice enough kid, but let's hope this forced substitution and the subsequent turnaround in performance persuades Curbs that occasionally risks are worth taking. He even showed enough cavalier intent to use up his third substitution at half-time. Perhaps he's finally realising that when you have nothing to defend in a game, it's worthwhile risking a heavier defeat by improving your chances of a win (or a draw). It's just a shame the realisation has come in mid-April.

I'm delighted that Darren Bent scored a cracker as his form ran the risk of tailing off at an inopportune time given his World Cup ambitions. He came in for some unwarranted stick after the 'Boro game with fans failing to give Schwarzer credit for two fine saves after Bent had done what he nearly always does ie. shoot on target.

The middle of the Premiership has become ridiculously compressed with ten teams separated by just twelve points, none of whom can be described as anything other than mediocre or inconsistent. More importantly, we are now 18 points above the relegation zone, a veritable chasm whose size suggests the club has little to fear from being a little less conservative next season. It's the combination of the mediocrity around us, and the superiority over the teams below us that continues to make me believe there are rich rewards available if the club can show a little more ambition in its tactics and transfer policies.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Out of Touch

I said to myself I wouldn't bother listening to the Fulham game if Curbs didn't give at least one of the youngsters his full debut (probably Sankofa). I eventually succumbed during the second half, and as I write we are 2-1 down and frankly if we come back to win 3-2 in a glorious comeback I couldn't care less.

After the disappointment of Wednesday night, who would you imagine should be the obvious candidates for being dropped? Hreidarsson? Spector surely? Erm no, Rommedahl, Powell and Hughes. And who replaced them? Ambrose (fair enough), Euell (does he really figure in Curbs' long-term plans?) and Sorondo (probably on his way in the summer).

The various bloggers don't pick the team, and nor do the various fans who populate the message boards, but for the most part they seem to agree that there is little to lose in throwing some of the kids into the deep end to see if they can swim. I think most even accept that they'd rather finish lower in the table, but see the team freshened up in such a way. Indeed Frankie Valley, invariably the voice of reason on such matters, echoed my thoughts entirely. The photo of Osei Sankofa was a nice touch, reminding us what he looks like.

Now, I clearly don't watch the reserves, but if Sankofa, Gislason and Ashton are good enough to be regulars there, they must be worth a try in the first team? After all, the reserve team occasionally wins some away games. Moreover, and here surely is the most important point, they could hardly do any worse than the teams that Curbs does put out away from home? I make it 174 days without a win (and counting).

We have an intriguing home game on Monday. Pompey are desperate for points and their vociferous fans will no doubt create a great atmosphere. And what might just give the home fans something to grasp onto to help stick one up bent Harry and his team? Yes, a youngster making his full debut.

ps - we're still 2-1 down.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Cup Runneth Over

After six weeks of hope, expectation, fear and conjecture since the 6th Round draw was made, our Cup run is over, and if we're frank deservedly so.

Maybe things could have been different if Bent had managed to convert his pair of early chances, but if a team keeps digging holes for itself, eventually it gets buried.

I almost found myself overcome with dewy-eyed nostalgia as our defence refound its pre-Xmas form, but it would be unfair not to pay some credit to Viduka and Hasselbaink who are the epitome of the mantra that 'class is permanent.' They may have a combined age of 64, but they caused us problems all evening and unfortunately for poor Jonathan Spector, his late injury-induced departure may have been an implicit mercy plea.

The League table suggests we are a better team than 'Boro, or at least a more consistent one, but in truth they had the ability to find another gear whereas we just cruised along in the same one. Unfortunately at times we resemble little more than a kick 'n rush team, given that whatever combination of midfielders Curbs selects, they are simply unable to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and drive the team on.

The second half was a sorry affair for us which suggested the weight of expectation that the build-up to this game had generated was simply too heavy to carry. Despite showing the character to bounce back twice with timely goals, there was only that very early promising spell which suggested to me we could win this tie. Ironically it may have been those very early chances that gave 'Boro the kick up the backside they needed.

It's difficult to take many positives from such an anti-climatic evening, but I'll express one here even though it might appear paradoxical. Had we won this evening, thus extending this seemingly never-ending dream about Cup finals and European football, it would in truth have allowed the team's obvious flaws to be papered over when they need in all honesty to be exposed and corrected. Indeed if one is willing to step back and look at our FA Cup run in black and white (easier to do when you're thousands of miles away from the excitement admittedly), in truth it existed solely of wins over lower-league opposition.

Curbs has intimated in interviews that it may be time to move on regardless of whether the FA come in for him, and it's hard for me to escape the conclusion that after 15 glorious years that the time is right. Now that our season is effectively over, it is an opportune time for the pros and cons of such a move to be debated. It seems to be a decision between the 'certainty' that Curbs represents, and the 'uncertainty' of change.

Countless behavioural studies have shown that decisions made under uncertainty often lead to irrational outcomes because people overweight the value of certainty; this is known as 'status quo bias.' As a fan of 1970s rock, even Curbs should appreciate the irony of this term. Without wishing to get too technical, even if the club made a change now, it would then run the risk of 'outcome bias' when judging the success or failure of that decision. In short (stay with me here), even if the decision to make a managerial change led for example to relegation, it does not imply the club was necessarily wrong to have made it.

Now I don't know about you, but I've reached the point with Charlton where I'm ready to embrace uncertainty and no longer fear it, a far cry from say the mid-to-late 1990s when the downside risks to the club were too great to contemplate change.

The irony of course is that the club could very well finish 7th this season if it can somehow find wins at Fulham and Bolton, but I maintain that this should not alter the fact that some changes are required if only to freshen up a club that has clearly gone stale. In my view, as a starter, the club would be better-served giving a handful of youngsters their debuts in these final games (even if the results go awry) than continue to limp on with the likes of Bartlett and Spector who don't represent the future of this club.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


Should Charlton triumph at the Riverside tomorrow night, fans will have just 24 hours to acquire the higher degree required to understand the ticket details
for the semi-final.

Just in case things weren't crystal clear, I'll repeat them here: "...the ticket office will process applications from any season ticket holder who does not live in any of the following postcodes - DA, London SE, BR,ME,TN (but not including TN31-40),CR, CM, London E, London EC, EN, HA, IG, KT, London N, London NW, RH, RM, SM, SS, London SW, TW, UB, London W, London WC and any other Greater London postcodes - from 9am on Monday, April 17th. Sufficient tickets will be ring fenced for the supporters affected by this."

However, unless I've misunderstood the details, those fans who live outside the postcodes listed above will still be expected to attend the Valley in person to collect their tickets. I'm glad that I've decided to miss a potential semi-final because that would have set up an interesting telephone call, "..yes sir, I understand you are a season-ticket holder and Valley Gold member based in America but you'll still have to come down here in person."

I find it astonishing in this day and age that customers (after all that is what we are) are expected to queue up like Cold War era Russians at a soup kitchen. Why is it you can purchase airline tickets online three hours before your flight but you can't buy football tickets nine days before the game?

I understand that Man City have entered the 21st Century and fans enter the stadium using a card rather than a flimsy ticket book, and wouldn't Charlton benefit more generally from the extra information that is contained therein? For example, wouldn't it be nice to know how often individual fans purchase merchandise so that marketing can be directed accordingly? And wouldn't it be nice for fans to know they could inadvertently mislay their card and have it replaced rather than the current system which encourages fans to include their season ticket on their home insurance policy? I appreciate this would not be of much use for games at a neutral ground, but it would be a progressive step nonetheless.

Moreover the club is "...not prepared to take the risk of tickets not arriving in the post, particularly given the short timescales involved and the inevitable backlog of post there will be after Easter." But what if the fans are prepared to take the risk of tickets not arriving? Does Reg not trust us to sufficiently weigh up the risk versus the obvious aggravation of having to waste Good Friday in the West Stand car park?

I'm well-aware that in the euphoria of Operation Riverside, it's a little churlish to be critical given the credits the club have rightly built up, but that doesn't make these silly arrangements acceptable should they joyously come into fruition at 10pm on Weds night.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Fans Plead for Mercy

This game was shown in full albeit delayed by five hours in the US, and I had the additional obstacle of having to attend a 1st birthday party whilst attempting to avoid the result. I was confident the birthday boy wouldn't blab, but one of the guests was a bit too keen on English 'soccer' for my liking. "Who's your team?" he asked, "Spurs" I replied, "Great win for you today," he exclaimed, "Yes it was" I responded, delighted that my quick thinking had saved me.

Now having actually endured the game, I'm not so sure my deceit actually improved my wellbeing. Six goalless draws in nine competitive games - as The Jam might have said, "That's Entertainment." By my calculations, it's now been three hours since we created a clear-cut chance. Anyone who is considering not voting for Darren Bent as Player of the Year needs to watch a re-run of this game and fantasise about what our season might have looked like without him.

When Premier League apologists proclaim it to be the 'best League in the world', what exactly do they mean? Sure it's well-followed in England, but then football is a popular sport on a populous island, and frankly what else would the fans do on a Saturday afternoon? Go to the beach?

It is usually towards Asia that they point when highlighting its unique appeal. However is it really the Premier League that is keenly followed, or is it actually just Man Utd/Arsenal/Chelsea/Liverpool, all of whom happen to play in it? Are we really supposed to believe that millions of Asians are staying up until the early hours to watch Charlton vs Everton or Portsmouth vs Blackburn? And if they are, it can only be because they are suffering from acute insomnia, for which our game at least would have provided a non-prescription cure.

Despite having lived in America for two years now, I'm still an intelligent enough sports fan to appreciate that low-scoring games can be as interesting as high-scoring ones. And yes, I suppose both defences today did indeed do their jobs efficiently and efficaciously. But was there a single player on the field who demonstrated some flair, or any sign that he could soar above the mediocrity, slow the game down and stamp his authority? I concede that Jerome Thomas showed a few glimpses, but despite all his cabaret, there was nothing productive to show for it.

It's not the fault of Charlton or Everton - they are 11th and 10th respectively by merit. It's the fault of the skewed income distribution (both within the Premier League, and between the Premier League and the rest) which engenders a 'safety first' mentality that emphasises hard work and commitment over glamour and panache. And with the consumer being squeezed from several angles, how long before they too begin to baulk at paying premier prices for the 'Premier' League?

Friday, April 07, 2006

A Good Day to Bury Bad News?

With the club rightly wallowing in compliments following the success of Operation Riverside, an old cynic like myself couldn't help wondering if yesterday was a good day to 'bury bad news' to a coin a Labour party phrase.

The departure of Talal El Karkouri came out of the blue, and whilst a transfer away from the club in the summer may not have been a huge surprise, the timing of it seems rather odd. Indeed, with Luke Young out injured and our midfield already decimated, it's hard to believe we couldn't have benefitted from having the varied options the Moroccan offers. Indeed fellow blogger Cynic Athletic may well have received an email from the player himself along the same lines.

There were rumours flying around in January that Curbs had fallen out with both El Karkouri and Deano, and although the former started (and excelled) against Man City, he never made the first eleven again. Meanwhile, Deano has since made it clear that his departure may not have been entirely amicable as was first portrayed by the club.

El Karkouri was a popular player amongst the fans, although he was prone to the occasional rush of blood to the head. Indeed his late error in the Carling Cup game against Blackburn can't have helped his cause as he tried to break back into the side after injury. I've commented here before (though no-one seems to agree with me) that he would make an ideal defensive central midfielder in a 4-5-1, thanks to his combative nature, pace and none too shabby passing ability. All in all, for just a million quid, he represented decent value.

Our form since the New Year has been reasonable, but certainly not outstanding (4 wins out of 14 League games) and hence in light of the departures of Deano, Murphy, Smertin and now El Karkouri, one has to hope Curbs has a masterplan in mind for the summer. Indeed with most of this season's youth team now working over the road at Makro, and the existing squad containing plenty of ageing deadwood, the club has little choice but to blow its well-managed transfer budget.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Player of the Year

It's Player of the Year time again and surely there can only be one winner aka Darren Bent. Of course there have been games where he's been somewhat anonymous but he's surely proved he's a world class finisher when given the opportunity, and his general demeanour, work-rate and attitude suggest a maturity beyond his years.

However, it's fair to assume that young Darren won't garner every vote cast, so New York Addick will attempt to assess his competition. In my view, runner-up should go to Thomas Myhre whose superb performances albeit only since Xmas, can be proved in purely statistical terms: during our first 16 games (during which Thomas played no part), we conceded 26 goals; during the subsequent 16 games (in which Thomas played a full part), we conceded just 16 goals.

Other likely vote-winners will include Hermann Hreidarsson and Chris Perry. The Herminator had a dodgy period around Xmas but he's generally been a solid and combative defender - indeed, the only disappointment has been his lack of goals given he is clearly the main target at set-pieces. Perry meanwhile has played fewer games but he usually sums up the qualities I always seek in a defender: you never notice him!

Luke Young has had another consistent season and fully justified his run in the England side. Meanwhile Radostin Kishishev will attract votes from those who value his undoubted effort despite his lack of quality. Chris Powell has proved his early-season detractors wrong with a series of performances that defy his age, and surely a coaching role beckons for this most loyal servant.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this season will be the wanton lack of votes cast for surely our three most talented first-teamers, namely Darren Ambrose, Jerome Thomas and Dennis Rommedahl. Each has been hampered by injuries, whilst Curbs' conservative team selection inevitably sees them omitted on a regular basis. However, surely the future of the club lies at the feet of them and their ilk, and one has to hope the entertainment factor might return next season.

Many players have played part-time roles, often in an efficient way (eg. Jonathan Spector, Shaun Bartlett, Matt Holland, Bryan Hughes, Jay Bothroyd, Stefan Andersen, Jonathan Fortune), but none have been able to make a big enough impact to trouble the vote-counters. Of course we lost two key and often inspired players in Danny Murphy and Alexei Smertin, and they both would certainly have attracted considerable voting interest had they not concluded their futures lay elsewhere. Whilst the departure of Smertin was somewhat understandable, one has to hope Murphy might be having second thoughts as he runs his wife's newspaper column through the spell-checker.

So there you have it. "The votes from the New York jury are: 1st. Darren Bent, 2nd Thomas Myhre, 3rd Hermann Hreidarsson"

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

New challenge for Varney

Following the overwhelming success of Operation Riverside, UK defence secretary John Reid has enlisted the help of Addicks chief Peter Varney to bring home British troops from Iraq. "It's a logistical nightmare," admitted Reid, "...but with Varney in charge, anything is possible."

Although initial reports were sketchy, Varney intends to utilise a combination of military planes, Chinook helicopters and luxury coaches. "The war's gone deep into extra time," mused Varney, "'s time to bring the boys home."

The initial batch of coaches will leave as follows:

12.15pm Fallujah (Green Man)

12.45pm Baghdad Central (White Hart)

1.00pm Baghdad North (Coach 'n Horses)

1.15pm Basra (Little Chef)

1.30pm Najaf East (Ikea)

1.45pm Mosul (The Jester)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Successful Operation

Given that we have perhaps the worst away support in the Premiership, I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that we look like selling out our 4,800 allocation for the 'Boro cup replay.

Readers of this blog will know I'm not exactly shy when it comes to criticising the club, but it is precisely at times like this that one remembers why Charlton is so special. I think the aspect that really hammered it home for me was this: "...and at 3am, upon arrival in King's Cross, supporters will be directed to 20 free coaches to return to The Valley at 3.30am."

The club is not laying on completely free travel in the strictest sense because the gate receipts on the night will be shared, and thus every ticket sold represents a rebate back to the club. Nonetheless it takes a certain type of club to care enough to go to this amount of trouble and I salute them from this side of the pond.

Unfortunately some of the club's community spiritedness can be a little cringeworthy, and whoever decided in their infinite wisdom to print, "PROUD TO SAY I WAS THERE" on the special t-shirts might be made accountable if we get beat 3-0. As a fan desperate to see us in an FA Cup semi-final, I sincerely hope there won't be 4,800 t-shirts going the same way as my '13 - DANNY MURPHY' one.

Whichever mode of transport is chosen, it's guaranteed to be an exceptionally long day, and let's face it, Teeside is not the type of place that makes you consider staying the night and exploring the local chemicals works.

I guess the strangest aspect for me at least, is the enormous disparity between the number of fans we will take to 'Boro, and our usual away following. When West Ham took several thousand to Man City on a Monday night, it wasn't that surprising because they are pretty well supported anyhow.

In my view the club ought to use this unique opportunity to canvas the travelling fans on what encouraged them to make this trip and why they shun the majority of League games. All of the usual factors that are put forward (TV coverage, cost, distance, midweek night) are all relevant here also to some degree. I appreciate that it is an important game and the organised travel removes some hassle, but is it enough to explain why we would take perhaps only 250 for an equivalent League game? It is both hugely encouraging and a little baffling at the same time.

My personal view is that once it becomes apparent that another season of midtable mediocrity beckons, Premier League fixtures that require any aggravation to attend hold little appeal to the rational fan. Take our upcoming game at Bolton: The club could offer fans free limo service to the airport and a private jet to a local airfield, and I still don't think they'd be inundated with enquiries.

Despite the FA's best efforts to destroy it, the FA Cup still maintains enough intrigue and romance to attract the most armchair-oriented fan aboard the coaches, trains and planes. Meanwhile the Premier League today holds about as much romance as a blind date with Jo Brand (and it's probably more expensive too).

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Guile-less Draw

Another hard-fought point safely in the bag, but we are still no closer to finding that elusive first away win in six months.

Thankfully the defensive frailties which threatened to send our season into freefall before Xmas have been well and truly solved, thanks to Curbs settling on the solid 'little 'n large' partnership of Perry/Hreidarsson in front of the impressive Myhre.

Unfortunately for any neutrals watching Sky's coverage however, these solid defensive displays are accompanied by a continued wanton lack of midfield creativity thus resulting in a fairly horrid spectacle.

Sadly matches like this one do little justice to claims that this is the 'best League in the world', but are increasingly regular occurrences in this uncompetitive and bifurcated competition.

This goalless draw was our fifth in eleven Premiership games, and we have now failed to score in five of our last seven. No successful team ever lacked a solid defensive spine so we are perhaps halfway there, but we are desperate for an injection of midfield guile. We didn't create a single clear-cut chance and you have to feel sorry for Darren Bent who must have cast a rueful eye at Sven in the main stand, and hoped the Swede could at least appreciate the hefty burden he carries in a lumbering side.

For the first time in I don't know how long, Curbs actually began the game with all the players in their best positions. Bryan Hughes began on the left wing which is frankly where he belonged all along, whilst Kish was returned to his central midfield berth where he performed admirably. Kish's right midfield berth was taken up by Rommedahl who invariably teased us but lacked a final product. It remains to be seen whether the Dane will still be at the Valley next season, but if so somehow the coaching staff need to find a way to maximise his undoubted talents.

Holland meanwhile put in an honest day's work but like Kish, he doesn't have the pace to get behind defences. As if to demonstrate what we are missing, the mercurial Benayoun got beyond the last man early in the second-half but shot wide when he probably ought to have scored. Up front the Bents toiled away, and whilst I felt Marcus had a reasonable game, the transfer fee is looking increasingly extravagant given the missing links elsewhere.

And then just as it looked like we were getting on top and threatening to nick a one-nil win, Curbs made a substitution which handed the initiative straight back to his former employers. One has to be careful not to judge tactical switches too harshly because we only get the benefit of witnessing a single outcome from infinite possible outcomes, but switching Kish and Hughes (in order to accommodate Thomas) for the final quarter-hour ensured the inefficacy of the former and the anonymity of the latter. Luckily Kish retained his defensive nous despite being moved from his best position, and made two crucial late interventions. I can usually understand the reasoning for most of Curbs' tactics, even if I don't agree with them, but this one felt like mere tinkering during a game in which we were comfortable.

A three-nil win would have seen us leapfrog the Hammers and Wigan into a lofty 8th place, which just emphasises the League's mediocrity. With fixtures against both Bolton and Blackburn to come, it might have given us an outside chance of UEFA Cup qualification via the League but it wasn't to be.

West Ham meanwhile continue to fade along with their promoted counterparts Wigan. Despite all of the hyperbole about their respective travails this season, neither is assured of reaching 52 points, the very total that we achieved during our first season back in the top flight in 2000/2001. With the benefit of five further seasons of hindsight, the achievement during that campaign deserves the credit that I am don't recall it received at the time.