Monday, 30 June 2008

Viva Espagna!

The European Championship ended in fitting style last night as Spain emerged worthy winners convincingly beating Germany by a goal to nil. "A one-nil annihilation" was how Mark Lawrenson described it and he was spot on.

Spain should have put the matter beyond doubt by notching a second and they might have got three of four if they had done that. As is was, one goal always looked enough and the Germans looked strangely lacking in confidence or conviction. I can only recall one half-chance for them in the whole game. Michale Ballack, a big match loser throughout his career had a look of resignation on his face at the end and I was sorry for him as he was close to my player of the tournament. That honour, however, I would give to Spain's Senna who was outstanding in the final and prominent in every Spanish performance. With half an eye closed, you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching a young Chrissy Powell in the middle and, whilst not tall, he reminded me of Patrick Veira in the way he bossed the midfield. He was the perfect foil for Iniesta and they gave licence to Fabregas to roam. Oh for a Senna /Iniesta pairing at the Valley!

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Spain to lift the Euroepan Championship

Before the tournament started I said I fancied Spain to lift the cup. However, I then talked myself out of it based on the fact that everyone seemed to have the same idea, and because Spanish odds had dropped making them second favourites. So I wasted my money on Croatia and the Czech Republic instead. I'm still in the secret envelope thingy in the Rose of Denmark and the Oak, so there's a slim hope of recouping my money!

I can't see beyond a Spanish win this evening. If they play anywhere like they did against Russia in the semi-final, it could be an easy win. Their attacking playing was inventive, quick and well supported from midfield. They played ball after ball through the Russian defence and could have scored four or five in the end. If I were setting Germany up this evening it would be to defend deep and try and catch Spain on the break. If they do sit deep in defence to limit space in behind, I fear this will only give the Spanish options from the edge of the box. German hopes also lie with Michael Ballack making the starting eleven and he was doubtful yesterday.

So, expect an all-out attacking German display which will blow Spain away!

Our boys are back in training tomorrow sporting millionaire sun-tans, expensive new watches and no doubt some flashy new motors. I expect Pards to sit them all down, review last season, reinforce what is expected this year and set them all personal targets which should contribute to a collective promotion.

It was interesting to read PNE boss, Alan Irvine, commenting yesterday that it's been very frustrating trying to sign players so far in the close season (and not just because he's trying to attract them to Preston). He doesn't think there's a lot happening and blames much of it on players and agents being on holiday but expects that situation to change this week. If he's right, you have to think that this suits the players and agents and that it's a seller's market. If the typical transfer is one between existing Championship clubs, the fees involved won't be large and it only increases player/agent leverage if clubs become more desperate to secure new signings as the kick-off looms.

As a club viewed with more money to spend than most (not necessarily the case), and likely to be recouping several millions more on outgoing players, we may well find that other clubs try to hold us to ransom as we make our approaches known.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Germany v Spain Final

Spain brushed past Russia this evening to set-up a European Championship final tie against Germany. Inspired by substitute Cesc Fabregas, their quick-passing and fast moving football was too much for the Russians who didn't look capable of coming back from Xavi's opener and gave up the ghost when Guiza scored the second. Silva got a third and Spain could easily have had a fourth. Surely Fabregas will start against Germany?

Sunday's final will be a clash of styles as well as cultures. Spain will start as favourites based upon the quality of the football they have been playing and the goal threat they carry. Having been critical of the home nations chances, had any of us qualified, it's interesting to see Germany make the final because their current squad and playing style is probably the closest to the England squad of all the teams who made it. For the good of the game it would be nice to see Spain win a thriller and lift the cup.

Back home, it was disappointing to see Wes Hoolihan sign for Norwich City today for what look like a paltry fee - £250,000 and "a goalkeeper." I think we have missed a trick here but our desperate need is for two quality central midfielders and the club are determined to reduce the size of the squad.

Tickets for the friendly at Brighton on 26th July go on sale on Monday and we have been allocated 900. I might be reading too much on the internet but I suspect these might sell quickly and that we may well have a good number of fans without tickets making the journey for a day out in the hope of getting a ticket down there with the Brighton fans.

I'm going for Spain

Charlton North Downs is touting 2-0 Russian win in this evening's semi. The Russians certainly look stronger with Arshavin in their line-up and will be keen to atone for their 4-1 thumping in their first encounter. However, I believe the Spaniards will retain a physchological edge and will be good enough to win again. I fancy Torres to get on the scoresheet and can see a 2-1 Spanish victory.

Either way, the final should be an interesting match-up; we either get the large, strong, disciplined Germans (tallest side in the competition?) against the smaller, quick-passing and moving Spanish (smallest?), or we get a fascinating Germany v Russia clash with all it's historic emnity and significance. I suspect a Germany v Spain final might be the better spectacle - Germany v Russia could be a niggly affair - then again, maybe the players (youth?) of today don't have the same sense of my history and it would just be another game?

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


Respect! The word has appeared in white on black throughout the European Championship. Each stadium has several perimeter billboards with it on and all of the players shirts appear to feature it on their sleeves. I've been wondering precisely what the reason was but believe it became clear this evening as Turkey lost out 3-2 to Germany in Vienna.

What it was obviously meant to do was inpire managers, players and teams to play with the right frame of mind and to approach the beautiful game in the way supporters always hope they will see it. Turkey did just this tonight and have earned my respect. They leave the tournament with enormous credit, far more than I was prepared to give them in my pre-match assessment.

Fatih Terim, Turkey's manager, obviously thought long and hard about the gameplan for this evening and probably recognised that his side would be extremely unlikely to hold their more able opponents for 120 minutes, given his depleted squad, and that their chances of actually beating Germany in a penalty shoot-out were even less likely. As a consequence, he told his players to go out and enjoy their last game and to have no regrets. They did just that.

Turkey played with confidence throughout the side and spent much of the first half attacking the Germans and creating a succession of chances. Colin Kazim-Richards again played above himself and was desperately unlucky not to have scored before his angled chip beat Lehmann and came off the bar for Ugur Boral to bundle weakly past the stunned German keeper. Turkey only held on for minutes before Germany's best (only?) move of the half saw Podolski break down the left and cross for Schweinsteiger to flick nonchalently beyond Rustu in the Turkish goal for 1-1.

At half-time you felt the Germans would respond to a half-time tongue-lashing and assert control before the hour. They did not and Turkey continued to play carefree football which was only missing a quality finisher. Then came the moment of their ultimate downfall. Phillip Lahm was brought down on the left-hand edge of the box by Sabri for what was a free-kick at worst and a penalty at best. Amazingly, the well-placed Swiss referree waved play-on to enormous German protests.

Things got tricky after this for the television viewers in Europe (and presumably the rest of the world) as a local power cut removed pictures from our homes on several occasions for five minutes or so at a time. At least we were watching on the BBC and had the continued commentary on Five Live.

With 15 minutes left, Miroslav Klose beats Rustu to a cross and heads German undeservedly ahead. Turkey redouble their efforts and incredibly force an equaliser with minutes remaining as Lehmann is beaten on his near-post in embarrassing fashion. With extra time looming it is left for Phillip Lahm to finally gain personal revenge for the penalty that he should have had and he does so in style firing home after a one-two with Thomas Hitzlsperger.

So, we've had a really entertinaing game in the semi that most predicted would be a drab affair. Presumably, the fireworks anticipated in the other semi between Russian and Spain won't materialise and we will watch a bore-draw concluded on penalties tomorrow? Andrei Arshavin should be interesting to watch tomorrow night as he sets out to impress the Spanish public. His interview today about the possibility of playing for Barcelona looked stage managed and was embarrassing as he went on about his lifetime ambition to play for his boyhood club etc etc - all this after a statement a number of days ago about his dream of playing in the world's best domestic competition, the Premier League. St Petersburg will do without him next season whatever happens.

First Euro semi-final tonight

Germany take on Turkey this evening and must be confident of making the European Championship final. Their opponents are paying the penalty for earlier round bookings and will have just 13 outfield players to choose from. Turkey have battled well throughout the tournament but lacked genuine class and have ridden their luck with several late goals to make it this far.

Greece, of course, did exactly the same thing and manage to win the event last time out, but I can't see the Germans being beaten this evening. A comfortable and controlled German win this evening and the focus will move to the Russia v Spain match tomorrow.

Good to see Osei Sankofa secure a new contract with Southend where he joins ex-Addict James Walker. Both will be keen to join the growing number of former Charlton players plying their trade elsewhere in the Championship who have managed to net against us, and invariably end up on the winning side.

If there is any prospect of selling Zheng Zhi on for £4m or that sort of figure, the fact that he looks likely to miss the first games because of national duty at the Olympic games is a further incentive to let him go. In the meantime, the "Undecideds" have precious little transfer news to inspire that important season-ticket renewal. I appreciate that there is probably a lot more effort going into this than the club can share with us, but it's frustrating that it seems to take us longer than rival clubs to get our deals done. Perhaps it suits our budget and negotiation tactics? If there is any truth in that, we really need to look at the impact it has on our start to the season. This will be potentially crucial this year in view of the start we have our need to get off to a flyer. Whinge over.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Seven weeks and counting

That's how long we have until the new season kicks-off at the Valley. Steve Waggott has somewhat less than that if we are to have our new team assembled and familiar enough with each other to make the impact we need from 9th August. Assuming we still have two or three players to sign (and five to go), I would suggest we need to get the business done in the next three weeks or at least all-bar-one. Please, let's not have another slow start blamed on late player arrival. I'm sure it's not easy but other clubs manage it. If Stevie can do this it would be a rare opportunity to put a feather in his cap over Peter Varney.

Nothing much happening on the rumour front other than we have been linked, very predictably, with Peterborough's Aaron McLean. I give this a 0/10 rating. We need to shed a striker or two, not complicate team selection up-front further. Additionally, Barry Fry's attempt's to up the price for Mclean are laudible, but his insistence than he's worth £5m and that he will get the potential buyer promoted on his own are laughable.

In the meantime, I have done my duty and renewed my season tickets. C'mon you Reds!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Spain win shootout

One of the poorest matches of Euro 2008 this evening between two of the better footballing sides on their day. The Southern European derby between Spain and Italy ended 0-0 at full-time and 0-0 at extra time. I thought there was half-a-chance it might end 0-0 after penalties as well.

Penalties it was and John Motson was able to tell us that Spain have lost three previous penalty shootouts, all of them on 22nd June. The significance of the date clearly got to them as they put Italy out 4-2 after two saves from Casillas. I'm pleased for Spain because they did at least try to win the game during normal time. The Italians came to contain and see if they could nick something on the break or rely on penalties - oh dear.

I have been watching Luca Toni during this tounament and there is something about his style of play that is very familiar. I have been racking my brains for the comparison but have been unable to get it, until this evening. Was it a Charlton player of the past I wondered? Maybe a long forgotten pro from another era? No, it was much more familiar to me than that. Finally the penny dropped. No pace, not really comfortable on the ball, the turning circle of a tractor and a tall man who uses his height advantage to stoop for headers. Yes, it's me in a nutshell. I have been looking at myself lumbering around in a team that is clearly too good for me all the while trying to look like I belong there. I note Italy weren't relying on big Luca's penalty taking expertise either!

We get a couple of days break from the football before the semi-finals on Wednesday and Thursday. Germany should beat a weakened Turkish side (suspensions) and the Russia v Spain game might be a breeze for the Spaniards who have already beaten the Russians 4-1 in the group stage. At least that game promises a better footballing spectacle than Germany v Turkey. This tournament deserves two good semis and a memorable final but I suspect the chances of that went with Portugal, Croatia and Holland.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Holland frozen out

Holland joined the qualifying hotshots of Portugal and Croatia by going out of the European Championships this evening at the quarter-final stage. Well beaten in the end by a Russian side inspired by the return on of Andrei Arshavin and the prowess of Roman Pavlyuchenko. Luca Modric is already with Spurs and will entertain us next year but Arshavin must be a Premier League target now.

The Dutch failed to reach third gear for most of the match and looked strangely pedestrian compared with previous games. They missed the urgency of Arjen Robben. The Russians were not standing on ceremony and played with attacking intent throughout. They should have had the lead in the first half and certainly before they finally scored through a fine Pavlyuchenko finish after 56 minutes. Kolodin had two rasping shots saved by Van Der Saar before the Dutch finally rallied and Ruud Van Nistleroy forced himself onto a deep, deep free-kick to head the equaliser and send the game into extra time. I thought that this was the signal for the Dutch to up the ante and win the match but I was wrong. Russsia continued to press and the Dutch seemed unwillingly or unable to do anything about it.

Andrei Arshavin sealed Russian victory in the second period of extra time when he forced his way to the line and conjured a cross reminiscent of a Bjorn Borg lob which beat Van Der Saaar and landed so close to the foot of the far post that all that was required was contact from Torbinsky. Two-one, game over but Arshavin was allowed a personal triumph by the disconsulate Dutch as he followed a throw-in into the box before burying a near post shot to give the scoreline a better balance of the game.

It's a shame to see the Dutch knocked out but this is de rigeour for them in this competition and there will be no surprises if the Italians do the same to the Spanish tomorrow to leave an unfancied semi line-up of Germany v Turkey and Russia v Spain. Surprises apart it would be hard to see past a Germany v Spain final and the Germans could do it yet again.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Turkey Swizzlers

Denmark, Greece, Turkey. It's like the Enigma Code, the Da Vinci Code or simply Sod's Law. Turkey progressed to within 90 minutes of the European Championship final this evening and did so with all the style of two recent European Champions.

Lucky to be level at half time, Turkey did little in the second half to suggest they would go the distance but keeper Rustu kept the Croats at bay and Turkey looked much more confident during extra time. Penalties decided matters and Modric, Rakitic and Petric all failed to score to hand the Turks an easy penalty win. I'm sorry to see Croatia go out but I won't miss Slaven Billic's ear-ring (like him, I'm getting old).

Turkey will now face Germany in the semis but will do so without several first choice players as bookings took their toll this evening. This will be a massive game in Germany, as they have a large Turkish population, and you simply cannot rule the Turks out come what may. As I started this post, they are beginning to look uncannily like Denmark and Greece and anything is possible.

Let's hope tomorrows match provides better football if not drama. It's hard to look beyond the, so-far impressive Dutch, and I hope they do it for the sake of the tournament. However, the Russsians are no slouches and will be confident they can follow the Turks as party-poopers.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

German midfield makes the semi's

Another good match this evening as the Germans saw off the Portugese pretenders in Basle on a patchwork quilt pitch that would have had Paddy Powell carted off by the men in white coats.

As predicted, Germany won the midfield battle with five strung across and one up front and got the opening goal through Schweinsteiger. They doubled their lead six minutes later, courtesy of Miroslav Klose, and that was really that. Portugal did respond through Nuno "Vampire" Gomez following a blocked Ronaldo effort but Michael Ballack headed an iffy third as he pushed his way to meet the ball and that was it pretty much all over. A Postiga header in the last couple of minutes made it interesting but the Germans were home and dry.

I have said this before, but this tournament is turning out to be pretty special. The quality of football has been exceptional and attacking ambitions have dominated proceedings. I expect more of the same tomorrow when my other tip, Croatia, face the dark horses from Turkey. The Turks were fortunate to beat the Czech Republic in my book, but they are here now and will see no reason why they can't emulate the Danes and the Greeks by going the whole hog. However, I think Croatia will beat them tomorrow. The Croats have a chip on their shoulder and genuinely fear no-one. What's more, they have the quality in their squad (Colin Kazim-Richards wouldn't cut the mustard) and I am expecting them to make the semi's and another showdown with the Hun. Skorjanic, I am with you!

Euro Quarters

The quarter-final fixtures for the European Championships were confirmed last night as Russia breezed past the Swedes. With no let-up in the schedule, the first knockout game is this evening when Portugal face Germany.

Form would favour the Portugese but how many times have we seen the Germans respond at this stage of tournaments when the odds are against them. It would be great for the competition if Ronaldo, Deco and Co could blow the functional Germans away with some of the attacking flair they have shown so far but you suspect that the Germans will stand up to them and dictate the style of play. If they can do that and stifle Portugese ambitions from midfield, then they may get a chance or two to test the Portugese back four. If Germany score first I will go for them to maintain their advanatge and get the result. Portugal probably need to get a 2-0 lead to look as secure.

The others quarter-finals also promise much; Croatia will carry my flag against the Turks tomorrow, then we will see the all conquering Dutch have to match-up against Russia before the mouth-watering tie of Spain v Italy. All-in-all a weekend of great football in prospect.

Back on Planet Charlton there is little news. Stuart Fleetwood is using his elevation to the Championship to pitch for a Welsh cap. I remember Andy Gray saying just the same thing when he arrived. Still, shouldn't knock ambition I guess.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Fireworks tonight

After an unusually ordinary couple of matches in the Euros last night - two predictable enough 1-0 wins for Germany and Coatia - this evening's games promise goals and yet more drama.

The Dutch take on second placed Romania in Group C and will be expected to let their hair down and break the 10 goal barrier in only their third game. Romania, after two redoubtable draws against the French and Italians will probably be looking to capitalise against a weakened (if that's possible with the Dutch squad) second string or else they will pack their defence and try and to keep the goal difference to two or less. If they can do that then they know they will qualify ahead of the World Champions and Runners-up if they draw the other game this evening.

Yes, it's a re-run of the last World Cup final and both the Italians and the French know that they need to win to avoid finishing bottom of their group and to be in with a realistic chance of making the quarters. If the game is played in the attacking spirit of the championship so far, we could be in for a thriller. The ageing French showed signs aginst the Dutch of being capable of a swansong, whilst the Italians have shown plenty of threat in both of their matches without getting the goals that their play has deserved. There is always the chance both teams will defend deep and it could become a cagey affair but I think they are just as likely to throw caution to the wind and go for it.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Fleetwood at the double

Stuart Fleetwood become the second Summer season signing today when he joined from Forest Green Rovers for a "Developmental Fee" to be determined by tribunal which I guess will be c £150,000-250,000 which looked like "ours" and "theirs" in terms of valuation.

Hardly a surprise this, and the club will argue he costs us relatively little and is worth a punt. With Mcleod, Iwelumo, Gray, Todorov, Varney and Dickson (and Bent!) already fighting for two striking berths, it's easy to foresee one or even two of these being sold on. Izale Mcleod looks vulnerable to me if there is any interest at £500,000 and it wouldn't be hard to see justification for Gray or Iwelumo also going for a fee. At best a couple need to be loaned out to reduce the wage bill.

So, with five out so far (Gibbs, Powell, Sankofa, Walker and McCarthy) and two in (Hudson and Fleetwood), we remain on track for my 10-4 prediction!

This Year's Fixtures!

Swansea at home first up on 9th August. A blazing hot day and 3,000 drunk Swansea fans out for their big day in the Smoke. We will need to be ready for them as they will play with the exuberance of a promoted side. Watford away and Reading at home follow in successive Saturdays before Preston away, Wolves at home and then aways at Doncaster (Tuesday) and Nottingham Forest.

All-in-all, that is not the start we would have preferred. Three home games from seven and those against a promoted side, a relegated side and an established Championship team. Two of the four aways are at other newly promoted clubs, Doncaster (Tuesday) and Forest. The others are toughies at Preston and Watford. So, Pards will need to ensure we are ready and let's hope we don't leave the summer signings until the end of July or else we may well be trotting out the "we haven't had time to gel" line.

Interesting to note that both Palace matches are Tuesday evenings and that we play Ipswich home and away during October. It's a shame that the Doncaster games are also Tuesdays as I know it would be one of the more popular away fixtures of the season. Boxing Day is an enjoyable home game against QPR but we have the, now familiar, nonsensical Christmas away fixture on Sunday 28th December when they are sending us to Sheffield United.

At this stage, at least the last four home games all look winnable; Preston, Birmingham, Blackpool and Norwich. Bring it on!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Turkish fightback spurs Euros

A day of considerable drama when least expected.

First my Wife goes into labour and I suffer for nine hours at the hospital. I won't attempt to outpoint anyone but it was not a pleasant experience. Mercifully, I have a beautiful second Daugther and my Wife is recovering from an emergency Caesarian. It could have been a lot worse.

Home in time to catch the end of the Czech Republic v Turkey game. What a finish. I arrived home and my tip, Czechy, are two up and coasting, but then suffer an amazing collapse in the final quarter culminating with a two goal salvo in the last few minutes to hand the Turks a remarkable 3-2 victory. Don't say this tournament has been predictable.

Tomorrow is another day but I can sleep tonight.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Two more cracking matches as Euros sizzle

If you have given the Euros a miss because of lack of home nation representation, I would recommend that you tune-in soon. The competition has beeen very good to watch so far and the final stages are promising some top class football and we may be watching one or two sides that will go down in history with the greats.

Last night's two games from the Group of Death were compelling spectacles. The Italians were ultimately frustrated by a very competitive Romanian side who defended brilliantly. They sat deep and battled for every ball as they kept Luca Toni and Alessabdro Del Pierro at bay and yet still had the personnel to hit back on the break. Italy missed the proverbial hatful of first half chances and were then caught cold in the second half by a Romanian break and bad-boy Adrian Mutu crashed home the opener. Italy were stung by this and were level within a minute from Christian Pannucci but, try as they might, they couldn't force a winner and had to thank Buffon for a penalty save from Mutu who promptly burst into tears.

The later game was a another intriguing affair as ageing France took on the vibrant Dutch. Holland started brightly and it was no surprise when Dirk Kuyt headed home from a close range from a corner. France responded in the first half but looked a bit short up front with Thierry Henry looking his age. The second half saw the Dutch go two-up as substitute Robin Van Persie forced the ball past Coupet. That looked like that but the French again raised their game and Thierry Henry scored a typical goal for him as he added the deftest of touches to a cross which made all the difference between one side of the far post and the other. France continued to push and Ribery, in particular, tried every he could to get the equaliser. The French matched the Dutch for a good spell here before another substitue turned the contest decisively for the Dutch; Arjen Robben lit the match-up from his first touch and it was no surprise when he effectively ended the game with a fierce high drive from an almost impossible angle having been closed down by the French. As against the Italians, this was the cue for Holland to swagger through the remainder of the match and score yet another as Ooijer curled home a beauty from distance in the 92nd minute.

Holland are looking like world-beaters at the moment having hit 7 goals against the World Cup winners and finalists from two years ago. However, they will need to learn the lessons from history as emerging from the first round as hot favourites is often the step before elimination in the quarters or semis. If they can continue their sparkling attacking displays in those two games, then they can win this tournament and possibly go down in history as one of the great sides.

Today's games might not be the best as Spain and Sweden can both qualify for the final stages by playing out a draw. Greece and Russia face each other and the best they can expect to do is win and catch the Swedes on goal difference.

Tomorrow evening, Portugal and the Czech Republic get their chances to qualify for the last eight and show how good they are. The Portugese are following close behind the Dutch as early contenders and will be keen to put on a convincing display against their Swiss hosts who have been unfortunate to lose their fisrt two games by the odd goal. the Turks can also qualify if they beat the Czech Republic, so that one promises to be a cracker.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Richard Murray joins Blogging Community

The rewards for Bloggers are few and far between; some personal satisfaction and occasionally an encouraging comment in terms of feedback. So it was great to be invited along to a "Bloggers Night" with Richard Murray yesterday. Over the years I have heard Richard at several largish supporter gatherings. He has always come across as open, honest and engaging, although understandably coy on occasions about what he can and can't say (the club's a plc and personnel information can't be shared etc).

Last night was similar, although the audience was smaller (12/13) and I thought he was more open and frank than I have heard before. He spoke with us for the best part of two hours and whilst he couldn't be specific on current player information, he answered pretty-much everything else we put to him. Whilst I don't believe he actually reads any of the Charlton blogs (Charlton Life excepted), he acknowledged the role they play in communicating with supporters and is keen to increase the two-way flow information via supporter blogs. There is a lot to cover and I won't do it all here and now; the other Bloggers in attendance will no doubt present a fuller picture, so I will focus on the main things I learnt.

First, I felt Richard sounded weary and is clearly carrying the burden of responsibility since exiting the Premier League. He outlined the need to find £20m of additional funding to help steady the ship and ensure we can survive and hopefully get back into the Premier League. The Directors (and other wealthy supporters) have raised £15m but we need the other £5m. He was at pains to point out the huge loss to the club of Peter Varney and paid him significant tribute. It was hard to escape the fact that Richard will miss his presence and maybe views his departure as the end of a golden era in the management of the club, although he didn't say as much. He sees himself, and the other Directors, as "baton carriers" and would be prepared to move aside if a significant and worthy purchaser appeared. AEG (the Dome owners) would represent such a potential buyer but there is no truth in the recent press speculation and that story was actually a year old.

To balance the comments about Peter Varney, Richard was keen to point out that Steve Waggott got the Chief Exec job on merit and beat off two other current football club Chief Execs at interview. The size of the task Waggott inherits means that he will likely share part of his responsibilities with a, to-be-appointed, deputy.

The £5m financial imperative means we will be "net sellers" this summer. Our squad is large and needs trimming. It probably didn't help us last season (too much choice) and the plan with Pards this year is to get two senior pros per position plus some squad youngsters. Therefore he thinks we will lose "five or six and sign three or four." On top of the five that we have already released, that's pretty much in line with my view that we needed to move ten out and get four in.

He has a strong view of the current health of English football and was keen to emphasize the threat to the game of the Big Four. The clamour to break into the Big Four in the last few seasons has seen a number of clubs spend huge sums of money without success and he believes this is beginning to send a message to potential investors and even oligarchs, that they are probably wasting their time and almost certainly their money. Aston Villa, Man City, Spurs and West Ham were cited and one or more of these clubs might be feeling the heat of financial over-commitment. On the back of this, Richard believes the case for reform is strong and is likely, particularly if it spreads the right sums of money down the leagues. If this happened and the elite did get more involved in a European competition, he could see the Championship title becoming much more attractive as the leading English domestic competition and went as far to say that a number of the smaller Premier League clubs might choose to be included if the rewards were stronger than today.

Looking forward he expects competition between 8 clubs this year as far as spending and challenging for the Championship are concerned and we are very much one of those. He is confident Alan Pardew will get us closer this year.

On another positive final note, Tom Harvey, who manages the club website , was also present and he informed us that season ticket sales are close to 12,500. This is very encouraging bearing in mind there was no early incentive this year and there will likely be several thousand more prior to the 1st August deadline for freebies in 09-10 if we are in the top flight.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

McCarthy signs for Palace.....

Surprising news that Paddy McCarthy has signed for Crystal Palace for £500,000. I don't quite know what to make of this. My gut reaction is that it undermines to capture of Mark Hudson. Not because it was a nice bit of one-up-manship on the Eagles but rather because I saw him strengthening our existing centre-back choices, particularly if Madjid Bougherra makes his much rumoured departure. It would leave us looking for a replacement and McCarthy's about as good as you can get for £500,000 (we paid £650,000). As Pards signed him less than a year ago, it will be good to hear his rationale for letting him go.

I can only assume we are about to make some counter-announcement of our own?

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Transfer plans complicated further

With an increasing delay in seeing any more transfer activity, the prospect of some exciting news has been further complicated by the unwelcome return of Marcus Bent and the incompetent Amdy Faye. Ben Thatcher has also spoken out after being offered a lower deal this year than last, following our failure to secure promotion.

Amdy Faye must rate as one of the worst buys we have ever made and the money (another £2m signing) we paid for the less-than-average player we got is an indictment on the judgement of Iain Dowie and probably the worst of a bad bunch of rash signings. I'd like to be able to glibly say we'll loan him out but his currency is probably so low I can't see anyone who'd take him being prepared to pay his wages. He's more likley to hang around like a bad smell.

Marcus Bent is not in that category but he'll hardly be relishing a return to the Valley having long since thought he had moved on to better things with Premier League (still) Wigan. My lowly view of Steve Bruce has increased by a percentage point with his decision not to sign Marcus. I really don't believe he's top flight material and his level is probably Championship. He's just turned 30 and doesn't offer us any improvement on what we've got. The difference here is that I think Pards will be able to off-load him, albeit on another loan.

Ben Thatcher is now actively looking for another club after being encouraged to take a pay cut, something that was always on the cards bearing in mind he's 33 this year and likely third choice behind Youga and Basey for the left-back berth. It's hard to see anyone coming in for Thatcher as we would probably want a small fee and his wages would present a possible stumbling block. A loan move is probably the best we can hope to engineer.

In the meantime our squad and wage bill has increased again when the plan must be to slim it down. It's hard to see how Pardew will be allowed to progress too far with his recruitment plans until some more players are managed out and we know the wage bill is controllable.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Holland light up Euros

After the relative disappointments of yesterday - Croatia beat plucky Austria by the only goal after a fourth minute penalty and Germany's predictable 2-0 win over Poland, the tournament needed a spectacle of a match to get things going and we got just that this evening as Holland crushed the World Champions, Italy, by three goals to nil.

Earlier in the day, France and Romania played out a boring 0-0, so the pressure was on. What we got was an intriguing game from two technically superb sides with contrasting styles. Italy played the combative, probing midfield game that you get in Serie A and looked throughout to play in their front men. Holland on the other hand defended superbly and relied on raking counter-attacks to stretch the Italians and ensure they couldn't impose themselves on the game. I'll take some stick for this, but it was the perfect example of why none of the home nations have qualified for this tournament and I am confident any of us would have struggled against either of these teams tonight.

Ruud Van Nistleroy netted the opener by deflecting a cross shot passed Buffon from close range from an offside position. If there was any doubt about the opener, there was none about the second as Holland countered across the pitch and Sneijder finished a fine move from Dirk Kuyt's header. Two-nil at half-time and I expected the Italians to come out in the second-half and force the game. That's precisely what they did and they were unlucky not to get back into it. More superb zonal defending thwarted them and when they did find their man or free-kick range, Edwin Van Der Saar was there to save smartly. The game was summed up for me in the 80th minute when Holland cleared off their line under heavy Italian pressure and broke quickly. A flowing five man move saw the ball go left, right and left again before Van Bronckhorst headed home another Kuyt cross. The Italians were broken and Holland could have nicked another as they pressed forward in the last ten minutes.

Boulahrouz and Engelaar caught the eye as did Sneider on his 24th birthday. What's more, the Dutch side looked happy and even their players exiting for fresh legs did so with smiles and hugs - not something the touchy Dutch are known for. Marco van Basten might just have a team for the long haul here.

Italy deserve a lot of credit for the way they played despite being carved open for two of the goals. Expect Romania to feel the Azurri backlash on Friday when they meet.

Back home, I read with interest from the Newshopper a supposed quote from Pards to the effect that he will only be buying players he expects to play next season. That supports my view of four players in, but not the much-rumoured signing of Stuart Fleetwood?

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Portugal impress on opening day

Well the Czech Republic got off to the winning start that I thought they would but it was hardly a convincing display and not much of a match. Switzerland had the better of the chances and will feel hard done by to have conceded the only goal of the game.

Much better fare was served up in the evening when Portugal took on Turkey. The best player on earth looked every inch like a man from another world as he lead the Portugese attack from the flank. The Turks had trebled up on Ronaldo but he skated through and past them on numerous occasions and was shooting from any angle or distance. He struck the post from a tight angled free-kick and the replays showed that only a finger-tip touch by Demeril in the Turkish goal prevented it from going in. Pepe did head home powerfully for Portugal but that was correctly ruled out for a slight off-side infringement. Turkey held on during the first half and it was hard to avoid the feeling that they might spring a late second-half surprise if they could hang-on.

However, Portugal kept up the momentum and played some sparkling football. Deco was industrious in midfield and Nuno Gomez flashed two efforts against the bar. Pepe got the opportunity to atone for his first half misfortune and he took the chance with aplomb waltzing through the backline with a one-two before bundling the ball past the helpless Demeril.

Portugal looked very familar in defence with Carvalho and Ferreira but there was a third player defender with Chelsea connections who emerged as my man of the match - Jose Boswingwa who we should see playing for Chelsea next season. He gave as confident and commanding a right-back display as I can remember seeing.

Joint-hosts Austria kick-off their tournament against Croatia today and I am expecting Croatia to show some serious intent for the competition. This is a showcase for the likes of Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar, Dario Snar, Mladen Petric and Ivica Olic. Modric will be keen to show Spurs fans what he's about.

The other game today is the security nightmare for the authorities as Germany take on Poland. Germany will start as favourites but I expect a close game and think Poland could force something from this one.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Euro 2008 - Switzerland v Czech Republic

The least spoken about major football tournament in recent history kick-offs today in Basle as Switzerland take on the Czech Republic. Lack of any home nation teams has meant a huge lack of interest in these islands, although things will surely pick-up once the action is underway. Let's face it, most of the players are very well known to us and the games are being played in our time zone. It's not even as if there is any other sporting distraction.

Now is the time to place a bet on the outcome for a bit of added interest. Several weeks ago Spain were appealing very strongly on account that they must come good sooner or later and in Torres they have probably the most un-sung (relatively speaking) strikers in the game today. I was hoping that there might be some value in terms of the price available for sleepy Spain. However, I was wrong. Spain have been tipped by practically everyone who has had anything to say about this competition and as a result their odds have shortened to second favourite pricing of 11-2. Being a near favourite for this competition has also been something of a Jonah in previous years. The fact that Greece are the holders speaks volumes on this front and remember Denmark winning it prior to that?

No, for me the focus must be on someone further down the list who will provide a good value bet, even on making the final. Odds here are obviously lower but Croatia at 5-1 and Czech Republic at 13-2 look tempting. Russia are way out at 14-1 for reaching the final which represents great odds for a long shot. Croatia should qualify from their group if they can outpoint Austria (tournament outsiders) and Poland. Germany are their group threat but I believe Croatia can compete here. The Czech Republic have to contend with Ronaldo's Portugal but will be expected to overcome Turkey and Switzerland.

So, I am going to punt for Croatia and the Czech Republic to make the final. If they can avoid each other en route, a final between them would provide some eastern European spice and a reasonable return. .

Friday, 6 June 2008

Next season we will be mostly wearing this...

The new kit is here and the new sponsor was today unveiled as Carbrini Sportswear, a brand owned and promoted by JD Sports. The deal is only for a season and no mention of the value, although this is a leading high street retailer who have sponsorships with West Brom, Burnley and Dundee United, so I am guessing we got the going rate.

The fact that this is a season long deal may suit both parties; us, because we could expect to cash in with a Premier League deal if promoted and them, presumably, because we would far less attractive in 09-10 if we don't gain promotion!

I'll declare my support for the new design here and now. Looks smart enough to me and it has a hint of some of the sixties kits with the banding across the shoulders, even if those shirts were predominantly white with red markings. The home kit is a lot better that the away. I am not keen on the red, white, black "Man u" kits as I always see them, but even they are an improvement on anything that has blue or yellow in it. I'll get my next pair of trainers from JD Sports as an acknowledgement for their sponsorship.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Fleetwood and Costly

As transfer rumours concerning Stuart Fleetwood intensify - his manager has told the local Forest Green press that the deal's done - Charlton are one of the posse of clubs linked to Honduran Carlos Costly.

If the Fleetwood rumour has strengthened to a 6/10, the Costly one must be back at 3/10. I can't imagine that Alan Pardew or any of the rest of the Valley management team have ever seen him play and there's only so much you can glean from You Tube. OK, so Poland's not as far as Honduras, but I'd still lay a bet he's a relative unknown to us. Not that having actually watched a player is necessarily a pre-requisite to signing one. Another 26 year old, his 11 goal tally for Poland's GKS Bechatow last year is hardly fearsome form. Wherever he ends up, the pun "Costly Miss" will surely haunt him throughout his career.

Meanwhile we await the arrival of a gladiatorial midfield general and some pace and crossing ability to ignite our strikeforce.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Why I'll never make a Marketeer

Marketing types, don't you just loathe them? Opinionated, smug, superficial and shallow. Full of froth and believers of their own bullshit. The Marketing World is full of them and their bibles preach rigid conformity to the need treat your respective Customer base with proportionately less-respect than they actually deserve.

Two beautiful examples jumped out at me from today's email communication from the club. The first we have already seen, but there is a reminder today that the extended deadline to guarantee your existing season ticket seat runs out soon. Then we get the marketing line to remind us that the deadline was extended "due to the backlog of renewal forms at the Valley commercial centre." Let me get this right. So many of us have inundated the club with early renewal forms (payments) that they have a huge backlog and have, therefore, extended the deadline, presumably in the hope of increasing the backlog? Yes, it took someone with marketing qualifications to come up with that one. Sorry, but I feel our intelligence is being insulted here. The reason you would extend this deadline is because you have not got a backlog of applications to deal with. Extend the deadline by all means but don't try a marketing justification.

The second one concerns the sale of a new limited edition print of the Valley for £135. I am sure this is an attractive picture and probably one I would look seriously at buying. The accompanying blurb tells us that the prints are not framed, which for £135 makes them expensive in my book. A decent frame will move the cost to close to £200 for a print. However, the Marketing person has decided to qualify the lack of a frame by helpfully explaining that they "come rolled with a hand-tied ribbon." A hand-tied ribbon? Just think how beautiful this print will look on your sideboard, rolled up in a hand-tied ribbon. No, on the grounds that you couldn't sell them folded up and that they are unframed, the cheapest solution is to roll them up and tie them "by hand." My contributions on Marketing at my place of work are rarely appreciated and I'll take it for granted that those responsible for these gems won't thank me either!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Transfer gossip update...

Rumour control is reporting Fulham interest in Zheng Zhi, Pardew close to signing Stuart Fleetwood and we are being linked with all the usual suspects for Swnasea's Ferrie Bodde.

I give the Zheng Zhi rumour a 7/10 on the basis that he's their sort of player, he'll be more desperate for Premier League action than most and because the money being mentioned (£4m) sounds realistic. Whilst he's a decent Championship midfielder, I don't think we got the best out of him last season and I wouldn't be upset if he left for £4m. If Bougherra was to go at £2m, all of a sudden, Alan Pardew has a decent transfer kitty, assuming he gets to add this to his existing pot.

Stuart Fleetwood is worth a punt for the likely small fee and terms involved and the story is that the deal might be done this week when he returns from his holiday.

Ferrie Bodde (pronounced Boat?) is new to the wires and I must admit to never having heard of him. Wikipedia tells me he is 26 and arrived at Swansea from Den Haag for £50,000 and that he was sent of twice last season, once for a headbutt and the other for a stamp! A midfielder with attitude, just what we need.