Thursday, March 31, 2005

Charlton no more

Charlton Athletic has seized the opportunity of its cententary year to re-brand the club and give it a new name. A club spokesman explained, 'We thought that the old brand was getting tired and that the club needed a more up market yet family oriented image for the 21st century. Our research showed that most people in London don't know where Charlton is and those that did have a rather down market image of the place. So we called in image consultants Quadrex Ltd. And we went through some intensive brainstorming.'

The first idea produced was Greenwich Borough, but this was thought to be too bland and was already the name of a non-league team. Blaclheath had the image of being more up market, but possibly too much so given that Charlton still has to appeal in part to a mid-market target group. It was also seen as very geographically specific.

'We were very excited about our next idea', said a Quadrex spokesman. 'It had the advantage of brevity and not being geographically confined and had an exciting 21st century feel to it. It might also have appealed to residents of the Greenwich peninsula. But eventually we decided that Dome had too many negative connotations and might be corrupted to Doom.'

The eventual choice was Thames Gateway. 'Thames suggests a dynamic, flowing movement that also defines London and has positive connotations now that the river has been cleaned up. But there is also a nice continuity about it to please the retro segment of the support. Unfortunately, it was the name of a failed club in the inter-war period. However by adding "Gateway" not only do we overcome that problem. but we also symbolise the geographical spread of Charlton's growing support on either side of the estuary made possible by the highly successful Valley Express service.'

The name change will be accompanied by a new shirt design of wavy blue lines which widen to the right to symbolise both the widening of the estuary and the support. A Woolwich Ferry boat will be re-named Thames Gateway and re-painted in the new club colours.

'We know that there will be an initial adverse reaction from some fans', said a club spokesman, 'but we are sure that they will come to realise that this change will open a new era for the club.'

Club's financial figures

The half-year operating loss of £500,000 and net loss of £1.7m are not particularly worrying and will not doubt improve when the full year figures are available as Richard Murray forecasts.

What is more worrying is that 73 per cent of turnover goes on personnel costs, mainly playing staff wages. This is well above the 50 per cent figure recommended by accountants Deloitte. For example, Manchester United are below the 50 per cent figure.

One implication is that the club will have to get rid of some well paid players at the end of the season whose contribution has been marginal. It also shows that the club has little room for financial manoeuvre, despite calls from some fans for it to go (further) into debt. But, as Keith Peacock makes clear in The Times today, Charlton has no intention of overstretching itself and following the route of Leeds and Southampton. The club will continue on its course of slow, prudent development, no matter how frustratuing that is to some fans.

Nevertheless, the possibility of a bid for the club remains an intriguing scenario and, this page would argue, not as far fetched as some people think it is.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Victory at the Home Guard Ground

Leamington continued their advance towards Travel Factory Midland Alliance football next season with a far from convincing 2-1 victory over lowly Alveston at the Home Guard Ground in the suburbs of Stratford upon Avon.

Leamington captain Steve Thompson, who developed his soccer skills on a college scholarship in the US after playing for Birmingham University, has reason to look pleased

The first challenge of the day was to locate the Home Guard Ground which is in Tiddington not Alveston. Fortunately, the website of the Stratford upon Avon Astronomical Society gave us an accurate fix.

An E mail from the club warned us of heavy pre-match traffic, but although we set out early we came to a halt half a mile from the ground with the floodlights tantalisingly ahead of us. Fortunately, the reserve pitch had been turned over to parking for the day to accommodate the hundreds of Leamington fans.

The Bear had said earlier in the day that Alveston would be short of four of their best players, but rumours swept around the ground that they had brought in some 'ringers'. Grumbling about the Leamington manager was much in evidence despite the fact that the Brakes are sixteen points clear in the Midland Combination Premiership.

We took up a position near the dugouts, but were moved away as a rope was slung to create a protection zone. We were told that this was on league instructions to prevent crowd invasions, but anyone could have hopped under the single rail protecting the pitch. In fact it became an enclosure for the players' girl friends and admirers of the suspended Josh Blake.

The home side were led out by former Leamington player Baz Shearsby. Bazza seemed to have put on several pounds since his departure from Harbury Lane.

Leamington dominated the early play and former Coventry City and Inverness Caledonian Thistle ace Leon Morgan converted a corner with a bullet header to put Brakes 1-0 ahead after ten minutes. When Alveston made a rare attack, Cadsy was heard to shout 'Watch out for the ugly one coming in.'

The score was the same at half time and Leamington's play after the break was lacklustre so we had plenty of time to admire the former home of novelist J B Priestley which dominated the view on the other side of the pitch. The one piece of excitement was when Bazza kicked a ball into the circle of admiring girls around Josh Blake.

On 67 minutes Richard Adams, who had scored the winner against West Midlands Police when he returned to his old beat on Saturday, made it 2-0 for Brakes. Unfortunately, Brakes then took their foot off the pedal and Alveston were able to get back into the game with a goal.

As the time ticked away, I was joined by a local sports reporter who complained that he had to cover Coventry Marconi's home game that evening before going to Warwick Races tomorrow. Such is life in the lower reaches of the non-league.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ten Years Ago: Rocking Robins seen off

March 25th 1995 saw me driving through the Cotswolds to Swindon. Having successfully navigated the magic roundabout and parked up, I made my way to the County Ground.

My notes say: 'First half was very disappointing. Main action was when some of the red army stripped to the waist [it was quite a pleasant Spring day]. Before the game and at half time we were entertained by "Rocking Robin and the Robinettes".

The pitch was bumpy and there was a strong wind. The referee was always blowing up for offences and the linesman on our side was diabolical.

In the second half, Leaburn managed to give away a completely unnecessary corner, lumbering about where he shouldn't be. Eventually Grant managed to score [67 minutes] and in the last twenty minutes Charlton started to play some football. Coming out of the ground, the chant was "to the Londoners one-nil"'.

The next day Club Call (remember that?) had to admit that 'the match was not a classic'.

The programme was rather garish and had 'This is Swindon' as an early item. Swindon were in a relegation position and with four teams being relegated that year did eventually do down. However player-manager Steve McMahon declared 'I don't feel under any extra pressure.'

The programme noted that the final matches of the season had been moved to a Sunday for the convenience of television. It was ever thus.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

More on possible bidders for club

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the American company spending £1 billion to resurrect the Millennium Dome has said that it may buy a Premiership football club as it expands into Europe. Tim Leweike, chief executive of the company, is part-time Londoner who 'has a lot of respect for Charlton.'

AEG is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Anschutz Corporation which owns the London Arena. It is a major investor in sports franchises in the United States with three soccer franchises: Los Angeles Galaxy, Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids.

The net worth of Philip Anschutz is $5.1 billion, compared with the $3 billion net worth of Roman Abramovich. Anschutz made his money in oil, then added billions by branching into railroads like Union Pacific. Railroad right-of-ways were used for fibre optic networks and the formation of Qwest Communications which accounts for the bulk of his wealth. It is also accounts for the recent plunge in his net wealth from $15 billion to $5 billion.

Moaners are always demanding that the club be taken into the next stage, but it is difficult to see how this can be done with a stadium holding just over 27,000. (Remember that Manchester United earn far more from gate money than from television revenues). Someone like Anschutz might be in a position to make a substantial cash injection that could help to develop the ground and bring in top quality players.

It would, of course, change the nature of the club. But the club has been changing anyway, inevitably becoming more corporate in style in response to the pressures of the Premiership. Moreover, globalisation in football is not going to go away and really big money is likely to come from outside the UK.

Whether anything will come of this remains to be seen.

Essex man books McCafferty

I felt a strong sense of déja vu at Nene Park on Friday night. Rushden and Diamonds were drawing 1-1 against Lincoln City at half time, but with a player sent off, the game ended 1-4.

The game was refereed by Fred 'Essex Man' Graham who is the only person from Essex on the National List, having been promoted to it at the age of 41 this season (Andy d'Urso, the banker from Billericay, is a Premiership referee). On this performance, we don't want any more referees from the county. Graham's antics were too much for normally equable Charlton loan player Neil McCafferty who got booked in the second half for giving the hapless official a piece of his mind.

As one would expect from a midfield player, McCafferty's main contribution was precision passing as a provider to another players. He put in one superb cross which Broughton somehow managed to head wide of the goal. McCafferty also tracked back well in defence.

However, he was inclined to be shoved off the ball by larger Lincoln players, the Imps relying heavily on pushing players with the benign encouragement of the referee who smiled and joked with the Imps as he came off at the break. McCafferty also had once chance to score, but hesitated.

His loan spell at Rushden has cleared helped him to develop as a player. But there is a big gap between a League Two side threatened with relegation and the Premiership.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sasa Ilic Joins Leeds

Wembley hero Sasa Ilic has joined Leeds on a non-contract basis as goalkeeping cover until the end of the season. He was formerly at Aberdeen on an amateur basis, having been released from Blackpool. He joined the Seasiders at the start of the season and made three League 1 appearances, plus two in the LDV Vans Trophy.

The other clubs he has played at since leaving Charlton are Zalaegerszegi, Portsmouth, Barnsley and Sheffield United.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Jeffers for Wigan?

Wigan Athletic is the latest possible new home for the unsettled Francis Jeffers, according to unconfirmed reports. A £40m warchest will be available if the poorly supported former non-league side win promotion to the Premiership from egg chasing country.

Many Charlton fans have been critical of Curbs' failure to make more use of Jeffers, particularly after his performances against Aston Villa and Birmingham City. However, he does not fit in well to the favoured 4-5-1 formation and we have no idea of what goes on at the training ground.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Deano: I'm happy at Charlton

Goalkeeper Dean Kiely has confirmed that he is happy at Charlton after rumours suggested that he was being seen as the solution to the goalkeeping crisis at Manchester United with Roy Carroll set to leave in the summer.

Kiely said that it was great to be mentioned in connection with the United job and he was flattered by the rumours. But, he emphasised, 'I'm extremely happy at Charlton, I feel really at home here and hopefully that shows in my performance. Charlton took a chance on me six years ago, I think I've repaid that chance. I come to work with a big smile on my face every day and I think that's really important.'

Reserves run continues

Charlton moved nearer the reserve championship with a 2-1 victory over Portsmouth,
reports Brian Cole.

Charlton claimed all 3 points thanks to 2 Jason Euell strikes in the second half.
The first half was evenly contested but it was Pompey that took the lead when Keene headed home after a good Portsmouth move. Charlton had not impressed and Kevin Lisbie failed to find the target on 3 seperate occasions. Bryan Hughes was influential in midfield and was unlucky to have a shot charged down on the edge of the area. The Linesman on the nearside showed his lack of knowledge when he signalled Lisbie offside from a goal kick a fact pointed out to him by West Sussex CASC secretary Vernon Roper.

So Pompey went in at the break with a slight advantage and quite a few jolly Pompey fans pointing in my direction. The second half saw the Addicks take control and Lloyd Sam was increasingly influential on the right wing.
A good Charlton move saw Kevin Lisbie released into the box and a lunge by the Portsmouth defender brought him down. Jason Euell stepped up and buried the spot kick in the left corner. Our picky referee had spotted an infringement though and ordered a retake.This time Euell chose the opposite corner with the same result.

Just after the hour Euell added what was to prove to be the winner. A combination of passes between him and the impressive Hughes released the striker who buried his effort in the Milton end goal.

Guatelli in the Pompey goal was soon in action again to deny Euell his hat trick.
With the lead secured and Charlton now in control the game came to it's natural conclusion with Stephan Anderson not required to make a second half save. John Fortune picked up a booking but was solid in defence and Hughes, Lisbie and especially Euell all lived up to their first team squad status.

Charlton: Andersen 6 , Fuller 7, Gross 7, Long 7, Wilson 5 , Fortune 7, John 6 (Sodje 80), Hughes 7, Lisbie 7, Euell 8, Sam.7
Subs (not used): Cottrell, Randolph, Phillips, Thanda.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Curbs: 4-5-1 is here to stay

Alan Curbishley has spoken out in defence of the 4-5-1 formation in one of his occasional articles in The Observer.

'Many fans think 4-5-1 is negative simply because they don't see two strikers' names on the teamsheet. More Premiership teams have been playing that way this season and it is increasingly replacing the traditional 4-4-2 set-up.

It seems that 4-5-1 has been blamed for turning Premiership matches into dull spectacles. But I want to dispel that myth. Yes, it is a pragmatic formation, but it can be fluid, attack-oriented and exciting to watch. And, crucially for a manager, it can win you matches.'

Curbs sees 4-5-1 as basically the same as 4-3-3, noting that Manchester United play that way and 'you would hardly say it was a boring line-up. To me, Chelsea are the ultimate embodiment of 4-5-1 because their striker, wide men and attacking midfielder have scored or created plenty of goals.

And when Arsenal play Ljungberg, Viera, Edu, Pires, Bergkamp and Henry, isn't that 4-5-1. So all the top teams are playing it most of the time.'

Success at Charlton

'At Charlton, we had a poor run early this season playing 4-4-2, including 4-0 defeats at Arsenal and Manchester City. Losing 2-1 at home to Middlesbrough playing 4-4-2 was the final straw, so for our visit to Tottenham in November we gave 4-5-1 a try, won 3-2 and have stick with it. Our record before that game was won three, drawn three, lost five; since then, it has been won nine, drawn four, lost five.

With 4-5-1 you have an extra man in midfield, your back four have greater protection than with 4-4-2 and opposing centre-halves have the problem of what do about th man "in the hole". It's a big problem for a team playing 4-4-2 coming up against someone like Bergkamp, but 4-5-1 helps you to deal with that because you have an extra man in midfield.

Six attacking players

At Charlton, our two full-backs attack as much as they can, while the centre-backs sit back. Danny Murphy has the freedom to act as our Bergkamp, Matt Holland and Paul Konchesky are alongside him in the middle, Shaun Bartlett is the lone striker, with Jerome Thomas and Dennis Rommedahl or Jonatan Johansson. It means we have five or six attacking players in the same team ... With the priority for 14 clubs in the Premiership being to stay up, I can see 4-5-1 growing in popularity even further.'

Saturday, March 19, 2005

10 man Charlton defeated by 12 man Baggies

Charlton slumped to a 1-4 defeat to West Bromwich Albion at The Valley on Saturday, but the real difference between the two teams was that the Baggies had referee Halsey on their side. Halsey has refereed five Addicks matches this season and they have lost four of them, getting one draw. Halsey harshly sent off Talal El Karkouri in the first half, gave an apparently offside goal and awarded a generous penalty to the Baggies.

The scoreline bears no resemblance to the relative strength of the two teams, but Charlton's European hopes have been badly dented. In many ways, of course, it is a typical Charlton result. Do the difficult thing by beating Spurs and then slump to relegation candidates who, whatever they might think, have not escaped the drop. The Addicks played some fluent football, but they didn't advantage of their chances whereas the Baggies (and Earnshaw in particular) did.

Charlton as a team play good technical football with some creative passing. They are at their best against teams who play in the same, relatively cautious way. They have more difficulty against teams who play with aggression and passion which they are unable to match. The Baggies started the match assertively, while the Addicks displayed poor ball control that was to be a problem throughout.

Deano had to make an early save from Wallwork which led to a dangerous situation but Feesh was able to clear at the expense of a West Brom corner. The Herminator put in a good ball to the unmarked Bartlett and if he had been able to connect it would have been 1-0. Deano then had to save from Greening at the expense of a West Brom corner.

When the Baggies went ahead after nine minutes one had seen it coming. Greening put in a cross from the left that was only partially cleared by the Herminator, allowing Albrechsten to head the ball into the box. Gera put it across the front of goal, allowing Horsfield to put in a header that left Deano with no chance. It was a simple move and quite why Horsfield was unmarked remains unclear.

Bartlett put in an effort that was not far over. Then JJ broke through up front and was one on one with Hoult but his contact with the ball was not good and Hoult was able to get a hand to it at the expense of a Charlton corner.

Bartlett missed again and then West Brom were given a very dubious corner. The crowd were already beginning to suspect that the replacement of Harold Webb as referee was going to have an effect on the outcome of the game. The Baggies pulled off Gaardsoe and brought on Darren Moore.

West Brom were given a free kick on the edge of the area directly in front of goal and Deano had to make a good save by tipping the ball over. Deano had to punch the ball out from the corner, but unusually the Addicks were awarded a free kick.

On 24 minutes a through ball from Thomas released JJ. Hoult came racing out of his area and JJ evaded him and carried on to make it 1-1. Thomas put in a good ball to the Herminator, but all it led to was a Charlton throw in.

On 29 minutes El Karkouri put in his two footed tackle on Gera. It was definitely a booking, but some referees might have confined it to that. A mob of Baggies players surrounded Halsey and he raised the red card to the astonishment of the Moroccan.

An effort by the Baggies was just wide and gave them another corner. A mistake by Murphy, who wasn't having the best of games, led Deano to make a diving save from Wallwork. JJ won a free kick with a dive which looked as if he was going into the cold plunge from the sauna. Hoult came rushing out to deal with Murphy's free kick and the Herminator took advantage of the loose ball, but Moore was on the line to clear. The half ended with Robinson up ending Thomas, but referee Halsey blithley waved play on. Was that a cheque he was clutching?

HT: Addicks 1, Baggies 1

The second half lacked the intensity and tempo of the first, at least until Earnshaw came on for the Baggies on 63 minutes. A Charlton free kick was nearly reached by the Herminator. Bartlett won the Addicks a corner, but Murphy's effort was not very good. A good run by Konchesky won Charlton another corner but it was wasted with Hoult catching it without difficulty. Hoult then went down injured for the second time in the game.

Robinson put in a dangerous low drive for the Baggies but Deano saved well on the ground. Earnshaw then came on in place of Richardson, giving the Baggies three up front to exploit Charlton's vulnerability.

The lively Thomas put in an excellent ball to the box, but Bartlett is not exactly an innovative striker and was unable to steer the ball round Hoult who made a vital save on the line.

With twenty minutes left Euell replaced JJ. The Herminator, whose geyser seemed to be functioning irregularly, made an error that led to Deano having to make a save. Then on 73 minutes Robinson swung in a cross from the left, Horsfield nodded the ball from the back post and Earnshaw put it past Deano to make it 1-2. Euell was in a position where he could have done something to close down Robinson and if Bartlett had been there he probably would have done, but our most expensive signing ever did not look very interested.

Murphy, who had not been having the best of games, was replaced by Rommedahl on 77 minutes. Matt Holland put in a good cross which went along the front of Hoult's goal, but no one was there to take advantage of it. Bryan Hughes was brought on at 82 minutes to give the Addicks some fresh legs and replace the fading Bartlett.

Almost immediately Earnshaw surged forward to make it 1-3. At the time it looked offside to me, but he may well have been played onside by Konchesky. Following a Baggies corner, Hughes brought down Chaplow, allowing Earnshaw to make it 1-4 from the penalty spot.

It was our biggest crowd ever at The Valley and a lovely sunny day but Charlton collapsed to an inferior team with a particularly annoying group of supporters. Charlton fans at least have the discernment not to sing 'The finest team the world has ever seen' under any circumstances and certainly not when they are in a relgation spot. I know that there are those who admire the supporters of Portsmouth who passionately support their team whatever is happening on the pitch and sometimes the Valley crowd could be more vociferous in their support. But on the whole I prefer the cooler approach displayed by Charlton fans.

Match analysis

Sometimes the Silver Bone is kept in the cupboard when Charlton have suffered a bad defeat, but this was not an occasion when the Addicks played badly. Match analyst Hooch the Pooch is still on holiday and his deputy Homer the Cherry Hound is in the dog house. So a somewhat baffled Luke Young found himself being jumped at by an excitable spaniel from Blewbury, Oxon, third string match analyst Monty Martin
whose last game was the home match against Leicester. Young forged forward effectively on a number of occasions and did his best in defence. Charlton's goals conceded record is poor this season and some questions must be asked about why Deano stays rooted to his line quite so much. Having said that, coming out exposed Hoult and Deano made some excellent saves. Neverthless, doesn't long-term prudence suggest that Andersen should be given a chance? El Karkouri's tackle, whether or not it justified a red card, was not really necessary as there was no real danger. Feesh is simply not fast enough and takes too many risks in the danger area. He did provide some good defensive headers, but I and others would rather have seen Perry start. Hreidarsson faced difficult circumstances, but he made more unforced errors than usual. Konchesky was once again lively and showed very considerable speed. He played some superb balls along the touchline with Thomas who made some good contributions but was nevertheless more subdued than against Spurs. Murphy was generally effective, although he gave the ball away a few times and is too inclined to cut inside when this is not a safe option. Holland was not up to his usual standard. JJ scored the Charlton goal and was generally quite effective, although perhaps he should have scored a second. Halsey gave him a pat on the back when he went off as if to say 'I know it's not easy against a biased referee.' Bartlett once again missed some chances to score. Euell was given a chance to show what he could when he came on as a substitute, but didn't do enough. Rommedahl showed plenty of energy, but failed to lift Charlton's game. Hughes was on for too short a time to be able to make any impact.

Hiss of the Match Cat (his owner is a minimalist) from next door was looking out from his window for our return and came round to join Juneau the Soccer Cat in a very loud hiss directed at referee Halsey.

Crowd rating Up against adversity, the Addickted did well in urging the team on as well as showing what they thought of Halsey. 7/10.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Ten Years Ago: Mariners without Mendoca defeated

After a 2-1 defeat away at Bristol City on Saturday, Charlton faced a team above them in the table on Tuesday March 21st at The Valley: Grimsby Town. The Mariners were in contention for a play-off place, in large part thanks to Super Clive Mendonca who had scored 11 goals for them already that season. However, he was not in the line up at The Valley, presumably because of injury.

My notes recall: 'Charlton were outplayed by Grimsby in the first part of the match and it was no surprise when they scored after 16 minutes. Charlton missed one or two good chances after that, but Robinson scored just before the half time whistle. Charlton continued to squander some good opportunities in the second half, but Salmon made some great saves, and Balmer scored in the 85th minute to make it 2-1.' It was one of only two goals he scored all season.

The programme that Peter Garland, who had recently returned after a long spell out injured, had gone on loan to Wycombe Wanderers, Scott McGleish (now at the Cobblers) having already gone out on loan to Orient.

Time added on is a familiar part of the game today with many matches going to over 95 minutes, particularly if a big club has failed to get the desired result. However, in 1995 it was still a novelty. An article in the programme by a grim faced Ken Ridden of the FA explained new instructions had been given to referees and warned that 'the final whistle of the match might therefore be six, seven or more minutes after the normally expected end of the game.'

The fan friendly official seemed to take particular delight in explaning that journeys home might take longer when a bus or train was missed. His article concluded with a failed attempt at humour: 'Check those bus or train times in advance or you could be time wasting!'

Was this when the early leaver phenomenon really got under way?

Curbs: I will not go to City

Contradicting reports in the Daily Mirror, Curbs has ruled himself out of the running for the managerial vacancy at Manchester City in an interview with the The Times. 'I just take it with a pinch of salt, really', he said. 'I'm not going to say I'm flattered like Iain Dowie did, or annoyed because my name cropped up, but I did notice that it cropped up because they're £62 million in debt. I've done that and perhaps I don't need it again.'

Massive club, massive debts

Curbs believes that his squad's strength in depth gives him a chance to avoid the usual end of season slump this season. Responding to the predictions of an inevitable collapse made by grumpy stattos, Curbs said: 'I think we're all aware of the criticism levelled us in the last four years that the lights go out when we get to 40 points. I can't hide from that: it's a fact. There have been circumstances such as injuries and tough run-ins, but I've got five or six players who, given the opportunity, should be nice and fresh, and could be as fresh as new signings.'

Fortune, Hughes and Kishishev still have to come back from injury. Kishishev would be particularly useful against the Baggies on Saturday. In some ways the match provides a greater challenge than that against Spurs as Charlton are at their best against sides that play football (albeit it with the aid of some cynical fouling as exhibited by Spurs). The kick and hope tactics likely to be adopted by the Baggies may be more difficult to deal with.

Big Black Country day out

In their own version of the Rickshaw service, the Baggies are providing free coach travel from the Black Country to The Valley. They will receive 'Great Escape' survival kits from a Steve McQueen look alike. They will also be handled hymn cards with the words to The Lord's My Shepherd, the Albion fans' anthem as well as inflatable hands to wave as they attempt to win an away game for the first time in nearly a year. No doubt they will also chant 'Boing boing' in celebration of their yo-yo club status.

Charlton refused to comment on reports that in order to improve the club's standing in the Fair Play League translators with an understanding of the Black Country accent will be available in and around the ground.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Riding the Rickshaw

My first venture as a mystery shopper was clouded by
the realisation that to keep your identity secret was
perhaps difficult if you are one of 4 passengers on
the coach.

However I tried to merge into the background.

So just before 4.45pm on a sunny afternoon in Hythe,
Kent (or it could have been Hythe, Cheshire bearing in
mind the required time before kick-off)I boarded the
Valley Express Rickshaw. [You were supposed to start
from Dymchurch Station and test the light railway
connection - ed]

What greeted me at the door was a shapely, smiling,
blonde. Now this is class I thought, as she introduced
herself as the driver, Louise.

Before I could suggest alternative routes via the
Channel tunnel she passed me over to two cheery
All-Sports shirts who explained that I was one of four
getting on. They had no list of names so couldn't tell
if I was entitled to be on, but said never mind.

They explained the seating arrangements which were
anywhere but the first three rows. Asked what I had to
do to sit in the "best seats" they replied in hushed
tones that these were for season-ticket holders. I
doffed my cap at the thought of such superior beings
and went and sat with the hoi-polloi.

With the addition of one more we set off five minutes
early in the opposite direction to the Valley, but
what the hell, Louise had put on her sun glasses, the
competition for her affections was not great and as we
cruised along the seashore in the sun at Sandgate, I
was planning my chat up lines.

This was replaced with realism quite quickly as we
went the long way around some of the grubbier parts of

Here we picked up another 11 people, half men , half
women and one not sure. No obvious colours and it
could have been the free Tescos bus going down for an
evening's shopping.

By this time my mind had moved off the possibility of
a tryst with Louise into matters financial. What had
Gordon Brown said earlier in the day? Universal free
bus travel for pensioners was here, so looking around
wondered whether Reg ("on the buses") Varney had
factored a lot of £5 refunds into his Valley expansion
master plans.

Moving off on time at 5.00 and heading off in search
of the M20 led me to analyse the comfort factor of
what was to be my home for some hours.

It was a good quality coach, clean (until I had got
on), air-conditioned with interior lighting that
worked. The only downside was legroom. If you were
5'4" and came from the Chalfonts you'd have been ok,
but those with larger frames would have been reminded
of that Budget airline trip to Torremelinos.

As we went up the M20 we had sight of of one of those
endearingly British rituals called "Operation Stack".
This is when the happy burghers of Calais decide to
strike or have the day off and want it a bit quiet
they ask the British to help them. We do this by
allowing all the foreign non-taxpaying lorries of the
Eastern bloc to fill up the M20, we put porta loos out
for their convenience and we just tell all the local
residents to go on long diversions at great
inconvenience to themselves. Would the French do this
in return........I don't think so.

By this time we had reached the outskirts of Ashford
and at 5.30 we had hit "rush hour". Now rush hour in
Ashford needs at least 10 vehicles to cause gridlock
due to the traffic signal system at the one major
roundabout that Ashford possesses.The phasing of the
lights was so admired by Ken Livingstone that he
adopted the same system for Trafalgar Square.

As we crawled to the centre of town I wished that we
could have got "who ate all the pies" Prescott out of
his Jags on to the coach to see how his plan for
another 25,000 homes in Ashford might work in

Two stops in Ashford, one to almost fill the coach,
then another to pick up the season ticket holders, so
colours appeared in numbers for the first time.

The impression of going on a late night shopping trip
was increased as we moved back onto the motorway for
the long haul to the Valley. Subjects of conversation
were the price of sofas, what bargains were in
Exchange & Mart and the problems of Auntie Edith's

Virgins on board

As the trip progressed it was clear we had quite a few
Valley virgins on board. One chap had not been to a
match for 50 years, another in his thirties had only
ever been to a football match once before in his life.

You could also tell it was different from the usual
supporters coach in that the food that appeared was
accompanied by napkins.

After two hours and within spitting distance of the
Valley the seats were not quite so comfy and Louise
had exercised her women's prerogative and chosen some
strange diversions as if trying to shake off an
imaginary coachful of Millwall supporters.

Another 30 minutes of crawl and inspection of a few
Makros and Worlds of Leather we arrived 2 hours and 30
minutes after leaving Hythe.

We got off right outside the short stroll through
Ransom Walk and were told on pain of death to be back
by 10.15. Sadly there was not time to visit the pub
before the start.

We then had the pleasure of seeing our lads stuff the
mighty Sperz and could look forward to a smiling
journey home.

As you would expect the atmosphere was good going
back, but without the ecstasy you would have got on a
full supporters coach. But everyone expressed
themselves as well satisfied with the experience.

At 12.15am we reached our final destination and
thanked the very good driver for a safe journey.

So how do we rate the Rickshaw? Extremely good value
for money. Comfort, very good, although I would review
routes to try and cut half-hour off of journey times.

Clearly had brought new fans out of the woodwork, who
after last night's performance would come again.

Four final tips.

1. Ask for Louise
2. If you get on first go right down the back if you
are tall as more legroom there
3. If you are incontinent or like a few pints at
half-time this coach is not for you....there are no
bogs on board
4. To the Club...get a checking-in system or you will
have problems in future

Judas, Judas, what's the score?

This was the chant that rang round The Valley last night as the Addickted taunted Jermain Defoe during Charlton's 2-0 defeat of Spurs which propelled them into 7th place in the table. The victory was given an added poignancy by the fact that Charlton's goals were provided by former Gooner Jerome Thomas and by Danny Murphy who decided that Charlton would be a better team to play for than Spurs. It was one of the best footballing performances I have seen by Charlton this season. An excellent match was only ruined by the incompetence of referee Chris Foy who almost lost control at one stage because of his reluctance to deal with the fouling tactics employed by the Haringey side.

It was six weeks since a home league match at The Valley and I was up for it as announcer 'Boycey' declared that 'It's showtime at The Valley' and the team came out rather than the troupe of dancing girls one might be led to expect.

Four minutes into the game Paul Konchesky released Thomas on the left and the youngster put in a cracker of a shot that took a slight deflection off King to end up in the top right hand corner of the net.

Charlton were very quickly in danger as Keane evaded Murphy and El Karkouri to connect with a cross from Reid, but his header went went wide of Deano's post. Thomas and Konchesky continued to combine well and the Addicks won a corner, but Murphy's delivery was too deep.

Spurs continued to look dangerous with the ball flashing across the front of Deano's goal. Another Charlton corner was unproductive. Murphy forged through impressively but he should have passed to the available Thomas and all that resulted was a Charlton corner.

Jerome Thomas was fouled again and referee Foy deigned to tell Reid that it looked as if the weather was taking a turn for the better. Kanouté went on a break, but was challenged by the Herminator. Deano was able to scramble off his line to block the ball and an attempt by Reid to follow through sent the ball soaring high into the Jimmy Seed Stand.

Konchesky provided good defensive work. A Rommedahl run won the Addicks a corner, but Spurs surged forward again and El Karkouri covered well. By this time, Foy was losing control of the game with yet another foul leading to a Charlton free kick but no yellow card. The Addicks were cheered off the pitch, but Foy and his linos were roundly booed.

HT: Addicks 1, Spurs 0

Often when the Addicks have secured a lead in the first half, their opponents come out with renewed determination having been told that they are up against a small club who should be an easy three points. However, Spurs were more lacklustre and uncertain in the second half, although credit must be given to the authoritative way in which Charlton kept control (despite the screams of the Bloke Behind Me that Spurs were running the game).

Rommedahl went down injured and was replaced on 54 minutes by JJ. Referee Foy, having found his yellow cards at half time in the sandwiches his wife had packed for him, finally managed to book charm merchant Andy Reid. Eventually the tally of Spurs yellow cards came to four, but why none were given in the first half remains a mystery.

As Jermaine Defoe warmed up on the touchline, he was greeted with chants of 'one greedy bastard'.

I thought the Herminator had been given a yellow card, but it turns out it was Thomas, just as well as that would have meant a one match suspension for the left back. On 61 minutes Defoe replaced Ziegler and was greeted by chants of 'If you hate Defoe, stand up', an invitation which received a good response.

Brown was given a yellow card for a cynical foul on Defoe. Chris Perry made a great defensive block to stop a Spurs attack. Spurs got a free kick in a dangerous position just in front of the 'D', but all it yielded for them was a corner.

The unimpressive Carrick was substituted by Sean Davis on 70 minutes. Having been brought down, the injured Bartlett was replaced by Euell on 73 minutes. Jerome Thomas had been hacked to pieces and was replaced on 76 minutes by Feesh. Konchesky continued to impress with his contribution.

Euell received a yellow card for kicking the ball away, leading one Addick to shout 'Just like the police, take the easy option.' El Karkouri had to receive treatment after being brought down by Keane.

The Herminator was brought down in yet another foul and Danny Murphy made excellent use of the resultant free kick to put the ball past Robinson to make the score 2-0. Spurs fans started to leave in droves and all that remained was for Charlton to stay in control for the rest of the game which included four minutes of time added on.

Spurs fans on the train back were insisting that they would finish about Charlton. There is probably no group of fans who show a greater dissonance between their actual record in the Premiership and their expectations.

Match analysis

With Hooch the Pooch on holiday it fell to Homer the Cherry Hound from Harwell, Oxon to present the Silver Bone to Jerome Thomas not just for his goal, but also for his overall performance in the face of persistent fouls. Deano was not that much tested by the Spurs attack, but made two vital saves to give him another clean sheet. Chris Perry had a superb game at the heart of the defence, demonstrating why Spurs made a mistake in letting him go. The same applied to Luke Young who some of the players think should be Player of the Year. El Karkouri was also formidable, just a shame that his late free kick went so far astray, but it didn't matter then. Hreidarsson was also a tower of strength who contributed in attack and defence. Konchesky had a very strong influence on the game from the middle of the park and was a serious candidate for the Silver Bone. Questions remain about the unsettled Rommedahl who has recently become a father. He certainly has pace, but what can he deliver with it? Murphy made a strong contribution to the game apart from his goal, although unfortunately one or two of his passes went astray. Holland was as usual a quiet but nevertheless effective presence, in the right places at the right time to make his contribution. Bartlett was as committed and as energetic as ever, but this was not a game in which he made a decisive contribution. Once he arrived on the pitch, JJ applied himself with his usual energy, but not to any great effect. Euell tried to look interested, but failed to contribute very much. The arrival of Fish attracted a series of oaths and curses on Alan Curbishley's head from the Bloke Behind Me, allowing him to return to his favourite theme of the ineptitude and incompetence of the supremo. However, the Springbok, who has an interest in going into politics in South Africa, made a series of effective defensive interventions.

Hiss of the Match

Juneau the Soccer Cat has arrived to sit beside me to make it clear that she wants a very loud hiss of the type of which only a large Maine Coon is capable to be delivered to inept referee Chris Foy. Foy gives a low average of cards per game believing that he can keep control with the force of his own personality. Not! Paradoxically, though, we have always won this season when he is in charge. There is a now a lot of controversy about managers criticising officials, but the fact is that the standard in the Premiership remains appallingly low.

Crowd rating For the first time I am giving 10/10 to the Addickted. They really got behind the team and gave the lie to the chant coming from the so-called big club from North London that stated that Charlton's support is excrement.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Six pointer at The Valley

It's a real six pointer at The Valley this evening. If Charlton or Spurs win they will go into seventh place ahead of Middlesbrough. And with an Arsenal v Manchester United cup final likely, finishing seventh in the Premiership would lead to a Uefa cup place.

So there's everything to play for. Gloomsters have been pointing to Charlton's traditional end of season slump, but their analyses rarely take into account injury problems or the pattern of fixtures in earlier years. Facts are trivial without context.

Curbs has a fully fit squad to choose from. The big question is whether it will be a 4-5-1 formation or a 4-4-2. The latter would give a better chance of securing all three points, particularly given that Shaun Bartlett does not seem too comfortable playing alone up front and is prone to miss sitters.

However a 4-4-2 would mean starting with Jeffers. Despite completing 90 minutes and scoring a goal at the San Siro on Monday night, Lisbie is likely to be on the bench at best. Jeffers has enthusiastic support from many of the Addickted, but I think that he has only performed well against Birmingham teams.

Another option is a 4-5-1 that switches as needed into a 4-3-3. Whatever else happens, I hope that on form Paul Konchesky is in the line up. I would like to see Chris Perry at the back, both for his experience and also for the hope that he could score again against his old club as he did last year. It would also be sweet if the ever improving Luke Young could score against his old club.

The weight of expectation has sat heavily on Spurs for many years. Many of their fans continue to live in the glory years of the 1960s and cannot accept their club's role as stalwarts of the Premiership's mid-table competition. The way in which the Haringey club has been eclipsed by their Islington neighbours has been particularly hard to bear.

However, expectations at The Valley have risen considerably. Indeed, the club faces a big problem in expectations management. The 'Curbs has taken the club as far as he can' crowd never spell out how far they reasonably expect the club to go. The realisation that the club may have reached a plateau is understandably demoralising as every club needs to be driven by ambition.

We have lost more than we have won at home to Spurs in the Premiership. There has never been a score draw, but I fear this could be the outcome tonight, one which would suit neither club.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Mystery shopper to join Rickshaw

On Wednesday afternoon our mystery shoper will go to an undisclosed location in Kent where he will join the 'Rickshaw' as the Valley Express service has become known among blogmeisters.

It is an opportune time for a mystery shopper to report his experiences of the Valley Express as soon a new North Shore Rickshaw will be joining the web of services. Basildon Man (or woman) will now be able to be whisked across the Thames to The Valley. Given the current level of dissatisfaction among Irons fans, it might well bring in new punters.

Given that there is a view in some quarters that blog writers rank below journos, we would like to emphasise that our mystery shopper has been instructed to give an objective and fair account of his experience 'On the Buses'.

If Charlton to progress as a club, the fan base has to be strengthened. The Rickshaw service is an innovative way of bringing in new fans and also renewing the links with the club of those who lapsed many years ago, even if they are disappointed to see a young Irish fellow between the sticks. What happened to Eddie Marsh who was an understudy to Sam Bartram for so many years?

Of course, many of those who use the Valley Express service are already season ticket holders, although it may encourage them to renew. For both these fans and the new ones, there is a clear element of subisdy, but the marginal revenue no doubt exceeds the marginal cost. Whether the longer distance services from locations like Folkestone will be viable in the long run remains to be seen (even with a rumoured Hovercraft link from the Goodwin Sands). But that judgement can be made in the light of experience.

Considerable hype has surrounded the launch of the Rickshaw and that may be defended as necessary marketing to get the service off to a good start. It may, however, have distracted attention from other initiatives.

The club has said that it has plans to link up with the builders of new developments in the home boroughs and that is very welcome. However, could more be done to tempt longer standing residents to The Valley? The club has a well deserved reputation for its anti-racism stance, but ethnic minorities are still substantially under represented in the crowd.

The retention issue

There is also the question of retaining existing supporters. Some supporters will unavoidably be lost each year because their personal (family, work etc.) circumstances change. But there's not much gain if you bring in five hundred new supporters from Kent if the same number of existing supporters fail to renew.

This year there does, however, appear to be more than the usual level of moaning from long established supporters. It is open to question whether there was enough consultation about the season ticket price rises, although my personal view is that they were necessary to help the club to progress. Having a supporters' director on the board, particularly one with a relatively low profile, is not a substitute for broader forms of consultation.

Other complaints centre on negative and defensive football and the 4-5-1 formation. Many other clubs have adopted this formation and it perhaps reflects the structure of a Premiership where relegation is a financial nightmare and each place is worth around two million quid.

A direct bus link from North Greenwich would be useful not only for those who wanted to use the extensive car parks there, but also for the many supporters from north of the river who use the Jubilee Line. The North Shore Rickshaw does not completely meet this need, particularly given congestion problems in the Blackwall Tunnel.

The brand

Deep down there is a real concern among supporters about what is happening to the SE7 brand. Charlton is a London club, not a Kentish club. Circumstances have dispersed fans all over the globe, but their emotional heart is in SE7 at The Valley. Supporters from Kent are very welcome, but the 'many miles I have travelled' in Valley Floyd Road does not refer to time spent on the Valley Express.

Many of those involved in the Target 40000 efforts were involved in the Target 10000 initiative which at one time seemed over ambitious but was fulfilled. We need to innovate to move forward, but we also need to reflect on how we are doing so.

As yet there is no Valley Express for Warwickshire fans, but I will nevertheless be interested to hear what our mystery shopper has to say.

Victory at the San Siro

Charlton continued their pursuit of reserve league silverware at the San Siro Stadium, Welling last night with a 1-0 victory over Chaventry City. Both sides put out young teams but it was the one veteran, Kevin Lisbie, who secured Charlton's winning goal just before half time.

It's a long time since I'd been to Park View Road and I'd forgotten how ramshackle the main stand is and how little leg room it offers. Perhaps we should have gone in the new stand, near which which was an advert for 'Betterbuys and Welling United - a great winning double'.

Charlton supremo Peter Varney slipped out of the lounge area just before the start of the match to take his seat, no doubt to watch son Alex. I couldn't see Curbs although reserve games usually form part of his busy schedule.

The game was played throughout at a frenetic pace with first year scholar Myles Weston, only brought in at the last minute to replace the withdrawn Lloyd Sam, particularly impressive. (Presumably this means Sams is in the first team squad for Wednesday). Weston faded as the game went on, however, and was substituted in the second half. Charlton were dominant in the first half and rattled the woodwork on two occasions.

We made our way behind the away goal for the second half. Coventry's slimline keeper was getting some stick with shouts of 'you fat bastard'. He also had a voice reminiscent of the architects' sketch in Monty Python and before long his instructions were being mimicked to the confusion of his defenders.

Coventry came into the game much more in the second half and the Addicks defence looked more fragile. For the Charlton players the emphasis seemed to be on getting rid of the ball to another player immediately when it might have been better to hang on to it. There were too many unforced errors and passing lost some of its accuracy.

It looked as if the game had been put beyond doubt when Varney burst through in the closing minutes to put the ball in the net, but he was ruled offside by the lino. Those who complain that officials are getting too much stick should remember that they are often deciding games through incompetent decisions.

As it was, Andersen, who had been authoritative throughout, had to make a superb save in the dying minutes of the game to keep Charlton's hold on the points.

Fans of the 4-4-2 formation may wish to note that Kevin Lisbie lasted the 90 minutes and contributed throughout apart from his goal. However, his shoulders were too ready to drop when moves went wrong.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Newts goes to Irons

Former Charlton midfielder Shaun Newton has joined West Ham on a short-term deal. The 29-year old's contract with Wolves expired at the end of the season. The Irons have paid £10,000 for his services with an extra £115,000 if West Ham win promotion at the end of the season, a sum unlikely to find its way to the Midlands. Ironic to think that Alan Pardew was once touted as a possible successor to Curbs.

Newts was a popular player at Charlton but did not have the necessary quality for the Premiership. He is remembered in particular for his winning goal against Ipswich in the home leg of the play-off final, a rocket of a shot of the type of which he was occasionally capable.

He first appeared for Charlton in the 1992/3 season and made his last appearance in the 0-4 home defeat against Liverpool on 19th May 2001. In all he made 222 appearances for the club in the league and cups, scoring 27 goals, and was almost an ever present in the 1995-6 and 1996-7 seasons. He played in the Wembley play-off, scoring the 7th and hence the winning goal in the penalty shoot out.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Ten Years Ago: Leaburn brings victory

A fourth minute Leaburn strike gave the Addicks a 1-0 victory over Portsmouth at The Valley on 11th March, offsetting a 2-1 defeat at Bristol City on Tuesday. It all seems to have gone off in the second half. After Guy Butters have been booked in the 58th minute for fouling Keith Jones, Sweaty Balmer was booked a minute later for fouling Gerry Creaney. Morts was then booked for dissent and scuffle following Balmer's booking. On 79 minutes Kit Symons was booked for obstructing Leaburn, no mean feat in itself.

On the way down the M40 I saw lots of Wolves fans heading for Palace, as well as a Barnsley coach going to Reading. It was a warm spring day in contrast to the previous week: 'the cut grass and the weather awakened a vague, indefinable childhood memory.'

The linesman on the East Stand side kept making dubious offside decisions to the indignation of Steve from Sidcup while referee David Orr kept giving unexplained fouls against us. 'Portsmouth came back after two substitutions and it was a relief when the final whistle blew.' The Bloke Behind Me and his fellow whingers kept up a chorus of complaints, mainly directed at Robbo for some reason.

In the programme Jamie Stuart modelled the new purple and green third kit which would be worn for the first time on April 24th for Bob Bolder's benefit match against Sheffield Wednesday. I still have a shirt in these colours and a friend recently bought one off E-Bay.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Deano to stay until 39

According to The Times Deano hopes to sign a new contract that will enable him to finish his career with Charlton. Deano believes that he can carry on until he is 39.

This is good news as Deano is a talented keeper who makes some superb saves. He does have his faults, particularly kicking out, and sometimes a reluctance to come off his line. But what will the effect of this news be on talented reserve keeper Stephan Andersen who has already been advised by the Danish coach to move on for the sake of his international career? We need a good reserve keeper in case Deano is injured.

Our reserve team correspondent Clive Richardson reported from last night's 5-2 defeat of Derby at The Valley saying, 'Andersen still looks good. Both goals down to slack defensive coverage - bit complacent. Stephan had not much to do, but did all with confidence, commanded his area.'

In the pre-match warm up, he spent 10 minutes practicing throw-outs and fly-kicks. The former, from the edge of his area, all reached the target - back edge of the centre circle in the opposition half, straight into the arms of the 'catcher'. The fly-kicks, equally accurate in direction, bounced between edge of centre circle and the opposing penalty area arc.

Charlton had seven first teamers (if you count Jeffers) in the line up. Jeffers perhaps the only man to under perform, although he did help with some good link up play, but striker potential non-existent tonught. Euell played a blinder, as did Lloyd Sam, and even Romm did enough to confirm his talent and class.

1-0: Fuller fed Romm, who took he ball to the by-line and crossed well for Euell to head in from close range.

2-0: Good work by Fuller as wing back, got to the by-line right side (about the same place as Romm got to), powerful cross volleyed home left foot, knee high by Alex Varney who had the best game I have seen him play.

3-0: Great dribble by Sam, cutting in from right wing, beat two men, good through ball to Jason from edge of box, Euell flicked it neatly past keeper.

H-T: Addicks 3, Rams 0

Good dribble by Sam, early second half, beat several defenders, shot just wide of left post.

4-0: Poor clearance kick by keeper charged down by Romm, ran on left to right across edge of penalty area past covering defender and shot low and hard to bottom left corner past diving keeper.

4-1: Derby break down left, hard shot parried by Andersen, Junior knocked in rebound from six yards.

5-1: Good run down middle from Sam, laid ball off to Fuller overlapping wide right. Barry Fuller chipped ball into box, Sam continued his run and flicked header over keeper into top left of net.

5-2: Derby bustling forward Addicks sitting back a bit, Junior hooked ball round two defenders on edge of box into roof of net.

Midfield very good, back four very solid, good one touch link-up play (but so there should be with so much first team talent), entertaining to watch.

So the chances of the first ever national reserve play off final at The Valley continue to look good!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Disappointment at away draw

The 0-0 draw at Fulham on Saturday moved Charlton above Spurs in the Premiership, but many of the Addickted were disappointed about the outcome. Fulham failed to impress and with a little more inventiveness and imagination Charlton might have got all three points.

At one time the crowd were chanting '4-4-2' and 'There's only one Frannie Jeffers.' But, of course, when we played 4-4-2 away we were getting beaten 4-0 by the likes of Manchester City. And, leaving aside the home win against Villa, Jeffers has not impressed me that much either in the first team or the reserves.

After the game we talked to one of the neutral supporters for which Fulham makes such generous provision and his view was that Charlton were the sharper team, more fluent in passing. He was impressed with the way the Addicks worked for each other and broke forward together. What they missed was a decent striker.

We arrived at the ground in time to read something of the rather good programme which contained a curious 'Everyone hates us, we don't care' piece which complained that 'the press seem to adore the Addicks.' The stand we were in seemed to have been assembled from a flat pack from Ikea, although it provided good resonance for stamping one's feet.

The run up to the match featured violin music over the tannoy and selections from Aida. Is it a wonder that people call Fulham 'arriviste' as the programme complained? A rather plummy voice then asked us to take our seats as the players would be on the pitch in a few minutes. It was rather like being in a West End theatre and being told that the 'performance' was about to start. We were then advised that this was a 'South London derby'. I thought that Fulham was north of the river, in the West London borough of Hammersmith where, of the three teams in the borough, they were the small team from Putney.

Charlton had their best chance in the opening minutes of the game. Kishishev released Konchesky on the left and he played the ball to Murphy. Rather than shoot he took the cautious course of playing the ball back to Konch who then found Bartlett. But a moment's hesitation by the Springbok allowed Goma to make a block on the line.

Fulham were then given a couple of free kicks in potentially dangerous positions by the referee. Harrod's hampers may no longer be on offer, but his decisions sometimes made you think he might still be after one. Both free kicks were cleared, the second by Luke Young. Charlton then made a break but it was ruled offside.

Jerome Thomas was brought down and required treatment. The Charlton free kick led to a Charlton corner but this produced nothing more than a throw in. Fulham were starting to apply some pleasure and Murphy had to clear the ball. A Fulham corner led to a header from the unmarked Knight which was only just outside Deano's post.

The Addicks were showing a lack of penetration in their play. Kishishev, who had been warned earlier, received a yellow card. Deano had to make a save which he spilled, but a defender was on hand to clear.

Then Kishishev released Luke Young on the right who put the ball across the front of the goal. Bartlett was able to get a shot in but the impressive van der Sar was able to clear at the expense of a Charlton corner that was unproductive.

The Herminator had to make a desperate clearance as the Cottagers bore down on Charlton's goal. It looked to me as if an offside decision should have been given but instead Fulham got a corner that was eventually cleared.

El Karkouri put in a good long ball to Konchesky but nothing came of it. Deano had to make a diving save. Konchesky went on a run and turned provider for Murphy who drew a save from van der Sar with his on target effort. Murphy was then called on at the other end to clear from a scramble in front of Deano's goal. A Fulham corner was wasted. Deano had to have treatment for an injury to a finger.

Thomas turned provider for Konchesky, but his effort went into the side netting. Konchesky was then fouled, but no free kick was given by the referee.

Half-time: Cottagers 0, Addicks 0

Paul Konchesky won Charlton an early corner, but it was unproductive. Charlton were applying some pressure, but it fizzled out in front of goal. Andy Cole chased a long ball forwards, but was hauled back by El Karkouri. Bennett had blown up for a foul, but charm merchant Cole chased the Moroccan and hauled him to the floor, an incident that led to yellow cards for both players. Goma put in a good shot from the free kick which Deano did well to save.

Kishishev had a go, but on his target effort was easily saved by van der Sar. Jerome Thomas contributed well to some Charlton pressure. A good Charlton move was dubiously ruled offside to the indignation of the Addickted.

A Fulham corner was followed by a blatant foul on Bartlett by Knight which did not lead to a yellow card. Claus Jensen was replaced by Collins John, the former Addick leaving to a mixture of boos and applause from the Charlton crowd. Curbs then made his substitution, but it was not Jeffers who came on as the Addickted wanted, but JJ who replaced Thomas.

Murphy won Charlton a corner. JJ won a corner for the Addicks which was more productive. Konch collected the ball on his chest and put in a superb half volley that was heading for the corner of the net, but van der Sar pulled off an excellent one handed save. When assessing the match, it should be remembered that not many goalkeepers would have been able to deal successfully with that ball.

Murphy put in a disappointing effort which was well over. A Fulham corner in time added on led to fears that the home side might sneak in a late winner. The end of the game was greeted by some booing by the Addickted. It was a frustrating game, as Curbs later admitted. He also said that he might give some of his players more of a license to be a little more offensive so in that sense a useful lesson might have been learned.

Match analysis

Senior match analyst Hooch the Pooch has awarded the Silver Bone to Paul Konchesky. He made some excellent runs forward on the left and had one of the best attempts on goal. Deano was not under massive pressure for much of the game, but made some decent saves. El Karkouri showed hesitation in defence once or twice. Perry had a good game and was a model of dependability in defence. Young forged forward well and look after things carefully from a defensive standpoint. Hreidarsson was not as prominent as he is in some games, but played his part well. Kishishev performed well as the defensive anchor of the 4-5-1. Holland was rather quiet. Thomas can be hustled off the ball and is a little bit too inclined to engage in showboating, trying complex moves when something simpler would do. Murphy generally had a good game, although one or two passes went astray. Bartlett had few opportunities given to him. JJ tried his best when he came on, but added little to Charlton's performance.

Hiss of the Match None of the three officials was prepared to give any 50/50 decision to Charlton and referee Bennett ignored some blatant fouls.

Crowd rating Welsh Whinger Chris Coleman has been engaged in something of a battle with the Fulham crowd about their passivity and was rebuked by a Fulham caller on 606. They may be one of the wealthiest group of supporters in the Premiership, but they are certainly one of the quietest. The Addickted were in good voice and we even had a rendition of 'Goodbye Horse' which is always a good sign. 8/10

Friday, March 04, 2005

Claus Jensen and Fulham

The disappearance of Claus Jensen from The Valley at the end of last season has always been one of the more mysterious transfers of recent years. Sometimes players leave because (often mistakenly) they think that they can develop their careers more effectively at a 'bigger' club. But Fulham is no Chelsea. Indeed, it is one of the few examples of a 'smaller' club in the Premiership than Charlton.

Jensen made 124 starts and 10 sub appearances in the four years he was at Charlton after signing from Bolton for £4m in 2000. He scored seventeen goals, including a beauty in the 4-2 away victory against Arsenal and a decider in the last minute at home against Blackburn. He had his critics among fans, some of whom categorised him as a 'luxury' player. This reflected his lack of willigness to clatter into the opposition or indeed tackle anyone at all very often. However, he compensated for his defensive weaknesses by the creativity he brought to Charlton's midfield.

What's the betting that he will score against us tomorrow at Craven Cottage? Charlton haven't beaten Fulham at Craven Cottage since 1986 and haven't scored an away goal against the Cottagers in three encounters in the Premiership. The best result for the Addicks was 0-0 in 2001/2. Nevertheless, the sub-Standard has the match down for an away win. Boffins at Warwick University's Decision Technology Group give Fulham a 57% chance of victory.

At least Fulham are no longer playing at that shoebox of a ground, Loftus Road, with its over intrusive searching at the gate. Craven Cottage has always been one of my favourite venues in London with the walk through the park alongside the river. And I think that we will get at least a score draw tomorrow.

Authoritative match analysis will be provided by senior match analyst Hooch the Pooch. For all your signage needs in Berks, Bucks, Oxon and Wilts, please support the sponsors of our canine match analysts:

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Ten Years Ago: record crowd delays kick off

The kick off the match against Notts County (now in the bottom division of the Football League) on 4th March 1995 was delayed for fifteen minutes because of the record crowd (13,868), prices having been slashed to a bargain level.

Not everyone was happy about the special promotion. Chris Parkes had to answer a series of moans in the programme, one of which was 'How can I concentrate on watching football with all those kids screaming and moving about?' His response was, 'We are trying to capture that generation of support we had lost whilst in exile at Selhurst Park and Upton Park. These kids are our life blood.'

My notes on the match recall, 'Charlton had to battle agaisnt Notts County, and Salmon made some excellent saves, but Mortimer put us 1-0 up [on 31 minutes], a lead we were able to retain.' Salmon was elbowed by a County sub just after he came on.

The programme included an interview with 'Sweaty' Balmer, who was said to have 'forged a solid partnership with young Richard Rufus.' Balmer commented on Rufus, 'He has good pace and is an aggressive tackler.'

For some reason there were no trains from Charlton Station after the match. With no North Greenwich tube in those days, I walked up the hill and got a 53 bus to Trafalgar Square, re-living a journey of my youth.