Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Striker Watch - 4 days to go

With four days until the new season kicks off, the big question for all Charlton fans is "will we sign another striker to start at Bournemouth?" 

At the start of last season we were happily playing one up front away from the Valley and the effectiveness of that lead us to try it at home. However, our more attacking finish to the season showed the folly of that approach and we all know we need more strikers, even if just as cover for a 4-5-1formation.

Finances appear desperately tight and there are differing opinions over whether we will sign anyone before Saturday, or wait and try and pick up a bargain before the end of the deadline, or whether things are so tight we are going to have to make do with Yann Kermorgant, Michael Smith and Joe Piggott. 

Personally, I can't see the logic in bringing in a centre-back and a midfielder if we weren't going to be able to finance another striker or two. I also believe that if money was so tight we couldn't afford a striker, then thought would have been given to trying to sell someone on to free up the cash. 

I am not supporting the position we are in - I think Jiminez is in a hole he never envisaged and is desperate to get out. However, with Fair Play regulations kicking in, I do think there is a logic in beggars biding their time. A Premier League fringe striker is probably the best deal we could do and the deadline may help us negotiate that as the big boys complete their signings and look to loan out their also-rans. Jonathan Obika's could be in just that position.

A large number of our current squad are on contracts that expire next year and there is alarm that we might find ourselves losing all our best players at once. I am not so sure that is as big a risk as some believe. First the club may already be planning extensions (we have a few months before there's any panic) and secondly, there is a glut of players on the market and contracts are being realigned downwards as Fair Play bites.

We don't have long to wait to find out - I'm banking on an Obika-type loan and one new permanent striking addition from the Championship. That would certainly gee us up for the trip to the South Coast.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Crying shame

After an unbeaten run of friendlies that has whetted appetites and had talk of promotion, albeit with a striker or two, a limp home defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and the wrist-slitters are out. To make matters worse Chrissie Powell dropped a very large hint post-match by saying he wanted to strengthen upfront "if allowed." My take is that was not a slip of the tongue and it tells you, if you didn't already believe it, that we are borassic. This could be a very tough season for us on and off the field. I was also very disappointed to see that only 2800 bothered to make the effort both for a rare home pre-season match and, more importantly, because it was for Colin Powell who could do with the money and deserved four times that gate. Perhaps it's as much a reflection that I am 50 and I have vivid memories of Powell in full flight, whereas many of our current day fans know him only as the Groundsman. Either way it was disappointing. I think that seals the prospects of home friendlies for the foreseeable future. Mr Jiminez may want to stay away from home games for a while because I sense the die-hards are turning on him specifically as largest individual shareholder and a man whose reputation has been taking a buffeting in the courts lately. He might find he's going to get some proper stick which could be damaging for a potential club owner who wants to sell. Up Shit Creek without a paddle is not a nice place to be but that's where we are two years into the new regime.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Fine pre-season in spite of ownership unrest

Another pre-season victory last night and another clean sheet in the beating of Dagenham & Redbridge at their place. So, we might have focused on beatable opponents but pre-season is all about timing fitness and confidence levels to coincide with your opening match. The fitness would appear to be there and the confidence too having walloped everyone bar AFC Wimbledon who battled back to register the only goal conceded so far in their 1-1 draw. For those schlepping about to see these games there is an evident feel-good factor that we all hope continues into the season and sees us off to a good start.

A good start may be critical to our season given what appears to be going on at Board level. It is very apparent that there is precious little money available. We trimmed our squad early by releasing half-a-dozen professionals but have, so far, only signed two ageing replacements in Mark Gower and Richard Wood. I am not complaining at this point, merely pointing out that we are, as I expected, leaving any significant expenditure to the last minute. That's not ideal in terms of preparation as new players take time to settle in and "gel" but if you haven't got it, you can't spend it.

That brings me to the state of the Boardroom. With Mssrs Slater and Jiminez, it's difficult to say with any degree of certainty or confidence what is going on because both appear to lead very full lives away from SE7 and either don't have the time to inform mere spectators as to what we can expect or simply don't see the need to. As a result we have been living under their rulership like the subjects of an authoritarian regime where no-one really knows what's going on which leads to conjecture, speculation, rumour and misinformation. Most of it, it has to be said is largely negative and overwhelmingly worrying. 

In my view then, we have to judge from what we know has happened and that again doesn't provide a clearcut position. The facts are that we were promoted under the current ownership. Something that was an absolute imperative and something which we have to thank the owners for, irrespective of whether or not the money came from their pockets or those of an anonymous investor who may have since backed off. We also have to acknowledge that we are, largely, all very comfortable with the appointed manager even if there were strong rumours that the owners were not as keen at times during last season - Chris Powell is still here and looks as committed as ever to the job in hand. We finished 9th last season, a position every fair-minded supported would have taken at the start, even if our home form was below par and tactically we were over-cautious early on as we found our feet (not something we can lay at the feet of the owners). We have a squad that we are generally satisfied with although there is an obvious need for strengthening upfront and arguably out wide in the next fortnight.

We also know that senior long-serving Charlton-supporting club officials resigned at short notice last season with unsatisfactory explanations and that they subsequently sought legal redress for the way in which their employment ended. Similarly, a number of long-serving Charlton-supporting club employees were dismissed last season and these too have resulted in unsatisfactory explanations and legal action. Not many of those who left or dismissed appear to have been properly replaced although the club has obviously continued to function even with a very part-time operating boss in Mr Protheroe. Instinctively, all of that is worrying and given the apparent financial situation, the rumours circulating about the behaviour of the current Board in relation to claims and creditors has to be worrying. 

However, if money is so tight that we can't afford to bring in the remaining players we need to compete this season or if, for example, the Board couldn't afford a relatively modest business expenditure without threat of closure, you would have to wonder why they haven't actively sought to sell some playing assets to meet their debts. They have also decided to hand the gate receipts of Saturday's home match with Inverness Caledonian Thistle to long-serving Colin Powell, something that they didn't need to do if they had more obvious and pressing bills to settle which might threaten the viability of the club or their plans for a successful season.

There will be an argument that says the owners (Jiminez and Slater majority shareholding) are caught in a Catch-22 situation whereby they have to sell the club on at a profit and thereby as a going concern and in a better position than we are currently, most probably as a promoted Premier League club. In order to achieve that, they can't afford to sell good players and they have to keep stumping up to fund the ride however uncomfortable or unwilling they are . The big question is just how long they can afford to do that without real success and a serious buyer? There are question-marks over the level of current investment but they haven't yet hit the reverse button despite rumours of behaviours that might support a view that they may be about to do that.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Club Day tomorrow 10am to 4pm

I have three tickets for the Club Day at the Valley tomorrow that I won't use - any takers?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Decision Day

I didn't renew my season tickets in the April rush. Personally, I thought last season was pretty drab for season ticket holders who only got to a handful of away games. We we far too cautious in the first-half of the season and too often we streamed away from the Valley disappointed and frustrated. I think the proof of the pudding was the fact that we rallied so well towards the end of the season after finally realising that we could beat teams if we went for it and that there wasn't much to fear. Some will say we needed security before throwing caution to the wind but I'd argue we didn't get any until we gambled. 

That in itself wasn't the only reason. I was genuinely disappointed with the ongoing lack of communication from the Board to its supporters which smacks of arrogance. The in-season shenanigans with the number of sackings of key long-term employees, many of whom I know treated working for Charlton Athletic in just the same way I would, that is to say, with dedication, passion and a simple desire to give their very best. I am willing to accept no smoke without fire but the series of dismissals were poorly managed, left much to the imagination and several of the higher profile ones still have to have their day in court. All-in-all, not a great reflection on those responsible and a PR own-goal. The news today of Communications boss Matt Wright won't help things but perhaps, he too, has had enough of being the mouthpiece for a regime that doesn't see the value of being as open as possible and getting it's customer base fully on-side. 

I have waited, hopefully, for some signs of encouragement for a better 2013-14. Some words or better still, actions, from Mr Protheroe. Some clarity from Jiminez or Slater about the state of ownership and our immediate prospects. Who knows, even the revelation of new ownership? We have had the Russian money rumour but little else. 

The clock has ticked on and the playing staff and management team are going about their business preparing for the new season. We did sign Mark Gower on for another season and today there is news that 31 year old Richard Wood has been signed to provide cover at centre-back. Nothing to make me grab the phone and my credit card. Our close season follows that of a club where finances are very tight. Nothing wrong with that. We have spent most of my 36 seasons in this position but in today's heightened world of communication and transparency, I think we deserve to understand more about what's going on. 

I expect us to make at least two more signings in the next fortnight. We need two more strikers and one could be trialist Adamo Coulibaly. The handsome 31 year old French Ivorian was a late starter to professional football and has taken time to come to the boil. His last season in the Hungarian league looks impressive on the surface and whilst he is behind the rest of or squad in fitness terms, he reviewed well at Wimbledon. I'm guessing he will cost in. 

So, nothing much has changed but the smell of the new season is upon us and, whilst piss-poor planning on my part means I'll miss the first two league games, I will be renewing three season tickets tomorrow. I really hope I feel much better about being a Charlton fan come next May.

F A Cup on BBC and BT Sport for next two years

Ok, so we don't do cup runs. However, we all still love the F A Cup and it's great to follow on the Saturdays when we don't have a game. Good to see, then, that the Beeb and new-boys BT Sport have combined resources to win the F A Cup coverage for the next two seasons with games being shown free of charge. Sky have been long overdue some competition and whilst I am a big fan, what they serve up is pricey and there is a relentless annual cost increase. Only yesterday I received a letter attempting to justify why my subscription will be increasing by £3.50 a month - not great timing Sky when you are losing content and it's being offered up free of charge. I feel I have to make a stand this year and will get something cut-off my package. I rarely watch their 3D channel and any film I can remember watching this year was one I had to pay for anyway.

Friday, 12 July 2013

BT Sport Live Games

BT Sport published their first Premier League fixtures yesterday and it's no surprise that they are trying to include as many Premier sides as they can with their first pick of games. As a BT Broadband customer, I have signed up to get these free of charge on my Sky box and if you register before 1st August you get the HD channels free too (0800 756 7566 - you will need your BT Account Number from a recent bill and your Sky Viewing Card Number from the Settings menu). 

I am looking forward to seeing what BT Sport can produce. They are going the whole hog and threatening to bring us good sporting TV as well as simply broadcasting matches. They have a host of other sports too and are looking at doing things differently. They have signed 30 Conference games on a two year deal and we have the prospect of seeing more of Welling than of Charlton live on TV. Someone needs to sort the BBC out so that we get more than 30 second highlights when we are all asleep in bed.

BT Sport kicks off broadcasting on 1st August when I believe the first game to be shown will be Stephen Gerrard's Testimonial game.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Welsummer Camping

I missed Welling on Saturday. It's always a good day out, invariably in the sunshine and so it proved again this year. I also missed the excellent Lions series win over the Aussies. A combination of both would have been a great day out like fellow blogger Blackheath Addick.

Instead, the lure of summer camping and the desperation of my family to go again after our brilliant weekend at Nethergong Hill proved too strong. So, we travelled down to Welsummer near Lenham on Friday afternoon and were there until Sunday morning with my sister-in-law and family, including their dog Monty. The weather was perfect, of course, and we enjoyed another couple of campfire days, exploring the on-site "Charlton" apple orchard and also spent Saturday at the Tenterden Music Festival, which was more of a Summer Fayre.

Camping is proving the hit of the Summer and we are booked again for four weekdays in August and another weekend (away game) in September which will probably be our last of the year. Welsummer is quite different from Nethergong Hill. It's a much smaller site although it's surrounded by woods and explorable countryside. It was also much more cramped than Nethergong and includes some fussy rules such as a 10.30 'lights out' and a music ban, unless you can play an acoustic instrument. My brother-in-law was particularly miffed by that and seriously considered bringing his Bongoes to make a point but space in his car put paid to that idea. 
Good to read such encouraging reports about the performance at Welling. Two different sides played, one in each half and Joe Pigott catching the eye with a first-half hat-trick. It's unrealistic to expect him to start and we need to sign a experienced partner or two for Monsieur Kermogant. It's good nonetheless to think we may have another youth product capable of making his mark when given his chance from the bench. The squad continue their fitness and team-building morale in southern Spain this week when they will play Gibraltar on Wednesday and St.Mirren on Saturday morning at 11am (to avoid the heat?).

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Brit wins Wimbledon

Fantastic three set victory for Andy Murray over Novak Djokovic this afternoon. In blistering heat, the man from Dunblane overcame his Serbian opponent in  a three hour slog-fest to become the first British man to win the competition in short trousers. Murray's serving gave him a great platform and his never-say-die rallying carried him through against an equally capable player.

There were so many celebrities in the 15,000 crowd that the cameramen could have focused on some little people for novelty factor. The Prime Minister will want to know how Alex Salmond managed to get the seat behind him and was able to flourish a Saltire about Cameron's head at the finish. Oh how I wanted Murray to pick the Union flag up off the table when he was presented with the trophy. He did at least manage to say how great it was to be the first British man to win in 77 years. Elsewhere, Gerard Butler, Ronnie Wood, Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Beckham and loads of others were there to witness history.

It was an amazing game with both players firing shot after shot from one side of the court to the other, so many of which were played onto the lines. The crowd were often guilty of cheering or commiserating prematurely such was the speed and accuracy from both players. The umpire, too, struggled to keep up and there was an embarrassing point at one stage when he called "out" but as both players played on he didn't have the courage to halt the game. Fortunately for him the point was won by Murray who would have taken it on the out call.

Having won two Grand Slams now as well as the Olympic gold, you have to believe Murray can go on and win more, if not become the best player in the world. What's also clear today is, barring any sporting achievement of note by any member of the Royal Family over the next four or five months, the BBC Sports Personality of 2013 will be a Scotsman.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Four weeks to kick-off

Pre-season starts on Saturday at Park View Road and then it's a mere four weeks of preparation before we run out at Dean Court to begin our challenge for the Premier League or our battle to remain in the top half of the professional league clubs of England and Wales depending on your viewpoint.

So far no new faces to replace those who have moved on, although Mark Gower has signed as a permanent player. I am not really surprised by this - money is very tight and we have been late transfer market starters during the close season in recent years for precisely that reason. I am expecting three or four new players to arrive but won't be surprised if some of these are last minute bargains in August.

It would appear that Tony Jiminez's desire to unload the financial burden of ownership remains strong and he has been in talks and possibly the dreaded due diligence with prospective Russian buyers. Sources once close to the club suggest the deal as been halted, interestingly by us as a result of what's been discovered through the process. That sounds like the prospective buyers weren't credible enough to be trusted to shoulder the ongoing debt or simply didn't have the table stakes. We all want to see the financial future secured but the longer the current owners have to fund the running losses, the closer the threat of Administration and all that it entails.

Meanwhile, a fascinating civil case is unfolding in court between TJ and Little Dennis. Mr Wise is looking for £500,000 back from Spanish Tone that he invested in the development of Les Bordes Golf Club in France. The case is yet to conclude but Dennis appears to have handed the money over without any contractual record to support his contention that he was promised a single figure percentage holding. I'm unsure whether this tells us more about Tony Jiminez's reputation and abilities as a "fixer" or the naievty of professional footballers with considerably more money than sense. What is clear, however, is that the threat of Dennis Wise managing our football club looks to have all but disappeared.