Friday, November 30, 2007

Burnley preview

As my wife and the countless women I've dated would no doubt confirm, I'm a terrible romantic (really terrible).

So it stands to reason therefore, that the Burnley fixture is the most romantic one for me, bringing back memories of our sole major trophy, the 1947 FA Cup. My Mum was born just two months later (a year ahead of my old man), and the rest as my biographer might say, is history.

I had never paid much attention to Burnley until I moved to New York, and became friends with a fanatical supporter of the Clarets. I had initially marked him down as an obsessive of the more cerebral thoughtful kind, until he told me that his 1-year old daughter was not 'permitted' to leave their apartment unless she was wearing at least one Burnley-branded item (of which she has several).

His Burnley souvenir collection is truly impressive, and includes naturally a 1947 Cup Final programme, as well as a wide assortment of other memorabilia. As he puts it eloquently, Burnley have a proud history but their appearances in finals and European competition are limited enough that it is realistic to 'complete' the collection (as I suspect he will).

Over some beers a few months ago, we struggled for many hours to think even of a single player that had represented both Charlton and Burnley (our wives meanwhile rolled their eyes and bemoaned their unfortunate alliances). Having left the pub disappointed, I awoke the next morning and received the text message I'd been waiting for......"JOHN PENDER". It was only a few minutes later that I banged my head against the wall with frustration (again to my wife's amazement) and shouted, "BRENDAN O'CONNELL!"

Pender is something of a 'forgotten man' as far as Charlton are concerned, but he was signed from Wolves in 1985 (as was John Humphrey), prior to the infamous 1985/86 season that saw the Addicks depart The Valley yet somehow maintain enough momentum to gain promotion. Compared to those players signed during the fateful summer of 2006, the signings by Lennie Lawrence notably of Pender and Humphrey, as well as Mark Reid, George Shipley, John Pearson and Steve Thompson were inspired.

After returning to the second-tier of English football in 2000, Burnley actually very narrowly missed out on the play-offs twice (finishing 7th in each of 2000/01 and 2001/02), but have been firmly bottom-half ever since. Despite a perfectly reasonable start to the season, the ridiculous short-termism prevalent in the game saw Steve Cotterill depart, and Owen Coyle recruited from St Johnstone. A stunning win at Watford on Tuesday night would appear to have given early justification however for the Board's decision, whilst from Charlton's perspective it softened the blow slightly from our own home defeat.

Pards would presumably have been tempted to make a change to his settled side anyhow, and the injury to Grant Basey has forced his hand. Although I have a strong preference for left-footers at left-back, I also think we would benefit from Yassin Moutaouakil's pace and flair on the right flank, requiring a shift across by Danny Mills (rather than a straight replacement by Chris Powell).

Elsewhere the performance of Chris Iwelumo was compared negatively to James Beattie's on Tuesday night, but that point of view conveniently forgets the difference in fee and wages between the two. Nonetheless, there is certainly an argument that the big man is left rather exposed and well-shackled at home, so the re-introduction of Luke Varney is warranted, perhaps in place of Jerome Thomas.

I thus expect us to line up as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Mills, Sodje, Fortune, Reid, Semedo, Zheng, Sam, Varney, Iwelumo. Subs: Randolph, Bougherra, Ambrose, Thomas, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 2 (Varney, Zheng), Burnley 0. Att: 21, 019.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Place Like Away from Home

That'll teach me to make cheap jokes at my mother-in-law's expense. Losing 3-0 at home to Sheffield United is bad enough. Listening to audio commentary from BBC Radio Sheffield just made it worse.

The point has been made elsewhere that Sheffield United are perhaps in a 'false position.' However our poor home form is a genuine cause for concern and appears to lack an obvious explanation. Home games versus Scunthorpe, Barnsley, Plymouth, QPR and Sheff Utd should yield more than two points, suggesting that either our promotion push will fade away, or perhaps we too are in a false position (ie. we should be even higher).

Naturally I don't follow other clubs' form as closely as Charlton's, but we do seem to have a disproportionate history of dire and unexpectedly heavy home defeats. Without wishing to stir up terrible memories, tonight's defeat is probably up there with the following (not to mention countless dire Cup losses):

- Charlton 2-5 Man City (2005/6)
- Charlton 1-4 WBA (2004/5)
- Charlton 0-3 Man City (2003/4)
- Charlton 1-6 Leeds (2002/3)

They bring back warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia don't they? It's a wonder we ever returned the following week, yet I bet Saturday's crowd is bigger than tonight's.

So far we have taken 17 points away from The Valley and just 14 points at home. Perhaps those two late late winners at Southampton and Bristol City have lulled us into drawing false conclusions, and worryingly so too. But either way, the dimensions of the pitch are the same so surely it's psychological? Or perhaps the expectant Valley crowd are to blame too? Then again, I'm not one to criticise given that I tend to watch football matches like I watch complete and pensive silence.

Then again, there were several times under Curbs when we seemed so much more fluid and composed away from home too. Even during our outstanding 2003/4 season for example, we accumulated just one more point at The Valley than away from it (26 vs. 27). In 2001/2, we took 23 points away from home compared to just 21 at The Valley (winning just 5 of 19 games there).

Strangely meanwhile 2000/01 was a complete disaster away from home, just 14 of 52 points taken away from The Valley. And when we surprisingly made the play-offs in 1995/96, again we took the majority of our points away from home (36 vs. 35). For completeness, during Curbs and Steve Gritt's first season in charge in 1991/92, we also failed to experience 'home sweet home' (37 vs. 34).

So how worried should we be? Probably 'not very', but it would be nice to know what's causing the phenomenon (presuming it is something more than randomness). I think I'd be more worried as an Ipswich fan, whose team have unbelievably accumulated 24 of their 28 points at Portman Road. It must be leading to some interesting prematch pub conversations between those that travel to away games, and those that don't.

Despite having just recently written about the efficacy of 4-5-1, the formation (first put in place vs. Southampton) has proved itself away from home it seems, but the jury remains out at The Valley. I suppose if teams attempt to put ten men behind the ball, it effectively neutralises our wide men and isolates Iwelumo. It appears Pards realised this by half-time tonight, so perhaps on Saturday, one ought to presume Burnley will do the same. Frustrating for sure, but football is a reactive game as well as a proactive one.

Perhaps the simplest answer lies in the relentless nature of this division, and the fact that fatigue is a great leveller. Witness Watford's sudden loss of form too. It can't be much fun after all to travel to deepest Lancashire, play a tough 90 minutes, travel back and then take on a physical Sheff Utd side just three days later. These types of results are inevitable perhaps, and as someone who hates draws with a passion, I prefer to look at our form in terms of a far more positive '12 points from 8 games', rather than '4 defeats in 8'.

As the tagline of this blog states, so long as we're facing in the right direction (which we most certainly are), all we have to do is keep on walking.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sheff Utd preview

This fixture last season was the one that effectively sealed our fate. My abiding memory of the game was Ben Thatcher's woeful attempt to control a through ball coming across his right side.....with his left foot.

At the time I wrote, "...In this era of millionaire footballers, it is galling to know that the likes of Thatcher are woefully unable to utilise their 'wrong foot' to intercept a simple through ball, preferring to over-compensate with his left foot and ultimately screwing it up."

Eagle-eyed viewers during the Wembley horror show may have noticed Wayne Bridge try the exact same manoeuvre, and he also failed miserably. The only difference was that Scott Carson managed to save England but not Charlton. Those seeking answers to the 'England qualification conundrum' need look no further than such a basic lack of technical ability.

Anyhow, their celebrations were short-lived, and they appear never to have recovered from the last-day heartbreak versus Wigan (nor the Tevez saga). Moreover, in fairness to the much-maligned Neil Warnock, he is probably a far more accomplished manager than most neutrals give him credit for.

Bryan Robson meanwhile has long appeared to be a manager permitted by various Chairmen to justify his appointment (or retention), on the grounds of reputation alone. When cocky young players (probably English ones) ask their gaffer to show them his medals, they won't be disappointed by Captain Marvel. But I'd always take a manager who has worked his way to the top via hard work and intelligence any day, particularly in light of his extremely questionable record.

On paper, the Blades ought to be amongst the strong promotion contenders. The likes of Beattie, Kenny, Naysmith, Tonge and Bardsley would grace any Championship squad, but the whole has been considerably less than the sum of its parts. Indeed without the goals of James Beattie (who in fairness cost little more than Luke Varney and the goal-free Izale McLeod combined), they would surely be in serious relegation trouble. For that reason alone, it looks money well spent (as well at did at the time).

Pards will surely not contemplate changing a winning side yet, although Matt Holland will notably add some useful competition to Zheng and Semedo from the bench. Indeed, with the games coming thick and fast (9 in 35 days), some degree of rotation around the solid 4-5-1 formation will surely be required at some point, even without any injuries or suspensions.

This fixture has a certain personal resonance for me given that my stepfather-in-law is a lifelong Sheffield United, having been raised in the steel city. It's hard not to feel sorry for the bloke, because if the casino of life had not already dealt him a bad enough hand, he voluntarily married my mother-in-law.

With three of our four wins having come away from The Valley, we have a fantastic opportunity to relax in front of our own fans, and to put on a show under the lights. I've a good feeling about this one.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 3 (Reid, Iwelumo, Varney), Sheff Utd 0. Att: 20, 842.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

No Time Like Injury Time

Four wins, four clean sheets, seven goals. Charlton are in the midst of a fantastic spell of form, but if you are the type of person that sees the fourth official's board as the cue to have a pee/beat the traffic* (*delete as appropriate), then you may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

It really is a remarkable statistic that six of our seven goals have occurred during the injury time added on at the end of each half. From my perspective, it could signal superior fitness and concentration levels, both vital attributes in a 46-game season.

The bar chart above shows the distribution of our 24 goals so far this season across the six 15-minute periods. If one assumed goals were scored in a linear fashion during games, then one would 'expect' us to have scored 4 goals in the final quarter-hour (perhaps slightly more given the injury time). Infact we've scored 9.

Despite having plenty of attacking options, we are far from being the leading scorers in the Championship. We sit behind Watford, WBA, Ipswich, Coventry, Southampton and perhaps most bizarrely, 19th placed Colchester, in the scoring stakes. However I doubt if any team has scored as many goals in the final fifteen minutes (and most certainly not the injury time at the end of that period).

Today's win was especially welcome given that earlier results could not realistically have gone much better for us. Defeats for Watford, Bristol City and Ipswich returned us not only to 2nd place, but also to within just five points of the stuttering leaders. So what explains the sudden improved and consistent form? Here are a few obvious factors:

Sam Sodje: The cheerful defender actually made his debut against QPR, but his partnership with Jonathan Fortune is clearly bearing fruit (378 minutes without a goal). Just as importantly, Sodje offers a prodiguous leap at set pieces. At the right price, he would surely be a valuable permanent addition.

Grant Basey and the Balance: If young Basey ever becomes a musician, I think I've just come up with a great name for his band. But whilst he remains a footballer, he is surely proof that despite any concerns some fans may have had about his lack of experience, it is greatly preferred to maintain the balance offered by a left-footed left-back. Surely after flawed attempts to play Luke Young, Osei Sankofa and Danny Mills at left-back, the message is now clear.....maintain the balance.

4-5-1: We may conceivably have stumbled on 4-5-1 by virtue of Todorov's injury, but it suits our best players perfectly and four wins prove it. No more Andy Reid exposed on the left; Zheng Zhi freed up to ghost into the box seeking goals; Jose Semedo relieved of most attacking responsibilities; the pace of Lloyd Sam and Jerome Thomas freed up to a greater degree etc.. It feels a lot like the perfect balance we found in 1999/2000, although that one required a 4-4-2. Moreover, as much as they may resent it, Luke Varney or Izale McLeod are probably best used as pacy late substitutes. If Chris Iwelumo picks up an injury, we may have to revert back, but for now it suits us just fine.

With two straightforward-looking home games coming up, we are surely entitled to feel as optimistic as we ever have about this season. After the QPR game, our odds to win the Championship were as long as 14/1, but now they're a worst-priced 11/2. Did those three defeats really signal that our season was falling apart? Not for me they didn't....I trust you also climbed aboard.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Preston preview

Saturday's game offers the rare chance for the coverage-starved foreign legion of Charlton fans to watch their team live. I suspect the pub landlord will not need to refresh his knowledge of the health and safety regulations concerning overcrowding.

One's perspective on Preston North End is very much a generational thing. Anyone who began following football since the 1960s probably views them as another middling northern club (think Burnley, Wigan, Hull etc..) whose ground you'll never get to.

The older generation remembers the likes of Sir Tom Finney, and a high-flying team who (like Charlton) had their finest days either side of the Second World War. Indeed, how many other teams have a separate entry on Wikipedia outlining their history in greater detail?

In more recent years, having won League One in 2000, Preston have regularly competed for promotion to the Premiership, most notably losing out to Alan Pardew's West Ham in the 2005 play-off final. Their consecutive and impressive finishes since 2000 of 4th, 8th, 12th, 15th, 5th, 4th and 7th, are testament to the work particularly of two of the game's most outstanding managers (Billy Davies and David Moyes). Their stability is perhaps also due to the absence of a financially destabilising temporary spell in the top-tier.

However this season has witnessed a worrying loss of form (especially away from home). The inevitable dismissal of Paul Simpson followed, a coach who on paper at least, appeared to be another promising young leader who could use Preston as a stepping stone to greater things. Now in a rare example of the small club biting back at the big clubs, they have recruited Alan Irvine from Everton, offering the Scot his first shot at management.

New managers win a disproportionate number of their first games in charge, but with the momentum firmly behind Charlton, we have a great chance to improve our League position, not least with WBA meeting Wolves, and Watford facing a tricky fixture at Barnsley. There would appear little reason for us to change a winning side, so Pards will surely opt for the same eleven that beat Cardiff a fortnight ago.

Having correctly pointed out in a previous post that the bookies had got the first goalscorer odds on Sam Sodje completely wrong, it is curious to note that he remains a best-priced 33/1 to repeat the his feat versus Cardiff. Like any good investment, this is one to keep pushing hard until the bookies catch up with reality (in the meantime someone at Stan James might explain how Jose Semedo can be just 20/1 in the same market - 66/1 would be about right).

NY Addick predicts: Preston 1 (Ormerod), Charlton 3 (Sodje, Reid, Varney). Att: 11, 205.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

McClaren loses pole position

Last night was a blessed relief, and not least because I had identified the 7/1 odds on a Croatia win as bordering on the absurd. It looks like the bookies, just like the media pundits before them, fell into that arrogant English trap of entitlement.

When Steven Gerrard was quoted a couple of weeks ago, he described it as unthinkable that England might not qualify. Unthinkable for whom? Certainly not the Swiss or Austrian police forces, who must have celebrated last night with the same verve as the Croatian supporters at Wembley.

More importantly, it was certainly not unthinkable for people like me who can now relax and enjoy watching the best players in Europe next year, without needing to feign enthusiasm for the pumped-up egos wearing England shirts.

As expected Steve McClaren was forced out this morning, but frankly he has little to feel ashamed of. He should never have been promoted to a role for which he is so patently ill-suited, the FA having fallen into the same trap that Bolton and Wigan fell into during the summer, with predictable results.

To be honest, we are probably all to blame. Anyone who has shouted during an Under-10s game, "...just get rid of it" is to blame. Anyone who cheers when a homegrown central defender hoofs a clearance into Row Z is to blame. Inevitably, a proud team from Croatia (population: 4.7 million) can thus show up at the supposed home of football, and pass us off a treacherous pitch.

If we accepted our failings, we might have half a chance. If rather than bemoaning the selection of the likes of Peter Crouch or Emile Heskey, we accepted that we were actually playing to our (limited) strengths, then we might have an England team to watch next summer after all. Instead, we convince ourselves that the likes of Joe Cole and Frank Lampard are world-class technicians, and wonder how we've lost. In the Sunday Times last weekend, Millwall fan Rod Liddell described Frank Lampard as an English 'Tim Cahill', which is frankly spot on for once.

We could realistically become the next Greece, technically-deficient but super-organised and proud, traits good enough clearly to win the last European Championships. It would require us to give up upon any semblance of being a good footballing side, but appearances suggests we did that a while ago (except that no-one has yet told the players). As a reminder, just ten years earlier Greece had returned home from the 1994 World Cup following three defeats and no goals. Then again, I suppose at least they managed to qualify.

During the build-up to the Croatia game, it seemed we had finally found our scapegoat....the foreign players. If only the big clubs would stop populating their teams with so many Carlos Kickaballs, then the national side would surely benefit. But the real problem with the Premiership is not too many foreign players, but too few.

For example, how many of last night's Croatia team would grace one of the big three European leagues, yet how few actually play there? Which Premiership chairmen (probably foreign) didn't watch last night's debacle and ask themselves why for the most part their own club players were wearing white rather than blue?

Visionaries like David Dein at Arsenal appreciated all of this a decade ago and put in place a system (led inevitably by a foreign coach) which effectively cut the flawed English player out of the equation. They're now a free-flowing footballing machine with no English players; those two observations are not uncorrelated. Up the road, Spurs meanwhile have seemingly attempted to put together the a team containing the finest young English talent, and look where it's got them so far. If Charlton didn't exist, which club would you rather have a season ticket for?

The fact that the most valuable League in the world has evolved in England, is frankly only for historical and accidental reasons. The creators of the Premiership (and its key clubs) realised they could align the traditions of passionate support, regular local rivalries, and global support (albeit ostensibly only for Liverpool and Man Utd), with an influx of genuine talent from overseas. The existence of both was a pre-requisite for the Premiership's success, a factor lost on those who cannot understand why it will not have its representative national side showcased next summer.

During my more philosophical moments, I wonder whether that same sense of footballing entitlement actually pervades all of British society (and probably that of France and America's increasingly too). Its ugliest head in our case is usually reared, upon observation of our fellow countrymen holidaying in foreign climes, drunkenly seeking out a traditional English breakfast. All the while, the locals just take the money and plot new ways to eat our lunch.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Bungle from Rainbow was celebrating last night, after winning an extraordinary High Court legal battle against the UK government.

Bungle (above): relieved

Following the historic ruling, any further mistakes by the current administration cannot be referred to as a 'Bungle', or having been 'Bungled'.

The popular TV character hugged his civil partner George on the High Court steps, whilst his legal representative Zippy QC read from a prepared statement:

"Bungle is relieved that justice has been done, and he can now begin to rebuild his life. The libellous insinuations have hurt him greatly, not least 'the Heathrow security bungle', 'the immigration bungle' and 'the missing disks bungle'.

Henceforth, these episodes may only be referred to as fiascos, errors, screw-ups, gaffes, debacles, muddles, mishaps or calamities."


STOP PRESS: Mr Muddle consults his lawyers.

An Open Letter to All Citizens


Dear Fellow Citizen

As you may have heard, some rather important and confidential information pertaining to the entire UK population has gone missing.

It appears that the envelope containing the vital disks weighed more than 100g, and thus required postage in excess of 32 pence.

In light of the amounts owed to the government by Northern Rock, I refused to authorise an additional stamp. Hindsight suggests this may have been a mistake.

In would like to reassure you that the information contained on the disks was limited only to:

  • Full name and address
  • Names of children and pets (excl. exotic pets)
  • Holiday plans, and where you hide valuables
  • Favourite film
  • No. of sexual partners
  • Famous person you'd most like to meet (and why)

I would like to stress that there is absolutely no evidence that the information is currently in the hands of an Eastern European gang. I should also stress that there is absolutely no evidence that it isn't.

In the meantime, in order to rebuild our database, it is absolutely vital that all citizens immediately count their children.

If you have fewer children than you thought, please contact the National Missing Persons Helpline. If you have more children than you thought, you may be eligible for additional benefits.

I share the anger and concern of all citizens, and would like to reassure them that everything is being done to ensure house prices continue rising (surely 'the information is recaptured immediately'? - Ed).

Yours faithfully

A. Darling

ps - should you wish to leave the country, you are politely reminded that you are permitted just one piece of hand luggage.

pps - does anyone else think I look like Alan Pardew?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Three Pints for a Win

(not strictly Charlton related)

With nothing to write about Charlton, I've decided to write about a vital topic, namely what I term, the 'three pint problem'.

It is related to another topic (tipping) that I've written about in the past, because bar staff in the US rely upon tips more than most. It is positively frowned upon to leave any less than a dollar tip per drink ordered, and it is reflected in the strange way you receive change at the bar.

For example, if a round of three drinks costs $14, and you pay with a $20 note, then you will find the change comes back in the form of six $1 notes, rather than a $5 note and a $1 note. The implicit message is clear. Indeed, I was even once informed curtly by a barman that he did not 'accept' coins as a tip (even if they amounted to more than a dollar). I found this to be a terrible shame as I had a Kruggerand in my pocket, and until then I'd been rather enchanted by the quality of his service.

Bar owners are not required to pay their staff the minimum wage, so long as their wage (set at a different and much lower minimum) is supplemented by tips (that they are permitted to keep) to at least the level of the usual minimum. As a result, unlike in the UK, you are never left ignored at the bar whilst the bored barmaid serves her regulars, but instead receive exemplary service (so long as you keep those dollar bills in good supply).

However, something has been bothering me about this system. The real value of those $1 tips is falling by the rate of inflation, currently 3% or considerably more if, like me, you choose not to believe the figures. This erosion in the real value of the tips is not affecting the likes of taxi drivers or waiters to the same degree, because they tend to receive tips as a flat percentage of the total cost (which is presumably rising in line with inflation).

Unfortunately for barstaff, they are non-unionised and collectively working for an incredibly diverse group of employers. Who is going to represent them? And how can they force the issue and begin to persuade the punters that their livelihoods are under threat?

I suspect this problem will only be resolved by the gentle persuasion of customers by the barstaff themselves, preferably attractive red-headed ones with names like Sinead. And this indirectly leads me onto the aforementioned 'three-pint problem'.

Any married men, particularly those with young children, will appreciate that the ability to sneak away for a couple of hours to indulge in all the things we used to enjoy are rather limited. Thus, if I spot that the wife is about to settle into the armchair for an hour of brain-numbing television (The Bachelor is a particular favourite), then my opportunist side sees the chance for a brief escape (or as it's termed within my marriage, a visa).

Depending on my mood and the weather, this usually involves either a run around Central Park or a trip to the local Irish pub, alongwith some suitably stimulating reading material. I have contemplated trying to squeeze in both, but which do you do first? Boozing after exercise gives a cast-iron guarantee of a monumental morning headache, whilst exercising after boozing is best left to Andrew Flintoff.

As the nights draw in and the weather turns decidedly chilly, the exercise option has increasingly given way to the pub option, and my tipple of choice is Bass (on draft), and three pints thereof.

Three pints is a self-imposed solitary drinking cap which strikes a reasonable balance between utilising my free time to the full, avoiding any nasty morning surprises, and all whilst shunning any semblance of a drinking problem. Three pints is the choice of today's modern drinker.

Four pints however takes one to the land of the boor (and the bore). After four pints, my political views are veering dangerously to the right, and UK house prices are not just about to fall 20%, but they've already done so.

I also have an unfortunate habit of daydreaming at this juncture (often about Charlton winning a major trophy) which leaves me with tears in my eyes, and thus the lonely appearance of a man whose wife has just left him (when infact she's at home watching The Bachelor).

In return for being paid such low minimum wages, barstaff are given a considerable amount of freedom to reward their most loyal customers with the occasional free drink (in return only for another tip).

"This one's on me" will echo around any genuine neighbourhood bar, as a way of giving thanks for that incessant supply of dollar bills. Unfortunately for me, there seems to be an unwritten rule that it's usually the 4th drink that's the free one, to the extent that there is one offered at all (and therein lies the problem).

If the free 4th pint was absolutely guaranteed, then as I polished off the dregs of the 3rd pint, I would simply have to declare, "That's my lot, I'll politely decline the free pint (thank you)." In actuality, I would describe the free pints as being delivered in at best a stochastic fashion (essentially random, but with some degree of direction).

Hence, I feel that this wholly undisciplined framework has forced me into a difficult corner, leaving me perhaps four suboptimal choices:

1. Stop after only two pints - this choice also retains the unlikely possibility that the free pint will be the 3rd one (a drinking concept known as upside optionality), though this usually requires a good degree of chat which I'm reluctant to provide. The downside of this choice is that the vast majority of the time I will return home less inebriated than desired, and moreover The Bachelor won't have finished.

2. Drink the 4th pint (in the event that it arrives) - perhaps the simplest option, but there is a severe risk in this case that the reduction in rationality that it brings on may lead to a 5th or possibly 6th pint. In short, an option fraught with considerable danger.

3. Decline the 4th pint (in the event that it arrives) - there is surely no more impolite and ungrateful act, than to turn down a genuine gift. One would cause less offense by reeling off a series of jokes about the Potato Famine. The impact of such a heartless act would reverberate around the bar, and soon have the staff and regulars marking you down as an oddball to be avoided (admittedly in my case, they may already have done so). If the 4th pint arrives, then in the interests of Anglo-Irish relations, it simply must be drunk.

4. Negotiate - many seemingly intractable microeconomic problems are solved in this fashion, but it is not as simple as it sounds. Consider this potential conversation, "Excuse me barman, but in the event that you were planning to offer me a free 4th pint, I will politely have to decline it," to which the barman replies, "I wasn't planning to." A more awkward exchange of words cannot be imagined. Indeed, like any awkward conversation, I will make great efforts to avoid having it at all.

However I believe I have found a solution to both my three-pint problem, as well as the erosion in real incomes of New York bar staff. Most importantly, it is what is termed a Pareto optimal solution because it leaves at least one party better off (or in this case both parties), whilst leaving neither party worse off. Admittedly the bar owner will be worse off, but spare your sympathy; he's paying his staff a pittance.

Thus from today onwards, New York Addick is delighted to declare that when embarking on a solitary drinking session, he will henceforth increase his tip per drink by 100% (to $2), provided that the 3rd pint is both provided free, and guaranteed.

The bar staff are better off, because they receive total tips of $6 rather than $3 (or perhaps $4). Meanwhile, I am better off because I am guaranteed to consume my optimal amount, my free pint only effectively costs me $3 (ie. the additional tips, materially less than it would cost if I was paying for it), and I get to avoid the undesirable quartet of options above.

So the next time you read in a New York guidebook that it's traditional these days to tip $2 per drink, remember who got the ball rolling. They'll probably name a pub after me.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Cardiff preview

Dave Jones bring his hardy band of veteran journeymen to The Valley on Saturday, including much-loved former Addick Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and the country's most famed buy-to-let landlord, Robbie Fowler.

I was racking my brains for former clashes against the Bluebirds and then realised why I was struggling.....we haven't played them in the league since 5 March 1985. Naturally we lost 4-1.

Cardiff have had a difficult start to the season, and arrive at The Valley having won just one of their last ten Championship games. With our momentum strong after two monumental away wins, they would appear on paper at least, to offer ideal fodder as we seek our first home win since Leicester on Sep 22.

Pards will surely only contemplate one change to the team that won at Bristol City, and is likely to offer Jose Semedo an immediate return to the side; after all, until his somewhat harsh suspension, he had been our only outfield ever-present.

Elsewhere, Chris Iwelumo apparently has a 'black eye' (which in fairness I had assumed was a given), but is likely to start. Indeed, when I heard that a petition has begun to have Chris Powell knighted, I was tempted to suggest they had the 'wrong Chris' in light of his incredible week (his winner against Bristol City by the way was a lot more difficult than it perhaps looked).

With WBA not playing until Monday, and with Bristol City facing a tricky fixture at Portman Road, we would appear to have a fabulous chance to return to the promotion places by 5pm on Saturday (local time). I am confident we will take it.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Iwelumo, Thomas), Cardiff 0. Attn: 22, 447.

Varney insists: Valley Express goes on

As the threat of severe flooding receded across Essex and Kent, Charlton chief executive Peter Varney whipped locals into a frenzy as he declared, "Valley Express continues as normal."

"It was important to be here," said an emotional Varney,"...if serious flooding had occurred, I wanted affected residents to know Championship football was still available for five pounds return."

It is believed meanwhile that Varney had arranged for a flotilla of boats (including a decommissioned Woolwich Ferry), to be put on stand-by. "It doesn't say anywhere that Valley Express has to be a bus," insisted Varney.

The Environmental Agency had been distributing leaflets to residents in at-risk areas, warning them of the imminent danger in a language they could understand: THE FLOOD WATERS COULD REACH CHRIS IWELUMO'S SHOULDERS. The mass panic that ensued was only calmed when the risk was subsequently downgraded to: ANDY REID.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Benitez slams pundits' rotation policy

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has slammed the rotation policy of media pundits in the wake of his team's 8-0 demolition of Besiktas.

"I just don't know where I stand sometimes," admitted Benitez, "...last week I was a tinkering lunatic, this week I'm a genius."

"The pundits need to stop rotating and stick to a consistent point of view," he continued, "...I want to come into work each morning and know what I'm likely to read in the papers. It's terribly unsettling."

Big Chris Sets Precedent

Charlton striker Chris Iwelumo last night won an astonishing legal battle in the High Court against the club over his sole and exclusive right to be referred to as 'Big Chris'©.

"This is an unprecedented decision," argued a top sports lawyer, "...and it has severe implications for anyone big and also called Chris."

In a 49-page judgment, the High Court concluded that Iwelumo's legal victory was warranted by his tendency to...."...score big goals at big moments in big games." The judgment also noted, that Iwelumo was in a physical sense, "...rather big."

The sitting judge (Judge Dredd) had pored over his Charlton goalscoring statistics and noted that 5 of his 6 goals were winning goals, and that 4 had occurred during the final five minutes of matches. "His other goal was an equaliser against Sheffield Wednesday, which set up his own winning goal," Dredd continued, "...this court rules that goal to be big too."

In colourful legal language far removed from the industrial language typically heard in a football dressing room, Judge Dredd concluded, "Mr Iwelumo must prove satisfactorily that his goals were big. During these hearings, argument and evidence were directed both to general issues relevant to Iwelumo's goals, as well as specific issues relevant to the circumstances thereof. In my judgment, goals which were responsible for 15 points from a total of 25 must be considered big goals, on the balance of probabilities."

Other big people called Chris were quick to express their disappointment at the decision. Radio 1 DJ 'Overweight Chris Moyles' (formerly 'Big Chris Moyles'), ex-Fulham boss 'Lanky Chris Coleman' (formerly 'Big Chris Coleman') and 'The Boxer Formerly Known as Big Chris Eubank', were all considering legal action last night.

However it was confirmed that the judgment did not apply to big people called Christopher. Speaking through his agent, Big Christopher Biggins expressed his relief; "I'm relieved," he said.

Meanwhile, standing on the steps of the High Court, a delighted Mrs Iwelumo hugged her husband as journalists asked what big aspect of her husband she most admired, "He's got a big heart," she chuckled.


LEGAL DISCLAIMER: © 2007 Big Chris and the Big Chris logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Chris Iwelumo in the U.K. and/or other countries, and may not be used, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of Chris Iwelumo. The name, likeness and other attributes of Chris Iwelumo are trademarks, copyrighted designs and/or other forms of intellectual property that are the exclusive property of Chris Iwelumo and may not be used, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of (Big) Chris Iwelumo.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bent Cross

Some cheering news reaches me concerning one of Charlton's most popular players; Marcus Bent is back with former Hollyoaks star, Gemma Atkinson. I'm sure Wigan fans will be joining us Addicks in wishing the happy couple well.

However, one is reasonably entitled to question whether his love life might conceivably be affecting his performances on the pitch.

Here are the results of the last eight Premiership games that Marcus has started (6 for Wigan, 2 for Charlton):

P8 W0 D0 L8 F4 A20 Pts 0

Nice work if you can get it. Do you think someone should tell Gemma?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bristol City preview

What a difference a goal makes. Until Chris Iwelumo's powered home a last-gasp header at Southampton, we had gone for over six hours of football without a Charlton player having scored a goal.

Now we head to high-flying Bristol City with our tails up, knowing another vital away win will see us once again firmly amongst the pace-setters behind Watford. Given the relentless nature of the Championship, every team will have spells of poor results; we've hopefully put ours to bed for now, but we can hope Watford have merely begun theirs.

Bristol City are nicknamed the Robins (and play in red and white unsurprisingly), so we've already got something in common, but despite also being a somewhat similarly 'sized' club to us, we've not met in a league fixture since 1994/95. Our most memorable recent meeting was a two-pronged FA Cup affair in early-1994 which saw 6,000 Addicks fans (including me) make the trip to Ashton Gate, before we finished them off at The Valley to book a trip to Old Trafford in the 6th Round.

Their manager Gary Johnson is a little eccentric (and he has a propensity for selecting his own son Lee), but he is undoubtedly successful and has so far surprised the pundits with City's early season form. More importantly, he is now required to flash his backside in Burton's shop window after defender Liam Fontaine broke his scoring duck at Wolves.

Pards must make at least one enforced change, and an important one too given Jose Semedo's ever-present influence this season. Therry Racon seems the obvious replacement, but it's not clear he is as defensively minded as Semedo. Other more outlandish options include Madjid Bougherra as the holding player, or perhaps a League debut for Harry Arter? Alternatively Zheng may be asked to operate far deeper alongside Reid in central midfield, with Varney or perhaps Ambrose pushed forward to partner Big Chris©.

However, I suspect Pards will opt for Racon as the least disruptive option of the several available and thus we should line up as follows:

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

Finally, a word of advice for those with a penchant for an occasional 'short-term speculative investment'. The bookies have been slow to pick up on the fact that Sam Sodje is now our main target at set pieces, and moreover a rather good one too (witness two very close efforts against QPR and Southampton respectively). Thus there is a best-priced 40/1 available at William Hill on him scoring the first or last goal. Get involved.

NY Addick predicts Bristol City 0, Charlton 1 (Sodje). Att: 17, 431.

New York Snickers

Congratulations to Paula Radcliffe on winning the New York Snickers, or as it was formerly known, the New York Marathon.

We watched the leaders race past the 18-mile marker on First Avenue, and you really have to witness at close quarters the likes of Radcliffe and the men's elite competitors, to appreciate just how unbelievable these marathon runners are. The pace they achieve is truly astounding.

And to think she did it just ten months after giving birth. It gives a shining example to all post-natal women not least my own wife, who still gets out of breath just doing the hoovering.

I really do think that Radcliffe is a most underrated national treasure. My admiration for her would have been complete if only she had fallen in love with, and married a man called Mr. Hamstring. Not since Tiger Woods, would world sport have had a more appropriately named icon.

Reading the Daily Mail's website (as I tend to do, thanks to a morbid fascination with middle England), it was heartwarming to read the comments, not least William J.'s of Plymouth:

"Amazing what she can do for money. Pity she couldn't do it in the Olympics when she was merely representing her country."

Touching, but rest assured William J., most of our other fine English sportsmen have little interest in the financial side of their endeavours.

New York is a wonderful city to go running in all year round, not just on marathon day. The organisers of today's race (New York Road Runners), also set up tens of races all year round, most of them taking place in Central Park, and all of them wonderfully organised and aimed squarely at the amateur runner (of whom thousands take part each time). There are many things I'd miss about New York if I leave here, but this would firmly be one of them.

However all the prior races are overshadowed of course by today's race, and approximately ten hours after watching Paula race past, we witnessed a touching moment which reminded me why I think marathons bring out the best in a city.

As we strolled through the gloom of Central Park on our way back from some friends, we could see in the distance some hubbub and flash bulbs. Straining our eyes to work out what the fuss was about, a uniformed steward informed us the lone runner was the last official finisher in the race. "Big deal", I thought, "...a bit embarrassing isn't it?," but then I saw his crutches, and then I saw he had no legs.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Nathan Ashton

Interesting to note that former Charlton youngster Nathan Ashton made his Premiership debut today for Fulham. It was presumably the Les Reed connection that took him to Craven Cottage after he was released by the Addicks.

Like Charlton, Fulham have a temporary left-back crisis with both Paul Konchesky and Carlos Bocanegra suspended. Nonetheless, given that Grant Basey is just 18 and Ashton is 20, the latter would presumably have been starting for us now had he stayed. Then again, based upon my own evidence from the QPR game, and reports from Southampton, perhaps Charlton had higher hopes for Basey despite the age difference.

Of all the players who have been (voluntarily) released by Charlton over the recent years, very few have been proven us wrong with hindsight. Perhaps only Danny Shittu and Linvoy Primus might reasonably have been retained based upon their subsequent form elsewhere at an equivalent, or higher level.

The Joy of Text

90:00 GOAL - Chris Iwelumo - Southampton 0 - Charlton 1

Headed goal by Chris Iwelumo (Charlton) (bottom-left of goal) from left side of penalty area (6 yards). Assist (cross) by Luke Varney (Charlton) from right wing.

90:00 Booking - Yassin Moutaouakil (Charlton)

Booked for unsporting behaviour.


Above is all of the information that you need, to know that our promotion push is back on track.

When it flashed up, it took a second or two to register (because I was begging for full-time), and then a yelp of YESSSSSSSSS! (momentarily forgetting I had a horrid sore throat).

A last-minute winner, and our oft-overlooked French full-back booked for celebrating in the crowd. Fantastic stuff, and with ten men for an hour too. Pards could easily have put Bougherra on for Thomas, but he opted for Varney and unlike versus QPR, this attack-minded substitution paid off.

Watford got hammered, and now we're back up to 4th, with a chance to reel in Bristol City on Tuesday night. Some others lost the faith; I didn't. Crisis? What crisis? Up the Addicks!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Southampton preview

During our unbeaten spell, every game looked and felt winnable, even the tricky ones like Coventry and Hull away.

Now, after taking just 1 point from the last 12, you can't help looking at Southampton away and thinking, "If you offered me a point here, I'd grab your hand off." (and I would).

Looking back, that Barnsley injury time equaliser clearly stalled our considerable momentum more than we perhaps realised, not least because it occurred just prior to the international week.

Subsequently at Wolves and thereafter, we looked a shadow of our former selves, shorn of the 'devilment' (to quote Pards) that had characterised our play up until then. In short, we'd lost our va va voom, and as yet we haven't refound it. Southampton meanwhile have plenty of momentum after a dodgy start, and will provide a stern challenge in front of a noisy home crowd.

The idea that 'every team can beat every other team' in the Championship, is at once both a cliché and a truism. Nonetheless, the division is slowly beginning to take some shape, with some expected front-runners (Watford, WBA, Wolves), tucked in amongst the surprise packages (Bristol City, Plymouth, Ipswich). With the likes of Sheffield United and Palace firmly off the pace for now, the race for the play-off places at least remains wide open. It's important we stay in touch.

I've thought long and hard about why we've suddenly tailed off, and here's my general conclusion. We have some outstanding players (at this level), and arguably the outstanding squad in the division. When things were going well (after all we took the lead in 8 of our opening 10 games), then confidence was high, the players expressed themselves and our quality shone through.

However, we clearly lack natural leaders in the current team, and last week it became blindingly obvious. How? Because suddenly we found ourselves conceding the first goal three times in seven days, and to coin an American expression, no-one was willing and able to 'step up to the plate', and take responsibility.

For example, our central midfield of Zheng and Semedo is perfectly competent, but neither are leaders amongst the most important battle on the park; hardly surprising perhaps, given presumably neither speaks much English. In short, we're a confidence team currently lacking in confidence (how long did that take you? - Ed.).

Alongside them, the likes of Sam, Ambrose and Thomas are far too busy showboating to worry about rallying the troops, although I forgive Sam given his immensely promising form. With Therry Racon unlikely to be thrown in at this juncture, it is difficult to see Pards changing the constituents of the midfield four; more interestingly he may opt for a 'midfield five', dropping Varney, tucking Reid inside, and freeing up Zheng for a attacking role. Ambrose on the bench meanwhile provides a perfect alternative should Zheng begin to tire.

Meanwhile, in the similarly vital battlefield of central defence, both Bougherra and Fortune appear to be veritable wallflowers; at least Sam Sodje demonstrated a willingness against QPR to take a lead. Perhaps only Danny Mills and Andy Reid can be relied upon to demonstrate leadership when the chips are down, and neither had their finest weeks.

Frustratingly, our very own 'Captain Sensible' (Matt Holland) is sidelined, which probably leaves only the somewhat unconvincing Paddy McCarthy as another unused natural leader. For that reason alone, perhaps the Irishman should start alongside Sodje on Saturday. At full-back meanwhile, it seems profligate to have a player of Moutaouakil's quality on the bench, so perhaps Grant Basey should settle for a somewhat ill-deserved bench-warming role in his stead.

Up front, Pards has made it abundantly clear that he fancies Luke Varney (not in that way of course), but his partnership with Chris Iwelumo has not clicked yet, and again this seems an opportune time to relegate the former Crewe man to the bench. Hence, I suggest (though do not entirely expect) that Charlton line up as follows:

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

NY Addick predicts Southampton 1 (Wright-Philips), Charlton 1 (Zheng). Attn: 23, 281.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Recession Proofing

(not Charlton related)

I think I've finally completed my search for the ultimate 'recession-proof' vocation. This is an ongoing research project for me, the catalyst for which was a conversation with a minicab driver in London last week.

"Busy mate?" I asked, as one is obliged to by the M.B.P. (Minicab Behaviour Protocol), "No very quiet indeed. The economy's in recession. We're always the first to feel it."

It was difficult not to feel sorry for the guy, though I put my sympathy on hold for few seconds whilst I made a mental note to 'sell equities, buy bonds'. Here he was trying to make ends meet by driving people around North London, and now he's feeling the pinch because some idiots in California decided to lend to people with NINJAs (No Income, No Job, No Assets). I did not dare tell him I lived in the States.

Anyhow, it got me thinking that we all needed a 'Plan B' in case things really take a turn for the worst, and now I've found (of one's home). No I'd never heard of this industry either, but from what I can tell, it's completely recession-proof, can't be outsourced to Bangalore, and most importantly, it's incredibly lucrative.

But before you think that anyone can do it, let me warn you, they can't. When Howard showed up at our door for his reconnaissance appointment, he declared in his Noo Yoik tones that he wasn't there to scare us, but just to be realistic. And then as if out of nowhere, he said, "I bet you've never seen that nail sticking out of the skirting board have you?" Christ, how did that get there? He must have put it there! But he hadn't, there really was a nail half-embedded in our skirting board, an ideal lunchtime snack for any hungry toddler. What a pro.

Once I've concluded someone is at the very top of their profession, my inquisitive mind begins thinking of multiple questions to fire at them, not least because I had decided in that very moment that I too would become a baby-proofer one day. I rattled off a series of questions, really testing his knowledge of the relative danger and probability of injury from various household items.

For example, did you know that magazines with staples are potentially dangerous (eg. The Economist, Newsweek) but magazines without staples are ok (eg. Loaded, FHM)? This might explain why children with thick parents tend to have fewer staple-related accidents. As someone who devours The Economist with a near religious-like fervour, I'm buggered if I'm giving it up on risk grounds. If he pricks his finger on the staples, it's his own stupid fault.

As the tour of the apartment went on, my questions veered increasingly towards the surreal. I even managed to begin a discussion of the Black Swans of the baby-proofing world. "How do we protect him from the unknown unknowns?" I asked Howard, who was clearly already regretting this assignment, "How do we protect ourselves against the unknown unknowns, let alone our children?", he replied with an air of irritation.

Good answer I thought, although now we were tiptoeing dangerously into the realm of existentialism. "So we shouldn't worry about that lightbulb on the ceiling falling on his head then?", I enquired, "Unless you worry about it falling on your own head, then no," he replied curtly, scribbling a note in his report that I was potentially a madman.

But Howard had not yet delivered the coup d'Etat (surely 'coup de gras'? - Ed.), because the following morning I received the estimate for the work which we needed to be done. It was $800. Whenever I receive a shock request for payment like that, I tend to create 'new currencies' which help me to rationalise the enormity of what I'm about to agree to. In this instance, Howard was asking for '808 ITunes songs', or '400 Subway rides'.

But of course, you have no choice at least not once you've allowed the baby-proofers into your home, and therein lies the recession-proof aspect. Based upon the new information at my disposal (thanks to Howard), it's simply not possible to maintain any semblance of a caring parent, and not agree to it.

How for example, could I explain to the wife that whilst I'm happy to pay for the locks on the kitchen cupboards, $30 is a bit steep to prevent our bookshelves toppling over? If you've ever been hit by John Grisham's explosive new thriller from a great height, I think you'd pay for it too.


(not Charlton related)

Halloween is a big deal in the US, or more pertinently it's a big deal for the retail sector, and as we all know Americans love to shop.

Coming from the UK, I typically associated Halloween with teenagers terrorising old ladies whilst wearing horror outfits (as opposed to the rest of the year when they terrorise them whilst wearing their usual clothes).

However over here, whilst there is still something of a 'horror' element (not least in the prices of Halloween-themed merchandise), it's more of an excuse to dress up in wacky costumes, and ogle cute women dressed as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz. I once saw a guy walking down Sixth Avenue dressed as an IPod which remains one of the funniest things I've seen since moving here.

Fancy dress isn't really my thing. Whenever I'm invited to a fancy dress party (which not coincidentally doesn't happen very often these days), I usually recoil with fear, and then make the executive decision to attend as a plain clothed policeman.

I did once bid on Ebay for a set of original Zippy and George puppets from 'Rainbow', which would have solved my problem forever thanks to the quality of my impersonations, but I was tragically outbid by several thousand pounds.

However fortunately for him, my 8-month old son hasn't yet inherited his Dad's self-consciousness so he gladly dressed as a tortoise (see inset) for our apartment building's Halloween party, whilst I hugged the wall at the back of the room dressed as an undercover cop. Kids eh? Don't you just love them.