Friday, June 30, 2006

Charlton to become 5-a-side team

New manager Ian Dowie leads opening training session

At a hastily-arranged press conference, Charlton today confirmed that they had resigned from the Premiership with immediate effect in order to join the Greenwich & District Five-A-Side League (Division 4).

The departure of Chris Powell to Watford, the oft-rumoured sale of Luke Young to West Ham and the injury sustained by the club's only signing Cory Gibbs will not leave the Addicks with enough players to fulfil their fixtures.

Charlton will join nine other teams in the new League and new manager Iain Dowie confirmed he is confident of at least a 'top three' finish. They will open their 2006/07 campaign at home to Robert's Rockets, before facing tricky away ties at Barclays Bank (Bexleyheath) and the Fat Bastards.

Saudi WAGs wow the media

With their team out of the tournament having failed to progress from tricky Group H, it was time for the Saudi WAGs to engage in a little 'oneup-womanship' with their English counterparts in Baden-Baden.

"You could see Colleen and Posh were taken aback," said one onlooker, "...they don't like to be threatened on what they clearly view as 'their patch."

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Top Shop confirmed that up to twenty of their shop assistants were awol, believed to be in Germany, but that business was unaffected.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Canadian Grand Prix

Last year I went to my first golf tournament (USPGA) and today I was fortunate enough to attend the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal, my first. The two events were for me both similar at one level, and utterly different at another.

The similarity? Both are clearly dreadful spectator sports - the TV viewer has the best seat in the house. The difference? It is hard to put into words how noisy the Grand Prix was - for some reason I didn't expect it (golf conversely is as peaceful a day out as can be imagined).

For two hours, you cannot speak (or at least get yourself heard) - it was clear that motor racing was an ideal venue for a date with a girl you like to look at, but who doesn't have much to say for herself (maybe that's why the track was full of gorgeous women with nothing between the ears).

I ended up quite enjoying the noise (with the worst of it earplugged out of course). It certainly appeals to a man's base instincts - it became rather hypnotic in the end, and being sat just shy of a bend ensured we heard the crisp screech of gears being changed down into it approximately a thousand times in 71 laps.

However, it is virtually impossible to work out what is actually happening in the race, despite the fact that we were fortunate enough to have TVs in close proximity. And then just when you had managed to work out that Alonso's blue and yellow car was the leader, something weird would happen like the appearance of a 'safety car' or else a pit stop would see a driver drop several places in the field only in some cases to reappear behind their team compatriot in an identical-looking car.

Ultimately it was an experience I was glad to have had, but it's definitely a sport where I find myself 'ticking the box' rather than eagerly awaiting ticket details for Indianapolis or Silverstone. It certainly doesn't lack passionate supporters however judging from the hordes of fans clad in team merchandise, though I suspect very few claimed they were "Red Bull fans because my father and his father was" given the team was only founded in 2004.

Our group was accompanied by a pair of passionate racing fans who were on hand to answer any questions that we had. The liveliest debate surrounded the extent to which the spectacle is truly a 'sport' or not. I came to the conclusion that it could only partly claim this title - it's really about engineering, though the advantage that say the Renault and Ferrari drivers have is only worthwhile if their drivers are willing to push their cars (and themselves) to the limit. It's probably not a sensible idea to suggest to any Brazilians for example that Ayrton Senna was not a sportman.

It would be nice to know whether Fernando Alonso is truly the best driver (as opposed to the recipient of the joint best car), but of course if they all were forced to drive identical machines, the sport wouldn't exist in the first place. Hence from my standpoint, the sport can surely only hold long-term appeal to engineering and motor fanatics for whom the real 'spectacle' is the fusion of technological advancement with drivers brave enough to realise it - indeed, the muted response to the chequered flag suggested that who ultimately won the race wasn't really the point.

What is clear however is that Bernie Ecclestone et al have done an amazing job of branding Formula One, and attracting the type of sponsors that fulfil the sport's wealthy fans' desires. The flipside of course was that the city was filled with enough wannabees, never-weres and trust fund recipients to ensure that New York Addick's proprietary 'W*nker Coefficient' reached an extremely high level of 3.43 (implies 3.43 times more w*nkers than would usually be expected from a random sample). Such levels are usually only recorded at Spurs home games and the Last Night of the Proms.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Daily Express, Mon Oct 2nd

MON 2 OCT, 2006

Charlton chief Richard Murray last night gave Iain Dowie the dreaded 'vote of confidence' after Saturday's 3-0 home defeat left them slumped at the bottom of the Premiership with just a solitary point.

Two goals from Thierry Henry and a late strike from old boy Darren Bent condemned the Addicks to their sixth defeat in seven, leaving the memory of their brave 2-2 midweek draw with Manchester United increasingly distant.

"Iain was the best man for the job back in May, and he remains that today - he has the full confidence of the Board," mused Murray, though he would have been concerned about the boos that rung around the Valley at the weekend. Murray refused to comment however on the incredible on-field bust-up between Dowie and Bryan Hughes that saw the midfielder sporting a black eye as he left the stadium.

"When we saw the fixture list, we knew we would have to hit the ground running and it hasn't quite happened," admitted Murray, "...losing Bent on deadline day obviously didn't help but we're confident that Kevin Lisbie can fill his boots admirably."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


German police are becoming increasingly concerned about the whereabouts of a young British teenager Theo Walcott, who was last seen at an England football training session on Monday afternoon.

Walcott is described as 5 foot 6, with dark hair, brown eyes, a swarthy complexion and is thought to be 'very quick' (though his manager Sven Goran Eriksson could not confirm this).

He was expected to show up in Cologne at 8.01pm and 9.24pm to replace Messrs. Owen and Rooney respectively, but was nowhere to be seen. A potential sighting by an eye-witness has been dismissed by police as being Jermaine Jenas.

His girlfriend Melanie Slade was said last night to be extremely concerned (about the impact it might have on her future earnings).

Monday, June 19, 2006

Not Quite The Full Monty

About thirty miles north of New York in Mamaroneck, Colin Montgomerie last night blew perhaps his finest chance to claim a major, taking a tragic double-bogey when a par would have won him the US Open (though to be fair he didn't know it at the time).

Montgomerie has had ongoing battles with American galleries (who call him Mrs Doubtfire), but he has won them over in recent years with a charm offensive which has never seemed entirely natural, but then again it wasn't quite clear to me what he had done to offend them to begin with.

Montgomerie fired a perfect drive down the 18th, and with Phil Mickelson in some trouble behind and playing erratically generally, he must have known that a straightforward iron and two putts could well have seen him claim an emotional first Major. Firstly he demonstrated uncertainty by changing clubs seconds beforehand, and then he inexplicably hit an approach shot so awful that he could only exclaim, "..what kind of shot is that?"

Although terribly sad for Monty, it was a perfect example of why golf remains for me perhaps the ultimate pressure sport. He must have hit 7-irons dead straight and true so many thousands of times in tournaments and in practice, and yet when he needed just one more he was found wanting. Thankfully the smirking Mickelson's own 18th hole cock-up allowed an unlikely outsider (Geoff Ogilvy) to triumph.

Golf is special for so many reasons, but it is one of the very few sports where your opponent(s) can do absolutely nothing to prevent you from beating them. This trait, in combination with the fact that the ball is stationary, ensures that the natural instincts upon which great sportsmen rely in other sports are largely absent in golf, replaced by an ongoing mental battle which sadly Monty lost. Similarly is it any wonder that great impulsive footballers can go to pieces in a penalty shoot-out, a situation which resembles golf with its binary outcomes and stationary ball?

Although golf is a sport I enjoy playing as well as watching, there is another sport dear to my heart which requires similar mental fortitude yet which receives generally negative and stereotypical press. Yes, of course I'm referring to darts, and like golf it is one of the few sports where performance would likely be improved by imbibing alcohol. I suspect this shared trait is not mere coincidence.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wanted for Treason

No game plan, no ideas, and most importantly no accountability. When the FA in their infinite wisdom permitted Sven to stay on for the World Cup (but no longer) they effectively gave him a 'free option' to impose his perverse ideas on the team.

After about an hour of humiliation, I found myself urging Trinidad to score in the hope that Sven might do the decent thing and surprise the football world by resigning mid-tournament. As it was, the country of fifty million eventually overcame the country of one million, and we limp into the next round from surely the weakest group.

At least he had the wisdom to realise that adding a bit of pace and width in the shape of Downing and especially Lennon might actually begin to open the game up. Playing Joe Cole on the left makes the job of the right-back too simple (just show him the outside). As I mentioned in my last post, we have a habit of overestimating the abilities of the likes of Cole and Lampard because their teammates provide the pace that they so clearly lack. Put them alongside the lumbering Beckham and the deep-lying Gerrard and we are easy to defend against.

Listening to the Baddiel & Skinner podcasts this week, it was notable that Daniel Finkelstein (author of the 'Fink Tank' column in The Times) had concluded that statistically Peter Crouch was the 311th 'most' effective player in the Premiership last season. My first reaction was 'I didn't think he'd be that high', but then Finkelstein confirmed what we all knew....Darren Bent should be in Germany. Indeed, by their quantitative estimations, Bent was the most productive English striker last season (not just in terms of goals), and amazingly even more so than Rooney. Still, as Basil Fawlty would have said to Sven, " know best dear."

Meanwhile the pathetic performance of Owen and the notable absence of Walcott makes you wonder again how Sven can justify his squad selection. Before the tournament we were told confidently that Walcott's pace could terrify defenders, so what type of match situation was Sven waiting for? Just about the only silver lining (other than Rooney's introduction) is the consecutive clean sheets though the defence will be more severely tested by Ecuador, or more likely Germany.

I've never really understood where this idea that we were genuine 'second favourites' for the tournament came from. Surely it wasn't our prior record in major tournaments, or our stop-start emergence from another easy qualifying group? We are too one-dimensional and too predictable - Rooney aside, we have no loose cannon or spark.

Elsewhere thankfully as an overall spectacle the likes of Spain, Ecuador, and Czech Republic are reminding us what the 'beautiful game' really means.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Labour Party

An excellent article in today's Financial Times (subscription required) examines the degree to which the football labour market is truly global, yet its product market is mainly domestically-oriented. Although the article did not do so, I believe it could have gone on to examine whether this may help to explain why the England team tends to flatter to deceive.

Visa requirements aside, football skills are extremely mobile. There are not many high-paying jobs in the world where one can excel in a foreign country without in theory speaking a word of the local language for example. And like any efficient labour market, the best 'workers' migrate to the countries where their skills will be best paid for. In the case of the football industry, this particularly includes England, Spain, and Italy, and to a lesser extent France, Portugal, Germany and Holland. Champions League runners-up Arsenal may be based in Islington and be followed almost entirely by English fans, but their team is truly global. According to the article, the accounting firm Deloitte calculated that just £28m was paid in transfer fees by the Premiership clubs to their lower league counterparts, compared to fully £500m paid net to foreign clubs.

In theory, this flow of talent into the English game should have reinforced the Premiership's reputation as the 'greatest League in the world,' and yet at the start of next season just four teams will have any realistic chance of claiming the title. Some of the best players in the world do indeed play in England, they just all end up at the same subset of clubs. The situation is no rosier in Spain or Italy: since 1945, Real Madrid have won La Liga 27 times and Barcelona 17 times, whilst Juventus have won Serie A 22 times and AC Milan 14 times. The article even compares this lack of competitiveness with the National Football League (NFL) here in the US which uses paycaps and income redistribution to ensure a more even playing field.

It is not surprising therefore that the G14 clubs want to extend the Champions League even further to 48 clubs. Surprisingly maybe most domestic fans don't concur with this view - it is easier to procure a ticket for Chelsea or Man Utd if the opposition is Benfica rather than Bolton. However the big clubs are looking further afield than their locally-based fans - it is not inconceivable that in less than a generation, admission prices may be zero in order to ensure a full house and an exciting atmosphere for the billions watching on TV in Asia and beyond. And of course those fans would rather watch the best European (and even global) clubs go head-to-head every weekend than worry about petty local rivalries in a country they might never visit.

it is pretty clear who will be the biggest losers if these trends continue: medium-sized clubs like Charlton, and perhaps somewhat paradoxically the national sides of the countries that host the most lucrative Leagues (or more pertinently, clubs). Watching England's sluggish and uninspiring performance against Paraguay was worrying enough, but the more dynamic performances from their key rivals (notably Holland and Czech Republic) added to my view that the St George's flag-waving masses are all prone to 'positive outcome bias' (the tendency to overestimate the probability of good things happening).

If you are an English footballer good enough to play for your national side, then it is highly likely that you will be able to earn an extremely comfortable living playing regularly for a Premiership club (unless of course your name is Theo Walcott). Hence unless you had a particular inclination to explore foreign living, it is clearly more attractive to the typical intellectually-challenged English footballer to keep their bling at home. It is notable that just three of England's squad have had any experience of playing abroad at any time (and one of those is Owen Hargreaves). Meanwhile hot favourites Brazil have just three players who don't ply their trade abroad.

Playing abroad must surely improve you as a person and a footballer. It exposes you to different styles of play and different training techniques, whilst forcing you to mature and blend into a foreign lifestyle. This has to be a benefit when playing in the World Cup. I wonder if the over-paid, but underperforming Italian and Spanish homebirds suffer from the same malaise?

Likewise, I am concerned that the country's belief that we are genuine second favourites for the tournament stems less from an impartial appraisal of our team's qualities, but more from an overestimation of our key players based upon the world class (and foreign) teammates they play alongside each week in the affluent Premiership.

I personally believe we only have two genuinely world-class players (Rooney and Gerrard), and just a handful of very good ones around them. Unfortunately the the whole is not made greater than the sum-of-the-parts because of Sven's lack of 'value added'. I don't mean to pick on Frank Lampard or Joe Cole because they are capable players, but would we be feting them as potential members of a World Cup-winning midfield if they weren't playing alongside the likes of the outstanding Robben, the tenacious Makelele or the energetic Essien?

Perhaps in light of the mobile labour force, we can't have a high-quality League and a successful national side? It's just fortunate that I at least don't care too much about the latter.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Dental Health Act

"Wherever you are in the world, people instantly recognise the face of Michael Beckham", or so claimed the commentator on this morning's game on ABC.

Here then is a picture of a Dr Michael Beckham, whom I assume he was referring to, a dentist from Iowa who claims confidently that, "In his twenty two years of private practice, he has taken countless hours of continuing education which has allowed him and his staff to deliver superior patient care in all areas of general dentistry including orthodontics, endodontics, implants and TMJ treatment."

Later in the same game, England's right-sided midfielder suddenly became known instead as 'Beckett', perhaps a distant relative of the Irish writer Samuel? Either way, my biggest fears about the American commentators ruining the amazing spectacle that is the World Cup were confirmed.

Here are a few more gems:

"There's Beckett, married of course to Victoria Posh."

"It's only an hour and a half from England to Frankfurt - it must feel like a home game for those English fans."

"If Crouch gets himself sent off, England will be down to ten men."

Luckily the hilarity of the commentary made up for the fact that the game itself was so soporific. I appreciate that the result is key but if we perform like that against a more accomplished side, we will get found out for sure. The problem seems to be the wanton lack of pace in the side when Owen is not playing - the likes of Cole, Lampard and Beckham are all fine players in their own way, but pacy they are certainly not. Rooney would obviously bring a new dimension, but on the evidence of today's performance we are certainly not worthy second favourites, with or without the wunderkind.

Pleasingly the Trinidad/Sweden game was enormously entertaining and the shock result throws Group B wide open though England should surely have enough guile to break down Trinidad to ensure qualification with at least six points.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hey Teacher! Leave Those Kids A Loan

As discussed in a previous post, The Times hit the newsstands of New York this morning, and I hope you'll forgive me a feeling of childish excitement. It was certainly a slightly surreal experience being sat on the train reading the very newspaper I'd have been reading on the same commute in London.

I've no desire to make Chicago Addick slightly jealous, but the sheer size of the British expat community in New York (not to mention countless tourists) permits a critical mass of Brit-oriented businesses to flourish.

In the morning I can devour my Marmite-laden toast washed down with fully brewed (and readily available) PG Tips tea whilst watching the BBC News. On the way to work I can pick up my copy of The Times, and at lunchtime I can read it whilst enjoying a bite at Pret A Manger. At tea-time I can pop down to Tea and Sympathy for scones, and later I can grab an hour of Sky Sports News upon returning home from work. I can then contemplate heading out for a late-night meal at the British-owned Brick Lane Curry House, before grabbing a cheeky pre-bedtime pint at the Red Lion pub.

Now perhaps, the final piece of the jigsaw has arrived, at least for those British expats with kids, in the shape of the new British International School due to open in Sept 06. The new school promises to instil the discipline of the National Curriculum and all for just $26,000 pa (a typical price for private schooling in the city).

Admittedly a reasonable question to ask would be, "Why not just move back to the UK?" Good question, and probably we will someday but in the meantime we feel like we can have the best of Britain but without the crap weather, the chavs and the cancelled trains. Although travel does indeed broaden the mind, you can take someone out of Britain but ultimately you can't truly do the opposite. It is somewhat surprising to us that virtually all of our friends in New York are fellow British expats, but we concluded that we wouldn't think it strange if say French expats hung around with French expats. We may speak the same language but it's human nature to deviate back at some levels to things that remind you of home, and it really hit home to me when I picked up a mere newspaper this morning.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Murphy costs Charlton fair-play place

The petulant behaviour of Tottenham's 9th choice midfielder Danny Murphy has been blamed for Charlton's sensational eviction from UEFA's fair-play draw.

After the film-lover's red card for dissent on Boxing Day, I recall turning to my Dad and muttering, "I hope that doesn't cost us 0.016 or more in the race for the Fair Play coefficient." And to think that our midfield hardmen Holland and Hughes resisted their natural instincts to kick lumps out of the opposition in the final games of the season in order to avoid our booking count rising.

I've now got two return tickets to Almaty, Kazakhstan that will go to waste unless any readers want to use them. I'll even throw in two nights' accommodation at Hotel du Borat.