Monday, 26 January 2009

Is this how it all ends...?

Tomorrow evening is probably as season defining as it gets. Interest in the cup ended on Saturday with a better display but ultimately defeat at the hands of Sheffield United. A local derby at home to Palace will be less about bragging rights and more about whether the Board  should start planning for League 1 football next season.   
I was resigned to our fate some time ago. Failure to win a series of very winnable home games, away form that if anything is worse than it was under Pardew,  have marked us out as a club with impeccable relegation credentials. Phil Parkinson is trying to cobble together a team with enough about it to string some results together and climb out of the bottom 3.  But its not just about new faces - it never was. Its about creating a sense of purpose, cohesion, pattern and collective will.  Its when everyone knows their job; everyone knows what is expected of them and when; and they play for one another and the shirt. Players at this Division  are all pretty  talented and the margins in terms of skill are probably not great. The difference between success and failure is in all those intangible qualities.   So far these have been worryingly absent from the Valley. 
A local derby is usually enough to motivate a team to raise its performance. I hope it does tomorrow. Because for Charlton tomorrow a draw will simply not be good enough.  A draw, or worse still a defeat, and I suspect   the Board will be in for a tough time at Wednesday's AGM.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Its a funny old game......

My occasional preoccupation with football was fed plenty of food for thought  this week.  Charlton's performance last Saturday was as inept as I had seen for a long time. Two goals the result of panic defending followed by an hour trying to create something worthwhile at the opposite end. Then on Tuesday, joy!: eighteen games without a win ended with a cup win at Norwich.  Not surprisingly Norwich parted company with their manager the next day.  Across the club blogs, despair has turned to hope overnight. Dare we hope for a revival or will  this prove to be a false dawn.

But this isn't what caught most of my attention. This blog is about trying to make sense of the world around me. Just recently a number of bishops criticised the government for what they argued was a questionable preoccupation with wealth generation and economic growth:

In a series of interviews with The Sunday Telegraph, the Bishop of Manchester accused the party of being "beguiled by money" and "morally corrupt" while the Bishop of Hulme said it was "morally suspect" and the Bishop of Durham said it had reneged on its promises." appeared in the Sunday Telegraph just after Christmas. 

This week the papers were full of a sensational story: Premiership club Manchester City - currently being bankrolled by extremely wealthy middle eastern owners - were planning to make a bid of £100m or so for Milan's Brazilian star, Kaka. That would just about double the world record transfer fee paid in 2001 by Real Madrid to Juventus for the French international Zinedine Zidane. The rewards for Kaka personally aren't bad either, a weekly wage of £500,000 is one figure I heard quoted.  

Given we're in a recession all this proved a tad controversial. People are asking whether this is any sort of example to be setting at a time when jobs are being lost and many people are feeling the credit squeeze.   We might like to see professional footballers held up as role models for young people. What sort of a role model would Kaka be?   

As it turns out that's an interesting question. Far from being an empty-headed, hedonist taking advantage of the perks that would undoubtedly be available to a 26 year old at the peak of his athletic powers, it turns out Kaka is an evangelical  Christian with a very deep faith.  Here's a piece from his Wikipedia entry:

At the age of eighteen, Kak√° suffered a career-threatening and possibly paralysis-inducing spinal fracture as a result of a swimming pool accident, but remarkably made a full recovery. He attributes his recovery to God and has since tithed his income to his church.


Saturday, 10 January 2009

Where are the Peacemakers?

I have just spent the morning watching Al Jazeera, the images from Gaza a reminder of the capacity for man's inhumanity to man. 800 Palestinian dead in the last weeks, many of them women and children.  Children interviewed from their hospital beds bearing witness to the loss of parents, brothers and sisters in front of their eyes. Many are not suprisingly now traumatised .  Much of this seems to be passing us by - the Daily Express lead concerns plans to replace household dustbins with giant  communal bins to which we'll all have to take our rubbish. So its tough for us here as well, isn't it? But somehow I doubt whether the number of dustbins per street is today a lively topic of conversation in Gaza.
There is just a handful of people who can put an immediate stop to this suffering and they know who they are. Most of them are in the United States and are not too far removed from the office of President. They are the people who selflessly defended the rights of the Kuwaitis from the oppressive regime of Sadam Hussain; and who then, equally heroically, liberated the Iraqi people themselves.  So its not as if intervention isn't an option. President Bush and President to be Obama need to stop dancing round their handbags, unite in calling jointly for an immediate ceasefire, through the UN stabilise the position on the ground, secure early humanitarian relief and as a matter of urgency begin the process - a proper homeland for the Palestinians, recognition and territorial security for Israel by Palestine  - that will change the lives of the people who now can have little grounds for hope. What is the point of being the most powerful person in the world if you don't use it. The current inaction is shameful and a disappointing start to what I thought could be a new start for the United States on the world stage. 
No doubt tomorrow there will be prayers for peace. Across the world.  I hope that hardened hearts are moved accordingly.  

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Called to account

 The appearance of Charlton's accounts today give more cause for gloom. In spite of an upbeat report from the chairman (a great year apart from the results - football and financial) the disclosure of an 11.5m loss, declining income and an ever worsening liquidity position is not designed to lift the spirits. Full credit to the Board who have shown their commitment to the cause by stumping up 14.5m to help keep the clubs net cash flow in reasonable health. Fans' may criticise some of their decision-taking (eg on manager selection) but they surely cannot argue that their hearts are not in the right place. And it cannot be easy to keep smiling when even the auditors appeared to equivocate over whether we are a going concern. 
I have long since concluded that football is a bubble industry with ridiculous sums of money being spent on TV rights, transfer fees and player wages simply because of the market for subscription-broadcasting. With the economy in recession I think it may not be too long before the bubble bursts.  But if so I may find this part of the blogosphere is less pre-occupied with trivia.  

Friday, 2 January 2009

Days Like This.........

Today (Saturday) is for me the highlight of the sporting calendar - FA Cup 3rd Round.  It is the day when the games "big boys" can be pitched against struggling teams 3 divisions below them - or from outside the league altogether - and can come unstuck. Every cliche in the game - its 90 minutes, eleven against eleven and so on - is brought into play. Newspapers carry stories about part timers getting ready for their big day: postmen, decorators, who look forward to their 15 minutes of fame. By 5 o'clock this evening there should be a story or two to look forward to although whether there'll be  a repeat of last year's competition  when all but one Premiership side had been put to the sword by the semi-finals is perhaps too much to ask.
Charlton's match today is against Norwich, a side only a few places above us in the Championship. So this is not one of the day's more enticing encounters. Phil Parkinson has so far resisted selecting some of the club's younger players, preferring instead more experienced heads (a number of whom are on loan) to get us out of the mess we're currently in. I hope he takes the opportunity today to give some of our  younger players a game. He hardly has anything to lose and you never know: putting trust in some of our talented youth may deliver him his first victory after nine attempts.
But for me, the beauty of the day is that something genuinely sporting survives pretty much as it always has done. It is a throw-back to a boyhood with  afternoon tea-times spent watching the scores come through on the teleprinter; or listening to Sports Report on the Light Programme.  Or queuing for longer to get into a juicy home tie;  or following the club to an away game. All this in spite of the fact that the big clubs do not always appear to take the cup too seriously or that television companies screen the juicier ties away from the traditional Saturday, 3 o'clock kick-off time. 
This is not me being a dyed in the wool fogey. I'm pretty passionate about Europe and thought we should have replaced the pound years ago. But it  is about recognising that some aspects of our life are pretty good as they are. That they are not broken and do not need changing. I think that the relentless pursuit of "market solutions" or Political correctness has too often left us worse off than before. I really regretted the loss of traditional Sundays in the 1990's because frankly I always felt that 6 days a week should be enough for shopping. Nowadays the supermarkets apologise for the law that obliges them to close at 4:00pm.  I think someone should pipe up and apologise for the loss of quality of life, the fact that we have no space left in our lives that is somehow different and is not for sale. 
So round 3 of the FA Cup is totemic. And I hope that the first Saturday in January retains its essence  of surprise, unpredictability and remains the day when a footballing David can prevail over the Goliaths of the Premiership.  That way part of our  heritage is retained,  for us to enjoy now and for future generations. Long may it do so. 

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Its Parky out there

So the outcome of the Board's calm and considered strategic review, confirm Phil Parkinson in post. Well I suppose there is just a chance that the Board's patience and faith will be rewarded; the team will record back to back victories, regain its confidence and begin a steady rise up the table. But the omens aren't good: 8 games played with 3 points out of a possible 24. Away form looks dismal whilst at home teams are happy to walk away with a point leaving us ever further adrift at the foot of the table. 
Assuming that Parkinson's vision is different to that of his predecessor then it will be interesting to see how he reshapes the squad during the current transfer window. Its hard to be too confident thus far because of his 3 loan signings, only one, Jay McEveley, looks to have really strengthened the team. The others frankly look they were here to get a game and build up a bit of fitness. I suppose a permanent recruit to the ranks may prize the shirt a bit more. Although I don't have a great deal of time for the person we might do worse than try and tempt Lee Bowyer back to the club where he started his career. That with McEveley's loan made permanent and another defender might put a bit of steel into the squad.  Frankly the odds on staying up now aren't good: we need to start thinking about life in League 1.