Wednesday, May 27, 2009

League One Odds, 2009/10

The bookies have wasted no time offering odds on League One for next season.

The following are the latest from William Hill: Leeds 10/3, Norwich 7/1, Charlton 7/1, Huddersfield 11/1, MK Dons 12/1, Southampton 16/1, Millwall 16/1, Brighton 16/1, Tranmere 20/1, Southend 20/1, Colchester 20/1, Brentford 25/1, Oldham 33/1, Bristol Rovers 33/1, Wycombe 40/1, Swindon 40/1, Gillingham 40/1, Exeter 40/1, Walsall 50/1, Hartlepool 50/1, Carlisle 50/1, Yeovil 66/1, Leyton Orient 66/1, Stockport 80/1 (E/W 1/4 odds, 1,2,3)

With fully a 25% profit margin built into the odds, any sensible gambler would just laugh at their audacity and put the money back in their pocket.

However I'm more curious about their perception of the league's likely hierarchy, rather than finding 'value' of which there's surely none.

Leeds' home form generated 53 points last season, and it is presumably on that basis that they are installed as hot favourites. After a slow start under Simon Grayson, they rallied to fourth position before losing in the play-offs.

However expectations will be high and one suspects their fans will be quick to get on his back. Their failure to tie down 34-goal Jermaine Beckford to a new contract meanwhile, suggests they do not have the finances even at this lowly level that their big-name status implies.

Charlton and Norwich are the 'default' selections for joint second favourites, with Southampton in the most severe state of financial distress, and thus shunted out to 16/1.

If rumours of an imminent takeover at The Valley are to be believed, then 7/1 would likely offer considerable value since surely the first priority of any backer will be promotion at virtually any reasonable cost.

But if instead the current set-up is maintained, then it is hard to build a sensible case for a realistic promotion push. The squad overhaul will be too wide-ranging, and the financial constraints too restricting. And of course, the manager is very far from convincing.

On a more optimistic note, the immediate bounce-back promotion of both Leicester and Scunthorpe suggests that there may be a gulf in quality between the divisions, that even some grinding cost-cutting cannot fully close.

Colchester's comfortable mid-table finish on a budget that was extra tight even in the Championship, probably tends to back up this view, rather than run counter to it.

It's not clear to me why Huddersfield (9th last season) should be at narrower odds than MK Dons, steered superbly to 3rd place by Roberto di Matteo, or indeed Millwall as much as we might hate to admit it. Surely both must be worthy of an each-way punt.

Looking further down the list, it's hard to make a strong case for others at longer odds, although this may in part reflect typical relegated arrogance (Newcastle have already been swiftly installed as 5/1 favourites for the Championship).

If there's one obvious lesson to be gleaned from the 2008/9 success of the likes of Burnley, Peterborough, and Scunthorpe (largely 'unfancied' pre-season), then it's the tendency to overlook some of the game's promising young managers.

For example Paul Trollope is only 36 years old, yet amazingly is the 9th longest serving manager amongst the top four divisions. With our own Lennie Lawrence overseeing affairs, and an 11th place position (with a +18 goal difference) behind them, Bristol Rovers may surprise.

Similarly there's another ex-Charlton connection at Tranmere, a club always seemingly in the promotion shake-up, and led by Ronnie Moore (who I helped the club to buy in 1983). However at 56-years old, perhaps he lacks the dynamism and openness to new ideas, that characterise some of his younger compatriots.

Following the success of Peterborough and MK Dons last season, one should not overlook the four promoted sides from League Two. The ability for successful sides to retain momentum is not surprising given the stability and confidence that regular victories engender.

Peter Taylor in particular at Wycombe will relish the challenge, particularly one away from the media spotlight where he spectacularly failed at Leicester.

Exeter boss Paul Tisdale meanwhile is also only 36-years old, and has won the chance to test his wits in League One the hard way.

A decidedly unglamorous career saw him make only 39 League appearances at various clubs, whilst his only coaching role prior to being appointed Exeter manager was as manager of Team Bath, the Conference South side affiliated to Bath University.

It is easy to be cynical of course, and certainly one imagines the likes of Alan Shearer would be, but Scunthorpe's ebullient boss Nigel Adkins was previously their physio, yet now he's one of the most respected managers outside the Premiership.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Caffeine Jolt

"Nearly ten isn't ten." (David Brent, The Office)

"Did you hear that thunderclap?" asked the wife, in the early hours of Monday morning.

"That wasn't a thunderclap darling," I responded, momentarily impersonating Jim Taggart,"...that was an explosion."

And so began my involvement in arguably the most serious terrorist incident on American soil since 9/11. Blissfully there hasn't been much competition.

Now rudely awoken, I opportunistically jumped at the chance to take a much-needed pee, noticing the time on the TV's cable box as I did so. It read 3:46am.

Although I didn't know it at the time (it sounded considerably further away to be honest) someone had tried to blow up the local Starbucks, situated no more than 100 yards from our apartment.

Just a few hours later I'd find myself at the epicentre of the investigation, giving the police vital evidence, assisting their enquiry and helping to bring the perpetrators to justice.

I resent paying $4 for a tall skinny latte as much as the next person, but I've never felt suitably aggrieved to blow up a Starbucks.

Instead I prefer to execute my own form of commercial terrorism by opting for the cheaper and better alternative of Dunkin' Donuts. And no-one gets hurt.

As I headed across the road just before 10am to watch the Championship play-off final, Third Avenue was already clogged with a mix of scary-looking forensic investigators, FBI agents in ill-fitting suits, TV newshounds and curious onlookers.

Should I go to the trouble of informing the police that the bomb exploded at 3:46? I decided it was probably best not to draw attention to myself; after all, many criminals like to return to the crime scene to gawk at what they've done.

I relaxed in the knowledge that surely someone closer to the blast site would have told the police the crucial time, but then again perhaps in their rather shocked state they'd crucially failed to look at their watch? Or perhaps their watches had been blown off?

The ongoing news stories were merely stating that the blast occurred in the 'early hours', and then later on and more accurately, 'between 3am and 4am'.

Vital police work was surely being wasted by such a wide potential timeline, yet thanks to my timely pee, I knew exactly when the bomb was detonated.

As I returned to my apartment block, the lobby was abuzz with conspiracy theories of varying ridiculousness.

One resident argued it was bound to be someone aggrieved at Starbucks' treatment of third world coffee growers (apparently they've been targeted on this issue before).

I continued meanwhile to argue it was probably the price of the sandwiches, overlooking the fact that Americans don't do irony.

Feeling sleepy from a cheeky beer enjoyed to toast Burnley's deserved triumph, and with both kids taking their own concurrent nap, I asked the wife's permission to take one of my own (she's a terrifying woman you see, so I need to ask).

As I drifted off to fond memories of Charlton's own play-off joy in 1998, I was awoken to the sound of the doorbell, and the wife scurrying to the door.

"We definitely heard it..." she said, presumably speaking to a curious neighbour," was sometime between 3:30am and 4."

"Well, we certainly appreciate the information Ma'am," someone replied in a deep male voice,"...sorry to have troubled you."

Suddenly realising that it wasn't a neighbour but infact one of the FBI's finest, I sprinted to the front door momentarily forgetting that I'd removed my t-shirt to have a more comfortable nap.

"It went off at 3:46!" I insisted with a bare-chested enthusiasm that clearly unnerved him, "It was definitely 3:46!"

"That's pretty darn accurate," he replied, sizing me up either as a potential suspect, or a suitable case for detention under the American version of the Mental Health Act.

Slightly delirious from my brief slumber, I then tested his humour by asking if he had enough evidence to arrest my wife as a 'person of interest'. Fortunately he laughed, but unfortunately he didn't take her away.

Now awake but with the kids still asleep, I put my t-shirt back on and popped back out to run a couple of errands, bumping into the same cop as he continued his door-to-door enquiries.

"Did you write down that it was 3:46?" I asked with a slight hint of desperation in my voice.

"Most people agree it was around 3.30am," he replied, with a conversation-ending abruptness.

Remembering perhaps my favourite line from 'The Office', I smiled and confidently assured him, "....3:46 isn't around 3.30."

Now angered at his obstinance, and with the perpetrators slipping ever further from the FBI's grasp, I stepped out and took a deep breath of the warm spring air, comforted in the knowledged I'd done my civic duty.

Those "Plucky Piss-Taking Brit Foils Evil Terrorist" headlines could wait for another day.

STOP PRESS: "Police Commissioner Ray Kelly says an explosive-like device, possibly containing fireworks, went off outside the store at 3:30 a.m." (Fox News)

Monday, May 25, 2009

Southern Comfort

Millwall’s tragic defeat to Scunthorpe solved the final question about Charlton’s opponents in 2009/10.

And with Norwich by far the most ‘northern’ of the seven new entrants to League One next season, it threatens to resemble the old Division Three (South).

I am reliably informed that Charlton travelled a weary 3,483 miles last season, which might begin to form the basis of a reasonable excuse for our relegation, except that Plymouth travelled 5,722 and managed to finish 21st.

The most environmentally-friendly fans were Coventry’s, who were able to travel to their 23 away games clocking up only 2,542 miles. But next season, the fulcrum of League One is likely to be somewhat further south.

The play-offs have ensured that the quintet of Millwall (5 miles), Colchester (61 miles), Southend (40 miles), Gillingham (30 miles) and Leyton Orient (8 miles), will offer five easy away games for less than a tank of petrol. Those with a particularly efficient car might also squeeze in Norwich too (113 miles).

It’s just 18 traffic-clogged miles across town to Brentford meanwhile, whilst continue westward for Wycombe Wanderers (53 miles).

Two easy trips to the south coast see us visit Brighton (70 miles) and Southampton (116 miles), whilst a brisk drive up the M1 sees a first visit to the MK Dons (70 miles), and continue up the M6 to Walsall (139 miles).

Traditionally trips to the South-West were reserved for pre-season friendly tours, but Charlton fans can now enjoy competitive fixtures against Swindon (95 miles), Yeovil (142 miles), Bristol Rovers (132 miles) and Exeter (214 miles).

Indeed only seven of our fixtures next season can be termed truly ‘northern’, namely Leeds (219 miles), Hartlepool (265 miles), Oldham (224 miles), Stockport (214 miles), Huddersfield (206 miles), Tranmere (230 miles) and for the truly insane, Carlisle (329 miles).

So there you have it, just 2,993 miles to travel next season, a 490 mile saving on 2008/9. Strip out those rather unappealing seven trips up north, and fans can enjoy 16 away games by driving just 1,306 miles one-way.

Indeed, why stop there? By my estimation, the optimal place to live for Charlton fans planning to travel away next season is probably somewhere on the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border. And with reasonable commuting times to London, and abundant countryside, it offers certain other appeal too.

Footnote: I know you're probably desperate to know whose fans had the shortest journeys in 2008/9 amongst all 92 clubs. Guess's Manchester United's, and no it's not a joke about their famously unMancunian fans. Not only did they win the Premiership, but they only clocked up 2,193 miles doing it.

Shear Agony

Newcastle are down. Perhaps not since the relegation of Leeds in 2003/4, has a team's demise seemingly been so welcomed by an overwhelming majority of so-called 'neutrals'.

Both of their fates offer a sense of footballing 'fairness' to those who support clubs that can merely dream of their abundant support and resources.

The integrity of the Premiership meanwhile could not be questioned today with all four of the clubs threatened by relegation, losing to teams with nothing to play for. Kudos to all of them.

At least Alan Shearer was suitably honest to acknowledge that the players had simply not been good enough. With a points total of just 34 points (the same that a dire Charlton side were relegated with in 2006/7), they could hardly claim otherwise.

I've never been a big fan of Shearer, although he has handled the limelight well since his appointment.

Presumably aware that he had nothing to lose, and with the full weight of the Toon Army fully behind him, he could take the plaudits without ever worrying about taking blame, hardly a great foundation for likely success.

To borrow a topical joke, the difference between Shearer and Newcastle United, is that only Shearer will be on Match of the Day next season.

What does irk me about Shearer (and plenty of others like him) is the implicit arrogance that merely being a successful former player, is sufficient to form the foundation of a career in top flight management.

This is particularly the case with Shearer, who had been involved solely with media work for a couple of years before his appointment.

Others like Gareth Southgate moved straight from the playing side, whilst Paul Ince toiled away in the lower divisions before learning he wasn't good enough.

It's surely something of an insult to the likes of Arsene Wenger or Martin O'Neill, who presumably view their ability as having evolved through decades of hard graft, and not something to be acquired from two years on a television gantry.

Shearer was however supposed to be the 'Messiah' (after the last failed one presumably), although instead an interesting statistic caught my eye about one of his predecessors.

When the former Newcastle manager (and decidedly non-Messianic) Sam Allardyce took over at Blackburn in December, they only had 13 points whilst the Geordies had 19.

In a typically unheralded way meanwhile, helped perhaps by the lack of media attention in that corner of Lancashire, Allardyce guided a considerably less talented squad to safety and 41 points.

Allardyce was of course jettisoned ridiculously prematurely by new owner Mike Ashley, unimpressed by methods that might in due course have led to uncomfortable outcomes like regular victories. The decision instead set in train the comedy series that followed.

Rumours suggest Ashley's pre-purchase due diligence was cursory at best, and if true it serves as a valuable lesson that if you want an expensive plaything without worry or risk, then you're better off buying a yacht.

Unlike Spurs or Chelsea for example, I don't think disliking Newcastle is necessarily a natural default reaction for most fans of other clubs. Indeed under Kevin Keegan in the 1990s, they were many people's second club with their cavalier attacking style.

Moreover, whilst the support of the locals borders on the primeval, Newcastle remains one of the best away days in football, something the fans of 23 Championship clubs can now look forward to.

As a one-club city, the inhabitants are completely loyal, whilst unlike other major one-club cities like Leeds, its stadium is based handily bang in the centre of town, giving matchday a uniquely dynamic atmosphere.

However as a team still proudly displaying the name of Northern Rock fully eighteen months after it failed, perhaps their fate was already effectively sealed. As twin tales of gross mismanagement, they'd be extremely hard to beat.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bish Bash Josh

This is unlikely to be a preseason full of Charlton cheer, given our humiliating relegation and strained finances.

It would thus be incongruous not to at least congratulate our 19-year old midfielder Josh Wright, upon helping Gillingham to reach the League Two play-off final.

He has become something of the forgotten man at Charlton, by virtue of the club's uncharacteristic strength in depth in central midfield, as well as a rumoured bust-up with Phil Parkinson.

My trip back to London in October happened to coincide with his two Championship outings, at home to Burnley and Barnsley.

Whilst neither team performance will live long in the memory, he looked comfortable in his holding midfield role, and did enough to suggest he could pick out a pass without panicking.

If he was identified as a youngster with potential by Alan Pardew, then the managerial changeover presumably did not do him many favours however.

Having played 90 minutes under Parkinson in the battling FA Cup win at Norwich, he was not even on the bench during the subsequent 4-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, hardly motivational management of the highest order. He did not wear the red shirt again.

Indeed until his loan spell at Gillingham, fans wondering about his whereabouts have been forced to revert to tabloid photos alongside paparazzi favourite Jack Tweed, in fairness the result of a childhood friendship, rather than eager spotlight searching.

But in a season full of misery, his League Two exploits would at least pose an interesting future trivia question if successful at Wembley.....when was the last time a player helped two teams to promotion in the same season from the same division, whilst his own club suffered relegation from a higher one?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Yankee Stadium

I took a long-awaited trip out to the brand new Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon for a clash with the LA Anaheim Angels (not exactly a ding-dong local derby that one).

If Wikipedia is correct (and who could doubt it?), it is the second most expensive stadium ever built, after our own Wembley Stadium.

As the photo shows, it was literally built right next door to the 'house that Ruth built', the iconic but ageing original Yankee stadium it replaced.

As someone with a rather unhealthy obsession with stadia, it was pleasing to see so many design touches that acknowledged the history of the original arena, whilst filling it with all of the modern amenities that fans now demand.

Most notably the stadium exterior's faintly Roman air is a clear nod to history, whilst the famous frieze still hangs down from its roof.



Indeed, lubricated by a couple of pints as we made our way to our seats, the effect is so astounding that you look around and need to pinch yourself that anything has changed at all. As an only occasional visitor to the former stadium, it really was akin to an illusion.

I'm probably just getting old, but I find that my enjoyment of any sporting occasion that I attend as a neutral (ie. any not involving Charlton), is only whole if all but the most unavoidable hassles of crowds are avoided.

Thus the impact of entering the enormous 'Great Hall' atrium, heading up to the seats via one of several giant elevators, and then enjoying the spectacle from a seat with legroom not designed solely for Dennis Wise was very refreshing (as was the $10 beer incidentally on a warm day).


Although many attempts have been made to bring the interior of the old stadium into the modern age, the differences are surprisingly subtle.

The vertigo-inducing angles have been replaced with a shallower rake, whilst as a baseball-only stadium (unlike the previous one), all of the seats are gently clearly angled towards the play.

One interesting aspect of any visit to a baseball stadium, is that unless you are a true connoisseur then the most expensive seats are those that you should least crave.

Priced at a whopping $375 per game, the 'lower field' seats right next to home plate are particularly sought after, because they allow the spectator to pick upon every pitching nuance. However for safety reasons, you watch through a mesh screen.

Yet if you don't know your 'knuckleball' from your 'slider', then a cheaper seat higher up offers a fuller perspective. It's also easier to get to the bar.

The new stadium has 4,000 fewer seats, but three times the number of 'luxury suites', pointing clearly to where their priorities lie.

However, perhaps reflective of the team's poor recent form, the price of the most expensive corporate tickets has already been slashed to avoid the further ignominy of empty seats in full view of the cameras.

Fans may be left short of cash, but they should never be 'caught short' as there is 1 loo per 60 fans. If the stadium is filled to its 52,000 capacity, and thirsty fans make an average of two visits per game , then each facility will be used 120 times. No wonder adverts have cropped up in the toilets.

Whilst cost is clearly a factor (and the Yankees received considerable help from public funds), it's a shame that the design of most new English football stadiums is so lacking in imagination.

It seems some of the first post-Taylor Report new stadia were permitted a degree of architectural freedom eg. Huddersfield (1994), Bolton (1997), but others from Southampton to Swansea, and from Leicester to Reading, seem to have been designed from the same boring (but presumably cheap) template.

The new stadiums for Arsenal, Manchester City and to a lesser extent, Hull City do at least appear to be attempts to break the monotony. If Portsmouth ever get around to building their proposed new home meanwhile, it will firmly set an enticing new precedent.


Some of the recent lower division efforts meanwhile are truly depressing, seemingly distinguishable only by the colour of the seats. At least at the New Den, the imaginative architect used the brutality of numerous right angles, in order to be consistent with the behaviour of the fans beneath them.

It is worth acknowledging that there is more scope to be creative with baseball stadia, the horseshoe shape particularly providing room for some imagination, especially the design of the 'bleachers', the cheap but popular seats placed over the outfield fences.

Arizona Diamondbacks for example hire out a hot tub and pool for the enjoyment of fans, a fine concept in the desert, but one that might not work quite as well in Hull admittedly.


Whilst few hark back to the pre-Hillsborough days of crumbling terraces and restricted views, we may be destined to create a generation of functional arenas that lack any soul.

My favourite grounds are still those that have moved with the times, but retain an element of randomness, the mish-mash of stands, or the quirky way old has been bolted onto new. Think of the likes of Everton, Aston Villa, and Liverpool.

The Yankees appear however to have successfuly bolted new onto old it seems, retaining the memories but adding the comfort.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Norwich preview

After a week of terrifying 'man gets flu' headlines, it's back to the slightly less terrifying business of Championship football at The Valley.

The otherwise potentially funereal atmosphere should at least be enlivened by the Canaries' own relegation battle.

Charlton can of course instead just relax and wallow in the warm comfort of their own considerably earlier demise.

Although a number of spots are yet to be decided, next season's League One already promises to have something of a southern feel to it.

This would of course be further enhanced if we were joined by the relative (albeit agricultural) sophisticates of Norwich, rather than those ghastly tykes from Yorkshire. Thus I rather hope we avoid defeat at The Valley on Sunday.

One might imagine that the mouthwatering possibility next season of a South-East sextet of Charlton, Southend, Gillingham, Colchester, Millwall and Leyton Orient, is already whetting the appetite of the club's marketing team, as they promote tantilising corporate packages to local businesses.

Throw in a day trip to Brighton, a short hop to Brentford or Wycombe, and a leisurely drive to the likes of Northampton and MK Dons, and I'm starting to wonder if the promise of The Ashes during the summer will be enough to placate my excitement about next season.

Bryan Gunn enjoyed a promising start to his managerial career, being forced to wait until his fifth game to experience defeat at home to Bristol City.

However that defeat heralded a miserable run of 11 points from 14 games, a trend which sees them requiring a win at The Valley, and defeat for Barnsley at Plymouth to ensure survival.

It has not escaped notice that the two relegated clubs (Charlton and Southampton), alongwith the club most likely to join them (Norwich), each changed manager mid-season via an internal appointment.

This compares to a different approach adopted by other clubs with managerial turnarounds, namely Nottingham Forest (safe), Derby (safe), and Watford (safe).

Whilst the long-term benefits of their approach may yet be tested, the short-term distress of relegation feels for now to be multiples more devastating than that could ever be.

Instad our trio of unfortunates, with combined average Championship attendances of 62,417, and a recent reputation whilst not exactly as stalwarts of the Premiership, but at least as respected and regular members thereof, now find themselves preparing for League games at Yeovil.

The media appear to have taken the predictable route of blaming the problems of adapting back to life outside the Premiership, but it's a simplistic argument.

It fails to address why other recently relegated clubs like Ipswich, Coventry or Palace have adapted so much better (what would Charlton give for example for Ipswich's so-called 'problems', whilst sitting 9th in the Championship?).

Phil Parkinson has shown about as much imagination with his recent team selections, as Susan Boyle has with her dress sense.

Having wasted a perfect opportunity against the likes of Blackpool or Derby to blood a couple of youngsters, he now risks the ire of Barnsley and the Football League if he does so on Sunday.

Cue therefore the same tired eleven, ostensibly our 'strongest side' yet one that's managed just 1 win in 13. What that says about Parky's managerial abilities is for more powerful people than me to decide.

I'll confidently predict he'll line them up as follows: Elliot, Butterfield, Youga, Ward, Hudson, Bailey, Racon, Zheng, Shelvey, Sam, Burton. Subs: Randolph, Solly, Spring, Tuna, Kandol.

NY Addick predicts: Charlton 1 (Bailey), Norwich 0. Tickets sold: 22,921.