Friday, August 27, 2010

Winning the War on Terrier

After Saturday's sharp reality check, the Addicks face their toughest-looking challenge of the season when they travel to much fancied Huddersfield.

Fixtures against Huddersfield maintain a romantic element thanks to events at The Valley in 1957, but most fans would accept a dull 1-0 victory if it can somehow be eked out.

Charlton earned four points against the Terriers last season, including a valuable late-campaign point in March just as our promotion chances appeared to be capitulating.

The Addicks should benefit from having exited the Carling Cup at the earliest stage, whilst Huddersfield (cheered on by their 5,000+ fans) were thrashed 5-1 in midweek at Everton.

Indeed when one considers that they were 2-0 up approaching half-time against Peterborough before being defeated 4-2, they have conceded a goal every 15 minutes in the past 135 they've played. Full of confidence they won't be.

Charlton have scored six of their eight goals this season on the road, perhaps reflecting their preference for playing on the counter given the pace they possess on the flanks.

It's difficult to imagine for example that Wagstaff, Reid and Martin (the team's trio of 'flair players') could be snuffed out to the same degree, when an expectant home crowd is pushing their team forward not back.

Semedo will surely return in favour of the disappointing Racon, whilst Dailly's calm presence will be preferred to Llera's rather less sure-footed approach (not that the Spaniard did too much wrong to be fair).

I would expect Martin to be asked to play as an attacking midfielder rather than a mere deep-lying second striker, enabling us to be a tight-looking 4-5-1 when defending but a pacy 4-4-2 (or even 4-2-4) when breaking forward.

On Saturday, I correctly predicted both the starting eleven and the subs, which probably reflects the paucity of options available to Parky, rather than my own soothsaying abilities.

Richard Murray had indicated that the three players we are still seeking might be available for Saturday, but this looks far-fetched as things stand.

Talks have been confirmed with Jonathan Fortune (who was sat next to Semedo on Saturday incidentally), but I find this a rather retrograde step given he's 30-years old and injury-prone, regardless of the generally solid job he has previously done for the club.

Either way, I expect us to line up as follows: Elliott, Francis, Jackson, Dailly, Doherty, McCormack, Semedo, Reid, Wagstaff, Martin, Abbott. Subs: Worner, Solly, Llera, Fry, Racon, Sodje, Tuna.

For my charity bet, I fancy a similar outcome to last season with the home side taking the lead, but being hauled back as the Addicks earn a point.

NY Addick bets £10 on Huddersfield/Draw (HT/FT) at 15/1

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


The recording of the extraordinary shareholders' meeting (available on CAFC Player), provides some remarkably frank insights into the club.

As a shareholder, I was entitled to attend so listened to the recording with considerable interest. Murray promised more disclosure now that the Plc obligations are gone, and he did not let us down.

Without wishing to detract from the excellent 'live' summary provided by Kings Hill Addick, here is my own summary (in no particular order):

- the equity is now officially worthless, but it was effectively so as soon as the large bond issue was completed (because those new creditors were senior to the shareholders in the capital structure);

- Murray acknowledged his disappointment that events had come to a head like this, and felt he had somewhat let his fellow directors down;

- the bank (Lombard largely for £7m, but also HSBC for £1m) effectively owns the club, but the directors run it on their behalf (much like a mortgaged house);

- in League One, even after the adjustments made, the club will still run a £4m operating loss;

- the loss would be closer to £3m if the last three remaining high-earners were sold (Semedo, Racon and Youga);

- the TV income and gate income effectively covers the club's off-field expenses (including £500k in rates, and £200k in electricity for example), implying the wage bill is approx £4m as above;

- in the Championship, TV money would rise to £6m and the club could be viable again and becomes a much more interesting potential investment (although surely the wage bill will rachet up too?);

- The Valley is effectively a liability in League One (because it is costly and can't be filled), but would be an obvious potential asset following promotion;

- the average playing salary is now just £100k (it was not clearly implied whether this included the above 'big 3' but it has clearly fallen substantially);

- the club chose not to sell Semedo in the summer, but sought bids for Racon (none were forthcoming except on a free) and Youga (but he is injured) - in January, he strongly implied both could go;

- the club was offered £750k for Bailey by two Championship sides - 'Boro offered £1.4m, but the delay in completing the deal was simply down to their own cashflow problems (throughout the meeting, Murray continually spoke about the general crisis in football finances);

- Jonjo Shelvey's sale netted £1.5m initially, and will net a further £250k for each ten full appearances (up to some limit) - there is also a 20% sale add-on;

- there was a deal with Liverpool about loan players embedded in the deal, but the manager changed soon afterwards, whilst they want us to take on the full wage obligation (clearly ridiculous);

- the club took a calculated risk last season to get promotion but it failed (one might argue they were miscalculated risks that actually harmed the side, but anyhow);

- loans will not be a key part of the squad building process anymore, but will be used in desperate circumstances (hurrah!);

- Jonathan Fortune is well-respected and may well sign this week - if so, the club is still seeking a forward and a winger/forward;

- Murray thought it was crazy that Grant Basey turned down a deal with Aberdeen - he might be left without a club (it's not a seller's market anymore);

- the club still has a sell-on clause for Madjid Bougherra (this could be worth a million or two in the right circumstances?);

- the seat cleaning project (as well as others like the 5-year season ticket holder invitation into the boardroom) are deliberate attempts to get back to the 'old Charlton way' (and not before time);

- Murray committed to hosting a similar meeting for 'past shareholders' going forward, even though he is certainly not obliged to (nice gesture);

- Murray believes Phil Parkinson is the best manager he's ever worked with, including Curbs (come on, let's get real - what he probably really means is he prefers working with Parkinson);

- however both Murray and White praised his work ethic, and his preference for players with the right character (much like Pardew then!);

- the club turned down a friendly with Spurs because they wanted it on Wednesday August 4th, three days before the season started - also the police bill implied a 15,000 gate was required to break-even, only achievable by giving up whole swathes of the stadium to away fans;

- the attendance at friendlies is generally disappointing unless the opposition is genuinely top-drawer - witness the embarrassingly poor turnout for Curbs' testimonial against Hearts;

- the Oldham game was police-free;

- the 'incest song' is difficult to stop although the club is doing what they can (yawn....stupid song, stupid people);

- the money owed by Cardiff has been repaid - they are no longer owed any money by any other clubs (the imposition of transfer embargoes is the usual route to securing monies owed not a Motherwell-esque winding-up order!);

- the Academy costs £6-700k pa to run, down from £1m at the peak;

- the club remains committed to maintaining full Academy status, because unlike lesser versions (eg. 'Centres of Excellence', or simply nothing), they can still hope to attract the best talent, not least because they have fixtures against the very best;

- the Premiership seems intent on making it financially non-viable for clubs like Charlton to have equal status Academies (amusing to observe how a Chairman's view of the power of the Premiership waxes and wanes depending upon whether one's club is in it!);

- expanding The Valley is not a key priority right now (I can't believe someone actually asked this).

In short, Murray seemed in good humour and guardedly optimistic about the future. As we all surely know by now, we are incredibly fortunate to have someone with his passion, integrity and realism at the helm.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Passed Out

I usually opt for the West Upper on a match-by-match basis, but for no particular reason I again tried out the West Lower where my old Premiership season ticket was once located.

So imagine my delight when a minute before kick-off, Charlton's suspended midfielder Jose Semedo sat down two seats away from me alongwith who I assume was Miguel Llera's dad and young son.

When the Portuguese squeezed past me, I can't help thinking he left his foot in. He may have been going for the seat, but it was reckless and unnecessary.

The young Llera meanwhile appeared confident, but then struggled to stay on his feet at the vital moment.

Joking aside, it remains frustrating that despite the obvious team spirit that Phil Parkinson has engendered, we were again out-passed by the opposition.

Charlton are not a passing side. We are a high-tempo side, getting the ball forward quickly, closing down space and trying to feed the ball to a pair of nippy wingers.

Obviously if passing was the be all and end all, then Arsenal would win the Premiership and Doncaster would be flying high in the Championship.

However I fear on this evidence that we may be too easy to 'find out', forcing us into a Plan B in which we are less comfortable.

All the while, technically competent sides like Oldham can pass the ball around us.

For example, every single time either Reid or Wagstaff got on the ball today, they were marked by two players.

Neither full-back was able to get forward in support quickly or energetically enough to tempt one of the defenders away.

With their wide threat thus largely snuffed out, Racon (especially) and McCormack struggled to win the central midfield battle, whilst Martin increasingly took out his frustration on his marginal role with several niggly fouls.

Pawel Abbott used his strength wherever possible to win some quality possession, but there was rarely anyone breaking beyond him.

Whilst taking nothing away from an impressive Oldham side who were always neat and tidy, it was a desperately disappointing performance and it has given me a sharp reality check.

Indeed other than Wagstaff's excellent finish, the home side did not create a single chance of note.

The away side meanwhile were denied by the post (twice), an excellent Rob Elliott save and some desperate defending.

Here are my ratings:

Elliott 8 - well-beaten for the goal, but produced two outstanding saves to salvage a point;
Francis 5 - looked shaky at times; also does it make sense to have one of the best headers of the ball taking some corners?
Jackson 6 - makes Grant Basey look pacy at times, but generally uses the ball well;
Doherty 6 - wins most of his headers, but his clearance for the equaliser was weak and unnecessarily in front of the centre of the goal;
Llera 6 - like Bambi on ice at times, but performed ok on a difficult afternoon;
McCormack 6 - fought hard for every ball but he was let down by his midfield partner;
Racon 4 - virtually anonymous and understandably withdrawn;
Reid 7 - always probing but largely marked out of the game - the lack of movement around him doesn't help him find space;
Wagstaff 6 - another smart finish but like Reid was largely crowded out;
Abbott 6 - a good knock-down for the goal, but lacked support;
Martin 5 - seemed frustrated but did little to alter affairs - needed to get beyond Abbott, not merely play behind him.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Latic Acid

With no more than two games played in League One, only three clubs can claim a 100% record and at least one of those will end tomorrow.

Led by their acidic rookie boss Paul Dickov, few expect Oldham to be competing in the upper echelons by the end of the season, but their early results command respect.

Admittedly Tranmere and Notts County are hardly amongst the division's heavyweights, but then again neither are Bournemouth or Leyton Orient.

A key difference of course is that the Addicks have had to play over a third of their season so far with ten men.

The team spirit is thus not in question, whilst Parkinson's tactics after Christian Dailly's sending off at Brisbane Road were faultless.

However the main concern will be the degree to which some of our play has been disjointed at times, even when enjoying a full complement of eleven players.

We were dominant against Bournemouth for a half-hour, but against the O's it was hard to deny the home side were the better one ironically until the red card.

It is essentially a brand new side however, and it will take time to gel.

Reassuringly after several seasons with an unbalanced midfield, we now have the outstanding Kyel Reid offering genuine left-footed width. The benefits are already obvious.

Meanwhile it is a testament to the club's pre-season work in the transfer market that the likes of Bailey, Shelvey, Burton and Sam do not appear to be missed so far.

However with suspensions already taking a mild toll, it is clear that a couple more signings before the window closes would be welcome. A nippy striker must be high on the priority list.

After winning our opening six games last season, few fans will be getting carried away. However there is an undeniable positivity around the club at last, and not before time.

Parky will be forced into at least one change, although Miguel Llera's impressive defensive cameo should ensure a start for the rather erratic Spaniard.

Chris Solly is likely to be unlucky again, with Simon Francis' height likely to be preferred with Jose Semedo suspended, and Akpo Sodje again starting on the bench.

The youngster's flexibility is a manager's dream (Curbs would have loved him), and his well-taken goal again proved what an intelligent head he has on young shoulders. He will get plenty of chances.

I thus expect us to line up as follows: Elliott, Francis, Jackson, Doherty, Llera, McCormack, Racon, Reid, Wagstaff, Abbott, Martin. Subs: Worner, Solly, Fry, Stavrinou, Sodje, Mambo, Tuna.

It seems the bookies have caught up with the 11/2 value I spotted last week on Lee Martin scoring at anytime. Those odds have already been cut in half and represent no interest.

Unlike most gamblers, I don't bet on what I think will happen but solely focus on mispriced odds.

Given that these are by definition difficult to find, it's not a strategy that lends itself easily to making charity bets on every game.

Moreover, the very nature of charity betting favours finding longer odds outcomes, rather than eking out a fiver here and a tenner there.

Miguel Llera's record of 4 goals in just 23 starts for Charlton, suggests that 12/1 on him to score at anytime represents interesting value in a game he is virtually guaranteed to start.

Given their opening two wins meanwhile, it is possible the bookies have underestimated the Latics' chances, a prospect I will choose to express through the risk that Charlton start strongly again but are hauled back for a point.

NY Addick bets £5 on Miguel Llera to score anytime (at 12/1)
NY Addick bets £5 on Charlton/Draw at HT/FT (at 16/1)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pyramid Scheme

My fascination with non-League football dates back to the mid-1980s, when Barry Fry's flamboyant Barnet side was causing a stir on Underhill's sloping pitch.

Indeed for anyone unsure if they are still in love with the beautiful game (as opposed to the glitzy Sky interpretation of it), I urge you to revisit a non-League ground to tap into your primitive urges.

Most stadiums are as ramshackle as their Premiership counterparts are boringly functional, but no less enjoyable to visit.

The ability to park right outside just minutes before kick-off is appealing, as is the way one can change one's view of the action multiples times during the game.

Tackles can be heard and not merely seen, whilst banter with the opposition goalkeeper is part and parcel of football at this level.

More generally, I continue to believe that the FA's football pyramid is one of the most charming features of the domestic game. The goings-on of the clubs outside the top 92 even merits its own Sunday newspaper.

Admittedly some pretty severe 'ground grading' standards need to be met at every step.

However the concept that any club in the country can reach the highest leagues, simply by winning enough football matches is a remarkable thing.

Wigan Athletic's ascent may be more explained by money than pyramids, but others like Aldershot Town, Stevenage and Yeovil represent a more romantic and realistic interpretation.

I've explained the above to many Americans, for whom such a dream would be alien in their sporting world of franchises and no relegations.

So yesterday night it was with a slightly unhealthy dose of excitement, that I got into my car and drove the short distance to one of my new local non-League clubs (Chesham United) to seek to reignite my passion for the beautiful game further down that pyramid.

With Charlton a safe two divisions away from the glamour of the top flight, last year I chose to adopt Aston Villa as my Premiership team.

It is not a decision I've regretted and I've enjoyed having a team to look out for during the ubiquitous media coverage of the Premiership, even if managerial turmoil was something I was rather hoping to escape from.

However as my esteemed blogging colleague Wyn Grant has proved, it is also acceptable to follow a non-League team with the same passion as one follows Charlton.

Moreover in an interesting aside, Chesham United are competing in the same division as his much-loved Brakes of Leamington, having won promotion to the snappily-named Zamaretto League Premier Division.

This division is one of the three feeders into the Blue Square Bet North and South divisions, which in turn feed into the Blue Square Bet Premier, the highest echelon of non-League football.

Both teams are thus only three promotions away from the Football League (in theory at least).

Salisbury City are the hot favourites, having been relegated two divisions for financial irregularities.

Somewhat remarkably they have opted to remain fully professional, a huge advantage against clubs who must snatch training time inbetween work commitments.

In the same division is Hemel Hempstead Town FC (The Tudors), whose ground is actually slightly closer to where we are presently renting, but it was mainly Chesham's charming ground on the edge of undulating countryside that sold them to me instead.

In recent years, the likes of Fitz Hall and DJ Campbell have earned their reputations playing at The Meadow, whilst the club was managed for a short while by Bob Dowie, brother of the former Addicks boss.

The club's high point was the 1992/93 season, when they won the Isthmian League (thanks in part to a 35-year old Mark Lawrenson) but were denied promotion to the Conference due to ground grading issues.

Until recently the club was like many others, on the brink of insolvency but hard work behind-the-scenes has secured the club's future, with the supporters' trust ensconced as the biggest shareholder.

The world of non-League may attract some trainspotter-type obsessives, but it also showcases some of the true heroes of the domestic game, namely the legions of volunteers who work tirelessly for the benefit of their local team.

Unfortunately much like its fully professional counterparts in the Football League and Premiership, it also attracts its fair share of financial charlatans, all too ready to impose their ego or mere mismanagement on a club, and help destroy many decades of proud history (think of Chester City or Scarborough, both now defunct).

Last night's Chesham United fixture was against Oxford City, one of the pre-season division favourites.

It was curious to note that a handful of away fans even made the trip, clad in the blue and white hoops more commonly associated with QPR.

The total attendance was 275 although it looked larger. The previous competitive home game had seen over 1,000 fans celebrate a play-off win over Slough Town.

The home side deservedly won 2-0, continuing the 100% record that began away at Truro City on Saturday.

Despite the regionalised nature of all but the Blue Square Bet Premier, that opening fixture necessitated a near-600 mile round trip for Chesham, and an overnight stay.

The quality of football on show was refreshingly high, and the commitment absolutely total in the torrential rain.

I've no doubt that many players at this level have (or had) the ability to carve out a professional career in the lower leagues, but made a perfectly logical and understandable decision to work elsewhere whilst merely supplementing their incomes with football instead.

Others like Oxford City's Dave Savage (5 caps for the Republic of Ireland) are seeing out their careers at this level, having already enjoyed a respectable professional career.

The money available as a journeyman League Two footballer may be more attractive initially for some, but where does it leave you career-wise when you are 35 and with a mortgage to pay?

Despite the pitiful weather, I stayed to the bitter end eagerly looking forward to the first game I can bring my 3-year old son to.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Proud Addicks Leyton The Line

Even before this game kicked off, I couldn't hide from the fact that I felt more energised about the Addicks than I had in many years.

So much so that my vociferous celebration of Chris Solly's goal woke up my youngest son, when previously he'd have slept soundly so emotionally uninvolved have I felt for some time.

"You woke him up, you go up and settle him," said the wife.

"No you go sweetheart," I smiled, "...and tell him not to's 3-1."

After four years of flawed experiments, we finally seem to be going 'back to basics', and not before time.

No more 'general managers', speculative signings or one-month loans.

It's a work-in-progress, but the club seems to have found its soul again, both on and off the pitch.

So long as we continue down this path of signing honest players, and moulding them with talented youngsters (plus the odd long-term loan), then we can afford to be patient because it's the right path.

Parky keeps talking about the fact that this team will improve, and that excites me because I think he's right.

Indeed few could deny that the Os were the better footballing side tonight in terms of passing.

However it is clear too that in the likes of Reid, Martin, and Abbott, we have some individuals that can do some real damage at this level.

Blend some more familiarity and confidence about playing with one another, and we may have a very competitive side as early as this season.

Perhaps only Christian Dailly desrves even a modicum of criticism for his rash challenge, but ironically it galvanised the remaining ten to a huge three points.

Abbott was a terrific lone front man after the red card, whilst Doherty and Llera put their head on every ball delivered into the box at the other end.

Martin's workrate was immense and his role intelligently played, perhaps suggestive of the type of footballing education received at the likes of Manchester United.

Wagstaff showed doubters (like me) what a threat he poses, so the frustration remains why he can be so anonymous at other times.

The midfield pairing of Racon and McCormack worked their socks off, adopting a disciplined dual holding role after Dailly's dismissal.

The full-backs were barely noticed which usually indicates a solid performance, whilst Solly's well-taken goal put a smile on the face of all those who knew he was unlucky to be dropped.

Rob Elliot's punching and kicking was iffy, but he is a solid and enthusiastic keeper at this level.

It was interesting too that Matt Spring (whose hair was strangely mssing its silver flecks) was first to congratulate the youngster on his goal, suggesting Solly is a highly popular member of staff.

Finally it was great to see Jose Semedo on the pitch at the end, in his training gear. One of Pardew's few positive legacies.

Indeed it reminded me of Brentford away last season, when Messrs Burton and S.Sodje (similarly suspended) sat ashen-faced and casually-dressed in the directors' box and couldn't wait to leave at the final whistle.

The club has done some terrific work in the summer, and early indications are good.

Oh, and we're top of the league, did I mention that?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Taste of the Orient

I’m not quite sure what to make of Tuesday’s bizarre exit from the Carling Cup.

The sight of Pawel Abbott and Lee Martin tearing the Shrews apart in just a few first-half minutes was encouraging, but some of the subsequent defending was truly abysmal.

If you haven’t seen it, brace yourself and click here.

The ‘reward’ for winning on Tuesday would have been a trip to Stoke in the 2nd Round, just about the worst type of tie imaginable (no glamour and likely defeat) so the result itself is hardly worth losing sleep over.

Regardless of the circumstances however, giving up a 3-0 lead at that level of football is really a humiliation.

However it will be even more swiftly forgotten if the Addicks go top of the league tomorrow night, an outcome they are assured for twenty hours at least with just a point at Brisbane Road.

The O’s went down to an opening day defeat at Yeovil, but secured an impressive Carling Cup win at Swindon to set up a home tie with WBA in two weeks’ time.

Much-travelled and respected boss Russell Slade took over in early-April with relegation a genuine threat, but secured ten more vital points (including an impressive win over champions Norwich) to guarantee League One survival by just a point.

During the summer he brought in ten new faces, including ex-Addicks Matthew Spring and Elliot Omozusi and they may well turn out to be one of the division’s surprise packages.

Thanks to Sky’s coverage, Charlton will not benefit from the same vociferous support that followed them up the A12 this time last year, but their own new-look side will be confident of securing the same result nonetheless.

Although Akpo Sodje played his heart out against Bournemouth, the stunning Abbott and Martin show will have given Parkinson a real selection dilemma.

However I’m tempted to think that away from home, Parkinson would be reluctant to defend set pieces without either Sodje or the suspended Jose Semedo, especially if ‘little’ Chris Solly rightly keeps his place in front of the rather more robust Simon Francis.

Else the team would have a very small look about it, which is rarely a winning formula at this level.

Thus the somewhat disappointing Scott Wagstaff may make way for Martin on the right flank, with the option of the Ipswich man’s pace and unpredictability upfront perhaps later in the game.

In central midfield, the lack of options in the absence of Semedo likely means a rare substitute berth for young Alex Stavrinou.

When all is said and done, I expect them to line up as follows: Elliott, Solly, Jackson, Dailly, Doherty, Racon, McCormack, Reid, Martin, Abbott, Sodje. Subs: Worner, Francis, Llera, Fry, Wagstaff, Smart, Stavrinou.

Martin’s neat goal on Tuesday ensured it was 2 out of 2 for my charity bets this season, ensuring £60 has already made its way to a good cause.

Given that he scored and also hit the bar late on, it’s rather surprising that the bookies are still offering 11/2 on him scoring ‘anytime’ again on Friday night, so I certainly don’t need a second invitation to ‘lump on’ even if a goal is somewhat less likely if he does indeed begin on the flank.

NY Addick bets £10 on Lee Martin to score at anytime (at 11/2)

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Taming of the Shrews

The Addicks haven't visited this quaint corner of Shropshire since April 1986, when their promotion push was temporarily halted after a 2-1 defeat.

Shrewsbury are now managed by Graham Turner after a volatile 14-year run as both Hereford manager and Chairman (never needing to fear the dreaded vote of confidence).

They now play at the new Greenhous Meadow rather than at the previous ground whose name made schoolboys giggle. Their brief dalliance in non-League football is an increasingly distant memory.

They are a team I've always maintained a unusual soft spot for, because when my Dad bought me one of my first football books as a young kid, I really liked their blue and gold colours.

Charlton haven't won a Carling Cup tie since August 2007, when they overcame Stockport County 4-3 at The Valley, before losing tamely at Luton in the following round.

Following humiliating early defeats in previous seasons to Hereford and Yeovil, the Addicks will be keen to avoid a trio of shocks against West Country opposition.

Admittedly few Charlton fans would lose sleep if that scenario would occur. The only excitement the Carling Cup could represent is the prospect of a subsequent tie against Premiership opposition.

Arguably the Johnstone Paint Trophy ought to be taken marginally more seriously given that it offers a genuine prospect of success, and thus a realistic chance of a much-needed day out at Wembley.

Charlton were impressive on Saturday given the unfortunate circumstances of Semedo's sending off (although I suspect their appeal will fail), and the need to integrate so many new signings at once.

Phil Parkinson has indicated some fringe players will get a chance and rightly so, but winning begets winning and it's important to instil that mentality early on this season.

With very little confidence, I expect Parkie to line them up as follows in an attack-minded 4-4-2: Worner, Solly, Fry, Dailly, Doherty, Smart, Racon, McCormack, Reid, Abbott, Martin.

My charity bets will be somewhat reliant on his team selection, but I can't help thinking I've found some terrific value:

NY Addick bets £5 on Lee Martin to score first (at 14/1)
NY Addick bets £5 on Lee Martin to score at any time (at 11/2)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Valley Gold

"Some debts are fun when you are acquiring them, but none are fun when you set about retiring them." (Ogden Nash)

The club today published more details of the exact terms of the deal struck with Richard Murray a couple of weeks ago.

The situation can be summarised as follows:

- the club received an offer in Aug 2009 but due diligence revealed the consortium could not provide sufficient proof of funds (we can merely speculate who was bidding);

- the equity in the holding company is now worthless (or worth £2 to be precise), and will be sold to entities controlled by Richard Murray and family;

- the name of the plc will change to 'CA Plc';

- the directors that subscribed to the £14.5m convertible bond issue have agreed to convert the debt into the above worthless equity, thus wiping it out;

- it is proposed that the intercompany debt (from the subsidiaries to the plc) be cancelled;

- separate from the above convertible bonds, there is also £7m of outstanding 'directors loans' which will now be transferred ('novated') to the subsidiaries;

- these loans (in addition to further £3m debts due to HSBC/Lombard) arose from a £10m refinancing in Sep 2009 following the collapse of the above negotiations with the bidding consortium;

- no principal payments will be due on the above directors' loans until the club returns to the Premiership, and only interest will be due upon promotion to the Championship;

- the continued support of HSBC/Lombard requires that the above proposals go ahead.

So in short, the Directors (including Murray incidentally) have taken a huge and generous write-down on the convertible debt, although in fairness they were highly unlikely ever to be made remotely whole on their debts.

I think it is fair to say that none of the Directors involved are in the 'super rich' category, so this is a meaningful gesture for the wellbeing of the club.

The waiver of the intercompany debt is discussed at length in the proposal, but I do not consider it to be anything more than a procedural accounting entry.

After all, the 30 June 2009 accounts revealed that £35m of intercompany debts were waived in that year alone, yet no fuss was made about this.

The waiver will just ensure that any future cashflows from the two subsidiaries will solely benefit the new debt and equity holders, and not be used to begin to pay back the debt to the holding company.

As mentioned in my previous post on this topic, the above proposal adds considerable clarity but is only a mere stepping stone towards genuine financial security. More results and gutsy performances like today's will help.

Cherry Blossom

"Have we done cherries?"
"We done them."
"Red and black?"
(Monty Python, 1969)

For the third consecutive season, the Addicks pulled off an opening day home win although today's conditions felt more like November than August.

On a personal note, it was a nice start to my charity bets with £32.50 going to a good cause thanks to the correct scoreline.

Parkinson opted for a conservative looking 4-4-2, taking no chances with the fitness of Simon Francis or the unfamiliarity of Lee Martin and Bally Smart.

The Addicks immediately took the game to the visitors, and totally dominated the first quarter of the game.

Akpo Sodje's goal was well-deserved when it arrived, although the hard work was done by the highly impressive midfield pair of Alan McCormack (who got the starting nod over Therry Racon), and Kyle Reid.

Indeed Reid had already presented Sodje with a gilt-edged chance that he spurned, and until he tired towards the end he was a cut above the rest on show.

With as much trickery as Lloyd Sam, but considerably more penetration and drive, there are early signs that Parkinson has done a terrific piece of preseason business in securing the former loan man.

Unfortunately within minutes of the goal, the darkening clouds were a precursor for a contest that deteriorated into a scrappy niggly affair, hardly helped by a referee who was unnecessarily fussy.

It's not hard to distinguish a good ref from a poor one, largely in terms of the way they utilise the subjectivity they are entitled to use (considerably more so for example than say, tennis or cricket umpires).

Unfortunately he refused to let the game flow, whilst exhibiting considerable inconsistency (for example allowing Gary Doherty licence to take a free-kick at least 15 yards from where the offence occurred, then preventing the visitors from doing the same just seconds later).

Jose Semedo's sending off appeared to hand the impetus to the Cherries, but whilst there were some nervy moments, Charlton maintained their discipline and earned a deserved three points.

The Portuguese's red card was inevitable once the referee had blown for the foul, and whilst the midfielder probably does not have a malicious bone in his body, he may well have broken one of the opposition's with his studs up like that regardless of intent.

Given the combative role he is asked to perform, it is inevitable that he will see red on occasion but it's unfortunate his season has already been interrupted following an unnecessary challenge in the centre circle.

It is hard to generate meaningful conclusions after just one game, but the game provided early evidence that the team has plenty of spirit.

Meanwhile it was encouraging that the crowd seemed fully behind the team. With the detritus from the past four seasons in the doldrums now expelled, and with the silly rolling one-month loan signings not in evidence (at least yet), this is a team we can all get behind, and is better suited for League One.

Here are my ratings:

Elliot 6 - generally untroubled; protected his defence well in the latter stages, and produced one smart save when unsighted;

Solly 7 - grew in confidence and showed maturity and discipline rarely seen in a teenager; his positional flexibility provides the gaffer with valuable late options

Jackson 6 - a quiet game although when a defender isn't noticed, it's rarely a bad thing; allowed Reid to do his stuff ahead of him without offering much support

Dailly 7 - as assured as always

Doherty 6 - looked surprisingly uncertain early on but improved markedly; several impotant late interventions

Semedo 6 - possibly the victim of a whistle-happy referee; did his usual thankless role capably prior

McCormack 8 - key role for the goal; a vital presence throughout and often dictated the pace of the game

Wagstaff 5 - largely anonymous and not for the first time; clearly a terrific athlete but needs to produce much more than this to keep out those angling for his shirt

Reid 8 - a 10 for the first half and a 6 for the second; could tear defences apart on a regular basis on this showing

Sodje 7 - will never win points for presentation, but if he sticks to what he does best then he is an important battering ram; looked happier in a two-man forward line

Abbott 6 - looked to be trying 'too hard' at times in his deeper-lying forward role; the chemistry with Sodje wasn't great but it's early days
Racon 6 - drifted in and out of the game; not an ideal scenario to be introduced as the 'holding' midfielder

Martin 7 - showed some neat touches that suggest he's a livewire talent; if he occupies the flank opposite Reid then some champagne football could be in store

Francis 6 - a late cameo at right-back; bigger than I expected, and physical presence should not be underrated at this level

Friday, August 06, 2010

Bournemouth preview

Another season, and another opening day home fixture against a newly promoted side, the fourth in succession.

In a rather strange way (which might be deemed almost Calvinist), I have come to terms with our lowly existence and feel rather emboldened by it.

I thus find myself looking forward to tomorrow more than any of the previous three opening games, each of which I also managed to attend.

In 2007/8, the club was shellshocked by the disastrous events of the first post-Curbishley season, and the squad was a strange mix of ex-Premiership players on lofty wages, and a series of increasingly obscure new signings that generally failed. Hell, even Marcus Bent started that one.

In 2008/9, the club’s negative momentum from the second half of the previous season simply continued, although we eked out three points against an impressive-looking Swansea side on the day. Most fans weren't tricked however.

In 2009/10 meanwhile, the club was shellshocked again by its arrival in the third tier of English football for the first time in nearly 30 years, and another round of ‘rebuilding under duress’ was ongoing, with Phil Parkinson ultimately unable to keep the team’s early form going.

This season however, the squad and the club has seemingly found a degree of calm and balance again, albeit at a lower level than most fans would have liked.

When Nicky Bailey’s penalty soared over the bar in May, few Charlton fans would have predicted the sheer scale of restructuring that has been undertaken.

Difficult but necessary decisions have been made, some of which sadly impacted upon many non-playing members of staff who were blameless for the situation that has forced them to leave.

The longest serving player at the club is now Kelly Youga, whilst only five of the current squad played any part in the first 2007/8 season described above (Youga, Elliot, Semedo, Racon, Wagstaff).

The rebuilding process is far from complete (the squad is still wafer thin), but one can now state with confidence that every member of the squad is happy to be at the club, does not harbour realistic near-term ambitions to play at a higher level, and whose individual share of the rapidly shrinking payroll does not harbour resentment.

The recent Richard Murray news meanwhile is unquestionably positive too, although hopefully merely the first step towards not only financial stability, but true investment again.

The proof of the pudding will be in the eating of course, but the club’s work on the playing side in the summer appears eminently sensible and understandably conservative.

It is telling that the only signing that might reasonably be termed a gamble was the most recent acquisition of Rory Worner (and if it fails, it’ll be a less damaging gamble than the likes of McLeod, Varney or Moutaouakil were).

Somewhat less logical has been the use of trialists, with considerable playing time given to a number of them, yet none have been offered a contract to date.

Obviously the mere concept of a ‘trial’ implies some outcome uncertainty, but a zero strike rate is not a ringing endorsement of the scouting network.

Although there is always a team or two that surprises to the upside (last season it was Swindon), League One has a rather predictable Premiership-esque feel to it without a ball even being kicked.

This is dangerous talk of course but I just can’t see beyond what I would term the division’s 'big six' (Southampton, Charlton, Huddersfield, Peterborough, Plymouth, Sheff Weds).

Southampton’s virtues are obvious based upon their freescoring and ultimately brave attempt to reach the play-offs last season, despite a 10-point deficit.

However I would not underestimate the potential impatience of their supporters if things do not go to plan, whilst Alan Pardew’s ego can easily stifle their true potential if their Board give him as much freedom as ours did.

Huddersfield are well-supported and finished the season strongly, before their own semi-final heartbreak.

Lee Clark is unproven still, but they are financially strong and have signed an octet of experienced-looking players (eg. Gary Naysmith, Ian Bennett, Lee Croft).

Peterborough were canny enough to make up for their absurd sacking of Darren Ferguson early last season, to snap up ex-Bristol City boss Gary Johnson.

The Posh have proven goalscorers in Aaron McLean and Craig Mackail-Smith, whilst they have kept hold of star midfielder (and one-time Addicks reject), George Boyd.

Plymouth may well be the one that is most likely to surprise to the downside in my view, although with Peter Reid at the helm they will not lack for motivation. They will rely on the goals of Rory Fallon, fresh from his New Zealand side’s unbeaten World Cup.

Finally Sheffield Wednesday may have well-publicised financial problems, but they have an experienced-looking squad and an impressive manager in Alan Irvine.

The large stadium and crowd potential is a two-edged sword (as the likes of Southampton and Charlton will be aware), but they spent two seasons at this level from 2003-2005 and will not feel the same sense of entitlement that others like Leeds might have felt for a while.

Elsewhere some pundits have pointed to the likes of Brighton and Notts County as having the potential to be a surprise package, but I’m struggling to see beyond the aforementioned ‘big six’.

Swindon will pack less of a punch for example without Billy Paynter and some of last season’s loan starlets.

Although there may well be some last-minute selection surprises (Bally Smart is a headline writers dream if nothing else), I think Parkinson will look to unpick the Cherries as follows: Elliot, Solly, Jackson, Dailly, Doherty, Wagstaff, Reid, Semedo, Racon, Sodje, Abbott.Subs:Worner, Fry, McCormack, Smart, Mambo, Tuna, Francis.

As part of my Chicago Marathon fundraising, during the course of the season I’m going to emulate Derek Hales and put on my own £10 bet with any winnings going to London’s Air Ambulance.

NY Addick bets: £5 Charlton to win 1-0 (at 13/2)
NY Addick bets: £5 on 1st goal occurring later than the 61st minute (at 5/1)

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Chicago Marathon

In early October, I will be running the Chicago Marathon.

Despite having been a keen runner for many years, this will be the first time I've attempted the iconic 26.2 miles.

In an unusual post-credit crisis form of corporate hospitality, I was offered a free entry to the race (I'd have preferred the usual US Open tickets but anyhow).

Given that Chicago is one of the five 'marathon majors', as well as famously flat, it was impossible to turn down.

Although it is exceptionally hard to find the time to train appropriately (I just took the afternoon off work to do 64 laps of a local track for example), I had an additional poignant reason to take part.

Tragically a colleague and friend was killed in East London last winter, whilst out training for her own first marathon. She was just 29 years old and had been married for less than a year.

I heard the news during a business trip, at 3am in a lonely Dallas airport hotel. I've had many unpleasant phone calls with my boss, but this one was heartbreaking.

During my time in New York, I relied upon her constantly despite the distance. I also valued her as a confidante, and our near-daily conversations were as much about personal matters as work ones.

With the support of her family, I am thus running in her memory to raise funds for London's Air Ambulance.

Despite its vital role in the life of the capital, it receives only limited NHS funding and instead relies heavily upon charitable donations.

If you've enjoyed reading my blog over the past six years, and if any of the 830 posts that I've toiled over have made you laugh, cry, reflect or maybe just think about a topic differently, then here's your chance to give a little something back in return.

So if anyone can spare even a couple of quid (my fundraising site only discloses names, not amounts) then please be kind enough to send me a quick email at, and I'll gladly direct you to my site.

I'd be extremely grateful for any support. Go on, it might bring Charlton some luck this season.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Broken Herts

Despite Watford being my nearest League club, the wife did not issue my visa until 2.30pm leaving me just thirty minutes to get to the game.

Somehow I made it, and chose to sat in the sparsely populated Rous Stand rather than join the 250 or so Addicks that were camped in the Vicarage Road end.

Parkinson again opted to start with a 4-5-1 formation, with Jose Semedo clearly the holding midfielder, and Alan McCormack the one given the most freedom to join Akpo Sodje upfront.

Sodje is clearly most effective when facing goal, able to use his raw strength to hold off defenders.

His link-up play with his back to goal however is almost non-existent, whilst in a strange genetic quirk he is singularly unable to jump in anything like the majestic manner of his brother Sam.

Fortunately early in the second half, the Addicks' new signing Pawel Abbott instantly offered evidence that he presents a far more effective option in this role.

His movement and touch (particularly an exquisite back heel that almost set up a goal) suggested an intelligent player, one who immediately reminded me of Svetoslav Todorov, another front man I had very much liked.

This is not to suggest Sodje cannot offer a role, perhaps in a 4-4-2 with Abbott playing deep and providing his partner with the types of service he relishes (ie. facing the goal).

Elsewhere, Kyel Reid was outstanding - a real bag of tricks, and equally impressive on the left and right (where he occasionally swapped with Wagstaff).

He does not have exceptional pace, but as a natural left-footer, he may finally provide the genuine width on that flank that we have lacked for so long.

Wagstaff meanwhile again drifted in and out of the game. He seems to do his best work cutting inside, despite arguably having more pace than Reid in order to really test the full-back on the outside.

Semedo did his usual destructive work, whilst McCormack made a number of forays forward in the style of his former teammate Nicky Bailey, but he was left unrewarded. His attitude appears spot on though.

Racon had a quiet game, indeed the chemistry between him and McCormack was generally lacking suggesting the pair may be fighting over a single midfield place come next Saturday.

Christian Dailly was impressive again, a truly fine example of how to keep fit well into your 30s.

Alongside him, Gary Doherty looked a little ponderous on occasion, although in League One he will rarely be tested for pace, perhaps explaining Paul Lambert's decision to let him leave following Norwich's promotion.

It's curious to note that he calls for the ball by shouting "DOC" even though his name is spelt "Doherty". Better than shouting "DOH" I suspect.

Chris Solly again looked a little intimidated, and it was little surprise that Parkinson has brought in a more experienced alternative, although the youngster's versatility and workrate should ensure plenty of playing time this season.

His replacement Yado Mambo meanwhile is a beast of a man, exceptionally well built for a mere teenager.

Johnnie Jackson is solid if rather unspectacular. His dead ball delivery is impressive however, suggesting we will pack a threat in this department with the likes of Dailly, Doherty, Sodje and now Abbott providing plenty of physical presence.

Elsewhere, Guillem Bauza continues to seek a contract. The floppy-haired Spaniard potentially offers a dose of unpredictability, but we are surely still on the lookout for the type of canny poacher who can score 20 goals this season.

The other trailist (Guillaume Norbert) was not given much time to play a role, although he slotted in at right midfield, perhaps suggesting Parkinson thinks Wagstaff cannot yet be relied on to play a full season on the flank.

All in all then, a more promising performance against an ordinary looking Watford side who look relegation fodder to me.

Parkinson's signings all seem extremely sensible and thoughtful so far, although the hard work now will be creating the 'secret sauce' that will turn a promising looking side into a promotion one.