Friday, July 30, 2010

Seasons to be Cheerful Part 2

I am finally waking up to the new football season that is upon us, after a summer of not really caring about men kicking balls about. It does seem like along time ago that I was in Paris and England were being humbled by the Germans. All that stick I took from my new work colleagues as they sat the other side of the Rhine is but a distant memory. Spain won the World Cup, and Holland lost it, in a rather drab final only coloured by Howard Webb’s flashing of yellow cards. But that game feels like it was a long time ago now.

The reason for my stirring is, I guess, the fact that we (Charlton) are just one week away from the first league game of the season and of course my season ticket has arrived in the post. It seems like an age ago that I sent off my form to re-new my ticket back in March, and the good news is that the block of seats that my friends and I occupy is expanding from four to five this year. How often we fill all five seats is debatable, but we have all shown commitment which is great! I was really pleased with our new view last season, having moved from one end of a block to the other, nearer the half-way line. Being right behind the away dug-out does give a different perspective to some other views I’m sure, as it is easy to see what managers (and coaches) are trying to communicate, and how that may effect the game. You can also have some fun with the oppo too, and a highlight last year was Gus Poyet’s interaction with the home fans behind him. Other managers get wound up very easily, and the local guys give them a hard time too, with several being made to apologise for swearing!

Pre-season is a funny time in the lower leagues, with managers coming back to training in early July with hardly enough players to fill a team, unless you include the first year professionals. Charlton, and Phil Parkinson, were no different; several triallists have been brought in, looked at, watched, given game time, and discussed. Some are still here, and still on trial, and some have moved on to find other clubs or opportunities; one or two may even sign for the club, who knows?

Slowly, the club is sorting itself out from the mess that came upon us; out of the door have gone all of the expensive salaries that the club could not cope with, and nobody is really upset to see either Yassin Moutaouakil or Izale McLeod leave the club. Neither has yet picked up a new deal anywhere, so maybe that is an indication of how good they really were?

Other departures have not been so well received, but the funds that the sales have brought in have been necessary and pretty good in the current climate. Since April, Jonjo Shelvey, Nicky Bailey, and Frazer Richardson have all been sold. Darren Randolph moved on too, as did Deon Burton and, sadly, Lloyd Sam, when their contracts ended. Grant Basey may yet follow them out of the door and with six other players released when their contracts ended in June, the club has had quite a clear out.

Obviously new signings have been required to fill the void left by all the departures, and I doubt that many fans are unhappy about any of the six players Phil Parkinson (left) has signed so far. Gary Doherty was in the League One Team of the Season last year, so to get him on a free transfer is very good business. A solid centre half, he captained Norwich for much of last season, and should be fitter than the not-retained Sam Sodje, if not quite as much fun.

Johnny Jackson has also signed for the club permanently, having played a month on loan for us last February. He is versatile and can play at left back (where he was used by Parky last year), or on the left or centrally in midfield. He has experience, nous, and sweet left foot.

Kyel Reid has also put his name on the dotted line, and he will be an able replacement for the departed Sam, albeit on the opposite wing I expect. Reid scored four goals (if you include the Exeter effort) in 18 games on loan for us last season, and he could easily get double figures if he starts every week this year.

The fourth signing is one I have less information about – Alan McCormack; a midfielder from Southend who again did not cost a penny, I doubt he will be as good as Bailey, but we cannot expect all our midfield signings to score a dozen goals each season (go on, prove me wrong)!

The fifth signing, made very recently, is that of full back Simon Francis, again from Southend, who is a like-for-like cheaper replacement for Richardson. Francis cost a fee, unlike any of the others, and he makes it two former-club players of the year to join our new look defence.

The rumours that the club were in the market for a striker to supplement Akpo Sodje and Tamer Tuna – the only two forwards at the club bar first year pro Lewis Perkins - were proved true late today as Pawel Abbott signed from Oldham. How we would love him to be the next like Clive Mendonca! Abbott has played for Poland but has an English mother, and he has played most of his games in the north of England. Big, strong, and knows where the goals are would describe him quite well, and I doubt he knows the meaning of the word finesse let alone how to spell it!

It has also been good to retain some of the players who were out of contract but who the club wanted to keep; while Sam and Randolph moved on, Christian Dailly, Chris Solly, and Scott Wagstaff have all re-signed for Charlton. All three are probably going to be key players for the club this season, and the potential for Dailly’s partnership with Doherty is great; they may not be the quickest, but they have more experience (and international caps I suspect) than any other central defensive pair in this league? Solly will back up the club’s full backs on both sides of the pitch, while Wagstaff is pencilled in as the right side midfielder from August until May.

The deal which took Shelvey to Liverpool may yet see a young player (or two) sent back to Charlton on loan as part of the deal. I am guessing, but this could work out very well for the Addicks, bearing in mind the strength of the signings made so far! With the inevitable loan signings (and not just any from Liverpool) plugging any gaps when and where required, we could be a pretty strong team, and certainly on a par with last years squad.

As for Richard Murray (top pic), he has worked hard all summer despite having a heart operation back in June. He has taken steps to consolidate the debts of the club, and with the help and agreement of his fellow directors, he is trying to take sole responsibility. This is a fantastic gesture by Murray (who will have most to lose) and the other directors who it seems have written off (most if not all of) any monies owed to them by the club, and sold/given (almost the same thing I suspect) their shares to Murray.

This move does help if the club are looking for new investment too, as it means that any potential investor only has to deal with one person, who may, or may not, be more conducive to a deal than other soon-to-be ex-directors. All of this is subject to an agreement of shareholders at a forthcoming EGM, but it is very exciting news for fans and shareholders (like me).

Any future agreement is obviously a long way off, and subject to lots of talks and negotiation, but if the rumoured investment were to come from Geneva, and involve the person mentioned in despatches (left), then that would be a good thing in my mind.

Whatever happens though, the club has to cut its cloth accordingly; gone are the days when any and every football club could ring up huge debts with wealthy benefactors always around the corner wanting their five minutes in the directors box ready to bale clubs out. Portsmouth, Cardiff, and Southend (to name but three) are all in big trouble, and at some stage soon, a club will be wound-up; it’s just a matter of time.

For Charlton, the boardroom re-shuffle seems to have taken those worries away for a while, and provided the club spend wisely, we should be OK. Just because we may see new investment doesn’t mean that we can be profligate – this summer has seen cut-backs involving the big TV screen, the website, and office staff, with several redundancies sadly (including Steve Gritt and Steve Waggott!). While I like the screen. I would rather it was not used than have it obviously beyond repair at times, as it was with pixels broken last year. We fans rarely have one at away games, so I’m sure we can cope. The website is another old favourite that I will miss deeply, especially as I hate the Premium TV branded websites that some 66 other clubs have. This change will bring in additional revenues though, so has to be commended.

We have new kit once more, after the deal with Joma ran out, and the Macron brand has taken on the task of keeping punters happy. As long as the home shirt is red, I don’t care what makers name is on it.

So we come to the new season, and it’s time for a few predictions. Like many, I do think Southampton are favourites to romp away with the league title (any indication of less will see Pardew chopped for sure!). Huddersfield will be stronger than last year, and Brighton have a certain confidence that may see them do very well, if they can keep their manager. Of the relegated clubs (usually the biggest danger), Sheffield Wednesday will be up there, but have a fairly new team to gel (a bit like Charlton last season), and Peterborough have good forwards, which will see them quite strong I think; Plymouth may not be so settled, having lost many of their better players. For Charlton, I do think that our defence should be OK, and we have a decent first choice midfield too (Semedo and Racon); if we can feed the strikers, and find a spark from the wings, we could do well, or even better than that?

Pedro45 will put his neck on the block and predict a play-off place once more for Addicks fans (which is better than I thought for last season!).

And lastly, dear reader, we come to this blog and what to do. After five years of hard work and mainly thorough enjoyment, I am going to change my ways. No longer will Pedro45 be able to provide match previews and match reviews on a regular basis (even if I wanted to continue). I will therefore use this site as more of a general comment area (maybe monthly?) when I have something to say on Charlton, rather than continuing with the same tired format every year bashing something out before and after every game. Blogs come and go (and we’ve had quite a few over the years to read on all things Charlton), and this one will remain live, but I suspect that it will be less populated from now and I hope that this is OK with you. There are some great blogs that I have to try to compete with, and I hope that they all continue, along with the new ones that seem to spring up every year. Thay kan all rite betta then me!

Up the Addicks!


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Le Cup du Monde

It’s been a strange few weeks for me football-wise.

With the World Cup coming to a close, I have been interested, but without ever getting fully enveloped in the beautiful game, and certainly not to the extent that the media (both TV and press) would want. Maybe it’s a Swindon game legacy, I don’t know…

I struggled to get very excited about England’s prospects in advance, and really do hate all the hype that we see prior to any major tournament. I really didn’t care what the score was when we played Japan in Austria (remember that?), and as for the warm-up games in South Africa, how can we only be good enough to beat a local team 3-0? That for me did sum up our chances.

The squad seemed to self-implode as they settled into their plush surroundings high on the veldt, and with captain Rio Ferdinand knackering his knee (when Emile Heskey fell on him), the signs were ominous. Of course, Ferdinand was only a reserve skipper anyway, after John Terry was sacked after bed-hopping while his England team-mate was away. Rio of course, lest we forget, was once banned for eight months for missing a post-game drugs test which doesn’t really show him to be leadership material. This left manager Fabio Capello with the onerous task of picking a new captain, and he ended up with Steven Gerrard. Gerrard is captain of Liverpool, and has been for some years, but he himself is not exactly squeaky clean, and it was only in January that he was finally cleared (by an all Liverpool jury) of actual bodily harm after getting into some sort of fight in a nightclub (and not for the first time either). Subsequently, the Irish Times has printed rumours of Stevie G getting jiggy-jiggy with his wife’s sixteen year old sister, or is it his wife’s sister and a sixteen year old, or his wife's sister for sixteen years? I don’t know. They say there is no smoke without fire… Even Wayne Rooney has a blackened past that is tainting his apparently now happy family life; well before he tied the knot with Colleen, stories about him paying large sums for the services of Cheshire ladies to help party the night away with team-mates were strewn throughout the gutter press.

So if the squad – minus Ferdinand, Terry, Rooney and Gerrard – were worried about anything, who could they turn to?

Certainly not any other player, as they had shown– by their composite actions – to be stupid, deceitful, rowdy, and downright dirty.

A player, any player, could hardly turn to the manager either for a chat about something that was worrying him – even if that worry concerned having to be billeted with the above four players! – as Fabio Capello’s spoken English has proved to be fallible when under pressure. He does well (in my opinion), but still needs the services of a translator when being questioned by the media after games, to help him with those, how we say, difficult words. You cannot go to Capello with a problem as you have no idea if he will know what you are talking about!

And this, dear reader, is why I think that the England team struggled to gel at all while they were in South Africa. Team bonding is such an important part of sport these days, and without it, whatever team you pick and however talented your players may be, you will win nothing. If you cannot trust your team-mates off the pitch, how can you trust them on it?

I watched the first England game in our clubhouse and lambasted the West Ham fan when Robert Green let slip an easy shot. My, how long ago that seems! I watched the Slovenia game at home alone, with my frustrations being fielded by my wife in the kitchen. I was at work when we played Algeria, and though I was invited to go down the pub and watch with new work colleagues, I declined, and sat in the office listening to the Radio 5 Live commentary as ex-Addick Jermain Defoe spared England’s blushes and brought about the necessary win.

The next day, I went to Paris, and spent four days there having fun to celebrate my wife’s birthday. She was happy to spend some of that time sat in a bar watching games, but we also stumbled (if that was possible) on the FIFA Fans Park in between the Eiffel Tower and the hill leading up to the Trocadero. I had heard of this sort of park being set up around the world, but had never seen one before, and I was quite impressed.

Paris, being ever so cosmopolitan, had laid on a feast, and the park was pretty full most days we went near it (our hotel was only a couple of hundred yards away, so we did go near on most days). You could tell who was playing simply by the volume of flags or shirts of a particular country that were in the vicinity.
The first time we went past, it was Italy (and we heard the screams when they conceded and subsequently went out at the first round stage, much to the hilarity of the French I might add, who felt less humbled as a result!), and then a couple of day’s later it was the Brazil versus Portugal game which saw I suspect every Portuguese speaker in the city arrive on that hill. It was lovely to see the fans – male and female - mingle with each other, bearing flags of red and green or yellow and blue, football shirts aplenty, chatting away in their mother tongue (left). It was a true celebration of football, the global game. On another day, it was Mexicans everywhere, and of course the Spanish were out in force around the time of their game too. No trouble, no problems, and all of them having fun!

Returning from Paris on Sunday afternoon seemed like a good idea when I booked the trip; had the USA not score that winning goal deep into injury time, I would have been able to watch England play their next opponents in that Paris fan park, but my train journey home was at much the same time as the game. When the 3pm kick-off came, I was just exiting the channel tunnel and arriving in the Kent countryside. Pulling into St Pancras twenty five minutes later, I knew that Germany had scored – the conductor (probably a Frenchwoman) announced it to the whole train. I raced home, hoping to not hear any further score updates and extra time, but when I got to Bromley I had to walk past a couple of pubs/bars that were showing the game.

Now into the second half, I could hear anguished shouts and wavering support. A near miss judging by the familiar sounds,I told my wife, then there was a goal, I was sure. A small kid shouted to a friend that it was 3-1; it couldn’t be to England as he would have been happier. By the time I got home – with ten minutes or so left to play – it was 4-1, and the knives were out.

Lee Dixon, Alan Shearer and Alan Hansen ripped into the England performance. I had no idea about the “goal” that wasn’t allowed at that stage, and sat as they replayed the key moments. Some poor defence, a lucky break, and a bad decision saw England 2-1 down, and then two breakaway goals sealed the game. If England had been victorious in that way we would have called them world beaters, but they didn’t and we won’t.

How many Germans would get in to the England team the papers asked? Not many we were told! Crazy – at least eight or nine I reckon!. How blinkered can you be?

Capello skulked back to Blighty with the guillotine wobbling above his neck, but seems set to survive (and so he should, as there is unlikely to be anyone better!), while the players have now all disappeared off on holiday prior to returning for pre-season training later this month.

As for Charlton links, well, Dennis and Jermain scored goals, and Magic and Danny played a big part in their teams fortunes. Will ex-Addicks ever get another chance to play on the world stage? Who knows!

In August, expect the newspapers – the same rags that bring us stories about the indiscretions of Rio, John, Wayne, and Stevie G – to remind us that they are among the best players in the world and definitely playing in the best league.

Le Cup du Monde quickly forgotten.

Back at The Valley, “Oh Nicky Bailey” has moved to Middlesboro, Stuart Fleetwood has dropped down a division to play for Hereford, and Frazer Richardson has joined Southampton, which has supplemented the desperately empty coffers to the tune of nearly £2 million quid. To my mind, the only other current player likely to command a fee would be Jose Semedo, but we don’t want to see him leave (please!). Darren Randolph has left the building too, joining Motherwell on a freebie, while Deon Burton is apparently in discussions about playing overseas.

Alan McCormack and Gary Doherty have joined on free transfers, and they look like being key first team players next season. I still hope that Christian Dailly will re-sign, and maybe Lloyd Sam will too, if we can afford him. Rumours about ex-loanees joining permanently include Johnnie Jackson and Kyel Reid, and we also desperately need some fire-power with Matt Harrold rumoured to be joining on trial, though he alone will not be enough to my mind.

Enjoy the final!

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