Wednesday, May 30, 2007

2007/08 Championship - Charlton 7/1 Favourites

With Monday's play-off final confirming that WBA will remain in the Championship, the odds for next season have been posted and perhaps unsurprisingly, Charlton have been installed as favourites to lift the title at odds ranging from 6/1 to 7/1.

Had WBA won of course, we would have witnessed the rare (perhaps unprecedented) spectacle of all three relegated teams bouncing straight back at the first attempt. Even so, Charlton can take great heart from the success of Birmingham and Sunderland, and it is worth noting that the Black Cats won the title with just 88 points, the same total we managed in 1997/98 (whilst only finishing fourth).

It may be a little premature to be assessing our prospects for next season given that there will be plenty of transfer activity in the months ahead. But then again, the fixtures are published in just two weeks time and that special day usually whets the appetite of any true football fan, temporarily masquerading as a cricket lover.

Whilst I've no wish to put unnecessary pressure on the team, our position as favourites is entirely justified in my view. Odds of 6/1 do not scream 'outstanding value', but then again they imply that if next season was played out 700 times, then we should expect to win the title just 100 times. If accurate, I would be disappointed but it is important to consider hundreds of possible paths of the season, because randomness and fortune play such key roles during individual matches, and across the course of the season. Declaring that anything other than lifting the title will be a disappointment, would thus be unhelpful (but I'll say it anyway).

I consider us to be rightful favourites for the following reasons:

  • Season Tickets: We may not have the best average attendances next season, but we are likely to have the most season-ticket holders, the upfront cashflow being vitally important for planning.
  • Parachute Payments: The parachute payments are meant to act merely as a cushion following relegation, as clubs adapt to the new financial realities. However used appropriately, they also offer clubs the option to gear up, and take some calculated risks during the first season back; I expect Charlton to utilise this option to a sensible degree.
  • Darren Bent: Assuming he is sold, the cash inflow his transfer will provide will give Pardew a valuable windfall, whilst our fellow relegated sides do not possess a saleable asset whose valuation comes close to Bent's. Indeed, he is comfortably the most valuable player in the Championship, exemplified by Southampton receiving just £5m upfront for Gareth Bale. Of course in the unlikely event he stays, an injury-free Bent would be expected to score 30+ goals.
  • Alan Pardew: Pards has plenty of experience of Championship football, and guided Reading (once) and West Ham (twice) to the play-off final.
  • Squad: There will be plenty of ins and outs, but even assuming its core includes most of Bougherra, Fortune, Thatcher, Holland, Reid, Hughes, Ambrose, Faye, Varney, and Iwelumo, that represents a reasonable foundation for Pards to build from, at least in comparison to those we will face (see below).
Scanning the list of the 23 teams we will face in the Championship, it is very difficult to make the case that it is (or should be) a difficult division to get out of. For example, the bookies have clearly highlighted six teams as the market-leaders, and we really should not fear any of the others (WBA, Wolves, Sheff United, Watford, Southampton). Whilst acknowledging that WBA and Southampton are well-run clubs who will compete, I believe we are better placed than both Watford (clearly) and Sheff United (probably), whilst the inclusion of Wolves seems mere speculation on the new investment likely to be forthcoming, because they punched above their weight last season in my view.

Looking down the remainder of the list, I might suggest a couple of surprise outsiders (eg. Norwich) who could mount a serious campaign, but otherwise it really is a poor division. If I had to group the teams into six categories, I would do so as follows:

TITLE CONTENDERS: Charlton, WBA, Sheffield United, Southampton.

PLAY-OFF HOPEFULS: Wolves, Crystal Palace, Preston, Norwich.

PLAY-OFF OUTSIDERS: Watford, Sheff Weds, Coventry, Ipswich.

SOLIDLY MID-TABLE: Stoke, Cardiff, Bristol City, Leicester.

FLIRTING WITH RELEGATION: Plymouth, QPR, Hull, Colchester.

RELEGATION FODDER: Barnsley, Scunthorpe, Blackpool, Burnley.

Not exactly a terrifying list. Roll on August 11th.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


(not Charlton related)

Memorial Day is observed in the US on the last Monday of May, and whilst ostensibly it serves to commemorate the country's war dead, for most it signals the unofficial start of the Summer.

Despite knowing my mother-in-law would be arriving in the same city by plane, we took the opportunity to take the train to Boston, and spend some time in one of the country's most enjoyable cities. It was also my three-month old son's first trip outside of Manhattan, and a good chance for him to experience the real world where taxi drivers speak English, and where you can't have Chinese food delivered at 3am.

The Acela Express train service covers the busy northeastern corridor from Washington DC to Boston, with the crowded metropolitan areas of Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York in between. It is the closest thing that the country has to a high-speed rail network, yet at average speeds of just 72mph it exemplifies the degree to which the car is king on this side of the Atlantic, and why petrol prices of just $3 per gallon (60% cheaper than the UK) are causing such consternation.

Boston has historically had a fierce rivalry with New York, a concept which is a little difficult to comprehend given New York's disproportionate size. The rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for example is considered the deepest in US baseball. However, sports aside, any other perceived urban rivalries are a little pointless given that New York is the preeminent American city, whilst Boston trails behind the likes of Charlotte, Memphis, and Columbus in terms of population.

However thanks to its laid-back European 'feel', it remains a core part of any traveller's itinerary and rightly so, not least thanks to being just a six-hour flight back to London. And if you haven't been, then now is a good time to go not only because of the strong pound, but also the near-completion of the so-called 'Big Dig', a monumental engineering project to sink the I-93 freeway underground. Its disappearance will hopefully remove the noise and negative visual impact of the road, whilst re-engaging the charming but increasingly cut-off Italian-influenced North End section of the city. Unfortunately the 'Big Dig' became synonymous with project mismanagement and cost overruns, but slowly and finally its positive impact is being felt.

The most attractive sections of Boston are undoubtedly the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, two central and largely residential districts which border the beautiful Public Gardens and Boston Common, the city's main green space. Beacon Hill is almost unimaginably quaint (bordering on twee), and is an unusual sight in an American city centre, usually more renowned for blight and so-called 'white flight'.

The Back Bay meanwhile is more commercially-oriented and based upon a classic urban grid, with the delightful Commonwealth Avenue slicing through the centre, designed in the style of the Champs Elysee in Paris. For those who like these types of things (I certainly do), the cross-streets that span the Back Bay are alphabetical, and alternately disyllabic and trisyllabic. They are also archetypally English.....Arlington, Berkeley, Clarendon, Dartmouth, Exeter, Fairfield, Gloucester, Hereford. With one eye on the future however, the Back Bay also saw the construction of the two tallest buildings in Boston on its fringes, the ugly Prudential Tower and the striking glass John Hancock Center.

If there was one obvious criticism of Boston, it is its somewhat stuffy air of superiority, thanks I guess to its disproportionately impressive academic institutions, and its core place in the founding history of America. As a result, and not merely thanks to its relatively small size, it lacks the buzz of New York.

Boston for example is home to 250,000 or so students, attending the world-class likes of MIT and especially Harvard University (based across the Charles River in pleasant Cambridge, named after the English university town where John Harvard studied for a time). And whilst the presence of a lot of students might give rise to a party town feeling, it's become increasingly clear to me that most students attend American university to study, and in just the same way they attend their workplace to work. This may sound obvious, but when you come from the UK......

Meanwhile the area's elite families meanwhile are described (usually offensively) as 'Boston Brahmins', literally implying direct descendancy from the English Protestants that founded the city. Although he was never strictly one at all, John Kerry's flawed 2004 Presidential campaign was not helped by suggestions that he was an elitist 'Brahmin'.

Nonetheless, Boston is firmly on the short list of those other American cities where I could imagine myself living (happily at least). That list would be headed by San Francisco, but closely followed by Boston and Chicago. Meanwhile, I have never visited Seattle but I am told I would like it there too. Not surprisingly, alongwith New York, these are amongst the oldest large conurbations in the country, and they thus maintain the dense population and cultural richness which characterise most of Europe's most outstanding cities.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Yorkies

I’m pleased to announce the inaugural New York Addick awards (hereafter referred to as the ‘Yorkies’). The Yorkies aim to be somewhat controversial, whilst highlighting the achievements of the underappreciated, as well as occasionally bringing some egos down a peg or two.

Yorkie for Most Unfairly Maligned Individual: Nominations: Neil Warnock, Stewart Downing, Emile Heskey, Joey Barton, Kevin Davies. Yorkie Awarded To: Neil Warnock - his myriad of excuses mask an excellent recent managerial record.

Yorkie for Most Overrated Premiership Player: Nominations: Aaron Lennon, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Young. Yorkie Awarded To: Aaron Lennon - living proof of the dangers of spending too much time under Sven Goran Eriksson's influence.

Yorkie for Most Underrated Premiership Player: Nominations: Dirk Kuyt, Emmanuel Adebayor, Ivan Campo, Robbie Savage, Brian McBride. Yorkie Awarded To: Brian McBride - an American version of a good old-fashioned English striker. The ex-Everton striker that Charlton should have signed.

Yorkie for Manager of the Season: Nominations: Roy Keane, Geraint Williams, Steve Coppell, Brian Laws, Nigel Adkins. Yorkie Awarded To: Roy Keane - you don't have to like the bloke to acknowledge his unbelievable achievement.

Yorkie for Most Overrated Manager: Nominations: Jose Mourinho, Martin Jol, Alan Curbishley, Peter Taylor, Martin O'Neill. Yorkie Awarded To: Martin O'Neill - suddenly two League Cups and countless Scottish titles don't appear all that they once seemed.

Yorkie for Free Transfer Charlton Should Snap Up: Nominations: Henrik Pedersen, Trevor Sinclair, Julian Gray, Richard Wright, Titus Bramble. Yorkie Awarded To: Henrik Pedersen - big strong and direct - can fight it out with Iwelumo for the target man's berth.

Yorkie for Most Influential Charlton Player Since 2000/01: Nominations: Dean Kiely, Scott Parker, Chris Powell, Luke Young, Claus Jensen - Yorkie Awarded To: Scott Parker - almost single-handedly took the team onto a new level.

Yorkie for Best Charlton Goal Since 2000/01: Nominations: Claus Jensen (Arsenal, Away), Shaun Bartlett (Leicester, Home), Claus Jensen (Man Utd, Home), Jonatan Johansson (West Ham, Home), Kevin Lisbie (Liverpool, Home) - Yorkie Awarded To: Shaun Bartlett - if Rooney or Henry had scored it, MOTD would still be replaying it now.

Yorkie for Best Charlton Match Since 2000/01: Nominations: Man Utd (Home, 3-3), Chelsea (Home, 4-2), Arsenal (Away, 2-4), West Ham (Home, 4-4), Southampton (Away, 3-2) - Yorkie Awarded To: Chelsea (Home, 4-2) - the defining moment in Scott Parker's career.

Yorkie for Worst Charlton Performance Since 2000/01: Nominations: Leeds (Home, 1-6), Liverpool (Home, 0-3), Man City (Home, 0-3), West Ham (Away, 5-0), Wigan (Away, 3-0) - Yorkie Awarded To: Leeds (Home, 1-6) - my sister got married that weekend - was I supposed to look pleased?

Yorkie for Least Influential Charlton Player Since 2000/01 (at least 10 starts): Nominations: Carlton Cole, Kevin Lisbie, Marcus Bent, Dennis Rommedahl, Stephan Andersen - Yorkie Awarded To: Marcus Bent - I've never liked a Charlton player less. One Premiership goal last the 89th minute of a game we'd effectively lost. The living breathing epitome of what has gone wrong with Charlton.

Yorkie for Club I Irrationally Like: Nominations: Arsenal, Bristol Rovers, Norwich, Brighton, Derby - Yorkie Awarded To: Bristol Rovers - must be something to do with that 5-5 draw in the 1970s.

Yorkie for Club I Irrationally Dislike: Nominations: Sunderland, Manchester City, Chelsea, Birmingham, Tottenham - Yorkie Awarded To: Tottenham - I'm worried that I hate them so much, I'm starting to like them (a similar thing happened with my first girlfriend).

Yorkie for Favourite Stadium: Nominations: Villa Park, Upton Park, Underhill, The Hawthorns, Anfield - Yorkie Awarded To: Underhill - the way football should be (though describing it as a 'stadium' may be a step too far).

Yorkie for Least Favourite Stadium: Nominations: Fratton Park, Stamford Bridge, Loftus Road, Selhurst Park, Kenilworth Road - Yorkie Awarded To: Stamford Bridge - utterly charmless.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Illusions of Control

Despite a dire season in which we accumulated fewer points than we did in 1998/99, and despite the shock realisation that our signings will now come from the likes of Crewe and Colchester, I feel like I have taken relegation in my stride. It is thus with a clear head that I can begin to assess where it went wrong for Charlton.

As a starting point, it might be reasonable to question whether it went wrong at all, or whether relegation after seven consecutive Premiership seasons actually represented success when viewed in the context of the whole period. After all, when we kicked off the 2006/07 season, only ten of the Premiership clubs had been in the division longer than we had.

There's a tendency to seek answers or explanations to events that were purely random. Witness the media's insatiable demand for public inquiries or resignations, in the wake of events which were supposedly foreseeable, but probably weren't. Seen in this way, perhaps as Charlton fans we had unrealistically raised expectations following our relative success (some of which was itself random), and then have been unreasonably critical of decisions made subsequently as our form dipped.

There's also a tendency to have an 'illusion of control', or a belief that individuals can have influence over outcomes they demonstrably cannot. In its purest form, it's evidenced by casino players having 'lucky numbers' at the roulette wheel, or giving the dice a lucky rub at the craps table. Perhaps as Charlton fans this season, we might reasonably be accused of assuming the Board could have avoided the fate of relegation, if only they had seized control and stopped the rot in time. Maybe instead, they were merely rearranging the proverbial deckchairs aboard the Titanic, unaware perhaps that they'd already hit an iceberg.

Most of us knew the team and the club had gone stale, long before Curbs had left. The poor quality of the football, and an increasingly erratic transfer policy would surely have come to the attention of the Board, as much as it did the fans. His purchase of Marcus Bent for £2.3m (just 18 months after Everton paid £450k) was a parting gift from Curbs which his successors were largely left to unwrap. But even if the Board knew things were heading in the wrong direction, what reasonably could they have done? They would have been vilified if they had sacked Curbs, so understandbly concluded it was better the devil you know (most of the time at least).

Those keen to identify a 'tipping point' tend to focus upon the departures of Scott Parker and Danny Murphy, perhaps the two outstanding central midfielders of our Premiership sojourn. Each clearly felt they could not fulfil their ambitions at Charlton, and it was a double two-fingered salute to the Board who must have wondered if we could ever lose our 'small club' tag. The saddest part of the episodes however is that we were right, and Parker/Murphy were wrong. Their careers have drifted (Parker) or gone into freefall (Murphy), and Charlton have been relegated. It's like the unhappy former lovers that meet several years later, and dare to whisper, "We could have been good together, you know?"

If randomness plays a vital role in sport, then the best we could have hoped for from our Board post-Curbs, was that they consistently made sensible decisions diligently, and without bias. For example, we all now know that Djimi Traore was a terrible signing for £2m, but could they reasonably have known it at the time? I don't recall a groundswell of surprise or indignation when announced, which probably suggested they couldn't.

And likewise with the appointment of Iain Dowie. As soon as Curbishley left, I immediately signalled him as the outstanding realistic candidate, and it seems the Board felt the same way. If what ultimately transpired could not reasonably have been foreseen, and if his signings could not have been criticised (either in terms of who, or how much) at the time, then specifically his appointment should not be blamed for our subsequent fate. It would now appear that Billy Davies would have been a better manager, but the additional evidence of his outstanding season at Derby was not available to us in the summer.

Unfortunately the decision to appoint Les Reed, not merely as a caretaker manager (which would have been perfectly understandable), but in a 'permanent' capacity remains as ludicrous today as it did at the time. As early as immediately after Reed's first game at Reading, I wrote "...the Board have put their credibility on the line with their initial appointment of Dowie, his subsequent premature dismissal and the appointment of a rookie manager with all the badges but little of the fiery presence that we so desperately need..." If all we asked for from the Board was unbiased and diligent decision-making, we were let down on that occasion.

If Dowie's appointment was understandable, Reed's smacked of the 'easy way out' for the Board, perhaps nervous about dealing with a devil they didn't know again. It was the single biggest (and more importantly somewhat foreseeable) mistake they made, and the only positive outcome was that it bought us some time, whilst West Ham also pressed the panic button and sent Pardew our way.

The damage done by Reed's seven games in charge went further than merely accumulating just four points, and is perhaps best evidenced by the dire FA Cup performance at Forest which would have been almost inconceivable now, but occurred before Pards had time to stamp his authority on his demotivated squad. He was required to put out fires before he could contemplate rebuilding the charred wreckage he inherited. It even got me thinking, is it conceivable that we would have accumulated more than 34 points had we stayed loyal to Dowie throughout? Think about it, it's not as ludicrous as it sounds (though we may not have stayed up).

But in truth, we'll never know if Dowie might have kept us up, or Curbs for that matter. The £11m budget given to Dowie could have been spent a million different ways, some of them would have been better, but plenty would have been worse. Unfortunately, we only get to see a single path of history, and in this case it wasn't a good one.

That path has taken us to the present, where we find ourselves back in the Championship (the level at which we have played the vast majority of our post-War football), with a well-regarded manager at the helm and a financial situation which, whilst weaker than before, is still considerably stronger than most of our new peers. Acceptance is an important goal on the way to healing, and as we look forward to next season, it's worth recalling that some things are just meant to be.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pardew's Forward Planning

With Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink the only confirmed departure so far, and with today's confirmation that Luke Varney and Chris Iwelumo are joining, Charlton find themselves in the odd (albeit temporary) position of having a bigger squad than we did upon exiting the Premiership.

Both signings demonstrate clear intent that the club plans to use its parachute payment advantage to the full, spending £2m on Varney and presumably being able to pay Iwelumo more than Colchester possibly could.

Both players fit the bill of young(ish), hungry and seeing Charlton as a step up in their careers. With specific regard to Iwelumo, as Pards correctly points out, it's tough to compete in the Championship without a big target man (or at least the option thereof). And as a Scot to boot, he follows in the footsteps of the likes of recent Charlton legends Stuart Balmer and Colin Walsh.

One might reasonably question the Varney fee, and there does appear to be a general tendency for Charlton to be 'price-takers', in a market where 'value' is by definition a matter of opinion. Indeed whilst we are obliged to be fishing in a certain transfer pond, it does seem peculiar just how many players we sign for exactly £2m or £2.5m.

The arrival of Varney and Iwelumo however surely signals the departure of Darren Bent, despite the occasional implication that it is not yet a certain outcome. Given that I was a rare (or perhaps lone) voice in favour of his sale in January, it's hardly surprising perhaps that I now believe attempting to hold onto him would be foolhardy.

Unfortunately despite Bent's best efforts (and goals), we actually fell five points short of safety, implying we needed about six extra games, a comfortable relegation if ever there was one. And that was precisely my point in January; we were doing poorly and heading for relegation with Darren Bent, so it might have made sense to realise a higher transfer value in January.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Tevez: The Case for the Defence

A friend of mine writes a West Ham blog, and in the interests of openness, I invited him below to make the 'case for the defence' on the Tevez/Mascherano affair:

What is the precedent for a points deduction in this case? As far as I can tell, there isn’t one. Many emotive discussions have centred on the points deduction that AFC Wimbledon suffered earlier this season. That was for the offence of failing to register players with the English FA. Tevez and Mascherano were registered with the English FA, therefore a parallel with the punishment is an irrelevance.

Additionally, in the case of lower league clubs, the FA like to take away points rather than cash, knowing that a cash fine could put some clubs into bankruptcy. That was not the case with West Ham, where points or a fine were options.

A fine of £5.5 million is certainly not insignificant and is not an invitation as Warnock suggested that clubs will now play players illegally if they think that is the fine they will receive. Firstly, as public companies, most clubs could not afford to make such a decision that would upset the shareholders so and secondly, Warnock appeared to pay lip-service to it, but he didn’t actually do it like he said he could did he?

How much have West Ham really benefited from the signings of Tevez and Mascherano? For those with short memories, a quick reminder. In the 2005-2006 season, West Ham were FA Cup runners-up and made a serious challenge for Europe. In 2006-2007 West Ham had an appalling season, struggling with relegation and some dreadful results.

The only major change to personnel was the arrival of two non-English speaking players whose reputations threatened the places of various members of the squad, causing their performances to significantly denigrate. There was serious squad unrest and the relationship between players and manager also appeared strained (albeit for other factors alongside the signings).

Carlos Tevez failed to score for almost two thirds of the season and played in such woeful performances as a 2-1 home defeat to Portsmouth, a 1-0 home defeat to Watford, a 4-0 away defeat to Bolton Wanderers, oh and look, a 2-0 home defeat to Wigan Athletic. Hmmm, why were no complaints made by Mr Whelan then? Was it because the signings of Mascherano and Tevez was having a terrible affect on the team, sunk us to the bottom of the table and allowed teams to turn up at Upton Park and collect 3 points?

That Tevez turned on the style towards the end of the season is not a reason to start making a noise about the punishment we received for staying up. Additionally, if anything the kickstart to our season was a home game against Spurs, which even though we were defeated, proved that there was life in West Ham yet and that players like Noble and Neill could be really help us turn things around. Why is no one considering the detrimental effect that the signings has on us until March 2007? It appears we only upset people when we started playing decent football, a bizarre basis on which to pursue ‘justice’.

What steps can be justly be taken to rectify the perceived ‘injustice’? Sheffield United have today requested that a new independent panel preside over the case. Will that be a panel which will agree with their request for points to be deducted rather than the original panel’s decision? And what would West Ham’s right of appeal be, for yet another panel which will agree on the original decision? When would this stop precisely?

The English court could only intervene in a case where the Premier League has done something procedurally wrong or acted in an incorrect manner. This is simply not the case in this instance. I could go on, but if someone can give me exemplary responses to the above, I’d be only too delighted to read them. At the end of the day, no one really cared about Tevez or Mascherano until it actually affected them, and I’m afraid that is simply not how justice works.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Liverpool etc..

Once it became clear that Wigan were not going to lose at Sheffield United, our game at Liverpool became even more meaningless, but at least we bow out of the Premiership with our heads held high. Unfortunately Bougherra had his hands held high instead of his head, and he is looking as raw as steak tartare despite his lofty transfer fee.

It was perhaps appropriate that our first and last goals of the season were scored by Darren Bent, comfortably our supreme outfield performer and true professional in every sense of the word. I understand that he may well be moving to Spurs as early as this week, and if so (and indeed wherever he ultimately ends up), he leaves with our apologies that his teammates did not meet his high standards.

The West Ham saga will run and run, and rightly so. Whilst it has been rightly pointed out elsewhere that Sheffield United will be less formidable Championship opponents than the Hammers, I'm far-sighted enough to be able to put the general plight of the so-called beautiful game ahead of Charlton's own self-interest. Thus within financial reason, I hope we continue to be a part of the 'Gang of Four/Five/Six/Seven*' (*delete as appropriate).

As expected, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has been removed from the payroll quicker than you can say "P45." He must rank as one of the great disappointments of this season, having scored bags of goals at 'Boro last season. Whilst it is easiest to blame the player given that none of our three managers got much out of him, surely he would have been a more productive option than Marcus Bent if given the chances? More such announcements are surely imminent, and will give us some early clues as to Pardew's thinking for next season.

Work commitments require me to take a few days off from this blog - however please check back in due course as I have plenty to say about what went wrong, and where we go from here. Thanks for reading this season - I hope I've been able to provide some humour and occasional insights during a difficult period for the club.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Liverpool preview

It's a little late to be playing for pride. For far too many in the squad, 'pride' is just a word in their dictionary somewhere between 'Prada' and 'Prima donna.'

However whilst it's too late for pride, we still have one Premiership place still to play for, and the remote possibility that West Ham do end up having points deducted after all. But for that outcome to potentially have any consequence for us, we have the not insignificant challenge of overcoming Liverpool.

Only Manchester United have triumphed at Anfield, and incredibly Liverpool have conceded just five goals at home all season. It's the type of statistic which on the one hand helps to explain their disproportionate European success, whilst serving up new questions about their inability to recreate that form away from home, and thus genuinely mount a Premiership title campaign. Just six wins on the road is the same number achieved by Manchester City.

Not surprisingly, we have not sold out our away allocation, whilst it's probably also safe to presume that many Addicks who purchased tickets before the Spurs game, will recall the concept of 'sunk cost' and spare themselves a battle with the M1/M6 on a Sunday evening. And with £500,000 potentially at stake if we somehow manage a victory, there's every chance we will see the same type of tired looking line-up (which is probably enough to keep a few more of the faithful at home).

However one player who will presumably make his debut is Irish keeper, Darren Randolph. It reminds one of the time that young Lee Harmsworth was thrust between the posts on the final day in the early-1980s at Manchester City, conceding five goals in a game that was equally meaningless for the Addicks (albeit not for City). The next time I came across Harmsworth, he was playing for Dulwich Hamlet at Barnet, and given the typical recent career path of our homegrown 'talent', young Randolph might too be well advised to keep some souvenirs from Sunday.

All eyes however will rightly be upon the games at Old Trafford and Bramall Lane, with neutrals like myself now willing on the delicious possibility that Sheff Utd and Wigan could conspire to relegate the Hammers, if the Champions are winning comfortably. It's been correctly noted both here and elsewhere that West Ham will be the more formidable Championship rival, but the Tevez affair really rankles, and there's more important issues at stake here than our own promotion prospects next season. Don't be surprised to see 'Kenny (og)' on the scoresheet.

Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£621) has yet to offer his betting recommendation (presumably for the final time), but I suspect it will be a cryptic 'greater than 3.5 goals' prediction, which in Killer-speak means we'll get hammered. And with a pre-Athens party atmosphere likely at Anfield, and Kop favourite Robbie Fowler probably making his final appearance for the Reds, I fear that young Darren Randolph will indeed be given a 'baptism of fire.' NY Addick predicts: Liverpool 5 (Fowler 2, Bellamy 2, Bougherra og), Charlton 0. Att: 44,822.

Ps - has anyone else wondered how Robbie Fowler managed to get into the photo above of our 1947 FA Cup celebrations?

Killer's Table

If Derek 'Killer' Hales had been successful in every bet he has recommended this season, this is how the Premiership table would look this evening*. A win on Sunday would ensure Champions League football for the Addicks:

1st - Manchester United 87

2nd - Chelsea 78

3rd - Liverpool 65

4th - Arsenal 65

5th - Charlton 65

6th - Everton 57


*Basis of Calculation:

1. Any bets 'greater than' or 'less than' 2.5 goals assumed to have finished a draw.

2. Any bets 'greater than' 3.5 goals assumed to have finished in favour of fancied side ie. Arsenal, Man Utd.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Charlton thrown lifeline

<< Bent: allegedly influenced by third party.

In the wake of the Carlos Tevez affair, shell-shocked Charlton Athletic were last night thrown a lifeline, when it emerged they were seeking an unprecedented 'points addition' after claiming they had inadvertently fielded an 'eligible player, whilst influenced by a third party.'

The player concerned is believed to be Marcus Bent, and the claim alleges he was selected against Spurs despite unknowingly being 'unfit for purpose' due to the after-affects of the supposed party.

"Had we been aware of the influence of a third party," confirmed Addicks boss Alan Pardew, "...Bent would not have been selected. The legitimacy of the Premiership has been threatened, and we demand an addition of points or at the very least, a replay."

Bent is believed to have attended the 'third party' in the company of wannabee WAG, Danielle Lloyd having already spent the evening boozing at two London hotspots. "We tried to persuade Marcus not to go onto a third place," remarked one onlooker, "...but he insisted it was his only chance of scoring again this season."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Consortium Bids for Charlton

Newly relegated Charlton were last night rumoured to be the target of a multi-million bid from a Middle Eastern consortium, led by the elusive Sheikh Couscous Infidel al Anpardew.

(above) Bryan Hughes regrets a
misplaced pass.

Al Anpardew's exact wealth is a closely-guarded secret, but he is rumoured to own a palatial London mansion in the much sought after "South Greenwich Village" (previously known as Lewisham). His oil interests are thought to extend to a BP petrol station (complete with adjoining Wild Bean Café), and a 0.2% stake in WD40.

Although fans dispute his Charlton-supporting credentials, his spokesperson confirmed that, "...the Sheikh has followed the Haddocks with great interest, and will never forget the time Clive Mendonca scored 132 not out at The Crucible aboard Red Rum. Even as a young boy, he recalls being delighted when he learned of Mike Flanagan's hole-in-one at Twickenham during the Boat Race."


STOP PRESS: Eggert Magnusson admits, "Who the hell was Bobby Moore Stand?"

Monday, May 07, 2007

Out Of Our Misery

Well if the hope was meant to kill us, I'm pleased to say I'm still alive. It was fitting perhaps that we exit the Premiership on the back of two stunning Spurs goals which exemplified the gap in class that we've failed to bridge, not only tonight but frankly for most of the season.

A Spurs-supporting friend kindly texted me to say, "Mate, you support a top club. Don't ever forget that," and as I choked back a tear or two, I realised it's really not the end of the world.

We've spent longer in the top flight than even the most optimistic fan would have imagined possible. We are the working class beau who married above his station, but now it's time for a painful short-term separation.

Our loyal fans meanwhile gave tremendous support both tonight and at Blackburn, and deserved better all season. How many of our squad can look themselves in the mirror and say, "I did everything I could."? It's scandalous given the talent at our disposal and the money spent that we will likely accumulate fewer points than we did the last time we went down. The sum has been less than the parts all season, and the inquest can start now.

Wholesale changes will have to be made, but the Championship isn't the footballing graveyard it's sometimes portrayed as. Just look at Birmingham and Sunderland. And surely the most enjoyable two seasons in our recent history have been 1997/1998 and 1999/2000? We watch Charlton because we like to see them win, whilst hopefully progressing longer-term as a football club. Sometimes in life you have to take one step back in order to leap forward.

As Richard Murray rightly points out, it's the adjustment that will be the hardest thing to bear. Hard-working club staff will lose their jobs whilst Marcus Bent counts his money at some equally naive Premiership club. But if the adjustment is the problem, then in a perverse way aren't we better off getting relegated this season rather than say, next?

I'm off to see the outstanding Arcade Fire this evening. It's appropriate that their amazing debut album was called Funeral. And when the band launches into the stunning anthemic chorus of "Wake Up" and bellow, "I guess we'll just have to adjust," they'll be speaking for all of us.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Spurs preview

Well you and I,
Collapsed in love,
And it looks like we might have made it,
Yes, it looks like weve made it to the end.
(Blur, 1994)

Our traumatic and shambolic season is finally approaching the end, and for that alone we ought to be grateful. When an elderly relative passes on after a lengthy illness, it is not considered improper to describe one's 'relief.' This season feels much the same.

Anything other than three points tomorrow night will confirm our relegation. Having been brought up firmly in the Tottenham-supporting badlands of North-East London, I would prefer different opponents to be condemning us. Anfield next Sunday would be a preferable and perhaps appropriate Premiership resting place, not least thanks to the pre-Athens party atmosphere that will take over the Kop.

One of my supposed fanatical Spurs-supporting friends is skipping the game, choosing instead to spend time with a new love interest. The poor lad needs to learn an important early lesson, that romance has to work around football, not the other way around.

My ex-girlfriend (now my wife) for example greatly enjoyed our weekend trysts.....there was Bath (for Swindon), York (for Middlesbrough), Matlock (for Derby) and Stratford (for WBA). I've even forgiven her for cheering when Wayne Allison scored for Swindon, innocently not realising our team wasn't playing in red on that occasion.

Until I moved to the US in 2004, our Premiership record against Spurs had been very good. Impeccable timing you might call it. We only registered our first defeat at White Hart Lane last season, and despite a less impressive record at The Valley, we still had a number of victories to savour, most memorably a 3-1 win that even saw Kevin Lisbie score.

Moreover our midweek record against them at The Valley is particularly poor, conceding four goals on three separate occasions (including an FA Cup tie where we blew a 2-0 lead). A 4-1 defeat (after Mark Kinsella had given us an early lead) on a wet evening during our last relegation for example, was at the time a painful reminder that we weren't really good enough for the Premiership. Sadly I suspect we will get another tomorrow night. For those seeking a more optimistic reference point, Jerome Thomas and Danny Murphy did secure an impressive midweek home win in 04/05.

Level-headed Spurs fans will acknowledge that they have had a disappointing season. A squad peppered with the likes of Robinson, King, Dawson, Malbranque, Berbatov, Lennon, Berbatov, Defoe and Keane should already have secured UEFA Cup football at the very least. Instead they find themselves scrambling for points during the final week of the season with a zero goal difference. And although they are more capable of turning on the style than perhaps any team outside the top four, they have only managed four Premiership away wins, three fewer than the more workmanlike Bolton.

Unfortunately the realisation particularly over the past five games, that our squad is simply not good enough makes me disinclined to waste time suggesting a match-winning line-up. Perhaps my only worthwhile observation is that if ever there was an occasion for Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink to get his not insignificant a*se into gear, this is it. If nothing else, it means not having to see Marcus Bent in a Charlton shirt again.

Derek 'Killer' Hales (KillerWatch© -£571) is still flatly refusing to gamble upon a Charlton defeat, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the potential beneficiaries of his charity bet might welcome it. In the words of the legendary striker, "I heard Pards say that we need five points to stay up, and it doesn't take too many brains to work out that means we need to beat Spurs and Liverpool next week." Unfortunately for Killer, the tired, poor and huddled masses that his gambling purports to fund, and of course all of us, it also doesn't take too many brains to know we're not going to do it. NY Addick predicts Charlton 1 (Bent D), Spurs 3 (Berbatov 2, Jenas). Att: 26, 855.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Six points to have any chance, and it still might not be enough. It seems that my suggestion back in December that the compression of the Premiership table would require an unusually high points total for survival, has come to fruition. Moreover the gap between finishing 17th and European qualification is potentially just four wins. Ah yes, the best League in the world.

Although finishing in the bottom three is now virtually certain, it is however important that we finish 18th rather than 19th, to maintain a small chance of a legal reprieve. The two goals scored today by Tevez may just be the worst thing that could happen to West Ham in a perverse way; the back page story in The Times suggests there may be more twists and turns in this story.

However we are clutching at straws. We have consistently been one of the worst three teams in the Premiership and deserve to be relegated. Pardew has done fantastically well to have given us hope, but it was a tall order given the situation he inherited, and the lack of January funds. However I had a bad feeling after the Man City game, ironically perhaps given that we had just exited the relegation zone for the first time. When Pards said that, "Coming here and winning was always going to be a tough call for us so a draw is a good result for us," I found myself disagreeing with his sentiments for the first time. We haven't won since.

Meanwhile across the river, whilst Curbs has won back the favour of the Hammers fans, he is hardly a miracle-worker.....24 points from 20 games (having spent £18m) is virtually the minimum return that his desperate Chairman would have expected. Oh and of course, their best player is a sham.

How we got in this situation, and how we rebuild can be the subject for lengthy post-season analysis. In the meantime, it would be nice to at least give the teams above us something more to think about by winning on Monday, and whilst on the subject of straw-clutching, did you see the team Liverpool put out at Fulham?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Riding Through The Glen

If there's one thing that New Yorkers like more than making money, it's finding creative ways of giving it away. Philanthrophy is at the core of New York social life, with every notable museum, charity, and place of learning hosting regular and increasingly elaborate fund-raisers.

One of the finest charities in New York is the Robin Hood Foundation, founded by billionaire investor Paul Tudor Jones. Thanks to the generosity of its Board members who agree to fund all expenses, 100% of the money it raises goes directly to good causes.

I somehow managed to blag a free invite to their highly secretive annual fundraiser last night, where 4,000 people including most of the city's main financial movers and shakers, as well as the likes of Ben Affleck, Sharon Stone and Martha Stewart, wined, dined and enthusastically waved their Blackberries in the air when Aerosmith came on to provide the entertainment. It was like Glastonbury for rich people (and me).

However before Steven Tyler could belt out the first notes of 'Love in an Elevator', the auction had raised an unbelievable $72million. To put this into perspective, this is almost as much as Live Aid raised, and we didn't have to be subjected to 'Do They Know It's Christmas?'. It would probably have been enough to buy Charlton Athletic too, a desperate cause if ever there was one.

I have long ceased to be surprised (or more pertinently envious) of the incredible amount of wealth visible everywhere in New York, but the auction was a sight to behold. An all-expenses paid VIP trip to the 2008 Olympics.?.....$2.3million. The opportunity to sing 'Walk This Way' on stage with Aerosmith?.....$800,000. And then the coup de gras (impeccably timed just as the alcohol was really flowing).....a simple request for donations of exactly $1million each to help fund new investment in New York charter schools. Over twenty people raised their hands.

There is no doubt that the likes of the Robin Hood Foundation, by applying business principles to grant-giving, allied with the '100% rule', are setting new standards for accountability in the traditionally sleepy world of charities. It's ever so American too; a natural distrust of government has created an economic system which permits extraordinary wealth-creating potential (as well as grinding inequality), but within a society that places considerable peer pressure upon giving much of it away. Nobody emphasises this more than Warren Buffett, the 4th richest man in the world.

Whilst watching this wanton display of wealth, I couldn't rid myself of this nagging sense that there perhaps wouldn't be quite so many needy causes if the tax system permitted just a little more trickle downwards. One particular fact, emblazoned on the big screens, really stuck with me.....52% of New York City babies are born into poverty. However despite such damning statistics, it is a point of view which, had I expressed it would likely have gone down like Leeds United.

They would argue of course that Europe could never quite shake off its statist bent, and as a result the likes of France are stuck in a quasi-permanent economic malaise. There is also a general suspicion of the wealthy, whereas in the US they are almost universally revered and imitated.

Moreover, governments they would suggest are notoriously poor allocators of capital (corrupt even), and these decisions are best taken by professionally-run charities, managed along private sector lines. Its a point of view that I understand, and agree with to a degree, but I'm tempted to argue that America's inequality of both outcome (and increasingly opportunity) is equally unsustainable, if only because of the sheer number affected.

It was interesting to witness this philanthropic spectacle, because just three days earlier I had flicked through the Sunday Times Rich List, which is front-loaded with billionaires from Russia, India, Sweden, Norway and Iran. If you subscribe to the view that London has now clearly surpassed New York as the centre of the universe, then much of your evidence will be drawn from the influence of this foreign money. However it's not London's leafy squares they're attracted to, but instead a tax system which treats foreign-domiciled residents with kid gloves, comfortable that their lavish spending will outweigh their failure to replenish the government's coffers. The US meanwhile continues to tax its citizens and residents on their global income, regardless of where it's earned.

The concern for London should thus be the extent to which this foreign invasion is a permanent phenomenon. If a similarly exhuberant fund-raiser was held in London, you might wait a while to hear a cut-glass English accent. It was noticeable however that last night's attendees were overwhelmingly American, and probably New Yorkers to boot; the accents were most definitely more Brooklyn than Bombay. Whilst both cities have plenty to be proud of, and a myriad of problems too, surely this permanence of New York wealth holds the city in better stead than the foreign flavour of London's, whose protagonists might pack up their bags on an accountant's whim?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

16,422 Charlton Fans Can't Be Wrong

Well I got that one wrong didn't I? Having suggested that the 'free Premiership season ticket offer' was a gimmick, the club have just announced that 16,422 fans have already renewed their season tickets for the 2007/08 season, despite not knowing which division we will be playing in.

Given that I continue to think the free offer is gimmicky, although its 'expected value' has increased thanks to our recent downturn in form, then there is potentially a far more bullish conclusion to draw from this news. (just admit you're wrong - Ed.)

Rather than claim that the offer, "...has really captured the imagination of supporters...", I think infact that the offer probably had less to do with the high renewal rate than the club might imagine. Instead I'm tempted to believe that perhaps after seven consecutive years of Premiership football played inside a compact friendly stadium, the team/club has won the hearts of many of the so-called 'plastic' fans, who have realised they can't give up the bug regardless of the division we are playing in. The 'free offer' was actually a 'free lunch' which they were happy to accept, but perhaps which the club in hindsight need not have committed itself to offer.

I had never thought the high renewal rate to be a likely outcome, but if true it suggests that all of the various promotional initiatives (not least Valley Express) have actually worked to a large degree. The next real challenge will thus be retaining the bulk of these fans if we go down and don't bounce straight back, but it was an extraordinarily encouraging statistic which boosted my hopes that we could well emulate Birmingham and Sunderland next season. Indeed given that the likes of Leeds and Birmingham barely managed total attendances of 16,422 for some home games last season, it puts the statistic into an even more favourable perspective.

The structure of Charlton's fanbase is a little odd however, because whilst we might now sell a total of say 19,000 season tickets even in the Championship, I would imagine we would struggle to sell more than 2,000 or so matchday tickets on a walk-up basis. Meanwhile, our away support remains poor, and disproportionately so compared to the impressive commitment of our home support. I suspect that part of the answer lies in the limited capacity of The Valley, enticing some more marginal fans to purchase season-tickets to guarantee tickets for the more interesting games. I also think that our location just a few miles from the City (and even closer to Canary Wharf) encourages plenty of neutrals with some disposable income and a keenness for live football. Some other clubs may laugh at us, but The Valley is a pleasant place to watch football. After all, they're hardly going to rock up to the New Den in their pinstripes and pink shirts are they?

But what if there's genuinely some uniquely addictive quality to supporting Charlton that gets you hooked and in need of rehabilitation? Although fans of all clubs probably think the same, I've always thought Charlton was just a little 'special' in ways I can't necessarily put my finger on. I mean, I can't imagine feeling like this about Crystal Palace for example, even if I'd been born on the Holmesdale Road.

I'd like to think I'm a fairly intelligent and logical person in other aspects of my life, yet if I have to miss a Charlton game (whether due to illness, job commitments, weddings, funerals etc..) I entirely lose my sense of perspective, managing to rationalise why it's ok for me to go to the game. As if to emphasise the point, do other clubs for example have the range of high-quality blogs that Charlton have for example? I reckon there's about a dozen in total, all writing regularly and well, and then just when you think there's no room for any more, along comes Confidential Rick with a style which might only be described as inimitable. Doesn't that say something about the type of club Charlton is and the people it attracts?

In the slipstream of Valley Express, I think the next challenge will be persuading more of the walk-up type of neutrals who do not need nor desire the coach transport, but just want to be able to make a last-minute decision to attend a game, and know that tickets will be available. Although I understand the club utilises various forms of advertising in this regard, it's important to spread the message that walk-up fans are both welcome and can be accommodated. When these types of fans being showing up in greater numbers, I believe the expansion of The Valley should begin.

However, regardless of the reasons for the renewals, we can now approach probable Championship football with a higher degree of financial certainty than expected, with all of the cash arrived upfront. It obviously can't even come close to softening the overall financial blow of relegation, but combined with the parachute money we ought to be amongst the very best positioned to gain promotion. Who knows, we might even manage to keep Benty for one more season?

Meanwhile, the result from Anfield was a good one for the Addicks, and our final two fixtures are now effectively against Spurs and Liverpool Reserves. This does not obviate the need to beat our North London rivals, but it is an extra small incentive and an extra weapon in Pardew's armory, as he seeks to rally his troops for a huge effort on Monday.

I almost feel happy again.