Charlton Away – Ring of Fire, Turnstiles and Luck

For reasons best explained in my match preview I really haven’t done a lot of away games recently. Perhaps the blog’s name is another clue. But yesterday was a proper day out in That London and I suspect it won’t be the last for another seven years.

A while back, as I mentioned in the preview, when a mate offered to get tickets for me and The Boy to Charlton I thought it would be the perfect first away game for him, due to easy travel access and low expectations. Network Rail ensured that the easy travel access lasted considerably longer than it should have, as we plumped to travel via the beautiful Arun Valley line. I got the first grumpy look of the day from The Boy as I made him look at Arundel Castle out of the window, until I remembered that we ALWAYS make him look at of the window at Arundel Castle. And we go through Arundel a lot. It’s the equivalent of someone repeatedly pointing out to me the presence of a silver Ford Focus in a residential side street.

There was also plenty of time for my mate to helpfully point out that as we were right down at the front the players might celebrate in front of us if we scored at that end. That’s the low expectations destroyed in a sentence then.

Castles and expectations aside we reached Victoria dead on time and rewarded ourselves with coffee and cakes, for this was to be a sober away trip, something I’ve probably not done since I was sixteen and sitting on a Costa Express coach without a loaded bottle of magic lemonade. An extended thirty mile an hour clank round South East London later and we were at Charlton station. I can’t speak for the boys but for me this is where the magic begins. The Valley, despite the wilderness years and the renovations, is one of those perfect old football grounds.

You emerge from the station in to tight residential streets that reek of chips and onions and horse shit. The path to the away end is almost natural and you divine your way to it, no thought of Google Maps or Garmins. And then a proper revolving turnstile. When the last of these goes in favour of card reading bleep machines I will genuinely cry. Portakabin bogs and an outside “bar” are your reward for entry through the metal gates, thence a large, roofed stand with tiny seats that everyone stands in front of. In short, The Amex it ain’t, and all the better for it. Unless, of course, you are The Boy taking a wee in that Portakabin. “DAAAAAAD! There’s no soap!” he yelled while washing his hands (the very act of washing already marking him out as a newbie). “No there isn’t son” I had to agree. “It’s soooo unhygienic!” came the reply. You’ve got a lot to learn son. A lot to learn.

We found our standing position which was, indeed, at the front though not front row as row A at Charlton isn’t always the front! Within seconds my name was shouted from behind. An old mate that I used to travel with to many away games and stand with at The Goldstone was right behind me with his son, a little older that our two travelling companions. A general game of musical chairs ensued to try to make sure the adults could chat while the boys could see and then we were off.

1 charlton

A largely forgettable first half but for a few things of note. Firstly there is a difference in us under Hughton (as was starting to emerge under Jones) that is subtle and hard to put your finger on, but nevertheless there. The players seem to give a bit more effort, there is a little more organisation, leadership and luck. Definitely luck, since down our “end” Charlton were denied what looked like a clear penalty for a Joe Bennett hand ball and Stockdale made a magnificent feet first save from the already-injured Johnnie Jackson, the ball squirting to safety, Calde landing on the dangerous Charlton player who was taken off at half time. There was also an opportunity for the 3000 away fans to get a close up view of the fact that Lewis Dunk has now graduated from the Adam El-Abd school of Centre Back Wind Ups as he mercilessly teased Tucudean who was in his pocket until coming off early in the second.

Three thousand away fans you say? Must have been quite a noise. And, of course, it was. The non stop singing, combined with our domination of possession, were the other notable things about the first half. I had privately warned The Boy there may be a teensy bit of naughty language. If I’d known that Charlton fans now have an effing DRUM I’d have said it was a certainty. Within seconds of it starting up it was drowned out by a rousing chorus of “you can stick that f***ing drum up your arse”. I looked down in case there was any chance the boys hadn’t heard. They were in fits of giggles. Oh well.

The second half saw both teams up their game and Charlton forced in to a couple of early subs, For fifteen minutes we were on our heels. On 61 minutes this culminated in Charlton opening up our defence and Solly (theirs, not March) hitting the underside of the bar with Stockdale beaten. The ball bounced out and we lashed a long ball up field. CMS hared after it like an eager puppy and was brought down level with the penalty area. Solly (March, not theirs) took a perfect kick and Rohan Ince was on hand to convert an unmarked header. The away end went absolutely BARMY. Ince initially headed for the centre circle before remembering we were there and celebrating right in front of us. Pressure off.

We held on for the win. Charlton had a couple of chances to equalize, Solly March could have put us two up had he shot earlier and that was that. A win, the first The Boy has seen this season and the whole stand bounced to Ring of Fire. The. Whole. Stand. As the players came over Calde had the cheek to suggest we might want to up the noise level! The bond between players and fans has been restored. The confidence and luck is back. Or, as The Boy said, on the way home, “it’s like watching the old team”.

Ring of Fire is by Johnny Cash. In Walk The Line, the film of his life, Jerry Lee Lewis says “We’re all going to hell for the songs we sing!”. No better illustration of this exists than when I was in the Burger King queue at Victoria, post game. Quietly, but loud enough for me to hear, my son involuntarily went ‘ohhhhhhhh, you’re shit ahhhhh’. Yes, he hadn’t missed that one either. I told him to stick to Ring of Fire.

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Half Term Report

Back at the start of the season I did a preview both here and on Amex North Stand and reading it back it just goes to show why bookies will always make a profit and The Championship will always be an impossibly league to predict.

We are now exactly half way through the season and it’s time to take stock of where we are and look at how the second half of the season will pan out. Many of you will now have seen every team in this division though, of course, given the blog name I have only seen the ones that came to the Amex and then I missed Millwall and Blackburn thanks to a holiday and the Aztec Two Step respectively.

Watching a team once in this division is, however, absolutely no guide to how they will appear in the table or what their real quality is. From what we’ve seen you would say that Barnsley are world beaters and Burnley are bottom mid table fodder. In fact, at the half way point Barnsley sit bottom and Burnley third. Bolton and Wigan are underperforming compared to my prediction and we’ve beaten both. Derby, having beaten us in our opening home game thanks to some interesting refereeing from a certain Mr D’Urso , then got rid of long term manager Nigel Clough, to the anger of one of the Derby fans on my twitter timeline. They brought in the Wally with the Brolly and guess what? He’s turned these perennial also rans in to world beaters, going on a winning run that sees them second behind Leicester. Talking of Leicester they head the table by a clear four points, yet again they looked distinctly average down here falling victim to our best performance of the season so far. Perhaps we should thank them for starting Dean Hammond who looked as useful as Andy Kennedy in an Ugly Centre Back competition.

Still (and I quote, and yes I’m showing off) my prediction for our own team looks bang on track. I said “top ten – possibly the playoffs if everything goes to plan”. At the half way point we sit eighth, level on points with sixth place Ipswich, whose goal difference is just +2 better than us.

So who have been the star performers who have helped us achieve what is an excellent first half of the season given the Poyet induced uncertainty of the summer?

Star Pupils

Rohan Ince – Number one teachers pet is Rohan Ince, who has been giving teacher his metaphorical apple by smashing away opposition midfielders in the style of Patrick Viera meets Chuck Norris. If Ince plays we get a result, simple as. Surely this is a case to play him every game then? I would say not. In fact I would say Oscar has handled him perfectly, making sure this lad who is still young and developing is given exactly the right amount of game time to make his big impact whenever he does play. Talking of which…

Oscar Garcia – What a great half season from our coach. How lucky we are. Let’s look at what he’s had to do. Adapt to English football and the basket case / lottery that is the Championship. Take on someone else’s squad and later than many of his rivals. Battle the worst injury crisis I can remember at the club. Subtly change the football philosophy at the club. Win over the fans. Bring in decent new faces. By and large he’s done all of it. Yes there’s room for improvement. We could have attacked Barnsley more and not tried to walk it in on a pudding at Charlton, but we are pretty much exactly where I expected and it has been done with a mix of flair and quiet understatedness.

Ashley Barnes – Still Barnes isn’t everyone’s cup of tea yet I’m giving him an A- and putting him in with the swots. For large portions of the season he’s had to play up front on his own with no Ulloa. He’s been kicked, punched and had his shirt ripped constantly by centre backs who know referees go against him and that he has a temper. At no point has he retaliated, He’s held the ball up, got on with his job and scored 6 goals, equal top with Ulloa, including the goal of the season so far at Bournemouth.

Matt Upson – Mr Consistency and the best centre back in the league. Thanks Matt.

Bruno – OLD BRUNO IS BACK! That cocky swagger man, marauding down the wing one minute and winning a tackle he had no right to the next. Halfway through this first half I would have replaced him with Calde and yet his two performaces against Leicester and Huddersfield have been the best I’ve ever seen from a Brighton full back. OK maybe Bridge had a couple better last season overall but there is no doubt that when Bruno’s on form every person in the ground notices him.

Paul Barber – Fair play to the CEO. I certainly didn’t agree with the way the Poyet situation was handled either PR wise or in the length of time it took to get sorted but the Poyet monkey is now off our backs and, it would seen, inexpensively. Meanwhile Mr Barber has overseen a PR revolution, the fans are kept properly informed by him and Tony Bloom and people who take the time to write are replied to in full. The pricing of the Reading cup game is also spot on. If there’s one frustration remaining it’s tendency to talk about FFP when many around us still don’t seem to be taking it seriously, but it’s just the talk that’s frustrating. We will have a viable and sustainable club who may just be *gags* PL Ready *barfs*

Could do better

Keith Andrews – Wasn’t convinced when we signed him, haven’t been since. We win when Ince plays and we don’t when Andrews does.

Kemy Agustein – Injured for much of the season so will be better to judge him when he’s fully fit. But Kemy – what’s with this wearing a snood and gloves when it’s 10 degrees?

The training pitch / The German Doctor – Too many injuries this season. Unexplained.

Referees – Haven’t had a good one yet, as per.

Reading Football Club – There is no way I thought we’d be above them at this stage. Keep Up Nige.

 

Bournemouth Away – The Rohan and Ashley Show

I think – ok I know – that I mentioned in my Wigan report that there didn’t used to be so much live football on TV. I also recently wrote a rant about Monday Night Football for TSLR during which it became obvious that we now have football on the telly every day of the week. Or at least some weeks we do. Some of these games will sell themselves to a neutral audience of course. Arsenal versus Spurs? Who could resist. Barcelona versus Man United in the Champions League? Telly booked, beers purchased. Fleetwood versus Port Vale in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy (Northern Section) Round 1? Compulsive viewing.

However there are some games that must be a lot harder to sell to the general public. Like, say, a Saturday lunchtime match between the sides lying 16th and 9th in the Championship. You can mention both sides are from the South Coast but then so is Torquay. If they’re not our rivals then Bournemouth certainly aren’t either. I imagine Watford is nearer as the crow flies. My only “encounter” with Bournemouth fans was as a sixteen year old when a coach load of their fans drove past me on its way to the Goldstone. They were all…………..sitting politely reading their papers. A couple of years later I was on a coach to Elland Road, Leeds when another coach full of Leeds fans overtook us and the charmers on that banged the windows and made throat slitting gestures.

You could mention we both play “nice football” and indeed the commentators did during the game but, for me, we are both still a work in progress. You can mention our new investors and new grounds. Ultimately though, you can’t escape the feeling that the game was selected simply because it was our turns. I had no idea how they would sell it to the public. Luckily I didn’t have to listen to them try.

I spent “the build up” in the freezing cold garden of a local gastro pub where two of the mums from the boy’s school were taking photos of the kids with Christmas Face Paint on for a Christmas Card. Yes, I really was having that much fun. I had booked our ‘slot’ specifically so we could get back in time to watch the game. However, as we arrived it became clear that they were a) running late and b) had the game on the tv.

Trying to persuade a face painted three year old that you wanted to stay in the pub for the football is not the world’s simplest thing, however, and so it was that we instead went on a mad dash back home. As I got in and switched on the game it had been going for a minute and it seemed nothing much had happened in that minute. If a goal had been scored, especially by us, this section would have been a bit more ranty.

Talking of Rantie he seemed to be giving us a few problems. As did Matt Ritchie. And indeed anyone with any pace or, for that matter, just wearing a red shirt. Bournemouth came out for the first half with all of their metaphorical guns blazing. We were still in the Guest House, lazily munching on the rest of the toast and baked beans and wondering if the owner, Mrs Cruetbonce, had anything to read that wasn’t the Daily Mail. All except for the Pole In Goal, who made a marvellous reflex save, Calde who had our best chance of the first half, narrowly volleying over from the edge of the box and the Magnificent Rohan Ince. He wasn’t still at the Guest House. He had got up early, gone for a short run to warm up and now wanted to extend himself. Having missed Mrs Cruetbonce’s breakfast he also wanted to devour a few red shirted Bournemouth players as he went. Metaphorically that is.

So dominant was Ince in our midfield that it only showed how weakly the rest were performing. Inevitably we got ourselves in a mess of our own making close to our own penalty area and JFC, who was having a nightmare, committed a fairly obvious foul. Inevitably again, the returning Matt Ritchie was set up to crack a magnificent drive in to the bottom corner with the outside of his foot. Great goal and no more than Bournemouth deserved. 1-0.

Oscar made the needed change at half time, Bridcutt coming on for JFC, and we looked immediately more settled. Not more pacy – this was one game where our lack of pace was to be shown up – but more able to cope. We retained the ball better, broke up their attacks better and actually had a few moments of our own. My wife chose this precise moment to want to tell me something about…something. I’m not sure what it was but by the time she’d finished telling me it was 1-1. I huffily wound back the Sky + to see one of the goals of this or any other season from Ashley Barnes.

Yes, Ashley Barnes. If you read North Stand Chat regularly you’d be forgiven for thinking that Barnes is some kind of evil spirit who’s only function is to take up a spot in the team that someone else deserves, whilst deliberately missing chances. He’s never been anything of the sort of course – he works as part of a team in a formation that is again starting to pay dividends – but his lack of goals are always held against him. So much so, in fact, that I had, only that morning, written a gag about it for TSLR. Let’s just say I had to rewrite the gag. The strike that levelled the match was magnificent. Rarely have I seen a ball better struck. As Tom North said on twitter, if it had been in the Prem people would never have stopped talking about it.

Either side could have gone on to win it. Ritchie should have done much better with one bouncing ball in the penalty box but he shanked it horribly. At the other end Craig Conway finally woke up and crafted a couple of delightful runs and crosses from the left but no one was brave or lucky enough to get on the end of them. The aforementioned Ince eventually came off, looking completely spent, to be replaced by Andrews who again looked completely useless and that was that. 1-1. Fair result in the game they’re already calling ‘the one no one cares about’.