Friday, 9 October 2015

Lucky promotion vision

The Newsshopper's latest reveal from the interview with Katrien Meire, CEO of Charlton Athletic, quotes her once again on thin ice, this time talking about ambitions for promotion and confirms what I have long believed and that is we don't have any.

Not unlike the piece the Newsshopper showed us the other day when she was making circular arguments about our January transfer plans that would have had a politician smiling, Katrien tells us that there is no time frame for promotion. Instead they will continue to see what happens in terms of youth coming through and which of our players stick around or renew contracts. She then says that they might consider an investment in a January transfer window if we were handily placed. 

This would appear to be a contradiction in practice. What she is really saying is if a host of stars aligned for us - enough quality youngsters coming through to see us retain some of them whilst still selling enough to balance the books and still improve the side, as well as enough of the better experienced players still being contracted to us - then Roland might weigh out to go for it if were were well positioned at the half-way stage. The reality, of course, is that the better young players will continue to be sold to balance the books and we won't run enough of a experienced squad to make us truly competitive anyway. 

Her quote "no, we can't set a specific time frame on it (promotion), because by then our best players could have left," is very telling. It suggests the Board's player policy isn't  strong enough to have any confidence that the better players will stay or renew their contracts. Of course, they become free agents and the those offered better opportunities and more money at bigger clubs will move on, but the complete submission on the point suggests she doesn't have any confidence the better players will stay. Of course, having perhaps played for us for several years, a la Gudmundsson, and seeing no realistic ambition, then they are likely to leave us, thereby perpetuating the whole cycle.

This precisely the reason I am slowly falling out-of-love with my lifelong passion. It's a relief not to worry about Administration and great to see investment in the infrastructure and facilities but if that is primarily to improve the value of youth players or as a sop to fans because we are under-investing in the quality of our squad, then we are being duped. 

Katrien Meire has an arrogance about her which carries her into these media interviews where she likes to think she is a cutting edge young CEO at the forefront of the game, when in reality she is attempting to make up for the policy of communicating as little with the supporters as possible and actually telling us nothing via the media nonsense. She can tell a Belgian journalist our ground used to hold 90,000 or that she stopped complimentary tea and coffee for the masses because they know no better and she's unlikely to be challenged. She can't do that with the supporters because we know our record attendance was 75,031 in a 1938 F A Cup match against Villa and that our capacity for generations was 66,000. We also know that any Stalinist purge on tea and coffee was likely to have affected a tiny number of privileged supporters in a lounge or as part of their package and, frankly, it was probably a short-sighted counter-productive measure.

Until there is a change in policy and honest dialogue, Charlton Athletic will continue to stagnate. Cheaper seating and marketing gimmicks can never make up for the end quality of the football and the ambition of the club. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Charlton Athletic 2 v Fulham 2

They say you should never bet against your own side but I don't follow that. I have always been prepared to and it occasionally softens the blow. Yesterday was a case in point. Based on our league form, our thin squad and the Sky Hoodoo, I had anchored two accumulators with a Fulham victory.

When Conor McAleny wasted a golden opportunity in the opening minute to put us one-up I gave my wife a knowing smile. Karlan Ahearne-Grant's chance was nowhere near as easy but he was caught by Hangeland and I was sure it wasn't going to be our day. When Nicky Pope spilled a first-half free-kick and Fulham reacted quickest, I did feel slightly less pissed-off.

A largely unrecognisable Fulham side edged the first half but looked good value for a second goal. One name that was familiar was that of Ross McCormack, and whilst he looks to be living well on his big London wages, he was busy and increasingly direct. I told my wife we would leave once he had netted the second but as that came on the hour we persevered. There was no response and as good as we were left to right and right to left, up and down was not happening. Gudmundson and Solly whipped in a number of decent balls from the right but Watt and Ahearne-Grant were never going to capitalise. With ten minutes left Super Jacko was unleashed and he appear to run straight on and into the box to thunder home a header from off the bar from a corner.

The lack of leadership was so apparent at that moment. Jackson lead the team at pace back for the kick-off and his clenched fists urged us to get behind the side. We did and they upped their game. Suddenly Fulham were back-pedalling and their noisy contingent was finally rescued to nail-biting as we piled men into the box and slung balls over the top. We got to 90 minutes and four were added. Once two of them were gone I settled for the defeat our 90 minutes deserved and headed out.

The roar that greeted us on the concourse behind the East was too loud for it to be a Fulham third and it was quickly confirmed that Jordan Cousins had rescued Luzon's blushes and cost me the thick end of £600.

Left to mull it over in the White Swan over a few pints of Howbury (Bexley/Erith brewer) and homemade pork pies,  I came to the conclusion that today we were probably only a striker short (and maybe Kashi) of our strongest eleven and we were well short of the mark. I don't see Fulham as promotion contenders but our performance would suggest a lower half battle for the rest of the season. Our squad is too thin but it's our striking options that will ultimately leave us short of goals. Big Mak is probably worth no more than five a season and without Vetokele firing, Tony Watt cannot play the foil he so good at. Time and again yesterday he had two or three men to beat.

I haven't had time to check the attendance yesterday but the actual turnout was paltry. I was surprised that the Covered End sounded so loud given it looked so empty. Clearly, given the option of watching from home, several thousand decided not to bother. Transportation has been woeful in recent weeks but that is a really bad sign for the future. Still, I am guessing most of them were old gits who live in the past and whose opinion don't really matter. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Katrien Oops!

Our brilliant young CEO has been blabbing about her job to the French publication, L'Echo. She might be surprised that the echo is now being heard back in South East London but judging by her comments, I am guessing she won't care less. Google Translator mangles it a bit, but you will get the drift so I am not attempting to clean it. It also reads better!

The older fans amongst us will be interested to learn the ground once held 90,000. We always suspected the gates were fiddled. Perhaps we won't be too happy to learn she "fired ten older workers" after arriving or that she "doesn't care about the history of the club." Presumably, that's how she knows about our secret ground capacity.

However, she acknowledges all those complaints she receives and ignores. Just in case you think she might be ageist, it's reassuring to know "Duchatelet was seduced by determining Meire."

"Now you understand why I fell in love with this club ? " Exclaims Katrien Meire jokingly . At 31, she holds the position of CEO of the London football club, Charlton Athletic. Around us, 15,000 supporters of the old guard and their families, bellowed loudly singing the anthem of the club before the start of the match against Hull City , the second division of " Championship" English. In this working-class neighborhood of south-east of the British capital , unable to find more traditional than this venerable club 110 years. Meire shows us a lot in a corner of the stage , behind the sampler . " This is where supporters are scattered ashes of deceased . The chaplain of the club still hosts a ceremony. Do you know that thirty years ago , the stadium could accommodate 90,000 people ? "

But this golden age is over. Late 2013 , the entrepreneur Roland Duchâtelet bought this moribund club, who had just been relegated and was poorly managed. " It was a real culture shock ," recalls Meire , CEO since January 2014. This law lawyer competition was behind her , barely five years experience in offices of international lawyers in the Brussels region and with the European Commission. " The staff at Charlton was bloated, and many of them did not have the required skills ," said Meire . In May last year , she fired ten older workers. The timing was tricky because the players had just avoided relegation.

I warned my staff for weeks it would be a disaster down in the third division . And a few days after lifesaving sport , I separated from a part of the staff . It was difficult, but necessary . I have kept the CFO. We are putting in place a good team. The problem is that we are very close to central London . The good people prefer to work there, seen here , wages are more modest. Sometimes I want to climb the wall. For example, a contributor to our sales department failed to send, to a potential sponsor for our jerseys , a rag erased by way of introduction , instead of preparing complete documents and impeccable. So it was 480,000 euros (laughs). I have often said that I needed a punching bag in my office ! "

Clenched Fists

On the ground, not a goal in sight. The first half? A long series of yawns. But just after the restart Meire is recovering at once. Charlton opened the scoring. "Yes, yes," she shouts, fists clenched, before falling into the arms of a pensioner club featured! Meire has fun. "I'm crazy about football. Since I was nine, I followed all home championships STVV. I always wanted to work in the field of sport and football in particular." She realized her dream by reaching out to Roland Duchâtelet few years ago. "It was still the owner of the club STVV (Sint-Truiden), who was playing at the time in second Belgian division I read that several clubs wanted to seek advice from Jef Vermassen -. A criminal lawyer, shit then - on the sale of . TV rights I thought, I do know that it is precisely Roland my specialty. " Duchâtelet was seduced by determining Meire. He incurred during Winter 2013 Standard Liege - he owned at the time - as "Legal and international relations manager." Barely two months later, he sent into the arena of Charlton Athletic.

"I was not ready, I had no experience in managing a football club, and I had never talked to a player agent. The first months, the pressure was very strong, I do not want to be responsible for a relegation. I struggled. Especially the first few months, I happened to cry. I could not speak at Roland but it was busy and I had ensure that it does not have to endure our problems. Fortunately, the staff lovingly supported me. It may be that Roland had asked them to do (laughs). " "I negotiate myself all transfers". Through layoffs and outsourcing, Meire rose from 150 to 100 employees. She gave a great sweep in this dusty club. "Examples? I can cite many as you want. Previously, only one person managed all food stands of the stadium. There was no signed contract, only a 'gentleman's agreement'. After each match, the person we communicated the sales amount and the club received a percentage. There was no control. "


And suddenly , silence. " Damned" , Meire repeatedly swear ! Two minutes before the whistle , Hull City equalized . "Do your job ! " Screaming fans furious at the head of the players. There is among them a clan of diehard fans , Meire has learned the hard way from day one . "Most of the letters I get are complaints. In some subscribers supporters for sixty years , and who know everything better than anyone. So a lady representative for over 80 years , criticized me because we have changed the mascot of the club..."

When Meire eliminated free tea and coffee for fans during the competition days, many have found it a real sacrilege. "I still always get criticism." What difference does it make to give us some tea or coffee? "They ask indignant. Unfortunately it's important! This is where we are likely to achieve our better margins. " "I should not say it, but I do not care about the club's history. We need the pampering, but not at any price." While the fourth official shows eight minutes of stoppage time, Meire emphasizes that she has no regret for having abandoned his career as a lawyer. "The work was too monotonous. I was sitting 13 hours a day at my computer. This job will also exhausting, but so much more exciting. For example, I negotiated myself all transfers. In football, you see faster results. This is positive. My only frustration? Things are not progressing as quickly as I would like. " "This summer, Roland has invested millions of euros in seven new players. It also has invested 2.7 million euros in our stadium and spent € 16 million in new facilities for academy young. He starts to put pressure on me in terms of return on investment (laughs). Of course I'm aware of. I fear that one day something does not go as planned and I'll be fired. But as I think Charlton can progress, I'll stay. I'm really happy here. "

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Cardiff City 2 v Charlton Athletic 1

Too busy doing decking yesterday and listening to the egg-chasing, but it was another poor performance from Guy Luzon's team and we find ourselves in 17th position in the table having played nine.

Next Sunday we have the Sky TY Hoodoo and Fulham at home at Midday (crap). There is an international break after that before we go to rapidly improving Reading. I am afraid it looks grim for Luzon. With talk of Bolton taking Igor Vetokele on loan and Morgan Fox being linked, however unlikely, with Manchester United, you have to wonder if the dressing room is ok? 

Vetokele would appear to have lost whatever pace and hunger he showed upon arrival after several injuries and I am sorry to say I wouldn't be disappointed if he left, if it meant we got a replacement. Morgan Fox may be a scapegoat for some but for me he is a quality full-back in the making. I am reminded immediately of Simon Francis who was never given a chance by many after one or two poor showings but was patently a better player as he has proven with Bournemouth. I suspect the Red Devils will end up acquiring a safer bet than Fox but their interest won't go unnoticed by other sides.

Once again we are struggling to perform week in, week out and once again there are very obvious shortcomings in terms of squad size and quality. We started the season a decent striker short and with no proven width on the left which has meant we continue to use Cousins out-of-position. Injuries haven't helped and in spite of some of the new boys earning their stripes (Bauer and Kashi), some don't appear to offer anything more than we had (Berdych and Ba). The jury is out on Sarr and Makienok, although I have my doubts about Mak longer term. Ceballos has been injured but he didn't make an immediate impression when he did start. 

Given the above and our stated need to trim the operating budget, it's hard to see how it gets any better this season beyond hoping we can get a fuller squad fit and avoid continuing injuries. That points to another season of up and down and basic struggle. All a bit deja vu continuing the Championship form since relegation and Guy Luzon must be looking over his shoulder because Roland Duchatelet might be content with average but he has a track record for looking for a bounce when things aren't going right for any prolonged period of time. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Crystal Palace 4 v Charlton Athletic 1

Very predictable match in SE25 this evening as we were second-best to our Premiership rivals.

I said pre-match I didn't care what the line-up was, but I wasn't expecting to start with none of our three first choice strikers. That made things kind of hard from the off and try as they did, it was like throwing buns to bears.

Kashi was absent from midfield and we had the first centre-back pairing of Diarra and Sarr. What could go wrong?

Palace should have been in front by half-time. Only several poor misses kept things level and we really needed a change at the break. None was forthcoming and it was no surprise when Palace took the lead early in the second half. They continued to press and Saha was upended for a penalty shortly after which sent me for the exit. I had lost two of my mates in the 500 people queue to get in but met both on the early exit. 

We heard the roar for our consolation goal but it was loud enough to suggest it was Palace's third. Waiting on the platform for a London Bridge train, we learnt of our fate and were glad we were on our way.

Final judgement on this evening should probably wait until after Saturday's league game at Cardiff but it looks like Guy Luzon has got things wrong and that his options are limited. Vetokele didn't make the squad again today and Simon Makienok was sitting just over from me. Ahearne-Grant and McAleny cannot be relied upon to score goals in the Championship, let along against Premier League opposition.

I can't see where our next win is coming from....

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Selhurst Park

My day is all mapped out. I am working from home and will be comfortably seated to watch Scotland beat Japan in their opening RWC match at 2.30pm with all phones and computers off.  Surely, Vern Cotter will have learnt from the South African disaster and will get Scotland to fire the ball out to their backs as often as possible and to stretch Japan with the boot. That will represent Part 1 of the mission today.

Part 2 follows at Crystal Palace this evening where I hope to see Charlton Athletic upset the apple-cart. The players on the pitch for both sides will be oblivious to history. No doubt someone has given them a five minute lecture but it will mean nothing to them. Most of them weren't born 30 years ago and they will approach the match little differently from any other League Cup encounter against higher league opposition.

I don't think I missed a home match at Selhurst Park during exile. Not because I enjoyed it so much but because I was such a fervent fan at the time and was attending most of the away games as well. They really were shit days and even the fact that we reached the old First Division for the first time in my life was a cheat because it wasn't what I had dreamt of so many times - top flight football at the Valley. Four years I have almost managed to blank out.

I am limiting my time in SE25 to the match and, hopefully, just ten minutes either side to get to and from Norwood Junction. I have no fondness for anything there. I am determined that a defeat won't rile me. We are away from home against a Premier League side and it's only the League Cup. We will probably slip to defeat but the prospect of getting one over on Palace is too good to resist.

I don't really care who plays. I am expecting changes and an unbalanced side. I don't care who Palace put out either. Big Nose can play his full team or his reserves. All that will matter to me is how competitive we are and do we have a go. The rest will be a bonus.


Sunday, 20 September 2015

South Africa 32 v Japan 34

I decided to dispense with trying to follow the Charlton game yesterday in favour of the Rugby World Cup. Nicky Pope had just pulled off his second brilliant save to deny Jordan Rhodes after fifteen minutes so it was evident what would follow. Instead, I watched an assured and confident Ireland rack up a cricket score against Canada and then whisked my dog around the park so I could see South Africa do the same against "the small and short-sighted Japanese." 

The match at the Amex turned out to be the most inspiring rugby match I have ever seen. It was incredible and both my wife and I were punching the air at the end after the most courageous and determined passage of play you could hope to see. Japan kept in touch with the Boks throughout the match and were even a penalty ahead at times but as the second-half wore on, you instinctively new that South Africa would nail their Pacific island opponents. Sure enough, the barrel bodied Strauss staggered through the failing Japanese backline to bounce down for a try and the conversion that followed looked like the fight was over. 

But no, the Japanese came back and scored a try for themselves to get level at 29-29 but with ten minutes left you knew the South Africans would score again and when they took a penalty to edge ahead at 32-29, the game looked up. Japan made one last effort and for three or four minutes they threw themselves one after another into the massed green shirts and burrowed with support of exhausted team-mates to recycle the ball and go again. With the clock at 79 minutes and 45 seconds they were awarded a penalty five metres out from the Boks try line but close to the touchline and declined the attempt to earn themselves a shock draw. Instead they scrummed down against the mighty South African pack and they went again winning the ball and pounding the Green line. Pass after pass, tackle after tackle they held their nerve and concentration. They were awarded another penalty but again refused to kick and again took on the Bok pack which could have killed the match but they won the ball again and once more threw body after body at the South African line, eventually managing to fling the ball at speed out to their left and suddenly there was a marginal overlap. The ball was passed twice at speed to the last man who saw his chance and burst for the corner. He was caught in mid-air but he had already taken the leap knowing his momentum would carry him into the corner. He touched down before the weight of bodies rolled him out of play but Japan had won. 

There were amazing scenes in the stands as Japanese supporters burst into tears with the emotion of it and neutrals piled into the melee to celebrate the stunning victory. We watched the final try replay from behind the players and the emotion of the finish was captured at the point the ball was grounded. All of the Stewards, Ambulance staff and other officials in the corner where the try was scored went wild, punching the air and hugging one another. 

Meanwhile, I looked down at my tablet to get confirmation we had been humped three-nil, with Jordan Rhodes scoring a brace. I see, too, that Kyle Andrews described the performance as gutless. So glad I missed it.

Japan's next game on Wednesday will be against Scotland. Bloody hell.