Thursday 30 July 2015

Reflections on Florida

I am coming to the end of a hectic fortnight's family holiday in Florida. I ought to start by saying that I once travelled fairly regularly back and forth to the States as I worked for our North American division, although that was between 1997 and 2002. My last visit was actually ten years ago on a skiing trip to Beaver Creek in Colorado.

So, I found myself back in Florida on holiday for the first time in twenty years and nearly as many since a flying visit to Fort Myers on business. We have had a fantastic holiday even if the weather hasn't been as good as I expected - rain more prolonged when it arrived and we have had it nearly every day. That hasn't stopped us doing anything and we have been very busy including a day up the east coast at Marineland swimming with dolphins and a night spent in a hotel down at Fort Lauderdale.

I shouldn't be surprised but I have been by the number of hugely overweight Americans there are here. I haven't been able to stop counting them whenever I have seen groups and they consistently account for over 50% of any group. I don't think I would be exaggerating either to say that over half are so big they have have practically no chance of shedding it without surgery. Many of them also wear T shirts with slogans like "does my size threaten you?" and "big is better." A product of the progressively politically correctness regime in the US which is continuously being exported.

Another thing that has surprised me, is that it is nearly impossible to eat anything healthy here unless you prepare it yourself. I had assumed that the same PC regime would by now have us at least getting options everywhere and that we would be inundated with calorie counts, low sodium figures as well as shouts for fruit n veg (I know New Yorkers can be anal/neurotic about this). How wrong was I? Not only do the chain food outlets dominate the highways and theme parks but the food on offer is a consistent selection of burgers, processed cheese, tinned vegetables (if you ask and they have any), chicken and fries. Everywhere you go you are surrounded by sugary soft drinks and the adverts on the radio and TV are dominated by a race-to-the-bottom pricing pitch for high sugar and fat food. Last night we saw a commercial for a new soft drink which manages to blend your favourite flavoured Slushie with your favourite candy, in a calorific gloop. I suppose the dominance of junk food inevitably supports a fat nation although perhaps the market is simply responding to the demands of it's customers?

I have also been surprised by the proliferation of tattoos. I know they have become big business in the UK (I have a few before anyone complains), but it seems that everyone here has at least one and a high percentage are clearly preparing for many more. Perhaps it's the fact that it's so hot and people are wearing less but it's been highly noticeable.

War Veterans have also grown enormously in the public eye since I was last here. Everywhere we have been, 'Veterans' has been a classification for discounts like kids and senior citizens. Bumper stickers and T shirts proclaim which type of veteran you are and I have even seen several 'Korean' vets in addition to all the Iraq, Afghanistan and more recent wars. At Seaworld before the Killer Whale show, they actually asked any veterans from the "United States, Canada, UK or other allied countries" to stand in the audience for a round of applause before the show began. I am not criticising here, I support the initiatives, just saying what I have observed as different from when I last visited.

I am used to having to pay various local taxes when paying for things but I can't remember every one adding up to so many dollars and an inconvenient number of cents. My pockets and bags are full of shrapnel. At home we round everything to include VAT if applicable but I am repeatedly diving into the bag for another note to pay the excess. I bought one of my girls a toy in a Disney store and the price was $36.10. Given the massive mark-up, why not make it $36 or $37 even? I don't recall this from previous visits.

Customer Service has been surprisingly disappointing too. I have strong memories of how good it was nearly everywhere. I have to say that so many of the people we have dealt with haven't seemed bothered and most don't listen or aren't concentrating. Telling people your name and saying you will be taking care of them today isn't enough.Time and again we haven't got what we ordered and I have been asking them to repeat orders deliberately so that nothing's been lost in the accent, and they have still forgotten things or mis-timed it all. Don't get me started on the Hilton Hotel group - I could write at length about how crass that is and how their main interface now replicates Indian call centres and an inability to deal off-script or help a massively dis-satisfied customer. Putting you on hold instead if transferring you to a supervisor was unheard of ten years. I gave up on my third transatlantic mobile call of over twenty minute. I will save the detail for a cathartic session when I get home if I get a spare half-an-hour to write to them at length.

On a more positive note, open Wifi is widely available at public places and the speeds available are impressive too - I was expecting this but good to see and experience. We hear a lot about the UK enjoying the fastest speeds in Europe (I work for BT) but we can't yet get 325mbps which is advertised here. I am wondering what technology is delivering this because we aren't yet exploiting it in Europe and the kit to do it over fibre or copper isn't yet mature.

The road systems continue to work well, drivers stick to speeds limits and are courteous on the whole. The roads handle high volumes of traffic well and the emergency services are quick to respond and keep traffic flowing.

Finally, the all-American bar-and-grill remains a great place to spend a few hours. Multiple screens show Baseball, Nascar, Fishing n Huntin' and some other more obscure American past-times. They serve cold beer and hot food and there is always a welcome around a large U-shaped bar. I am reminded how shabby and unwelcoming so many of our traditional pubs have become. Still, I am looking forward to a few pints of real ale in one when I get back.

Tuesday 28 July 2015

Two centre-halves

Naby Sarr, an inexperienced, 21 year-old, six-foot-five, French U20 has become the seventh new addition to Guy Luzon, Damian Matthew and David Martane's squad. There appears a genuine sense of optimism with the latest signings coming on the back of Gudmunsson re-signing and Jordan Cousins expected to do the same.

I am delighted that we haven't cashed in any further than Gomez. Encouraged too that so many of the new signings are young prospects and have been secured on long contracts. There has to be hope that our strategy is changing and that we will look to build, retain and stengthen our squad over a couple of seasons which would give us a real chance to challenge for promotion.

However, I am no more than cautiously optimistic. Although Sarr is the seventh signing, he only brings our first team squad number up to an acceptable level and we remain short in central defence and on the flanks. Makienok is unproven and Vetokele appears to be carrying the same injury. We could still have significant weaknesses and be left shuffling the pack to cope. I am expecting a bumpy start given the number of new faces and lack of game time but I am dismissing relegation, unlike the Bookmakers and the predictably bitter Rod Liddle whose joking claim in his Sunday Times column this week that League One is where it's at, gave his Charlton prediction away.

I am looking forward to seeing our new side against QPR but I can't see us beating them and given the tough opening matches to follow, this new side faces a baptism of fire. If we are going to sign anyone else, please let it be Championship-experienced players like the rumoured James Henry. Henry would also pass what appears to be the new height test.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Two wide men

I may be enjoying my holiday in sunny Florida but I have to comment on the proposed signing of James Henry and contract extension of Maestro Gudmundsson.

Henry is a class act and I am surprised Kenny Jackett is considering letting him go. Having started out at home-club Reading, he spent several unproductive spells on loan before a move to Millwall where he was a firm favourite. Cyprus Ray was a huge fan and gutted to see him leave. Henry is right-sided and at just over six feet can be effective in the middle. He is certainly someone who would supply a stream of crosses for our flying forward line.

I was convinced that JBG was going to leave. The "I'll wait and see who we sign first" threat sounded like softening the ground for a move and having underwhelmed us on the the transfers-front, he had the perfect excuse to leave. Perhaps there were no firm offers for him but all that matters is that he appears ready to commit himself to a new deal.

A couple of centre-halves please (Lenglet from France) and we might be ready to begin to get playing together. We have left it late but I wasn't expecting anything else if I am honest.

Thursday 16 July 2015

Comings and goings

No, nothing revealing on the player front.

On the 'comings ' front, I was witness to a film being made outside the Valley this week. As I made my way around to the club to purchase a couple of season-tickets for my Step-Brother's son and his mate, I spotted several hundred people crowded around the tunnel by Ransome's Walk. I first I thought it might be some protest outside the Mosque but I noticed many in Man City colours as I drew closer and then saw the crowd moving en masse to cue. There were film cameras and tracking as well as large support vehicles in the Charlton car park (all appear to have evaded the sea of potholes). I was busy so couldn't loiter but listened to the sounds of a biggish crowd for the next couple of hours, so assume they were also shooting inside the ground. Someone must know....

In terms of 'goings,' I am finishing a hectic working week which makes me feel old and question how much longer my well-developed and cultured cynicism can deal with the fresh and ironic cynicism of those parts of our business who are directing traffic. I am conscious that I am now unable to conceal all of it and wonder whether anyone I work with has suggested Tourette's in my absence. What's more, I inch closer to the point of not giving a toss which I know to be dangerous for all concerned. Good then that I am off to Florida to hopefully recharge my batteries and return emboldened to be more professional than of late and extend my career into a 35th year.

To be honest, I am happy to be going and will miss nothing whilst I am away. A small squad visibly struggling with an increasingly frustrated looking Senior Head First Coach Manager who is looking like he will have to work miracles to avoid a series of opening league defeats and a struggling start. 

We are still no nearer Gladnost and I sense the pendulum has again swung away from Roly and Katrien and it might need a repeat of the seven wins from nine that Luzon managed with a much bigger and better squad at his disposal earlier this year to lift the mood. It's difficult not to be pessimistic about our chances when you know practically every other side in our division has maintained or strengthened their squads. I can't think of another who won't have two competent and experienced first-teamers for every position as well as a strong bench and a blend of youth and experience.

There's almost an inevitability about the visit of QPR on 8th August. I can see that match passing off very like the final one of last season when a large contingent of visiting fans had a field-day as their vastly superior side dismantled us to take the points with something to spare and left us all cursing what we already knew and dreaming of a fresh start after a positive close season. 

Monday 13 July 2015

In need of reinforcements

A routine 2-0 pre-season at Welling wasn't enough to change the despondent mood of many. Igor Vetokele and Simon Makienok were both rested to protect injuries and it was clear that we can only field one first eleven and even then we had to have players playing out-of-position.

Frederic Bulot's move to Rheims seems to have caught the club flat-footed and they clearly didn't plan early enough as you have to believe a deal should have been done before Standard Liege was sold. We need two experienced wide players and certainty around a couple of central defenders, especially if Andre Bikey isn't going to feature for us again and we are not going to rely on the inexperienced Harry Lennon or Ayo Obileye. Damian Matthew has suggested there are five or six players lined-up and you have to believe that he knows what's going on. Matthew appeared to step-up on Saturday by taking additional responsibilities at Welling and the surprise news today was that that David Martine has been appointed Assistant Coach. The OS is reporting that Damian Matthew becomes Assistant Head Coach but you have to wonder if we have too many cooks and if three will become a crowd. David, of course, joins us from Standard Liege and is obviously another Roland has plans for. Fishing in small ponds is ultimately unhealthy.

Hard not to wonder what is going on behind the scenes. There's still over three weeks to go before we get the testing visit of QPR but it's looking like we will not be well prepared for their visit irrespective of who rocks up in the meantime let alone the tricky run of opening matches. Certainly not a time to cash-in on any of our other assets, so hopefully the likes of Cousins and Gudmundsson will be with us to face the R's.

Probably not the best time to ponder over the decision-making process that has resulted in us agreeing a hastily rearranged friendly at Bolton Wanderers?

Thursday 9 July 2015

New strips

Well we saw the new home kit a week or two back and it didn't stir the blood although it must be said it was a welcome improvement on the St Helen's jersey of last season. At least we are back in a red shirt. The white collar makes it reminiscent of the home kits between 1992 and 1998 when we had now defunct computer sponsors, Mesh and Viglen.

Yesterday the Club unveiled two new change strips alongside the new home one at a photo-shoot at the Naval College. I can't copy from the Club website so link to it here. I am assuming that we will favour the predominantly white second strip if we have a choice to avoid a colour clash. White has history with us and allows us still to play in 'red and white' although I don't understand why we have to mess about by adding a diagonal Palace sash. The 'third' strip is another blue effort which I don't like. Blue may go well with the ubiquitous pair of jeans but it's the footballing antithesis of red and it's Millwall. I'm not a fan of yellow either - black, green and purple, Barcelona Sunset or even pink would be preferable.

Having said all that, I have never been a bid wearer of colours, coming from the era when it was dangerous as well as a bit naff, although I have typically been a buyer and random Sunday wearer on the odd occasions we could celebrate a victory. I say it every year but one time they will revert to a plain old-fashioned, simple red home shirt with just the sword and it will prove a best-seller. I think I will look at the leisure range instead...

One other thing I did note and that was the use of Chris Solly and Igor Vetekole in the photo-shoot alongside Captain Jackson and new-boys, Bauer, Ba and Makienok. I don't want to read too much into this but if there was a decent chance of either Igor or Chris moving on, as rumoured, then you would assume we could have used someone who is more likely to be appearing in the shirt this season. That's the good sign, although you could argue that the same logic suggests Player-of-the-Year, Jordan Cousins could yet be sold on.

Saturday's friendly curtain-raiser at Welling gives fans a chance to see the new kit in the flesh and it should stir the speculation pot in terms of whose missing and who is getting game-time.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

Makienok makes three

Hot in the heels of El-Hadji Ba, we have today completed the season-long loan of giant Palermo striker, Simon Makienok. There was talk of 'with an option to buy' but no mention on the Club site that it's any more than a straightforward loan.

Makienok is 24 and has scored 57 goals in his native Denmark although his move to Palermo last year saw his opportunities limited to four appearances and he failed to score. That would suggest he might struggle in the Championship but having been handed the number 9 shirt, it looks like he's going to get his chance. The current Club strategy means you have go consider the trade-off and Makienok's arrival makes the sale of Igor Vetokele look more likely.