Thursday, 27 January 2022

Cards Being Shuffled Again

Not surprisingly in the wake of Tuesday night’s game opinions are being expressed about how we should look to shape up for next season, the assumption being this one is done and dusted. For me it was effectively that after the Plymouth and Wycombe games, but now we don’t need to plan for an early April trip to north London. (I’m going to apologise in advance for the number of words, just that trying to look at clearly interlinked issues – why are we bringing in loan players for the rest of this season, how do we want to shape up for next season etc – isn’t easy to do in brief, at least not for me; so as in the famous saying, apologies for the length of the note, I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.)

First off, I did think that some of the reaction to Hartlepool was overdone – which in turn means I’m not among those necessarily looking for a complete clear-out. JJ described the performance as ‘patchy’, which was fair enough but hardly surprising when once more, although the formation was the same, the component parts in all areas of the pitch were changed. Fact is that even though we may have wanted to progress we did not begin the game with our strongest X1, some selected were rusty, others unfamiliar (obviously not in training but that’s different), so to that extent the game was used to help in the experimentation process and/or to give some players minutes on the pitch rather than a concerted attempt to get to Wembley. That’s fair enough, but it is expecting too much for partnerships and understandings to just appear; and without understanding and cohesion you tend to get performances which are, well, patchy.

I hope what JJ is learning from this is that you can’t expect players to be replicas of one another, even if they are put in the same positions/formation, and that we need to emerge from the January transfer window with a clearer idea of just what is our strongest starting X1 in light of the changes, then work on building partnerships (again). While earlier in the season it was largely a case of ‘needs must’, JJ has more options now, which has cons as well as pros, especially as some players are being asked to play in positions they would not normally consider their best. You might argue that good players find a way to play together, but really that’s for the Messis of this world.

So why have we gone off the boil since the early stages of JJ’s tenure and what can we do to recover that form? And how do we want to use the rest of this season to shape up for the next, when it really will be promotion or despair? Of course we have to keep an eye on the relegation situation, of course we want to finish as high up the table as possible and end the season full of optimism, but if experimentation now helps us for next season fair enough.

When JJ took over we’d been shipping far too many goals, poor goals, and stopping that was the immediate priority. Let’s not forget that his first game in charge did not start with Pearce or Clare in central defence; Lavelle was in situ but was injured in the first half at Sunderland, re-enter Pearce, to very good effect. When we found ourselves short of central defenders (Inniss and Lavelle out, Pearce injured), Clare came in to do a job rather than Gunter or Matthews – and has performed so well in that role (misplaced passes aside) that he has kept his place with Inniss’ return, pushing those two and also recently Pearce to the sidelines.

JJ’s main changes were the adoption of wing-backs in a 3-5-2 (or 5-3-2, whichever you prefer) and the recall of Dobson to play in front of the defence (he had started the season under Adkins, alongside Clare). Purrington in a new role was a revelation, including his goals contribution, while Jaiyesimi adapted well too. With Dobson providing the protection, Lee and Gilbey were given licence to attack – and their task was made easier by the intelligent movement of Washington ahead of them to create space, plus the option of Stockley if something more complicated wasn’t on. The front two paired up well and suited the midfield.

It all worked well, for a while, reflected in that for a period the starting X1 all but picked itself (which itself helped the team to play better). The downside was that we really didn’t have cover for key players while the physical intensity of the style of play JJ was demanding of them took its toll. Stockley stupidly got himself a three-match ban and then picked up the hip problem keeping him out, Pearce and Washington picked up injuries etc. Probably also teams took a good look at how we were setting up and adjusted. By the time that more options became available to us, some of that initial new manager enthusiasm had faded – and it really takes very little to take the edge off a team.

The return of Inniss is very much welcomed, but it now means that Pearce, Famewo and Clare (and you can soon add in Lavelle, plus to a lesser extent Gunter and Matthews) are in competition for the two places but also have to play together at times as Inniss may not be up to two/three games in quick succession. For the wing-back roles, to Purrington and DJ have been added as options – with differing levels of success - Blackett-Taylor, Leko, at times Kirk (no longer in the picture), Soare (assumed to be out of the picture), Gunter, Matthews, and now Castillo. And you have to say that of the nine only one is a recognised wing-back, the others being wingers or full-backs who have been asked to do a job.

The midfield triumvirate of Dobson, Gilbey and Lee at its best was superb, effective and good to watch, the only criticism of it being that they collectively didn’t score enough goals. Dobson was given his chance and grabbed it. Lee’s confidence has clearly been affected of late and he has gone from ‘favourite player/starring role, sign him up asap’ to ‘do we want him for next season?’ There’s no simple explanation for the downturn in form, probably a mix of opponents keeping a tighter rein on him and not allowing him space, different forwards in front of him not making the runs that Washington was doing, and not scoring goals. With John joining on loan from Spurs if Browne signs on a permanent deal, and if Forster-Caskey returns from injury soon, he must be thinking about whether he will be with us next season. Up to him to go again for us.

Gilbey has been dropped for the last two games (albeit coming on as a sub and scoring/setting up goals). Watson has been patiently sitting on the bench as cover for Dobson, but Hartlepool didn’t suggest that we wouldn’t be materially weaker if he was called on to start. And there is Morgan. Clearly, as JJ said, bags of talent, has played well (and scored) on his return. But we’ve played him at times out wide, as a No.10, as a defensive midfielder, as a playmaker; just which is his best role? And if he plays, with Dobson a shoo-in, it means now a choice of Lee, Gilbey, John, possibly Browne, further out Forster-Caskey, for two spots. What will JJ say to Morgan, for example, having brought him back into the team, seen him score and get into team of the week, and then a young ‘creative’ central midfielder is brought in on loan? As with Lee, you might say up to him to make himself indispensable, but Morgan is obviously hoping for a run in the team and his chances of that have just been slashed.

Conundrums up front too. We played our best with Washington and Stockley paired. That hasn’t been possible too often and isn’t possible right now. We do of course now have Aneke back, which suggests he and Washington together. Only problem is Washington has looked rather off the pace since coming back from injury, while Burstow has planted his flag on the pitch. Now Burstow is a bonus as far as this season is concerned, we all have high hopes. But you can’t ignore the fact that if he starts we lose out in terms of play outside the box, which in turn makes midfield’s job more difficult. No doubt he will develop in that area but at present it is a trade-off for his goal threat.

Consequently, I’d say if Burstow starts it has to be alongside someone who can carry the load, ie Aneke, while you also have to look at midfield options in that light and probably accept going more direct. Alternatively you work on Aneke and Washington as a pairing or turn to pairing Aneke with Leko, who I tend to think has more to offer as a second forward than a wing-back/winger (but of course there’s no point in that unless we are looking to sign him permanently).

In that context, of course we say good luck to Kirk at Blackpool, just hasn’t worked out for him here, just as it didn’t for Arter and looks like being the case for Soare. Fair to say we never saw Kirk do in a Charlton shirt what he was signed for. And of course we welcome Castillo and now John, hope they play out of their skins for us. I confess I struggle to see the rationale of bringing in Premiership teams’ youngsters in our situation – at the start of a campaign or with a clear view to buy would for sure be different – but if they give us some freshness and vitality and help the team as a whole perform better then fair enough. There will be time enough for fuller assessments when the window has closed, when we can start to think about what might be a good spine for the team next season – because every good team has one. At the moment you'd say MacGillivray, Dobson, and Stockley/Aneke, everything else up for grabs. 

 

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Turned Out All Right After All

What did we hope for today? A rollicking victory no less, goals for the forwards, preferably some from midfield too, and a clean sheet. But at the back of our minds was of course ‘first things first, let’s make sure we win and keep the distance from the relegation zone’. We did get the win, with goals from a forward and a midfielder, and over the 90 minutes we deserved it. Just that the first 20 minutes or so Fleetwood took us apart on several occasions and really will be kicking themselves for not taking the lead. If that had happened it would have been a different game. It didn’t, it wasn’t.

The team showed MacGillivray return in goal following his absence for the birth of his daughter. The central defence was unchanged from a week ago, with Famewo and Clare either side of Inniss (and Pearce on the bench again), but for the wing-backs Matthews dropped out and Blackett-Taylor was given a start on the left flank (over Purrington and Soare, with the game coming too soon for new loan Castillo) with Jaiyesimi switching back to the right. Morgan also kept his place in central midfield to accompany Dobson and Lee, Gilbey staying on the bench, while Aneke and Burstow kept their places up front, with Washington and Leko the options to come on. Also of interest from the sidelines would be whether new first-team coach Terry Skiverton would be prominent.

Again, the first period of the game was pretty much all them as we had no answer to their movement and contributed to our problems with more loose passes in our own half. I hope JJ has everyone watching this period of the game on replay on Monday as on another day we could easily have found ourselves two down and, as was underlined away at Crewe, it’s a long way back from that. In the first minute Dobson didn’t quite manage an interception and we were peddling back, leading to Famewo giving away a free-kick just outside the box, which was curled over the bar. Clare lost possession and chasing back after their guy gave him a nudge in the back, prompting him to go over in the box. Would have been a soft penalty but on another day … And still in the first 10 minutes a Fleetwood corner saw a training ground routine which ended with their centre-half completely unmarked to head powerfully over the bar when he should have scored.

Another Fleetwood free-kick from a similar position produced a similar but closer effort, then a poor pass across our back line by Inniss saw Clare stretch and fall over, almost letting their guy in. All this time we had moments when we looked dangerous, usually involving the wide men (and Clare getting forward to link up with DJ) but really looked as though we were just finding our feet. And to be fair as the game progressed we did just that.

We might have been grateful to have passed 30 minutes of the game with no goals but then had our best chance of the first half. A ball into the box was well held up by Aneke and fell to Lee. His first shot was blocked by a defender but it sat up for him again and his second was just not quite wide enough of the keeper, who stuck out a left hand to save low down.

That was a reflection of the changing rhythm of the game and in the remainder of the first half Fleetwood were generally on the back foot, giving us hope that in the second half, attacking the Covered End, we might deliver the win without necessarily having to make changes just yet, even if a sober assessment of the first half could have identified a few who were not having the hoped-for impact on the game.

Indeed, the second half was less than 10 minutes old when we took the lead. Blackett-Taylor, who not surprisingly had the beating of them for pace, was pulled down. The free-kick wide on the left picked out Inniss beyond the far post and his powerful header back just needed a touch. Surrounded by three defenders and the keeper Burstow provided that touch. A knack for being in the right place at the right time is very encouraging. The goal had me thinking back to so many involving the late Dave Shipperley heading back across goal for Killer to stick in the net.

Not long after Burstow was involved in another incident in front of goal as a corner went across their defence and straight into the net, only for the ref to decide that Burstow had been impeding their keeper. It looked the right call at first sight, but on the replays there was an element of doubt.

Anyway, Fleetwood now chasing the game made changes and a switch to a front three did cause us fresh problems, without them carving out a clear opportunity. Dobson took one for the team when their guy showed him a clean pair of heels. After the hour we responded with Lee giving way for Gilbey, who did bring extra drive and was to prove instrumental in tying up the game. Aneke picked up a silly yellow as he was fouled, not given, then he fouled, was given, but he kept going with the ball.

With 10 minutes of normal time remaining Washington came on for Burstow and not long after that Purrington for CBT, who had gone down with cramp. Both decent changes to provide fresh legs and defensive cover as we ran the clock down. Four minutes of stoppage time to see out and first Morgan blew an opportunity to calm nerves. A free kick into the box, Aneke challenges and it falls outside the box to Morgan. He did superbly to first dink the ball over their guy’s challenge, then to dummy a shot and wrongfoot two defenders, only to plant the ball wide of the far post. But almost from the restart Gilbey won the ball well and drove down the right, his low cross took a deflection and looped up, and an incoming Morgan shot on the volley from around the penalty spot, through the legs of their diving keeper. Redemption in an instant.

That was that, just left to the two Charlton Academy goalscorers to handle the tunnel leap. Fleetwood will go away and ponder on their failure to make it count when they were on top, we will just take the win and ponder on nothing more than three points, before thoughts turn to what sort of team we ought to send out for Hartlepool away and the Papa Johns thing, with an extended period before the next league game. There’s still plenty to work on and more changes expected before the transfer window closes. For now it’s a glass of good wine to celebrate the win.


Sunday, 16 January 2022

Disappointing Again, But Welcome Back Chuks

Ahead of the Crewe game the target was to win and then follow up with victory at Cheltenham, with six points from the two perhaps capable of revitalising hopes of a drive to make the top six before the season ended. But having lost the first one the game was pretty much up, making the objective for yesterday really to at least avoiding defeat, to put a stop to the run of losses, hopefully to play well. By the skin of our teeth, and thanks to the welcome prodigal son Chuks Aneke’s last-gasp leveller, we did avoid defeat.

JJ was honest enough to acknowledge that we got more than we deserved, although if the boot was on the other foot we would be bemoaning our failure to make the game safe when we had numerous chances to, criticising two substitutions in stoppage time to try to run down out the cloc. And if the reports of homophobic abuse by Cheltenham supporters are true, any vestiges of sympathy for them just went out of the window. There wasn’t much remaining in any event, they had made it a tetchy, fractious encounter on the pitch. The disappointment for us was that we failed to produce the football to overcome such opponents.

After Crewe we certainly needed some freshening up. I thought there might have been an argument for changing the formation, but that was almost the only aspect retained as Jackson opted to change one of the three centre-backs (Inniss coming back in for Pearce), both wing-backs (Matthews coming in on the right side, Jaiyesimi switching to the left, Purrington taking a break and Soare, his natural replacement, not selected), one of the midfield three (with Morgan replacing Gilbey alongside Dobson and Lee), and both forwards (Aneke going straight in to partner Burstow, with Washington not considered fit after having been obliged to play all the game against Crewe on his return and Leko moved to the bench). Basically that meant change in every area of the pitch.

We actually started quite brightly, with Morgan prominent, and after 12 minutes one of the benefits of Inniss being back was underlined as he stooped to head goalbound from a corner only for their guy on the line to do what he is put there for. It was to be the closest we came to a goal until virtually the last kick – and the opportunity was followed by a string of near misses for Cheltenham. Inniss had actually already almost seen a wayward pass across the back intercepted then Clare, who had been guilty against Crewe of a poor ball out, almost gifted them the lead, turning back towards our goal and passing it straight to their forward. Henderson was able to block the resulting effort. And then we were opened up by a lofted ball forward into space, Henderson to the rescue again.

The chances kept coming. On the half-hour a Cheltenham goal looked inevitable as a header back from the far post went to their guy to plant into the net, only he scuffed his shot and Aneke, back for the set piece, was able to put it over his own bar. And finally one was converted shortly before the break. Inniss was initially the culprit with a poor ball out which went straight to their guy, it was squared to one in space whose shot wasn’t that powerful but well-placed, across the goal to Henderson’s right. As against Crewe, he stopped the shot but only to deflect it back to their forward for another tap-in. As on Wednesday night, all our defenders were standing still. There was very nearly a second before the break for good measure.

It had been a disappointing display by us all round: coughing up more easy chances at the back, looking short of ideas moving forward, the two up front struggling to get into the game. To add insult to injury, Aneke had picked up a yellow, adding to the fear that things really could get worse in the second half. The only positive was that we were only one down, they really could have been out of sight.

Any number of changes could have been made by Jackson at half-time. He opted for one, with DJ replaced by Blackett-Taylor. And at least we could say that the second half was more even in terms of chances, which meant that unlike the first half we fashioned some too, albeit usually readily saveable shots, while Cheltenham continued to spurn golden opportunities. CBT did early on deliver from the left and the cross saw Aneke manage to swivel and get in an effort which clipped the top of the bar with the keeper nowhere in sight.

After the hour mark Leko came on for Matthews and he made us more of an attacking threat. Nevertheless, with about 15 minutes of normal time left Cheltenham wasted what was to prove their last gilt-edged chance. A corner of theirs was cleared but as we advanced the ball was chipped over our line for a guy to run onto inside the box. He blazed over the bar. That profligacy kept us in the hunt, especially with the hope that having not won for so long Cheltenham might get nervous at the death. Gilbey came on for Dobson, with Morgan dropping back to sit in front of the defence, and he saw a shot blocked shortly after getting on the pitch.

With only four minutes of added time it looked as though that one goal would prove sufficient. Only it wasn’t to be. We had a throw just inside their half. Perhaps Cheltenham hadn’t realised that our long-throw operator, Matthews, had departed, and sat back. They gave Clare all the time needed to send in a cross to the far post. Inniss won another towering header and the ball emerged from a group of players to nestle in the far corner of the net. Seems Aneke got the decisive touch. Cue much relief on our part and, very shortly after, the final whistle.

Not losing is obviously a big bonus, especially as it was a game we might easily have lost by a wide margin. You are still left wondering just what has happened to the team which played with such verge and energy not so long ago. Sure, Stockley is much missed, but it isn’t just that. The defence has gone from being watertight to sloppy in possession to gift opportunities and capable of being opened up; the wing-backs are not getting into the forward positions we need them too, DJ in particular seemingly having forgotten that side of the job; the midfield hasn’t contributed the goals we would expect from them, with Lee in particular badly in need of one; and the only forward combination which has seemed to work was Stockley and Washington, so when one or both has not been available we have struggled. Davison has faded from view, Burstow is clearly a prospect but as we saw yesterday he is still on a learning curve, and to date we haven’t managed to consistently get the best out of Leko.

Fact is, we now have to view that period of excellent play and results as having gone – and it may not come back. In the past week we’ve been shown up by Crewe and were outgunned by Cheltenham. With Aneke’s arrival – and I can’t think of anyone to better fit the bill – we have more cause for optimism, but even then you now just can’t see us going on the sort of run which our play in the early JJ period promised. It almost makes me think it might be worth winning the Papa Johns thing after all.


Thursday, 13 January 2022

Now Time To Plan For Next Season

After the day out against Norwich last night it was back to the real thing, with plenty of questions to be answered. Would the consecutive defeats against top-six teams (Plymouth, Wycombe) prove to be the end of our hopes of a second half of the season surge up the league into a play-off spot (and would the players perform as if they believed that)? Would the effort expended on Saturday leave us short? Or could a six-point return from this one and Cheltenham on Saturday revitalise our hopes? And not unrelated, would Stockley and/or Washington be available – and if not how would Jackson use the available forward options, given that the opening of the transfer window has not resulted in an early addition (ie we had nobody lined up to sign or perhaps Sandgaard has been reconsidering the merits of spending more for this season)?

We did get answers in that we delivered a performance in some respects reminiscent of the Adkins days. While far from perfect we dominated the first 30 minutes, got into a number of good positions, but failed to force their keeper into a save, let alone actually score. Our best moment of the first half saw us break with intent and good forward movement pulled away defenders, leaving Washington in the clear. But the ball to him was poorly delivered, he failed to control it, and the chance was gone. I remember at the time thinking we just needed a little more patience in picking out the pass and a lot more precision when making it – ie more quality.

It seemed as the game progressed that we considered ourselves superior to Crewe and that it was only a matter of time before we put them away, leading to sloppiness in possession. We started to gift them openings with poor passes (not least a dreadful ball out from a goal kick by Clare – who otherwise had an impressive first half – which was easily intercepted), mistimed interventions. So although it was against the run of play when with the break approaching Crewe took the lead – with a poor goal as an innocuous ball forward was won by them in the air, not dealt with, the resulting ordinary shot was palmed aside by Henderson (keeping his place as MacGillivray was away on prospective parental duties) into the path of another of theirs for a tap-in, as our defenders stood and watched - it wasn’t out of the blue.

Like too often this season going behind seemed to spook us. How dare they? We needed to get to half-time and sort out the attitude, accept that Crewe had players starting to cause us problems and deal with it, up the work rate. Instead the game was up as after Henderson got away with a close call for a penalty (I think the ref, contrary to form, got that one right as their guy went looking for the outstretched arm to tumble over) the resulting corner was simply headed into the net as Henderson came out and got nowhere near it; a fellow Addick was more kind in suggesting that he realised their guy was going to have a free header and tried in vain to stop that. Either way it was woeful all round.

With hindsight that was effectively game over. Give a poor, starving dog a bone and what do you expect? Crewe were then able to focus through the second half on spoiling the game, taking advantage of a truly dire refereeing performance to break things up with professional fouls, and hold what they had. Although the game was more even than in the opening period, we did create good chances. Their keeper pulled off a couple of good saves, from Washington close in and later from a curling Clare effort, while Burstow couldn’t get on the end of Washington’s low cross after he robbed a defender.

Also, we were denied what was in my book a clear penalty. Lee had been fouled again and from the resulting free kick outside the box he sent in what must be said was a pretty weak shot. But their keeper only parried it. Unlike for their first goal nobody appeared to slot home the rebound and it was cleared. But I can’t have been the only person to see that Leko was clearly pulled back by his shirt, otherwise he would have got there. He threw his arms in the air but there wasn’t the sort of collective clamour to demand a decision which Crewe mustered through the second half.

That incident came during a period in which the ref had simply lost control of the game. Players from both sides had no idea whether a challenge would result in a free kick and a yellow card or something in their favour. That worked against us as we were chasing the game, and the frustration could be seen in the reactions of Gilbey and Washington in particular, who both gave the impression that if they were not both already on yellow cards the ref might have been given an honest appraisal of his performance. Gilbey was to be withdrawn not least to keep 11 on the pitch.

Against that, Crewe might have had a penalty too, another forward tumbling under a challenge. There was a decision to be made and as in the previous instances no decision at all was the outcome. We had by then replaced both wing-backs, Purrington and Jaiyesimi giving way to Blackett-Taylor and Burstow, with Leko moving wide right and CBT occupying the left side. And the sense of desperation seemed palpable as Gilbey departed and Morgan took his place, which meant that Washington would have to last a full game, despite JJ having said his minutes would be managed, while there could be no final throw of the dice with Inniss up front. That said, if there was one small positive to take from the game it was the cameo from Morgan.

We did get back into it with 10 minutes of normal time left as Washington’s shot was blocked and the rebound looped up in the air, Burstow getting to it first to nod into an unguarded net (OK, a second positive). We still had the time to nick a point, although as the desperation level increased Crewe could easily have extended their lead on breakaways.

The game was of course to end in farce and utter indecision on the part of the officials. Lee’s deflected shot bounced up and over their keeper and in the net off the bar. Only for the linesman’s flag to be raised. With the benefit of replays we could see both that Leko could have been offside in the build-up and that he ended up standing alongside their keeper as the ball passed him, potentially in his eyeline at least. We were of course gutted at the time, but on reflection we can’t say it was an awful decision, which is not to say that the ref had a clue what to do.

In any event, a desperate draw would not have changed the picture. We needed a win and a performance and got neither. The fat lady has indeed sung. It was indicative that in the post-match interview JJ talked of trying to ensure a ‘positive end to the season’ rather than any hope of getting in the top six (of course there is still a chance, just an increasingly remote one and no reason to believe we are poised to close the gap), while in the TV room Steve Brown was suggesting quite rightly that the focus in January might rather be on sorting out contracts for those we want for next season rather than additions to bolster a push for promotion.

Last night in that sense only served to underline the impression left after the Wycombe game. We had the opportunity with the outstanding results and performances which followed JJ’s appointment to get among the top six, if we could keep it going. A combination of the physical effort required to keep up the style of play and make it work, the suspension then injury for Stockley, Washington’s temporary absence, plus probably teams working us out (stamp down on Lee and without a big guy up front they will struggle to score goals).

For the first time since JJ adopted the wing-backs and formed the midfield trio of Dobson, Gilbey and Lee it is fair to at least consider whether a change is needed (that is of course for him to decide). A case can be made for a switch to 4-4-2 – with Purrington and Matthews or Gunter operating as full-backs and two from DJ, CBT and Leko as wingers, perhaps giving Lee a breather. It is clear we need freshening up. I’m so despondent I’m now almost ready to embrace the Papa John thing, just to give us some fun.

Further out, we have not once in my lifetime spent more than three consecutive seasons in this bloody awful division. The only upside to being out of it for the current campaign is to be able to plan from a long way out just how we expect to get promoted next season. That work can begin in earnest now.


Monday, 10 January 2022

A Question For Eddie

Excellent to see that in the Charlton TV box for Wednesday’s night’s game at Crewe, alongside Scott Minto and Steve Brown, will be Eddie Youds. Really looking forward to that. My favourite story about Eddie came from a friend of mine who sometimes drank alongside him, involving some guy in the pub mouthing off about how can footballers be unable to hit a target, a bet struck, a rendezvous on Blackheath the next morning, and the guy leaving with his tail between his legs and a few quid lighter.

Now I’m sure there will be a good deal of discussion about the Wembley play-off win, and rightly so. But please Scott, if you get the chance, ask Eddie about a subsequent game we played against Arsenal, I believe in December 1998, at The Valley, one in which Steve Brown was an unused substitute. My question is simple: ‘This is how I remember the game/incident, is it an accurate account?’.

“In our first season back in our rightful position dining at the top table, with us having already been held to a 0-0 draw at Highbury, on a cold December evening under floodlights, Arsene Wenger brought his south-east London rejects to The Valley. Now his team included Viera (now shaming himself somewhere else in London), Petit, Overmars, for some reason Boa Morte, and leading the line a certain Bergkamp. And to be fair, in the first 30 minutes or so they gave us a runaround, with the Dutch maestro pulling the strings. 

Eddie was let’s say struggling to get a grip on Bergkamp, so when the ball was played up to him, back to our goal, around the half-way line, it was time for some corrective action. A small reminder that football isn’t all about airs and graces. The tackle from behind was, ahem, crunching. And it seemed that after that every time the ball was played up to Bergkamp there was greater urgency in his desire to get rid of it. There was no surprise that after 40 minutes he decided enough was enough and was replaced. 

Now thanks to a dreadful ref’s decision to award Arsenal a second-half penalty we were to narrowly lose the game. Without Eddie’s ‘intervention’ it would have been a lot worse.”

Oh Eddie Youds, Eddie, Eddie, Eddie Youds ….


 

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Signing In

As they once sang: ‘please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of …’ Perhaps best I leave others to fill in the blanks there. Suffice to say I was until recently a hop, step and a jump from The Valley, residing in Blackheath Village; now and for the foreseeable I’m a TGV and a Eurostar away. All just a matter of degree. Although the pandemic didn’t exactly make things easy, my longstanding/longsuffering French partner Suzanne and I kind of decided that if we didn’t cohabit now when would we? And in a short space of time a lot of things came together.

We were on holiday in mid-2020, having chosen a couple of places close to Suzanne’s place in Lyon in light of the pandemic. One week was in a wonderful mill in Saint-Desert, with a panoramic view over the Chalonnais vineyards. We paid a visit to nearby Givry and while strolling around the town, fortified by a glass or two, I couldn’t help thinking there are worse places to end up in. Over the second half of the year and into 2021, with me spending more time in Lyon than London (before the 180-day rule sent me packing) we looked at a few places, you know how it is. I returned to London and we pretty much decided to put it all on hold until travel was back to normal. Then of course Suzanne gets sent details of a stone house built circa 1800 on the outskirts of Givry, in a hamlet some might say appropriately (for me) called Poncey (please, it is pronounced Poncee).

In March we put in an offer, in July she picked up the keys. In the interim all I needed to do was get a residency permit for France, get a new flat roof for my place and redecorate it (to be fit to rent), sort out all my belongings (including cruelly reducing my Charlton items to something manageable which Suzanne wouldn’t burn), start to arrange for getting me and them to France, all of course while working. The visa alone was a nightmare (I can provide details but when you don’t fit into one of the three categories it gets very Kafkaesque), but by mid-July it was all just about still doable. I was still painting and packing at 01.00 on a Wednesday morning, two hours before Sean and his guys turned up with a large van to take everything under the drink and across France. By 16.00 we were in Givry unloading all my stuff, Suzanne briefly showing me around the place we had bought which I had never seen in the flesh before handing over the brushes and paint for me to get started.

And since August I have been residing in France, mixing the time between Lyon and Givry (while we wait for the installation of the necessary fibre broadband, promised to be imminent). I don’t know when my first trip back to London will be; I can just imagine the conversation at the Eurostar check-in: ‘So Sir, do you have a compelling reason to travel to the UK and back?’ ‘Yes, Charlton are playing Harrogate in the Papa John’s Trophy final’.

In the interim, armed with a 12-month subscription to the Charlton TV streams, I will continue posting over-long rambles and reports, perhaps mixed with a flavour of life in Burgundy, especially as winter gives way to the flowering of the vines, our relationship with Rusty the Squirrel develops (assisted by Suzanne feeding him my peanut butter), and as the Addicks put in the surge up the table in the second half of the season to get us into the play-offs. I hope it proves to be an enjoyable ride.


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