Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Regime merry-go-round turning

The revolving door at the Valley Reception took a couple more turns this week. The infamous 'Palace' Mandy left the club in a hissy fit by all accounts after a review with David Joyes, the Club Bean Counter.  Conjecture as to exactly why but the bottom line is the numbers obviously aren't rosy. She won't be missed following her general lack of Customer Service skills and a number of public bloopers.

As a vacancy for Head of Ticketing emerges, Katrien has finally managed to appoint a Chief Scout, 7 months after stalwart Phil Chapple left for role at Fulham with better job satisfaction. Perhaps Mand's wages have broken the log-jam on the Chief Scout role? There has been criticism about a 7 month gap without a Head Scout, but I think we need some pragmatisim here. Given our network connections which often support any January activity, the reality is that most of our recruitment takes place during the close season when we replace our squad. In actual fact, there's a strong argument for appointing a temporary Chief Scout, maybe on a Consultancy basis for perhaps four months? We could even incentivise faster recruitment of bodies and pay a premium to shorten the Consultancy - performance-related pay.

Anyway, no-one's heard of Steve Head but that doesn't make him a poor Chief Scout. Let's judge by who we bring in and hope Steve doesn't make way for a Head of Ticketing when the season kicks off and there is a need to sell more matchday tickets to season ticket refuseniks.

No news on Riga's replacement but we appear to fishing in small pools. Rather that than an obviously risky appointment of a desperado like Billy Davies.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Liverpool 1 v Sevilla 3

It's been a whirlwind week. Three very quick and enjoyable days in Basel followed by a long day catching up with three days of work. 

It was great to experience a Europa Cup final and to see an English club fighting for the honours. Liverpool fans made the final by swamping the smallish city of Basel with c 20,000 fans. They dominated the main Platz's whilst the shy Sevillista's saved their passion and fervour for the match itself.

There was a Fan Park of sorts set up in Muensterplatz with a Robokeeper machine, shooting practice nets, football skills competitions and a fans federation area. It attracted more Seville fans than Liverpool. The Scousers were happier packing the Brauner Mutz bar and drinking canned beer which seemed to be sold everywhere, including some of the tourist bars. All the talk was around who had tickets, how much they paid and what were the chances of getting tickets. Seville had returned 2000 of their 9000 allocation which were quickly seized upon by the Red horde. 

The FC Basel ground holds 40,000 and looks like the Valley might if we had ever managed the final redevelopment. The only disappointment was the lurid red and blue colour scheme which made me feel familiarly unwell. It was evident that the vast majority of the Liverpool fans had managed to get tickets, around 8,000 Seville fans and the rest (12,000) those who were prepared to pay through the nose to be there in hospitality. I was slightly embarrassed to be one of the latter, especially when talking to other fans who asked me about my ticket before the game. However, I am a football fan and felt much better about being there than some of those who I shared hospitality with before and after the match at the ground. It was clear many had very little idea about football. 

We were right in line for Daniel Sturridge's opening goal and I saw it all the way from the second it left the outside of his boot. Momentarily it shut up the impressive Seville fans who were clearly enjoying their third successive final but it wasn't long before they resumed their passionate and vocal backing. At the break I thought Liverpool were in good shape, they had forced a diving save from the Seville keeper and a Sturridge header was hooked off the line. For all their pressing they had yet to test Mignolet. 

Twenty seconds after the restart I said to my Uncle that Liverpool were asleep and that Seville would score unless they woke up quickly. Within another twenty seconds they had raced through the Liverpool back line and equalised. Still Liverpool remained two gears behind and it was no surprise when the Spaniards took the lead. After that I thought Liverpool might yet equalise but they were finding it harder to get forward in possession and there were some alarming lapses at the back. Kolo Toure had been clearing everything in the middle and was left to cover for Albertom who was having a 'mare. The killer third goal when it came was controversial. As Seville played their way into the Liverpool box and broke the line, the Lino on the far side from me flagged strongly but dropped his flag after the goal was scored. I was adamant he was flagging for offside or a Seville infringement but the decision stood, even after lengthy and heated debates on the line. A Seville fan in front of me said he had been flagging for a Liverpool foul and that the ref had played on. I'd need to see it again without the benefit of a few pints and a bottle of red wine. 

It was a long journey home yesterday but it was at least lightened by bumping into Dundee and Charlton legend, Vinnie, at the airport. Vinnie had been out with a mate for the final too and we swapped a few stories waiting for our planes. Vinnie had been up in Dundee to see his beloved relegate Dundee United recently. A rare moment of Dundee Schadenfreude and he told he couldn't wait to get all the local papers in the morning to relish in great detail how the Arabs had been humbled by the local Blue Noses for change. "Back page was Jamie fucking Vardy." Inside back page was "how Leicester did it." Next page was an assessment of Leicester's first team squad. He turned the next page fully expectant of pictures and the full story only to find a huge picture of "Harry fucking Kane." Dundee's moment of glory was captured in four paragraphs on the next page. We told him the editor was obviously a United fan and that as a Charlton fan too, he should have known what to expect. Vinnie's not been to the Valley this season (Reading away) and he'll not be back much next if at all - such a shame.

It's my birthday tomorrow and all I want is a repeat of Manchester United's routine 4-0 humping of another south London side in the F A Cup final all those years ago. It's not much to ask for after what we have suffered this season. C'mon Marcus Rashford, fill yer boots son. 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Wilder doesn't get it in writing and gets better offer

Even Duchatelet must be getting tired of the constant failure to do anything right. News today that Chris Wilder has pulled back from the deal to come to the Valley with Alan Knill and take on Mission Impossible. Reports suggest he wanted the commitment that he could control player decisions in writing but that was a step too far for The Regime. The only thing you can conclude from this, if true (sounds completely plausible) is that the initial promise to him was another Regime lie.

The fact that Sheffield United are now sniffing around probably has as much to do with it. The Blades would mean he could manage a hometown club and not have to shift his family south or spend days commuting. Personally, I am not too bothered. I didn't buy into all the hype around Wilder. I think that in itself was a sign of how desperate we have all become to avoid another inept Flemish-speaker.

What next for us? There's always someone willing to take on the challenge and risk given you get your contract paid up in the event they sack you early. All I can say with some surety, is that whoever eventually takes the job on will clearly be borderline desperate and will go down in my estimation.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Chris Wilder prepared to take the silver

Well I suppose it's an opportunity he feels he can't resist. Chris Wilder has been approached about taking the reigns at Charlton Athletic following the amicable resignation of Jose Riga. Having spent 15 years managing in the lower leagues, Wilder will see this as his big chance and you can't blame him. Management of Alfreton, Halifax Town, Bury, Oxford United and Northampton Town will hardly have left the journey-man player rolling in it.

However, you have to wonder if he will be the next Alex Ferguson? He has certainly served his management apprenticeship but his experience has been in the Conference and League Two. He has had recent success with Northampton winning the title this year but his previous track record can hardly be described as meteoric. It looks like the approach includes his Number Two, Alan Knill, and interestingly the media are quoting he would be given "full control of all transfers." Wilder and Knill have clauses in their contracts which mean the Cobblers can't stand in their way but it looks like a big gamble for them given the situation at the Valley. A League One challenge with a newly promoted club and a squad of players you have won with versus a rebuilding job at a relegated club arriving in League One with it's fanbase at war with the owner who isn't interested in watching your team play and a Chief Exec who will want to interfere. I guess money will talk and they will happily live with having their contracts paid up if they can't manage much longer the average of 4 months that the previous six encumbents have managed. They do at least have the luxury of the close season so may be confident they can set a longevity record under Duchebag.

I will hold nothing against Wilder and Knill but they should know what they are jumping into, so they will get zero sympathy from me if and when things start to go shaped like the pear. If you dance with the Devil, then you haven't got a clue, for you think you'll change the Devil, but the Devil changes you.

I look forward to the Club-spun announcement about Wilder returning to his former club (3 loan apprearances in two spells!) and, of course, Northampton doing the double over us next season. He looks like he's had a hard paper round (48) so let's hope he's prepared to stand his corner and fight for his right to manage unhindered and also for a mandate to control player comings and goings.

Charlton Athletic Nil v Burnley 3

A very full and hectic weekend schedule which began on Friday, means I am last to the party with my thoughts on Saturday's encounter with Champions Burnley and the efforts of our fans to show maximum protest at the unacceptable face of football club ownership and management.

The Valley was a cauldron of noise on Saturday. The travelling claret and blue army from Lancashire sang their hearts out to urge their team on for the Championship whilst the home fans screamed abuse from three stands at the absentee Shareholder and the Puppet Meire.

The war on the home fans was also cranked up a notch by Meire who went to new depths to alienate and embitter her Customers. Hundreds of new Stewards were deployed pre-game to body search all home fans and their bags on entry to the stadium. She had also added the Orwellian imposition of a twenty foot high netting in front of the revolting peasants who now occupy the cheap seats in the Lower North. It might only be £175 for a season ticket there next season but none of the early bird purchasers would have known they would watch next season from a cage. It was something Ken Bates would have approved of thirty years ago when football hooliganism was at it's zenith. 

I met three Burnley fans at the station, a father I work with and his two grown-up sons. They have been to the Valley with me before and enjoyed pre and post match hospitality in the local Charlton pubs although they have always managed to watch the match from their end. This time they had to rely upon my help to secure tickets with me and they watched the match respectfully from the East although the younger son couldn't stop an involuntary leap from his seat when they took the lead. Those around us looked on with knowing smiles because the game was all about Burnley. We played very well in parts and Tom Heaton kept the Clarets in it with a couple of fine diving saves but you knew they would score and that the floodgates would open.

On the way in my guests stopped to put bets on, first scorer and anytime scorer. I told them to double it with 3-0, which they all did. At least it provided us with a whip for the Prosecco in the White Swan after the match (pints too!).

CARD played yet another blinder this week. They managed to ensure a relatively low-key protest was sustained throughout the day which ensured the game wasn't delayed or abandoned and they did so with superb press releases in Lancashire which got the Burnley fans on side and also managed a classy 'good luck' advert in the Brighton Evening Argos on Friday "from all your friends at CARD."

The decision not to spend protest money on throwables was perfectly timed to coincide with Clumsy's turnstile search although that didn't stop furious fans from throwing whatever they had to hand onto the pitch during the game to show their disgust at the new cage and the heavy-handed Stewarding as well as necessary policing, although the boys in blue were probably being deployed in case of major disappointment for the visitors. 

During the game we had my personal highlight of the season, a Charlton couple (by the looks of things) who carried out a lone-wolf protest brilliantly. They managed to drape a large bedsheets from the upper tier of the West displaying the work 'LIAR' in large letters with a huge arrow pointing downwards. They were in the press row and it was clear that they needed to move to their right to get the banner above the head of the biggest Liar in the ground. The East Stand duly obliged with howls of 'left, left' and mass gesticulation. At the point they halted, there was a brilliant snap taken which I attach here. One of Meire's Stormtroopers snatched the banner shortly afterwards but the job had been executed brilliantly and I think the gallant couple managed to resume their seats for the rest of the match - who said love is dead? No doubt the club will be scouring the database in an effort to ban them in future but nothing can ever take that away from them. My Burnley guest were throughly enjoying the home fans show and were amongst the first on their feet applauding loudly and directing traffic.

In the second-half we had another pitch invader who did a lap of honour gesticulating strongly at the Directors Box but by this time, Meire and Murray had already fled for their own protection. The lad was roughly grounded by clearly angry heavy-mob Stewards and Old Bill might need to look carefully at the footage because the force used looked excessive to me. They were clearly prepared for a fight and when another protester left the East Stand to run in front of the Sky cameras with a Roland out poster, he was caught by over-zealous Stewards who were again using excessive force. To be fair, this guy was struggling. I am not sure he had entered the pitch but so angry were the fans who witnessed the man-handling that soon a posse appeared on the touchline and he was wrestled back. He was apprehended behind the East and was pinned up against the wall by a dozen authority figures as we left the ground. I hope common sense prevailed but I will gladly pay his fine, if not.

We then came to final scenes of the season and something quite amazing happened. With the forces of law, order and small-mindedness ringing the home stands, the door was left open for the jubilant Burnley fans to pour down onto the pitch and they did so with gusto. Charlton fans were attempting to join the party but the first few on were pursued in comic fashion by Stewards incensed that their wall had been breached. Hilarious to see them running through herds of Burnley fans in pursuit of lone Addicks. At this point the dynamics of the situation appeared to change and the visiting fans turned their attention to chants of "give them their club back" and were clearly assisting Charlton fans to evade Stewards. The pressure of Charlton fans at the fence grew and shortly hundreds were filing along the walkways and cascading down the stairs of the East Stand which was less well defended. Inevitably the trickle turned to a pour and soon hundreds of Addicks were on the pitch and leading the chanting for Regime change. It was an impressive sight and a more impressive sound. The Police could clearly not be bothered and the Riot Squad and horses looked on with amusement as Stewards tried in vain to remember the 'no-nonsense' briefings they were given before the game. 

Sorry Meire but you can't beat the people and once again you were out-manoeuvred and out-thought by your Customers. Then we had the moment of retribution. With Meire and Murray having long since fled to hide in the bowels of the stadium, the fans turned on that symbol of Belgian brilliance, the Fans Sofa. It was torn to pieces by the victorious fans. I don't think they will bother with a replacement.

CARD also lead an effective sit-down demonstration behind the West Stand pre-match, the unexpected success of which must surely inspire a repeat next season if, God-forbid, they are still here. All-in-all a really eventful day and one that will live long in the memory of both sets of supporters. Other Burnley fans celebrating in the White Swan told me they were hugely impressed with our protests and they all got the spirit of what we were doing whilst trying to ensure their club weren't disadvantaged. They were all grateful for the applause they received from the home stands when they ran onto the pitch and when parading their 'Champions' flag in front of the East Stand.

Roland and Katrien - Time to Go.


Thursday, 5 May 2016

Europa Cup Final

A few weeks ago I enjoyed a night out at the BT Sport Relief Ball at the Grosvenor Hotel. I ended up buying two tickets for the Europa Cup Final in Basel on 18th May. I honestly didn't know, for sure, who was left in it but I have been following it closely since, naturally.

Great then to have seen Liverpool beat Dortmund and now Villareal to make the final against Seville. I grew up watching Liverpool win midweek European Cup matches, so it will be special to see them in a final myself. Following the Hillsborough verdict, it should be a great night for the Scousers. I can't wait.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Farewell No. 6, your time is up

Chris Powell, Jose Riga, Bob Peeters, Guy Luzon, Karel Fraye, Jose Riga. Six managers in two years and the Jungle Drums are suggesting we may be about to appoint No. 7 assuming Jose Riga says farewell after Saturday's end-of-season ritual humiliation.

Jose Riga's speech at Sunday's Player of the Year Dinner (sic) was regarded by many as a goodbye one and The Times has run with a piece today saying he is expected to depart once again. The bottom-line, of course, is that relegation is the ultimate football failure and invariably calls for a change of manager, particularly if the club is about to suffer a significant change of playing staff. Ironically, there are clubs, like Burnley (and indeed ourselves back in the day) who decide to hold on to what they have and to gamble. If we are honest, not only is that unrealistic given the ambitions of our better players but it's also a commercial imperative given the end game of break even and the tumultuous hole in finances that Katrien Meire has caused through the alienation of the club's supporters and her short-sighted and short-termism management decision-making. 

So, Jose, you leave us once again where I don't believe any of our fair-minded fans would really say anything negative about you. You showed our club and it's supporters the appropriate respect and you did your best. I think you got as much from the players available as might have been expected. Decisions like Sanogo didn't ultimately work out but you did it once before against all the odds and you were brave enough to try again. If you have been brought in six weeks earlier you may have just done it but the pig-headinesses of Duchatelet trying to prove, once again, that he knows best cost us in the end. 

You will always be welcome back in SE7 - a decent man who spoke his mind and respected those around him. The handsome man in the grey suit.

Having said all that, a more experienced manager with appropriate Championship grounding, like Neil Warnock, might have managed what Riga failed to do. If you can do it with Rotherham's squad, it should have been even easier with ours, although there's no accounting for interference from those unqualified to do so or for the poisoned barrel in which Riga was operating. Neil Warnock might well have called a few things out and walked off. 

So, what next? Will Douchebag admit defeat and allow Katrien and the former-Receptionist to appoint the sort of manager the fans have been screaming out for, or will Geppeto insist on yet another Flemish speaker so there's no room for miscommunication of orders?