Archive | February, 2011

Charlton Athletic

20 Feb

19 February 2011

Coca-Cola League One

Charlton Athletic 1 v Exeter City 3 (att 24,767)

The Valley, Charlton, SE7

Team talk. Instead of attending Dartford vs Hampton and Richmond as initially advertised, we packed our bags and headed off to The Valley for Exeter’s visit to Charlton.

In a week where UEFA announced that the cheapest ticket for this year’s Champions League Final (to be held at Wembley in May) would be £125 plus a hefty £26 admin charge, it seemed only fitting that we went to another of London’s premier sporting venues: The Valley. Instead of a hefty three figure sum, we would be treated to 90 minutes of League One action for just £5. Granted, it was unlikely that we’d witness a display befitting the zenith of the sport we love, but it was hard to turn down football for a fiver.

This bargain price came courtesy of Charlton Chairman Michael Slater who, like many executives is struggling to keep his club’s supporters coming back every other week. Shrinking attendances in football grounds across the country is a big issue, none more so than in populous locations such as London where the choice is massive.

Since Charlton’s heydays of Premier League football when the average attendance was consistently over 26,000 (quite a feat considering the ground’s capacity is just 27,111), The Valley has struggled to get fans through the turnstiles. This season has seen the average attendance slip to around 16,000, down nearly 40% on 2006-7.

Thousands of column inches and web-pages are dedicated to the subject of dwindling attendances and therefore, I’m loathed to repeat what’s been said a million times before. In my opinion, I suppose most people simply won’t pay £2o to watch a standard of football they deem inferior to what their £50 a month will get on their Sky box. It’s sad but at present, it’s seemingly unavoidable.

Park the bus. Access to The Valley via public transport couldn’t be easier. Train services run every 10 minutes or so from London Bridge to Charlton Station and takes 15 minutes. If you’re lucky enough to already be resident in South East London, there is a limited service from Lewisham via Blackheath which operates every 20 minutes and takes less than10 minutes. The Ground is a brisk 5 minute walk from the station. Charlton also offer a coach service from a huge number of locations across the South from as far away as Dover and Worthing.

If you’re traveling by car, firstly, shame on you and secondly, good luck as there are very few formal parking spaces available. Parking restrictions in nearby streets severely restrict on-street parking. I suspect the nearby retail park will have equally stringent rules, however, it might be your best punt.

Home advantage. The site of The Valley has been home to Charlton Athletic since 1919. A brief absence in the 80s saw them ground sharing with the Rigsby-esque landlords of South London, Crystal Palace.  Their return to the Charlton area in 1992 was followed by promotion to the Premier League in 1998 after playoff success in one of the most exciting play-off matches I can remember.

The Valley offers good views of the pitch with virtually no obstructions in any part of the ground. From our seats at the back of the West Stand, we had a near perfect view of the game. It’s a simple yet effective stadium that hasn’t resorted to the utilitarianism style seen in many late-80s/early 90s stadia and the new (well, 2002) renovation of the North Stand has created an excellent amphitheatre which really added to the atmosphere, especially when the crowd were in full voice. If I was to fault The Valley at all, I’d say that staggered development/redevelopment of the ground looks a little disjointed, but that’s to be expected and is certainly not the worst I’ve encountered, nor does it particularly impact on supporters.

In terms of points of interest within the ground, I was particularly taken by the ground’s communications suite, the only real carbuncle within the stadium. This sits awkwardly between the Jimmy Seed Stand and the West Stand and unfortunately seems to be modelled in the bold (and appalling) architectural style of the Grand Burstin Hotel in Folkestone, a hotel modelled on a boat. So to have a media room modelled on a hotel, modelled on a boat seems totally demented.

All aboard HMS Horrible Communications Centre

The crowd seemed like a friendly and knowledgeable lot, there was no pointless braying for decisions which the officials had clearly got correct and the occasional volley of the always welcome “Come on you reds”. Oh, how I love a classic.

It is worth noting to the easily irritated, that there is a chap with a drum in the North-west Quadrant somewhere, if you like you football drum-free, avoid the Quadrant!

In case you forget, this is Charlton

Outside the ground there was the usual cacophony of burger vans as well as a neatly stocked club shop which seemed to be doing a fine trade.  There is a pleasingly colossal club crest over the turnstiles. In front of the main stand stood a giant (hopefully lifesize) statue of Addicks legendary goalkeeper Sam Bartram. Oddly he appears to be holding both a football and a Gregg’s pasty.

Prawn sandwiches. Within the ground, there was the usual offerings of tea, coffee, Bovril and pies but we chose not to partake in any of it as the best action was most definitely pre-match in Bartram’s Bar, The Valley’s built-in pub at the bottom of the West Stand. This was a great wee facility adorned in memorabilia and provided a welcome refuge from the elements. We spent a fun-packed hour in Bartram’s watching Chelsea vs Everton and learning about Charlton Athletic, including two great facts: 1. The nickname “Addicks” originated from a local fishmonger who used to reward players with a Haddock (or in Sarf Lahndin: “Addick”) Supper after every game and 2. Richard Rufus is a two-time player of the year for Charlton. Shocking. Alas, there was no evidence of a Bartram Pasty on sale anywhere.

The real Big Sam. This menacing fella looks like he punched more than crosses

…and the game. Charlton look like a side that is going places, 3-1 is massively deceptive in what was an excellent performance from the Addicks/Haddocks. It goes to show you what good counter attacking football can do. Exeter were far more technically proficient than I expected and looked pretty decent, however, their defence never looked comfortable.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Brockley native and former Hillyfielder, Bradley Wright Phillips has found his form. Everything Charlton did went through him and he deserved his goal. Charlton endeared themselves to me no-end by adopting my Football Manager formation of 4-2-1-2-1, unfortunately for them, where I have Andre-Pierre Gignac, they have Pawel Abbott.  In the long term, this is going to be an problem for them as he is no lone striker. Luckily in a side which also sports Christian Dailly, Pawel will never look like the worst player on the park.

Today’s result was no real surprise, this was Exeter’s cup final, bar a trip to St Mary’s this is one of the biggest crowds they’ll see all season. I’m not surprised they were up for this, having said that the strength of Exeter’s victory will have undoubtedly rocked Charlton, the biggest test will be how they respond.

Man of the match. Without a doubt this has to go the Charlton chairman Michael Slater who will have taken a massive financial hit this week. Nonetheless the sound of 24,767 supporters in his stadium will no doubt make him very happy.

No club will be able to sustain ticket prices at this level but the announcement that the club are going to knock £50 off the price of all season tickets next year will hopefully encourage some supporters to come back for good. If Charlton go up (and despite the result today, I suspect they might) £240 for the year is an incredibly good deal. After all, it’s less than two tickets to the Champions League final.

Post game rub down. It’s a shame Charlton didn’t deliver, it’s always going to be easier to get people back if they go home after a victory, however, in the words of Walt Disney: “always leave them wanting more”. On today’s evidence, Charlton’s fan-base still exists, it just need coaxing out of the woodwork.

Charlton are a big club, make no mistake. They carry themselves with the knowing swagger of a Premier League club. However, there’s a humility which has come either as a result of a double-relegation or failing to re-establishing their position in the Championship last season. What struck me most was the strong sense of community at the club. At a non-league outfit, that’s second nature but I’ve not seen it in such prevalence at a league club before. I suppose that when you’ve had the rough ride that they’ve had over the past few seasons, it’s hardly surprising.

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AFC Wimbledon

13 Feb

12 February 2011

National Conference Division

AFC Wimbledon 1 v York City 0 (att 3532)

Kingsmeadow, Kingston KT1

Team talk. The recent history of the now defunct Wimbledon FC is well documented,  including how AFC Wimbledon was formed by fans wanting to keep their club local. From the dizzy heights of being top division stalwarts and winning THAT 1988 FA Cup final to… well, Milton Keynes. What is less well documented is the meteoric rise of the club from the non leagues to the top of the English footballing pyramid between 1977 and 1986.Today, as AFC Wimbledon take to the pitch in the distinctive blue shirts they sit on top of the English National Conference. AFC have been promoted 4 times in 7 seasons and could perhaps be on the verge of repeating the impressive achievements of their namesake.

Home advantage. AFC currently play home games at Kingsmeadow, a ground that they have shared since their formation in 2002 with Isthmian Premier Division side Kingstonian FC.

I got to the ground early which was fortunate as in the car park I stumbled upon Terry’s Badges, a stall selling badges from pretty much every non league club in the country. Terry has a website that is well worth a visit for anyone who likes shiny badges, which is surely everyone.

 

Terrys all gold

Being of Yorkshire stock, and having a particular affection for York City, I was tempted to enter the away stand with the 700 odd visiting supporters who made up a sizable chunk of the overall attendance. The away stand was the appropriately named “John Smiths Stand”, which looked like the oldest of the three covered standing terraces at Kingsmeadow. Seating is available in the main “Paul Strank” stand. I resisted this temptation and followed the home support, standing at the Kingston Road End. The low covered terraces, and the enclosure that it brings to the pitch normally provides a good atmosphere, quite intimate and therefore appropriate for a Valentine’s weekend fixture. I have to say that throughout the game many of the guys around me seemed more concerned with what the Crawley score was (Crawley are currently challenging with AFC at the top of the table) than getting behind their team. That said, a shrug of acceptance is really the only possible response to the York City chant of “Vinnie Jones is a w%£nker”.

Prawn sandwiches. Hospitality was pretty standard fare. There was a bar, but the real action was in the burger van where a foot long hot dog (with accompanying heart disease and curiosity about the meat content) could be yours for just £3.

…..and the game. The teams entered the arena to a fun megamix of the Pearl and Dean theme and Josh Wink’s Higher State of Consciousness. The match was always destined not to live up to this entrance and the game was not a classic. The teams lined up and played in very similar ways, each relying at least initially on a long ball to the big man up front.  In AFC’s case this was fan favourite Danny Kedwell, who looked impressive. Perhaps AFC were a bit more inventive on the day, but it came down to a well struck free kick on 20mins to separate the two teams. I feel York City would have got more from the game if they had followed the away crowd’s wise advice and went “for’ed” rather than “back’ed”. Indeed, York had a few close chances towards the end which made for a more exciting conclusion to the game.

 

Man of the match. Surely nothing is more likely to unsettle a visiting team than a giant Womble. Haydon the Womble did a great job entertaining the younger (and older) fans and even tried to get the crowd going by banging out a rhythm on a wheelie bin, or perhaps he was just reinforcing the Wombles “keep Britain tidy” message. Legend.

Haydon limbers up

 

Post game rub down. Not the greatest game in the world. I did not really leave with any great sense of what AFC Wimbledon are about. At the end of the day, I got more football related entertainment from this estate agent board found outside the ground (snigger, snigger).

 

 

A Common Bond

10 Feb

Bradford City and Glasgow Rangers have very little in common apart from an undying love of Stuart McCall.

Yet Darren (from Yorkshire) and I (James from Scotland), the two authors of this blog, have found a most profound bond in watching football. A bond you only really get when you’re standing (or sitting) shoulder to shoulder with your fellow partisan fans. How on earth did this happen?

All hail Rangers and Bradford legend Stuart McCall!

We’ve both lived in London for about 7 years and I think I speak for most football fans in saying that when you’ve lived away from you home that long, your desire for a week-in week-out team to side with becomes overwhelming. Neither of us have really had any great affection for the local South London Football League sides. For Darren, there came the great difficulty of teams playing in Bradford’s division, for me came a general apathy towards the English lower leagues. Therefore, our natural home was at one of the (offensively, yet unavoidably) titled ‘non-league teams’.

For us, finding a team was a more methodical process than perhaps is natural to many born and bred supporters, but it seemed like the best way for us to do it. So over a Friday lunchtime ale in a pub by our office, we sat with a set of maps and mileages from Tony Kempser’s website and a set of basic rules. ‘Our team’ must be:

a) interesting in terms of support and/or history

b) within 5 miles of our homes in Brockley

c) with an online presence (website/forum etc) and

d) in Steps 3, 4 or 5 of the English Football Pyramid, any higher would be too much like watching professionals and lower would be too much like watching amateurs.

With that criteria in mind, only one team stood out over and above the others. Dulwich Hamlet FC of the Isthmian Ryman’s League Division 1 South. A team residing (as they remain to this day) in Step 4 of the Pyramid and that is rich in history and interest and with a strong web presence. There’s even a bus linking the ground directly to Brockley.

Dulwich Hamlet entertaining Champion Hill faithful

We’ve both been watching the Pink n’ Blues for nearly 4 seasons. We’re regulars. Not even a move back to Yorkshire could stop Darren from taking in at least one game every couple of months and since his return to the Capital, his support has intensified again. We’ve found our London club. We’re lucky.

Recently, over a post-match ale, we reminisced as to how fortunate we were to find our club, and realised that there must be hundreds of other people out there who’d go and watch football if only they had some impetuous.  We decided that we could help by writing a blog to inform and assist London-based fans who either don’t have a regular local club or whose regular side aren’t in action. This blog will provide a guide for those who want to take in a match on a Saturday but don’t know or aren’t aware of what’s around them. Our focus (at least initially) will be on teams based south of the river; we’ll be travelling from Chertsey to Charlton and from Welling to Wimbledon, no team will be spared, even the 3 Football League sides.

This blog will provide more than just a mere map and fixture list, it will be catalogue of our experiences as football fans, whilst posts will sometimes manifest themselves as our experience as away supporters of Dulwich Hamlet, the majority will come from a neutral’s perspective. We hope that you’ll be informed and mildly entertained by the content and that you will ultimately get out there and find a match. As you’ll discover, there’s plenty to choose from.

See you by the Pigeon Stand.