Monday 29 July 2019

Charlton Life Somme Trip 2019

Coming up for three years ago, on the way back from a protest trip to St Truiden, a small party of Addicks agreed a minor detour to enable us to visit the World War One war grave of ex-Addick Herbert "Nobby" Nightingale. We also took in the Menin Gate and the experience was enriched by the commentary given to us by Guild of Battlefield Guide and all-round Charlton nut, Clive Harris. I promised myself that day that I wanted to see and learn more about World War One and would get on one of Clive's very popular tours.

It may have taken longer than anticipated but I was delighted to spend this weekend touring the battlefields and cemeteries of The Somme. The trip was enhanced by the fact that friends and I were part of a coach full of Charlton Lifers as well as few fans from other clubs (Millwall and Reading). We set-off from Charlton at 5.15am on Saturday and were in northern France and at our first stop by mid-morning. The coach rolled on from stop-to-stop until tea-time and we were all thoroughly absorbed by Clive's first-class story-telling which told us of the key military engagements, individual heroics and the sporting connections as we went. 

I have learnt far more about World War Two over the years but the significance of World War One has loomed larger more recently as I have read more and it has received more media attention with the passing centenary. It was fantastic to be able to put landscapes and towns to what were previously just awkward French place names. When you are on the ground, it's also incredible just how close all of these iconic names and actions are to one another. Clive has a story to tell on almost every bend in the road and he can recount the war on a day-by-day date basis. The product of a life's obsession covering the reading of more than 3000 books on the subject and 15 years experience teaching and touring. How fortunate we are to count him among our number.

We had the added benefit of the personal family stories from a number of those on board which were retold and remembered as we reached the appropriate places. Brave young men whose lives were cut short so suddenly leaving a painful family legacy which would endure for decades but which has still not been forgotten 100 years later. 

Michael and Matteus, two German Addicks, who like the Millwall-supporting couple, had to enjoy some gentle stereotypical ribbing, such as "waiting to win on penalties" in a particularly well-told Clive tale about football in no-man's land. It may also have encouraged Clive to take us to the largest German WW1 cemetery in France, at Neuville-St Vaast outside Arras, where we walked among the graves and steel crosses of 45,000 fallen Germans. The contrast to the multitude of 'English Garden' Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemeteries we had visited and driven past was stark, and a powerful reminder that there are no real winners and losers in war, just huge changes in society and the world at large. 

In addition to the sites, stories and sacrifices of heroes Donald Bell, Sandy Turnbull and Walter Tull, we also stopped at the resting place of Addick, Fred Chick, probably most poignant life story of the three Charlton men killed during the Great War - Jim McKenzie will have to wait a little longer. 

As if that were not enough, Clive and Steve Hunnisett (sp) are supporting a Charlton Museum-led evening next Tuesday (6th August) at the White Swan in Charlton Village where there will be four short talks on WW1 sporting connections. There will also be a 'Blitz Walk' from the ground to the Village ahead of this at 6.15pm and the Charlton Museum will be open from 4pm. 

Thursday 11 July 2019

All change for Welling v Charlton curtain raiser

Saturday sees the traditional Welling United v Charlton Athletic friendly that for many signals the start of the more competitive pre-season friendlies. After a week in the heat of Malaga and only a half against the petulant Medan Gas Board or whatever they were called, Lee Bowyer will be glad to know the Wings won't cry-off if a decision goes against them.

Every year there are new players to see for the first time and this time is no different although, maybe for the first time, the Wings will boast pretty much a completely new squad after a wholesale clearout in the last two months. By my calculations we may see as many Academy debutants as new signings playing for the Addicks. Macauley Bonne, Chuks Aneke and Tom Lockyer should all feature but the squad is currently so much smaller now that we will be dependent upon youth to fill the bench. Bowyer must still be looking for at least another three new faces.

Meanwhile, owner Mark Goldberg dispensed with manager Steve King after twelve months and is going to have another go at managing the side himself. His last attempt wasn't a glorious affair and I suspect he will fall a good bit short of Steve King's efforts last season. 

I am far less familiar with how things work in the non-league but following the Wings last year, it was a bit depressing to see so many changes of personnel during the season. No sooner had you taken to a player than you could see a farewell Tweet as he had moved on another incomer was announced. To be fair, it didn't seem to have an obviously negative effect on Welling's fortunes but who knows what a more consistent starting eleven might have delivered? There is a real habit of bringing back old boys and a classic example of this at PVR last year was goal-scorer Adam Coombes. 'Coombesy' has come and gone previously but big-spending Billericay bought him at the start of last season, only to loan him back to Welling after a month or two and then take him back after that. Coombes is back in Welling red once more this season and I really hope he is there for the duration because his goals could be a big factor for the Wings.

Whatever the strength of the new Welling side, it was disappointing to see pretty much the whole squad culled following the play-off game at Woking. Player of the season, Thierry Audel, was let go along with pretty much everyone else except goalkeeper Dan Wilks and owner's son Bradley Goldberg. That included the talented Brendan Kiernan, mercurial Nassim L'Ghoul as well as target man Danny Mills. Perhaps Goldberg will now try and build something but I reserve judgement. 

The Wings have had a 1-1 draw away at Margate and a 3-1 reverse at National League side Bromley in the last week and will be hoping to keep things close against their professional neighbours. Given existing shortcomings in Bowyer's squad, this could be a closer affair than usual. 

Tuesday 2 July 2019

Season Ticket deadline extended again shocker

The Club's Season Ticket deadline was extended again yesterday for another week in an effort to wring out the last of the waverers before Championship pricing is finally imposed. I have to smile every year when this happens because the majority of our supporters never appear to notice this because the following season there is a mild panic that they might lose their seat or be forced to pay a bit more if they haven't stumped up before the season finishes and secured their golden ticket.

The call to delay purchase until it was clearer who would be managing the side next season and some form of reassurance that the squad wasn't going to be woefully short for the Championship went largely unheeded. Now that unsold season ticket reservations have now been put back on sale it has become clearer that sales have increased from approximately 6,000 last year to somewhere approaching 10,000. The increase following Lee Bowyer's contract signature wasn't hugely significant in terms of sales but the overall increase is impressive given that key members of the Play-Off winning side have since moved on and recruitment so far has been modest. 

It looks like we should have over 10,000 season ticket holders come the first day of the season even if Duchatelet is still the owner - the club will be aiming to be able to announce that as early as next week after the latest deadline extension. A sale of the club before August could see another couple of thousand refuseniks digging deep to return to the fold. Those sorts of numbers should see average gates this season of c 15-17,000 which wouldn't be too shabby given our recent history. 

Like everyone else I was delighted to see Bowyer finally signing a contract extension even if the way it was mis-managed was nothing short of hugely embarrassing for the club. Duchatelet exposed his lack of ambition or interest in the football club once again with that laughable fit-of-pique statement at the eleventh hour exposing the offer to Bowyer and saying it was the best deal he would get. You have to believe that the forcing of his hand to double that offer at 10pm the same day will have consequences for the budget and Bowyer's chances of success this season.

Bowyer performed a minor miracle last year but the chances of him being able to repeat that feat in a much more competitive division where the majority of the sides invest millions every close season just to stand still are slim in my opinion. The players brought in so far are basic positional replacements for gaps in the squad that have emerged with the loss of Bauer, Aribo and Co. I have no issue with any of them in particular but it's a huge ask to expect these players to improve on those they are replacing in a division which is tougher than most are used to. Our squad remains small and we still have gaps to fill. I am sure Bowyer will do that but the quality of the side come August has to be questionable given the budget. 

A takeover could lead to an injection in cash for squad strengthening, even if that were to need to wait until January but there has to remain a huge doubt that anyone will be able to conclude a satisfactory deal with the illogical Duchatelet. Time is running out for prospective buyers and Duchatelet should realise that he will not get as much for a struggling Championship side as one newly promoted from League One. If it doesn't happen soon, we will be back to the January window cycle and by then we could find buyers waiting to see if we will be relegated or not before agreeing a price. It really is Groundhog Day and it hurts.