Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Christian Fundamentalist

What were the club thinking when they told the Home Office that Christian Bolanos was a 'left winger'? Everybody knows that you would have to be an out-and-out South American right winger to remain in the UK, as General Pinochet would have told him (and he was even injured).

So perhaps our most exciting pre-season transfer has fallen through, though the news of the signing of Souleymane Diawara for five million Euros has softened the blow somewhat. Not only is he another player with a daft first name (we could well begin a game this season with a back four called Osei, Gonzalo, Souleymane and Djimi), but he is more importantly a big strong centre-back who might just shore up a defence that only looked somewhat solid when compatriot Amdy Faye moved into it on Saturday. Not surprisingly I've never seen Diawara play but there's every chance my next New York taxi driver will be from Senegal so I'll ask him for his views.

In fairness, despite the Bolanos disappointment, the club has probably exceeded expectations on the transfer front with a day or so still to go. That elusive creative midfielder is still notable by his absence although based upon the early promising signs from Andy Reid, he could well be used in a fairly central free role since he is clearly too slow to be a genuine wideman.

It seems likely that Jason Euell will be heading to Middlesbrough meanwhile, and a rather unhappy period in his career will thus come to an end. This is a strange one if you think about it; Curbs confirmed that Charlton rejected an Aug 2005 bid of £2.5m from Crystal Palace, who were then managed by.....Iain Dowie. Euell meanwhile has hardly played since, Dowie has since become his manager anyhow and has now decided he doesn't rate him after all. It does make you wonder whether managers really do know an awful lot about the players they try to sign.

The signing of Euell for a club record in 2001 was classic top-of-the-market stuff, and whilst he pitched in with some useful goals, he was never good enough either as a striker nor a midfielder to justify the price tag, even in those heady days. However his Charlton career was marred by personal tragedy, and despite his failings as a player, he always gave 100% and we should wish him well.

Valley of Dreams? In your dreams

On Sunday I received the following email notification from Amazon.com: "We wanted to let you know that there is a delay with some items in the order you placed on August 09 2006.." And what you might ask might have been contained in the said order? Well, Alan Curbishley's eagerly awaited autobiography of course.

My decision to remove the Amazon.com advert on my blog a couple of weeks ago is now clearly fully justified by recent events. In truth, I removed it because my quarterly update from the company revealed my blog hadn't received enough 'click-throughs' to warrant even the $10 minimum they are prepared to shell out. Moreover, I realised it was probably time to end my exciting synergistic commercial relationship with the world's largest internet retailer when I bought a new Ipod on Amazon and forgot to click to the site through my own blog. I'm not sure what the opposite of insider trading is, but that's probably what it constitutes.

Yesterday I completed the New York City half-marathon and as a result my legs are shot to bits, a perfect occasion surely to have sat back, relaxed and read Curbs' memoirs cover-to-cover. For those of you that were eagerly cheering me on in a subliminal sense, I completed the race in a personal best of 1:57:57 to finish ahead of 59% of the competitors (if living in the US has taught me anything, it's to accentuate the positive). My time neatly equates to an exact pace of 9.00 minutes per mile, ironic given that's my lucky number. Unfortunately I got very badly boxed coming out of Central Park and couldn't make my way through the crowds to claim a famous victory, conceding it instead to Tom Nyariki of Kenya whose lucky number must be 4.41.

I'm not sure what has caused the unexpected delay in delivery, but surely it can't be due to unprecedented demand from Wichita, Kansas to Des Moines, Iowa for Valley of Dreams? Perhaps the title has confused the Yanks and led them to believe it's yet another 'get rich quick' guide to fulfiling the 'American Dream' (perhaps by moving to Silicon Valley). Or perhaps the incredible productivity of Curbishley's publicist may have awoken Uncle Sam to Charlton's amazing story. As has been documented elsewhere, you can't turn on the TV or radio without hearing his dulcet monotones.

I jest of course; he deserves his day in the limelight and as expected he comes over every bit as honest and genuine as he did as our manager. I was particularly touched by the insight that he was out running when he was delighted to hear that Darren Bent had scored at West Ham, (particularly as I was out running myself when he told me). He also has a likeable habit of saying 'we' instead of 'Charlton'.

Early reviews of Valley of Dreams suggest it's an interesting read (albeit mainly for Charlton fans) but not an earth-shattering synopsis of his outstanding achievements. Perhaps this shouldn't be a surprise; after all most of the joy of sport is in the moment, not in a historical record of what occurred. To paraphrase Elvis Costello's quote about music, perhaps writing about sport is like dancing about architecture.

The best sports books I've read (and in fairness I tend to avoid them) have been written by those who were not great achievers, the memoirs of Tony Cascarino or Simon Hughes spring to mind for example. The reason surely is that in their weaknesses, one can see a little bit of ourselves. Reading the memoirs of say Tiger Woods would only be of mild ex post interest, and not because it would almost certainly be bland. Let's just say that I'd rather watch Woods, but read about John Daly.

At the very least, my hopes for Valley of Dreams rest upon garnering a few interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes that throw colour upon the club. In truth however I'd love to get some further insight into what really made him such a successful manager which is something a simple chronicle is unlikely to achieve. It would hardly be proprietary information after all, since the 'secret sauce' is probably in the execution not the formulation. How did he manage to turn average players into over-achievers? What were the key elements of his teamtalks? What traits did he seek in new signings? These are the questions I'd love to have answered but I fear I will be left disappointed when Amazon finally deliver on their promise.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Worth the Wait

I had to wait fully seven hours after kick-off before this game was shown in full on Setanta USA. We have just moved into our new apartment and hence I approached the unpacking in the style of Scott Parker (enthusiastically moving from box to box), whilst studiously avoiding the result.

Given that I had plenty of time to ponder it, I reckon that was about as long as I've ever spent without knowing a Charlton result. Ironic really, given that I got to see it in the end in full.

Knowing that a Charlton match has finished but not yet knowing the result puts me in a sort of 'never never' land. You know you're still existing because it hurts when you pinch yourself, but it's difficult to immerse oneself in the usual trivialities of life. I recall being told that I was being 'disrespectful' to the Brazilian rainforest and its inhabitants in 2000 when I managed to get enough BBC World Service reception to learn (just 15 minutes after full-time) that Charlton had beaten Middlesbrough 1-0 thanks to a Matty Svensson header. How can you be expected to give a monkeys about the monkeys in such circumstances?

As usual I was the only person in the pub interested in the game; it's almost like a throwback to those Full Members Cup ties at Selhurst Park when the attendance didn't reach four-figures. The downside of course is that it's hard to persuade the landlord to let you hear the commentary and hence I was forced to watch what turned out to be a heroic performance to a soundtrack initially of the Beach Boys, Eagles and Foreigner.

Ok, I'll begin by stating the bleedin' obvious: today's performance was immense. In terms of pure guts and an absolute determination to salvage a victory in adversity, this could be compared in my view with the 4-3 win at Villa Park in 1999 for example. Until today I thought that some of Dowie's management speak was dangerously close to David Brent's, but no longer. I even had tears in my eyes in the closing stages, and it wasn't just because those tearjerkers par extraordinaire Coldplay suddenly boomed from the jukebox.

How could you pick a man-of-the-match from Carson, El Karkouri, Faye, Kishishev or Bent for example? And frankly you could make a case for any of their teammates too (Hreidarsson aside, more about him later). I'll even declare a 7-day moratorium on any criticism of Bryan Hughes (though he should have been sacrificed not Ambrose).

Football, like sport in general, is an emotional rollercoaster because you don't know the outcome in advance (unless it's the Tour de France). So if I'm brutally honest, when Faye accidentally clipped the ankles of Diouf which surely meant another defeat was on the cards, I wasn't espousing the heroics of the team, but bemoaning the idiocy of one of its members.

I've been able to watch the Hreidarsson elbow several times from several angles, and I wish Dowie would take a leaf from Stuart Pearce's book and stop trying to defend the indefensible. It's pretty obvious what occurred - Davies gave El Karkouri a whack a couple of minutes earlier, and the Herminator decided to take out some Icelandic retribution, despite the fact that his Morroccan counterpart had dusted himself down, smiled and got on with it. They should dock him two weeks wages and distribute a pound to all the spectators. Davies is a pain in the backside to play against but his style is hardly subtle; surely the last piece of advice Dowie gave to his defenders would have been, "..don't get riled..." On another day, Hreidarsson's lunacy could have cost us the game.

Fortunately on this day, a perceived injustice merely served to fire us up, particularly after Carson's penalty save at which point you sensed the players began to believe. I'll probably wind up a few readers now just like Davies winds up opposition defenders, but our subsequent penalty was an outrageous dive in my view. I don't think Darren Bent is a 'natural' diver, more an opportunistic one, and what better time to test a referee than when you know he will be aware he owed us a decision?

The problem with Mike Dean is that he is one of those referees who only has 95% conviction in his decisions, and thus that nagging 5% plays on his mind thereafter, impacting his decisions. It's only human nature of course, but it's a terrible trait for an adjudicator. The Pakistani furore this week about Darrell Hair completely missed the point - they should show Inzamam al-Haq a video of today's game to see whether he would prefer an umpire without the courage of his convictions. The outcome is even more farcical.

As soon as Dean had completed his 'levelling up' by sending off Davies (and yes I thought it was soft) we looked comfortable, and Bent's nicely taken second sealed a wonderful victory, and so tonight the world seems a better place suddenly. Is that Arsenal below us in the table?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Left Behind the Pack?

Just 18 hours after the Addicks vital home game against Bolton on Saturday, I too will be running the risk of being 'left behind the pack' when I compete in the inaugural New York City Half Marathon. To put the task of running 13.1 miles into perspective, it's about as far as Matt Holland runs in between touches of the football.

At the ungodly hour of 6.30am I will join 9,999 other running fanatics (including Olympic marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi) for a loop of beautiful Central Park (see inset) before heading down 7th Avenue to Times Square, then west along 42nd Street before the painful five mile jaunt to Battery Park at the end of Manhattan island.

There are few better cities in the world to run in than New York, but rarely do enthusiasts get the opportunity to take over the streets themselves, usually the preserve of lunatic taxi drivers and crazed Chinese delivery men. Admittedly until Rudy Giuliani cleaned up the city, tourists were regularly seen running through Times Square pursued by an assortment of pimps, drug dealers and muggers, but that was a long time before I properly got to know this great metropolis. And although I wouldn't suggest rushing to Ladbrokes to have a wager on me winning the race, I can't think of many sporting occasions other than these giant running events where in theory (and strictly in practice too), the world's best are competing with Joe Public at the same time and under the exact same rules.

I was tempted to wear my new Charlton shirt in the unlikely event that some fellow Addicks are in town and suitably jetlagged to be out and about at the crack of dawn, but my experience of wearing replica shirts on hot days suggests I could well spontaneously combust around about the 7 mile marker. The race is being shown on ABC television too, which might afford me the opportunity to earn some much sought after publicity for the club, but then again unless the commentator is heard saying, "...and now we leave the leaders to take a look at the exciting race developing for 4,568th place.." then this may just be a pipe dream.

Although I had enjoyed running on and off for much of my life, it only really became a true passion bordering on addiction in recent years, to the extent that I genuinely can't imagine life without it. I can wholeheartedly recommend it to anybody since these days there aren't many activities that men can undertake that are accessible, good for you, that relieve stress, and that most importantly don't make you go blind.

It would be nice to think I will be running with an extra spring in my step having seen the Addicks notch up their first win of the season (the match will be shown in full here albeit with a 7-hour delay). Unfortunately our opponents are Bolton, a team against which we have a poor record especially at home. There is nothing subtle about their approach; Kevin Davies acts as a permanent moving target for all manner of crosses, long balls, throw-ins and corners. Around him more cultured players like Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Vaz Te and El Hadji Diouf are ready to pounce on any knock-downs and half-chances.

With Traore likely to return to the line-up to complete a back four of strapping six-footers, we needn't fear an aerial onslaught and if we can only get the ball down for once and actually play some football, we will have a chance of exploiting their own weak spots. Although I accept Dowie's options in midfield are limited with all or some of Reid, Thomas and Bolanos unavailable, if he continues to persist with Holland and Hughes we run the severe risk of being unable to keep the ball and thus forcing the back four to defend slightly north of the Woolwich Road. If Reid is fit, then playing him in place of Hughes is a 'no brainer' whilst surely Kishishev deserves to start in place of Holland following two poor performances.

I wasn't too far wrong with my 2-0 prediction versus Man Utd, and unfortunately I haven't seen enough tactical nous yet from Dowie in either team selection or during matches themselves to suggest we will get anything from this game either. Bolton will be seething after failing to keep a 100% record at Fulham, and I suggest this frustration will be enough to secure a victory; Charlton 1 (Ambrose), Bolton 2 (Nolan, Davies).

Thursday, August 24, 2006


For thirty minutes or so, we looked pretty comfortable tonight. We were still useless going forward (our only half-chance offered by Ebra's slip) but United offered little more, a free-kick aside.

But then for the final quarter-hour of the opening period, they began to open us up at will with Giggs and Ronaldo going mightily close and you just knew it was going to be a case of 'when' and not 'if' they would score, and sadly fortune didn't favour Fortune on 49 minutes and the game was over as a contest. Thereafter, United were pure class, with the brilliant Ronaldo invariably at the centre of things. The booing died down pretty quickly - perhaps the fans realise a fabulous talent when they see one, and also began to appreciate his 'crime' hardly made him into a Portuguese Ian Huntley.

I've talked before about whether Charlton's cup is half-full or half-empty. The optimists will argue that tonight's defeat was entirely foreseen, and Saturday's was down to an inopportune sending off.

The pessimists meanwhile (which sadly now include me I'm afraid) will point instead to two performances frankly lacking any spark whatsoever and littered with defensive errors. More worryingly, I'm concerned that the players we have in the squad (and admittedly we haven't seen all of them yet) are doing their best but just aren't up to it.

We can't run away from the fact that we are a team with problems. We have not created a single noteworthy chance from open play in three hours of football, and have a midfield so lacking in creativity that this is hardly surprising. This need not be a recipe for disaster if you have a rock-solid defence but as the photo shows above, we defended like a pub team tonight (Carson excepted).

Dowie's post-match comments suggested that he would ideally have started with Sorondo and Reid, so I accept that was an unfortunate turn of events. However he has made it abundantly clear that he prefers Holland and Hughes to Kishishev, which a) is ridiculous, but also b) shows how desperate our options are in central midfield right now (Kish after all is the ultimate opinion-divider).

I genuinely believe that Bryan Hughes is one of the worst players, if not the worst, that I've seen in a Charlton shirt in the context of the level at which the team is playing. In other words, I fully appreciate that say Jamie Stuart, Paul Bacon and Kim Grant were worse, it's just that the team was a lot worse then too. We're now competing in the Premiership, and if we're honest quite possibly with a relegation battle on our hands, and we have a left-winger (who then becomes playmaker for the final ten minutes) who can't cross, shoot, dribble, tackle or pass. Occasionally you find yourself checking the internet during the game to see if he was substituted when you popped to the loo such is his irrelevance to the action. What am I missing here?

It's just gone midnight, I'm tired and we're moving apartment tomorrow, so maybe I'm just feeling a bit cranky, so sorry Bryan nothing personal mate. But then again the team I love is bottom of the Premiership so I'm entitled to have a rant now and again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

1986 and all that...

1986 feels like a long time ago doesn't it? The 'hand of god' was the big football story in England at least, but elsewhere the year saw the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up, the Chernobyl reactor explode, and Charlotte Church's birth. It really was a terrible year.

But there was one bright spot of course; Mark Stuart scored a stunning winning goal versus Manchester United at Old Trafford. Some optimistic fans sense Wednesday might be the time to spring another surprise against the most famous club in world football.

The Red Devils are without Rooney, Scholes and Carrick, whilst the Portuguese winker Ronaldo will have to face the wrath of Aunt Doris (and her homemade fruitcake) from the West Stand.

There was certainly nothing in the performance at Upton Park to suggest a surprise result might be on the cards, and United's demolition of Fulham will have struck fear into Charlton fans and players alike.

Dowie's post-match comments suggested he was relatively satisfied with the performance (even if most fans were not), and hence wholesale team changes seem unlikely. The jury remained out on Scott Carson after Saturday with a couple of smart saves counterbalanced by some imprecise handling. In defence, Hreidarsson will likely replace Traore at left-back with Sorondo starting in the centre as was the case after 25 minutes at the weekend.

Every Charlton fan with a modicum of football knowledge however, is aware that the midfield is a big problem with Holland and Hughes usually taking the brunt of the criticism (and not without reason). Despite having several midfield options, very few central midfield pairings offer the right mix of steel and creativity that say Smertin/Murphy and Parker/Jensen did for example. The best compromise in my view would be starting with Reid on the left and Ambrose on the right, with each likely being asked to dampen their natural attacking instincts (at least whilst Charlton remain level). This would permit Dowie to persist with two 'stoppers' in midfield, likely Faye and Holland (though Kishishev should be preferred in my view). In the likely event that we fall behind, we can throw caution to the wind and bring on Rommedahl for a cameo.

Although the 3/5 odds on Man Utd to win on Betfair are hardly screaming value, I am struggling to suggest opposing them and thus will predict Charlton 0, Man Utd 2 (Saha, Giggs).

Monday, August 21, 2006

Get Your Kit On

I am grateful to Irish Addick for highlighting a great website, Kit Classics which shows a colourful pictorial history of club football kits, both home and away.

A quick click on the following link for Charlton's kits should be enough to give any fan some nostalgic pangs for a time when footballers were a little bit more 'like us', and when Charlton were, erm... well not very good.

More relevantly, in light of the rather dodgy away kit on display at Upton Park, it should draw attention to the fact that our kit designers should pay us much respect to history in the design of our away kit as our home kit. Fans would be in uproar if we ran out at The Valley wearing blue, so why is it acceptable for us to welcome the new Dowie era in with socks seemingly borrowed from the local pub rugby team? It reminds me of the club's obsession with green and purple for a couple of seasons in the mid-1990s that saw the team resembling ball boys at Wimbledon.

Our away kit should be white, or perhaps yellow. Both colours stand out, look smart and have been used regularly throughout our history (we won the FA Cup wearing white after all). Our home kit was even white (with red touches) for a few seasons in the 1960s.

Yellow meanwhile was a regular away choice in the early 1980s, a period perhaps not known for much success, but it was a relatively 'glamourous' period thanks to the exploits of Derek Hales, Mike Flanagan, Paul Walsh and the like. It was used again occasionally in the late 1980s, with one 2-2 draw at Highbury especially memorable. More recently it was used during our Championship-winning season in 1999/2000 and again in 2003/04 when we had our best top-flight finish for many decades. And whilst yellow may be identified with cowardice, it's hard to deny it looks smart - just compare the way Liverpool looked on Saturday to the way we did.

Royal blue has been used intermittently and for many fans will be synonmous with that famous night at St Andrews when we preserved our First Division status in 1987. However it's Millwall's colours so let's not get too nostalgic for it. Meanwhile we have dabbled with grey (1988/89), ecru (1998/99) and even sky blue for a season (1992/93). The flirtation with blue/black stripes in 2000/01 was linked to the Inter Milan tie-up at the time; luckily the kit went the same way.

Away kits should be as much of a constant as home kits. In my world, WBA should wear yellow/green stripes, and Man City red/black stripes; Spurs and Arsenal should wear yellow, and Manchester United white (by the way, has anyone else wondered if Spurs' new brown third kit is being worn in homage to their unfortunate lasagne incident?) Elsewhere West Ham should be absolutely prevented from leaving the away dressing room unless they're wearing that sky blue kit with the two claret hoops (unless they're playing Coventry).

I'm getting old aren't I?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Djimi Riddle

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Our French-speaking new left-back would understand those sentiments for sure, and thus focusing solely upon his dismissal to explain today's defeat would give a false impression of our failings in my view.

Watching today's game was a little surreal in light of four debutants, a new boss after 15 seasons, and an away kit that makes us look like a cross between the All Blacks and London Wasps.

We took the lead against the run of play with a penalty that was as well-taken as it was spotted by the assistant referee. Dowie's post-match comment about the incident was odd to say the least, "I don't want to get into a habit of talking about referees but I'm just asking was it a goalscoring opportunity or not?" Whilst I admire his attempts to make a case for Gabbidon's dismissal, when was the last time you saw a player sent off for handling on the penalty spot? And if he is implying it was worthy of a yellow card (which it probably was), then given that he did not receive another during the game, what exactly is his point? We got a penalty and a goal - let's not hide behind spurious excuses.

Traore's sending-off did of course a) change the game, and b) suggest he has his IQ written on his shirt, as well as his squad number. However, whilst we looked relatively comfortable for the remainder of the first period (one outstanding Carson save aside), the second half was frankly so dire (ten men or not), that I'm baffled by Dowie's suggestion that the performance was satisfactory.

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm still one of those purists that expects top-level footballers to be able to control the ball, hold off an opponent and play a simple pass to retain possession. Instead, we have a group of players (midfielders particularly) who appear totally unable to play a simple triangle of passes to take out opponents for example. Most of the time the game seemed to be taking place all around Holland, Faye and Hughes with the mercurial Benayoun and ex-Addick Bowyer showing how it should be done. It was hardly surprising that our hard-working, but hapless and ill-protected defenders, resorted to pointless long balls aware of the inefficacy of players immediately in front of them.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to video the game, but I am convinced that there was not a single meaningful occasion when a Charlton player received the ball to feet from a teammate anywhere in the final third of the pitch. How can we expect to score goals from open play? Watch the West Ham move that led to Bowyer hitting a post and see what we are missing.

I will reserve judgment on Faye. However, as has been pointed out elsewhere, Andy Reid did more in 15 minutes than the rest of the midfield put together which at least suggested he has the potential to pull some strings. Meanwhile I don't know whether Kishishev was injured or not, but surely even his most vocal detractors would accept he has more to offer than Holland or Hughes. Up front, Hasselbaink and Bent were lively albeit starved of service. It's a slight concern that they're a little similar but it's the least of our problems right now.

Last Sunday, I suggested that "...Young/El Karkouri/Hreidarsson/Traore will lack nothing when it comes to raw physical presence, but fans may not need to fly to Edinburgh to see first-class comedy this month." If Traore's dismissal was merely tragi-comedy then West Ham's second goal was pure slapstick (how El Karkouri failed to get any contact with the ball on the line is certainly a mystery). In fairness, they did a reasonable backs-to-the-wall job but eventually caved in under enormous pressure.

It was interesting to note that Dowie was cavalier enough to keep two strikers on the field at all times - Curbishley for example would surely have withdrawn a striker, rather than Ambrose after Traore's dismissal. His vocal presence on the touchline was also a change from the more thoughtful approach of his esteemed predecessor. Other than that, I'm struggling to find positives.

It could be a long season.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Fan-tasy League

I will be administering a Fantasy League this season, and it was interesting to note on the main website the number of players claiming to support each of the Premiership teams. With over 300,000 people taking part, it is certainly a statistically significant enough sample from which to draw some conclusions (not all of which are reassuring from Charlton's point of view). Moreover, these stats may be more meaningful than looking solely at actual attendances because they are distorted by factors such as pricing, capacity, stadium quality etc..

As might be expected, Man Utd and Liverpool are way out in front with 24.3% and 21.4% of the total respectively. Given that this is a global competition with 25% of players based outside of the UK, their well-known pool of foreign supporters will have boosted their totals even more.

In third place are Arsenal (14.7%) followed by Chelsea (9.2%). I think it is fair to say that both clubs have developed strong fan bases over the past decade particularly, but neither can be described as a global 'giant' like their Northern peers. Indeed, some Tottenham fans insist their club has far greater depths of support (but haven't had a team to match either for some time), and this is not necessarily a view I disagree with (though they come fifth here with 6.7%).

In sixth place are Newcastle with 5.0%. Although the size and patience of their home support is rightly lauded, they benefit from being a one-club city and thus their support is overwhelmingly North-East based. You don't see many Newcastle shirts in Thailand or Singapore.

Interestingly perhaps, West Ham are the 7th most popular with 2.9%. Although their form has been decidedly up and down during the past decade, it is hard to overestimate the importance that a sustained period of top flight football (as well as the occasional trophy) can have in terms of building a genuine solid base of support.

Although Charlton were undeniably a 'big club' in the 1940s/1950s, the club's mismanagement in the 1960s/70s/80s did untold damage in this regard. It is worth noting (and perhaps a little surprising) that West Ham had just six seasons outside of the top flight between 1958 and 2003, winning the FA Cup three times and the Cup Winners Cup during this period.

The next three clubs (Everton, Aston Villa, Man City) might all reasonably be described as 'sleeping giants' who retain strong support bases despite a paucity of trophies during the past two decades. The likes of Randy Lerner may be overestimating their ability to close the gap upon the top four clubs, such has been the inequality of revenues in recent seasons however.

Blackburn come next with just 1.3% of the total. Although the club (and the town) benefited greatly from Jack Walker's millions in the early-1990s, they have maintained higher support levels than might be expected perhaps given they have been relegated once since claiming the 1995 Premiership title. Like Charlton, they were a near-permanent fixture in the League's second-tier in the 1960s and 1970s, but did not suffer the indignity of seven years of homelessness thus maintaining the core support that returned in droves when success returned.

The remaining nine clubs might all be considered to be 'fighting above their weight' in large part due either to wealthy benefactors (Wigan, Fulham, Reading) or just general good all-round management (Bolton, Charlton). Some Teesiders like to view Middlesbrough as a 'big club' but the truth is somewhat different, evidenced by their lack of any major trophy until 2004.

Unfortunately Charlton trail in a rather sad last with just 0.6% of all Fantasy League participants expressing their support for the Addicks. Whilst this is not a complete surprise, one might reasonably have expected to have been more popular than Watford, Fulham and certainly Wigan. What conclusions can be drawn from this?:

Perhaps Charlton fans like to keep their devotion secret, a little like the masons? Perhaps all of those happy-clappy fans at the Valley for home games really are just Arsenal and Chelsea fans priced out of their own stadiums? Perhaps Charlton fans realise the spuriousness of Fantasy League, with the winner always being both the luckiest participant as well as the one with the most time on his/her hands? Or perhaps most seriously, we are just not very well supported. The passion and devotion of those who are 'Addickted' is as strong as at any club in the land, there just aren't that many of us.

Although many point to the period away from the Valley when explaining this phenomenon, in truth the damage was done as soon as we were relegated from the top flight in 1957. The club's mismanagement culminated in the move to Selhurst Park, but it had begun three decades earlier. Whilst some with a soft spot for the club have returned, and whilst others have been successfully 'converted' (and are as committed as any of us longstanding sufferers), we lost the favour of countless thousands of potential fans.

It would have been interesting to know where the club would be today if Lennie Lawrence had led us out in the old First Division at The Valley in Aug 1986 instead of Selhurst Park. I suspect in truth that the club was in such dire straits that it needed to take several steps back in order to begin to move forward again.

If it took us three decades to completely lose one of the most solid support bases in the country, it might take just as long to claim it back. Valley Express initiatives are welcome of course, but what we probably just need is the passage of time and continued onfield productivity with highly limited resources. When the current generation of South-East London 10-year olds become adults having (hopefully) spent their entire football-watching lives proud to support Charlton, (rather than like me, somewhat embarrassed at times), then we should begin to see real evidence that we have come full-circle.

Congratulations Girls

Having just reviewed the UK newspapers, New York Addick would like to pass on his congratulations to the country's girls who achieved the A-level results their hard work deserved. New York Addick is sorry that the lack of photos of any boys whatsoever implies every boy in the entire nation flunked his exams, but wishes to assure them all that with determination and drive, truly anything is possible with or without qualifications.


More girls

Even more girls
Yes, more girls

Final Premiership Table

Last season I took the time to write a thorough preview of the forthcoming campaign, but in light of the fact that most fans are likely suffering from 'preview overload', I will simply detail how the final Premiership table will look in May, thus saving you the trouble of watching any football if you so wish.

1 Chelsea 87
2 Liverpool 82
3 Man Utd 76
4 Arsenal 75
5 Tottenham 66
6 Blackburn 58
7 Everton 56
8 Aston Villa 55
9 West Ham 53
10 Bolton 52
11 Newcastle 50
12 Charlton 47
13 Middlesbrough 47
14 Wigan 46
15 Portsmouth 45
16 Fulham 42
17 Man City 39
18 Watford 36
19 Reading 32
20 Sheff Utd 24

Get Amongst 'Em

"Hey gaffer, we'll both be leaving Crystal Palace soon. What do you think about that?"

There are lots of quirky British phrases that are guaranteed to flummox Americans. So with an apology in advance to any of my Yank readers, I sincerely hope that if nothing else, Charlton "get amongst 'em" at Upton Park tomorrow.

We have been offered the 'fresh start' that many of us demanded, the Board eventually delivered upon their promise regarding signings, and we've even sold all of our tickets. The team will won some and it'll lose some (it may even draw a few too), but we won't countenance any more of those listless performances that unfortunately characterised much of last season (think Wigan or Arsenal away for example). Hence, if I was doing Iain Dowie's teamtalk tomorrow, only the injured Floridian, Cory Gibbs might be left in any doubt about the key message.

I was pleased to learn that the game will be shown in full but delayed (until 2.45pm local time). Thus if you happen to be in New York this weekend, and see a chap walking around in a Charlton shirt wearing Bose noise-cancelling headphones, please come over and say 'hi' and tell me how I can improve my blog (just don't tell me the score).

It will be strange to be one of only 3,000 or so Charlton fans that will be able to see the whole game, but thanks to the new scheduling guidelines in the US this season, it will likely be a more regular occurrence. The broadcasting rights are now split between Setanta and Fox (ie. Murdoch) and there will be even more games available this season and beyond.

For example, this weekend one can watch fully 8 of the 10 games in full (6 of them live). Indeed, I may well be in the unusual position of being able to watch more matches than almost any Charlton fan (except the hardy few hundred that continue to travel to most away games). This blog can be criticised for lots of reasons, but hopefully not for being ill-informed this season.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Reid My Lips

Hasselbaink: "We'll be teammates at Charlton someday."
Reid: "Yeah right, and I'm stocky not fat."

One of the problems with growing up in North-East London is that you end up with a lot of friends that support Spurs. It's enough to make you want to move 4,000 miles away to restart your life.

However, given the unusually high amount of transfer activity between the two clubs, it does permit an honest exchange of opinions from Luke Young to Chris Perry, and from Danny Murphy to Andy Reid.

Somewhat reassuringly, their opinions on Reid were not overwhelmingly negative:

"...good touch, good passer, looked very good at international level (playing on the right) but too slow to play on the wing in the Premiership. Always thought he was a central midfielder (like Murphy) myself."

"...I actually quite like him. In a way he's a bit like Anderton, not much pace and can't beat a man, but he can pass, shoot and take set pieces. He is however overweight and apparently drinks like a fish and that may be his drawback if he is ever going to make it in the Premiership. I don't actually think he got a fair crack at Spurs, as he played about 20 games two seasons back after signing, did ok but the fans never totally warmed to him 'cos of his size and didn't really get a chance last season."

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Charlton catering staff go into overdrive

Iain Dowie has a reputation for admiring 'fit' players but it seems he is not averse to the odd 'fat' player either.

Today's surprise news that we have signed Andy Reid for 'up to £3million' surely means our meagre budget has now been spent, leaving the squad oddly unbalanced (and not just on the side of the team bus where Reid will be sitting).

It was clear we were desperate for a creative central midfielder, and perhaps also a centre-back. As previously discussed, unless Dowie is planning to play 3-5-2, I can't for the life of me understand how he plans to accommodate Bolanos, Ambrose, Thomas and Reid, unless he sees at least one of them as the playmaker in a 4-4-2. This will surely leave us too easy to play through though.

Reid's weight problem is well-documented but he clearly has talent, even if he is too immobile to prove it. But for 'up to £3 million'? I don't know who works in the Spurs transfers out department, but they are due a whopping bonus after Carrick and now Reid. Eighteen months ago he signed along with Michael Dawson for £8million, he has been unimpressive ever since, yet it seems his value has barely changed. When you compare his fee to those received for Jensen and Konchesky for example, it seems we're being short-changed somewhere (and let's not get started on the Marcus Bent fee).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Scouse logic

Tuning in to 6-0-6 with Manish Bhasin on Radio Five Live on Sunday, I couldn't help but chuckle at the following caller (John). On his way back from the Charity Shield, he couldn't wait to unleash his venom:

John: "It's a disgrace the Chelsea fans didn't show up today. I was in the Liverpool end and there wasn't an empty seat. It's a disgrace they didn't show up."

Bhasin: "But enough about Chelsea. You must be elated by what your team did today?"

John: "The Charity Shield doesn't mean a thing."

AIM and Fire

On Monday the club announced its intention to delist from the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). A short drive away via the M1 and M6, American billionaire Randy Lerner had his £62.6m bid accepted for Aston Villa. Although these two announcements were unrelated, in my view they have much in common if you put them in context.

Ordinary shares in Charlton Athletic Plc floated on AIM in March 1997 at a price of 80p per share. Since then, despite two promotions, six consecutive seasons in the Premiership and a sustained increase in stadium capacity and attendances, the shares trade at just 37p. I was one of the 'investors' who took up the original offer and some time ago wrote off their value in my head, if not on my tax return.

It was certainly fashionable to float football clubs in the late-1990s. Indeed boutique investment bank Singer & Friedlander launched a 'Football Fund' in 1997 with Alan Hansen as 'football consultant'. Not surprisingly, it no longer exists and Hansen has returned to consult solely on the offside trap.

It is sensible for the club to delist. Companies usually list to enable the founders to partially monetise their investment (not the case here), and to open up the prospect of frequent, cheap and transparent equity financings in the future. Given that investors long ago gave up upon the football industry ever being a source of returns, and given that the majority of club's shares remain tightly held by the directors and their families, the regulatory burden of remaining listed must surely outweigh any benefits.

The obvious disadvantage for the estimated 4,000 individual shareholders will be the disappearance of the instant valuation of their holding. In truth, the shares are so thinly-traded that even this valuation is only relevant for the smallest lots.

Some fans have speculated that a new investor may be sniffing around the club, hence the delisting. Whilst this is not presposterous per se, I don't see any obvious link between this possibility and today's announcement. If an investor approached the Board with appropriate motives and suitable funding, the club is effectively 'for sale' whether it's listed or not. Hence it begs the question "What might Charlton Athletic be worth?" To use an unfortunate American term, if arguably the 7th largest 'franchise' in English football is only worth £62.6m, Charlton is clearly worth considerably less.

Most valuations of companies use either asset-based metrics or those based upon profits and cashflow, or a combination thereof. A reasonable starting point then might be to assess the club's book value - in short, how much would be raised if the club sold all its players' contracts, the Valley and its other assets, and then paid off all of its debts? The balance sheet at 31 Dec 2005 offers a clue (net assets: £32.2m) but only those players for whom we have paid a fee are included (and then amortised over time); Kevin Lisbie for example is valued at zero (this was agreed with the auditors - Ed.).

The problem with any valuations based upon profits and cashflow is that well, in short, we don't have any. During the six months ended 31 Dec 2005, the club had a loss on ordinary activities of £5.1m and negative cashflow of £4.8m. Despite ever increasing TV revenues from Sky, the football industry has been completely unable to prevent any resultant surpluses from ending up in the pockets of players and their agents. The gap has to be met either by net transfer receipts, equity financings (almost certainly from the directors, hence the delisting) or more debt.

In short, it is not unreasonable in my view to place a zero value on Charlton's future earnings power from operating as a football club. Even if the club successfully expands the Valley and increases its support base, those extra revenues will flow to the playing squad (ironically at the behest of fans, many of whom will also be shareholders!). If you agree with my analysis, this is surely an indictment upon the state of football today given that Charlton remains one of the best run clubs.

The problem is of course that an entity that continually runs at a loss and burns through its cash begins to eat away at that very 'book value' upon which one can build an estimated valuation. It may sound obscene, but the club would probably be worth more if it ceased being a football club and turned the Valley into a housing estate, preferably as soon as possible. It would have worked for Leeds United. If any of those 4,000 shareholding fans are upset about the delisting, perhaps the club ought to put that proposal to a vote.

Returning to Randy Lerner, the purchase of most English football clubs for a premium can surely only make sense if they are to be a plaything, not a genuine investment. Only the likes of Manchester United have genuine brand value that can be leveraged for profits. Unfortunately this very 'plaything' trend is driving up footballers' wages across the board, putting at risk any club that both tries to compete and lacks a sugar daddy. This phenomenon however seems lost upon the typical caller to Radio Five's 6-0-6 who constantly bemoan their club's lack of funds.

We should be eternally grateful therefore for the generosity of Richard Murray and his fellow directors who plug the inevitable gap yet whose wealth is completely overshadowed by the likes of Lerner, Abramovich et al. Moreover, should Charlton be in the firing line of a bored billionaire somewhere, we may have little choice but to accept their offer, thank the Board and hope for the best.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Will he Carson?

After a week of frantic rumour concerning Robert Green, the club today confirmed the loan signing of England goalkeeper Scott Carson! He will now be expected to 'jockey' for the green jersey with Thomas Myhre and Stephan Andersen. Spending two million on Green would have been a misallocation of scarce resources at best given more pressing concerns in other positions and the Hammers are welcome to him.

The club now has five goalkeepers on its books, although four might well be described as 'unproven'. Unless Andersen is moving on, it is not immediately clear why Dowie has pinpointed the keeper's position as a 'problem area'. We had been somewhat spoilt by the consistency of Deano for so long until his surprise departure in January, but Thomas Myhre was perhaps our outstanding performer thereafter. Given that the Norwegian was born during the same week as New York Addick, it is to be hoped that Dowie does not simply consider him 'past it.'

Not surprisingly perhaps, I have never seen Scott Carson play and know very little about him other than he once asked Ronaldo to recommend a dentist. More generally however, it is likely that fully four loaned keepers will be considered good enough to start Premiership matches this season, yet by definition are surplus to immediate requirements at their clubs (Scott Carson, Ben Foster, Tim Howard and Chris Kirkland). The mere fact that Carson went to the World Cup despite having started just four games for Liverpool, is the most direct evidence surely of the damage done to our national side by the influx of foreign imports.

Charlton clearly continue to view the loans system as a low-risk transfer strategy although it has had decidedly mixed success so far in its execution, Carlton Cole for example clearly a 'flop' and Alexei Smertin at best a frustration. We are likely to find the loans system works best if we take onboard players whom we have a genuine option to sign permanently. I am not particularly in favour of us simply offering a promising youngster first-team experience; that's what the Championship is for.

For example at the time we were loaned Cole, I don't think signing him was something Chelsea would have countenanced (West Ham's opportunity only arose when Chelsea subsequently realised the disgruntled Charlton and Villa fans were actually right about him). Carson's case is less clear-cut, but if he excels for us, then Liverpool will ask for him back; hence it might be in Charlton's best interests if he plays well, but not too well.

Indeed, the specialist nature of the position combined with a generally low incidency of goalkeeping injuries implies the likes of Carson and Kirkland could conceivably be put on the loans merry-go-round for several years. Following the introduction of the transfer deadlines, the top English clubs cannot afford to begin a campaign that might require 60 or more matches without considerable goalkeeping cover (I assume that Carson could be recalled if required).

Equally however, the top clubs will want to ensure that their first-choice goalkeeper is genuinely 'world class', and will not be afraid of scanning the globe to find him (Cech, Lehmann, Van Der Sar etc...). Promising English keepers may thus be forced either to take a step down to try to play regular football (as Stuart Taylor has attempted to do for example), to be willing to live in a motorhome whilst travelling amongst loanee clubs or to simply accept that Peter Shilton's four-figure appearance record might be a pipe dream.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The 08.16 to Cannon Street

Charlton's rather patchy and inconsistent pre-season friendlies are now over, and they have potentially thrown up as many questions as answers about how Dowie sees us playing this season.

Our Spanish-based blogger Nelson has taken the trouble of documenting the amount of pre-season minutes played by each squad member, and it throws some light upon Dowie's thinking.

Dowie has shown no inclination to deviate from a flat back four, so assuming he will play Hasselbaink/Bent D up front, a 4-4-2 formation seems inevitable, the only question being the degree to which the midfield four will be asked to create goals as well as prevent them (a cynic might suggest our midfield will successfully prevent goals at both ends this season but we shall see).

Barring a last-minute signing, I would be surprised not to see Thomas Myhre in goal (he did enough last season to deserve it for now). Nelson then rightly suggests the back four will almost certainly be Young/El Karkouri/Hreidarsson/Traore who will lack nothing when it comes to raw physical presence, but fans may not need to fly to Edinburgh to see first-class comedy this month.

Dowie's choice in midfield meanwhile will require him to pick and mix from the creative quartet of Rommedahl/Ambrose/Bolanos/Thomas and the rest. Perhaps Dowie views his midfield options less as a burden, and more as a palette from which to paint his way to three points. Examples might include:

'Minimalist' (Hughes and Holland in the centre)

'Surrealist' (Marcus Bent played wide right)

'Modernist' (Simon Walton given a regular starting berth)

'Post-Modernist' (Walton replaced by Kishishev)

'Sensationalist' (Bolanos, Rommedahl and Ambrose in the same team)

More seriously, looking at our squad this season reminds me of a debate that was heard vociferously under Curbs: "Should the squad fit the formation or the other way around?" For example the 4-5-1 mainly employed last season existed (initially at least) to allow Murphy to create without burdening him with defensive duties. Likewise this season, a 3-5-2 formation could conceivably solve the midfield 'problem' without sacrificing a striker, and if executed properly could potentially be as fluid as the dustbins at Heathrow Airport.

Talking of our former boss, attempting to assess our first post-Curbs pre-season since 1990 has been unusual, and not just because we've played a team called Germinal Beerschot. Curbs was like the wife you've had for 16 years; the spark had long gone, but life was comfortable albeit predictable, and although she had started to look a bit dowdy recently, it would have been indecorous to have told her.

The possibility of a new boss was an exciting fantasy however. If Curbs was the loyal wife, then the new guy would be that sexy minx aboard the 8.16am to Cannon Street every morning; you know the one, with her power suits and just a little too much Chanel No.5. Unfortunately in the case of Dowie, we were forced to covet someone else's wife, which is not recommended since it invariably ends up in an ugly custody battle.

Reading back some of my posts from Dec 2005 and at the same time feeling somewhat fearful of what this season might bring, I couldn't help feeling a little like Reg in 'A Life of Brian' when thinking about what Curbs achieved: "All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"

Luckily by Christmas we should have a reasonable idea whether we should have made a pass at the girl on the train, or stuck with the wife, frumpy outfits n' all. Incidentally Sven Goran Eriksson took this analogy to its extreme with his choice of Theo Walcott, though given his prior record from Faria Alam to to Ulrika Jonsson, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Dowie Cleans Up

The sudden arrival of three new signings at the Valley has left many fans pondering the all-important question, "Who will be in the starting eleven against West Ham?"

Ignoring the possibility that some players can operate in more than one position, by my reckoning we now have 2 goalkeepers, 2 right-backs, 3 left-backs, 5 centre-backs, 2 left-midfielders, 7 central-midfielders, 2 right-midfielders and 5 forwards.

Assuming Dowie plans to use a 4-4-2 formation, by my calculation this requires him to choose one starting line-up from a potential 100,800 possible line-ups. Just selecting 2 central midfielders from 7 for example, requires our new head coach to weigh up fully 21 options.

Now I don't know how much Dowie is being paid, but I'm willing to hazard a guess it's in the region of £500,000 pa. Overpaid? Not in my book. If you look at it my way, he is earning just below £4.96 per possible team selection. The UK minimum wage is £5.05. It's no wonder he is having to work at Charlton instead of joining his family up North....he can't afford the train fare.

Alternatively, just before I left the UK, we had a cleaning lady visit our house once per week. As guilty as I feel about it now, we paid her just £6 per hour. She only came for two hours, and the first hour was typically taken up with standard cleaning fare eg. dusting, vacuuming. During the second hour however, we encouraged her to either a) do some ironing, or b) tidy up our small garden (but not both).

You can probably see where I'm headed here. My cleaner had to make just one decision per week (at a rate of £6 per decision), whilst poor old Iain Dowie bless him has to make 100,800 decisions (at a paltry rate of £4.96 per decision), yet we claim that cleaners are underpaid and football managers grossly overpaid!

(The use of names and photos are used fictitiously for the purpose of illustrating examples only. Any resemblance to actual cleaners is entirely coincidental.)

Target 100,000

Thanks to the surprise recognition by MSN UK, the hits to my blog have accelerated markedly and it has just surpassed the iconic 50,000 hit mark. Hence this is a brief post to say thanks for reading, and to announce the launch of a very Charlton-esque "Target 100,000".

Although the site counter was put on some time later, the blog began nearly two years ago focused almost exclusively on Charlton but I have tried to incorporate some interesting angles on expat life in New York, and American culture in general. I intend for it to remain approximately two-thirds focused upon Charlton (and general football issues), so staunch Addicks may have to excuse my occasional off-topic rants and raves particularly when I've had a few beers and the wife insists upon watching Extreme Makeover.

And following the rather unsavoury Sunday Times 'outing' of new literary sensation 'Girl With A One Track Mind', you can rest assured this blog won't be getting raunchier, not least because my parents are regular readers (Mum, don't click on the link). In the unlikely event that Charlton start playing 'sexy football' under Dowie, my days might be numbered.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

(Courtesy of www.clangnuts.com)

Totally Frank - Exclusive Extracts

<-----Frank's sister Frankina (centre)

If you're anything like me, you won't want to wait until next Monday to get your copy of "Totally Frank - The Autobiography of Frank Lampard" (RRP: £11.95 today, or 50p in Asda by Xmas).

This threatens to be the most important literary work since Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment", and is bound to be a hard-hitting portrayal of one of football's most charming players (surely 'charmless' - Ed.).

Luckily my sources have managed to secure me an early review copy which I am delighted to share extracts of here:


Hi, I'm Frank Lampard and this is my book. When the publishers thrust a few million quid in my hand last year, I thought it was my accrued goal bonuses until my agent said, "No Frank, these are the book people."

They asked me whether I wanted to choose a title for the book. I spent the whole of last summer thinking about it, and came up with "Franking Machine", "Frank-In-Sense (and Myrrh)", "Genie and the Lamp", and "Frankly, I Don't Give a Damn". They said thanks but preferred "Totally Frank".


I was brought up in Essex. My Dad was also a footballer and called Frank; we have a lot in common. I wasn't very bright at school but was good at football. The teachers used to say, "I bet you want to grow up to be a footballer like your old man." I just laughed, and so did my teammates on the school team.


My Dad used to play for West Ham so I joined them too. The fans used to say some nasty things about me. When I took corners they shouted, "..you're not fit to lace your Dad's shoes" which I always found strange 'cos he generally wears slip-ons.


Terence Brown called me into his office in 2001 and said the Blues wanted me for £11million. I said to him, "Do you know that Elvis Costello song?" "'Oliver's Army'?" he replied, "No" I said, " 'I Don't Want To Go To Chelsea". He laughed but said I had to go in case they spotted the decimal point was in the wrong place on the fax.


I wasn't very good to begin with but then Mr Abramovich turned up and bought Makelele and suddenly people said I was the best player in the world. This worried me 'cos I knew the World Cup was coming up in 2006.

Mr Abramovich has bought a German who might be better than me. I asked the gaffer where he saw me fitting in next season. "To be honest Frank", he said,"...I wish I had a pair of Ballacks." All the lads cracked up except me and Joe who said he didn't understand it.


Since Luna arrived, I've had to cut back on watching DVDs and playing snooker. Elen wants me to move to Spain one day but I'd rather move to a country where English is speaked. She's trying to teach me Spanish but I knew a bit already from Albert Ferrer; for example I know that 'Yoko Ono' is Spanish for 'one egg.'

I asked Elen if she would have married me if I wasn't a footballer. She just laughed and said I was late for training.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What's in a name?

New York Addick has managed to obtain exclusive extracts of the club's new transfer policy drawn up on appointment by new general manager Andrew Mills. It throws extraordinary light upon the club's recent difficulties in the current transfer market.

"Wherever possible, the club should only endeavour to purchase players whose first names are unique in the history of the club..."

"...the club has assessed its prior record in the transfer market and has concluded that value-for-money was highest where this same policy was implemented (Radostin, Hermann, Jerome, Jorge etc..)"

Only now does it all make sense. This remarkable turn of events began with the 'pre-contract' signing of the American-sounding American Cory Gibbs, and was followed by confirmation that Inter defender Gonzalo Sorondo was staying permanently. As we all know, Mr and Mrs Sorondo named their son after a character in the Uruguayan version of The Muppets.

"Oh, but hang on a second, didn't we then sign Simon Walton?" I hear you say, "He's not the first Simon to play for Charlton....there was Simon Webster and Simon Royce amongst others." Agreed, but read the policy's small print:

"**Note: This policy does not apply for players under the age of 21"

Then on July 11th, just a day before the Middle East crisis began (not that I'm suggesting this was more than a coincidence), we signed the impeccably-named Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink. And then we waited....and waited until we heard this news yesterday:

"Charlton have swooped to sign Djimi Traore and Amdy Faye in a double deal worth £4m"

I mean, I don't need Colin Cameron to confirm that they're the first Djimi and Amdy to play for Charlton. And then as if more proof were needed, the club has today confirmed the signing of Christian Bolanos. Now I'm racking my brains here thinking of other Christians to have graced the Valley turf, and whilst I can't be 100% sure about this one, perhaps neither is the club hence the loan deal.

And if you're still not convinced, just think about some of the players we've been linked with.....Emmerson Boyce? Now come on, that's not a name, it's an electrical company. Salif Diao? I mean, hello?! Tyrone Mears? It sounds like a hearing defect, "I'm very sorry Mr Addick, you've got Tyronem Ears...one of the worst cases we've seen." Zoltan Gera? I could go on.

And I bet you were all thinking the reason we didn't sign Steve Sidwell was because we couldn't agree terms. Bullshit. The reason we didn't sign Steve Sidwell was he wasn't willing to change his name to Augustus.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Play That Funky Music

There has been near-universal vitriolic condemnation of Charlton's decision to play goal music during the friendly with New Zealand on Saturday. A number of fans expressed their dissatisifaction by emailing the club who confirmed it was merely an experiment, and that reaction from fans had been 'interesting' (for interesting, read 'mutinous').

I'm not yet ready to ditch the idea altogether, perhaps reflecting my gradual Americanisation, but also the fact that football and music are my two great loves, so why not combine the two? The key for me is injecting a suitably large dose of irony into the way the music is used and allowing the creative juices to flow, rather than just playing something that the club perceives to be popular, but is bound simply to be the lowest common denominator by defintion.

This season for example, each squad member could be allocated a particular song to be played when they score, or perhaps simply when the teams were announced. Examples would include:

Radostin Kishishev - Give It Away (Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Darren Bent - Stay, Just a Little Bit Longer (Four Seasons)
Jason Euell - Losing My Touch (Rolling Stones)
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink - I See You Baby, Shaking That Ass (Groove Armada)
Kevin Lisbie - Never Can Say Goodbye (The Communards)

Pre-match atmosphere a little flat? Then get the home fans really wound up by playing songs about players that left the club unceremoniously whilst flashing their face onto the big screen. Examples might include:

Alexei Smertin - Back in the USSR (The Beatles)
Paul Konchesky - You Can't Always Get What You Want (Rolling Stones)
Scott Parker - Whatever Happened? (The Strokes)

And then just as the Valley crowd was building into a frenzy and with the opposition cowering in their dressing room, it would be time for the traditional 'Danny Murphy medley':

Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now (The Smiths)
When Will I See You Again? (Three Degrees)
You're So Vain (Carly Simon)
Kissing in the Back Row of the Movies (The Drifters)
Charmless Man (Blur)

And why stop there? When really classy opposition players score against us, we can play Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd, and when our end-of-season slump is in full swing, the lads can come out of the tunnel to Slide Away by Oasis (one of may all-time faves incidentally). And if we draw Palace in the Cup, we can play Homeward Bound by Simon & Garfunkel as Iain Dowie walks to the dugout. Oh, and is that Curbs making a romantic return to the Valley? Then it's time for Memory by Elaine Paige, perhaps followed by a rousing rendition of Paul Young's Come Back and Stay (depending on where we are in the table).

It'll soon be time to 'put on your red shoes and dance the blues' and 'get down' to the Valley, where DJ Richie M and Chief Peter V (in the place to be) are spinning your favourite tunes.

15 Minutes

What does New York Addick, Boris Johnson and Lily Allen have in common?

Ambiguous sexuality? A tendency towards self-aggrandisement? Erm...well possibly, but what they definitely have in common is that they have made it onto MSN's 'definitive' list of 30 Top Blogs.

I genuinely have no idea how this happened and I'm extremely grateful to Inspector Sands for pointing it out to me on his own impressive site. Perhaps I'm not the only person interested in my own rather lengthy views on tipping protocol for example.

I'm determined my 15 minutes of fame won't change me; I'm not one of these guys that will give the wife a week to pack her bags. Anyhow she'll need at least a fortnight to find a new apartment.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Have an Above-Average Day"

(not Charlton related)

Visitors to the USA will know that one is regularly told to 'Have a Nice Day'. Although it is an easy trait to satirise, I'd tended up until now to see at as a harmless linguistic tic, similar say to 'cheerio'.

However, I have begun to notice an extremely worryingly trend, which might be termed 'day inflation'. In New York, one is now far more likely to be urged to 'Have a Great Day' than merely a nice one. And then on Friday I received an email from a client hoping I would 'Have an Outstanding Day', an extremely disturbing observation which might be the first sign of 'day hyper-inflation.'

My dictionary defines 'nice' as 'pleasant or pleasing or agreeable in nature or appearance.' As someone who is happy to be termed a realist, and thus fairly easily pleased, being implored to 'Have a Nice Day' is a fairly achievable goal. I'm pretty happy with my life right now and most days are indeed nice, so I am able to genuinely say to the nice girl in Starbucks, "thanks, I will" without fear of agreeing to the impossible.

However I have very few 'great' days. Indeed if I'm honest, I can probably count on two hands the number of genuinely 'great' days I've had. One or two have revolved around Charlton (the 1998 play-off final for instance), my wedding day was another, as was my graduation day I guess. I think 'great' is a misused term anyhow; when people phone the host of a dinner party to thank them for their hospitality for example, when they say they had a 'great time', in truth I think they actually just had a 'nice time' (unless the host happened to be Gordon Ramsay.)

I'm inclined to reply to my client's email meanwhile, and ask how exactly he expects me to have an 'outstanding day'; I genuinely don't think I've ever had one. I wonder if he signs off other emails with "Win the Lottery," "Marry Miss World" or "Hope Charlton win the Premiership." Perhaps he meant 'outstanding' in terms of a debt or the like? "Thank you," I might reply, "...I successfully increased my overdraft limit by $5,000, and my library book is now over a week overdue."

Hence in order to reinject a dose of realism back into American society, I intend to begin asking people I interact with to 'Have an Above-Average Day' since they have proven they cannot deal with mere 'nice' without looking for something more. In short, they need to be brought back down a peg or two.

The word 'average' tends to have an unfair negative connotation - for example, numerous surveys have shown a large majority of Internet daters describe themselves as 'above average-looking', yet all other things being equal, only half will indeed be so. Similarly, I believe days are typically distributed like the graph above ie. grouped tightly around the average (a leptokurtic distribution for those statisticians amongst you). Urging someone to have an 'above average' day is thus not only a kind gesture, it is an obtainable target too. Moreover, because the definition of average will be assessed on an individualised basis, it is more all-encompassing than 'nice' and is applicable even for a manic depressive for example.

It's a glorious sunny day in New York today, and without any of the oppressive heat that ruined the early part of the week. I'm about to log-off and go for a walk in Central Park, and then perhaps have a quiet drink at home with the Sunday papers. Work is quiet lately, so I'm in a relaxed state of mind. I hope your day is as above average as mine. Cheers.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Out of Africa

"Sky Sports understand Charlton Athletic have agreed fees to sign Djimi Traore and Amdy Faye."

I must admit, I'm rather partial to Sky Sports' old-fashioned use of language. You almost imagine a reporter phoning the newsroom with the news: Reporter: "Hello Newsroom, Charlton have agreed fees for Traore and Faye." Newsroom: "Understood."

Anyhow, if true it means the long and frustrating wait since the signing of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on 11 July might be over. I wouldn't claim to know very much about either player, though I recall being impressed by Faye when Newcastle beat Arsenal last season.

However a look at the past transfer activity of the players is cause for some cautious confidence. Faye was signed by Harry Redknapp in the summer of 2003 having represented Senegal at the 2002 World Cup, and whatever you might think about 'bent Harry', he knows how to wheel and deal. He was then only sold during a managerial vacuum at Pompey in between Redknapp's departure and the appointment of Perrin. The hapless Graeme Souness fancied him obviously, and it seems Glenn Roeder does not, hence the opportunity. I don't particular rate either the former or current Geordies boss, but if I had to back the judgment of either, it'd be the Scot's.

Traore meanwhile was signed by the under-rated Gerard Houlier, but then more importantly retained by his highly impressive replacement Rafa Benitez. Now poor Traore may have something of a comic reputation on the Kop ("..blame it on Traore" sung to the tune of 'Blame it on the Boogie'), but you don't make 40 appearances for a team that wins the Champions League and FA Cup if you can't play a bit, and that's good enough for me.

Most importantly perhaps, it's fair to say I wouldn't fancy meeting either of them in a dark alleyway, and having become increasingly frustrated at the way the likes of Hughes, Holland and Rommedahl mince around the pitch, a bit of steel wouldn't go amiss. I mean, you'd hardly run a mile if you saw the flying Dane coming towards you (and if you did, he'd soon catch you anyway).

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Going for Gold

As part of my research into a piece I'm going to write imminently on season ticket pricing, I couldn't help noticing on the official website the rather odd match categories used by the club in determining the pricing of hospitality packages.

For those of you without the inclination to click on the link, here is the categorisation for 2006/07:

PLATINUM: Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal

GOLD: Liverpool, Tottenham, West Ham

SILVER: Everton, Fulham, Man City, Middlesbrough, Newcastle

BRONZE: Aston Villa, Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Portsmouth, Reading, Sheffield United, Watford, Wigan

Clearly some degree of price differentiation is required, after all no-one would claim that a game versus Chelsea is equivalent to one versus Sheffield United. Indeed the latter is the type of game to which an accountant say might invite a long-standing client he is keen to offload, but is not ruthless enough to say so outright.

However my attention was, like yours will be too, drawn to the rather perfunctory nature of the categorisation, particularly between silver and bronze. I don't know about you, but I'd love to read the minutes from the pre-season meeting where they were agreed to. Luckily however, I've got a reasonable sense of how it might have gone:


Present: R.Murray (Chairman), P.Varney (Chief Executive), E.Bannon (Ticketing)

Apologies: K.Lisbie (not on the committee, but just wanted to apologise)


Varney: Mr Bannon, I understand you have completed your analysis of next season's Premiership and its implications for hospitality pricing.

Bannon: Yes indeed. I would like to begin by proposing an exclusive 'Platinum' triumvirate of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.

Varney: Hard to argue with you there. 'Platinum' has that sense of luxury doesn't it? A little bit like my new American Express card.

Murray: Excellent work Eamon - a veritable smorgasbord of the finest talent the Premiership has to offer. Liverpool must have been in with a shout too, but then again no-one in their right mind does business with Scousers do they?

Bannon: And secondly, I propose a 'Gold' category containing the aforementioned Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham.

Varney: Sounds perfect - a holy trinity of the has-beens, the wannabees and never-will-bes.

Murray: Hmm, not sure about West Ham to be honest with you - don't want to rub it in to our fans that half of their squad used to play for us.

Bannon: ....and their manager. Anyhow, like it or not, a lot of our local businesses will have clients who are Hammers fans so it's silly not to make more money from them.

Murray: Fair point. By the way, has anyone seen Keith Peacock lately? I can't remember if I've sacked him or not.

Bannon: Moving on, I propose a 'Silver' category containing Everton, Fulham, Man City, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle

Varney: Eamon, I think you forgot Aston Villa, Bolton and Blackburn.

Bannon: You've got to move with the times Peter. Aston Villa are only rumoured to be worth £64million according to recent reports. Blackburn and Bolton meanwhile haven't qualified for Europe since, well....this season and last season respectively. They're yesterday's men Peter, the future is all about the mighty Middlesbrough and Fulham.

Murray: Didn't I read somewhere that Man City finished 20 points behind Blackburn last season?

Bannon: You've got to look to the future, not to the past Richard. Fans and their clients will be clamouring to watch the exciting talents of Dietmar Hamann, Ben Thatcher and Claudio Reyna. I mean, this Reyna guy sounds Italian....he must be good then.

Varney: Can't we just call the 'Platinum' category 'Gold', call the 'Gold' category 'Silver' and just lump the other 14 teams into an all-encompassing 'Bronze' category? I mean, it won't half make the salespeople's job a lot easier when they have to explain why the Middlesbrough game is pricier than the Villa game.

Bannon: Don't worry boss, we'll sell the packages. We'll bus them in if we have to.

Varney/Murray: Brilliant! Trebles all round.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tipped Over the Edge

New York is the self-proclaimed 'capital of the world' though London is doing its best to capture that title. New York is also for reasons I've never fully understood seemingly the capital for businessmen-whose-trousers-are-too-short (why is that?), but this is not (yet) engrained in popular culture. However if these two titles are either undeserved or unknown, it is surely the unchallenged 'tipping capital of the world.'

The weather today had a 'real feel' temperature of 110 degrees which left me feeling sorry for poor
Chicago Addick who has followed the heatwave east to the Big Apple. Hence it was hardly the best conditions for a waitress to test my patience at a traditional diner.

Spotting my accent and assuming that I was an innocent tourist sheltering from the heat rather than a fully paid-up New York City taxpayer, the waitress brought me the bill and informed me, "...it says $12.95 but it's actually $15." Now I know that the government's inflation figures are probably understated but even in 1930s Germany, prices never rose that quickly. My natural instincts told me to leave $14 and tell her I'd have left $16 if it wasn't for her effrontery, but then I realised she was really rather attractive and thus some other natural instincts left her the $15 she so dearly craved.

Apparently us Brits are notoriously poor tippers, hence her concern. When friends visit the city for the first time from Blighty I often cringe at the thought of them taking a $45 cab (plus $4 toll) from JFK, and sitting in an hour and a half's traffic, before offering a $50 note with a smile, and receiving a 'welcome to New York' tirade, probably in Gujarati.

Tipping is a peculiar microeconomic concept which is not easily explained nor rationalised given its lack of an identifiable trend both within and across different cultures. Theories on tipping usually focus upon its role as a reward for good service, or simply in purely altruistic terms.

Although rewarding good service is a noble action, it is not easily explained unless it brings in return a degree of reciprication. Tipping the maitre d' at your favourite restaurant is less of a tip, and more of an investment for example. Leaving 15-20% however at a restaurant you will likely never revisit, particularly if it was more of a reflex action than a reward, is less easily explained particularly given it is the antithesis of how consumers usually behave.

Some of the most successful retail concepts of the last decade (Matalan, Primark, Asda etc.) have been built upon the concept of 'bargains' yet tipping sees us voluntarily paying more than we need to. Moreover, if it's a 'reward' for good service, we are exceptionally (and consistently) choosy about who we tip.....the hotel bellboy who carried my suitcases ($2)....the cheerful lady who checked me in (nil).

The alternative theory of altruism is probably more helpful. I like to view tipping in terms of a regular disbursement to people whose jobs I am grateful not to have. But even here, inconsistency renders the theory near worthless; I handsomely tip taxi drivers but would likely get short shrift if I tried to tip an air stewardess who happily plied me with booze all the way across the Atlantic (now there's a service I'd gladly reward). Meanwhile my well-tipped hairdresser back in the UK definitely drove a nicer car than me which can't be right.

There is clearly not an all-encompassing explanation for tipping. However I prefer to view the phenomenon from a different angle, an angle which is perhaps particularly relevant given that in recent years tipping has become noticeably more prevalent, not less so.

Thanks to brutal competition in so many sectors, particularly from the Asian emerging markets, the bargaining power of Western workers has diminished markedly unless they are fortunate enough to have clearly identifiable 'value-added' or to work for companies with enormous economies of scale. In the US at least, this trend can be seen clearly whether one is visiting the deprived urban badlands of Detroit, or wincing at the gravity-defying prices of property in Aspen or the Hamptons. In short, inequality is rising rapidly.

Looked at another way, if one assumes that 'markets work' to some degree, and they set wages that reflect a worker's worth (however crude this might be), then the existence of a minimum wage in both the US and UK for example, suggests that if markets were given free rein then the equilibrium wage for unskilled jobs in key global cities like New York would be way below what a reasonable person would consider a 'living wage.'

Whilst government-induced minimum wage legislation can help to a degree, many recipients of tips are illegal immigrants working under the radar screen, yet doing jobs we clearly value (otherwise there wouldn't be demand for them). Hence in my view, the willingness especially of city-dwellers to subsidise this activity reflects a combination of the two theories I initially espoused (rewards and altruism), but an additional collective acknowledgement that tipping represents a 'voluntary welfare tax'. We want someone to wash our clothes but we'd rather not ruin those clothes by tripping over our cleaner begging on the subway. An example of the rare wisdom of crowds perhaps?

Similarly entire business models would not be viable without the generous tips of its customers. I regularly walk past perennially half-empty Irish pubs in New York no doubt paying market rents, and wonder how the landlord can possibly make a living. The answer lies of course in the fact that they typically pay their jovial staff a frighteningly low $2.13 per hour because the law assumes their tips will take them above the $5.15 minimum wage. Assuming a pub is open 16 hours per day and has 8 staff members at all times, the landlord saves over $140,000 per year, or the difference between a viable business and the bailiffs at the door.

Now believe you me, when I happily leave an Irish barman a handsome tip, it's not a reward nor altruism, it's simply the fact that I need a beer and I don't intend to walk more than two blocks to get it. However more seriously I wonder if tipping will become a new stealth tax which won't be reflected in the official data, yet will act as yet another squeeze on the hapless middle classes.