It’s not easy being a Charlton fan…

There’s a lot of talk going on around The Valley, most of which is to do with the Chairman, Roland Duchatalet.  Sadly this isn’t mentioned in the press and most people still see Charlton as ‘that club who used to be in the Premier League’ and nothing else.  The general consensus among fans is that he does not care about the club and he is just using us as a way of making money off of youth players and getting the most out of his purchases from his other clubs.

The thing is none of this has actually been proven and people are jumping to conclusions because things haven’t gone well on the pitch.  The only youngster we’ve been forced to sell was Diego Poyet to West Ham and that had very little to do with Roland.  That was a result of mistakes made by the previous owners who somehow managed to let our most promising youth product get into his last year of his contract with nothing on the table.  By the time the end of last season came and young Diego’s contract had run out it seems his head had already been turned by the bright lights of the Premier League and no matter what offer we made he wasn’t going to sign an extension.  The fact that Gus junior has barely played a game for the Hammers first team makes you think he should have given it another year at the club that made him what he is so far.  So other than Poyet, no other youth have been sold off as of yet.  And even if they were, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had to let a young star go on to bigger and better things!  As long as we get their money’s worth and that money is reinvested into the club I do not have a problem with this.

In terms of players coming in from Standard Liege, I think Roland has admitted that he underestimated the standard (for want of a better word) of the Championship last season and the majority of the players he brought in from the ‘network’ didn’t work out.  These players have now moved on in one way or another and you would like to think the lesson has been learnt.  Of the players that have come in this year the majority have been up to the task and in some cases have been our better players.  Tal Ben Haim has been a revelation since joining the club, albeit he does have experience playing here before.  Yoni Buyens started off the season very well but has suffered during the recent bad run.  People have decided that he doesn’t care and we need to get rid asap, but from what I’ve seen he has completely lost his confidence in recent weeks, much like the rest of the side.  Freddy Bulot hasn’t impressed it’s fair to say but in his most recent performance he was much improved so I will hold judgement on him for now.  The only other player from the network is the young goalkeeper, Marko Dimitrovic who was brought in while Stephen Henderson regained fitness.  He didn’t make any errors and was certainly better than youth player Nick Pope, or another loanee Neil Etheridge.  I genuinely think Roland see’s these network players as a cheaper way of finding back up players, rather than signing players other teams deemed not good enough.  Give me a reserve from Standard Liege over Simon Church any day!

While the network players haven’t been a massive success, Roland has made some signings from a slightly broader market that have been much more influential.  Strikers Igor Vetokele and Tony Watt have both impressed and in their first start together they looked to link up well and terrorised the normally miserly Brentford defence.  Now I am aware Tony Watt came from Standard Liege but I see this as a bit of an anomaly as there won’t be any other Scotsman coming from them!  Watt was looking to come to England to reignite his career as he didn’t settle in Belgium.  The other main signing made over the summer was Johann Berg Gudmonnsen from AZ Alkmaar.  JBG has now scored 7 league goals from the wing, in a side that has struggled for large parts.  If he can get into double figures for the season I have no doubt we will stay up and he will have had a fantastic first season in the country.  If we can keep hold of these three and maybe bring in a couple of other players of a similar quality I genuinely think we will have a good side next season.  Not all bad then is it!

In the end, all that matters is the results on the pitch.  I don’t care who owns the club, of course I’d prefer it to be a Charlton fan, but that’s never going to happen in this day and age.  As long as the players put in a shift on the pitch and we have a ground to play at it really doesn’t matter where they’re from or who is paying their wages.  A football club is defined by it’s fans.  Fans who struggle on through the bad times in League 1 and when we’re on another losing run.  Fans who sing the players’ names and talk about the golden times over a beer.  I think some people are scared of the unknown and until Roland comes out and assures everyone that his intentions are good then we will just have to wait and see.  Nobody ever said being a Charlton fan would be easy!

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Is there any magic left in the FA Cup?

Growing up I was always told the FA Cup was some magical competition where third division underdogs can beat Premier League superstars and heroes are born. It didn’t take very long as a Charlton fan to have this optimism about the competition beaten out of me! Even when we were in the top flight we managed to whimper out of the tournament at the first or second hurdle.

I have a couple of memories of this competition that have scarred me and if I’m honest normally I’d be happy if we didn’t even enter the bloody thing! The one time we did actually stumble into the quarter finals we played Middlesbrough – a rubbish Boro as well! Despite realising we were awful at the time I somehow convinced myself we might actually win. Having drawn the original tie 0-0 in what was the worst game of all time, we were taken to a replay up north. The fact we actually had Tony Christie out on the pitch prior to kick off to ‘gee everyone up’ is still the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen.

So tickets go on sale for the cup replay and the club decide to name it ‘Operation Riverside’ and we take about 7000. What can go wrong? Well after an 8 hour coach journey with the biggest bunch of morons I’ve ever come across, we arrive in Middlesbrough. Now I only saw the ground and surrounding area but it will take a lot of convincing that this place isn’t hell on earth. Charlton then proceeded to completely bottle it and lose 4-2 and at no point even looked like getting close to them! That’s depressing enough but to then have to get a coach home overnight almost sent me over the edge and this is where my cynicism for this cup began.

Skip forward a few years and we are struggling in League One so you’d think a cup run would be a nice distraction. At this stage we were going to be underdogs and get drawn against one of the ‘big teams’. So who did we get? Arsenal? United? Liverpool? Nope, Northwich Victoria away. Fantastic! And to make things worse they only went and put it on TV. The whole country decides to tune in and support the non-league side that possessed a player who ‘loved a tackle’. In real life that means they had some thug who ran round fouling all our players but it’s ok because it was his big day. We lose 1-0 and I can genuinely say that is the worst I have ever felt about my club. From that point on I vowed never to care about the FA Cup again.

It’s been five years since that game and true to form we have been woeful ever since. However, this season its March and I’m four days away from another quarter final tie. This time away to third tier Sheffield United. Any other club would be nailed on favourites to win and book themselves a day out at Wembley. Between them Charlton and the FA Cup have mugged me over too many times to think we will stroll through this game but even I can’t deny we should be winning this one. I am absolutely buzzing for this game and it’s weird. I’ve spent years convincing myself this competition is a joke but if we win on Sunday it’s going to be unreal!

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Some things never change!

So another derby day comes and goes, and all the expectations and excitement turn into disappointment and despair once again.  The stupid thing is I knew this was going to happen because I’ve seen it so many times before.  Sadly that doesn’t make me feel any better about losing to that lot.  Now I could sit here and write about how much I dislike that bunch of morons that call themselves football fans, but I’m going to talk about the football instead.  The reason we consistently lose games like this is due to our inept midfield.

Now as an inept Sunday League midfielder myself I know it’s not an easy role, but something needs to change.  Playing 4-4-2 (which itself is very outdated in modern day football) you need to be able to retain possession and keep the ball moving in the middle of the park.  In the past we have had a Kinsella or Parker who will take the game by the scruff of the neck and dominate the midfield with pressing and tackling.  Nowadays the midfield battle is not won by throwing yourself into tackles because you will just get sent off every other week, ask Lee Cattermole!  You control the midfield by keeping the ball and passing it around.

As much as I appreciate what Johnnie Jackson and Bradley Pritchard bring to the team they both have weaknesses that are very noticeable in every game, especially a local derby.  Jackson, our skipper and hero from last season is quite simply not quick enough to play in the middle of a four man midfield.  His lack of pace means that long periods of games simply pass him by.  Now that’s fine if you’ve got Van Persie or Suarez giving you a goal out of nothing, but we do not have that luxury.  Pritchard partnered the skipper yesterday, and his attitude for the game makes him someone you can’t help but like.  However, for all his running and endeavour he is simply not strong enough to play in this formation, especially when you are playing a team of freaks like Trotter, Shittu and the like.  Both these players are more than capable of playing at this level just not in this formation and definitely not together!

So what is the solution?  Well as we don’t have anyone better something else has to change.  Dale Stephens can pick a pass once a game but much like Jackson his lack of pace means he goes missing and we get overrun when he plays.  Danny Hollands is out of favour and now injured so he is not an option.  Dorian Dervite can’t pass to save his life and just looks like a centre back playing in midfield, which to be fair he probably is.  So with no obvious replacement in the squad I think the only way we can move forward is play five in the midfield and at least give ourselves a chance.  Away from home this is how we have been so successful and it is not just because teams are more attacking at their own ground.

If we play three central midfielders then we can compete in midfield by utilising our players positive attributes rather than worrying about their negative ones.  Jackson has the ability to score goals and create chances; he just needs someone to do the running for him so he can stay involved.  Pritchard has the ability to do the running and hassle the opposition players into mistakes while also joining in attacks.  So as far as I see it we just need a midfielder to sit and move the ball quickly and accurately so we can keep possession and get people forward to join in attacks.  There are two obvious candidates to fill this role and they have different qualities that may suit it.  For all his weaknesses Dale Stephens can pass the ball and with two other players in the middle with him he is a better player.  However, he is young and has only played this role a handful of times at best.  The other option is loan signing Mark Gower, who is very experienced and has a reputation as a very good user of the ball, but at 34 years old he’s not exactly a long term answer especially as there is no guarantee we even want to sign him at the end of the season.  Either way I see this is as the option if we want to compete in these fixtures for the remainder of this season and looking forward to next year.

One more thing about yesterday’s game, I know Millwall fans are renowned for being a bit dim but a couple of their chants do beggar belief.  “Danny Shittu, that’s what we do!” makes about as much sense as racially abusing your own players, and the old classic of “no one likes us, we don’t care” still makes me laugh.  If you didn’t care you wouldn’t sing about it every week, no? Anyway, there’s always next season…hopefully!

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There’s only two Boris Johnsons?

On a day when literally everything that could have happened, did happen, it seBoris?ems strange to be writing about an opposition player that didn’t even play the full 90 minutes but I think the story of Will Hughes will be remembered more than a stalemate between the Addicks and Derby County.  Having said that it was a great advert for Championship football with one of the goals of the season chucked in too!

I’m not usually one to be overly fond of opposition players but in the case of 17 year old Will Hughes it’s hard not to be impressed.  I had heard of him before the game but it was not until the warm up I realised who he was.  He’s quite hard to miss with a flash of fair hair and the physique of just a boy playing with adults.  But once the whistle went it was clear that Hughes was more than just a kid amongst men.

The Championship is a league played at such a fast pace that it is easy to get lost in the centre of midfield (as a few Charlton players have found out this season).  Hughes was the only player in the middle of the park who seemed to have time on the ball and was able to pick a pass.  The left footed playmaker was always looking for a forward pass and the old adage of ‘pass and move’ is not lost on the youngster.  Sadly his teammates weren’t always on the same wavelength and he’s nowhere near as effective in an aerial battle.

So am I just being overly positive about an opposition player because we’ve finally got a point?  Well, maybe!  But possibly not, as it appears I’m not the only one who has noticed his talent.  He has already been picked for the England under 21s and local papers are saying he is being watched by up to 10 Premier League sides including both Manchester clubs.  There are even rumours, albeit unlikely, that the mighty Barcelona are also keeping tabs on him!

Despite not being on the same level as Xavi and Iniesta, he does play in the same mould and it would not be a surprise if he is snapped up in the coming transfer window.  He is the type of player that England are crying out for and that is in such big demand in the modern game.  Playing in a league when the aim for the majority of clubs and players is to make that step up to the highest level of all, it seems that Derby County have found one youngster who is definitely going to make the step up at some point.  Be it with his current team or when one of the big names come knocking.  So remember the name, Will Hughes, because I’m pretty sure he is the real deal!

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Bradley Pritchard – living the dream!

Legend in the making?Every boy wants to be a professional footballer when they’re growing up, but for most of us that dream dies at some point as we grow up. Whether it’s at about 18 when you realise you’re just not going to cut it at semi-pro level, or in my case, when you’re about 11 and you simply realise you’re a bit crap! At the other end of the scale some kids are fast-tracked into the professional game, getting a contract at a young age and staying in the magical world of professional football for most of their early lives. This is the easy way to do it. There are a group of young adults stuck in a weird limbo where they still don’t know whether or not they are going to make it in the professional game. This group are the not so famous lads known as ‘Non-League Players’.

With the cost of players rising every year it seems, clubs are starting to look through the non-league teams for the next gem. While it appears to be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack, when a club does find that special talent lurking in the lower leagues it really is worthwhile. My beloved Addicks appear to have done just that with a young Zimbabwean called Bradley Pritchard.

He’s not a household name, and on the normally reliable Football Manager he’s ‘not needed by the club’, but in reality attacking midfielder Pritchard is one of the most exciting players on our books.  Having had spells at Carshalton Athletic, Nuneaton Borough, Tamworth and Hayes and Yeading, Bradley found himself working for Charlton as a Performance Analyst as a volunteer.  The club were good enough to give him a short trial and he was signed shortly after on a one year contract.

He’s now a key member of the first team and a full international with his native Zimbabwe.  Not bad for a part-timer just two seasons ago!  And it’s not just his football that has led to the Valley faithful cheering Pritchard’s name.  His attitude is one of just enjoying every moment in the world of a professional footballer.  He runs more than any other player on the pitch never gives up and when he scored his first league goal on Saturday looked like he was going to cry with joy!  He plays how every supporter would if they got the chance to do the best job on earth.  Maybe that’s just his character, but I like to think it’s because he has had to do the hard work in non-league football to get where he is now.  He hasn’t had it handed to him on a plate from a young age.

So while you may not have heard of him, I’m sure Bradley Pritchard is a role model for all those guys plying their trade in the lower leagues.  And he shows that in some cases, if you keep trying, you can get that lucky break and the dream of being a professional footballer can come true!

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There’s method behind my madness!

Anyone who has had the displeasure of watching a football game with me will know there are a few statements I make during a match that seem outrageous. The prime example is my well known “fact” that left footed penalty takers always miss. Now I’m not insane, I know that the odd left footed penalty taker does manage to defy the odds and score from 12 yards, but the more I mention it, the more evidence I have to support my theory. It’s probably just coincidence and that there are simply less left footed players so when one does take a penalty I’m watching it much more intently. Or so I thought!

A quick google shows an investigation by Prozone – the leading organisation in football analysis – into the theory of penalty kicks and in part the difference between right and left footed penalty takers. It appears that this is more than just a coincidence. This investigation shows that quite simply right footed players have more variation in their kicks. The Prozone support explains this best:

“Hitting to their strong side 38.6% of the time, right-footers shot to the left more often than the overall average (37.2%), but also went either right or down the middle with 61.5% of their penalties. In contrast, left-footed players hit to the right (their more comfortable side) with exactly half of all their penalties, a figure which suggests that they are perhaps less willing to vary their approach and so are statistically more predictable for goalkeepers looking to inform their natural intuition with objective analysis.”

So there you have it, despite my minor exaggeration it does appear that left footed players are more likely to miss! So what other pearls of wisdom do I have, I hear you ask? Well as accurate as one statement was another favourite of mine is complete rubbish. I’ve been known to claim that ‘he who misses first, always wins!’ in a penalty shootout. Well the same Prozone investigation states that the team who misses first goes on to lose 81.2% of the time. Not my best work I admit!

Other ‘facts’ include former players scoring against their old club. Admittedly I’m not the only one who has picked up on this, and it probably has something to do with the reaction of the crowd getting their former heroes more motivated to score. I’m sure Arsenal fans were dreading the thought of Robin van Persie scoring against them yesterday and it only took three minutes for him to do so. Being a Charlton fan certain players stick in the mind when they leave and a few have come back to score against us. Scott Parker and Claus Jensen being two of my favourite players during their time at The Valley, who left and then scored on their return. Also a certain Mr Defoe has been known to come back and score against us, much to the delight of the Covered End faithful as you’d imagine!

The final statement I generally make is that it is very easy to tempt fate in football and talking about an opposition player too much is just asking for trouble. A trap that I fell in to myself yesterday which lead me to write this weeks blog. With Charlton 1-0 up at home, I was reliving the joy I too when Jon Woodgate made his debut for Real Madrid and managed to score an own goal and get sent off in the same game. I should have known better. Within 5 minutes, Woodgate’s current club Middlesbrough get an inocuous free kcik which they launch into the box and who rises to give me a metaphorical kick in the nads? Jon bloody Woodgate! From then on I knew it wasn’t going to be our day and we went on to lose yet again.

So there you have it, there are a few things in football that just seem to happen whether you like it or not. Some of these are just circumstantial and coincidence and some do actually have some science behind them. Either way I will be keeping my mouth shut on Tuesday night!

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Oh I do love playing away!

There was a time when an away game was something to be feared.  Your side would have to enter the proverbial lion’s den and take on a side with hoards of fans behind them.  It was almost mission impossible to win an away game.  However, this season especially this seems to have changed.  It came to my attention yesterday after another fantastic result on our travels that we are a much better side away from home.  This seems to be a trend throughout the leagues this season.  Now obviously every game is different and there are circumstances that may give the away side an advantage that they did not have at kick off.

Looking at the results this weekend this is evident, but not in every league.  Man United and Spurs were the only Premier League sides who won away this weekend, and a certain Mr Clattenburg may have had something to do with the result at Stamford Bridge today.  Perhaps things haven’t changed that much in the top league in the country.  We all know the Football League is almost a completely different game, so is it easier for an away side to win at Accrington Stanley’s Fraser Eagle Stadium than Old Trafford?

In the Championship five sides won on the road out of only 11 games with another two picking up a point (including the mighty Addicks).  The most surprising results this weekend came in the third tier where not one home side took all three points.  In fact 6 teams picked up maximum points on their travels, including a 0-3, 0-4 and a 2-4 score line!  A further three sides took the spoils in League 2 when playing away.  In total 40% of the Football League games this weekend were won by the away side.  Unheard of a few years ago!

This may be coincidence, but I think there must be a reason behind this.  Possibly the financial situation has made a similar change on the pitch as it has off it.  With ticket prices going up and attendances going down in the lower leagues, stadiums are no longer sold out up and down the country on a Saturday afternoon.  Rather than swathes of angry locals, away sides are now met by the slightly less intimidating sight of empty seats, with just Dave from Dagenham hurling abuse at the travelling fans!

Or is it more of a footballing change?  Watching Charlton most weeks it appears we have recently adopted the modern way of playing counter attacking football, by flooding the midfield and playing one up top looking to grab an opportunity when it comes.  This style seems to be much more effective when playing away, where there is no pressure to push on and take the ascendency.

Whatever the reason, an away game doesn’t appear to be something for a fan or manager to worry about.  Now if only we could learn how to win at home we wouldn’t be looking over our shoulder at the bottom three!

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