Saturday, September 30, 2006

Planet Arsenal

"That goal might just be a contender for goal of the season," according to Davie Provan, expert summariser on Setanta. Might? Goal of the season? It was the effing goal of the decade, let alone season. Go on, give me one that was better.

A good advertisement for the Premiership settled by a simply wonderful goal. Arsenal may not be the best team in the country right now, but they exemplify the purest form of the sport imaginable. No hopeful punts upfield or balls just lumped into the box, instead gloriously fluid passing and moving. Occasionally they over-indulge a little, but the law of averages tells them the defence will eventually open up.

Despite having 82% of the possession in the first half, Arsenal went behind thanks to Hasselbaink's presence of mind, curbing his natural instinct to shoot in order to present Darren Bent with the simplest of goals. Both Bent's goals this season from open play have been put on a platter by Hasselbaink, and it's a partnership that we will increasingly be relying upon.

Although we had barely been in the game and Van Persie soon equalised, the goal served to remind us that if Arsenal have a weak spot it's in their inexperienced defence, and to the extent that we were able to get possession of the ball, we looked reasonably dangerous as was proved several more times in the second half.

If the Dowie critics were expecting heads to drop after Van Persie's second, they would have been impressed surely by his team's response. Firstly Reid forced a fine low save from Lehmann, and Hasselbaink contrived to miss a free header from an excellent Hughes cross, either side of reasonable penalty appeals after Gallas handled Lisbie's overhead kick. Speaking of Lisbie, a late call-up in place of the injured Rommedahl was an enforced surprise, and his confidence slowly grew having been declared missing for most of the first half.

If I am brutally honest, I don't think we would have got anything out of this game even if we had converted a second half chance, because Arsenal always had that extra gear in storage. Although we had grown into the game after the break, Scott Carson still made two outstanding saves (one in particular from Henry after Fortune's suicidal defending), and at least two other more straightforward ones, whilst Henry more generally gave our defenders a torrid afternoon.

As I write, Sheffield United are playing 'Boro where a win for the Blades will see us left in a humbling last place. Back on June 22nd, I suggested only part-jokingly that Charlton might well find themselves bottom with a solitary point after today's game, so we shouldn't be too surprised, and moreover no-one foresaw the injury crisis that only seems to be getting worse not better. However I've seen enough to remain optimistic that we will pull through, and four points or more from the Fulham/Watford games would be a mighty leap in the right direction.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Arsene All

Arsene Wenger celebrates his tenth anniversary as Arsenal manager at the Valley on Saturday, so it's an appropriate time to pay homage to the man who has perhaps done the most to improve the Premiership as a spectacle, let alone transformed Arsenal into one of the best teams in Europe.

Ok, I accept he's a bit of a pain in the backside and hasn't so much been brushed with an ugly stick, but beaten with it to within an inch of his life (is this what happened to Dowie then? - Ed.) However, when he took over at Arsenal, the club had finished 5th, 12th, 4th and 10th respectively before embarking on nine consecutive top three finishes, including three titles of course and records galore.

I've always had a soft spot for Arsenal, simply due to the fact that I was brought up in North London and they were the 'big club who weren't Spurs.' Since Wenger arrived, it's been hard not to admire the style of football they have played; at one point he even managed to make Ray Parlour a core part of it. So in short, if I was at the Valley I would be giving him a standing ovation even if no-one joined in with me.

However I won't be at the Valley, I'll be in an Irish pub watching it live and thus keeping up my 100% TV viewing record for our games this season. Most level-headed fans have agreed that we will only be able to properly judge Dowie when the fixtures level out and the injured players returned, so the case of 'Charlton Fans vs Dowie' will begin in earnest starting with the Fulham game.

If Dowie drops another H-Bomb (playing both Holland and Hughes) we have no chance; I can't recall such near-total consensus about the negative virtues of two players. It's not a personal thing, I'm confident both would be pleasant company over a beer or two, but they quite simply would not get into any other Premiership team. In his book The Wisdom of Crowds, the author James Surowiecki attacks the conventional wisdom, particularly prevalent in finance, that it is always best to be contrarian rather than just 'go with the flow.' Whilst I tend to disagree with him, in the case of Holland and Hughes, I am comfortable with the idea that the crowd are infact extremely 'wise' and Dowie (and Curbs before him) are just plain wrong.

Legendary soothsayer Derek Hales (KillerWatch©: -£225) is predicting more than 2.5 goals, and I suspect he will be right for once. NY Addick predicts: Charlton 0, Arsenal 3 (Henry, Van Persie, Rosicky)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Curbishley's high-water mark

Given that my recent post about Alan Curbishley’s rolling six-point form seemed to illicit an unusually high number of hits, I can only conclude that Charlton fans are eager for more statistical analysis. Hence in this post, whilst I accept that I cannot ‘prove’ that Curbs had taken us as far as he could, I hope to provide some strong graphical evidence to support that thesis.

The graph above (double-click for a clearer version) plots Curbs’ rolling 38-game points totals since 2000/01 in blue, whilst the red line shows the rolling average of the ten most recent observations (thus dampening some of the volatility and providing a smoother, albeit lagging, indicator of trend). Hence the graph begins ten games into the 2001/02 season, but the data began in earnest when we beat Man City 4-0 at the Valley to celebrate our return to the Premiership.

What should hopefully be clear from the red line is that Curbs had a strong start, faded, managed to rally the troops particularly in 2003/04 but then began the slow and steady decline which bored the fans, worried the Board and ultimately wore out Curbs himself. It was this second bout of worsening form that led to his demise, and what's key in my view is that not only did we fail to exceed that high-water mark (circled), each subsequent wave in form peaked below the previous one, a clear indicator of long-term decline.

After an outstanding 2000/01 season (52 points and 9th place), the team began 2001/2 strongly too, taking 41 points from the opening 31 games. However the traditional end-of-season slump combined with a slow start to 2002/03 saw our form bottom as highlighted in Nov 2002. The aforementioned subsequent bounce in form peaked after a 1-0 win at Spurs on 28 Dec 2003, (which took us to 37 points from just 22 games so far that season) but we again lost our way though held out enough to finish a highly creditable 7th.

It seems somewhat fitting perhaps that the final bottoming out of form (again circled) occurred after a 3-0 defeat at Arsenal on 18 Mar 2006, a performance so diabolical that it severely tested even the most fervent Curbs supporters. It was also just one of three games during an eight-match spell last season which didn’t finish goalless, a soporific period that left many fans craving entertainment over points, perhaps for the first time since that Man City game which began my analysis.

In short, in my view whilst Curbs’ resignation hastened the beginning of a new era at Charlton, it would have been the right time anyhow. It is far too early to assess Dowie’s abilities meanwhile, though he remains perhaps the best of the realistic candidates that were available during the summer.

Dowie's injury problems mount

As if Iain Dowie's injury problems were not bad enough, club officials were last night eagerly awaiting news from Iraq where early reports suggest key defender Talal El Karkouri may have been shot by British forces who mistook him for key Al Qaeda leader Omar Al Farouq.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Some Perspective on Dowie

With Iain Dowie already receiving some criticism from Charlton fans, I thought it would be worthwhile adding some important perspective. With nothing better to do on Sunday, I built a spreadsheet with our results since 2000/01. Hence, the above graph shows our rolling 6-game points totals under Curbs since we returned to the Premiership.

Whilst acknowledging some of the weaknesses of this analysis (not least the fact that some of the observations span more than one season), surely the one aspect of the graph which should jump out of the page is its sheer volatility. In short, whilst Curbs consistently reached the goal of Premiership safety (at an average of 7.6 points per six games), he certainly didn't do it in a linear fashion. Indeed there were occasional bouts of title-winning form, not least the two occasions when 16 points were taken from a possible 18.

Conversely, the thin black line towards the bottom of the graph level with the 3-point mark shows that there were a number of occasions when Curbs had periods of form equivalent to, or worse than, the form Dowie has so far produced. Fortunately for Curbs, they tended to occur towards the end of the season once safety had been ensured, and thus became a source of frustration rather than desperation. However I don't think they can just be discounted as if they never happened.

My concern with Curbs therefore, and it is by definition hypothetical, is one of 'what if'? What if say five of our last six fixtures last season had been Sunderland, Wigan, Middlesbrough, Birmingham and WBA (instead of our opening six) and we approached them with just 32 points on the board? How certain would we have been that the required points for safety would have been won in such a pressure situation? It's an important question to ponder whilst we assess Dowie's abilities in the context of his unusually difficult early fixtures.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Easy Ryder

When I was younger, the Ryder Cup singles provided one of the most exciting sporting days imaginable. These days, it feels more like a procession and begs the inevitable question, isn't it about time the USA invited the 'Rest of the World' to join their team?

Of course, in fairness to the Americans, Great Britain first invited Ireland to join their team in 1973 and then the rest of Europe in 1979. However in the same way that the football World Cup is poorer for not having been graced by the likes of George Best, surely the Ryder Cup would benefit from having say Ernie Els and Vijay Singh replacing the likes of Brett Wetterich. Their addition might also temper the natural jingoistic tendencies of the American team, which thankfully were notable by their absence at the K Club.

That absence can partially be put down to Darren Clarke's courageous presence which ensured all the competitors received a timely reminder that it really was only a golf match. As a result, the Cup provided a fine demonstration of why matchplay golf is firmly the preferred format for purists, and all played in a spirit of camaraderie not animosity.

The American press have not been sympathetic towards their team's consistent failings at the Ryder Cup. Despite their dominance of the majors in recent years, the likes of Woods and Mickelson have been shadows of their usual selves, and various theories have been put forward to explain it.

It's important to remember matchplay does require a different strategy to usual tournament golf where posting the lowest score possible is all that counts; matchplay meanwhile is a relative form of golf. It's a subtle difference, but it's a form of golf far more prevalent in the golf clubs of Europe than the USA.

Other theories include the homogeneity of American golf courses which emphasise 'target golf' rather than the more opportunistic approach required by many European courses, especially links. Some have mentioned America's more individualistic culture which is only enhanced by a sport which is usually as individual as they come; playing as a golf team therefore is doubly unnatural.

I however will put forward a simple yet perhaps controversial theory....the Europeans are just better golfers.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Stats Don't Lie

Our last 38 Premiership games have delivered just 35 points, a damning and extremely worrying statistic. Indeed, between the start of the 2002/03 season and the end of last season, our previous worst 38-game spell produced 42 points (the best was 60 incidentally, culminating in a draw at Leicester on 22 Nov 2003). The stat reminds us that the decline began long before Dowie arrived, and given that his first job was to clear out most of the curbus detritus as they say in Latin, we owe it to him to be patient. Equally however we should recognise that if there's any sense around the club that we are 'too good to go down', then in all likelihood we will.

For 34 minutes today, there were some promising signs for Charlton. We had forced the best save of the game inside five minutes, and we looked relatively composed albeit without threatening again. And then, just as invariably happens when you're already in the bottom three (and the two observations are not unrelated), Hreidarsson falls asleep at the far post, the impressive Agbonlahor nips in and we're staring another defeat in the face.

And even after that disappointment, Hasselbaink forced another fine save from Sorensen emphasising that whilst he may not be the hardest-working forward in the land, he knows where the goal is. The Dutchman has already come in for some rather unfair criticism in my view, and if those critics would prefer a harder working striker who averages about a shot-on-target every month, then let's get Shaun Bartlett back.

Once the second goal went in, the heads dropped and a late Marcus Bent header aside, we created little. Like the first, this was another preventable goal, a missed header from El Karkouri and then his fatal decision to jog back for a second instead of sprint was enough to give Moore the lead he needed and he finished with aplomb. Thus the game finished 2-0 as I predicted on Friday, and with Killer's position as 'official tipster' increasingly untenable, I await a recruitment call from the club.

Having seen the game in full, I'm not yet as pessimistic as some. For sure Dowie's preference for Hughes and Holland is peculiar to say the least though I could understand his game plan, if not the way he chose to execute it. He chose to forego any width on the left by playing Holland, Hughes and Faye as a central trio, thus allowing Rommedahl more freedom than he might ordinarily have been given (and at times he used it to good effect).

With a resurgent Arsenal to come on Saturday, we face the very realistic prospect of needing to accumulate 37 points from just 31 games to reach the magical 40-point mark. This translates to form equivalent to nearly 46 points over a 38-game period. Equally however let's not forget the fixture list has required us to play all the teams currently occupying the top four places (that's partly why they're in the top four - Ed.).

Looked at another more promising way, I am confident enough to say that Watford and Sheffield United have no prospect of staying up so we just need to finish above them and one other. If that challenge is beyond Dowie, injuries or otherwise, then the Board really did get the appointment wrong.

Worried? You bet I am. Terrified? Not just yet.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Holiday Villa

Villa Park

With just three points from five games and a medical team undertaking triage, looking at the fixture list has become akin to scary moments in a film - you try desperately not to look, briefly open your eyes and then immediately wish you hadn't.

Putting our dreadful record at Aston Villa aside for a moment, there shouldn't be anything particularly daunting about tomorrow's fixture. Villa Park is one of those old-fashioned grounds that retains a classic aura, but their fans don't exactly generate a terrifying atmosphere. And although Martin O'Neill has clearly given the club a boost (they remain unbeaten), their squad on paper at least, is no stronger than ours even not withstanding our injury problems. However our record there is dreadful and some of Dowie's famous positive-thinking will be required if we are somehow to bring 336 days of awayday misery to and end.

Charlton legend Derek 'killer' Hales has been putting his legendary intellect to work this season offering fans his outstanding insight into where the value lies at the bookmaker. No doubt he has been poring over statistical analyses of the data, running Monte Carlo simulations and assessing the odds within the context of a probabilistic expected value framework.

Thanks to my proprietary KillerWatch© analysis, I can confirm that Killer has suggested just one winning bet from six this season (a home win over Bolton at 6/4). Hence those that have followed his £50 charity bets will now be nursing a painful £175 loss. Where's the accountability? And if I worked for the charity, I think I might be inclined to say, "Cheers Derek mate, but I think we'll just take the cash thanks." After all £175 can buy a lot of toys for sick children.

Killer is backing a draw tomorrow, so a win is assured but for whom? The return of Hreidarsson should at least give the back four a more familiar look with Fortune presumably maintained in the centre until Traore can return. Reassuringly Holland and Hughes are doubtful, so the midfield virtually picks itself with Rommedahl and the disappointing Ambrose flanking Faye and Kishishev in the centre. Up front, Hasselbaink will doubtless retain his place (though some fans are already restless) alongside the increasingly priceless Darren Bent.

The game will be shown here in full but delayed at 2.30pm, so I will sit back and watch the Ryder Cup unfold, weather and the vagaries of US television permitting. In their infinite wisdom today at least, we are forced to watch the golf on a five hour delay 'as if' it's live meaning that Montygomerie and Harrington are only on the 6th tee despite the BBC assuring me they've already lost their match (I know Tiger Woods can psyche players out, but that's crazy). I wonder therefore how many Yanks will be watching this afternoon and thinking, "Gee, it never seems to get dark in Ireland." Meanwhile, the US players are wearing outfits that have clearly been designed by a blind person, presumably one who had the misfortune of the sun reflecting off the teeth of the American players' wives.

In defiance of Killer, New York Addick predicts: Aston Villa 2 (Angel, Moore), Charlton 0

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Alain Curbishlée

"Mr Curbishley, welcome to the Bates Motel. How long will you be staying?"

Poor old Curbs, he flies off to New Zealand for his first holiday in 16 years and he's being linked with more jobs than Alfred Marks. Firstly Bryan Robson was politely invited to spend even more time in the pub, and then today Kevin Blackwell was sacked presumably for not having brought Leeds back into the Champions League yet.

I happen to think Robson is a poor manager, whilst Blackwell has been very poorly treated. However am I the one who thinks that Chairmen are not accountable enough for appointing their managers in the first place? To quote WBA's Jeremy Peace back in November 2004, Robson was their "..first and unanimous choice."

Since then Robson performed a miracle during the remainder of 2004/05, had a disappointing season in 2005/06 (but not extraordinarily so) and his team lie 9th after a mightily significant eight games this campaign. So was Robson really the 'first and unanimous choice' or was he really just another stop-gap at yet another club seemingly keen to lurch from mediocrity to averageness.

As for Leeds, I'm almost lost for words at the way Blackwell has been treated. Back in April when Curbs announced his departure, I suggested he might be an interesting up-and-coming candidate for the Charlton job, and no-one told me I was crazy. Up until that point, his record was as good as say Billy Davies, Phil Parkinson or Ady Boothroyd's. So in other words, the Leeds board is implying either that his reasonable record with no money (43 wins and 37 draws from 113 games) was down merely to good fortune (possible), or that since the play-off final in May he has completely lost those very attributes that caught the eye of so many neutrals (highly unlikely). Is it purely a coincidence that the likes of Arsenal, Charlton, Crewe and Man Utd have had so much success by staying loyal to their manager?

I'm not sure meanwhile what Curbs must make of all this. He turns Charlton from a basket-case into a solid Premiership outfit whilst always balancing the books, and the best jobs he has been linked with so far are WBA and Leeds. To use a term from the insurance industry (this is one for you, Chicago Addick), he is faced with a type of adverse selection, a situation that arises when there is asymmetric information between buyers and sellers.

The most commonly used example of adverse selection is used car sales. Sellers know whether a car is any good or not, but the buyer does not. As a result truthful sellers seek to provide 'signals' about the quality of the car, for example by allowing test-drives or by having their cars AA tested. Without these signals, market failure would result because buyers would offer a low price (to reduce the risk of being ripped off), and the sellers would refuse to sell because they (and only they) know the car is a good one.

"Ah yes" I hear you say, "...but surely Curbs has the best signal of all. He turned Charlton from basket case to established Premiership club in just a decade. Surely he has nothing to prove?" Well, we know that, Curbs knows that, so let's all get that new stand built so we can name it after him. Yet somehow it doesn't seem to wash with the so-called 'big clubs' and I'm keen to understand the reasons. Here are a few that I believe are relevant:

Modesty: Curbs has never been one to shout from the rooftops. When we won he was 'satisfied' and when we lost he was 'disappointed', never at either extreme. In a subjective business like football management (it's subjective because the key is not how many points or wins you accumulate, but how many you were expected to accumulate), modesty might be perceived as lack of ambition. Meanwhile that perennial self-publicist John Gregory has got himself another job.

'Little Old Charlton' Syndrome: We all know we don't get the credit we deserve in the media, and as a result those that rely on so-called 'pundits' for their information might belittle his achievements. We would all like to think we're not affected by the media, but it's near-impossible not to be. Go on be honest, did you hate 'You're Beautiful' by James Blunt when it first came out or when you were told by the media you were meant to hate it?

He's from East London: There's a tendency to assume that foreigners are brighter than their English counterparts. Why? Because, we can't discern from their use of grammar how intelligent they might be. We all assume for example that David Beckham or Steven Gerrard are thick (despite never having spent time with them), but could we even hazard a guess at the IQ of say Xabi Alonso or Didier Drogba? How else do you explain the appointments of Alain Perrin, Christian Gross or Josef Venglos? If his name was Alain Curbishlée, he'd probably be planning a Champions League campaign quite literally as we speak. I have a friend, a regular reader of this blog as it happens (hi mate, if you're reading this) who only seems to build meaningful relationships with foreign girls - perhaps he falls into the same trap? Unfortunately for Curbs, he can't shake his Cockney twang and has a tendency to mangle his tenses, and I'm not sure it goes down very well in top Premiership boardrooms.

(So if I was you Curbs, I'd stay in New Zealand. The nights are getting longer and the quality of life is better for a start.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The U.N. (Unnecessary Nuisance)

(not Charlton related)
<< "You mean I have to go to New York again?"

The streets of New York are clogged, tempers are can only mean one of two's either raining or the President of the United States is in town.

During the understandable euphoria that followed the end of World War Two, someone in their infinite wisdom decided to put the United Nations bang in the middle of Manhattan and nobody bothered to stop them. And whilst some of the lesser-known delegates can make the most of all that New York nightlife has to offer (and believe me, I mean all), poor old George W is cooped up at the Waldorf-Astoria like a high-security inmate. I'd love to think they were protecting him from terrorists but I'm increasingly convinced they're more concerned about normal New Yorkers getting their hands on him.

Despite its extraordinary wealth and its well-earned image as the 'capital of capitalism', just 17% of Manhattan voters opted for Bush at the 2004 election. Despite the fact that his awkward public persona did not go down universally well in this image-conscious city, the hapless John Kerry persuaded fully 82% of Manhattan that their future ought to lay in his hands. When ill-informed foreign protestors accuse Bush of being a only caring about the rich, they ought to remember his core support comes from the very poorest states in the nation.

Manhattan is the smallest of New York's five boroughs, and contains 25,849 people per square km with all of the commensurate congestion. Once you include tourists, the density increases even more and it's them I really feel for. Fancy a hotel room at short notice tomorrow night? Why not visit and choose the luxurious 3-star Moderne Hotel for an extremely competitive $1,369? I'm assured that the, "Bathrooms decked in green or beige marble provide premium international toiletries."

Surely cities like Melbourne (1,791 people per sq km), Seattle (2,626) or Stockholm (4,073) with their world-renowned quality of life would have been better suited to a convention of diplomats from 192 member states? Instead the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Secret Service, as if they didn't have enough on their hands, need to work out how on earth they can get delegates safely from their hotels to the UN and back again. You can probably imagine the two-way radio communication:

Secret Serviceman: "Dispatcher, we need a limo outside the Four Seasons. The Israelis are ready to head to the UN."

Limo Dispatcher: "Oooh, it'll be at least 45 minutes, I've just sent the last one to the Best Western to pick up the Andorran delegation."

SS: "Andorra? Never heard of them. Couldn't they have taken the subway?"

LD: "Or could the Israelis share? I've a minivan that's just left the Ritz-Carlton."

SS: "Great, who's in it?"

LD: "President Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine."

SS: "Oh marvellous, non-stop hectoring about the West Bank and Gaza Strip"

LD: "It was never a penalty."

SS: "Jeez, I said the Gaza Strip not Gazza's Trip."

Monday, September 18, 2006


About a month ago, I installed a more sophisticated site meter to this blog in order to track how many people were visiting the site and more importantly when, how and why. I had never been aware up until now of the fingerprint that users of the net leave behind when they surf it. It's particularly worrying given the frequency with which I google old schoolfriends to make sure they're not doing better than me (most of them are - Ed.).

The majority of visitors come to the site via the excellent Forever Charlton news and blog aggregator. I'm always touched meanwhile when a sudden rush of hits from NetAddicks for example tells me someone must have linked to my blog, leaving me searching eagerly for the hopefully flattering mention. The most curious visits arise however from those instances where a completely random Google search somehow ends up suggesting my blog as an appropriate match.

Don't get me wrong, Google is an extraordinary company. To put it in context, its current equity market capitalisation is $127.1bn. In other words, you could either buy Google today or for the same price have received all of the goods and services produced by the Czech Republic in 2005; that's an awful lot of Budvar and strip shows. And moreover, I think what we have seen so far from Google is merely the tip of the iceberg. Once Google search capability interacts more seamlessly with mobile phone technology and GPS, the current valuation may one day seem like a bargain.

However when a lovestruck ice skating fan recently searched for 'Jayne Torvill divorce' I am reasonably confident he did not intend to find my blog as his 19th most likely match. Likewise when a lexicographer was looking for inspiration and searched for '"set our stall out" dictionary', I trust he or she found the definition they sought on the 3rd most likely match suggested.

I have never tended to use the 'I'm Feeling Lucky' button on Google unless I'm searching for something extremely obvious like 'Sheraton' or 'British Airways'. However when I do use it, I naturally fully expect to be sent straight to the most appropriate site, regardless of my sense of good fortune that day. Hence imagine the surprise of the amateur meteorologist when they searched for 'graph of average sunny days in New York', clicked the lucky button and ended up on a blog ostensibly about Charlton.

Now finally, I thought I bowed to no-one when it came to being personally affronted by the audacity of Frank Lampard publishing his memoirs after such a shameful World Cup. No-one that was until I realised as ever that our man Frankie Valley had got there before me. Nonetheless, I feel that our twin offensive may be bearing fruit because a quick Google search for 'Totally Frank' (in the footsteps of one of my visitors) finds me lying 10th in Google's suggested links.

Now I'm not advocating 'click fraud' but if I could just ask you all to spare a minute or two to do the search then click my link, we have a chance of creating that precious moment when Frank, in a rare moment of reflection and solitude decides to Google his book (hopefully whilst feeling lucky).

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Portsmouth Let Off Scott Free

When the teams were announced, my first thought was, "This is the most attacking Charlton line-up I've ever seen." So it stands to reason that we lost, erm

It was again reassuring that Dowie threw caution to the wind by playing 4-3-3 realising that in times of adversity, attack is the best form of defence. Perhaps our new boss had read the spoof maths report I wrote for Curbs last year. Critics might argue that our defeat proved it was a wrong choice, but the quality of decisions cannot be judged based upon a single observation.

I was joined in the pub by three Addicks (yes, three), a chartered surveyor and his son, and a theatre director no less. The team may not be going up in the world, but it seems that their fans are. We all agreed that Curbs would have gone 4-5-1 and tried to eke out an ugly win and although our results under Dowie are not yet reflecting the more ambitious approach, I remain confident that they will do (just).

The first half wasn't a great spectacle and we were clinging on at times, with only a first-minute looping header against the bar to show for our attacking approach. By half-time Dowie realised that a slight change was needed, putting a less-than-fully-fit Jon Fortune into defence to allow Amdy Faye to move into a more typical four-man midfield. Although Omar Pouso showed plenty of promise, it was a little much to ask him to plough a lone central midfield furrow and he only lasted another fifteen minutes after the interval before being replaced by the anonymous Matty Holland.

Ironically having been outplayed before the interval, for much of the second half we looked the better side, and ended up losing the game. Faye was at the centre of most of our better play, and although we pressed and probed, in truth we didn't create a single outstanding chance and paid a full price when Lua Lua's tame shot somehow evaded Carson's late dive. It would be easy to be critical of our young keeper, but without his heroics against Bolton we could well have zero points right now.

The Addicks contingent in New York remained optimistic although when pressed to name three teams we would finish above, we only got as far as Watford and Sheffield United. The theatre director even expressed some admiration for Marcus Bent, and he wasn't even drinking. It's possible we were all just high on the elixir of being an Addick in New York; in short, it's the closest we'll probably ever get to knowing how it feels to be super-rich....your very own bar, several flat-screen televisions and a friendly Irish butler bringing you breakfast at half-time.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Charlton's Crock Hunter

It's about time I paid a belated posthumous tribute to self-styled Croc Hunter, Steve Irwin who was killed by a sting ray on 4th September.

He was certainly no stranger to
controversy but he was a genuine animal lover and conservationist at heart, and as someone who increasingly finds he prefers animals to people, I hope he is resting in peace.

Like a typical Aussie, he had a great sense of humour so I hope he will forgive the following inappropriate one 'Croc Hunter' passes away, a new 'Crock Hunter' is reborn in the shape of Charlton boss, Iain Dowie.

During the summer Dowie made ten signings in total including Gonzalo Sorondo (crocked), Cory Gibbs (crocked), Djimi Traore (crocked), Andy Reid (crocked) and Souleymayne Diawara (crocked). With Jerome Thomas and Jonathan Fortune also crocked, and Hermann Hreidarsson suspended, we approach an important home game with Portsmouth with just 15 or so genuine first-team players, and three of those are goalkeepers. In short we have just one recognised centre-back (El Karkouri) and both our natural left-backs would be debutants (Youga and Ashton).

If Dowie wanted a gentle return to Premiership management, he has been left disappointed. If he didn't have enough problems with his own club, Simon Jordan would be feeling an acute sense of schadenfreude I'm sure. In just four games, our new gaffer has been required to undertake two post-red card reshuffles, to (unsuccessfully) navigate his way past England's two finest club sides and now he has an injury crisis of worrying proportions.

Desperate times call for a gallant captain's performance and Luke Young's role will be key on Saturday. It is well-known that he can play at
left-back if required, but it is often forgotten that he began his Spurs career as a centre-back and is more than capable of fitting in there too. However in my view, the karma of the team would be negatively affected by moving Young from his comfortable right-back position and doing so would risk damaging the team twice. After all, we are not exactly flush with right-back alternatives for Young, the next-best option being.....erm, well Kishishev or Sankofa.

Dowie has refreshingly put some of the fuzzy thinking of the Curbs era to rest already this season with his cavalier approach to being reduced to ten men, so it's time to continue that trend by giving either Kelly Youga or Nathan Ashton their debut, something I suspect that his predecessor surely would not have countenanced.

Given that we have plenty of cover in central midfield with Kishishev or even Omar Pouso able to step in to the breach, it seems that Amdy Faye will be asked again to step into central defence. Meanwhile, I hope that the Herminator has been castigated financially for his role in this unfortunate dilemma.

I will be joined for the en pub live coverage by an entire family of holidaying Addicks in New York. I am then heading a hundred miles south to Philadelphia for a spot of sightseeing and another
half-marathon (I told you it was an addiction). Despite having entered the race some time ago, I was having second thoughts about actually running it until I noticed there will be groups of vivacious cheerleaders (their adjective, not mine) along the course, competing for a $2,250 first prize for their high school. Ever the philanthropist, I felt it would have been rude not to don my running shoes for such a noble and educational cause. NYA Predicts: 1hr 52 mins, and Charlton 1 (Bent D), Portsmouth 3 (Benjani, Kanu, Mendes)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Curbs Returns

No, not that Curbs, he's still enjoying a well-earned holiday in New Zealand. I'm talking instead about this week's UK release of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Series 5.

In my view, Curb Your Enthuiasm (CYE) is the most outstanding sitcom of all time. Ironically perhaps, it was never meant to exist - it began as a one-off 'mockumentary' in 1999, but has now run for five series and fifty episodes, and has developed a relatively small but fanatical following (a little like Charlton if you will).

For those that haven't seen it, Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld) plays himself, a wealthy but unfulfilled Jewish writer/producer living amongst the plastic of Los Angeles. Each episode sees Larry caught up in an intricate web of excruciating social situations thanks to his uncanny ability to offend and refusal to conform to social norms. Once you learn to love Larry, you will fall in love with CYE.

Larry is at the epicentre of everything great about the show, but he is assisted by a talented cast whose tolerance of him ranges from the low (his manager's wife Susie) to the high (his long-suffering wife Cheryl). At various points, in a technique used successfully by Extras, real life stars from Ted Danson to Ben Stiller play themselves.

Some of the advertising posters for earlier series suggested that, "Deep inside you know you're him." The key difference is that most of us have learned to keep our true feelings to ourselves in the name of decorum and social protocol; Larry however just can't button his lip and as a result I'm constantly willing him on. I would often like to voiciferously criticise some aspects of American life, from its materialism to its religiosity but politeness prevents me from doing so; luckily Larry acts as my secret spokesperson.

The show doesn't contain killer one-liners and shuns canned laughter (unlike Seinfeld), but instead simply sets up the brilliantly conceived situations and allows the actors to interact virtually unscripted. The instrumental soundtrack meanwhile is a common theme throughout the show and a key element to its success. The result is a warm and natural sitcom which simply gets better the more often you watch it.

I am generally underwhelmed by most television shows, but CYE has certain things in common with some of my select other favourites. Like Fawlty Towers it plays upon the chaos that inevitably ensues when different cultures mix, or snobbery is present in the company of someone willing to challenge it. However whereas Fawlty Towers had elements of farce with its characters constantly moving across a fixed set, CYE is more subtle and uses diverse locations although at times its situations are similarly farcical. Meanwhile in The Office (the British one, not the dire American version), Ricky Gervais also avoids canned laughter to create a realism that can leave you cringing whilst you laugh. CYE however supercedes both of them in my view.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years On

(not Charlton related)

Five years have now passed since the terrible events of September 11th 2001. Whatever your views on the geopolitics that preceded the events and then followed them, it's an opportune time to step back and remember the 3,000 innocent people whose lives were extinguished that morning.

Although few New Yorkers are more than a couple of degrees separated from someone who died that day, if the terrorists hoped to snuff out the city's famous dynamism, I can confirm that they failed miserably. However, the anniversary will bring emotions back to the surface for the bereaved, whilst for those not directly involved the terrifying confusion of that day will be replaced no doubt tomorrow by silent reflection.

Despite the enormity of the 9/11 attacks, there are still some who believe the West should appease or understand. Although the US could have been accused of being asleep to the threat in 2001, it is worth remembering the attacks were unprovoked and a response was required, as clumsy as it transpired. If however a poignant reminder of 9/11 serves as a renewed wake-up call to the threat we all faced then and still face now, then the victims won't have died in vain.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

A for Effort

With four games now gone, it's starting to become clearer what we can expect from Iain Dowie's Charlton team. Total commitment for sure, and unexpectedly perhaps a willingness to throw caution to the wind.

When we conceded a soft goal after just five minutes, I was expecting a rout but we dug in, rode our luck a couple of times, and then began to look like a proper football team. The last observation may sound tautological but at times over the past couple of seasons the teammates have looked like drinkers at a cocktail party waiting to be introduced.

I knew I was becoming increasingly bullish on Dowie when he replaced the injured Reid with Rommedahl, a player often seen as at best a luxury. Had the score been goalless, perhaps it would have been Kishishev but a goal down after the half-hour mark, Dowie correctly realised we had nothing to lose and it was a decision that paid off in the second half.

It's hard enough to play Chelsea with a fit squad let alone one that has begun to resemble the residents of Holby City on fireworks night. Conceding the winner with Diawara off the pitch was cruel of course but the space Carvalho was afforded (in common with Drogba for the first goal) was unprofessional, period. Frustratingly I had even begun to think we might pull off a famous win after Hasselbaink's classy finish brought us level.

The story of the remainder of the game revolved around Marcus Bent's correctly disallowed goal and the ridiculous penalty that Scott Carson expertly saved. If you're looking for more reasons why England lost in the World Cup, perhaps add 'not substituting Robinson for Carson in the final minute against Portugal' to that list.

It would be easy to view our first four games as '3 points from 6' instead of '3 points from 12' given that we would have expected to take zero from the Man Utd/Chelsea games, but this argument doesn't entirely wash given the points already lost by both today's opponents, and especially Arsenal.

Away from football I enjoyed a sunny day at Flushing Meadow watching one excellent semi-final (Roddick's) and one procession (Federer's). Federer has taken tennis onto a new level and his brilliance really needs to be appreciated live at least once, because talent like his only comes along once in a generation if you are lucky. Although football, like other team sports, produces far greater emotional swings for aficionados, the efficient majesty of the finest individual performers like Federer do far more to emphasise the gap between them and us mere mortals. I can honestly say I've never witnessed another sportsperson who leaves me shaking my head more in sheer wonder.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bush calls on Woodward

(not Charlton related)

Under pressure US President George W Bush has called upon Sir Clive Woodward to solve the Middle East crisis. Speaking on the White House lawn, he told reporters, "To be honest, we're exasperated and have explored all's time to bring in Woodward."

Woodward who once led a group of talented individuals to win a minor global sporting competition, was most recently linked with Southampton FC's youth team whose recent 1-0 victory over Fareham Ladies was described as 'remarkable.'

Bush went on to add that if time permitted, he hoped Woodward would bring an end to global terrorism, hunger and AIDS.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Roman Knows

"Hey Roman, those dumb Charlton fans have all just paid you 48 quid"

The Chelsea game will be shown live in the US, but thanks to a clashing invitation to the mens semis at the US Open tennis (tough life, I know) I will endeavour to avoid the result and persuade my local pub landlord to show it relayed in full at 8.45pm. Given that there is a 'vital' college gridiron game on at the same time, I suspect this request will be about as well received as a Bryan Hughes through ball.

A hardy 500 or so Charlton fans have paid £48 for the privilege of watching the game live. Plenty of the Addickted will have been put off by the cost but it's a fairly standard cost these days to watch most of our more illustrious London rivals. It's just another example of inflation in the service sector from restaurants to hotels, and from private schools to health clubs.

Given that Charlton fans will pay money to watch Chelsea once (and only once) this season, their only consideration will be to maximise the revenue from their attendance; they're not a charity after all. Whilst it is fairly likely that a £24 admission price would have more than doubled the number of Charlton fans at the game, Chelsea can't realistically do this whilst charging their own fans considerably more for seats in the same stand. The only way ticket prices will fall is if fans stop buying them, so full credit to those fans that baulked at the price. One just has to hope that more fans of Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal and the like begin to do the same.

Although it's hard to drum up too much enthusiasm for the fixture, we are of course the only team to take a point from Chelsea at Stamford Bridge since Arsenal last managed it in April 2005, and we also knocked them out of the Carling Cup there too. Despite ten signings since Curbs left, injuries and suspensions are already causing us problems, not least in central defence where Diawara is likely to make his debut sooner than Dowie might ordinarily have liked. With Pouso unlikely to be used yet, the only other possible change could see Kishishev return to the starting line-up in place of Hughes following his impressive display a fortnight ago. Some fans have suggested Hasselbaink be rested to allow for an extra man in midfield, but he will be itching to score against his former club and I'm not sure his ego could stomach being dropped this early in the campaign. NYA Predicts: Chelsea 2 (Drogba, Lampard), Charlton 0

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Up the Damien

I'm pleased to report that Mrs New York Addick is fifteen weeks 'Up the Damien' as they now say in Newcastle.

When the wife told me the news (ironically on our first anniversary) I welled up with emotion, put a caring arm around her, then naturally reached for my diary to check the Charlton fixture list. All being well she is due on March 2nd, just a day before what could be a vital relegation six-pointer at Watford.

Had I been living in the UK, this could have worked out well; I could have left her at Watford General next door and nipped along to the game. After all my Dad proudly tells me how he went to Wembley to watch Jan Tomaszewski's heroics for Poland in 1973, just days after my birth; it's a family tradition if you will.

Until then however, we are being cared for by a medical system which is risk-averse to extraordinary extremes. At some level this is obviously reassuring (so long as the insurance company pays the astronomical bills), but such is their concern about not being sued, every potential risk is explained to us in incredible detail. Hence each time the wife complains of an ache or pain I rush onto the internet to confirm my worst fears; as a result, she's not the only one relieved when it turns out to be trapped wind.

All being well, my life will be enormously different in five months time, and to be honest it hasn't begun to sink in. Right now I'm selfishly concerned for example at how what would previously have been an all-day drinking session with the lads, will now be a swift half on the way home from the Early Learning Centre. On the plus side however, the new arrival will receive a US passport which I intend to use tactically to avoid the immigration queues at JFK Airport.

I'll be the father of a fully paid-up American child, how scary is that? Rest assured however that as soon as they begin to pronounce the first syllable of 'vitamins' like 'bite' instead of 'bit', I'll be on a plane home quicker than you can say 'herbal' (whilst pronouncing the 'h').

The more observant amongst you may have spotted a strange coincidence. Determining the probable date of conception isn't as easy as counting back fifteen weeks from today; strangely (to me at least) a woman is considered about two weeks pregnant before the newly expectant father has even fallen asleep. Imagine that, two weeks seemingly gone by in a split's just like your annual summer holiday.

And thirteen weeks ago, what other exciting drama had several twists and turns before building finally to a monumental climax? (that's not how I recalled it - Mrs NYA) Yes of course, it was the unveiling of Iain Dowie as new Charlton boss - who said football and life weren't intertwined?

At some point we'll have to think about possible names. Back in 1997 when we first started dating, during those heady days when we still enjoyed each other's company, she promised me that if we ever had a child, we could call him or her "Charlton". It's the sort of daft thing you agree to when you're trying to impress a new mate. Naturally nine years on, her memory has handily failed her, but I haven't lost hope yet thanks to a cunning plan I have in mind. I will propose that we each write five boys names and five girls names on a piece of paper. If it's a boy, she has to choose a first name from my list, whilst I choose a middle name from hers, and vice versa for a girl. As I'm sure you'll agree it's a great compromise. Here are my lists:

BOY: Charlton, Bartram, Rufus, Floyd, Harvey.
GIRL: Charlton, Valley, Kinsella, Mendonca, Curbishley.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Learn to Speak Charltonish

With globalisation seemingly an unstoppable force, it is increasingly important to learn a second language. Although French, German and Spanish are most commonly taught in the UK, a number of schools are beginning to offer 'Charltonish' and 'Charltonish for Business', particularly those in South-East London where the dialect is virtually interchangeable with English. Although it is a difficult language to master, the knowledge of some key words and phrases will help you to be understood.

Curbishley, verb (kurbishlee): to go on too long; eg. "I enjoyed the film, but I felt it had curbishleyed by the end."

Lisbie, verb (lizbee): to believe in, despite evidence to the contrary; eg. "My kids still lisbie Father Christmas despite seeing me leaving their presents out."

Rommedahl, adjective (romerdahl): fast, but otherwise useless; eg. "The new Mazda coupe is a pleasure to drive, but it'll be rommedahl for anyone with a family or for shopping trips."

Kishishev, verb (kishishev): to be misunderstood and/or underappreciated; eg. "I feel like I'm kishisheved at work - I had a great year but was overlooked for promotion."

Dowie, verb, noun (douee): to return home via a convoluted route; a long journey home eg. "I had such a dowie last night - I fell asleep on the N89, woke up in Erith and had to walk an hour back to Welling."

Jordan, adjective (jawduhn): resentful, bitter (usually about losing something); eg. "I'm not jordan about the fact that she's left me, I'm jordan about the fact that she kept the house."

Jeffers, noun (jeferz): excessive or unnecessary expenditure or outlay of money (which ultimately disappoints); eg. "My new BMW needs repairing again - it's been a complete jeffers ever since I bought it."

Karkouri, verb (kahkawree): to exhibit rare but damaging bouts of madness; eg. "We've had to put the dog down - he's usually so docile but he karkouried and attacked the neighbour's toddler."

Murphy, verb (murfee): to misjudge and overestimate an alternative; eg. "Don't risk ruining your marriage by murphying this bird at work."

Mervynday, adjective (murvindey): lacking obvious meaning, ineffectual; eg. "This button on the TV remote control seems to be mervynday."

Euell, verb (yoouhl): to sell something for considerably less than you paid for it; eg. "I think we're going to have to euell the house despite being in negative equity."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Frankie Goes to New York

<<<Frankie (left) enjoying his time in New York

On 23 Aug 2006, I finally received the email confirmation that I had been secretly praying for, "Frankie Valley" it read, "will be available to meet with you in New York."

Suddenly an overwhelming sense of fear and trepidation enveloped my body, though that may upon reflection have been due to a fear we wouldn't sign a central midfielder before deadline day.

Frankie Valley for the unitiated is arguably the Charlton blogger par excellence. Formerly with the Four Seasons (the hotel chain, not the backing group), he has developed his blog from humble beginnings to a site that is at the very forefront of technological and literary innovation (steady on - Ed.).

My first attempted contact with Frankie was met with short shrift by his publicist who informed me bluntly that, "...Frankie doesn't do interviews (unless there's money involved)." Acutely conscious of keeping his identity a secret, all correspondence was hereafter to be in writing and to a PO Box in Bexleyheath. Ever since 2004, Frankie has been extremely senstive after he was allegedly photographed attending the FA Cup final involving Charlton's arch-rivals Millwall.
Frankie Den

After negotiating over several weeks, Frankie finally agreed to meet. All questions however were to be pre-prepared and follow-up questions would be strictly controlled. The location would be kept top secret for fear of the New York Times picking up a scoop, and for most of last Wednesday I was led on a wild goosechase through the streets of Manhattan picking up clues like Anneka Rice on amphetamines.

Finally at around 4.45pm, I picked up the following clue pinned to a phone box near Times Square, "Andy Reid called up for a foul at the end of the first half." Now abstract reasoning was never my strong point, yet here I was desperately trying to decpiher a clue or else my chance would be gone, perhaps forever. After all, as his publicist informed me, "..Frankie doesn't like being kept waiting."

Andy Reid? What could that imply? Left-footed? A pub on the left hand side of the street perhaps? But that would depend which way I am facing? Called up for a foul? A tackle from behind maybe? Does he want me to meet him a the back entrance to a pub for fear of being spotted entering the front? At the end of the first half? Does this mean injury time? Will I recognise him by a slight limp?

What other images does Andy Reid conjur up? Weight of course? He's fat, he's obese, he's.....he's a pig! And called up for a foul means you heard the whistle? And the end of the first half is the 45th minute? He wants to meet me at the Pig & Whistle pub in 45 minutes!

I raced to West 47th Street where the venerable pub and tourist trap was located, and waited patiently for the great man to turn up. And then at 5.30pm on the dot, and true to his word, a well-dressed man sauntered over to my table, thrust out his hand and declared, "Hi, I'm Frankie." He was slightly older than I imagined, more wise sage than young punk. Nervously offering him a drink, he remained cryptic to the last, "I'll have a tomato juice thanks....perhaps with something hot in it." Hot in it? What on earth does he mean? A tomato juice with an espresso thrown in?

In fairness to the man, despite the convoluted route that led to our meeting, he was charming to a fault. I think he understood that unlike him, I did not have the opportunity to 'talk Charlton' very often these days. In line with my signed pre-meeting agreement, I cannot divulge anything further about the conversation but Frankie has kindly publicised our meeting on his own blog. Perhaps this is the greatest honour of all.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Agassi refuses to lie down

(not Charlton related)

I'm off to the US Open tennis this afternoon at Flushing Meadow in New York. It remains to be seen whether the stadium will still be vibrating after last night's epic match between soon-to-be-retired legend Andre Agassi and young Cypriot pretender Marco Baghdatis.
The game finished so late (about 12.45am local time) that some early risers in the UK might have caught the tail end of it. However I doubt if anyone was caught sneaking out because it was one of the greatest games this famous tournament will have seen.
There is something special about night games at the US Open when 23,000 screaming New Yorkers fill the Arthur Ashe Stadium with its vertigo-inducing angles and outstanding sightlines. It's a world away from the genteel atmosphere of All England Club, and for the most part the players positively encourage a raucous atmosphere.
Although 'Flushing Meadow' conjures up bucolic images of flowers and gazebos, it is in truth a modern purpose-built tennis centre located strictly in Willet's Point (as opposed to slightly nicer Flushing), a downtrodden suburb of Queens made up largely of railway depots, car repair shops and Shea Stadium, home of the New York Mets. The tournament was formerly played in Forest Hills, a Tudor-style suburb based upon an English garden community, a location with more in common with the relaxed surroundings of Wimbledon than the present site.
First up this afternoon will be our Tim Henman who faces the not insignificant task of beating Roger Federer, who despite still only being 25 years old is already being spoken of as the greatest player of all time. In terms of raw talent, he is probably only edged out right now by John McEnroe though his best years may still be ahead of him. Moreover, despite already winning as many Grand Slams as Agassi (eight), he is yet to win the French Open. It is perhaps then a measure of how good the often under-rated Agassi is when you consider he is one of only three men to have lifted all four Grand Slam titles (Fred Perry and Roy Emerson were the others).
I'll end this post with a confession: I've beaten Tim Henman at tennis (and no, he wasn't standing on one leg at the time). I used to play seriously as a kid, and we were the same age and came across each other regularly at junior tournaments. He was not ranked especially highly until his late-teens when his superior technique saw his game hold up where others failed, and this ensured he rocketed up the rankings both nationally and worldwide. Unlike many other fellow junior players who no doubt now grace the sports shops of the UK, Henman was a nice guy and I don't begrudge him his success (which the British media often downplay).
I'm starting to feel old however when you consider that today might be his final ever match at the US Open. However as the career of our finest post-War player ends, the career of Andy Murray has just begun and based upon what I have seen he could well be basically anything he wants to be; his shot-making abilities are phenomenal. Once his new coach Brad Gilbert knocks him into shape physically, I have every confidence he will be going head-to-head with the very best for the next decade. He also has that arrogant streak which may not endear him to everybody, but which is often the trait of a winner.
(apologies for lack of paragraph spacing)

Omar Giddy Aunt

After a day of frantic activity, the transfer window has closed for a few months and we can get back to the boring business of winning football matches. I must admit I wish it was transfer deadline day every day.

To sum up, as expected we saw Jason Euell depart for a disappointing (but understandable) fee of £300,000. Slightly surprisingly perhaps we saw Stefan Andersen carted off to Leeds on a season-long loan, and my suspicions are we may not see him in a Charlton shirt again with Curbs and now Dowie unconvinced by both his ability and attitude. Meanwhile Simon Walton's loan deal has been extended at Ipswich, a sensible move to allow him to gain more experience.

The key news of course was the Omar Pouso loan (with an option to buy). Once again I think as fans we are entitled to cynically question how much we really know about the player, but the structure of the deal lowers our risk. The bargaining power that the rich English clubs have over their poorer South American neighbours is again emphasised by this lopsided deal.

The team now has an extremely international feel to it with just two of our ten signings being of British origin (Walton and Carson). Either way, the squad now has some genuine depth to it (injuries permitting) and with most of the Curbs detritus now cleared out, Dowie can not really have any excuses if he fails to deliver in the medium-term. In my view, merely avoiding a relegation battle would merit a successful season and allow him to build the confidence to push the team forward upon solid foundations.

Elsewhere, the transfer activity was equally frenetic. Oddest deal of the day clearly occurred at Upton Park where two of the world's finest players will line up alongside Marlon Harewood and Roy Carroll on Saturday week. To say this deal smells fishy would be a giant understatement; someone somewhere is being ripped off - I've a soft spot for the Hammers, so let's hope it doesn't turn out to be them.

Bargain of the day would probably be Steed Malbranque who in typical fashion blackmailed Fulham into releasing him against their wishes. The most boring transfer saga of all time ended predictably with Gallas and Cole swapping clubs and Arsenal in my view getting by far the better outcome...a world class defender and £5m in exchange for an arrogant pr*ck. Manchester United meanwhile chose to be the wallflower at the transfer party, and given their early form who could blame them?

Busiest manager was Roy Keane who managed to snap up six players, though I still wouldn't back them to finish in the top half. Canniest deal of the day might turn out to be Swindon's acquisition of former England captain Paul Ince - it's nice to see players of his ilk willing to play out their careers in the lower leagues just like their ancestors did.

Finally were there any last minute deals involving Kevin Lisbie? Even after ten seasons averaging just six starts per season, he remains a highly-paid squad player. I briefly examined the squads of our 19 Premiership rivals to see if there were any comparable outfield players who have remained at the club for as long, yet made as little an impact. The simple answer is there aren't any. How has he managed it?