Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Free Parking

"As there can be no further changes to the playing squad until the transfer window opens on January is our view to give Phil a run up until the end of the year when there will be a strategic review of the position." (Richard Murray, 12 Dec 2008)

"With 20 matches remaining this season, we were aware that time was an issue, particularly with the January transfer window opening on Thursday." (Richard Murray, 31 Dec 2008)

The befuddlement that now masquerades as calm decision-making by the club's Board, is most aptly summed up by the ridiculous inconsistencies in the above two quotes just three weeks apart.

The reason why there is now a time issue (as this blog and others have made clear), is because the club seemingly inexplicably declared that the last three weeks were somehow a vacuum in which nothing positive could be achieved.

Infact they were nothing of the sort, and now four more games have passed without a victory, and valuable time that a new manager from outside could have used has been wasted.

Of course as is now patently clear, none of this is actually relevant and the fans have been led on, effectively lied to in my view.

Reading between the lines, Parkinson was always going to get the role full-time because financial considerations demanded it, or so they claim.

However in order to placate fans, one imagines the Board desperately hoped to be making today's announcement, on the back of marked improvements in results (perhaps presuming they couldn't get any worse, which they have).

Thus the official website absurdly claims that, "...(Parkinson) has presided over a marked improvement in performances, although this has not been reflected by results."

The neat symmetry of our 16-game winless run (8 under Pards, 8 under Parky) challenges this dogmatic assumption, since each has presided over precisely 3 draws and 5 defeats.

The last-minute heartbreak at home to Derby, was exactly comparable with similar bad fortune at Plymouth under Pards. The supposedly excellent first-half performance at Sheffield United, was matched by all accounts by the one at Birmingham.

And to be fair to Pards (in a relative sense only of course), two of his three draws came on the road. In short, we've been utterly dire since the win over Ipswich on 4 Oct, and there's been no improvement whatsoever under Parky.

I do not particularly blame Parky for failing to achieve any improvement, but would prefer that the club did not patronise fans in this manner.

Those that would tend to defend today's announcement would surely point to the financial reality of our situation. However that undoubted reality is not merely coincidental with the poor decisions that preceded it, but infact is a direct consequence thereof.

As a result, Derek Chappell's assertion that, "...we firmly believe the cash that is available needs to be used on the pitch...", is a mere continuation of this same poor decision-making, a trend which began the day Alan Curbishley left the club.

Since relegation in 2007, a total of 30 players** have walked through the doors of the club, and still they claim they need more, as if all of these transfer fees, agents fees and salaries have no financial impact either!

In a matter of just days, Parky himself managed to snap up three more loans. Who is accountable for all of this and why is it being allowed to persist, when a clear alternative exists?

Anyhow, we have no choice but to go along with today's decision as much as it confuses and frustrates me.

But equally, let's not let the Board escape from the fact that we now have a manager whose Championship record with Hull and Charlton reads as follows: P29 W4 D8 L17 Pts 20.

Scant evidence therefore to back up the, "...overwhelming feeling...that Phil was the best man to lead us and rescue us from our current plight."

If however he presides over a startling reversal of form then all credit to the Board for spotting his potential, but why was he not installed permanently the moment Pardew was jettisoned?

In the event that such a reversal does not very clearly manifest (which remains frankly the most likely outcome), then I fear that things could get very ugly from here.

If relegation were to be effectively assured by say Easter, then season ticket renewal forms will be landing on doormats, coincidental with a severe recession. Hardly an ideal time for the relationship between fans and Board to hit a 20-year low. The club entering administration must be considered a clear possibility too.

The Board are making an enormous and wholly unnecessary bet therefore, on Parkinson's ability to turn this season around. Moreover had the bet been made much more clearly eight games ago, then most fans would have better understood the rationale, and thus been more supportive of him today.

If this belated bet is ultimately lost therefore, then where will it leave the club in the summer? In League One either with a manager the fans are not supportive of, or in need of yet another managerial replacement which should be taking place now.

A more thoughtful approach would have identified a bright manager with long-term ideas, whilst accepting the reality of likely relegation (but not assuming it).

Most fans would rather see a manager begin to add value to the squad that we already have, rather than tinker yet again in the transfer market. Given our current situation, that manager is more likely to have come from outside.

I have tended on this blog to steer away from the view that our fabulous 1997-2006 success was owed mainly (or exclusively) to the managerial skills of Alan Curbishley.

Instead I have preferred to point to a more holistic approach that emphasised the long-term planning and patience especially of the likes of Murray and Peter Varney.

Unfortunately this view must now surely be challenged. From the structure created around Dowie to the money wasted on transfers, and from the Les Reed 'permanent head coach' fiasco to the fuzzy managerial thinking today, an enormous amount of hard work and development is being unravelled.

I think that any fan would be hard pressed to understand who exactly was pulling the strings at Charlton these days, with each of Murray, Chappell and Steve Waggott quoted following today's announcement.

With Chappell the new monied boy on the block, Murray the proud elder statesman, and Waggott likely still smarting from his spectacular internal promotion, it is not difficult to imagine why we are receiving such mixed messages about the future of the club, when previously there was clarity.

Fans' love for the club is non-negotiable, but our optimism for its future is inherently wrapped up in the decisions the Board makes on our behalf.

For so many years those decisions have typically been the 'right' ones, and thus our expectations have been ratcheted up accordingly. We unfairly began to take those decisions for granted, and that's probably the saddest part of it all.

Good luck Phil, you'll definitely need some.

**(in no particular order) Varney, Iwelumo, McCarthy, Semedo, Moutaouakil, Sinclair D, Weaver, Todorov, McLeod, Fleetwood, Sodje, Mills, Sinclair S, Cook, Halford, Lita, Racon, Hudson, Zheng, Powell, McEveley, Gillespie, Burton, Gray, Cranie, Waghorn, Dickson, Bailey, Bouazza, Christensen.

Leap of Faith

It seems Charlton has become football's version of Woolworth's.....full of overpriced tat they can no longer get rid of, even at big discounts.

Unlike Luke Varney, the Ambrose merchandise wasn't labelled 'with a view to a permanent deal' , but I don't think many fans expected to see it returned.

However in the case of both players (Varney also swiftly got dropped by Derby), at least it proves that Addicks fans weren't somehow being misguided in their continual frustration with their respective untapped potential.

It remains to be seen if he will be allowed to leave in January for next to nothing, but if not then finally Hameur Bouazza has some competition again on the left flank.

Moreover given he has never played under Phil Parkinson, perhaps the caretaker/temporary/interim* (*delete as appropriate) manager can somehow get the best out of him.

It's amazing how a player whom many Newcastle fans were sorry to see leave in 2005, has so swiftly fallen from grace. One senses Ambrose's problem is almost entirely a mental one; few doubt his natural talent.

His career has reached perhaps a surprise crossroads. Seemingly unwanted by two Championship clubs, yet presumably rather used to Premiership-type wages, this may finally be the kick up the backside that his casual style suggests he needs.

He has typically played for Charlton on one of the wings, and has rarely impressed. When utilised in the 'hole' behind two frontmen, he has tended to look more potent but it requires either an imbalanced central midfield, or a rarely used 3-5-2 formation.

Interestingly one position he has hardly ever been tried in, is as an outright striker playing off a target man. His record of 13 goals in 38 league starts (prior to joining Charlton) suggests he can finish, and indeed this is perhaps one aspect of his game that has remained relatively unquestioned (even in the air).

Ambrose is very much drinking in the 'last chance saloon' with Charlton, but perhaps playing him upfront might be a much-needed tonic for him and the team. One suspects he wouldn't do much worse than the other strikers that have been tried in varying combinations.

If not, I think I might have stumbled across an alternative explanation for his underperformance. By virtue of being born on the 29th February 1984, he has only celebrated six real birthdays, ten fewer than Jonjo Shelvey for example. This makes him by far the youngest player in the squad, perhaps suggesting much more to come as he matures.

He thus also complicates one of my favourite probability riddles, which states that on a football pitch (containing 23 people including the referee), there is a better than 50% chance that at least two of them share the same birthday.

This is a great riddle to impress women with at parties, but be sure to tell them that it does not quite apply if Ambrose is one of them. Some of my readers might wish to try it tonight.

Footnote: Apparently Martin Christensen hasn't actually left the club, as reported elsewhere. That's a relief.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Decision Time

It's now decision time for Charlton Athletic. After a battling hour or so during which we led at Sheffield United, we inevitably caved in. Did any Addicks fan listening or watching honestly expect us not to?

Phil Parkinson seems an honest type and he's tried his best, but it isn't good enough. Any hope that he might provide an instant impact, by virtue of being known to the players, has clearly not been fulfilled.

As a result, his suitability for the role must now surely be compared impartially against candidates from outside, and it is hard to imagine he will come out on top.

The club misguidedly guaranteed the job to Parky at least until year-end. After eight games and just three points, there is virtually no evidence that he has the wherewithal to inject new ideas and drive into this misfiring squad.

Those that would have preferred a complete change after Pardew have seemingly been vindicated. It would be unfair to suggest that a new manager would categorically have generated more points over these eight games, but the opportunity for them to have begun to stamp a different authority has been lost.

The Board may argue that keeping Parky in place until January ensured 'stability' (as if we needed it), but it has had a further important indirect negative effect.

With the club now adrift at the bottom, the number of capable managers that would now consider a role at the club has presumably decreased. No ambitious Championship or League One manager in their right mind, would consider us at the current time, at least without substantial remuneration which is clearly not available.

However somehow the club has to dig deep and find just such a candidate, and it should be somebody with no prior connection with the club. If they offer the role full-time to Parky now, then their credibility in my eyes will be shot to pieces.

There has been negligible improvement under his stewardship during a series of very winnable fixtures, whilst performances against Blackpool and Coventry were as bad as the worst under Pardew.

If the Board genuinely thought Parky was the best available candidate (or perhaps the only financially viable one), then they could have given him the role permanently on 12th December when they made their announcement. Instead they fudged it.

If they do so now after this run of results, it will be patently ridiculous but I wouldn't rule it out. They may justify it on the basis that as the squad is so dire, no realistic manager would have done better, in which case why did they wait so long to sack Pardew (who largely put it together).

This unnecessary dithering may have cost us our Championship future. Impressive performances from Southampton, Doncaster and Forest leave us embarrassingly four points away from 23rd place tonight.

Sixteen games without a win suggests something systemic has infected the club; this is not mere bad fortune. As someone clearly associated with the prior regime, this is another factor which should now count against Parkinson. Unfortunately it ought to mean the end for Mark Kinsella too; this is not time for sentiment.

After the pathetic attempt to instil Les Reed as permanent manager in 2006/7, one imagined the Board couldn't screw up a managerial turnaround twice in two years, but it seems they've achieved it. It suggests a lack of leadership at the club, something we've never had to question for so many years.

With just three days to go until the January window, the club might now need to both recruit a new manager, whilst at the same time expecting him to work miracles in the transfer market.

However, with a meaningless FA Cup tie awaiting on Saturday, any new manager will at least have an ideal chance to see his new charges perform without the pressure of a relegation battle.

In light of all the above, if the Board resort to Parky, it signals that they've given up. Unfortunately some fans will too. Happy New Year everyone.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

QPR and Sheff Utd previews

The final two fixtures of 2008 will bring to a close one of the most painful years in Charlton's history. The club has so far recorded just 10 wins from its 45 matches in this calendar year, and picked up a total of just 42 points.

Both statistics are a damning indictment on the club's mismanagement at several levels during this period. With no game on New Year's Day (for reasons unclear), Charlton fans will be forgiven if they see it in with uncommon gusto.

Relegation at the end of this season would thus appear to represent a deserved outcome in light of the above, but it still may be avoided of course.

Indeed the punters at Betfair still consider it an 'odds-against' probability, evidence of the tendency to view so-called 'bigger' clubs like Charlton as more likely to haul themselves away from trouble, rather than an impartial observation of the garbage served up by the team each week.

A pair of clubs (Leeds and Blackburn) have shown how to undertake an efficient managerial switch in the past week. No faffing about with caretaker managers, thus foregoing valuable rebuilding time (and in our case, points) up north it seems.

Instead a simple acknowledgment that the present incumbent is unfit for the role, the (perhaps prior) identification of a suitable well-qualified replacement, and the near-instant confirmation that the role has been newly filled. At some level, it's rather immoral of course, but football lost its ethical compass decades ago.

Not surprisingly both Simon Grayson and Sam Allardyce were spoken of as potentially interesting candidates for the Addicks, but they can now be safely ruled out. Instead we are being linked with a swift return to management for Paul Ince, a prospect that leaves me somewhat cold given his disastrous short reign at Blackburn, and his rather grating personality.

However, instead at Charlton we were told that Phil Parkinson had the role until year-end at least, in the name of 'stability', as if that's what is needed right now.

I'd imagine that a hefty does of instability is very much required and soon, but it appears those in charge of the club disagree as League One looms large. Did the club learn nothing from the Les Reed fiasco?

As mentioned in my Norwich preview, I am increasingly resigned to believing that our best (and perhaps only) realistic chance of survival rests upon the detachment of perhaps four clubs at the bottom, with Charlton managing to win that mini-league of stragglers with a points total that usually assures relegation.

Results at the weekend have begun to suggest that such a quartet has begun to emerge, with a four-point gap (effectively more due to goal difference) now appearing above Southampton in 21st place. With the Saints facing tricky Xmas period fixtures, this phenomenon may grow more apparent to our likely benefit.

However, such crunching of the numbers will remain moot for Charlton until they very firmly break the back of this diabolical run of no wins from 14.

It is worth noting that Parky's six games in charge have been very kind (on paper), his opponents currently occupying 9th, 21st, 16th, 14th, 15th and 20th respectively (even after accounting for the 14 points they took from us!). By the time we face high-flying Reading, Birmingham and Wolves in the space of five games around Easter, all hope may already be gone.

Speaking of high-flyers, I had wondered where our points total at this stage last season would have put us in the context of this season's table. When the Addicks trudged off the pitch on Boxing Day 2007 at Carrow Road, they had accumulated 39 points from their opening 24 games.

That points total if accumulated this season, would have put us fully 17 points behind Wolves, 11 behind Reading and 9 behind Birmingham. Indeed, it would only have been 1 point better than Preston, currently outside the play-off spots in 8th place.

Thus the idea that Charlton were unequivocably showing promotion form until last Xmas, and that this unstoppable train was derailed by the sale of Andy Reid, is demonstrably false. It was a mere illusion created by the mediocrity of the entire division until that point.

Would a more vivid appreciation of this fact have injected a greater degree of realism into expectations, and thus our subsequent scattergun transfer and loans policy?

Instead of flailing around desperately in the loans market in an attempt to salvage a promotion season, could a more constructive medium-to-long term policy been instigated then, which might have prevented this season's subsequent debacle?

And moreover, seen in this context it becomes clearer to me that Charlton's demise did not begin last Xmas (as many suppose), but can be traced back in all likelihood to Dowie for sure, but also perhaps the last vestiges of the Curbishley era.

The first half of last season rather than being an opportunity lost, was actually a continuation of several seasons' worth of gradual decline.

Given we're discussing 'Last Christmas', the omnipresent Wham song from 1984 contains the line, "Once bitten, and twice shy." If the mistake last Xmas was believing the season's main goal was promotion, when it should have been continued gradual improvement, what is the lesson for this season?

The potential similar mistake this season, would be to similarly flail around in a vain search for a great escape from relegation. Instead we should acknowledge that such an outcome is likely regardless of what we do, and thus ensure that any action taken now is done with a 2009/10 season in League One in mind.

This is not the same as giving up on the possibility of survival, far from it. It merely accepts the most likely scenario, begins to prepare for that scenario, all whilst maintainng an 'option' that said scenario doesn't occur (since the steps the club takes in this regard, may be surprisingly effective this season too).

Sensible initial steps would surely include considerably greater playing time for the club's crop of promising youngsters (Basey, Shelvey, Wright, Sam, Fleetwood, Elliot etc..), in favour of those whose continued employment in League One would surely be challenged (eg. Weaver, Todorov, Gray etc..).

The termination (where possible) of all existing loan agreements should also occur unless a viable and desirable option to become permanent exists. This would appear to comprise all loans except Deon Burton's and perhaps, Keith Gillespie's.

The club's current use of loan players is never more obviously dysfunctional, than when the team is on the present type of long run of poor form.

The likes of Cranie and Waghorn, are used in preference to giving valuable experience-building playing time to the likes of Moutaouakil and McLeod, both of whom might have long-term futures at the club.

The dysfunctionality comes from the fact that the policy is quite patently not working! No wins in 14 games tells you as much, yet we continue to sacrifice our medium-term stability in favour of short-term failure. The new approach might not work either, but at least it has other indirect benefits. As the Americans say, go figure.

Another obvious step is the replacement of the unfortunate Parkinson, with a new man without any prior Charlton connections.

This needs to occur as soon as possible to allow the full utilisation of the January transfer window (for both ins and outs), another vital step as we build for next season. The club's declaration in favour of Parky until at least year-end looks even more unfathomable seen in this regard.

If potential acquirers of the club are hovering, then this might perhaps explain the current Board's reluctance to upset the applecart, evidenced by continued loyalty to Parky and the influx of non-permanent reversible loan signings.

However at this rate it will risk severe unintended consequences, not least of which is the rapidly declining attraction and value of the club, as relegation becomes a near certainty.

In QPR and Sheffield United, we are reunited with recent foes, each representing the first and last opponents respectively of Pardew and Parkinson's reign.

Typical of Charlton's generosity, a fixture against the Addicks is often just the kickstart that a faltering club needs. QPR ended a run of two consecutive defeats with a victory over Charlton, beginning a neat run of 11 points from 6 games, propelling them to a 9th position, a point behind the Blades in the final play-off spot.

Given my reluctance to blame Parkinson (much) for our own recent form, it would be incongruous of me too to declare Rangers' new boss Paolo Sousa some type of mercurial catalyst for their own improved form.

However recent wins over leaders Wolves and Preston, combined with presumably some decent vociferous support, will ensure they will not lack confidence that they can become the seventh away side to be victorious at the Valley this season.

Two days later the Addicks will head north for a peculiarly scheduled Sunday afternoon fixture at Bramall Lane, scene of one of our few impressive away performances in 2008, goals from Iwelumo (whatever happened to him?) and Sam Sodje securing a deserved victory.

With Linvoy Primus no longer at the club, and with Jay McEveley injured, the five loan player rule is not an immediate constraint. However the ongoing failure to find a productive central midfield partnership, or to find any source of competition for Bouazza in left midfield, most definitely is.

Meanwhile the mysterious case of Todorov continues to confuse onlookers, his matchday squad inclusion seemingly a given, yet his appearances limited to little more than 20 minute cameos, when a full half (or even heaven help us, a starting berth) might offer something different and useful.

With two games in 48 hours, Parky is likely to use his squad to the full and I am predicting we might see an inventive 3-5-2 formation at some point. This would appear to better utilise Cranie, obviate the need for full-backs (quality ones of which we are lacking), and allows for the dropping of the frustrating Bouazza, a near impossibility with the current squad in a 4-4-2.

I expect Parky to line them up as follows:

vs QPR (3-5-2): Elliot, Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Semedo, Wright, Bailey, Basey, Gillespie, Gray, Waghorn. Subs: Weaver, Sam, Holland, Todorov, Burton.

vs Sheff Utd (4-5-1): Weaver, Cranie, Hudson, Fortune, Youga, Bailey, Holland, Semedo, Sam, Bouazza, Burton. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Todorov, Gray, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Waghorn, Wright), QPR 2 (Blackstock 2). Att: 22, 829.

NY Addick predicts: Sheff Utd 3 (Beattie 2, Stokes), Charlton 0. Att: 25, 019.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Norwich preview

For the first time in a long while on Monday, there were more positives to take out of a Charlton match, than negatives. Unfortunately there was also only one point, still relegation form.

I saw the game on a somewhat dodgy satellite feed which kept freezing at vital moments. Either that, or our midfield is even more stagnant than I had feared.

The biggest positive for me was the performance of our front two, and not merely because they both scored. We finally appeared to have stumbled upon a pairing where the constituents compliment rather than offset each other.

Gray's well taken goal in particular was precisely the type which presumably attracted Pards to pay a big fee for the Scot, whilst Waghorn's off-the-ball running all night eventually earned a deserved reward.

It is notable that they started together at QPR in Parky's first match, in a team performance which was reportedly equally promising. Waghorn was removed on 62 minutes in favour of Varney, a player whose anonymous presence on Monday reminded us what we'd been 'missing'.

However before we get carried away, one should not overlook the missed chances nor the two silly penalty box mistakes that led to Derby's goals. Bouazza's miss when clean through summed up the frustration that fans have with the Algerian, opting for the spectacular finish when subtlety was required. Arguably it cost us the points.

Nonetheless, there was a notable sense of new post-match optimism in light of the improved performance, and fans continue to warm to Parky's more down-to-earth style. An impressive act to have pulled off after just two points from his five games at the helm.

Unfortunately all of the talk of 'fight' and 'spirit' will be meaningless as the games tick by, unless it can be converted into wins soon. The League table suggests Norwich away presents such an opportunity, but how many times have said that over the course of the last 14 games?

Our best hope will perhaps be that the bottom five are cut adrift, and thus the required points for survival fall to a more reasonable 44 or 45 for example, rather than the 50+ total that I am fearing and which frankly looks unattainable at this point.

The Canaries have shown a degree of relative stability over the past couple of decades, punching above their weight in the early-1990s (finishing 3rd in the 1992/93 Premier League), and enjoying some famous European nights.

They won the Championship title in 2003/4 but went straight back down, and have consolidated their position ever since unlike many others with a similar experience.

Norwich benefit in my view from being the only club in a reasonably affluent region, thus helping to explain their consistently strong attendances at their modern Carrow Road stadium. The central location of the stadium and the relatively short trip, makes this one of the more pleasant away days on the Championship calendar.

Glenn Roeder is one of those managers whom I find totally unconvincing, his somewhat awkward persona suggesting he would struggle to motivate, a view somewhat backed up by a managerial record that is at best mixed, exemplified again this season.

There is little to suggest Parky will do anything other than name an unchanged side, leaving again the bulk of the creativity to Sam and Bouazza, with the rather similar pair of Semedo and Bailey asked to do a shielding job infront of the back four.

If he was to spring a selection surprise, it would likely be dropping Waghorn in order to play a 4-5-1 which crowds the central midfield even further (perhaps with Matt Holland), but frees up the wingmen from virtually any defensive responsibility.

NY Addick predicts: Norwich 1 (Lita), Charlton 1 (Gray). Att: 22, 981.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Derby preview

Charlton fans wondering desperately how much longer they'll have to wait for another win, ought to ask Derby's visiting fans to offer some perspective.

Between 17 Sep 2007 when Derby defeated Newcastle in front of Sky's cameras, and 13 Sep 2008 when they defeated Sheffield United in the Championship, the Rams did not register a single League victory.

I dare say some hardy supporters attended every one of those 36 matches lasting nearly a full calendar year. Our current run of no wins in 12 is pretty unremarkable in comparison.

Ironically some point to the premature departure of Billy Davies last November, in order to explain their astonishing run of poor form. Many Charlton fans would be pleased to see him appointed at The Valley, after apparently being offered the job before Dowie.

Much like Alan Pardew has, Paul Jewell also looked set to threaten an otherwise impressive managerial record by joining a Premiership club in distress. They were eventually relegated with an absurd goal difference of -69, but he has stabilised their fortunes somewhat this season (at least until he signed Luke Varney).

Charlton's performance at home to Coventry was reportedly as bad as any in recent memory, yet it has earned Phil Parkinson the surety of the managerial role until the New Year.

I attach very little blame to Parkinson for recent performances (although at some point one must assume he has had time to stamp some authority on the squad). However I find the Board's decision to be somewhat curious.

I argued prior to the above defeat that some degree of certainty was required. Either Parkinson ought to be handed the role full-time, or they ought to ratchet up the search for a replacement.

Instead they've fallen between two stools, presumably hoping to reinforce Parky's credibility in the eyes of the players, but the decision arguably adds further uncertainty, rather than lessens it.

The Board implied that with the January transfer window still three weeks away, and given Parky was already installed and 'knew' the players (as if that's an unarguably good thing), there was nothing to lose by removing his job insecurity at least until then.

However with four Championship matches still to play before year-end, we could well be so far adrift that any sensible Board decision at that point would simply be to prepare now for League One.

Moreover, if they do ultimately opt for a new manager, he will presumably not arrive literally on 1st January, and thus he will be asked not only to get to 'know' the players too, but to work some magic in a rapidly closing January window. To imply that a new manager could not achieve anything in December is ridiculous.

Anyhow with Parky now allowed to temporarily remove the 'caretaker' prefix from his job title, he may use the chance after two uninspiring performances to throw some caution to the wind.

With Jay McEveley's Charlton career seemingly at a premature end, he will have no choice in at least one position, but in others his realistic options are rather limited. Who, for example, could replace the frustrating Bouazza at left-wing for example?

The option of giving some of the club's promising youngsters a proper run in the side, is an issue that tends to divide supporters. However with the club's problems seemingly so 'systemic' at present, one could argue they represent the only cohort of players not damaged by recent events.

Moreover, when the likes of Josh Wright and Jonjo Shelvey have been given a chance, they have not looked out of place. Those that argue that 'throwing in the kids' is not the answer usually suggest that the manager should not exercise some form of positive discrimination simply on the basis of age.

Then again, with Nicky Bailey's form taking a worrying nosedive, and with Matt Holland (for me at least) no longer good enough for this level, their argument can be turned on its head. Why is Bailey permitted to play badly for several weeks on the trot, yet Wright is jettisoned having played pretty well, albeit only twice?

No-one would sensibly suggesting throwing in the likes of Wright, Shelvey (plus Fleetwood, Dickson, Christensen etc..) all at once, but if you can't make a case for trying at least some of them on a night like this, then why exactly are they on the payroll?

Talking of players who kept out youngsters from the side for no obvious reason, Luke Varney returns as a Charlton player to face Charlton. The loan system is patently bizarre, and never more obviously so than in this instance, but few Addicks will be complaining I suspect.

Strikers tend to score against their former clubs, but if Varney finds the net on Monday night, let's not jump to any improper conclusions. After all, let's not forget.....he'll be playing against Charlton! He can get a hat-trick and it'll mean nothing; let's see how he does when back facing proper well-organised defences next weekend.

At the final whistle on Monday night, we will already have played half the season. It is hard to find rational grounds for optimism currently, that we can pull ourselves out of this mess.

The only solace I can find is to hope that via a series of small positive steps, and hopefully a little good fortune (like the first goal for example, not achieved since Oct 4th), we can begin to enjoy the benefits of the same momentum that brought us here, albeit in the other direction.

Those small steps can begin tomorrow night, with a performance at least to make us proud, and who knows, perhaps a result too? The attendance promises to be a shocker (if one counts seats actually occupied of course); the players can rest assured therefore that only the true die-hards will be present, and they're the ones most deserving of some respite.

I think they'll be watching Charlton line up as follows: Weaver, Cranie, Youga, Hudson, Fortune, Wright, Semedo, Gillespie, Bouazza, Todorov, Waghorn. Subs: Elliot, Holland, Sam, Gray, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Waghorn), Derby 1 (Varney). Tickets sold: 19, 821. Seats occupied: 12, 280.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Charlton - It's The Economy, Stupid

Having fumbled around desperately to find explanations for our seemingly inexplicably poor form, I may have come across a rather unusual one.

With all of the doom and gloom in the UK economy coinciding with Charlton’s diabolical poor form, I began to wonder if the two might infact be related.

The UK has only had three official recessions since the Second World War. A recession is defined as two or more consecutive quarters of negative growth, and as a result the present contraction (which began in the third quarter), is not yet an official recession.

However the three 'official' recessions occurred as follows: Jul 1973-Jun 1975; Apr 1979-Mar 1981; Apr 1990-Sep 1991.

Charlton fans of a certain age will instantly recognize all three of the above periods as being as dire for the club, as they were for the economy.


After relegation from the First Division in 1956/57, Charlton managed 15 consecutive seasons in the Second Division until relegation in 1971/72.

We did not return to the Second Division until promotion was secured three seasons later, with a 3rd place finish in 1974/75.

The interim 14th place finish in the Third Division in 1973/74 represents the lowest end-season finish for the Addicks since the 1920s. Interestingly I was born during this season, which implies I really have only known varying degrees of ‘progress’, even if at times it hasn’t felt like it.

We thus spent the entire oil-driven recession of the mid-1970s in the third tier of the Football League.


Since the aforementioned promotion in 1974/75, Charlton have only spent a single season back in the Third Division, namely in 1980/81.

The relegation season of 1979/80 is the only time Charlton have finished bottom of a division in the past 50 years.

Being the only full season played entirely in the post-Thatcher recession, it was inevitable perhaps that 1979/80 is, on so many measures, one of the worst in the history of the club.

With just six wins, the Addicks celebrated the fewest victories in its 88-year League history. And just to add insult to injury, I led the team out at home to Wrexham that season, and naturally enough we lost.


When the severe recession and housing bust of the early-1990s began in earnest in the second quarter of 1990, it was inevitable that Charlton were in the midst of a vain relegation battle.

Lennie Lawrence had worked miracles for the homeless Addicks, not only winning promotion from the Second Division in 1985/86, but preserving First Division status for four seasons.

After a nosebleed-inducing 14th place finish in 1988/89, Charlton looked set to build on this foundation the following season, picking up 6 points from an unbeaten opening 4 games. The 3-0 home win over Chelsea continues to live in the memory.

However five consecutive defeats reversed the early momentum, and despite a 2-0 home win over Manchester United in early-November, the Addicks were eventually overcome by the twin forces of the opposition and the looming economic recession.

With just 30 points from 38 games, the 1989/90 season was worse than both of the subsequent top flight relegations in 1998/99 (36 points) and 2006/07 (34 points).

The following 1990/91 season, played entirely during a recessionary period, did not result in a relegation but the 16th place finish (registering just 13 wins), represents the worst finish from the ten we have played in the League’s second tier since then.

The current season looks very likely to challenge the above statistic of course, but then again we’re almost certainly in another recession.


This is all a bit of data-mining fun of course, but is it possible that there is actually a slight correlation, as opposed to a mere coincidence?

During the final boom times that precede an inevitable recession, there is a natural tendency for companies and individuals to take irrational financial risks, for which they must eventually repent.

This was never more amply demonstrated than during the present cycle of course, but was probably true of the earlier cycles too, when Charlton were considerably less well-run than we are today.

This tendency would surely be true of all clubs however, not merely Charlton and indeed one can think of several clubs that took crazy risks during the latest boom. Leeds were the highest profile example of course, but for many, the day of reckoning is still to reveal itself (West Ham anyone?).

However I think one can make a reasonable case that suggests that in the specific case of Charlton, because its boom times on the pitch coincided exactly with the economic boom times (2000-2007), we may be suffering particularly acutely during the present bust.

This is for two reasons. Firstly of course, we screwed up that vital 2006/7 season in numerous ways. The fact that this difficult transitional season occurred at the tail end of the boom is merely bad luck of course, but the club’s willingness to let Dowie splash the cash, suggests a degree of internal financial euphoria for which we are still feeling the effects.

Secondly and more relevantly however, did Charlton take disproportionate risks more generally during the boom years, believing that success would always continue, crowds would always rise, and thus debts could always be repaid?

Certainly at times the club very visibly got ahead of itself, not least when it was seriously contemplating an increase to a 40,000 capacity stadium, a decision that I vehemently opposed. Those extra seats were not needed then, and certainly are not required now.

Meanwhile, whilst our transfers and players wages never felt excessive relative to the rest of the Premiership, we may be guilty of selective memory. Curbishley for example spent at least £1million on 13 different players* from 2000-2006, and that was before the likes of Faye and Traore were more than a twinkle in Richard Murray's eye.

The present recession threatens to be both long and deep, which does not bode well for Charlton if history is any guide. With the team not playing until Monday, any Addicks fan worthy of the name must head straight to Bluewater, and do his or her utmost best to shop our way out of recession. Your club needs you.


*Jensen, Johansson, Bartlett, Euell, Young, Rowett, Rommedahl, Murphy, Jeffers, El Karkouri, Bent D, Ambrose, Bent M.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Coventry preview

There was something about Saturday's defeat which somehow felt worse than the eleven that had preceded it.

Perhaps it was the cautious optimism that improved displays versus QPR and Southampton had generated, combined with the fact that a mediocre Blackpool side seemed very beatable, on paper at least.

Unfortunately I think we are now all rapidly reassessing notions of 'beatability' at the current time, with dire implications for the rest of the season.

Something has gone very badly wrong at the club, and it now feels like a vicious circle of poor results and demotivation, that threatens to eat upon itself until relegation is assured. The circle needs to be broken.

I think the Board needs to stop procrastinating, and either formally give the manager's job to Parkinson, or very swiftly ratchet up the search for a new manager.

As I've noted before, the near-term results should have little bearing on Parkinson's suitability for the role. The quality of decisions is judged at the time they are made, not with the benefit of hindsight.

Either way, I do sense that the club will remain 'in flux' until some permanence is brought to the manager's position, and all the while, the team heads seemingly inexorably towards League One.

I still don't buy the argument that the squad is fundamentally 'not good enough' (to survive). Only two of the eleven that started at Blackpool do not have relatively recent Premiership experience (Bailey and Semedo).

What they desperately need is some belief and organisation. Until then the ten or so wins we need to stay up will remain a mere pipe dream.

The last time Charlton finished a season bottom of a division was in the 2nd Division of 1979/80, accumulating an embarrassing 22 points from 42 games (equivalent to about 31 points in today's money).

With two new injuries to be concerned with, Parkinson's options are extremely limited against a Coventry side consolidating a position in lower midtable.

The Sky Blues were finally relegated from the top flight in 2000/01, after 34 consecutive years, a phenomenal and often overlooked achievement. They also famously lifted the FA Cup in 1987.

Since then, they have achieved Championship finishes of 11th, 20th, 12th, 19th, 8th, 17th and 21st, escaping relegation last season despite a 4-1 defeat at The Valley on the final day.

Iain Dowie took over in Feb 2007, and enjoyed a degree of success before a poor run in early-2008 saw him dismissed by the new consortium led by Ray Ranson. Chris Coleman was installed in his stead after a brief sojourn in Spain, but has managed only to stabilise not to push on.

Given we have managed only a single win in our last 15 games, it is difficult to garner much optimism for any fixture currently. However if there is anything beneficial about finally reaching the bottom, it's of course that the only way (until May at least) is up.

Perhaps they can now play as if they have nothing to lose, rather than fearing that they will. Cranie will no doubt start if passed fit, but if not, it would give Parky a chance to perhaps pair Burton and fellow loanee Waghorn upfront.

When Burton was signed, Parky implied he was an alternative to Andy Gray, not a complement, yet they have started together twice. With no goals forthcoming, the pace of McLeod or the aforementioned Waghorn may be preferred.

I think Parkinson will line them up as follows: Elliot, Cranie, McEveley, Fortune, Hudson, Bailey, Holland, Bouazza, Gillespie, Burton, McLeod. Subs: Christie, Semedo, Moutaouakil, Gray, Sam.

NY Addick predicts Charlton 2 (Burton, Bouazza), Coventry 1 (Mifsud). Tickets sold: 20,088.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Remember, Remember the 5th of December

5th December 1992 will always be one of the most special dates in the history of Charlton Athletic. No-one who was at The Valley that day will forget it.

After seven depressing nomadic years traipsing across South London and East London, we finally returned to our spiritual home.

Those fans heading up the M6 to Blackpool tomorrow should recall the nostalgic relevance of a three-sided ground.

I don't recall exactly why, but I managed to procure a seat in the Jimmy Seed Stand whilst my Dad was in the Covered End.

He thus had a better view than I did of Darren Pitcher's lay off to Colin Walsh, and the Scot's clinical finish into the bottom left-hand corner. There is no other Charlton goal that I can picture more vividly.

It's somewhat painful to note that the current side is worse-placed than that one was, despite the 14 years of near linear achievement that occurred thereafter. Our present predicament does however deserve a proper perspective.

It's thus an appropriate time to acknowledge the likes of Roger Alwen, Lennie Lawrence and all those involved with the Valley Party, whose unwillingness to give up the faith ensures we have a team to support today.

Even those mere fans like us (who eventually quite literally 'optimised' the horrendous journey from Hertfordshire to Selhurst Park) deserve some credit. And to think this was before the days of sat-nav.

At one point, we owned four season tickets there. The inevitable spare seats were occasionally occupied by my inflatable gorilla called Colin, this during that brief football supporters' obsession with all things blown up. Knowing Charlton, he was probably included in the attendance.

Their impact (less so Colin's) is often inappropriately forgotten given what has happened since. The present stewards of the club were handed a powerful legacy.

Blackpool preview

On Saturday the Addicks return to Bloomfield Road, the scene of one of their most nightmarish performances under Pardew earlier this year.

Blackpool's previously near-derelict ground is now modern, but with only two permanent stands.

Along one side meanwhile is an uncovered temporary one which looks like it might give way at any moment. Indeed, on a couple of occasions it has. No guessing where the away fans are seated then.

The combination of a gaping hole where the South Stand should be, and the fact that the Irish Sea is just hundreds of yards away, ensures that a swirling wind is a near-permanent feature.

Just four home defeats last season (despite finishing 19th) suggests there might be more to this phenomenon, than a mere convenient managerial excuse. Indeed to be fair to Pards, this was one of his myriad of excuses that he didn't use.

The weather forecast is for a fine but bitterly cold day, so appropriate therefore that our manager is nicknamed 'Parky'

Promisingly five home defeats already this season for the Tangerines (Bristol C, Sheff Utd, Ipswich, Preston and Sheff Weds) suggests teams are now preparing properly for the trip to the seaside; let's hope our manager is doing the same for us.

Having spent my only visit to Blackpool in the mid-1990s searching in vain with an ex-girlfriend for a restaurant which might not kill the pair of us, I admire the loyalty of those Addicks making the long trip in more ways than one.

'Parky' is making all the right noises in the pre-match build-up ("roll their sleeves up"; "stick their heads in where it hurts"; blah blah), suggesting he is perhaps as media-savvy as our last manager was.

The funny thing is, most fans it seems are believing him for now, yet if Pards had said the same we'd have declared his talk as cheap. I suppose he has nothing to lose by drawing on some Churchillian rhetoric.

As mentioned in previous posts, I'm reluctant to judge our caretaker boss on just a few results, whether good or bad. It would be inappropriate for example to have given Pards essentially 40-50 games since last Xmas to turn things around, yet declare Parky a genius (or perhaps failure) in just a few weeks. The truth is that he simply cannot make that type of impact so quickly.

He can however reshuffle his pack, and certain players are clearly somewhat favoured by him (Racon, Semedo, Cranie, Fortune....), whilst others are not (Moutaouakil [again], Youga, Primus, Holland....). His three loan signings meanwhile have naturally gone straight into the side.

He has also reverted back to a 4-4-2 after a fleeting affair with 4-5-1, which in fairness had showed a small degree of promise. Much like a wife however, maybe not as exciting as a brief dalliance, but at least you know what to expect.

I sense that some fans still haven't understood the severity of our present situation, or perhaps are less inclined to crunch the numbers than I am. In these economic times, it's a depressing exercise. There are some banks in better shape than we are.

To get more points than Leicester did last season (52), we need to accumulate an average of 1.35 points per game. Essentially therefore it's at least a win and a draw from each trio of games. We may survive with less, but this would be somewhat out of our hands.

Parky's charges lost at QPR, drew with Southampton, and so we need a win at Blackpool to stay on track. Fail to do so (especially if we lose), and we need to pick up six points from the home games with Coventry and Derby simply to remain on course. You get my drift; we're deep in the doo-doo.

When I complied a lengthy list of interesting potential permanent managers for the Addicks, I failed to include Simon Grayson and I was rightly corrected by an eagle-eyed reader. His record is short but impressive, and at just 38 years old he joins the likes of Boothroyd, Ferguson and Davey for whom 'life has not yet begun' as the saying goes.

Perhaps a promotion from League One, followed by a 19th position and another season in the bottom third does not set pulses racing, but simply compare Blackpool's budget to ours, and it suggests an impressive relative performance by Grayson's side. Or if you prefer, it might just simply condemn Pardew's record even further.

I place no pressure on Parky (who is and will remain for some time, blameless), but we need wins and Saturday is as good a place to start as any. Deon Burton scored there for the Owls incidentally only ten days ago, a good omen perhaps.

We will not survive based upon picking up enough home points alone, so away games like this one have to begin being won. Playing well, not winning but commending the players' spirit, just won't do any longer.

I think the team that will try to do so will be as follows: Weaver, Cranie, McEveley, Fortune, Hudson, Semedo, Bailey, Gillespie, Bouazza, Gray, Burton. Subs: Elliot, Youga, Holland, Todorov, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts Blackpool 2 (Dickinson, Burgess), Charlton 0. Att: 6,811.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Norfolk 'N Good

Does anything quite sap the human spirit like an FA Cup 3rd Round tie with Norwich bleedin' City?

Now that we've spent 18 months away from the Premiership, the 3rd Round draw delivers some interest for me again.

It offers a chance to break up the monotony of a dire Championship season, even if we have virtually no realistic prospect of winning the damned thing. In recent years however, there has been no 'dream tie' for the Addicks, merely degrees of potential humiliation.

In recent years, the draws have been incredibly kind to us but we patently failed to take advantage. Our most recent FA Cup draws have been as follows just to prove the point (not that we took advantage):

2007/8: 3R: WBA (H)
2006/7: 3R: Nottingham Forest (A)
2005/6: 3R: Sheff W (A); 4R: Leyton Orient (H); 5R: Brentford (H); 6R: 'Boro (H)
2004/5: 3R: Rochdale (H); 4R: Yeovil (H); 5R: Leicester (H)
2003/4: 3R: Gillingham (A)
2002/3: 3R: Exeter (H); 4R: Fulham (A)
2001/2: 3R: Blackpool (H); 4R: Walsall (H)
2000/1: 3R: Dagenham & R (H); 4R: Tottenham (H)

So in the last eight seasons, we have been handed an incredible 12 home ties out of 16, and have only faced Premiership opposition three times.

Our record over this period is little short of a disgrace, and surely our 'luck of the draw' will soon run out (although it hasn't seemed to just yet).

It was never entirely clear to me why Curbs had such a poor FA Cup record, whilst we were in the Premiership.

It was only perhaps twice that we exited the Cup having been expected to lose (against Fulham and Spurs), although in the latter case we led 2-0 before conceding three in five minutes. That trend continued under Pardew with a diabolical performance at Forest.

Whilst in the First Division, Curbs oversaw impressive wins over the Premiership likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry. Maybe it subsequently just felt strange that lower-division clubs would arrive at The Valley and treat us like a 'big club'.

With the draws highlighted above, under Curbs we really did perhaps throw away the chance to repeat the heroics of 1947, the high point in our club's history.

As Portsmouth proved last season, mediocre Premiership teams can win the competition, and they even had to beat Manchester United. We only had to overcome the likes of Leicester City.

But enough of nostalgic regrets, and back to the 3rd Round draw. A tie against a big Premiership club would at least have attracted the TV cameras, and from a selfish point of view would have meant I could see it.

A tricky away draw against non-League opposition would finally have brought out the romantic in me (and believe me, the wife has tried). We might even have won a game too (I wouldn't have bet on it - Ed.).

The last thing we needed was the second consecutive home tie against a fellow Championship side, coming just two weeks after we play each other at Carrow Road.

A poor crowd, no atmosphere and two teams desperate to avoid a replay (which might perhaps be the most likely outcome). It's hardly the magic of the Cup is it?

There's a pub on the Upper West Side of Manhattan called George Keeley's which claims to be the official pub of the NY Canaries. Remarkably the pub is still in business.

Its motto is 'Beer is Good' which is a philosophy I can wholeheartedly agree with. After that 3rd Round draw, I needed some.