Wednesday 27 February 2013

Buddleia and the Limehouse Cut

Today, Wednesday 27th February is one I have been uneasy about for a couple of months. I was approached pre-Christmas by some of the more enthusiastic members of my team and asked about supporting a 'volunteering day.' My employers (BT) are very keen to promote BT in the communities in which we work, and employees are actively encouraged to volunteer in many ways, be it the Territorial Army, JP service or straightforward volunteering days.

My immediate personal reaction was to laugh out aloud and then say that we were all far too busy. However, the company does support this and who really can't afford to spare a day if your employer gives you the nod? I didn't want to deal with the sulkers and with one eye on the employee attitude survey, I decided this was a wonderful idea. Indeed, I would participate myself as long as it didn't involve any expensive travel or overnight stays etc as it would be counter-productive to spend more money than it would cost to employ someone else to do the work. 

The immediate plan was for something a bit further up north that would be drivable for those outside London and that would excuse me nicely. This quickly fell through and I was invited to a London day (there will be a separate one for the northerners), hence my uneasiness. I was told that we needed to be at Bromley-by-Bow at 9am this morning and dressed in warm, old clothing. On arrival the fifteen of us were lead down to Bow Locks (honestly), a stones throw from the Blackwall Tunnel approach. We were lead to a working canal barge and given a safety brief and kitted out for clearing the tow-path and canal walls of the Limehouse Cut. 

Before we set-off we were visited by a member of the river constabulary who wanted to know in what direction we would be heading. A suicide note had been found on the banks of the canals which was being taken seriously and officers were busy scouring the waterways for a body. Looking north we spotted  them hard at work but we were headed west and given a number to call in the event we had anything to tell them.

Quickly to work then from the tow-path and the barge we cut back vegetation, mostly the dreaded bomb-crater weed or butterfly bush as we called it as kids - Buddleia. Our barge driver told us that a single Buddleia tree can produce 3,000,000 seeds a year and that they can germinate and grow from just about anywhere which accounts for their abundance. 

As we progressed along the Cut, I was surprised at how many of the roads we went under were known to me as I had never before seen this straight, two mile canal. Where fully established, the Buddleia root could only be removed by hacking it out and we were told not to do this as it invariably brought large chunks of masonry down with it and left big holes in the tow-path wall and sides of the canal. It was also obvious that big Buddleia roots had broken walls and moved railings above and our knowledgeable driver told us that during the war, the RAF dropped Buddleia seeds on German airfields precisely because of it's ability to grow on next to nothing and it's destructive root base. This was a fascinating idea but I couldn't help wondering why the RAF hadn't just dropped bombs on the runways instead of seeds?

Six hours later, we finished up at the Limehouse basin, a marina I am familiar with (you see it from the DLR at Limehouse station), which connects via a lock to the mighty Thames. A barge full of vegetation and no corpses. Home now, face glowing from the cold wind and back reminding me that I will be 50 this year. Now, where's the Voltarol?

Saturday 23 February 2013

Charlton Athletic 0 v Nottingham Forest 2

The pre-match banter in the White Swan focused upon our shocking home form and what tactics should be deployed to try and avoid another home defeat. I accepted the logic of sticking with the side that won at Leicester and the 4-1-4-1 formation, although I called out my conviction that we have to be far more ambitious at home. We really need a 4-4-2 and we need to be prepared to play all-out, at least in spells as we seek the lead and when we look to kill games.

Cue another depressing home show. Hopelessly out-gunned in midfield and left hoping for miracles after being reduced to ten men. Dale Stephens had a stinker. Bradley Pritchard won a lot of first touches but hardly any second ones. Adlene Guedioura won everything and Andy Reid was left to direct traffic very effectively around him.

If that wasn't bad enough, we lost Yann Kermorgant to a silly, if unfortunate red card after about 30 minutes. He challenged Greg Halford on the touchline deep in their half as the ball went out. I think he was reckless and went in with intent but his challenge was so close that they were touching and Halford looked to me like he made a meal of it. He certainly made the most of the reaction and the whole Forest side rushed in which I am afraid influenced the referee. My initial view was that he was considering a yellow but having conferred with the nearest lino looked more interested and eventually went to meet the far side linesman (who was 75 yards away from the incident) before deciding that a red card was deserved.

We hadn't managed an effort on goal up until then and I cant remember one after that. Nil-nil at half-time and after that it really was only a case of when, not if. Radoslaw Majewski finally broke the deadlock and Forest put us under the cosh. They hit the woodwork twice and scored again before they eventually eased off and saw the game out.

I'm sorry to say it but we were piss-poor today and tactically inept. It's been the worst home season since 79-80 and responsibility lies with the manager. It's been going on for far too long and something has to change.

Friday 22 February 2013


Twenty-two year old Spurs reserve striker, John Chiedozie Obika, was drafted in as additional back-up today and is available to feature against Forest tomorrow. I have seen Obika play and score against us for Yeovil in the League One past but will reserve judgement for a viewing in a red shirt.

It's probably a good move to draft in another forward with BWP moving on but I am not sure what's expected from Obika beyond substitutions and perhaps the odd goal. With Kermorgant, Haynes and Fuller ahead of him, he will be very unlikely to start and we also have Azeez who will hardly be delighted at this move.Given our league position it does look unnecessary but I suspect TJ is still hoping for a miracle and us catching Boro.

We desperately need an all-out attacking performance tomorrow if we are to secure a victory and kindle the last of the ambitious embers. Personally, I suspect another cautious start which might encourage a rampant Forest rejuvenated by the return of Billy Davies. We will need much better handling of Andy Reid and Greg Halford than we managed up there if we are to win this game.

I'd like to see Haynes and Kermorgant start and Fuller brought on with at least twenty to go. Wiggins should retain his place but Lawrie Wilson could start in place of Waggy.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Farewell Bradders

Bradley Wright-Phillips was duly moved on with little fanfare yesterday. We looked desperate to offload him to Swindon pre-Canio and now he has gone to Brentford on a loan until the end of the season. Given his contract expires in the Summer it looks very much like that's the last we will see of him. 

We should remind ourselves that his goal-scoring feats little more than a year ago had him threatening to tear up our record book. I don't believe he has become a worse player at 27 or that he couldn't step-up to Championship level, although the facts are that he hasn't made the most of limited opportunities this season. It's hard also to believe he will be leaving us without a fee, something that would have seemed inconceivable last season.

He will always be remembered for the promotion goals of last year but I can't help thinking he will find himslef an easy contract at Brentford if they can meet his wage demands in the Summer. Good luck Bradders.

Tuesday 19 February 2013

Leicester City 1 v Charlton Athletic 2

Chris Powell looked deep into his coaching manuals for inspiration this evening and came up with a defensive formation which would play a high attacking line. With Dervite starting the game and only Yann Kermogant (not Kermoshant for the benefit of the eegit commentating for BBC London, although he was obviously a closet Leicester fan given his obvious frustration when Leicester came close) upfront, we started as we have tended to finish games and I was left wondering what we would do in the event we found ourselves chasing the game. Rhoys Wiggins was finally given a start back in the defence and Wagstaff returned to the right wing.

As it was, Charlton took the lead after 19 minutes following a poor square defensive ball in the Leicester half which Pritchard (Bradley Pritchard for the benefit of the eegit commentating for BBC London, not Bradley Wright-Pritchard) seized upon and squared for Yann Kermorgant to slot home. Kermorgant had the good grace not to celebrate against his former club although given the shoddy way he was blamed and then moved on for missing a play-off penalty, he was probably entitled to have done a cartwheel. Leicester huffed and puffed for the remainder of the half but we didn't sound unduly troubled. Instead we had the opportunity of listening to the Leicester crowd on several occasions as BBC London failed to switch us to updates from the Emirates and the New Den where other London clubs were evidently struggling.

We were up to 12th in table at the break and above Millwall for the first time in months and it felt good. With Arsenal's season continuing to collapse in front of their very eyes, all of a sudden our mediocrity was forgotten. Trust those Palace bar stewards then, to spoil things by leading at home whilst we were doing them a favour.

After the restart the pace of the game predictably picked-up as Leicester put us under more pressure. They got the ball into the net at the same time as Millwall  went 3-1 down at home to Peterborough but the goal was flagged offside before it went in. Morrison tested Schmeichel with a shot from ten yards as Millwall conceded a fourth. Leicester changed both wingers after 65 minutes and again there was no immediate response from Chris Powell. Chris Wood got the equaliser slotting home after 70 minutes following a swift Leicester attack giving the 680 away fans and the 1000 suffering on CAFC Player an agonising last twenty. Wood's goal will be small comfort for Millwall fans this evening.

Ritchie De Laet was denied a goal by Hamer before Danny Haynes was brought into the action replacing Dorian Dervite as Chris Powell continued to appear to play the tactical game in reverse. A moment later Yann Kermorgant flicked on for Danny Haynes to fire home and restore our lead from 25 yards with his left foot. How bizarre given what's gone on for months. Maybe there is a lesson here for us? Lawrie Wilson got on for the last few minutes as Dale Stephens made way.

We held out and find ourselves eight points from 6th and the same from 22nd. Forest hammered Huddersfield 6-1 this evening but that might give them a touch of complacency for Saturday although it could just be their revival under Billy Davies kicking off. Millwall crashed to a 5-1 home thumping by second-bottom Peterborough and may be wishing they were concentrating on the league. Palace look like they may yet give us the icing on our season as we get to watch them suffer in the Play-Offs. Arsenal? Taxi for Wenger.

Saturday 16 February 2013

Blackheath 30 v Cinderford 22

First, Cinderford is a village in the Forest of Dean, close to Gloucester, a powerhouse of rugby football. I have to state that because I was unaware prior to today. Before kick-off they were a place above Blackheath in National League One.

They brought fifty-odd fans to the Rectory Field this afternoon for what turned out to be a very decent game of rugby. Cinderford were quickly out of the blocks and raced into a two try lead. I was concerned for Club at this point but the sages around me were adamant that this was typical of Blackheath and that a recovery was anticipated. Before half-time Blackheath rallied with a try and a penalty and the deficit was duly cut.

After the break Blackheath upped the ante and their backs began to cut big holes in the Cinderford line which meant most of the match was now played in Cinderford's half. Rory Teague (a cousin of England's Mike) began to dominate play and with excellent support from Liam Gibson and Richard Lankshear put Cinderford under the cosh. Man-of-the-Match Jack Walsh buzzed about to connect play between the pack and the backs as Club pressed home their advantage.

There were some excellent tries and the quality of the kicking both for points and for touch was excellent from both sides.

Add half a dozen pints of Belhaven Grand Slam into the mix and I am glad I didn't stay at home to listen to the one-nil defeat at Hull.

Season Ticket Price Rises

Inevitably season ticket prices are rising again for 13-14 in the Championship. The club have published the "early bird" prices but not yet the price for those who don't stump up before 8th April.

The club are taking a calculated risk here as usual and they are doing it without the unique insight of Rick Everitt. Rick has suggested elsewhere that the prices are slightly higher than he was guessing and makes the point that they are probably as high as the market would bare right now.

I suspect he's spot on here and that the pricing policy going forward is to lift our prices in line with clubs of similar status, so I expect next year's prices to increase disproportionately to get closer to the likes of Millwall and Palace who are still a tad higher than us. We aren't awash with dosh and we are being asked to make our contribution towards Premier ambition.

Like the majority of the current 11,000-odd holders, I will renew my season tickets (my 36th year) although I am taking a little step nearer a threshold I never thought I would ever contemplate. I live close to the ground and that is no coincidence. Sad as it may be, I bought here because I spent so much of my social time in the area and it made sense (house prices are good value - I also work in the City, so I wouldn't have been too far away in any case).

If I were ever to move out (like so many of our fans), relative pricing in excess of what we face would be a huge test given travel commitments and, quite honestly, the quality of what's being served up at home. It's been a dismal home season.

The club have yet to announce the post-deadline prices or the match-day prices. They will obviously wait until the last minute here in order to assess early-bird sales to determine how far they can go. They also need to ensure we will still be playing Championship football. Relegation, whilst highly unlikely in my opinion, remains a threat and they will be praying for some results between now and the end of March or sales may tank. In the event we get sucked in, the deadline for best price renewals will probably be extended through April.

If early sales go well the club may be emboldened to push up post deadline prices but it's a fine line and they really need to think hard about doing that given the poor entertainment and point-ratio at home this season. It could be a case of largely die-hard renewals and falling off a cliff beyond that as fans wait and see if we strengthen the squad and how we start next season.

I will be renewing my four tickets but will wait until the deadline to do so.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Two biggest castles

Over the next week our inconsistent side face two of the most daunting away trips of the season (if you can discount Millwall, and I do). On Saturday we head up the east coast of England to face second-placed Hull City and follow it on Tuesday evening with a trip to the whatever Leicester City are now calling their Walkers Crisps stadium.

The Tigers have a 9-2-4 record and Leicester 11-2-2. Our away form is pretty good, as we know, so we can't just write these matches off, tempting though that is. Having beaten the Foxes at the Valley in our first home match of the season, we shouldn't be overawed although they put up a decent performance that night and left feeling they deserved something from the game. Four days later we held Hull to a nought-nought. A repeat showing in both games is probably too much to hope for and we may need to recover at home against Forest a week on Saturday, although given our home form, perhaps Hull and Leicester are bigger opportunities?

I am looking forward to the Forest match. It will be an opportunity for some pay-back following our defeat up there. Former Addicks Andy Reid and Greg Halford will need to be much-better controlled than we managed last time and, in addition to the stick they will likely get, we should reserve plenty for Billy Davies. Let us not forget that this was the man who following an interview for our vacant managerial seat told our Chairman he was popping out for lunch and then switched his phone off and never returned or spoke to us again. I wasn't there, so I don't know what was said that might have put Davies off, but it's very difficult to imagine Richard Murray causing offence. Murray was bewildered by this incident and it reeks of ignorance and bad manners.

Saturday 9 February 2013

Charlton Athletic 1 v Birmingham City 1

Aaaarrrrggghhh! When we opened up at Birmingham at the beginning of the season we were denied a deserved victory in added time when Zigic appeared to equalise. Well we did it again today as Wade Elliott managed to deflect a shot from in front of Hamer for a point the Blues were very fortunate to earn.

We started with a 4-4-2 which was needed if we were to win another home game properly without relying on hanging onto a lead. Yann Kermorgant and Ricardo provided the spearhead although it was Fuller who saw most of the action. Scott Wagstaff had another busy match and, again, I am pleased to say his focus was all on football and not acting. Lawrie Wilson started on the right but had a far quieter match and it was no surprise when he was the first called off after 70 minutes. 

Jackson and Stephens held the centre-mid and Evina, Cort, Morrison and Solly were never really put under any serious or sustained pressure. Marlon King prowled the line and put in a number of speculative efforts. Hall and Redmond both looked more creative when on the ball but Birmingham looked content for a nil-nil.

I have been scoffing all week about the fuss being made about the state of our pitch. The centre of both six yard boxes have been re-turfed in recent weeks but I haven't noticed any problems with it. That was until today. I can't believe what a muddy mess it was in patches and the passage of the ball was visibly slowed throughout the game although it didn't really affect what was a reasonable match.

Charlton should have been in the lead by half-time but our efforts from a number of players went wide or were kept out by Jack Butland. After the break we upped the ante with Fuller doing everything but score. As the match wore on I feared a Birmingham goal against the run of play but it didn't come. Danny Green, a target of Birmingham's during the January window, came on for Wilson and looked like he was keen on reviving their interest with a determined showing. 

We were passing the ball around very well as we buzzed down the flanks but we were in danger of being over elaborate. With three minutes of normal time lift, Fuller, Solly, Green and Jackson all combined on the right wing as we probed for an opening. With Birmingham committing more men to the scene we ran out of options and Chris Solly suddenly flighted a curling cross into the box. As it dropped towards the back post there were two red shirts in space and one of them gave a familiar committed leap and dispatched a thumping header which Butland could do nothing about. Finally in front and with so little time left that surely we had managed our second Saturday home win of the season? 

Chris Powell made a double substitution to slow things down and Dervite came on for Wagstaff as we aimed to shut up shop in the four minutes of added time. Once again we couldn't withstand the late rally of our opponents and we conceded a poor goal in the last minute. 

Much better performance today but still not good enough at home.

Friday 8 February 2013

Fans get their Voice back

Great to learn that Voice of The Valley will be back on sale around the ground tomorrow after an absence of 11 years. I will be up and out early tomorrow to get my copy. One change since the last edition is that I will now need my bins to read it!

I don't expect any fireworks in tomorrow's issue but future versions promise plenty! There is a website to accompany it. Airman Brown's Diary will be on-line and Rick has managed to hit the right price point at less than the cost of a pint (£2).

My guess is that the return of this fans favourite may, finally, provoke The Mysterons to improve their lamentable communication record with their Customer base. If they don't, they will be a sitting duck....

Thursday 7 February 2013

Football Saturday

I received an email from the Scottish Rugby Union yesterday. "Hurry" they told me to secure my seat for the Italy fixture at Murrayfield on Saturday, "there has been enormous interest following the results at the weekend and remaining tickets are selling fast." I deleted it seconds later. Italy at Murrayfield was the first 6 Nations fixture on the list that automatically makes any Charlton home game a more attractive option (I hope I am not wrong Chris).

Italy's fantastic win over tournament favourites France on Sunday caused a huge stir and the Romans will go north of Hadrian's wall looking for another victory and possibly a record second successive win in the Nations. Scotland might be worth a punt at this point as their odds may have lengthened unrealistically. What everyone seems to have forgotten is that, like Scotland, the French have a history of starting badly although, unlike Scotland, they usually recover. Italy have an ageing side and are short on depth. They rely upon their old bears and I fancy Scotland's own to fight back strongly on Saturday.

So, I will happily be in SE7 for the visit of a club I have no time for. Birmingham City are mediocrity personified. Another "massive" club with huge home support that is invariably awaiting the big time to return before they do. Their away support is truly appalling and probably worse than our own (Ooh Arr will confirm on Charlton Life). Their hooligan element have a long history of being bullies at home and avoid any chance of retribution by refusing to travel. It's that or the Brummie mean gene.

I am running out of patience with our home performances and Chris Powell desperately needs to show another dimension in changing things to encourage a radically different style in order to fix things. His poor use of substitutes is also concerning and has visibly lost us points on too many occasions now to be much of a debating issue any longer. Alex Dyer or someone else needs to get in his ear and remind him at key moments of matches. If he continues not to see it and refuse to make changes it will increasingly damage his good reputation as well as our league position.

So, please Charlton, don't let me wish I had chosen to be at Murrayfield on Saturday.

Sunday 3 February 2013

England 38 v Scotland 18

Another great sporting day out at Twickenham yesterday. I called England by 20 points before the match but was genuinely hoping for better and in some ways got it, although Scotland were again a disappointment.

At ten past four I was feeling like it might be a special day for me. Stuart Hogg had just covered forty metres in his dash straight towards us behind the goal and he managed to offload close to the line as blue shirts lent a hand and found debutant Sean Maitland on the overlap down the touchline to give Scotland an early lead. My phone buzzed moments later to tell me we were still leading at Palace. Scotland were very unlikely to hold on but Charlton might.

The predictable Scottish penalties came and Owen Farrell kicked England into a healthy lead before the Scottish line was punctured and defeat became a reality. It was great to see Hogg break away and kick on before touching down at the death to give the scoreline a better appearance and for once we look like we have some pace and handling in our three-quarters. Cue then, time I suppose, for our 20st tattooed giants to turn in a less than aggressive display. If they all gave 75% of the fight Ritchie Gray puts into every match we might get some results. Yesterday was poor and Scott Johnson, the Aussie coach called in right with his "contact, contact, contact" comment.

Not to worry, we enjoyed the sing-along in the Scrum Bar and bumped into fellow Addick Ted who told us that we had bossed the first-half at Selhurst but missed our chances to kill the game. Palace fought back second-half and lanky Murray netted twice towards to end to make it a double defeat on the day for me. I understand too that our support was kettled after the match provoking some embarrassing vandalism as well as a confrontation with the hapless PC's who were carrying out orders many were apparently unhappy about. I live close to the Valley and have had my car damaged in a similar incident a few years ago after the Millwall friendly when some of their urchins decided to pay the Oak a visit looking for some afters. Not finding it there they took their small minded frustration out on the hairdressers windows and the cars of Charlton Lane breaking wings mirrors and denting panels as they went. Those residents of SE25 who were affected yesterday have my honest sympathy.

The only positive thing to say is that the inevitable local backlash might make the police think about a more creative idea for policing matches after the whistle.  Kettling is a controversial tactic and one wholly unsuitable for an entire away support (it might be unsuitable for political demo's too) and I have to think some Chief Super saw it as a great practice opportunity for his forces rather than the best way to police Charlton fans leaving Selhurst Park. There wasn't much wrong with cordoning off several side roads to funnel our fans back to the station. It has always worked previously and, let's face it, Palace hardly make any concerted attempt for any real trouble. Perhaps the Police should be forced to inform you before-hand that you will be detained at length if you decide to go ("for your own safety or those of others") - at least that way you have a choice in the matter.

Our defeat saw us drop six places during the afternoon from the heady heights of 9th to 15th whilst handing Palarse a leg-up to the play-offs. Millwall remain in touching distance after losing again at home to Hull. They really are missing Wood and Henderson. Roll on next season.

Friday 1 February 2013

Panic on the streets of Shepherds Bush

Nothing to report on transfer deadline line day as our board decided that splashing the sort of cash we have isn't going to drastically alter this season's fortunes. On the basis we aren't going to mount a serious challenge, the task now will be to count down the points to safety.

Our willingness to offload BWP and Danny Green won't have helped those two fight for the cause. The authorities were not convinced of Swindon's new owners ability to support the moves which is a bit worrying and says something about our own due diligence process here.

Anyhow, most of the attention was grabbed by desperate QPR who brought in five new players, spending £20m plus in the process and dishing out wages and contracts of Manchester United proportions to the likes of a former Blackburn Rovers centre-half (Samba) and a Spurs youngster (Townsend) who can't establish himself in their side. 

Their gap to safety has been reduced to four points but the games are running out and they are still bottom. Tony Fernandes must cry himself to sleep at night looking at the money pit QPR have become when he could be spending it on the club he actually supports (West Ham). Harry Redknapp is the miracle worker you need in these situations but he demands money and he has taken clubs down in his day.

The biggest laugh though, must be reserved for Peter Odemwingie. The Baggies over-performer got wind of the millions Harry was splashing and decided he was off. No time for formalities like clearing the ground with West Brom, he simply launched into Twitter advertising the fact and telling anyone who wanted to listen that he should have left a year ago and that no-one was getting in the Odemwingie's way. That's almost word-for-word what he said. Whether naive Peter was caught up in a game of bluff or not is anyone's guess but West Brom were clearly unhappy at Odemwingie blowing their leverage and Rangers failure to up their offer as a result. 

So, Greedy Peter wakes up in the Midlands again this morning and will need to develop a taste for humble pie and learn how to shut out the home crowd at The Hawthorns because he is going to attract significant stick for his haste to depart for relegation favourites and what looks like Championship football next year. The lights of a number of other clubs will also have gone out at the mention of Odemwingie's name in future. Silly boy.