Friday, January 30, 2009

Burnley preview

The euphoria from Tuesday night, has rapidly been replaced with the grim reality of having no recognised centre backs for the trip to Burnley.

Charlton fans of a certain age, will not need reminding that Turf Moor was the scene of a 7-1 defeat in February 1983.

The defensive situation is truly ridiculous, and has been an accident waiting to happen all season.

By my reckoning, we have ten players who could reasonably start in central midfield (Holland, Bailey, Semedo, Wright, Zheng, Ambrose, Spring, Soares, Shelvey, Racon), but just two recognised central defenders.

Who is accountable for this state of affairs? It again suggests a 'systemic' failure within the club, given we've been limping along with just two centre halves for several weeks now.

If there's any consolation, it's Burnley's own problems. Five consecutive defeats have left the Clarets with a negative goal difference, and threaten to leave them with nothing to show from highly promising League and Cup campaigns.

At their best, and as proven by outstanding home performances against Arsenal and Spurs, they are an exciting fluid outfit. The fixture at The Valley meanwhile was a game of two halves, Luke Varney's late miss rightly effectively ending his Charlton career.

My current proprietary safety models suggest that we need 26 points from our final 17 games to stay up. This implies we need say seven wins and five draws, thus permitting us to lose another five games.

Whilst it's thus easy to look at this fixture and view a point as a 'bonus', but defeat as somewhat inevitable, in truth an away fixture at a troubled out-of-form side represents an excellent chance to notch up one of those seven wins. Harsh perhaps, but true (even with no defenders).

I think Parky will line them up as follows: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Holland, Youga, Basey, Bailey, Spring, Soares, Sam, Ambrose, Burton. Subs: Randolph, Racon, Shelvey, Gray, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts Burnley 3 (Eagles, Blake 2), Charlton 0. Att: 12, 289.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hope Springs Eternal

"Charlton's players should be disgusted with themselves. If they'd put that effort in when Alan Pardew was here they'd not be in the position." (N.Warnock, 27 Jan)

The above quote from Palace's beaten manager, sums up nicely the way many downtrodden Charlton fans have been feeling over the past year.

It's probably a bit late for sudden bursts of lung-busting efforts, but tonight could have been a final nail in our coffin, but we're still above ground.

The season-ending injury to Jonathan Fortune is a huge blow, with no natural central defender to fill the berth. Quite why we have ended up with almost an entire team of central midfielders, but just two centre halves is a mystery.

As Warnock suggested, we don't play Crystal Palace every week and given that we probably need to win at least half of our remaining matches, it's vital we go to Burnley in the same frame of mind. Otherwise, tonight's efforts will be in vain.

Burnley are an interesting case, and certainly there for the beating. Their Cup exploits (they followed up the Spurs heartbreak, with a battling draw at WBA) have taken attention away from their chronic Championship form.

I'll be wallowing in tonight's victory in Palm Beach where I'm headed to get some much needed sleep to a conference. Somehow the in-flight beer always tastes sweeter when we've won, and funnily enough it's my first journey since October.

Up the Addicks!

Palace preview

Charlton's search for a Championship win enters its 116th day, as the Addicks 'welcome' local rivals Crystal Palace to The Valley.

With relegation looming for Charlton and Millwall flying high in League One, we run the risk of starting next season with no true local derbies to look forward to.

Leyton Orient are just a short drive up the A12 of course, but they occupy a relegation spot of their own.

We may thus be reduced to building up the atmosphere ahead of a ding-dong battle with Dagenham & Redbridge, if their promising season ends in promotion. Perhaps it'll be Ebbsfleet next.

Given we were four divisions apart when the Daggers took us to an FA Cup replay in 2001/2, this would sum up just how far the 'mighty' have fallen.

Until then, despite the ground-sharing, the Dowie fiasco and unsavoury incidents involving Palace fans, I've never fully embraced the idea that the Eagles are our natural rivals.

A distance of eleven miles may constitute rivalry in most parts of the country, but when those miles require a negotiation with the South Circular Road, then surely it's worth finding a rival somewhat closer to home. At least we share a train route with Millwall.

Moreover, whilst we did the double over Palace last season, our so-called rivals refocused on the true job in hand, and secured a play-off berth.

During the summer meanwhile, we swapped central defenders and I suspect only one of the two players concerned is regretting his move.

To be fair to Mark Hudson, he demonstrated the type of leadership we needed at the start of this season, but his impact has been diminished by the lack of heart around him. As if to emphasise the point, he's doubtful for the fixture.

Palace have quietly recovered from a poor start to tuck in behind the play-off positions, testament to the virtues of the old-fashioned football management style of Neil Warnock.

Love him or hate him (I veer toward the former), you can't deny the consistent success his teams achieve at this level. I wish he was our manager.

Palace's parachute payments ended last season, whilst their home support is notably worse than ours. Further evidence of the mismanagement of Charlton in comparison.

Our form over recent months has been so dire, that I find myself almost resigned to defeat as soon as I tune in for audio commentary.

Somehow Phil Parkinson has to break this cycle of negativity that now surrounds the club, but I've heard little from him to suggest he will any time soon. Given his association with the Pardew regime, this is perhaps hardly a surprise.

Having begun by making some more positive noises, he already seems to have inherited Pardew's unfortunate habit of blaming everyone and everything except himself.

This might wash better, if we weren't failing to win quite so often. After all, winning football matches is about more than chances created or possession. It's also about belief and hunger, two attributes we are patently lacking right now.

He seems to favour 4-4-1-1, but does this merely forcibly reflect a glut of central midfield players, combined with a paucity of forward options?

Meanwhile having watched Chris Dickson poach a well-taken goal on Saturday, will Parky bow to fan pressure and start the eager livewire on Tuesday night? Our alternative forward options are as stale as three-year old biscuits, and frankly how much worse could he do?

What is his thinking on goalkeepers meanwhile? Randolph was surprisingly preferred to Elliot and kept a clean sheet at Norwich, then reportedly played well at Sheffield Wednesday despite conceding four.

However Randolph was then dropped back in favour of Elliot, who was clearly at fault for both goals on Saturday. Nicky Weaver meanwhile is reportedly injured, but is surely in the shop window too. Is there any method to this apparent madness?

As a result, trying to second-guess Parky's team selection tomorrow is akin to picking lottery numbers. However I've consulted Mystic Meg, and I reckon he'll line them up as follows: Randolph, Moutaouakil, Youga, Fortune, Holland, Bailey, Racon, Soares, Sam, Shelvey, Gray. Subs: Elliot, Basey, Burton, Ambrose, Dickson.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Shelvey), Palace 3 (Kuqi, Carle, Lee). Tickets sold: 23, 019.

Friday, January 23, 2009

FA Cup 4th Round preview

Those Charlton fans making their third trip up the M1 to Sheffield in less than a month on Saturday, might be tempted to spot the giant Meadowhall shopping centre on the approach to the city, and spend the afternoon there instead.

Indeed, it is not just in Yorkshire that the two Sheffield sides have had the 'Indian sign' over Charlton. The four Championship matches between us and the Blades and Owls have yielded a cumulative scoreline of 5-14, hardly the cause for great optimism.

However if there has been a single bright spot over the course of the past 111 days without a League win (count them), then it was that ray of hope from the 3rd Round win at Carrow Road.

Naturally their manager was forced to fall in his sword, no greater modern footballing humiliation surely than to lose to Charlton?

The potential lessons from that victory were however swiftly ignored for last weekend's trip to Hillsborough, the likes of Murty and Soares thrown straight back into the fray, almost as if by right (indeed who knows what's written into their loan contracts?).

Speaking of loans, Martyn Waghorn has returned to Sunderland, yet another pointless loan signing that yielded no discernible benefit, cost us his wages and potentially stunted the development of one of our own strikers.

With Phil Parkinson now having presided over ten winless League games, any claims that there has been improvement under his stewardship are surely now absurd (not that this suggests there was a case for not sacking Pardew).

It is not too late for the Board to acknowledge mistakes and to rectify the situation, but one imagines they will dig their heels in, hope for a miracle and then declare themselves strategic geniuses after all (when it will prove nothing of the sort).

I commented on Kings Hill Addick's blog this week that until recent events, one could reasonably claim that Charlton were a 'special' type of football club, such was the unique bond between fans, directors and players alike.

This was evidenced by incredible growth in attendances in the space of a decade, and not inconsiderable success on the pitch too.

It is the destruction of that bond which is the most upsetting to me (far more than our parlous League position), and which will be most damaging to the long-term prospects for the club unless it can somehow be put back together.

The communication between Board and fans is at a recent low (evidenced by the PR disaster that preceded the bizarre full-time appointment of Parkinson), whilst the apparent lack of motivation in the playing squad is not helped of course by the obsession with loans.

One advantage of the FA Cup however is that the Parky is forced to overlook loan players (in fairness, only two of which remain). Whether the youngsters he will thus select can triumph again is a moot point against a far stronger Blades side, but it's another chance to stamp their claim for selection in League games too.

I think he'll select as follows: Randolph, Moutaouakil, Fortune, Hudson, Basey, Ambrose, Bailey, Wright, Shelvey, Sam, Burton. Subs: Elliot, Holland, Wagstaff, Dickson, Gray, Todorov, Yussuff.

NY Addick predicts: Sheff Utd 2 (Webber, Sharp), Charlton 0. Att: 18,229.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Wednesday preview

For the first time in over three months, Charlton's manager must decide on Saturday whether to change a winning side.

I wrote in my Norwich preview that if Parky selected an experimental young side, then a rare victory would present an unusual (but surely welcome) problem.

Based upon reports I've read, our performance at Carrow Road was hard-fought rather than brimming with quality, but it seemed to demonstrate two obvious points.

Firstly, regardless of the so-called 'professionalism' of our loan recruits, both they and their clubs have agendas which differ from our own (rehabilitation, match fitness etc..).

The incentives of Charlton's permanent players, particularly now that almost all of the ex-Premiership detritus has left, are entirely 'aligned' meanwhile with those of the club.

Secondly, as I've argued here before, if there is any cohort of players at the club least likely to be mentally affected by our 18-game winless run, it is surely the youngsters.

They have been less directly involved, and whereas their rawness can produce naivety, it can also generate implusiveness where our more experienced heads are perhaps 'thinking too hard'.

Importantly too, some of those youngsters have recently been involved at clubs on their own loan deals, and have experienced that winning feeling there too. I'm not sure this benefit should be underestimated either.

The club welcomed Tom Soares to the club, a player with considerable experience for a relative youngster, but again he represents the type of loan (like Waghorn, McEveley, Bouazza or Cranie) that we have no hope of signing permanently. I'm not sure how far this takes us.

However it would be overkill surely for Parky to just name an unchanged side, the unavailable Deon Burton excepted (more about him later). The likes of Wagstaff and Yussuff will get another chance as they continue their footballing education.

However for the likes of the more experienced Moutaouakil or Wright, to be automatically returned to obscurity in favour of the same stale style of team selection that got us here, would be a mistake.

The Burton situation appears to be a very clear case of 'third-party interference'. He is either a Charlton player, or he isn't surely?

Unless of course it represents a 'gentleman's agreement' between the two clubs, in which case Charlton's league position demands a rather ungentlemanly approach in my view (not that Burton has set the world on fire at Charlton).

A couple of seasons ago, West Ham apparently reneged on a similar agreement, and fielded Luis BoaMorte in a vital fixture against his former club Fulham. If Parky would ideally select Burton, then we should do the same.

These types of situations have cropped up often in the past couple of years, most notably in the cases of the transfers of Tim Howard and Steve Kabba. As West Ham fans never tire of gleefully pointing out, the moralising tone of critics of the Carlos Tevez saga needs to be seen in the above context.

With our closest rivals in 22nd and 23rd place facing each other tomorrow, and Watford, Norwich and Forest all playing at home, a defeat for the Addicks could leave us not so much adrift, as virtually sunk.

Whilst Wednesday sit very comfortably in midtable, they have surprisingly conceded the fewest goals at home in the division (just 7 in total). Their away form has generated an extraordinary goal difference of -20, suggesting Brian Laws' side is just a little unpredictable.

Although the Owls remain relatively well-supported (average crowds of 20,000, helped by a number of South Yorkshire derbies), they are watched in a delightful iconic Hillsborough stadium that holds twice as many.

Thus unlike some other well-supported Championship sides, the Wednesday fans cannot generate an intimidating atmosphere, a factor which might further assist those younger players that Parky remains loyal to.

I think he'll select as follows: Elliot, Moutaouakil, Hudson, Fortune, Basey, Soares, Bailey, Wright, Ambrose, Shelvey, Gray. Subs: Randolph, Holland, Spring, Sam, Waghorn.

NY Addick predicts: Wednesday 0, Charlton 1 (Soares). Att: 18, 289.

Murk Hudson

More than in any city in the world in recent times, a low-flying passenger plane in New York conjures up unique and real images of horror.

So who could imagine that a plane crash here, could become one of the most extraordinary 'feel good' stories of recent times?

Planes are very regularly routed over the Hudson River, both into and out of La Guardia. Lucky passengers on one side of the plane are thus afforded stunning views of Manhattan.

However alert onlookers of flight 1549 would have sensed something was badly wrong given it was descending away from La Guardia.

Had the plane taken off little more than an hour later, it would have plunged into the water in darkness, with surely horrendous consequences.

Instead tens of thousands of occupants of the skyscrapers that line the west side of Midtown, would have seen the incident through the vivid air of a fine but bitterly cold New York afternoon.

The Captain is rightly being feted as a hero. And with a name like Chelsey B. Sullenberger III, you sense he was always meant to be such.

Whilst they may be trained for such an eventuality, what an extraordinary professional he must be in order to apply both technical expertise and calm assurance, to achieve such a joyful outcome? Charlton's better-paid footballers should hold their heads in collective shame.

I would previously switch off during that part of the pre-flight safety announcement that deals with water landings. It had always seemed to be a pointless way to comfort passengers that they might conceivably survive such an outcome, when there was virtually no evidence they could.

I would cynically claim that they may as well provide guidance on how to operate parachutes, in the event of a midair explosion. Not any longer.

Although seemingly not a direct factor in this incident, La Guardia airport is one of New York's necessary evils. Located just a couple of miles from Manhattan, its convenience as the city's main domestic airport, trumps its very obvious limitations in this regard.

Putting to oneside its painfully inadequate terminal facilities, its most obvious drawback to a nervous flyer like me is the shortness of its runways.

A take-off from, or landing to La Guardia feels different from most airports, with the exception notably of Midway Airport in Chicago, a similarly convenient but inadequate facility. By way of comparison, the runways at Heathrow or JFK are nearly twice as long.

There is simply no margin for pilot error. The plane's nose will lift just yards from the end of one of its 2,100 metre runways, whilst the occupants of any flight which slightly misjudges its landing, are rewarded with a whiplash-inducing slam on the brakes.

The airport is also ridiculously busy, its tight schedules prone to grinding delays thanks to the volatility of New York's weather.

Regular flyers will recognise the strange gate announcement that air traffic control at La Guardia are preventing planes bound for it from taking off, even though you might be thousands of miles away from the Big Apple.

Ironic then that an averted disaster was neither a function of short runways, terrorism or congested air traffic but apparent fowl play, in the shape of a flock of geese.

One of the problems with being a worrier like me is keeping track of what you should be worrying about. Luckily Captain Sullenberger just got on with his job.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Canary In The Coalmine?

Having just penned a sentimental blog post about my new baby bringing us some luck, lo and behold CHARLTON HAVE WON A FOOTBALL MATCH!

Go on, shout it from the rooftops. I would join you but I live in a 31-storey building, and it's blowing an Arctic gale outside.

Having watched, listened to, or monitored via the web those 18 winless matches, I had wondered if I cared as much as I used to about our club.

But this afternoon I set out for a walk with my elder son, fearfully and frantically hitting the 'refresh' button after every block, yet for some reason sensing we'd hold on this time.

So when the result was confirmed I gave him a big hug and exclaimed, "We've only gone and f***ing won haven't we?". I regret using the F-word in front of a toddler, but it's been an awfully long time coming.

If canaries were used by coalminers to warn of dangers ahead, what might a win over the Canaries of Norwich mean for Charlton?

One obvious danger ahead is to ignore the glaring lesson that's staring us all in the face.....we didn't have any loan players in the squad of 18.

Admittedly at this point we only have Waghorn and Murty remaining, but even if it was a mere coincidence that we won tonight, can the general lesson please be heeded

I don't think any Charlton fans are anti-loans per se, but are against the almost frantic acquisition of them over the past 18 months, and the inevitable compromises and drawbacks they bring.

The fact that our form has been so woeful over this period, adds considerable fuel to the fire of those who bemoan the day that any of them temporarily walked into the club.

Promising young players like Moutaouakil, Wright and Shelvey need to be nurtured, not jettisoned in favour of the latest experienced loan needing injury rehabilitation.

It would be a great disappointment if Murty was to walk straight back into the side on Saturday, in the name of 'experience' for example.

One decision by Parkinson tonight gave me great encouragement. In the 79th minute, with the game entering its vital final stages, he chose to give 19-year old Rashid Yussuff his first-team debut after a loan spell at Northwich.

This was the type of decision that could have severely backfired had Norwich equalised. Yet it was almost certainly done only with the aim of giving him experience in a real pressure situation, not from a scoreline preservation standpoint.

It took some courage for Parky to make a decision like that, and I commend him for it. Will he now have the courage to again select most, or perhaps even all of tonight's side for the trip to Sheffield Wednesday?

Encouragingly the squad that was involved tonight felt like one that might start a League One campaign next season. If so, maybe relegation won't be so bad after all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Norwich FA Cup replay preview

If any Charlton fan is looking for a lucky omen to help break this 18-match winless run, then I'm pleased to report the wife gave birth to our second baby boy (Cameron) on Saturday night.

Our first son was born a few hours before we thumped West Ham 4-0 in Feb 2007, a win which would set in train a most unexpected six match unbeaten run which threatened to salvage our Premiership status.

It would also be extraordinary bad luck surely to have both children born during relegation seasons for the Addicks. After all there have only been four in the last three decades.

This will be a surefire guarantee that both will grow up preferring the arts to football, and will observe their Dad putting on his red and white bobble hat every other Saturday with the look of disdain, that only kids can portray.

Meanwhile, whilst we chose to give our first son a head start in life with the middle name 'Charlton', we were concerned that to do so again at the current time might attract the interest of the child protection authorities. He'll thus have to make do with 'James', and we hope it doesn't hold him back.

I'm not sure whether an FA Cup tie 'counts' with regard to assessing the good fortune that a birth might bring (I'll conclude tomorrow night), but if he has any sense he'll reserve it for Saturday's trip to Hillsborough (his official due date incidentally).

Our 4th Round draw was as uninspiring as our 3rd round draw (likely a trip to Sheffield United), so with a much-needed money-spinning tie off the agenda at least until a 5th round which form clearly suggests we are unlikely to reach anyhow, Phil Parkinson will surely bring his experimentation kit to Carrow Road.

If we end up winning the tie on Tuesday night, then such experimentation would be a problem (or as I would call it, a 'solution').

After all, what credible manager could look his victorious eleven in the eyes and tell them he's reverting to the crew that went more than three months without a win?

Richard Murray was quoted on Monday as believing that, "If you look at our recent performances, I have seen a huge improvement and we could have won almost all of the games that Phil has been in charge of."

With a goal difference of -9 over the course of these ten games, it's hard to know if he's being ironic or not. I don't buy into this idea that teams somehow get less than they 'deserve' from matches.

If Forest for example can clinically score two goals from our defensive mistakes, then we deserve nothing and they deserve three points. The argument may have some merit after a poor run of a handful of games, but ten? Or eighteen?

With the unwelcome news that Jose Semedo is out for two months, whilst Jay McEveley has returned injured to the Rams, one wonders whether Parky can even name the seven subs he's entitled to in the FA Cup after accounting for unavailable loans.

If I were Parky therefore, my teamtalk would be a simple one. Go out and enjoy yourselves, forget about relegation for a night and show the Norwich public that we're not a laughing stock after all.

NY Addick predicts: Norwich 1 (Lupoli), Charlton 1 (Burton). Charlton win 4-3 on penalties, aet. Att: 16, 229.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Heater Signs on Loan

(left) Heater: "..really fired up."

Charlton today confirmed they have borrowed an outdoor heater on a one-month’s emergency loan from Spanish club, Osasuna.

The heater will go straight into the squad preparing the pitch for Saturday’s vital home game with Nottingham Forest.

”I’m delighted we’ve managed to bring it into the club,” cooed Addicks boss Phil Parkinson, ”…I’ll be asking it to heat the centre circle, as I just didn’t feel we had enough cover in that particular area.”

With temperatures rarely falling below freezing in Northern Spain, chances have been limited for the young heater, and it was only too pleased to make the move to South-East London.

”It’s been a frustrating time to be honest,” it said, speaking through an interpreter,
“…some heaters are comfortable just resting in the shed, but all I’ve ever wanted to do is get out on the pitch, and test myself at the coldest level."

“As soon as I met the gaffer and the other heaters, I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m really fired up.”

Parkinson acknowledged that some foreign heaters have struggled to perform in England, but was confident the conversion would be a smooth one.

“It’s used to 220 volts so we’re not anticipating any problems there,” he mused, “…but I’d like to thank the electrician who worked around the clock to get it fitted with a three-point plug.”

The deal was unlikely to be made permanent however, with temperatures forecast to rise by the middle of next week.

”It’s no secret the club’s finances are stretched so we’ll have to see,” Parkinson admitted, “…and anyhow, we should have that dodgy other heater back that we lent to Grays Athletic.”

Forest preview

After a week in which the club finally revealed the depth of its financial challenges, attention returns to the pitch where arguably matters are even worse and of course not unrelated.

Speaking of the pitch, it was somewhat surprising to learn this morning that a pitch inspection (by a different referee) was passed, despite matches having already been called off at Dagenham, Ebbsfleet, Southend and Gillingham.

With temperatures barely set to rise above freezing between now and kick-off, I fear this has all the makings of a PR screw up, especially with perhaps 3,000 Forest fans set to make the trip.

Even stranger was the admission that no further formal pitch inspection is planned before the arrival of the match officials (presumably around 1pm).

It begs the question therefore why Friday's pitch inspection wasn't merely pushed back to early Saturday morning, thus incorporating a further 20 hours or so of pitch-related information (P.R.I.)?

Frankly it may be in Charlton's interests to have the game postponed, so conspiracy theorists can begin theorising if my fears are correct.

Nottingham Forest (never 'Notts' Forest I should add), arrive at The Valley buoyed by a stunning 3-0 win at Manchester City last weekend.

The same 'new manager' phenomenon that was also recently observable at Blackburn, Leeds and Derby, was very much in evidence at Eastlands even if Billy Davies did not appear to play much of a direct role in match preparation.

Certainly one can claim that what use is a short-term boost if you damage the long-term prospects, but right now Charlton could do with any type of boost, short-term or otherwise.

The type of internal promotions that we have witnessed firstly with Les Reed, and now Phil Parkinson cannot shake players out of their comfort zones in the same way. The key therefore is whether Parkinson is the right man for Charlton in the long-term. The jury remains out for now.

Just as we did with Iain Dowie, Forest fans must deal with the less than palatable fact that their new manager was most recently associated with their most bitter rivals. Extra spice is added to Saturday's fixture from Charlton's perspective by the rumours that Davies acted less than gentlemanly after being offered the Charlton job before Dowie.

Anyhow, that's all in the past, attention needs to focus on the present and our desperate fate at the bottom of the Championship. The game is being billed as a 'six-pointer' given Forest occupy the vital 21st position in the table, but this may be misleading given that our survival will require far more than merely beating our nearest rivals.

As the season goes on, the likely survival points target can be predicted with greater certainty. Fears that we may need to beat Leicester's 2007/8 total of 52 points seem overly pessimistic at this point, with the table shaping up to imply 46 or 47 might do it. However, even this of course likely requires Charlton to win at least 7 or 8 matches, something we haven't managed once since early-October.

The transfer activity so far has inevitably revolved around loans, both in and out of the club. Graeme Murty is the only confirmed loan arrival so far, his experience and leadership qualities appealing to Parkinson.

The permanent signing of Matthew Spring however is more promising, representing the type of player we probably should have been focusing upon two years ago ie. cheap, experienced (but not 'old'), very comfortable at Championship level, and not viewing Charlton as a mere 'stepping stone'.

Having reviewed the annual accounts in detail, I'm less inclined to be so overtly critical of the continual reliance upon loans like Murty (preserving cash is absolutely key at this point). However I continue to wonder why the benefits of good old-fashioned coaching are seemingly so underemphasised?

If Moutaouakil's defensive qualities are questionable, why are the coaching staff not working every day on improving them? Any onlooker can see the lad has the raw talent to succeed; he's captained the French U-21s for goodness sake. Instead one can be sure Murty will start against Forest.

The same coaching argument is true frankly for any of our underperformers, which given our current league position probably constitutes all of them.

Whilst in nostalgic mood for the Curbishley era, fans can recall many players who very noticeably 'improved' after initially misfiring upon arrival (think Andy Hunt, Luke Young, John Robinson, Radostin Kishishev etc..).

One very clear drawback of the loans system is now very apparent in the case of Hameur Bouazza, who has in the space of a week been catapulted 22 places up the Championship table to join Birmingham on loan!

This deal is clearly good for Bouazza, Fulham and Birmingham (even if only as a squad player), but bad for Charlton, not withstanding his dubious qualities. We've been made to look stupid, but it's a problem of our own making.

With only Grant Basey (essentially a full-back), and perhaps Darren Ambrose (who knows what he is) likely candidates to replace him on the left flank, our failure to develop our own players in this position are painfully apparent.

Barring any more last-minute deals, I think Parkinson will line them up as follows: Elliot, Murty, Hudson, Fortune, McEveley, Holland, Spring, Basey, Sam, Gray, Waghorn. Subs: Weaver, Semedo, Ambrose, Burton, McLeod.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Gray), Forest 1 (Earnshaw). Tickets sold: 23, 019.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Financial Times

Q:What does an accountant use for contraception?
A: His personality.

Four weeks after the auditors signed off on Charlton's accounts, our new Chairman Derek Chappell finally revealed the gory truth about the club's finances.

With the club's fiscal year ending on 30th June, these accounts should be required reading for any Charlton fan, financially trained or otherwise.

Moreover, these particular accounts are especially interesting because they show side-by-side a Premiership season and a Championship season, making direct comparisons very straightforward.

My first gripe concerns the time it takes to get these accounts published, thus making any observations potentially already moot.

Genuine outside investors (ie. non-Board) are relatively small at this point (32% of the total issued share capital), but why do relatively straightforward accounts take nearly six months to sign off upon? It seems that you don't get much these days for a forty grand audit fee.

By way of comparison, Royal Bank of Scotland got their end-2007 accounts signed within two months, and we now know to our collective cost how complex they were.

Anyhow, as the only independently verifiable official document that fans are privy too, they are worthy of some impartial assessment some rather verbose, so some hopefully insightful observations follow.

Turnover fell by 25% in the course of just a single season, emphasising the brutality of relegation, even with the cushioning effect of a parachute payment.

Reduced television fees explain most of the drop, yet still account for 50% of total turnover. A useful reminder when as fans we claim to be 'paying the players' wages'. In truth, only Sky and Setanta can claim that.

The headline figure of an £11.5m loss for the year on the P&L is a little misleading. The cashflow statement is a better gauge of the health of the club's finances, due to the strange way that transfer fees are accounted for.

Nearly half of that loss was attributable to the amortisation of player registrations. In layman's terms, this means if we paid say £2m for Luke Varney and awarded him a four-year contract, then we would simply write off (ie. amortise) £500,000 each year unless at least one of two things happened.

Firstly if we sold him, in which case a charge or write-back would be required to earnings to reflect the difference between the fee received and the non-amortised carrying value at the time he was sold.

Given that he was indeed sold recently, we will see the effects of this in next year's accounts. If reports are to be believed, it will require a considerable charge.

Secondly if the auditors concluded that a 'fair value' charge was required (in addition to the ongoing £500,000 pa amortisation), implying that they believed his carrying value exceeded the amount the club could realise either through his sale, or through playing him.

Quite how they calculate this is beyond me (and frankly might explain the delay in issuing the accounts), but it demonstrates an acute but unavoidable inconsistency in the way a football club's accounts are presented.

For example, the costs of operating the Academy are charged against profits in the year they occur (presumably appearing in the £7.9m of 'other operating charges'), but the costs of acquiring new players via transfers can be released to the P&L over time.

Conversely, the 'value' of say Varney sits as an asset on the balance sheet at 30 Jun 2008 at approx £1.5m, but the potentially much higher 'value' of Jonjo Shelvey does not.

This distorts the asset side of the balance sheet somewhat, but unlike most service sector businesses, at least some of our human resources assets are included on the balance sheet (unlike those of say an advertising agency).

Interestingly, the book value of the players' registrations (after amortisation) at 30 June was £9.3m. We have already realised some of that value via the post year-end sales of say Bent M, Bougherra etc.., but one senses a hefty write-down is due post-relegation because those remaining that commanded a fee (Gray, McLeod, etc..), will be worth fractions of their carrying value.

I will discuss the cashflow statement in due course, but instead of the £11.5m 'loss', one should focus instead on the £6.2m 'operating' loss which more simply compares the turnover with the cost of generating that turnover.

Staff costs of £23.7m includes £20.5m in wages/salaries, and represents 88.7% of turnover. This is clearly unsustainable, and the Board well knows it.

The average no. of full-time employees during the fiscal year was 186, implying average salaries of £110,000 or nearly £2,000 per week. However this obviously includes many administrative staff on very basic wages. Of the total 186 employees, 85 are identified as directly involved in the playing side.

It is not clear to me how they calculate the total of 85 as it seems rather high at first glance. Does it for example include Academy players on minimal salaries? Does it double-count players by adding in all of those present on the payroll at any point during the year, ignoring ins and outs?

Of the 101 non-football related employees, I would guess perhaps only a handful earn high five-figures or low six-figures. Thus if you accept the average salary thereof might be £25,000, then I'd guess the non-football salaries account for £2.5m of the £20.5m total.

The remaining £18m is thus distributed amongst the 85 football-related employees at an average salary of £211,000 pa or approx £4,000 per week. Given that this total of 85 (even if not double-counted) includes lower-paid employees such as trainers, masseurs etc.., then our fears about the first-team squad's wage bill are more than justified.

Looked at another way, if the 25 genuine senior squad members earned a whopping £7,500 per week (surely at the top of any Championship wage table), their total wage bill would still leave £8m+ to pay Pardew, Parkinson etc.. plus all of the lesser paid players and staff, suggesting it is far from outlandish.

Our frantic attempts to offload the likes of Jerome Thomas, Darren Ambrose etc.. should probably be seen in the context of these clearly crazy numbers. This figure will hopefully have materially dropped by the time the 2008/9 accounts are published.

However, the 25% fall in turnover is a mere bagatelle compared to what will follow in 2009/10 when parachute payments end, and a likely relegation follows.

It is not easy to discern how large the parachute payment is, but a review of the accounts of a solid Championship outfit like Preston makes for scary reading.

Their turnover in the year to 30 Jun 2007 for example shows turnover of less than £8m!. This is £12m less than our current football-related wage bill, although our base turnover even in League One should still be higher than Preston's one hopes given our support and London location.

The 'profit on disposal of players' figure of £3.4m on the P&L is difficult to interpret, because of the distortions discussed above. The cashflow statement is more insightful: we received £24.6m in transfer fees, and paid out £12.2m.

A further £3.8m in transfer fees remained unpaid by Charlton meanwhile, whilst we were owed £1.6m. It is easy to forget that transfer fees do not represent an instant cash outflow, a topical issue in light of the unusual case of Jermaine Defoe this week upon whom Portsmouth still reportedly owed £4m to Spurs!

The £24.6m would appear to largely comprise the sales of Darren Bent (£16m), Luke Young (£2.5m) and Andy Reid (£4m), some of which was 'accelerated' during the year (see below).

Interestingly, and perhaps irrelevantly, we are potentially liable for a further £4.4m in transfer fees if players or the club achieve certain milestones, whilst we are due up to £3.7m if players previously sold do likewise. I suspect the latter is more likely at this juncture.

The club paid over £3m in interest payments alone during the fiscal year, yet more evidence of the parlous state of our finances (equivalent after all to more than 10% of turnover).

However over half of the above £3m is attributable to a curious line in the accounts entitled, 'discounting costs on acceleration of transfer payments'. The answer to this conundrum lies at the foot of the accounts in paragraph 26.

In order to accelerate the payment of £12.15m due from the sale of Bent and Young, the club discounted their eventual payment by £1.6m via a 'financial institution' (to which it will remain liable in the event of non-payment).

This is no time therefore to be wishing ill of Spurs or Middlesbrough, and is yet more evidence in my view of how desperate our cashflow situation has been.

The club has £21m in long-term debt, approximately two-thirds of which is accounted for by the special convertible bond issue during the year. I believe that understanding the terms of this issue are essential to understanding the Board's decisions in the past six months.

The cashflow statement shows that aside from the above £14.6m convertible issue, the club received new short-term loans to the value of £5m 'from directors and related companies', but repaid £11m in similar loans to 'directors and related companies'.

In other words, the 'directors and related companies' called in a net £6m of their short-term funding. The largest providers of these loans were not surprisingly Messrs. Chappell (£3m) and Murray (£2.9m).

Given that no loans to 'directors and related companies' appeared on the balance sheet at year-end (the only long-term debt was £5m+ in standard bank loans, plus the aforementioned convertible issue), it seems clear that these types of short-term loans were the club's favoured method of near-term funding.

The question therefore is why the directors would demand repayment of their net £6m in loans, in favour of a larger issue of convertible debt. Convertible debt is cheaper for the issuer than straight debt (good for the club), because it provides potential equity upside to the lender (via the convertible feature, which permits the bond to be converted into equity under certain circumstances).

The obvious answer is of course that they hoped to sell the club. This is hardly a big secret in light of the failed Zabeel deal, and other rumours.

The note in paragraph 16.2 is interesting in this respect, "...any (convertible) bondholder may demand the redemption of their corporate bonds within a defined period following a change of control of the Company,", "..the corporate bonds can be converted by the bondholder into the equivalent number of ordinary shares...upon demand at any time..." AND "...the Company has the right to convert all outstanding corporate bonds into fully paid ordinary shares.....provided that the bondholders are able to sell their shares to the buyer in excess of Par."

In short, those directors that underwrote that vital convertible issue have covered all of the bases in the event of a change of control (and understandably so). Paragraph 28 seems to outline who subscribed to the issue, with Messrs. Chappell and Murray, and Sir Maurice Hatter the lead participants, accounting for over two-thirds thereof.

My concern is that this convertible was issued beginning Mar 2008, long after the 'credit crunch' had started, but before its devastating effects had fully been understood (the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers for example was still six months away).

The apparently unusual decisions of the Board since the Zabeel deal broke down during the fourth quarter, need to be understood in the context of this convertible issue in my view.

Even in the second and third quarter, it was reasonable for them to expect to find a amenable buyer of the club. After all, at that time the disastrous last six months on the pitch had not yet occurred.

It was set up both to secure the club's near-term future (without it, the club would have had a net cash outflow of £7m in 2007/8), and also to protect the interests of those Board members who have bankrolled the club for so long.

With the Zabeel deal falling through, and the club's dire on-pitch form scaring away those very few investors still interested in football in this climate, is it really any wonder that we are today bombarded with cheap loan deals, a fudged managerial changeover and no doubt further exits in the January window?

As if lending the club £14m+ in their hour of need is not enough, only two directors (Murray and Simons) took any remuneration, and just £70,000 in total at that. By way of comparison, Daniel Levy took home £1m in fees from Spurs in the equivalent period.

Finally, hidden away in paragraph 26 is a curious note that caught my attention. "...HM Revenue & Customs has notified the Company that....the VAT input tax claimed on certain agents fees historically was not an allowable expense. However in the opinion of the directors in conjunction with the general view of the football industry this is incorrect and no provision has been made in the accounts. The directors estimate that the maximum liability arising from this claim would not exceed £500,000."

So having wondered how much the club might have paid in agents' fees, have they inadvertently given me the answer? Their fees are ordinarily added to the total cost of acquiring a player's registration, and thus near impossible to carve out.

However might it be possible that the club paid say £400,000 in VAT alone, implying more than £2.2m in agents' fees? If so (and I'm merely guessing that it might be), then does any other data point indicate why the club is so financially sick, than this one alone?

The finances are in a pretty parlous state. It's hard not to feel sorry for those directors who are patently bankrolling the club, and for whom the failure of the Zabeel deal would have been a bitter blow and a chance to not only cash out, but also hand the club to monied owners with ambitious plans.

Reassuringly most of the club's long-term debt is owed to the directors, payable only at 1.7% over base rate (soon therefore to be 1.7% in my view) and redeemable only beginning 2014, not withstanding a sale of the club.

However the club has to somehow get back onto a footing whereby its cashflow before financing (ie. director's bailouts) is positive. As much as fans may hate to admit to it, but the alternative is potentially catastrophic.

Given further grinding reductions in turnover likely next season, this will only be possible through a continued realignment of the wage bill, further transfer fees, and dare I say it, more loan signings!

Up the Addicks!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Personal Loans

Recovering from injury, but lacking match fitness?

Showing potential, but in need of experience?

Fallen out with your manager, and keen on a move?

If you answered 'yes' to any of the above, then a loan move to Charlton Athletic may be for you.

You will be welcomed with open arms, and given all the encouragement you need to meet your personal goals.

At Charlton Athletic, results are of secondary importance. Your wellbeing is our sole priority, and we'll even pay you to be here!

Our existing players will be delighted to accommodate you, because like us, their only concern is your complete satisfaction.

Our highly qualified coaches will create individual player improvement programmes to gradually build back your confidence, all in the leafy surroundings of our world-class training facility.

Meanwhile, our medical staff will utilise leading-edge technology to gently guide you back to match fitness.

Some of our loan players like it so much here, they choose to stay. However you will never be pressurised to do so.

But don't just take our word for it. Here's what some players who spent time here had to say:

"My spell at Charlton gave me the impetus to help Crystal Palace reach the play-offs." (S.Sinclair)

"When I arrived, you could tell Charlton's young right winger got a real boost." (K.Gillespie)

"Charlton are just so refreshingly relaxed about results. They were squarely focused on giving me the match practice I needed." (M.Cranie)

"Without the help of Charlton, I never would have got my dream move back to QPR." (L.Cook)

Don't let your career stumble, and just fall by the wayside. Contact us today and get ahead of the game!

Charlton Athletic: You'll Never Walk A Loan!

Friday, January 02, 2009

FA Cup 3rd Round preview

Long gone unfortunately are the days when I would happily claim a sickie at work, complaining of an acute case of 'Cup Fever'.

In a previous post, I highlighted the fact that in theory our relegation from the Premiership should add some allure back to the FA Cup, but in practice a home draw with Norwich does nothing of the sort.

However given that this may be the last time in a while that we enter the competition at the 3rd Round stage, we probably ought to enjoy it for that reason alone.

Next season, we could well be the draw that every non-League team from some godforesaken Northern village wants in the 1st Round.

I had rather hoped that this fixture would be the perfect opportnity for our new manager (from outside) to begin to experiment, and signal his intent for the remainder of the season.

Instead we must find the grace to back Phil Parkinson, despite our very real and justified disappointment.

The absurdity of our reliance on an assortment of loan players is best exemplified during a Cup tie.

Rather than use the tie to perhaps instil ideas upon a first-choice eleven with an eye on the vital Forest league game, he instead cannot pick either McEveley or Waghorn, whilst Cranie's return to Portsmouth has been confirmed.

There is no better example of how the loan system is benefiting everyone except Charlton right now, than Martin Cranie.

He started 19 games this season, only 2 of which ended in a victory (one of which he was withdrawn from at half-time, having scored an own goal).

He will no doubt personally have improved from the experience, and will return to Tony Adams a more accomplished player than when he left. Quite how this has added value to Charlton in any way whatsoever baffles me (and don't get me started on Keith Gillespie).

Meanwhile an exciting (but clearly raw) replacement in the shape of Yassin Moutaouakil is left to rot in the reserves, yet is now presumably set to be asked to suddenly return match ready for the vital weeks ahead.

Alternatively Jose Semedo will be asked to forego central midfield duties, sacrificing a partnership with Nicky Bailey that had begun to bear some fruit.

It's total lunacy and is patently not working, yet who wants to bet that there won't be more loans arriving in January now that some vacancies exist?

As a result of these forced changes on Saturday, and additional injury problems too, the scope to offer some much-needed experience to some of the club's youngsters is presumably reduced since ultimately we want to win the game.

(Definition: win (verb) - to finish first in a race, contest or the like. To succeed by striving or effort. To gain the victory; overcome the adversary).

Norwich have injury problems and loan-related problems of their own, and like us will want a replay as much as the proverbial hole in the head. Cue an exciting attacking game with both teams throwing caution to the wind, and forgetting about a relegation battle for once.

I think Parky will name his first side as 'permanent' manager as follows: Weaver, Moutaouakil, Basey, Youga, Fortune, Sam, Bailey, Semedo, Bouazza, Burton, McLeod. Subs: Randolph, Wright, Shelvey, Dickson, Todorov, Holland, Sinclair.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 2 (Burton, Bouazza), Norwich 3 (Sibierski 2, Cort). Att: 12, 208.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year

The wind chill is making it feel like a rather nippy minus 15 degrees celsius here in New York. From what I understand, it's not exactly balmy in London either.

As a result, I'm enjoying a very civilised New Year's Eve accompanied solely by a very pregnant wife, and a fridge pregnant with beer.

Luckily so far only the fridge has delivered the goods, and I've instructed the wife that I'd like it to stay that way.

This is not purely for selfish reasons of course, infact I've the unborn child's best interests at heart especially if he/she has an aptitude for sport.

I've long been struck by the fact that there is considerable evidence that more professional sportsmen are born in January, compared to any other month (particularly December).

In his new book 'Outliers', the British-born author Malcolm Gladwell explores the phenomenon. He uses Canadian ice hockey as an example, but it's applicable to any sport that segments junior participants based on the calendar year:

"It's a beautiful example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Canada, the eligibility cutoff for age-class hockey programs is Jan 1st. Canada also takes hockey really seriously, so coaches start streaming the best hockey players into elite programs, where they practice more and play more games and get better coaching, as early as 8 or 9.

But who tends to be the "best" player at age 8 or 9? The oldest, of course....the kids born nearest the cut-off date, who can be as much as almost a year older than kids born at the other end of the cut-off date. When you are 8 years old, 10 or 11 extra months of maturity means a lot.

So those kids get special attention. That's why there are more players in the NHL born in January and February and March than any other months. You see the same pattern, to an even more extreme degree, in soccer in Europe and baseball here in the U.S. It's one of those bizarre, little-remarked-upon facts of professional sports. They're biased against kids with the wrong birthday."

This phenomenon is also particularly prevalent in British horse racing, where all horses are given a Jan 1st birthday, regardless of when during the year they are born (not that my wife is expecting to deliver a foal I might add).

Thus it is highly desirable for a horse to actually be born as close to Jan 1st as possible, so that when it races for example as a 'three year old', it obviously helps its chances if it's actually three.

This explains why stud farms are particularly noisy with equine passion during February and March, given the eleven month gestation period.

When midnight strikes tonight however, I will have my own sporting achievements to consider.

As has become an annual tradition for me, I intend to head outside into the frigid air and sprint the following distances: 100metres, 200metres, and 400metres.

Thus for a very limited period, I will thus confidently be able to claim to have run the 'fastest time in the world this year'.

No small achievement over multiple distances I'm sure you'd agree. In 2008 for example, even the peerless Usain Bolt never held the record for all three.

For Charlton Athletic meanwhile, 2008 will certainly be a year to forget from the standpoint of those who care about the club. We only won ten Championship matches after all.

With the global economy similarly afflicted, there's no better time to wish all fellow Addicks (and other assorted readers) a very happy, victorious and prosperous new year.