Friday 31 May 2019

Meire the Liar quits

In another typically desperate piece of Katrine Meire self-publicity (please let it be the last), the unemployed feminist activist has announced that she will be returning to Belgium to look for work having failed to secure another lucrative position she wasn't qualified for in the UK.

Her "I'm still available" piece complete with PR 'me working' image, jokingly had her saying she managed to negotiate her Brexit within 3 months compared to the government's 3 years. Not sure what she had to negotiate given she was sacked in February. All she needed to do was get on the train. However, her comparison with an inept and useless government Brexit negotiation was fitting.

Trying to maintain a stiff upper lip whilst getting her point across that she is still, still available, she ends by telling us that it's not goodbye but a see-you later. Not if we see you first, you witch.

Monday 27 May 2019

Oh joyous day!

Sunday 26th May 2019 - possibly the most important day in the 114 year history of Charlton Athletic Football Club. Forty thousands Addicks supporters made their way to Wembley yesterday daring to believe that Lee Bowyer's side could emulate that of the 1998 play-off heroes under Alan Curbishley. Thousands more filled the pubs and living rooms of south-east London with the same hopes and fears.

When this season started at The Stadium of Light, Lee Bowyer was unable to field a full substitute bench because he simply didn't have the number of players required. We were several short and yet we matched newly-relegated Sunderland that day and felt hard-done-by settling for just a point in the final minutes. Sickening then that Sunderland netted a last-gasp winner to start Bowyer's season with a defeat. Some then suggested that we would get our revenge come May with the last game of the season in a play-off final against the Makems. We all saw the history and the possibility but very few really believed that.

Throughout the season Bowyer's side have battled and bounced back repeatedly from setbacks, to the point that we were on a decent run prior to Christmas and were in the long-sought after position of being in contention come the January transfer window. We now hoped against hope that Duchatelet would be true his previous word about investing in a promising January position to support a serious promotion bid. Those words were several years old and times have changed. Instead, Lee Bowyer had to swallow hard as his joint top scorer, Karlan Grant, was flogged for a £1m and he was denied a replacement. With Nicky Ajose also having been removed from the wage bill, we instead had to settle for third choice Gills striker, Josh Parker. 

Predictably, we stumbled a bit in January and thoughts of promotion were dropped from the mind. Bowyer, however, continued to talk up our chances and players again began to grind out wins against the odds and reassert themselves as play-off hopefuls. That we maintained that until the credible opposition fell away was inspiring and Charlton fans got behind Bowyer and his team like almost nothing before. Away numbers picked up significantly and demand at home increased until the unbelievable surge in demand for the play-off second-leg at the Valley which saw us pretty much double the attendance of last season's home play-off leg to 25,000. Not only that but we still managed to win through despite being outplayed in that game in an atmosphere I have been reliably assured was the best ever at the Valley (in living memory).

So to yesterday again and the opening few minutes in which we conceded the softest ever goal from a howler that will be remembered for generations to come. It was a shuddering moment for the Charlton faithful and a cruel, cruel blow for Dillon Phillips who has been outstanding this season. Strangely though, I felt inspired by it that Phillips would have the last laugh. That's so often the way these things work out and so I had to sit back and watch it play out.

I was not worried about Sunderland as an attacking force prior to the match. They looked very light up front and any threat they had appeared to be from midfield. They looked confident and sure-footed for about twenty minutes after taking the lead (without touching the ball) but after that Charlton found their feet and began to dominate the possession and the play. Before half-time Lyle Taylor managed a yard of space on the right and poked a low bending cross behind the Makem back-line which arrived for Pratley and Purrington. Pratley wasn't able to reach it but Purrington was and he knocked in his first ever goal to atone for Phillips' bloomer and put things back on an even keel. The relief was palpable and it visibly lifted the Reds.

Suddenly the Sunderland fans were no longer so loud. Charlton fans found their voices and a bouncing rendition of the Allez, Allez, Allez song saw us able to leave the field at half-time with our heads high. I was confident we would win in the second-half and we resumed where we left off. Phillips made a couple of smart saves in the second-half and although we weren't creating loads of chances, we were dominating possession and passing and moving much better than Sunderland. This has been the trade-mark of Bowyer's side.

The second-half flew by and I was beginning to contemplate extra time when my man-of-the-match, Josh Cullen. crossed deep from the left towards the back-post. Jason Pearce's downward header was prodded out but only to Patrick Bauer who hammered it home off Flanagan to finish the tie and give us everything we had hoped and prayed for. No time for any panic. No time for even the threat of an equaliser. Lee Bowyer asked the fourth official " how long?' and was told "five seconds." 

The celebrations were brilliant. The prize may have been decidedly lighter than that in 1998 but you wouldn't have known it and as I said at the start, it could just prove to be the biggest ever if it encourages reluctant seller Duchatelet to finally cut his losses and move on. His window will likely be short because unless he invests heavily we are likely to quickly look like a League One side again playing in the Championship. That's not to say Bowyer might not continue to over-perform but this side won't threaten the Championship and we are almost certain to lose a number of the higher earners who are out-of-contract and free to negotiate more lucrative deals. 

I was delighted to spot Andrew Muir and Gerald Murphy and guests prior to the match. Not sure they had flown half-away around the world at considerable time and expense just to see the club they once had hopes of acquiring. Whatever the state-of-play, they must still harbour ambitions....

Finally, we should spare a thought for the Sunderland fans who were once again hugely respectful and dignified in defeat. They were as gracious as they were in 1998 and I sincerely hope they walk League One next season (just like they did the Championship in 1998-99). We just need to avoid changing places with them (which we also did that year). 

In the meantime, please, oh please Roland, wake up and smell the coffee. Your best chance to cut your losses is between now and probably October. Get real on a sale price and do a deal so you can move on and maybe enjoy your dotage.

Sunday 19 May 2019

Charlton fans steal the show

A battling, if disappointing display from Lee Bowyer's boys on Friday secured a play-off final against Sunderland at Wembley next week. That was what 25,000 people at The Valley expected on Friday. However, what no-one expected was the spontaneous pitch invasion that followed Tommy Rowe's final penalty miss for Doncaster Rovers. 

Sky's cameras captured it all as thousands of fans swarmed onto the pitch from all sides, including one wheelchair fan who was equally determined not to miss out. Given the damage done to our fan-base since Duchatelet took over in 2014, this was a remarkable sight. Lee Bowyer's battling side have really struck a chord and in recent weeks the demand to see them play has been growing but even allowing for that, what we saw on Friday told us more than any of us could have hoped for. In spite of Katrine Meire's war with the fans and Duchatelet's complete disinterest in anything to do with the football side of the club, the numbers of those who carry Charlton in the hearts has remained strong. The dire football of recent years, the hopeless numpties forced on a succession of under-supported managers and the disdain with which fans have been treated hasn't materially broken the bonds with our supporters. Gates may have continued to fall and general interest been in steep decline, but given hope and something to be proud about, supporters have returned in impressive numbers. 

More importantly, it says something significant about the potential of Charlton Athletic Football Club. Something Duchatelet has failed completely to understand or even been tempted to engage in. It's too late for him, but prospective new owners should see a huge commercial opportunity to drive this club forward. Bowyer has achieved what he has in spite of Duchatelet. Imagine just what may be possible with progressive, knowledgeable owners with a modicum of ambition and reasonable financial support. 

I am very conscious that my posting over the last couple of years has been increasingly depressing given the state of affairs we have had to reflect on and for me the hidden damage was potentially the biggest problem of all. Friday's outpouring after Tommy Rowe's penalty miss suddenly revises all of that and should give us all massive hope. Losing at Wembley could prove disastrous if Duchatelet remains at the helm longer term - which seems very likely - but winning could just make Duchatelet realise that he may not get a better opportunity to sell the club and that he should look very seriously at the offers he has been made to date. We can but dream.

Thursday 16 May 2019

Predictable Duchatelet falls for CARD trick

A few weeks ago a delegation from the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet (CARD) managed to get a meeting at the Belgian embassy in London with official, Alain Leroy. The meeting was ostensibly to complain about the mismanagement of CAFC by Roland Duchatelet. The CARD statement following the meeting was innocuous enough given that there were very low expectations that the Embassy officials could or would seek to do anything as a consequence. 

In particular, CARD made the point that M. Leroy was relatively well informed about events at Charlton (more so than Duchatelet) concerning the reneging on bonus payments to lowly paid staff and the ridiculously notion proposed by Duchatelet that the EFL should purchase the club from him. The CARD statement went on to say that M. Leroy said he would make officials (local and regional government as well as the police) in Belgium aware of the meeting but was clear that they would not interfere in what was essentially a private matter between Duchatelet and the clubs' supporters. That was very clear and, I think, recognised by Charlton supporters who wouldn't have expected any more.

Roll forward to yesterday and the latest club website rant from Duchatelet. Bemused is probably the best word to describe's Duchatelet's piece entitled "information regarding a meeting with the Belgian Embassy." In another very weird statement from The President, he appears to tell us nothing more than we already knew and actually includes the CARD statement which explains what the meeting was about and the outcome. It begs the question, what was Duchatelet trying to achieve here in the week the club focuses on the most important game since he took over?

I wish I could give an obvious answer but I can't. His statement adds nothing to what's already happened and offers no conclusion other than the Embassy haven't taken any action against him (which CARD acknowledged they wouldn't). I am left with the odd notion that Duchatelet was, once again, piqued by CARD's audacity and a little embarrassed that the story broke in Belgium and felt that he needed to respond or be seen to have been out-manoeuvred again by CARD. Sending his Belgian Gofor to the Embassy to determine what had already been openly reported was a little desperate. It's just that having nothing more to add exposes Duchatelet's childish need to try and score points, even when he cannot and his response simply makes him look evermore the idiot we know he is. De Truck may have met someone more senior than Alain Leroy, which will have given Duchatelet some sort of satisfaction, but it doesn't change the story.

Meanwhile, Lee Bowyer and his side will battle to win a lucrative Wembley play-off this week that will help Duchatelet cut his operating losses this season (by £1-2m?)and maybe restore the club to the division we were in when he bought us. What are the odds the child-pensioner is planning to take the credit for Bowyer's success? Perhaps he will be able to turn his refusal to replace Kim Grant in January into a positive? By then he might also be reflecting that he has lost the man responsible for the success by failing to extend his contract in good time. If Bowyer does end ups signing, I really hope he leverages his position hard...

Monday 13 May 2019

Woking 1 v Welling United 0

Ultimately a day of disappointment for Wings fans who travelled to Woking in numbers to see their side throw the dice one last time in their bid for promotion. I was one of approximately 800 who gathered on the narrow concrete terracing down one side of Woking's ground hoping to see the Wings reverse two earlier 1-0 defeats at Woking this season in both league and F A Cup.

Sadly, it wasn't to be. Welling stood up to the challenge and took the game to their hosts in the second-half but they were chasing the game by then to a superbly flighted first-half free-kick which had beaten the wall and stretched beyond the fingertips of the flailing Dan Wilks in the Welling goal.

Chances were few and far between for both sides but Wilks made more saves and Welling were limited really to two real goal-scoring chances, one in each half. Before Woking took the lead, Bradley Goldberg had a chance after capitalising to seize possession in the box and curl a shot beyond the Woking keeper only to see it bounce off the inside of the post and back into his arms. In the second-half Danny Mills, for once dwarfed by three massive Woking defenders managed to break clear and drive a fierce low shot which was well-saved. 

Woking's ground was a surprise and the size of their impressive stand behind one of the goals spoke of ambition and money. The rest of the ground reflects years of development and slow growth but with close to 5,000 fans packed in you could see them making a fist of League 2 if they were to make it. It was a reminder too that the National League is just that and involves long away trips to the likes of Gateshead and Hartlepool and you are facing sides with real league pedigree (Leyton Orient) and/or ambition and money (like Salford FC) who secured a fourth promotion this weekend in five years. 

So, as we made our way back on the train we were left to think of next season and a continuing ability to sup ale on the terraces during the game. Not something you can do in the National League. Small comforts and all that....

Before kick-off we watched Charlton romp to victory at Doncaster but as always with the Addicks we managed to leave a question-mark hanging over the result by conceding a late consolation when we should really have settled it with a third. I am sure the lads will settle the tie on Friday but we have to score first to kill them off.

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Strange times for Charlton fans

These are strange times for Charlton supporters as they prepare for the play-offs in unusually bouyant mood. A fine set of results over the last three months, whilst our rivals stumbled meant we finished third in the table on the last day of the season and won home advantage in the second leg of the play-offs against the sixth placed side, Doncaster, who finished miles behind us. 

Support at away games has been building during this period and with the team winning the majority of the matches played, there is a confidence about winning through the play-offs like nothing I can remember previously. Normally by now we would be fully expecting to fall over against Doncaster and not even make Wembley for the final (like we did against Shrewsbury and Swindon before them). Instead, confidence, expectation and excitement is so high that there has been a clamour for tickets for both legs against Rovers. 

It looks like we will get close to selling out our initial allocation of 3000 tickets for the away leg on Sunday that kicks-off at the ridiculously early time of 12.30pm to suit Sky. I know we surpassed this figure for the similar kick-off in Sheffield against United a few years back but this was a game that would have put us into our first F A Cup semi-final since winning the competition in 1947. We were also a division above the Blades and many (me included) thought this was our time. The Doncaster game is just the first leg of play-off double-header and one which we can still win at The Valley irrespective of the result at the Keepmoat (hopefully we won't have to overcome a 3-0 deficit from the first leg).

If the away effort is commendable, the rush for tickets for the return on Friday 17th May is arguably even more impressive. With home gates having fallen steadily under Duchatelet's miserable ownership, we have seen a clamour for tickets and sales for the home areas which were approaching 21,000 this evening with Donny fans to be added and fully another week of potential sales. A good result on Sunday could even see us sellout in the home areas for the first time since we regularly did it in the Premiership.

The final will clearly be a harder game if we see off Doncaster. Sunderland and Portsmouth finished much closer to us and both have had very strong spells this season. Both are fantastically well supported home and away and will probably both take more to Wembley for a play-off final than us. And yet, the supporters of both clubs are desperate to avoid us. Pompey fans saw us do the double over them and Sunderland appear to be lacking confidence as the season ended with some very poor performances and results. This may be fuelling part of the current Charlton euphoria that promotion is a formality, although we should all be reminded that there are still large hurdles to clear.

I have been adamant that we cannot get promoted under our current ownership given the mess that the club is in but hadn't figured on the impact of a manager like Lee Bowyer. Without a full-time Chief Executive, no Finance Director and a host of other unfilled senior positions, decision-making at the top has obviously been truncated and slow. Lieven De Turck has been playing a small part in communicating the thoughts of Duchatelet outside of his limited, part-time, 'sale' role and he has made it clear that next season will see budgets cut again as the club tries to move closer towards break-even. Duchatelet is determined to cut his losses and it appears he is continuing to try to trade is way out out of the mess rather than simply selling the club for a realistic price to an interested party and swallowing his loss for incompetence over the last five years. My logic for this is simply that he is insisting on a completely over-inflated price equivalent to recovery of all his losses, now heading for £70m. There is no other plausible reason, despite the undoubted legal costs involved so far in dealing with the queue of interested parties there appear to have been over the last 18 months. An ongoing 'sale' story may well suit Duchatelet as it has quelled the active protests and been a good PR tool to get more fans onside. However, the sale story will soon run out of credibility. Fans at the recent Fans Forum meeting with Lieven De Turck questioned the credibility of De Turck's update on the five interested purchasers he has been telling us about for months but the lines have either gone cold or are still not passed 'go.' Some of his explanations were laughably weak and he is going to struggle to spin these out for much longer without a serious buyer emerging publicly. 

Duchatelet may be sitting looking at possible monies to come from sell-on clauses and performance bonuses on players sold on, like Joe Gomez, Ademola Lookman, Johan Berg Gudmunssen, Esri Konsa and even Karlan Grant. He is probably also expecting to trouser another million or two from the sale of Joe Aribo in the Summer and I am sure he would listen more seriously to offers for other players like Lyle Taylor than he appears to have done to prospective buyers of the club. He has even told prospective buyers to be creative with their bids when refusing to give a sell price. This suggests back-loading of payments to Duchatelet in coming years when he is no longer owner, similar to the deals he struck when exiting St. Truiden where I believe he still gets a cut from the gate for example. De Turck has told us that different prices for the club have been agreed for the club as a League One or Championship club so there will be no unforeseen rise in the price expected although it's hard to understand this when it's also been said that Duchatelet won't give a price to prospective buyers until he's heard their 'creative' offers!

On the cost cutting front, it is clear that the bigger earners whose contracts come to an end in June, will not be renewed if we are still in League One. That would see us lose the nucleus of the current side and if you add in the risk that Bowyer doesn't agree a new deal, we are in a world of potential trouble in League One next season. This is the main reason why CARD have called for a delay in purchasing season tickets until we know what next season looks like. We could have another Karel Fraye scenario with a team bolstered by lower league players and youngsters.

If, of course, the promotion confidence proves right, we face a different dynamic. Presumably, Duchatelet will have to look at an increased revenue forecast from ticket sales (more away supporters for starters) and also TV revenues etc and agree a higher budget but I am only expecting that to secure Bower and the playing management team as well as some of those key bigger earners for next season. Reducing the operating loss will still be the key driver and I can't see Duchatelet investing the sort of money needed to be competitive in the Championship, let alone challengers. He was very clear in one of recent outbursts that the Championship was a money-pit - can anyone see him spending a million quid on the likes of Ricky Holmes in January as a squad player like Sheffield United did on their first season back? Realistically that would mean a season of struggle in the Championship and a likely season-long relegation fight. 

However you look at it, the future still looks dismal but promotion offers some slight hope for next season. Failure to get promoted could well signal an end to the Bowyer regime and half this current side which would surely kill off the current feel-good factor which has been increasing attendances and improving revenues. If only Duchatelet could see and understand these dynamics? Sadly he only sees the bottom-line, which will again tell him he needs to spend less, even at the expense of the potential success of the football club. Forgive me for not jumping on the bandwagon.

Sunday 5 May 2019

Welling United 3 v Chelmsford City 2

Play-off semi-final at Park View Road this afternoon which provided some real drama for the 2,000 fans in attendance. Chelmsford City (apologies for referring to them as Town in previous posts) brought a decent following of maybe 600 fans who enjoyed an exciting game in Spring sunshine.

Welling took a two-nil first-half lead in the league fixture a few weeks ago and they held on to coast to victory in the second-half. They started similarly today with two first-half goals which were both scrambled in from close range after fine efforts on goal, the first of which the visiting keeper parried and the second which cannoned off the inside of the post from a Thierry Audel strike and which I think David Ijaha poked in. 

Chelmsford looked beaten at that point but shortly before half-time they won a free-kick and Wilks was beaten by the strike. Two-one at half-time and there was an uneasy feeling that the goal might spur Chelmsford on to take the initiative in the second-half. They are a big strong side who like to lump the ball high at very opportunity. Welling had tried to compete with this in the first-half but having changed to playing it on the floor in the second, they controlled the half without really pressing home their advantage. 

Five minutes from the end, Chelmsford had a shot from distance which was high to the centre of the Wings goal. Wilks had it covered but it moved a bit in the air and he tried to parry and collect it but it spun from his hands and dropped under the bar for an undeserved equaliser. The visitors were cock-a-hoop, including two melons in the main stand who appeared to be offering Welling fans out for a fight. I wish I had been close enough to oblige.

Welling re-focused and pressed for a winner. Danny Mills was inches wide with a header and then a second effort also missed the far post when it looked in all the way. In the first minute of added time, the mercurial Brendan Kiernan picked a ball up wide and ran pell-mell down the flank. He was met by the full-back as he turned into the box and was brought down for a penalty. He stepped up and drove it home off the keeper to avoid the need for extra-time and send the Wings into a play-off final at Woking next Sunday (3pm). 

Woking have already beaten the Wings at their place in both the league and the cup with Welling having had moments to score in both games which were very close. They need to hold their nerve and go for it next week because they have the footballing game to win if they press the home side. Wealdstone took a 2-0 lead there today but the professional Woking outfit fought back to score three in the last 15 minutes.