Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Stephens Rocket!

Charlton Athletic 1 - Bury 1.

The game tonight was going to be 'one of those games.'

You know the kind.

They're those games where you race out of work to get there in time to take your seat seconds before kick off, your belly is grumbling all through the match as you haven't eaten since lunch, you are losing all feeling in your fingers and toes due to the cold and to add insult to injury, the opposition have been for the most part outplayed yet their one effort on target has sneaked through your keepers hands.

The first half was all Charlton.
As people started to stretch their legs for their half time snacks and hot drinks, Bury managed to split the defence and John Lewis 'sold' Hamer a shot he will surely feel he should have stopped.

HT and 1-0 down.
It had been a while since we'd been behind at home.

The second half plodded on in the same fashion.

Things just weren't clicking for the Addicks.

Possession might be nine tenths of the law but unfortunately, Charlton just couldn't transfer the dominance into meaningful attempts on goal.

Pritchard and Haynes came on for Hollands and Clarke as Charlton looked to grab something from the game but we'd all seen this script played out many times before at Charlton.

We know the story.
After beating our rivals, we fall to a team of strugglers.

I'd resigned myself to our unbeaten home record disappearing and I imagine most others had too.

As the game entered added on time and Bury were attempting to waste every second of it, Dale Stephens scored one of the best goals I've seen at the Valley.

He sent in a proper Roy of the Rovers screamer into the top corner from around 40 yards out.

The Bury players fell to the floor in despair and the sparse crowd of under 14,000 celebrated as if we'd won the game.

I'm off to warm up.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

An Evening With Joe Cole.

Amazing Grace?
LOSC Lille 3  -  St. Etienne 0.

This weekend was quite like many of my weekends.

A bit of live football and some beers.

The main difference this time was it had taken around 20 years in the planning stages.

Many moons ago, when I was younger, still had something of a say in my hairstyle and the world seemed full of possibilities, I often spent time chatting with my good friend Adam about the possibility of going to see some football in France.

Both of us fancied ourselves as Europeans, rather than little Englanders, and we felt it might be fun to take a trip and see what was happening in the French league.

Over many beers and many years, our potential trip started to take on a mythical status.

Would we ever take our trip?

Just before Christmas 2011, Adam and myself found ourselves enjoying the wares of a convivial pub in Whitehall.

As ever, talk returned to our 'French football trip'.

I'm not sure why but on this occasion something snapped and the whole thing started to become real.

Yesterday, as many Charlton supporters were heading West to the charming cathedral city of Exeter, I found myself heading to St Pancras International to board a train to Lille.

We were off!

The first shock of the day was when Adam announced the kick off time. He'd been online to check the LOSC website and been amazed to discover what time we needed to be at the stadium.

We knew it was an evening game but 9pm seemed a tad late.

Needless to say, it just gave us more time to enjoy the city and see what was on offer.

I'd been to Lille before and on my first visit, had expected it to be some industrial horror with little in the way of beauty. 
I now knew it should be compared to some of the wonderful Belgian towns in both architecture and food.

Adam at Les 3 Brasseurs
We took in the Grande Place, ambled around the shops and walked towards the Citadel before settling in a highly recommended, (by me), microbrewery of the kind quite frequently found just over the border in Belgium.

It would have been very easy to have stayed there for the rest of the weekend but we dragged ourselves on to the Metro and caught the subway train to the match.

Our match ticket entitled us to free transport for 2 hours before and after the game which seemed quite a sensible thing to promote.

As it turned out, very few people seemed to have taken up the offer. There were a few people who got off at the same station as us but in general, most people had made their way to the match by car.

We walked in semi darkness through a grim housing estate before the shining floodlights of the Stadium Lille Metropole showed us our destination in the near distance.

The crowd were quite sparse when we arrived. They were also silent.
The ground gradually filled up, (we had been reliably informed the game was a sell out) and then around 2 minutes before kick off the place went nuts!

The slow build up of tension and atmosphere we experience in England just wasn't there. 
It went from absolutely nothing to hardcore fanatic in a blink of an eye.

The crowd swung their scarves around their heads and sang a song to the tune of Amazing Grace.

I was quite impressed.

The area to our right where the Ultras seemed to have congregated was going potty, then something happened, there was a mass exodus of a particular block, lots of booing and launching of ripped up (free) club news sheets followed by empty plastic beer glasses.

I've no idea what went on but around half an hour into the game, everyone rushed back into the section and carried on as if nothing had happened.

The teams were announced and the woman on the tannoy did that vaguely cheesy thing of saying the first name of each player so the crowd shout the surname.

We joined in when Joe Cole, currently playing for Lille, showed up on the big screen doing his daft dance for the cameras.
I should point out ALL the Lille players did some crud sub Hip Hip style posturing for the cameras as it was their turn to be announced.

Lille are in the process of building a new mega stadium to compete with other clubs who have Champions League ambitions.
At present, they are playing in a municipal stadium, really better suited for athletics but still holding 18,000.

Having been to the Withdean at Brighton a couple of times, I feared the worst but the view, and atmosphere were pretty good.

The first half of the game was pretty forgettable.

At half time I went to use the toilet facilities and couldn't believe the height of the urinals.
I'm around 6 feet tall with my shoes on, yet I had to 'perform' on tip toes such was the design of the WC's.

The second half was much, much better.

Early on, Lille were awarded a penalty which was tucked away without too much anxiety by Hazard.

Later, Joe Cole, (who we had been hoping would score so we could maybe capture some reflected glory from the people around us), managed to shank an absolute sitter past the post when the entire stadium was sure he was about to wheel away in celebration.


Joe was substituted with the score at 1-0 and about 10 minutes to play.

About three minutes later, The St Etienne goalkeeper Ruffier pulled off a remarkable save, only for the ball to fall kindly for the new boy Nolan Roux to score on what appeared to be his debut, (if the excitable woman on the tannoy was translated correctly).

It got better as only a minute later, Roux managed to tuck the ball past the impressive keeper once more, as the St. Etienne defence completely evaporated.

Song 2 by Blur blasted out, followed by the opening riff of Walk this Way by Run DMC / Aerosmith,  now for the third time.

We all sounded like a herd of Guernsey cows as the crowd chanted ROUX!

The game ended with the home fans going doolally again, singing their Amazing Grace tune.

Unfortunately, by the end of the game it was after 11pm and I was frozen.

I had a thick coat, gloves and hat but it just wasn't enough for the temperature.
It must have been well below zero.

On the subway back to the city centre I had my (tiny) Charlton badge on my coat noticed.
It turned out to be a Villa fan who lives in Surrey who was wondering why we were so far from home.

"We fancied a change," seemed to be enough to satisfy his curiosity.

A couple of beers in our favourite microbrewery were just the ticket to wash down some warming chips before heading back to the hotel.

Today, we ate a fantastic buffet breakfast overlooking the city from a room with a magnificent panoramic view, then wandered around Lille some more before our late afternoon train back to London.

Our favourite microbrewery

What I hadn't expected was absolutely everything to be completely shut.

In London, we are used to a few watery restrictions on trading each Sunday but Lille appeared to be like a small Devon village in 1972.

It's Sunday so that's it. Everything closed.

We ambled around some more, contemplated for a millisecond taking in the Lace Museum but with some relief realised it was closed too.

As a child, when visiting any new town or resort with the family, the worst case scenario was when Dad decided we should go and have a 'stimulating' church visit as part of our explorations.

I had nothing against churches but quite frankly, as a young boy, I'd rather be outside.

Today, we went to have a look in the Cathedrale Notre Dame de la Treille.
It has been built in stages with a most obvious modern part fully complimenting the old parts.

It was cold outside but I'd like to think it was the beauty of the building that kept the both of us entranced by the stained glass and totally awe inspiring architecture.

On the way home, while speeding through Kent at ridiculous speeds, Adam and I discussed returning to Lille when the new LOSC stadium is up and running.

I wonder if Joe will still be there? 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Jackson Does It Again!

Charlton Athletic 1 - Sheffield United 0.

For the first 20 minutes of the game today I thought Sheffield United were the better team.

They came to London and most certainly had a go.
The park the bus tactics of Tranmere or Oldham weren't for them and they played some good stuff in the early exchanges.

Charlton hadn't really got going when a free kick was awarded for a foul on Hollands around 20 yards out.

We debated if Jackson would be the taker or maybe Yann Kermorgant would be given a chance to reprise his effort at Yeovil.

Johnnie Jackson stepped up and proved (to ex CAFC Miguel Llera among others), that last weeks perfect strike wasn't in any way 'lucky'.

Last weekend at Sheffield Wednesday, Jackson picked the spot in the top corner to the 'keepers left.
This week it was top corner, to the right.

I never thought I'd see a better Charlton free kick taker than Claus Jensen.
It now seems Claus has been equalled.

The rest of the half was quite a lot of huff and puff but neither side managed to find that final killer moment.

The second half came to life with around 15 minutes to go.
Charlton's Daryl Russell and United's James Beattie came on as substitutes.
We chuckled when Crispy christened Beattie 'Maureen Lipman'.

Little did we know that both players would be making brief appearances.

Russell came in for a couple of harsh challenges, nothing too strong but enough for the very fussy referee Deadman to hand out yellow cards.
Soon after, what seemed to be a well timed challenge, this time by Russell, had the referee waving his red card.
Astounded wasn't the word for it.

Having seen the incident again and checked @MiserableOlGit's picture, it really does seem to me like a decision that was perhaps made in haste when a deep breath might have been needed.
Red card?
In the aftermath of pushing, shoving, pointing and posturing I'd completely missed 'Maureen' getting stuck in.
He was shown the red card too.
We had absolutely no idea what he'd done but we were pleased that if we had to go down to ten men, then United had suffered the same fate.

After the game, some pretty graphic pictures emerged of Beattie trying to become the South London strangler.
He only has himself to blame.

The final 5 minutes and added on time weren't as nervy as they might have been.
The defence stood solid and even though the Yorkshiremen pushed forward, they hadn't brought their shooting boots.

Chris Powell was applauded from the pitch, the referee was given the bird from all four sides of the Valley.

A Casual Rating.
Sheffield United are the best side to come to the Valley in my opinion.
 It's a shame for them that they left pointless, yet the anti football of Oldham etc. have managed to grind out draws.

Johnnie Jackson is my MOM for his wonder goal and naturally is receiving the Lacoste polo.

Charlton weren't quite clicking today.
The defence are working well as a unit, the link play between midfield and the forwards is fine and the forward runs of Wiggins, Solly and Green are going well too but it just isn't quite flowing properly.
This all means nothing of course as Jackson's superlative free kick was good enough to win any game, at any level.

I'd settle for 1-0 wins in a similar fashion over the next few months but I still think there's more to come from this team.

Ref Watch.
Mr. Deadman arrived with a reputation for handing out cards and he didn't disappoint on that score.
He lost control in the final stages when both teams were angry at the sendings off and attempting to kick lumps out of each other.

I hope he's not on the list for another Charlton game and that is probably my final word on the subject.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Massive Attack.

Massive Sheffield Wednesday 0 - Average Charlton Athletic 1.

The build up, at least as far as many Wendies were concerned, was all about just how bloomin' MASSIVE a club Sheffield Wednesday are.

Surely, all they needed to do was show up in their MASSIVE numbers and those upstarts from South London would crumble at the feet of their lords and masters?

Sheffield Wednesday are a great club with a magnificent history but as we have learned to our cost, (over tortuous recent seasons), it all counts for nothing on the pitch.

Wednesday were unbeaten at home until today for a reason.
They are a good side.

It's arguable Jose Semedo wouldn't have been a part of the new and improved Charlton Athletic this season.
However, it's easy to tell he is just the kind of player Megson was desperate to have at Sheffield.

Semedo typifies the Wednesday/Megson style of hard work, crunching tackles and brawn over anything flamboyant.
Regular Megson watchers may disagree with this appraisal but it's been shown many times the approach is just what is needed to climb out of this division.

It's horses for courses isn't it?
The Wednesday glory days of superstars such as Chris Waddle and Mark Bright had teams that were fun for a neutral to watch but that approach, it is assumed, isn't really any use against the cloggers of league one.

Last season we, and Chris Powell no doubt, noted it wasn't the one true path.

Brighton were able to mix it when needed but had players who were comfortable on the ball.
If Gary Megson had come to the Valley instead of Chris Powell one year ago, I'd argue very little would have changed.

Today, one piece of sublime skill from captain Johnnie Jackson was enough to bring the points back to SE7.

A rasping free kick gave ex CAFC Weaver little chance to keep the ball out.

If you take the word of many disgruntled social media savvy Wendies, Charlton then killed the game and relied upon a dodgy ref to keep out the superior Northerners.

It certainly didn't seem that way.

Wednesday, (as the home side would be expected to do), were roared on by 26,000 and tried again and again to break down the dogged Charlton defence.

Some fantastic last ditch challenges, and even a clearance off the line as the game entered the very final stages, were enough to make those of us who care about Charlton really feel the stresses of football.

As Wednesday pushed forward they left gaps at the back and probably should have lost 2-0 with the last kick of the game.

Wednesday gave it everything.
It just wasn't enough.
The 3 points, plus a very satisfying clean sheet, were heading to London.

It's part 2 of our Sheffield double header next weekend.
Still Top of the League, regardless of what happens against the Blades but another win would really make our position at the summit seem rock solid.

Casual Rating.
The team came through what is possibly their toughest test without too many hiccups.
Every one of the Charlton side are recipients of the CC Lacoste polo this time.

A special mention must go to those Charlton supporters who were seriously let down by the East Midland train company.
Perhaps some of them made it to the game before it ended?
If they did, it was no thanks to the train company.

Safe journey home everyone.

So, who has the only unbeaten home record in the league?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Beaten But Not Downhearted.

The team clap the crowd, the crowd clap the team.

Yesterday was never about a fixture we expected to win.
The game was an exercise to see how far behind our set of players are, when matched against those in the top division.

Fulham gave Chris Powell the hugest of compliments by playing their strongest side.

The Cottagers were so much better than Charlton, it would have taken a bizarre sequence of fluke goals and dodgy penalties for our plucky lads to get anything out of the game.

As it turned out, Fulham were the recipients of 2 goals coming from wicked deflections and they managed to get their own 'contentious' penalty.

When I think back to yesterday, I won't be remembering the final score that most of the media have labelled 'flattering' to Fulham.
4-0 sounds like a rout.
It most certainly was not.

I'll be remembering the 7000 Addicks all bellowing for 90 minutes, without cease, even when we had just conceded.
I'll remember the bobbing heads as our supporters bounced on the spot, time and time again.
I'll remember the way the home support carried on their sponsored silence, even after they'd scored.
I'll remember the way the loud speakers played (crud) music into our section, trying to drown us out.
I'll remember the sea of smiles, everyone was having a good time.

Mostly I'll remember the 20 minute period in the second half when the score was 1-0 and the tier 3 boys were stroking the ball about, matching the Premier League hotshots.

The Fulham 'keeper Stockdale was immense.
He pulled off 3 remarkable saves to deny Danny Green, BWP and Kermorgant.

With a little fortune, any of those chances may have sent the visitors into raptures over what would surely be merely a consolation goal.

Martin Jol paid Chris Powell another compliment by bringing on Damien Duff late on.
Fulham instantly were a yard quicker and every movement forward looked dangerous.

The headlines today are all about how Clint Dempsey scored a hat trick to knock out league one opposition.

I like Dempsey.
He doesn't seem to be one of those big headed, big night out, WAG chasing immatures the Premier league is awash with.

He took his goals well but I'm sorry Clint, it wasn't in the least bit important.
Well done on the win but it's just a side affair to what's really important to us.

Some unkind Fulham supporters have tried to say that yesterday was our 'cup final'.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Yes, it was a fun day out but we are Charlton.
Why would we be excited about visiting a ground that may be Premier League, but is actually not as good as The Valley?

I think I was far more excited, and it was also more 'important', when Huddersfield came to the Valley.
I can't expect a Fulham supporter to understand.

A Casual Rating.
Phil Dowd may get a lot of bad press but I thought he refereed well yesterday.
He was certainly better than the tier 3 officials we have to put up with.
The penalty was marginal to say the least but it's just the kind of decision we see given on MOTD every week, as players 'win' penalties, regardless of the intentions of the defenders.

The Fulham crowd were very, (ahem), sedate.
Yes we all crowed about how they were poor supporters etc etc but I can also remember teams from lower down the food chain shipping up at the Valley, when we were in the Premier League, and feeling quite underwhelmed.
It took quite a bit of a push to get me going and I assume the Fulham fans were feeling much the same.

My only regret about yesterday is that before the game, while enjoying some fine CAMRA beers in The Bricklayers Arms in the company of Crispy, Jim and Al, I predicted a 4-0 reversal.

Somehow, by the time we'd walked from Putney to the ground, my bet had become Chris Solly to score the final goal.

Solly was my MOM.
He looked comfortable for most of the game.
He's certainly one for the future.

The Bricklayers is a fine pub and we retired there after the game to put the world to rights.
I've no idea what I was drinking as more and more beers ran out but I didn't have a single bad one.

It's back to the real job now.

The workout yesterday was just the perfect leg stretcher for Hillsborough next weekend.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Brentford Electrocuted.

Charlton Athletic 2 - Brentford 0.

Despite the title, Brentford most certainly were not the cannon fodder the final score might suggest.

Charlton Athletic, as a club and business, should be applauded for making sure the fixture went ahead, even after what seemed to be a fairly serious electrical fault in the Upper North Stand.

Perhaps, for maybe the first time, we are fortunate not to be filling the Valley at present as it gave space for people to move to.

If the problem had happened in the Premiership or Championship days, perhaps the game may have had to be postponed?

The game kicked off 15 minutes late and Brentford set about the home side with gusto.
Charlton seemed to be slow out of the traps and Brentford looked quite dangerous when going forward.

The first half belonged to the Bees.

 They were sharper and more incisive, stroking the ball around midfield.
Luckily, they were also pretty toothless up front.

Against the run of play, Michael Morrison bravely scored with a diving header to beat the keeper, Lee to the ball.

A long throw ended up with Brentford's defence all over the place.
I don't know what Lee was doing but it most certainly wasn't keeping goal!
He'll be really disappointed when he sits back to review his performance.

Despite going behind, Brentford kept plugging away but didn't manage to grab anything their dominance deserved.

At half time we felt quite lucky to be 1-0 up.

The second half was completely different.
The crowd woke up a bit.
Charlton had obviously been given some 'encouragement' from Chris Powell and seemed quicker and more lively.
Huge swathes of the North stand found themselves forcibly on the move.

What didn't change was the appalling East stand linesman who had obviously enjoyed a really good Christmas.

He was so portly he found it difficult to keep up with play and made some absolute howlers.

I'm surprised he didn't come back after half time with Mince Pie crumbs down the front of his shirt.

Or maybe he did?

Another thing that didn't change was the treatment being handed out to BWP.
Despite his recent lack of scoring, Brentford targeted him as a danger man and tried to clobber him at every opportunity.

I lost count of how many times he was kicked off the ball or received an overly hard challenge.

The ref wasn't interested of course. He was only interested in the really important things like the ball hitting an arm.

Both Solly and Cort received yellow cards for ball to hands and Wiggins received one for supposedly time wasting as he approached the ball to take a free kick.

Brentford managed to exit the pitch without a single caution.
Odd eh?

Charlton swept forward again and again but it looked as if we were only going to get to cheer a single goal.

Johnnie Jackson hit the post with a bullet header and other promising chances came to nothing.

New signing Clarke had a decent effort, only to be saved by Lee and the rebound was skied by the returning Wagstaff.

It became very uncomfortable in the final 5 minutes as Brentford had a second wind.

They really could have annoyed the majority of those present when a really good chance was skewed wide.

Instead, as is often the way, Green managed to put the icing on the cake when he kept his cool and slotted the ball past a stranded Lee.

2-0 and game over.

As one fellow teacher had bet on Morrison to score first and for a final score of 2-0, for the first time ever I was willing Charlton to take it easy rather than go for a killer 3rd!

Green managed to go very nearly half a season without scoring and now he's managed to strike gold in both of his latest starts.

BWP is surely deserving of a goal due to his tireless running. It'll come Bradley, don't despair!

A Casual Rating
I'm giving Lacoste polo shirts to Chris 'Quality' Solly, Michael Morrison and Yann Kermorgant for being star performers today and another to Danny Green for his first goal (as an Addick!) at The Valley.
Well done chaps.

Brentford only brought around 1000 supporters with them but they attempted to get behind their team with some success.
There weren't many of them but they seemed keen to have a shout.

Our crowd were very slow to get started and only really came alive in the second half.
Perhaps those of us who were at Leyton Orient less than 48 hours ago somewhat over did it and were still recovering?

Ref Watch.
Mr G. Scott and friends, here's your prize.

So, still top of the league and due to Sheffield United fluffing their chance today, we have extended the lead to 5 points.

I'm warming to 2012.

Talking 'Bout a Resolution.

A New Year has started and it would seem we have plenty to look forward to.

London will become the focus of the sporting calendar in the summer as the Olympic merchandise machine pitches up all over town but the main focus being just over the river.

I'm relatively excited about the Olympics.
Witnessing the new structures being built locally has been interesting and whatever the legacy left after the brief moment in the sun, nobody can argue against something needing to be done about some very deprived areas of our city.

I've resigned myself to the fact that England will never host the Football World Cup Finals in my lifetime, mostly due to the jiggery pokery of Sepp Blatter and his greasy friends. 

The Olympics will have to be 'my' event to mention when I'm an old man.

I did see England beat Holland at Wembley during Euro '96 but that's it as far as big events go.
I have tickets for some Olympic sports and intend to thoroughly enjoy myself.

Despite the disruption and cost I am still largely in favour of the Olympics coming to London.
 However, I do feel they are being run for the benefit of those visiting from abroad and those people coming from out of town.

The transport links are going to be great if you are coming from up North or Paris to see your chosen games.
It's going to be chaos for anybody who lives locally and just needs to get to work, due to many services being cut or diverted so that Pierre can have an easier journey.

*and don't get me started on the plans for anybody who lives around here who fancies heading out to see friends, by car, in daylight hours!

While I'm also having a moan, what happened to the free or reduced price tickets being offered to all the school children in the Olympic boroughs?
Unfortunately, just another empty promise.

We also have the Euros in Poland and Ukraine to look forward to. 
I seem to have lost much of my interest in our national team over the last 5 or 6 years. 
There was a time when I really felt those young men represented me.  
Players such as Terry Butcher, Paul Ince, Stuart Pearce etc loved playing for their country and you could tell it meant the world to them.

Todays crop of players, unless it's their first cap, don't seem that fussed about pulling on the 3 lioned shirt, and even then it's possibly only to put them in the shop window for a 'big move'.

Some of todays top players are such a despicable bunch I'd be proud to have them not representing me, such are their "over paid, borderline rapist tendencies". 
(thanks Bill Bailey).

No doubt, when it comes to it, I'll be with friends, gathered around a television, drinking beers and stuffing Doritos but the 'thrill' I had when England played is something very much in my past.

On a personal level, I'm looking forward to Charlton continuing the progress under Chris Powell.
It's been a tough few years to be an Addick but the feeling is this could be our season, our year.
To start the New Year on top of the league is more than many of us hoped for.

Yesterday we went down to Whitstable in Kent.

Whitstable Harbour.
I love sea food but a visit to Whitstable and seeing the gorgeous array, always makes me think I should be eating more. 
Most years my New Year Resolution is to eat more fruit and vegetables but this year it's going to be fish.
As always, I treated myself to oysters, though this time I had Native rather than Rock and very tasty they were too.

Upon returning home, as any Charlton fan should, I had some pan fried haddock so I've started off well.

I'd like to reiterate my Happy New Year to everybody, (other than those scare mongering nut jobs who have decided we won't be making it to 2013).