Saturday 30 April 2022

Ipswich Town 4 v Charlton Athletic 0 (Jackson must go)

After a routine 2-0 home win last week against Shrewsbury, Johnnie Jackson picked his best eleven to end the season at Portman Road. In front of just shy of 2,000 travelling supporters, this team of Harkness (MacGillivray Covid), Famewo, Pearce, Inniss, Blackett-Taylor, Morgan, Dobson, Gilbey, Matthews, Stockley and Washington showed us once more what this season has been about. Being second best, half-hearted and far too often, simply couldn't care-less. Soundly beaten, they deserve all the derision being aimed at them by the supporters.

Most fans will be as interested in who gets shipped out than who we bring in, such is the low opinion collectively held over so many of these players. The fact that the Player of the Year has been a one-horse race from the outset tells you all you need to know. There simply are no other contenders to trouble George Dobson. I don't even think Dobson is a particularly great player but he has shown the fight and correct attitude that has been missing from so many others too often.

Like most of you I am pissed-off once more on a Saturday evening but at least it's the last time this season and the suffering has ended. However, I have to say that I find Johnnie Jackson's post match comments insulting to our supporters and worrying in the extreme for next season. 

He thinks "we have a good core that will be coming back to us next season." No Johnnie, we have a very weak core of players who don't work hard enough for this club and who too often couldn't-care-less. We are desperately short of winners in your squad and you don't appear to have anyone who can play your sole formation. If the core of the team next season is made up from these players then we can expect a very similar season and you will be sacked. He blamed today's shambolic performance on players being uncertain of their  futures! You think it's only just dawned on them Johnnie - pathetic? He also goes on, almost unbelievably to tell us that "they've been giving me everything." That speaks for itself. Everything they have has resulted in the worst season in living memory and a 13th placed finish.

It is now crystal clear to me that Johnnie Jackson needs to be replaced. He has proven beyond doubt that he is tactically inept and that he cannot motivate his players two games in-in-a-row. If he really thinks that the core of this side is good enough, then there really is nothing more to say. We simply cannot afford a repeat of this year and he seems to be preparing the ground for just that. 

Thomas Sandgaard needs to call it a day and give him his cards. 

Friday 22 April 2022

Just two left...

I was away in Scotland last week getting some fresh air and generally relaxing. So much so that I only tuned into the Morecambe game just before half-time and promptly decided to tune back out again to avoid any chances of weekend depression. 

When I caught up on the blow-by-blow, it was all sadly familiar and equally disappointing. Hopes for Tuesday's rearranged visit to Cambridge were low and I even felt confident enough to take Cambridge in my acca at 2-1. This team continues to let me down, even when they manage a win! Two deflected goals both counted and whilst we can consider ourselves a tad fortunate not to fall behind in the first-half, we just about deserved the win. Given we are struggling alongside Cambridge for a 12th-placed finish, I guess the result was no real surprise. 

So, we now have only Shrewsbury at home and Ipswich away before the curtain comes down on this sorry season. Neither match matters much to anyone so desire, self-respect and pride will largely determine results. A win and a loss look likely. I was looking forward to being a guest in the Valley Gold box for tomorrow's game but have somehow tested positive for Covid! I feel fine and have no obvious symptoms but I won't now see the Addicks live now until next season.

It was reassuring to hear this week that the three old men of the squad, Gunter, Watson and Soare will not be getting extensions in SE7. No great surprise given their respective performances this season. They have all enjoyed decent careers elsewhere and I am sure we all wish them well. It's a good start for the wages pot for Summer signings. We now need to see some mettle from Johnnie Jackson as he deals with the other eight out-of-contract players. He has to break the "that'll do" culture of this squad and find a lot more winners in the process.

I am also assuming we will be saying farewell to all six loanees, Famewo, Lee, Leko, Burstow, John and Castillo. There won't be many tears shed for them either.

Sunday 10 April 2022

Welling United 2 v Ebbsfleet United 4

I have not been over to watch the Wings as many times this season as in recent years. I could have managed a few more but I have been disheartened by a non-stop merry-go-round of player changes. It seems as if there has been an average of three in and three out every week since the season started. So much so that when I have turned up for a game, I can barely recognise two or three names in the squad from the previous visit. 

You might think that Peter Taylor would have sorted this out or that the better players would have been retained until owner Mark Goldberg felt he had found a winning combination. Sadly, results and performances don't appear to have been anywhere near the top of the priority list and the Wings have struggled all season. Going into yesterday's game they had hit the bottom of the table and are locked with Billericay in a fight to avoid finishing last and dropping into Tier 7 of the football league for, I think, the first time.

Ebbsfleet are fighting for a play-off place at the other end of the table so I wasn't expecting a miracle yesterday. Nor were the Wings faithful from what I could gather. Nonetheless, with the home fans congregated on the Danson Park terrace, we were treated to an opening goal in front of us as Statham worked his way down the right wing and put a fine cross into the box for the arriving Tom Perry to meet in the centre of the box and flick on a header that beat Moulder to his right. 

It was game-on at that point but Welling fell back and tried to hold their lead. The visitors didn't panic and set about building pressure. The familiar Chris Solly skipped about behind the defence prompted attacks from deep. Christian N'Guessan and Finney stood tall in the centre and largely kept the Wings forward pairing quiet after the goal. Strangely, the usually lively Dipo Akinyemi was out on the wing and his potential contribution was lessened.

My largest concern, however, was the Wings goalie. I had said farewell to the impressive Jack Sims on Twitter over a week ago and was now focusing on what looked like the smallest man on the pitch between the Wing's posts. This impression might have been exacerbated by the fact that he was wearing his hair in bunches to make himself look bigger. To be fair to his defence, they protected him fairly well but when he was called on to make his first real save, he could only parry the header which came back off the post and was buried by Finney. After that, it was just a matter of time and a penalty before half-time was thumped home with ease.

Welling heads dropped and it wasn't long after the break before all hope was lost. An innocuous looking Fleet attack down the Welling right resulted in a ball into the box which looked easy for the covering defender and goalie Boyce-Clark but there was no communication and the defender's control-touch beat the advancing Boyce-Clark for an embarrassing third. 

On 68 minutes, Derry chased a long ball and made what looked to me like a frustrated two footed tackle from behind on Chris Solly who has arrived first and turned to shelter the ball. Derry managed to touch the ball which caused howls from the Wings fans behind the goal when he was subsequently booked but it was a clear-cut booking. I felt sorry for Solly who was the target of abuse all afternoon despite playing very well for the visitors and doing nothing to warrant it other being a former well-established higher league player. 

Looking across the Ebbsfleet side, they had a number of ex-league professionals and looked confident from the off, even when going one-down. Finney and N-Guessan apart, they aren't a big side though and I thought Welling should have targeted this far more than they did. 

Welling are staring down the gun at the moment and with Dorking and Maidstone yet to visit Park View Road, it's not looking good. It was sad walking around the ground yesterday to see the worsening state of repair. Fences to neighbouring gardens are gaping open and there is rubbish and equipment lying all over the place. The visiting terrace still has a broken section roped-off and there is an air of malaise around the place. 

I hear Mark Goldberg may be selling up but you have to wonder who might be coming in and whether or not they will have the ambition and the funds to actually improve anything? Goldberg appears to have lost interest and it will be a sad indictment if he leaves the club in a lower division than when he acquired it. 

Meanwhile in South Yorkshire, Johnnie Jackson's boys proved what a wasted season we have had by beating promotion-chasing Rotherham 1-0 courtesy of a classy finish from Player-of-the-Year, George Dobson. 

Monday 4 April 2022

That 'matchday experience'

It's a horrible expression which immediately invokes images of a self-satisfied Katrein Meire swanning around the Valley in the hour or two before the match with a host of bodyguards and sychophants telling her that her latest ill-conceived novelty would soon have the tills ringing. Imported by marketeers, especially since the success of the Premier League, it's allowed big clubs to milk their increasingly gullible supporters whose demographic profile has continued to evolve higher up the Wanker Scale largely at the expense of the traditional working class family support that was once the bedrock of all clubs.

If we are honest, for many of us a matchday was always about more than the 90 minute struggle at the Valley. What drew us back game after game wasn't just the sparkling football and famous victories, but the few pints in the pub before and/or after the match, meeting up with a load of like-minded mates. It was gossip, banter and laughter. The back-slapping and the piss-take. The configuration of grounds encouraged free association and you could roam to say hello to other mates as well as those you stood with religiously. For the more avid supporter, away games added another dimension and helped strengthen the bonds with other fans which made home matches all the more enjoyable. 

Looking back on the gradual loss of interest over the last ten years, our footballing decline has obviously taken a lot of the fun out of it, but I think there's a lot more to it than that. We have never been glory boys have we? Success has always been relatively fleeting and most of us have always been more accustomed to disappointment.

Going as a teenager or in my early twenties, I bought a season ticket which was affordable and whilst we blamed the Glikstens for our historic failure in not keeping up with Arsenal, the status quo they presided over largely meant that ownership was a brief topic of conversation. That became a huge issue from 1985 when it threatened briefly to close the club but we eventually recovered under better ownership and after the return to the Valley concerns largely faded away until Richard Murray sold up to Jiminez and Slater, since when ownership has become as much a topic of conversation as how the team are doing and invariably for all the wrong reasons.

The matchday scene, focused around the dozen-plus pubs and clubs dotted around the Valley but in-line with pubs everywhere, a bumper Saturday taking twice a month during the season hasn't been enough to prevent their number dwindling to four (The Royal Oak, The Rose of Denmark, The Bugle and the The Anchor in Hope). That's meant they tend to be busier than ever at peak and prices have risen too - £6 a pint in the Oak. It's become so bad that most of my cohort now either rarely bother (driving to the game instead) or they drink further afield and train it in for kick-off. Some had reluctantly decided to endure the Fans Bar or whatever it's called now in the Covered End. Moaning non-stop about the poor service, duff selection of beer, stingy chip portion etc, the completely unnecessary move to plastic or cardboard drinking vessels in recent weeks has seen them join the exodus to Greenwich, Blackheath, Plumstead or Abbey Wood pre-match. 

As regular readers may know, I live locally and I moved here in 1987 because I spent so much of my social time in SE7 that it made sense. In that time matchdays in and around the ground have changed so much. I would regularly walk up to the station before 12 to put a bet on and decide where to have my first pint. I would be stopped several times en route to the Bookie by Charlton mates who wanted to catch-up and let me know their plans for the day. I would encounter wide-eyed away fans, often wanting to know where they could get a drink or recommendations of where to eat or go after the game. 

On Saturday I walked around to station after 12 and saw no-one I know other than the regular burger seller, the independent merch seller and Nick from the Museum. Business is down and we all acknowledged that 'it's not what it used to be.' As is more usual now, I didn't see a Lincoln fan and was back home by 1pm.

The hopelessness of the season is much to blame but even with a successful season, the matchday experience around the ground has been diminished forever. The Club can do more but it can't sell all it's existing capacity for hospitality at the moment and it's limited even we are doing well and fans are ready to spend more. Clubs are also 'corporate' and that's not what most fans want around their matchday. 

Going to football doesn't really get any cheaper and we have had poor value for money in recent seasons - this year being the worst in memory. Just getting to games has also become harder and more expensive. A mate called in on me at 1pm. He lives in Eltham but had driven and parked on Woolwich Common to avoid ULEZ costs and walked down from there so one pint was his limit. I guess that is an even bigger issue for our travelling fans from Kent who are faced with a long walk after a long drive if they own an older car and want to avoid the penalty. Parking too is getting harder as the local authority pushes ahead with ever more controlled parking schemes.

The cost of living issue is really going to bite in the coming months and the Covid-related bill for the billions spent and the billions wasted will need to be paid back over the next twenty years at least, so the longer term picture is not looking great either. That 'matchday experience' will need to be far better, more affordable and more available if it's to support better attendance at games. I really can't see how it changes as things stand and an uninspiring season ticket offer on the back of a season of derided 'freebies' is only going to see numbers slip further. 

Football runs deep and supporters are more durable than most think but we have had a long period of steady decline that we have to arrest. An imaginative offer may have sparked more optimism and hope but we have fluffed that and need to find something else. Mumford and Sandgaard told us recently that they acknowledged the mistakes of this season and that they would be proof-checking future decisions with trusted supporters. The evidence is that those supporters were clearly ignored over the season ticket deal.

The spotlight will now focus on who we bring in to strengthen our squad and also, for once, just how many do we get rid of, because too many of them have proven beyond any remaining doubt that they aren't good enough and we won't move forward until they are gone.

Sunday 3 April 2022

Charlton Athletic 1 v Lincoln City 2

Another bad day at Black Rock. A performance that in many ways typifies this season. Wasteful upfront, stretched at the back and woeful in the middle. One more pathetic double conceded to a side we should be getting something from at home. Alex Gilbey cost us the game with a first-half sending off that was simply unprofessional. 

I am going to focus on Gilbey because he simply shouldn't play for us again. On his game he is good enough but we see it only in patches and the bookings he collects are an insult to the coaching team and the supporters. He was booked against Wimbledon back in February for knocking the ball from the hands of an opponent who was about to take a throw-in that he had conceded. Wimbledon weren't in a dangerous position and the delay to the throw-in gave us absolutely nothing. It was a mindless booking that he followed up on with another in the Bolton game three days later. 

Does he learn? No he doesn't and the first yellow for a deliberate shirt-pull yards from the referee smacked of him winning a bet to earn the 100th booking of our season - another indictment. The bloke behind me shouted out that it was a terrible decision. When I said it was a clear foul and them's the rules he added "I hope he's gonna book everyone who shirt-pulls." We didn't have long to wait before the ref made another booking for another deliberate shirt-pull and it was your clown again, so off he went. We cannot afford to have players in our team who care so little about the result of the match and who are so stupid as to pull an opponents shirt after being booked ten minutes before for the same thing. Committing a foul in  tackle can be accidental or unintentionally bad timing, but reaching out, grabbing an opponents jersey and hanging on to impede him is never accidental. Gilbey shouldn't play again this season and he needs to be moved on in the Summer. 

If I sound pissed-off, it's because I was and I left early in the second-half. A very rare occurrence for me (unless we are three-down) but I knew the game was lost and I thought I'd enjoy myself more downing a few pints in the Radical with a mate, which I did (drinking during the game indeed).

The other news yesterday was the club's new season ticket deal and it was predictably dull and uninspiring. A "prize freeze" has been announced until May 9th. That's it. Amid a cost of living crisis, following the worst season in living memory and a ongoing furore about freebie tickets that has undermined the value of the season ticket, the lateral thinkers in the inept commercial team come up with the same inducement as every other year. I will do what I have done for the last four or five years and wait until August to see how encouraged or not I am by the Summer signings. This year, of course, I didn't renew because of the disastrous Summer recruitment. Almost as important this Summer, sadly, will be seeing who we get rid of, because there is a squad of them who have to be gone if we are to have any chance of finishing in the Top 6.