Wednesday 30 June 2010

Gerrard rumour

I have heard a strong rumour that Stevie G may be about to be the subject of a national scandal. If it's true, the press will have a field day and it would raise questions about his suitability to have lead his country at the World Cup. Trouble is, it's so outrageous that it sounds like it could only have been made up in Manchester. News of the World on Sunday!

Monday 28 June 2010

Murray on track for Nadal show-down

Andy Murray breezed past the thundering service game of big Sam Querrey this evening in straight sets. He will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Wednesday and will confident of seeing him off to reach Friday's semi-finals where he is most likely to face his nemesis in the shape of Raphael Nadal. A fully fit Nadal represents a massive hurdle but Murray's in deceptively good form and I can see him coming closer than ever to making a Wimbledon final appearance which would, in itself, be a major achievement for a Brit.

The latest football gossip is linking out-of-contract Lloyd Sam with a new club. His agent is saying he will still consider an offer to stay but it's hard to see him receiving anything that might be acceptable. The potential salt in the wound here would be if Palace were to land him. They are rumoured to be interested and if he follows in the footsteps of Darren Ambrose by making a successful transition, it will give us all yet more to complain about this year.

Murray to lift the gloom

After England's anticipated exit from the World Cup yesterday (a game that will surely make the final case for video technology in football), tennis fever should grip the nation this week as Andy Murray moves closer his a Wimbledon semi-final which looks about as good as it can get for the moody Scot. He faces Sam Querrey this evening in a match which should see him through to the quarter-finals where he will need to overcome a similarly ranked opponent to make the semis. Might be time to take a patriotic punt on Murray before his odds begin to shorten. You can still get 5-1 (Corals and others).

Friday 25 June 2010

Official Site independence to fall victim to cuts

It would seem that the club's insistence on maintaining full control of it's website and on-line interaction with it's fan-base is about to fall victim to the ongoing financial squeeze. The costs of maintaining our current independence looks like it's a premium of "£50,000 pa. Rick Everitt is canvassing for support and I would like to think we have enough about us to defy the gravity of the Football League and avoid succumbing to the sheep-dip website of all the other football league sides bar Leeds United.

Unfortunately, money's tight and my view is that we could probably find a number of other priorities to spend £50,000 on. If the Football League Interactive website is good enough for the overwhelming majority, I have to think it should be good enough for us. Beggars can't be choosers and all that. Faced with that or laying more staff off, I would like to think we would get more return on keeping more employees.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Managing expectations

On the day of a repressive coalition government budget, our club choose today as the day to soften the ultimate blow of another round of redundancies amongst the beleaguered staff. They have gone to the trouble of writing to all employees to advise of the risk of redundancy. However, you look at it, this is surely only a bit of window dressing for the actual redundancy letters that will follow. If the club aren't clear enough about their financial situation and the cuts that must be made by now, then I would be more concerned than ever. 

Dr Kish is also reporting that we will be down to ten senior contracted players by month end. You have to wonder just how much the club actually costs to run when even with that miserly level of staffing we are still struggling....

A few weeks back I suggested a home friendly against attractive opposition would the easiest way of generating some income but even that basic idea looks to be untenable. We have turned down the chance to play Spurs at the Valley, apparently because there was a risk we might not turn a profit on the day. Dear-oh-dear. Even Palace are prepared to take a similar risk by entertaining Chelsea. If the club don't see any value in home friendlies, I don't see any value in aways. On this basis, you have to assume that we will lose money from most home games we stage this season. The Board will have their fingers crossed that we make our now familiar immediate exit from both cup competitions away from home. Bah humbug!

Monday 21 June 2010

A sponsored walk

Breakfast in The Grand Hotel this morning over-looking a calm blue English Channel was a perfect way to start the day after the frustrations of the 52-mile slog from the Capital yesterday by bicycle. I was really looking forward to breaking four hours yesterday and for managing to scale the Beacon without my feet touching the ground. 

Frustratingly, I managed neither thanks to lousy organisation. I'm not sure exactly what went wrong but there were simply too many riders (27,000) on the route and the congestion at every pinch-point and hill meant forced stops, long waits and frustrating walks up every incline, including Ditchling Beacon. If the British Heart Foundation want to continue to ensure the event remains popular, they will need to do much better next year because none of the six of us will be doing it again until we know it's been better organised. As it was I finished in just under five hours but I was lucky as my mates were all caught up in bigger delays behind me due to a number of serious accidents, caused no doubt, by the volume of riders.

I passed a stricken rider on Ditchling Beacon who looked in a bad way and was being given oxygen. I am sorry to say that I believe the poor soul died of heart attack in hospital having been resuscitated on the hill by paramedics. The news of that put a dampner on proceedings and the disappointments of the day into perspective.

Saturday 19 June 2010

London to Brighton

So, Nicky Bailey is off to Middlesborough unless the are any last minute hitches. Addicks fans will be pleased that the fee looks likely to be in excess of the £1m we were holding out for and Richard Murray will pour himself a large glass if we get the £1.5m being suggested. If you watched Bailey all last season, £1.5m looks like a steal based on his performances up until Christmas but over-the-odds for his 2010 showing. He has the ability to shine in the Championship but he will need to find the yard of pace he lost after New Year and that still leaves him a yard short for the Premier League. Who will be next I wonder? Lloyd Sam would be my bet.

The league stages of the World Cup continue and we are at last getting a few decent games but overall it's been poor fare and there's every chance that the over-riding impression from these finals will be a negative one. At least there has been no crowd trouble and no high profile incidents involving supporters. 

England have piled the pressure on themselves following their failure to score against Algeria and their flat performance suggests all is not well in the camp. David James was quite abrupt and to the point when being interviewed after the game. He was critical of the last minute team announcement and made a couple of sarcastic comments about the set-up and the manager. I wonder whether the John Terry affair and shuffling of the captaincy has had an effect? Whatever, it is, they look short of players taking responsibility and Wayne Rooney's parting shot at the booing England fans does not bode well for the Slovenia game. Poor old Frank Lampard also came in for the usual abuse from England fans who, in my opinion, have grossly unrealistic expectations from him (if not from the whole side). It could all look much better on Wednesday of course but there will need to be a massive all-round improvement and a first-half opener.

Tomorrow's the big day after several months of training on the bike, and I am off with five friends and 27,000 others to cycle from Clapham Common to the seafront at Brighton. I am looking forward to it and am hoping to finish inside 4 hours, although this may be dependent upon the traffic from fellow riders. My trusty Cannondale has been cleaned and oiled, and I will be having an early night so I am ready for the grind and the assault on Ditchling Beacon. 

Thursday 17 June 2010

League One fixtures to lift World Cup apathy?

Doesn't sound right does it? Maybe not but that's how I am feeling this morning. Shrewsbury away in the preliminary round of the Egg Cup hardly raised the pulse yesterday and the early World Cup games kept pace with the competition thus far in producing a miserly two goals, although the Spanish match probably deserved better. It was left to Uruguay to put three past the hosts and probably kill off local interest beyond next week. It's just all so lack-lustre to date. Some ambition must be shown before the end but the overwhelming feeling so far is world cup finals where globalisation of the game has lead to a homogeneous brand of athleticism and negativity driven by the fear-of-defeat. 

To the fixture list today then, which will be revealed in two-and-a-half hours. The BBC has updated it's website in anticipation and the League One section now includes the winners (Bournemouth, Dagenham & Redbridge and Rochdale) and losers (Peterborough, Plymouth and Wednesday) from League Two and the Championship respectively. It makes for pretty dull reading.

The tendency from the fixture pickers is to give the new sides "plum" starts and the bigger sides potential tasty finishers. So I am expecting us to still be considered a bigger draw and be pitted against one of them. Rochdale at home anyone? At the other end of the season, fate often combines with irony, so expect Southampton at the death and the prospect of a triumphant Alan Pardew at the scene of his crime. That would just about be in keeping with our fortunes of recent years.

Christmas and Easter games are harder to predict but presumably the Bees and the O's will figure and perhaps the mouth-watering prospect of Dagenham & Redbridge? Maybe we'll get Swindon or Colchester thrown into the mix? 

Other than that, my wish is for Plymouth, Brighton and Bournemouth away all to be Saturday fixtures please. Sad to say but they look like the away-day highlights of the coming season!

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Suggestions by email please!

There is a thread running on Charlton Life at the moment that summarises my feelings about Charlton Athletic right now and how our supporters interact with the football club. It follows the latest meeting that the Fans Forum have had with the Board (Steve Kavanagh and presumably one or two others).

The club continues to struggle on many fronts and this is generating unrest amongst the supporters who really care and those who don't are simply deciding to spend their Saturday afternoon doing something more rewarding.

The meeting appears to have been treated by the club as an opportunity to wag it's finger at the Fans Forum and tell them that they need to come to future meetings with suggested answers for all of the problems that they raise. It's a constructive point but one which I think spells the end for the FF as it stand. Dave Rudd has already decided to step down and I'm not sure how much longer the FF will be able to continue as the solution to long list of supporter grumbles almost always includes expense that the club can't afford.

This would spell the end of another "supporter initiative." The Fan-on-the-Board" was bold when first introduced and showed for the first time that the Board were confident they had nothing to hide. The individuals concerned had a tough role to play because they had to remain tactful and diplomatic at all times which meant that there was little in practice that they could share with fellow fans. It succeeded though because the reputation of our Board and it's relationship with it's supporters improved dramatically and we became the model to follow. 

The decision to ditch the Fan-on-the-Board came a few years back and coincided with the start of our slide. Changes in the personal responsibility of Board members was given as the reason but I am not so sure there wasn't a practical work-around in the circumstances. Whatever, the decision to replace it with the Fans Forum looked like a reasonable attempt at maintaining the formal connection but it seemed doomed from the off when the first list of demands were produced. Subsequent meetings have largely followed type and I wasn't surprised to hear that the Board have had enough. 

The Internet has played a major role in driving our expectations. Supporters communicate with each other like never before but it gives voice to overwhelming tendency to be negative and short-sighted, both of which can be hugely damaging when the club is struggling. Perhaps us Bloggers are not much different but I'd like to think there is a bit of balance and a tad more positivity?

With a floundering official Supporters Club (historically they seem to breed individuals who somehow see this as their big opportunity to become something they haven't managed in life thus far) and a fledgling Supporters Trust that looks like it may have run out of steam before getting properly set-up, it's hard to see where the lead will come from next but I think it's fair to say that the onus is on the Club and it's frustrating that there again seems to be a lack of ideas or ambition. 

Obviously, it's a difficult situation and it's made harder by the lack of funds and the focus on keeping the club operating but there remains enormous goodwill and it would be refreshing to see it tapped and concentrated to better serve the club. The trouble is, I guess, the Board see themselves as the ultimate Fans Forum or Supporters Club and all of their time is effectively taken up addressing all of the issues most important to the club, like fund-raising and building the fan-base. Uneconomic suggestions about hiring more staff for the half-time rush or diverting limited funds to providing hot water in the toilets simply don't register.

Suggestions by email please!

Monday 14 June 2010

USA draw looks better-

There is a saying that a draw in your opening game of a World Cup is never a bad result. Not something England fans wanted to hear on Saturday but after this evening's draw between Champions Italy and unfancied Paraguay, it looks a bit better. The match itself wasn't great and came after a 1-0 Japanese victory over Cameroon and a routine 2-0 win for the Dutch. The tournament continues to smoulder....

Robert Green is still alive by all accounts and has been filmed playing golf and chatting to some of his former team-mates. I say "former" because the media would have us believe that Green is unplayable for the second game after his massive blooper in the first. I don' buy that. If Green was unplayable, he should have been subbed at half-time but he continued and made a critical touch in deflecting a near-post drive onto the woodwork after the break. Even the best goalkeepers make mistakes that lead to goals but they tend not to do this in succession unless they are playing with an injury or something. I would stick with Robert Green on Friday night. One mistake doesn't make him a bad keeper and, frankly, a panic change to David James or even Joe Hart might just bring in a keeper who is due a howler of their own and James has form. England can't afford another mistake like Green's but there's absolutely no reason following his assured second-half display that there should be a knee-jerk reaction.

Away from the World Cup, cocaine abusing Romanian bad-boy Adrian Mutu has lost his appeal against a compensation claim from Chelsea following his sacking at Stamford Bridge six years ago (yes, six years ago!). The £14m fine imposed by FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport has been upheld in the Swiss Federal Court although Mutu probably can't pay and won't pay. He is 31 now and I am not sure how enforceable the fine is. Presumably the biggest risk is that FIFA cancels his playing contract which would cut off his lucrative deal with Fiorentina, so expect him to appeal to the European Court of Liberal Hand-Wringing in order to postpone the order to pay and prolong his earnings potential until he eventually packs up and blows a long raspberry in Chelsea's direction.

All change

Just back from a too-brief-break with good friends in Murcia to find out that Steve Waggott's tenure as Chief Executive has finally come to an end. I say "finally" because he has lasted longer than most of us would have thought based upon the worsening disaster he has provided over. Our play-off finish kept him in his post until the season finished but he must have known what fate awaited him.

In any other business, the Chief Exec carries the can and lives or dies by the performance of that company against it's plan and the marketplace. The performance of the football club during the two years he held the reigns was simply unacceptable and he has had to go. An unthinkable second successive relegation followed by a not-so-near miss this season has was a sufficient justification and he can probably count himself fortunate to have survived the relegation season. I suspect the decision not to sack him a year ago was down to the fact that the Chairman, and the Board to a lesser extent, are so hands-on at Charlton and out of a sense of loyalty for a man who had made a real success of his previous role managing the club's Community Trust set-up. For that reason alone, I can't be overly harsh on Waggott, but it was time for him to go. On top of our dramatic decline as a force in English football, Steve Waggott struggled to match his predecessors high profile and went missing on occasions, usually when there was some heat in the kitchen. The debacle over the allocation of tickets for the away-leg of the Swindon play-off game came at a bad time for him and there was some open criticism of his lack of leadership during that fiasco, although our ultimate failure to regain our Championship status was what sealed his fate.

Steve Kavanagh, the current Managing Director, will pick up the responsibilities of the Chief Executive from 1st July, if not actually the position as the club looks like taking the opportunity of combining roles and saving a salary, or more likely, making Waggott's pay-off easier to manage. My guess is that the change in leadership and handover of responsibilities will be used at some point as a justification for any delay in bringing new faces into the club until late July, as opposed to any acknowledgement that it's really our financial position that's determining what's affordable and when.

To the World Cup then and a very mixed bag from the opening weekend. Apart from the obvious disappointment of the England game, there hasn't been much quality on display in any of the other matches. The opening goal in the competition lit the touchpaper but it's been fizzing ever since and has threatened to go out on occasions. At least the Argentinians tried to play the game and the Germans were clinical last night in seeing off the Aussie threat.

So far there appears to have been no trouble and South Africa's violent city crime lifestyle hasn't claimed the lives of any visiting fans although it's early days and I suspect that's a story yet to surface.

The stadiums have been impressive and the attendances better. The atmosphere at the games has also been good although the constant blare of the vuvuzela has drowned out the singing which has been something of a shame. Perhaps as the games progress and demand for tickets from visiting fans increases, the number of locals attending will fall and we will once again be treated to some of the more familiar anthems of world cup football. In the meantime, I'll settle for more goals and a less authoritarian approach from the referees.

Thursday 10 June 2010

Farewell Eddie

Sad news that Eddie Cecil, Lewis Coaches' longest serving driver of Charlton away coaches has passed away.  Eddie was a professional coach driver. He cared about all of his passengers and understood that Charlton games were different from OAP outings. He was a driver, a steward, "the law" on occasions and sometimes a fatherly figure to headstrong teenagers.

Eddie knew that the official supporters coaches were dry in more senses than one and always tried to give his passengers a little more leeway. A drink on the coach, a regular stop by a supermarket en route to the M1, a game of cards (which he relished) and a drop-off outside a "safe" pub at the other end. 

I could go on but I'll leave it there with an image in my mind of Eddie in his maroon Lewis' blazer giving orders, all the time with a fag in his mouth. Farewell Eddie.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Missing the World Cup...

With Scotland's latest failure to qualify for the finals, I didn't think I would be that bothered about South Africa. So far so good, but just today though, I have to admit to an increasing disappointment that my Countrymen haven't qualified and the first signs that I am jealous of those preparing to make the trip from these islands. The story the BBC are running about a 57-year old Scotsman who is making the trip to support England because "none of the other four nations made it and I want to go to the World Cup" has struck a chord. Fair play to you Billy, I'm sure you will have a great time nonetheless.

I am looking forward to the opening fixtures and will no doubt find an Irish bar in Murcia on Saturday where we can watch the games with the English locals. Probably better that than the Krazy Scots bar where the mood might be positively suicidal.

Monday 7 June 2010

Austerity measures

As Charlton fans, we are all very well aware of the financial predicament our club finds itself in and the fact that we have some unpleasant medicine to take in the coming few years if we are to recover and once again become a force in our division. In terms of the quality of our squad for 10-11, it will be poorer than 09-10 but probably better still than 11-12. We will retain a number of better quality and more experienced players who are contracted this season, who we will need to move on in twelve months time. They may be just the difference between an average season this coming year and a poorer one following  as the rebuilding (hopefully) continues.

The situation at the Valley, of course, now closely resembles that of UK plc. Years of worsening personal finance and cultural change focusing on the cost of everything (something that really struck me when travelling in Australia). This won't come as much of a surprise to people living in Stoke-on-Trent or much of the Midlands who have always, in my opinion, had an overly developed sense of price. The coalition government will announce it's first budget this week and we are already being softened up for a walloping. 

The primary vehicle for the first tax payload looks like being VAT. A tax that discriminates against the poorer people in society. Proportionately, we all pay the same increase of course, but VAT doesn't take into account earnings or relative wealth. It's a softer option, of course, than a rise in income tax and they will be holding onto that card I suspect for subsequent budgets. The argument goes that it's a tax on consumption and ultimately a choice, but because of the near blanket applicability of VAT, it's no such thing. At least the influence of the Lib-Dems may at least force a concession on raising income tax thresholds for the lowest earners, something the Labour Party will surely cringe over if it comes to pass.

Austerity is a word the older of us will immediately associate with the War (even if we were born twenty years after it). Expect to see a return then of the "Dunkirk Spirit" and home-spun remedies such as "grow your own" as we attempt to cut the deficit and avoid becoming a Third World economy. "Grin and bear it" and "keep calm and carry on" will be slogans we may well see resurrected by a nostalgic coalition government looking for crumbs of comfort from the past. 

The trouble right now is that setting the course to recovery, once something that governments could do with some degree of confidence, looks far less assured in a world post the global financial crisis. Huge sovereign debts that may prove to have been just as corruptly managed as the sub-prime mortgage loans look like being the next iceberg for the world's recovering financial institutions. "Our" banks are into the governments of Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal for £100bn. If one of these defaults on it's loans, and Greece is looking more likely rather than less likely, the rest will come under increased pressure and every one of us will feel the squeeze further. 

What appetite will there be for another round of bank bailouts following their sickening collective behaviour after the last one? A two-and-half percentage point rise in VAT could be the least of our worries. Rant over, for now.

Saturday 5 June 2010

The clearout continues

Following our failure to win promotion, the clearout has begun with the six fringe players already release and two more about to follow. 

Yassin Moutaouakil, one of the most promising players ever to don the red jersey has finally had enough of taking his £8,000 a week and has agreed to tear up his remaining contract for a £100,000 pay off. With clubs in his homeland ready to offer him a new deal, it's a good piece of business for both parties. 

I share Chicago Addick's viewpoint that Yassin would appear to have been treated very shabbily by our club but acknowledge the rumours that he was a disruptive influence and an anti-social so-and-so. The club are unlikely to dish the dirt but without some form of statement it's very hard on the face of the evidence from the stands not to see Moutaouakil's purchase as a complete waste of talent and opportunity by the club and it's management. 

The comments last week that there had been "no offers for Bailey" would appear to have done the trick. Norwich and Southampton are both now expressing an interest and there could yet be one or two bigger clubs pulled in to the bun-fight. We have to hope this leads to a price-war but with Charlton's financial predicament clear to all, they will know we have to let him go and that getting his wages off the weekly bill will be our prime aim. I reckon we will be lucky to get more than £1m for him. If he ends up at Southampton, what's the odds on the fixture list throwing us together in an end-of-season clash that could see him secure promotion with his new team?

Nicky Bailey has given everything for Charlton and I wish him well. He was my stand-out player of the season come Christmas but faded quickly after that (and rightly lost out to Christian Dailly in my mind). He looked a full yard short of pace for the last five months and he resorted to a desperate professionalism of feigning injury when tackled in a bid to get opponents booked or sent-off and it didn't reflect well on a man I thought had all the self-belief and talent he needed. His volleyed goal to put 3-2 up against Millwall was worthy of winning that game and it will live long in the memory.

I can't guess who will be next to be offloaded but I am sure there will likely be a good few more to leave before we bring anyone in. Saving wages during the close season will be critical in terms of managing the books. 

Friday 4 June 2010

South Africa '10

World Cup fever is about to intensify. The Royal Oak has been decked out in a sea of St George Cross flags and I was roundly jeered by some of my neighbours as I walked passed yesterday. But you won't find me sulking or resentful. No Sir, I will watch all of the England games and will cheer the boys on.

In fact I will be watching England's opener in the company of five Aberdonians and attempting to bring some balance to the debate. In Spain. Yes, the Good Lady suggested I spend a weekend in Murcia at a mate's holiday home in return for a Spa Day for her and a friend. She works so hard, how could I refuse?

I think England have the squad to do really well but I can't help but see two potential weak links; David James and Rio Ferdinand.Robert Green could yet get the nod in goal but ominously, James was given the Number One shirt yesterday. He's been an inspirational goalkeeper at times during his career but his performances are punctuated by absolute howlers, the sort that could end a World Cup campaign. Ditto for Rio really. He has all of the ability but struggles to concentrate for long periods and is equally prone to costly lapses of concentration and judgement.

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Eagles fight on

The expected news yesterday was that the CPFC2010 consortium look to have done the deal to acquire the club from the Administrators and the freehold to Selhurst Park from Bank of Scotland. As a football fan I think I am supposed to be pleased for them but I have been revelling in schadenfreude for months, so can't quite manage it. Palace may have survived the drop and cleared their debts but they still need to break even and I don't see the consortium having plenty of cash to throw about. This coming season could yet see significant challenges. I will keep myself warm with those thoughts for now.

Back to my post of the other day and our seeming inability to organise attractive friendlies at the Valley. No-one has mentioned it yet, but I was expecting a post about the cost of stewarding and warming pies for sub-10,000 crowds etc. If that's a realistic concern, how do Palace manage it? They have announced the visit of Premier League Champions Chelsea in July.

We made the news ourselves yesterday by banning coloured boots until players reach the first-team squad. All very sensible, although I don't think we have gone nearly far enough. This "reward" of being allowed to indulge yourself with banana yellow or lime green boots should be reserved for players who have actually done something to warrant standing out from the crowd. You know, maybe 50 appearances, a set number of goals or even an international appearance (sniggers)?