Saturday, October 27, 2007

Strangers 0, Rangers 1

Over an enjoyable pre-match brunch attended by Frankie Valley, Charlton North Downs, Blackheath Addick and other esteemed guests, the legendary blogger Frankie admitted (in Legends) that he'd never placed a bet in his life. He also confessed to a mental block against car washes, but I'll allow him to elaborate perhaps on his own blog.

We did agree however that by deciding upon a lifetime of devotion to Charlton, he had inadvertently taken an enormous gamble, one never more apparent than during today's dire defeat. Charlton fans have learnt through bitter experience to take nothing for granted, but three horrible defeats in seven days is difficult to swallow.

Walking back up Floyd Road after the game, my Dad and I accepted that QPR deserved to win, but it wasn't immediately obvious to us at least why our form has suddenly taken a dip. We have a group of very talented players, and it's basically the same group which took 18 points from 8 games, so either those results hugely overstated our true quality (possible), or we are just in the midst of an inevitable, but hopefully brief spell of bad luck and form (probable).

In the absence of any obvious explanations, I decided to seek some more esoteric ones. Why for example were only two of our starting eleven wearing black boots (Weaver and Reid)? Given that they would probably be the two players you'd most want to go for a pint with, do we need more players with a 'black boot' mentality? Why meanwhile does Pards tend to wear a tracksuit for home games but a suit for away games? Even from where I was sitting at Wolves, I could tell his suit fitted him immaculately (and was a lovely cut too), so why the casual approach to home games?

Both Sam Sodje and Lloyd Sam were handed starts, the first time we have begun with players that shared a first name and surname, since Thomas Mhyre and Jerome Thomas took the field against Portsmouth on 17 Apr 2006. We won that day, so I can't claim that might have been a contributory factor either. More interestingly, Grant Basey was handed a debut and generally did enough to justify the claims of those like me, who argued for his promotion.

The first half was fairly comfortable defensively, whilst we created the two outstanding chances for Varney and Zheng. Lloyd Sam looked threatening whenever he got the ball, and whilst Andy Reid was relatively quiet, the game was not yet crying out for him to be moved into a more influential central position. Pards however felt otherwise, substituting the defensively-minded Semedo for Thomas at half-time. Perhaps removing Zheng would have been less destabilising option, but if we'd gone on to win the game, we'd have been declaring Pards a genius. As I mentioned on Friday, it's a game of small margins.

Unfortunately we rarely threatened in the second half, whilst QPR used the extra space created by the departure of Semedo to counterattack with purpose. Their goal came after both a penalty and shocking miss (after an awful mistake by Mills), so one could hardly begrudge them their lead, which frankly they threatened to add to thereafter. They were a footballing side throughout and did not play like a team worthy of 24th place.

At the other end, we were unable to get the impressive Sam into the game, whilst the removal of Chris Iwelumo deprived us of any remote attacking threat, such was the inefficacious performance of Luke Varney alongside him. Based upon that performance, he is very far indeed from justifying his lofty transfer fee (and if rumours are true, lofty wages). In fairness, he ran into more channels than Rupert Murdoch, and on one occasion in the first half delivered a wicked cross for Iwelumo, but on that performance, we actually need a fox in the box. Maybe Chris Dickson will prove to be the joker in the pack?

Pardew appeared to imply we were a little over-indulgent, but from my perspective we did not play enough football, rather than play too much. We look most dangerous when we maintain possession and open up some dangerous angles, not when we just deliver crosses for the sake of them. With players like Reid dictating affairs, we are good enough to open teams up to create genuine chances, not just hope for knock-downs or 'second-phase' ball as the rugby folk like to say. More worryingly, perhaps only Reid aside, we lack leaders on the field.

Oh well, let's look on the bright side. I'm leaving the country on Sunday and returning to New York, from where I seem to bring the team better luck. Over the course of a 46-game season, this three-game spell could seem like a meaningless drop in the ocean if those underperforming players stand up to be counted.

Friday, October 26, 2007

QPR Preview

Those Charlton fans seeking a scapegoat for our worrying loss of form, need look no further than me. Here is our Championship record for games that occurred whilst I was in the USA:

P6 W3 D3 L0 Pts 12

And here is our record for games that occurred whilst I was back in the UK:

P6 W2 D1 L3 Pts 7

You will be thus encouraged to learn that after tomorrow's game, I do not currently have plans to be back home until March at the earliest, and thus our promotion campaign can flourish again in my absence.

In a low-scoring sport like football, there is considerable scope for randomness to affect results, yet be interpreted otherwise. Consider for example that just three of Charlton's dozen Championship games this season have been settled by a margin of two goals or more. It is not surprising therefore that somewhat random occurrences like deflections, injuries and dodgy refereeing decisions can have a disproportionate impact on results.

In this context, it's vital therefore to isolate those factors that are not random (and can be improved upon) from those that are, but more importantly at least from my perspective, refrain from suggesting that plummeting from 2nd to 7th this week is cause for panic.

Here are some factors which, in my opinion, are reasonable for fans to question presently:

1. Have we become overly reliant on lazy long balls to Chris Iwelumo?
2. When will the £3.1m spent on Varney and McLeod be justified?
3. How we will cope without Todorov, our flexible striking talisman?
4. If Bougherra and Fortune continue to demonstrate a lack of leadership, what are our alternatives?
5. Despite his attributes, does it make sense to unbalance the side with Mills at left-back?
6. Does Andy Reid have to play centrally to get the best out of him?
7. Surely Darren Ambrose must offer something at this level, but what and how?

All reasonable questions in my view, but again they should be viewed in the context of what is essentially a brand new side. It was remarkable to note for example that of the 14 players who participated on Tuesday night, only three (Thomas, Reid, Fortune) were at the club a year ago. For this reason alone, we have plenty of scope for improvement, whilst some of our nearest competitors are surely playing to the very maximum of their potential.

In light of our current lack of confidence, the arrival of 24th placed QPR at The Valley ought to be viewed as a welcome chance to reassert our promotion credentials. Then again, those of us with long memories will recall a game at home to bottom-placed Swindon in 1999/2000 when our 12-game winning run ended in defeat thanks to a Dean Kiely screw-up.

Although it doesn't feel like it, QPR have now been outside the top flight for over a decade, another shining example of how quickly a club's fortunes and expectations can change post-relegation. Their caretaker manager Mick Harford was widely regarded as one of the hardest men in football, so his team will not lack for passion on Saturday.

It may not be a mere coincidence, but our recent run of one point from nine occurred during Lloyd Sam's suspension, which has now ended. He will surely return to the fray on the right. With Pardew unable to accommodate both Andy Reid and Jerome Thomas without the former returning to the centre, it will be interesting to see if he does indeed shift Reidy inside, perhaps offering Zheng a free role just behind Iwelumo. Indeed, as much as I like Zheng in central midfield, I think this is the role in which he is the most effective given his energy and finishing ability, but relative lack of creative flair.

In defence, it seems that Danny Mills impressed at left-back despite my reservations about the efficacy of this concept, so Moutaouakil will no doubt start again, with Sam Sodje surely pushing for a start in defence after four goals conceded in two games, probably in place of Bougherra. Thus I expect us to line up as follows:

Weaver, Moutaouakil, Mills, Sodje, Fortune, Semedo, Zheng, Reid, Thomas, Sam, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Bougherra, Basey, Varney, McLeod.

I am looking forward to enjoying a pre-match meal with some fellow bloggers including Frankie Valley and Charlton North Downs, and whilst the mood might be a little sombre, a win will see us move back up to 3rd, an outcome most of would gladly have accepted in the summer.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 3 (Iwelumo, Zheng, Varney), QPR 0. Att: 21, 209.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Plymouth preview

I can't have been the only Charlton fan that reviewed the Championship table to see how Plymouth had started the season, only to proclaim, "How the hell did they get there?" Nonetheless, they are firmly in 6th place on merit, and notably have scored the same number of goals away from home as we have at The Valley (nine).

The Plymouth fans must be as grateful to the fixture computer as our fans were when they travelled to Hull, although in fairness everywhere is a long way from Plymouth. As a result, I can't say I've ever been there myself although I have long been aware that there are suburbs there called Mutley and Pennycomequick, which is almost enough to persuade me to move there.

We are clearly in the midst of a slightly dodgy run of form, particularly if you include the Luton defeat, and a solid home win tonight would put us firmly back on track. Watford's consistency now means we are as close to them as we are to Leicester in 18th place, a sign of the bunching up behind us, a situation which would be considerably worsened by a failure to triumph over Plymouth.

With Chris Powell definitely out, Pards has an unwelcome selection headache. I trumpeted the claims of Grant Basey in my last post, not because I've seen him play, but because if you can't throw in a promising youngster in a situation like this one, it throws up serious questions about the whole purpose of the academy. Having said that, I suspect Pards will opt to cover over the cracks by using one of Mills, Semedo or McCarthy at left-back. With Moutaouakil itching to return to first team action, perhaps Mills would be the obvious choice.

Elsewhere, Darren Ambrose has taken some stick from some supporters, and he is certainly capable of flattering to deceive, even at this level. Given his lack of pace, we have a tendency of looking somewhat sterile through midfield (particularly with the equally pondering Reid on the left), and thus I would expect Jerome Thomas to be handed a rare start on the right.

Up front, Iwelumo is bound to keep his place, although one wonders whether Todorov ought to be handed a start next to him, with memories of their successful partnership in the second half versus Sheffield Wednesday? Thus I expect us to line up as follows:

Weaver, Moutaouakil, Mills, Bougherra, Fortune, Reid, Thomas, Semedo, Zheng, Iwelumo, Todorov. Subs: Randolph, Sodje, Racon, Varney, Ambrose.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Todorov, Reid), Plymouth 1 (Hayles) Attn: 20,101.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Thrown to the Wolves

Saturday's outstanding highlight for me was the first chance to sample the delights of the new M6 Toll, 27 miles of pure driving pleasure for barely more than the cost of a pint. Yes really folks, Charlton were that bad. Oh, and the pre-match music at Molineux was pretty good too.

It was such a flat performance, and I can only trust that we've been considerably better than that during the 7-game unbeaten run that I've missed. If not, then my insistence that we are the Championship winners elect are horribly wide of the mark. Passes were going astray as early as the first few minutes, and we never had enough periods of meaningful possession to pose a consistent threat. It was worryingly spineless and nothing like what I had been led to expect.

If Charlton had an obvious weak point before today's game, it was probably at left-back anyhow, a situation not helped by the very early injury to Chris Powell who, bless him, soldiered on for another half hour or so, probably mistakenly so given he was generally run ragged. With Ben Thatcher supposedly first choice and also injured, we ought to see the introduction of young Grant Basey on Tuesday night. It would appear to be the perfect occasion to give a youngster his first start.

Meanwhile, it was odd to see Yassin Moutouakil taking part in the pre-match warm-up despite not being included in the 16, but it did emphasise our relative embarrassment of riches on the defensive right flank. When Danny Mills was asked to cover for Powell, and centre-back Sam Sodje introduced to fill in on the right, the team was horribly unbalanced twice in effect, and with inevitable results.

I admire Pardew's cavalier approach to substitutes, but perhaps it was a step too far to name the very attack-minded trio of Thomas, McLeod and Todorov but not include the likes of Racon. The Frenchman could have stepped into midfield to allow Semedo to cover at left-back, as he did to great effect versus Sheffield Wednesday.

If the Portuguese utility man is Pardew's flexible friend, then it is logical to have a player on the bench who can step directly into his holding midfield position, if he is required elsewhere. Alternatively, let's just do without a replacement keeper; I'm not convinced they are worthwhile given the rare number of occasions they are called upon, and the outfield options their presence reduces.

Perhaps the only possible positive to take away from this game, is the fact that if Wolves are indeed one of the genuine promotion and play-off contenders, then they are really very average indeed (albeit good enough to beat us on this occasion). Then again, had we taken either of the game's outstanding first-half chances (which fell to Iwelumo and Ambrose respectively), then we might have done enough to take at least a point, a reasonable result with Plymouth and QPR on the home horizon.

Despite Iwelumo's obvious importance to the team, it is notable that he has so far failed to score with his head despite his obvious physical advantages in this regard. With Luke Varney generally flattering to deceive alongside (until oddly perhaps, he was moved to the right flank late on), there are considerable reasons to consider either the raw pace of McLeod or the subtlety of Todorov alongside the big man for Tuesday night.

For me, few players emerged with much credit, but notably Jose Semedo stood out as having had a solid and relatively faultless display, whilst Zheng alongside him offered plenty of energetic endeavour. Andy Reid looked jaded and could not impose himself on the game, whilst Darren Ambrose had many of the 1,000 or so visiting fans muttering the 'F-word'....frustrating.

Luckily the relentless nature of the Championship provides an immediate opportunity for redemption, against an improving Plymouth side that could leapfrog us with a win. Unfortunately work commitments require me to continue the English assault on Paris, but I will be back in time for the QPR game.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wolves Preview

A briefer preview than usual because I'm going to Molineux tomorrow, and thus can write a proper review.

I hate these breaks for Internationals matches, during which time my Charlton life is put on hold. The 24/7 coverage of England games bores me senseless, and then when the team disappoints, people act as if they're surprised. Even if you believe that the Premiership is the 'best League in the world', it's not because of the English players thereof.

The truth is that but for just a handful of genuinely world-class players, the England team is decidedly mediocre. The orgasmic response to Emile Heskey's reintroduction prove as much; yes he did ok, but he merely emphasises the lack of quality replacements available to the England boss.

Anyhow, I don't care about England. I do care about Charlton dearly though, and will be returning to Molineux for the first time since our crazy 4-0 win there in 2003 (all the goals coming during the first-half). If anyone can remember any other recent times when we've scored four goals in a single half of football, please let me know below (I can't think of any).

Wolves have begun the season solidly, but despite all of the usual 'big club' claptrap, their team is the same ragbag of journeymen that most Championship sides possess. As is seemingly becoming a pre-requisite, they also have their own Charlton reject in the shape of Jay Bothroyd, who didn't show a propensity for very much except rocket free-kicks for us.

Our last League game ended in disappointment, but it stretched our unbeaten run to 8 games during which we have accumulated a very healthy 18 points. Watford have however stretched their lead to four points, and with a straightforward home fixture against Hull tomorrow, it is important we remain in touch.

Pards has no important fresh new injury concerns, so it's very much a case of 'as you were' with Jonathan Fortune presumably fit to return to central defence, and his main selection headaches viewed in terms of 'Thomas vs Ambrose' and 'Varney vs Todorov'. I suspect in each case he will opt for the former. The only other surprise might involve the resting of Andy Reid, permitting Pards to select both Thomas and Ambrose. I expect us to line up as follows:

Weaver, Mills, Powell, Bougherra, Fortune, Reid, Thomas, Zheng, Semedo, Varney, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Sodje, Ambrose, Todorov, Racon.

NY Addick predicts: Wolves 1 (Bothroyd), Charlton 2 (Varney 2) Attn: 20,981.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Gibbs joins Holby City

Charlton's injury-hit defender Cory Gibbs has joined Holby City on loan until the end of the season.

(above) Holby City, 2007/08

"This is a great move for Cory," confirmed Addicks boss Alan Pardew, "...Holby's medical facilities are first class."

Charlton already have an excellent relationship with Holby City, where former loanees include Gary Rowett, Gary Poole and Matty Holmes.

"He's got a point to prove," admitted Pardew, "...and he's been warned that under no circumstances is he to make a cup of tea, drive his car, change a lightbulb or turn on the gas between the hours of 8pm and 9pm on a Saturday night."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Hamptons

As Chicago Addick has correctly pointed out this week, expat Brits living in the US have to swiftly come to terms with the way the locals butcher our language.

To add another curiosity to his list, you have to begin to come to terms with the verb 'to summer', as in 'Where does your family summer?" After all, no self-respecting New Yorker would be seen dead in the city during the steamy summer months.

Hence I was soon marked out as somehow alien, because we chose not to spend every Friday evening stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, on the way out to the traditional weekend haunt of the Hamptons, at the far end of Long Island. Given the lack of hotel accommodation, most people indulge in pricey 'house shares', offering the opportunity to spend a few weekends in a beachside mansion, with several other like-minded types, most of whom you probably don't even know. I don't watch Big Brother, and I've absolutely no desire to live it either.

In short I've never seen the attraction, arguing that rather than being unbearable, the city is actually a great place to be on summer weekends. Central Park fulfils its role as the city's lungs, whilst the bars and restaurants are half-empty and refreshingly free of the sorts of painfully annoying people that spend their weekends in, yep......the Hamptons.

However during the coming days, I am looking forward to cracking a joke which I suspect only I will find amusing. "I'm off to the Hamptons this weekend," I intend to casually remark, "Awesome. Bridgehampton or East Hampton?", will be the likely reply. "Neither.... Wolverhampton. Up the Addicks."

As a fan of a team in the Championship, there are not one but two opportunities to visit the Hamptons, beginning with our trip to Molineux this weekend, followed just a fortnight later by the trip to the St Mary's. I was supposed to be flying back to London during the game on Saturday, but my firm has insisted I spend Friday in our London office (and will pay the flight change fee), thus permitting me a bonus Charlton fixture. Ticket, £27. Petrol, £22. Programme, £3. Getting the firm to pay for you to attend a Charlton game? Priceless.

The change of plans will also mean I will be in the UK for the rugby World Cup Final. It's odd perhaps that I was living in the UK the last time around (and when England were clearly the oustanding team) yet had virtually no interest, but I've found myself strangely fascinated by the tournament this time around.

I watched it in a ridiculously packed pub which would usually be my worst nightmare, but the Anglo-French atmosphere was raucous and friendly, and boosted too by a healthy spattering of French women, enhancing the visual experience during breaks in play.

Rather than view famed French arrogance as unnecessarily tiresome, I've tended to view it as a natural outcome for any country that can produce wine, food, and women of such unerringly high quality. Meanwhile their laissez-faire attitude to war has left Paris as the single most beautiful large city on the planet, whilst London got blitzed to smithereens. Perhaps I shouldn't complain too much then, because I'll be stuck in beautiful Paris in nine days time, when I'd rather be at The Valley for the Plymouth game.

Like baseball before it, my interest in rugby increases exponentially when I watch it with knowledgeable types, who can explain the game's more curious nuances. Luckily I'm over the trauma of having attended school rugby trials as an 11-year old, and being asked to return the following week. For most sports-mad kids, this should have been a good thing but not for me; I cried the whole way home. I think my parents safely crossed off 'prop forward' as a potential career path that afternoon.

With my interest in Premiership, Champions League and international football at an all-time low, there's definitely a gap in my life for something new. The wife will no doubt be delighted.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Happy Birthday to me

"If they were me and i was you,
would you have liked a present too?" (Altered Images, 1981)

For a while, I've stopped seeing birthdays as something to glorify, but nonetheless I'd like to extend a warm 'Happy Birthday' to me today.

I think that once you can date women 'half your age', without breaking any applicable laws, it's time to stop celebrating. The wife probably wouldn't be too pleased either, but that's a different story.

Born within the sound of Bow Bells, I'm officially a cockney which always confuses the immigration officers here in the US when I'm asked my nationality.

As I do every year, I'd like to send heartfelt birthday greetings to Steve Ovett, Sharon Osbourne and of course the late, John Lennon and John Entwistle. Most interestingly, I was born the very same day in 1973 as Steve Burns, long-time presenter of Blue's Clues.

In many ways, I see myself as a modern version of John Lennon, a veritable icon who chose to leave behind his adoring fans in England, to settle in New York City with controversial wife Yoko Ono (whose name incidentally is Japanese for 'one egg'). I've even suggested an all-day 'love-in' to the wife, but she replied she'd rather just have a 'lie-in.'

I'm struggling to find any direct Charlton relevance for October 9th, although I note that it's 40 years today since Che Guevara was killed, and his image is of course portrayed on a giant flag these days at Charlton home games to celebrate the Cuban revolution (isn't it Derek Hales? - Ed.)

I did recall noting in last year's handbook however that during the same week that my Mum was preparing to take home her bouncing baby boy, several hundred miles away in Norway, Mrs Myhre had just given birth to her son Thomas, with the midwife commenting on what big hands he had.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

News at Ten

Pards has implied that the completion of the tenth League game marks a useful juncture at which to assess how far we've come, and where we go from here.

Despite the unremitting nature of this division, and despite the fact that all of those dozen or players brought in pre-season are now as familiar as those they replaced, we are only 21.7% of the way through the season. To put this in perspective, if the season was a calendar year, it's only March 20th. In short, there's a long way to go (Brian).

Nonetheless, without doubt there are considerably more pleasing aspects to Charlton's season so far than disappointing ones, and we have averaged almost two points per game, yet retain a nagging sense that it ought to have been more. We are on course for 87 points at this rate, a total which we would probably accept as highly satisfactory if offered now, and even more so if offered prior to the season's opening day.

Here are some interesting observations on the season so far:

1. We have scored in every game, including Cup games - when Pards splashed out over £1m on Izale McLeod just before the season's opener, most of us felt we were already well covered upfront, but it signalled an attacking intent which has so far been rewarded. Scoring goals will not be a problem this season; preventing them might be and has been.

2. We have scored first in 11 of our opening 13 competitive games - again, it's pretty obvious what the gaffer's 'Plan A' is; it's maybe 'Plan B' which requires some attention, especially after those opening goals have been scored (after all, we failed to win 5 of them). Again, however it's a refreshing approach and from what I've seen, it's been good to watch.

3. Pards is willing to make early substitutions - anyone who's been sat in the lower West Stand, Block F will surely be aware of the pair of older ladies who used to cackle, "Make a change Curbishley" at virtually every home game since December 1992. The virtuous trait of patience is being tested no longer, because Pards has made a half-time change in fully 4 of our League matches, the comebacks versus Sheff Weds and Colchester included.

4. We have stumbled across a settled side - through a combination of injuries, loans and most curiously the birth of Darren Ambrose's first child, we appear to have found a settled side. As expected, it's a typical 4-4-2 and reassuringly it currently does not include the likes of Moutouakil, Ambrose, Thomas and Todorov, players that would surely walk into any other Championship side.

5. Watford and WBA aside, we have nothing to fear - unfortunately for one of us, only two teams will get promoted automatically, and I suspect I speak for many of us when I declare that I couldn't handle the play-offs again. I was 24 years old last time around, and my heart and blood pressure have no doubt worsened since then. It's perhaps unfair to write off the likes of Bristol City or Barnsley, but it's a long season and each surely lacks the depth of squad that the three leading protagonists have.

6. Every one of our preseason transfers makes sense in retrospect - how we wish we were saying that last season. Who'd have imagined that three of our key players so far this season (see below) would be free transfers, one of which no-one could possibly have heard of before? Credit must go to Pards, the Board and the European scouting network for uncovering a couple of real gems.

7. All players were created equal, but some were created more equal than others - the following core group of five key players have been fundamental to our success so far, and their continued form will dictate whether we achieve our promotion goal: Jose Semedo, Zheng Zhi, Andy Reid, Chris Iwelumo, Nicky Weaver. Notably there are no defenders yet on the coveted list, and not without reason (see below).

8. Sort out the defensive concerns, and promotion will take care of itself - it has not so much been the number of goals conceded which is a concern (just 10 goals puts us joint third in the Championship in this regard), but the type of goals and when they occurred. Too many set-piece howlers, too many late goals (in the past week alone) and too many goals conceded in quick succession. We have only conceded more than two goals in five competitive games this season, but look at some of the facts thereof: Sheff Weds (2 goals in 9 mins), Colchester (2 goals in 6 mins), Stockport (3 goals in 15 minutes). In short our defence are forgetting the 'three Cs'...concentration, concentration, concentration.

So there we have it, New York Addick's news at ten. Talking of ten, we've notably only played three of the current top ten in the division, and six of the bottom ten so it's certainly not time to be complacent. However I've seen, heard and read enough to tell me we will be celebrating promotion in May, and I'm certainly not prone to irrational bouts of optimism in most aspects of my life. Up the Addicks!

High Barnet

During a quiet drink with a couple of friends last week, I mentioned how much I had enjoyed what I'd seen of the Rugby World Cup (never a sport I'd cared much for before), and how I might be more inclined to take my kid(s) to watch rugby rather than football, if I returned to live in the UK.

After my much anticipated copy of the Sunday Times has arrived, I've been taking the trouble to read the rugby columns more carefully to learn more about the game. As a result, my enjoyment has increased, culminating in yesterday's fantastic quarter-final that it was impossible to turn away from.

Other than a possible cost differential, the most obvious reason would be the considerably superior behavioural example that rugby players set, not least in their attitude towards referees. There's also an appreciable absence of 'bling',and some of the other odious trends that have creeped into football, such as diving.

I've often wondered why I have no problem supporting England's rugby or cricket team, but find myself so negatively disposed towards its football team. It may simply be because my love for Charlton is so great, that it renders all other football teams loveless, even the national one.

More likely, it's because if I ever have the misfortune to meet any of the England football team, I'm sure I'd despise them, especially the ones that play for Chelsea. I'm not sure I'd feel the same about Michael Vaughan or Phil Vickery, though it's perhaps because income and lifestyle wise, at least they're likely to be a bit closer to my level.

My friend mentioned how even at the most lowly levels of the game (the rugby equivalent of 'pub football'), talking back to the referee is voiceferously discouraged by both teams, regardless of who the aggressor might be. He thought it was simply a class thing, but then apparently the same can be observed during rugby league matches, a game for the masses if ever there was one.

Thus it was with surprise that I read this article concerning my old local team, Barnet FC. In short, the players agreed to a self-imposed rule that only their captain Ismail Yakubu can talk to the referee about decisions made during the game. Since implementation, the team has gone on a 7-game unbeaten run in League Two that has taken them to sixth in the table, having accumulated just one point from their three opening games. Coincidence? You decide.

What I find most refreshing about this story, yet so obvious upon reflection, is the conclusion that arguing with referees actually undermines a team's prospects, let alone the poor man in black's authority. This is not only because, as the article discusses, players are more likely to perform at their peak if they are free from any inbuilt sense of injustice about a recent decision (admittedly this may not have applied for former Addick whinger, John Robinson). Moreover, to the best of my knowledge, in the history of the game, a decision has never been reversed following a team's protestations.

But is it not possible that the referees might just be favouring the side, consciously or more interestingly subconsciously, that doesn't spend 90 minutes effing and blinding at him? As they never cease to remind us, they're only human after all.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bye bye everybody, bye bye

During my brief trip to London, I was saddened to learn that TV legend Sooty is up for sale. His value is believed to have been slashed since his rights were originally sold by Matthew Corbett for just £1.4m in 1996. No story better sums up the plight of innocent victims of the ongoing global credit crunch.

No-one born in the 1970s in the UK, can be anything but horrified that Sooty is being flogged to the highest bidder in such a nonchalant fashion. He wasn't as overtly naughty as my all-time favourite TV character (Zippy), but he might have been his slightly more sensible younger brother. They had the same complexion after all.

Without wishing to knock down Sooty in his hour of need, I must confess that deep down I was very much a 'Sweep man', and I fear that the grey squeaky dog is probably being tossed in as a makeweight in any forthcoming deal. He should have taken my advice and gone solo years ago, but now he finds himself, in the eyes of the evil capitalists at least, merely as Sooty's lackey.

I don't like to name drop, but I did once meet Sooty live on stage during his eponymous shows at the Mayfair Theatre. I suspect he wouldn't remember me (I've changed a lot since then), but he can rest assured that I genuinely haven't had a more pleasurable time at the theatre. The likes of Sir Ian McKellen may win more accolades, but when Sooty said "...Izzy Whizzy, Let's Get Bizzy...", you could have cut the atmosphere with a knife.

The mere sight of Sweep meanwhile gives me an acute sense of nostalgia, yet unfortunately one tinged with sadness given his terrifying plight in my young hands. As a toddler, I was entranced by his high pitched and unique form of communication, so much so that my parents cruelly tore out his sound piece, sick to death of being woken during the early hours by his dulcet tones. To this day I cannot look into his sad eyes without being reminded of the savage attack to which he was subjected.

Yet in truth, what chance do the likes of Sooty have in the modern world, competing as they are with the far more marketing savvy compatriots such as Barney or Bear in the Big Blue House? You just have to hope that he has been advised well, and can enjoy a well-earned retirement with long-time partner Soo (not that I could work out what he saw in her myself, the stuck up cow).

Here then is a tribute to Sooty and his pals. If you don't laugh out loud during Sweep's rendition of Nessun Dorma at the 4:25 mark, you truly had a misspent childhood.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Barnsley preview

If there's one adjective to describe the Championship experience, it's relentless. The games come thick and fast, and any disappointments (of which pleasingly there have been few), can swiftly be corrected just a few days later.

We have not played Barnsley since the 1999/2000 season, a season in which the Tykes finished 4th behind the three sides that were ultimately promoted (Charlton, Man City, Ipswich), yet found themselves relegated just a year later.

That Championship-winning season began with a Clive Mendonca inspired hat-trick win over tomorrow's opponents, and the same outcome both tomorrow and at the end of the season would do everyone connected with the Addicks just fine. Amazingly, Barnsley have never won at the Valley.

Barnsley's relegation season was their third following demotion from the Premiership in 1997/1998, a lesson therein for Charlton regarding the importance of bouncing straight back to the top flight before the parachute payments end.

Indeed it is surprising how so many of the smaller clubs that ecstactically celebrated promotion to the Premiership, swiftly found themselves not just one division lower, but two and in some cases (Bradford) three divisions lower. It is not unreasonable to wonder if promotion to the Premiership for some clubs is a poisioned chalice.

I was at Oakwell on 12 April 1997 when we gave Barnsley a further nudge towards promotion, by virtue of one of the most shocking Addicks performances I can recall seeing. So shocked had I been at the obvious lack of quality, and the apparent lack of effort during the 4-0 defeat, that I wrote immediately to Richard Murray and insisted that Alan Curbishley had taken Charlton as far as he could. Fortunately, whilst he kindly took the time to reply to the letter, he ignored its sentiments.

Had I not been obliged to book my flights to London before the fixtures were published, I'd have arranged them to ensure I was at The Valley. Instead I will be listening to my newly discovered audio service (Note to foreign Addicks: sign up for one club and it will work for virtually all), and perhaps exchanging insulting text messages with my long-suffering Barnsley-supporting mate in the Jimmy Seed Stand.

The win at Hull on Tuesday night was our most important of the season. By proving that we were willing to match a team both physically as well as aesthetically, we sent a strong message that lessons had been learned, most notably from the Stoke game. A word too about the impact of Zheng Zhi, whose 'second debut' occurred during the 46th minute of our win over Sheffield Wednesday, the very moment in which our season truly began in earnest. He notably also missed our defeat at Luton, so he's very much our lucky charm, and that's not merely a conicidence.

Having seen the highlights of our win at the KC Stadium, I don't entirely believe in Lloyd Sam's innocence, but either way his absence forces Pards to make a change on Saturday. It's a shame because the young wingman might have faced up with former Addick, Jamal Campbell-Ryce whose career has found some foundation at this lower level, much like Sam's has. It's probably only an accident of timing that saw one retained and one released.

Fortunately for Pards, in both Ambrose and the redeemed Thomas, he has ample Premiership-quality replacements, and I suspect he will opt for the latter to retain the balance and true width that Sam offered. Elsewhere, whilst continuing to trumpet Todorov and Moutouakil's abilities, there seems little need to change a team unbeaten since Aug 18. Hence I expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Mills, Powell, Fortune, Bougherra, Reid, Zheng, Semedo, Thomas, Varney, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Sodje, Todorov, McLeod, Holland.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 3 (Reid, Iwelumo, McLeod), Barnsley 0. Att: 20,091.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Hull preview

I'm back in the UK for a fleeting visit, but sadly a midweek trip to Hull is not on the agenda for me. Having researched trains, plane and automobile options, I've sensibly decided not to make a tortuous trip up north, that would have required me to be back in London for an early meeting on Weds.

It does all beg the question why for example Ipswich are travelling to Burnley (231 miles), on the same night that Charlton are travelling to Hull (195 miles), when we could be travelling to play each other (75 miles and 91 miles respectively)?

Anyhow, as is becoming a habit, it is another fixture that offers the chance to reacquaint ourselves with old friends, in this instance Bryan Hughes and Michael Turner. Meanwhile our own Phil Parkinson will be feeling a bit like Iain Dowie did on Saturday ie. a little embarrassed about his short and disappointing spell at the club (even if Dowie managed to suggest he was anything but).

The draw at Coventry was frustrating, although I suspect most fans would have settled for a point before the game, and it maintains the strong run of unbeaten form that we began during the second half at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

Including our two Carling Cup games during that period, we have scored 16 goals in just 8 games, reinforcing the sense that we have something of an embarrassment of riches in terms of attacking options. Sadly we are yet to feel the same way about the defence, and as a result, again I would settle for a point, with another very winnable home game on the horizon.

With Danny Mills generally impressing at right-back, and Yassin Moutouakil a very capable alternative, our options at left-back are notably less deep, with Chris Powell presumably not exactly relishing the relentless tide of fixtures, and Ben Thatcher a less than convincing 'first choice'. In between the full-backs, Fortune and Bougherra have become the default partnership, and one which does not yet give fans that warm fuzzy feeling of confidence, particularly away from home.

Hull have begun the season solidly, and their front two partnership of Henrik Pedersen and Dean Windass are a pair of veritable battering rams. What price a flair up with Danny Mills some time this evening? Elsewhere former Addick Hughes has been relegated to the subs bench, again begging the question how anyone (particularly Curbs) ever thought him remotely Premiership quality.

I expect Pards to opt for Iwelumo alone up front, with Holland returning to central midfield, and Zheng released from some of his defensive reponsibilities to provide deep-lying support for the big Scot. As a result, I expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Mills, Powell, Bougherra, Fortune, Sam, Reid, Zheng, Semedo, Holland, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Moutouakil, Sodje, Varney, Todorov.

NY Addick predicts: Hull 1 (Windass), Charlton 1 (Zheng). Att: 14,220.