Friday, 30 August 2013

Charlton: Pizza the action or pie’ning for a change ?


First many thanks to Charlton Casualty and fellow Charlton fans that read my Charlton to Greenwich pub crawl article and gave me a few more places to visit on my trek back from the Valley.  I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the actual venues but can confirm that the ones I have visited so far have been excellent and look forward to visiting the others over the next few weeks.

Well for once I can’t moan about the quality of the play on the field against Huddersfield in the Capital One Cup.  Chris Powell took the plunge and switched to his 5-3-2 formation with marauding wing backs that worked so well in pre-season and it looks like we were unlucky not to come away with something.  From various accounts Joe Pigott again played in an unselfish manner and set up Marvin Sordell to allow him to get off the mark.  I hope the game has provided the manager with some food for thought for Saturday's tough encounter against Leicester.  While I expect to see Kermorgant and Church return up front, I wouldn't be surprised to see some changes further back in the field.  However today  I have a different gripe to raise.

I see that Charlton fans have the chance to vote on how we get a half price pizza from the League’s official pizza sponsor.  Personally I’m more concerned about the pies at the Valley.  Rumours abound that our very own Breton, Yann Kermorgant has been tucking in and carrying a bit more weight around him than he should but if it’s true I don’t think the pies are to blame.  I’m not sure what the fayre is like at the John Smith's stadium (I suspect the names says it all and Al Gordon's excellent blog piece on the match sums it up perfectly for me algordoncafc.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/the-capital-one-at-john-smiths.html) but the Valley appears to actually be abandoning our pies in favour of what I understand is called a slice!  Sorry guys but we want a pie with proper walls of pastry and a deep filling.  I’m assuming that this is one of those ploys where the price stays the same and the contents shrink.

There’s nothing wrong with the food and drink at Charlton.  It’s just that with the advent of real street food and the explosion of news London breweries offering craft beer, the staple offering of slices together with Fosters and John Smith's Smooth really doesn’t cut the mustard any more.  Having seen the fast food offerings at Truck Stop London and the Real Street Food Festival, London has a lot to offer by way of quality local food and drink and I think we should be taking advantage of it.

To make matters worse, Crystal Palace have jumped on the band wagon and revamped their range of pies and now get to enjoy our local Goddard’s Pies in with steak and ale pie using beer from the first commercial brewery in Croydon, The Cronx.  For once I am extremely jealous of the Nigels.  Many of us enjoy a decent pie and mash from Goddards in Greenwich (www.pieshop.co.uk), and when combined with locally produced real ale this must be heaven in a pastry shell!

Leyton Orient have had their skin in the game for even longer with a fantastic bar in the Matchroom Stadium that has won numerous CAMRA awards for their fine real ale offering.  Their latest line up includes local ales from East London Brewery and Hackney Brewery.
So what can we at Charlton do to up the game and provide some decent locally produced food to its fans?
On the beer front, many of you will know that I have written about various local breweries including the Kernel in Bermondsey and Meantime Brewery in the Greenwich area.  As mainly kegged craft beers these should keep longer than some of the real ale offerings.  There is also the Brick Brewery a new micro brewery in Peckham Rye, which I have to admit I have only recently discovered and know very little about.
However, the Kernel is too near our other South London rivals and appear to be targeting a premium market, although Bromley football club appear to be well stocked up on a good selection from their range according to an article on their website*

Meantime would be a good commercial partner for Charlton.  The brand is well known over London and they have a good range so there is something for everyone.  Without getting too esoteric, I’d personally recommend their London Lager and Pale Ale as standard replacements for the current big brewery offerings at the Valley.

However, there is a new player in town in the form of Woolwich’s first and only brewery.  James at Hop Stuff Brewery has been extremely busy over the last few months promoting the company and recently raised £58,000 on crowd funding site Crowdcube.  He’s also appeared in the Greenwich Visitor and made a presentation to South East London CAMRA on his efforts (hopstuffbrewery.wordpress.com)

Full scale production is a little way off with full scale production kicking off in the autumn but they have ambitious plans and having this local producer at the Valley would be a coup and there would be plenty of scope for a special Charlton own label (thinking caps on please chaps but keep it clean and positive).

In terms of food one is pushed to find a more authentic product than Goddard's pies but if I was to compile a wish list of goodies I would like to see Heaps in Greenwich produce a decent sausage roll for match days with one of their award winning recipes.

Of course, I am writing this as a foodie that likes his real ale and I have no concept of the commercial realities of catering at a major sporting event but it would be good to see a nod to local produce with a bit of thought into the ingredients.  Now, does anyone in South East London produce an alternative to Mars Bars?

Article reference

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Don’t cast aspersions



A quick synopsis for those who missed a soggy episode in Charlton’s history on Saturday.  Charlton were already trailing 3-0 to Doncaster after 20 minutes played in driving rain when play was suspended for half an hour.  The remainder of the first half was played in atrocious conditions with Charlton managing to pull a goal back and Doncaster down to ten men following two yellow cards for Keegan.  The match was then officially abandoned shortly into the second half.

I was too damp and bewildered to do much blogging after the game but issues surrounding referees at the Valley continue to abound (David Webb having to be stretchered off against Peterborough game, the disallowed goal against Colchester to name but two), and this was no exception.  I also wonder if 34 minutes of extra time also counts as a record in the football league?

While such abandonments are quite rare and difficult to handle, I believe all agree with me when I say that the officials didn’t really handle the situation well.  I didn’t get to the ground too early so may have missed it but I don’t believe I saw the referee or match officials once roll a ball on the pitch to test its suitability at any time during the match.  I also wonder what had changed during the half hour suspension to warrant the game continuing.  The water cleared by the ground staff was minimal and the rain continued to pour steadily.

It was clear that the conditions were different in separate parts of the ground with the East stand side and the North stand goal mouth appearing to be particularly affected with standing water.  However, having restarted the game in the second half I thought that the game would be played to a conclusion, after all the rain was down to a light drizzle and nothing else had changed since half time.  So I didn’t believe her when my fellow supporter said that she saw the match day announcer mouth “match abandoned” and it was with incredulity when I heard the official announcement calling the game off. 

I do feel for Paul Dickov and the travelling fans and while I am relieved to see us have another opportunity I didn’t identify with the fans in the North Stand who were hollering out for the game to be abandoned and voicing their delight when they got their wish.  Regardless of the merits of calling off the game we know we were fortunate to have another crack at the whip.

Two further points to note were that Dickov criticised the manner in which the referee handled the events leading up to the abandonment rather than the game being called off itself and fair play to him on that front.  Secondly, while conceding three goals in 22 minutes is extremely poor in anyone’s books, the statistics, otherwise, show a fairly even game.  Doncaster will know that they have goal stopper Ross Turnbull to thank for keeping them ahead with some amazing saves from great Charlton efforts.

I spent the rest of the weekend at the Real Food Festival (www.realfoodfestival.co.uk) on the South Bank.  The quality of local fare combined with craft beer from London brewers has made me think about the the food offering at the Valley but more on this later in the week.

Tonight we are away to Huddersfield in the Capital One Cup.  This is always a difficult fixture and I’m not looking forward to it.  It’s one of those awkward games in which no-one else outside of the two teams will pay much attention to, with the winner coming away with little to show for.  Powell has a dilemma in choosing his starting line up.  Does he go for a wholesale change in the team as he has always done in the competition, or does he continue with his normal match day squad to get some much needed cohesion between the players?  I suspect he’ll go for a wholesale change to the strike force as before but will try out some different pairings in defence to find the right combination to protect the goal mouth.  With Huddersfield putting five goals past Bournemouth at the weekend I have a feeling we’ll need it.

Friday, 16 August 2013

So Many Beers, So little time : Review of Great British Beer Festival 2013



Armed with beard, beer belly and drinking hat it was off to Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival 2013.  The evenings are usually rammed and the beers do tend to run out at an alarming rate so I always try and make a day of it when it’s more relaxed and the volunteers behind the stand have a chance to talk to you about the beers they have sampled.


Great summer beer
I had quite a few beers in mind already from various recommendations on Twitter and the Champion beer awards so it was good to see that the third of a pint offering is pretty much standard at all these festivals now.  I was also pleased to see that the festival is all on one floor now, with the organisers having  abandoned the upstairs part of the hall in favour of the second hall next door.  It meant more room to move around and no bottle necks on the stairway.


My first beer was Buntingford Brewery’s Twitchell which picked up the Silver in this year’s Champion Beer of Britain in judging the day before.  I’m glad I did as it had sold out within the hour.  It’s a nice unassuming delicate floral session beer with gentle undertones of hops playing on the back of the tongue.  One might expect the judges to overlook such an understated beer but it’s to their credit that they took notice and the award is richly justified.


Keeping it local

Next on to a couple of London beers at the Old Empire Bar.  I know they are supposed to be local but I haven’t come across them in cask form so this was a good opportunity to catch up with them and just for the day avoid the keg/craft beers that currently seem to be all the rage.  Moncado’s Notting Hill Summer was a light unfined blond and cloudy beer with slight acidic notes ideal for hot summer afternoons.  At 3.2% it was a good follow up to the Twitchell before moving on to the heavier ales.  East London Brewing’s Foundations Bitter was also served hazy.  I’d describe it as a classic bitter with extre emphasis on the bitterness.  This crisp beer and is definitely worth a follow up.




It was good to see a number of old favourites still popping up at the festival including Adnam’s Ghost Ship, Hook Norton’s Old Hooky and Hopback’s Summer Lightning but today was a day for sampling beers I hadn’t tried before.


 
From here on I was joined by a few friends so the choice of beers started to come down to whatever caught our eye.  I passed on the Lymestone Stone Cutter which was described as a sulphuric aroma leading to a caramel sweet start and pleasing hop and fruit balance and went for the Moor Revival which had won a Silver in the bitter category.  My drinking buddy was braver and confirmed the description with the aroma caught in the foam head thoroughly pleasing once it hit the mouth.







 


















The Revival, like the Moncado and Foundation Bitter was hazy but went down extremely well – one to look out for in the future.  The bronze in this category was awarded to Glaslyn Ale from the Purple Moose Brewery in Wales so it only seemed fair to complete the medal table and we weren’t disappointed.  This brewery also does a lot to support the Ffestiniog Railway and had a great display of a working steam engine and beer cart in the main hall.


As it was getting close to the end of the day and I had got round to most of the beers I’d wanted to try it was time to stick the toe into the water and try a few different things.  This part of the session is always a hit or miss but that’s what beer festivals are all about.


The An Gof strong Cornish Ale from Lizard Ales caught my eye as it must be the only beer brewed in a former nuclear bunker and the beer itself lives up to its abode with a robust malty and smokey taste dominating.  The Blond Volupta from Oldeshaw beers had to be tried just for the name and at 5% was one of the stronger blond ales that I tried on the day.  It was rather complex and difficult to decipher what was going on and I probably would have enjoyed it more earlier on in the day. 


Next to the bottle stand where my drinking buddy and I each chose something to tickle the taste buds.  We decided to stick with the pale ales and my bottle of St Lupulin Extra Pale Ale (6.5%) and his Shipyard Monkey Fist IPA at 6.9% went down a treat.  The bottles were all cooled and made a refreshing change from the cask beer but the peachiness of the ale still punched through.



Mixing things up we then threw in a few dry ciders including a straw pressed one from Venton Cider of Devon.  I think we misjudged our palette and should have gone for slightly sweeter variations but it was good to see the strong demand at this bar for the real thing rather than the mass market muck thats being peddled these days.


Grapefruit surprise
The surprising success of the day was St Peters Brewery’s Grapefruit beer.  I thought I knew their selection of beer pretty well but had never seen this one before.  It was not overpowering or acidic but an amazing essence of grapefruit permeated the taste and aroma with amazing subtlety even after all the other beers I’d tried.  My friend would disagree with this choice and went with an excellent Kissingate Black Cherry mild brewed with real black cherries in Muscovado.


One I missed out on
The American Cask selection with names such as Tricerahops at 8.8% and Molotov Hoptail at 8.6% were inventive and strong but did not seem to put off the punters and the casks were emptying fast.  My last beer of the day was from this stand and I went with a St George Brewing English Style IPA which at 5.5% was one of the weakest but a good example without being outrageous.


Regrets of the day – I missed out on the Twickenham Daisy Cutter and Brains' Aporkalypse oatmeal bacon stout and I should have tried a few of the excellent stouts on offer including Tillingbourne’s Black Troll at a light 3.7% (described as initial roast notes giving way to citrus hops!) and the strong Wessex Russian Stoat at 9% described as dark strong and obvious! Oh well, there's always next year!!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Financial Fair Play - What Football's Finance Directors think

As some of you will be aware, Financial Fair Play (FFP) has been a favourite topic of mine this year and now even the big boys are getting interested about its impact on the beautiful game.  The accountants BDO have produced their annual survey of football club finance directors called "A New Dawn for Fair Play?", with the emphasis this year very much on FFP.

You can read the report on the following link:-

fcbusiness.co.uk/cms/thesite/public/uploads/uploadsbank/1376383081_229.pdf

One of the firm's partners involved in the survey is Trevor Birch who readers may recognise as being currently involved in the Hearts administration and formerly that of Portsmouth so  he has a pretty good idea of the real issues affecting clubs.  Much of the previous comment on FFP's impact has been from outside observers making informed guesses based on public information and hearsay.  The importance of this survey is that it comes from the people that actually hold the purse strings inside the football clubs themselves and so the results, while pooled and anonymous can be taken as fact.

First the good news, its pleasing to see that some 85% of clubs are expecting to comply with FFP rules this season within their current business models.  While others expect to as a result of radical changes to their finances only 5% expect not being able to comply.

However, to me the results of the survey show there is a lot more pressure on Championship clubs than those in other divisions.  The results of the survey show that they are more reliant on their principle shareholders to fund losses and expect to be less likely to make a profit before player trading and amortisations than clubs in other leagues.  The outlook for revenue streams in the Championship also looks less optimistic when compared to other divisions.

The impact of FFP is seen most clearly in the answers on payroll costs which are the main outlay of any football club.  The increase in payroll budget in the Premier League by 42% of clubs largely reflects the funding from the huge increase from the new television deal.  The Championship and SPL are particularly affected with 78% and 80% respectively expecting to reduce payroll costs.  I suspect that the small number of clubs expecting to increase payroll in the other leagues is a reflection on the higher revenue received by newly promoted clubs or those that have recently been taken over.

However, the survey then goes on to show that the decision to reduce payroll has not been driven by FFP in the two lower English and the Scottish Leagues, showing the financial pressures and general lack of available investment means that clubs are having to balance the books in order to just survive anyway.

It is interesting to note that contrary to what many of us thought, the ability to reduce player's wages following relegation is pretty much a standard contract clause with 94% of clubs in the Championship and League Two using them and 75% of clubs in the Premier League.  League One stands out as a slight anomaly with only 71%.  Scotland is slowly catching up with 60% but I suspect that this may be a result of revenues being pretty flat across the lower leagues.

Even the tax man is getting in on the act.  25% of clubs are concerned about larger PAYE bills as a result of HMRC's aggressive stance on tax mitigation schemes.  However, in the long run FFP must be a positive for tax revenues to the economy if clubs have to break even under its rules.

While not directly related to FFP, the survey highlights the use of paid independent non-executive directors.  For those not familiar with the role they are not involved in the day to day running of the club but are appointed to the board to give an independent and therefore objective criticism and advice on the running of the company. Given the high level of public scrutiny of any football club in England and Scotland one might be surprised at the relatively low numbers of non-executives but the question comes in two parts (i) independent, and (ii) paid.  I believe that this reflects in part the family run nature of many clubs by local business men or the fact that many non-executives do it for the love rather than the money.  For example I'm sure Charlton's own Michael Grade provides valuable experience to the running of the club as well as social and media, and is paid little if anything for the role.  The relatively high figure of 25% in the EPL is down to the publicly traded nature of a number of the top clubs that have to abide with corporate rules and codes of conduct on governance to satisfy their institutional shareholders. 

So with a third of Championship and League One owners considering selling up it may look like gloomy outlook for football clubs but the fact is that they are dealing with reality head on.  As fans, we may be disappointed in the lack of transfers or the ability to strengthen our team but reality is settling in with both football boards and fans.  In the long run it means, hopefully, we're unlikely to see Mr Birch take over at our clubs in his unenviable role any time soon.



 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Charlton to Greenwich pub crawl

I've been promising myself to be a bit more energetic and with the glorious sunshine over the past few weekends a post match pub crawl back to Greenwich provided the perfect incentive to get walking and hopefully introduce a few fellow Charlton supporters and friends to some of South East London's hidden gems.  It was this or writing about another loss to Middlesbrough so it was an easy decision.

Anchor & Hope
I start with the Anchor & Hope, right on the Thames, appropriately enough down the lane of the same name, just North of the Valley.  It looks like a dead end until you get down to the end where the road turns left. There it stands in a desolated spot along with a few news houses, behind a Sainsburys' depot but don't let that put you off . It has a spacious riverside patio with views from the O2 and the cable car all the way to the Thames barrier and the planes descending into City Airport and is ideal if you want to watch the boats trawl the river.

The pub is understated on the outside but cosy on the inside with polite and friendly service. If you like your Thames history, the side room has a fascinating series of pictures depicting working Tug boats on the river.  On my latest visit they had Doombar and London Pride on tap and they were well looked after.

From there we take a stroll down Woolwich Road past the usual suspects such as the Rose of Denmark, the Pickwick and the Angerstein Hotel.  I purposely haven't included these as I am sure that many Charlton fans are familiar with them and they are easy to find.  Besides I'd be pickled before I'd got a third of the way back to Greenwich!

While not a pub, the Theatre of Wine at 75 Trafalgar Road is a handy stopping point on the way back to stock up on take away supplies for home consumption.  While concentrating on wines they have a superb supply of bottled beer that is well worth a second look if you are after something a bit unusual.  The British supply is heavily weighted towards London breweries such as Camden, Partizan,  and Kernel as well as Greenwich's own Meantime and there is always something interesting to tickle the taste buds.


Pelton Arms
Pelton Beer Garden
















A right turn down Pelton Street finds the Pelton Arms, on a corner nestled amongst the houses.  Its easy to spot from the abundance of floral displays from the hanging baskets.  I would class this place as a proper local, not too smart inside, but with comfortable old leather sofas and a friendly feel to the place.  With eight cask beers on tap (yes eight!) they have a good revolving supply of ales that will suit all tastes.  My last trip there they had Old Growlers Gladness (made in collaboration with the band Madness) and Windsor & Eaton's Cot to name but two.  They have a smashing beer garden with plenty of tables amongst the myriad of  planted pots and flower beds.

Cutty Sark

 If you can prise yourself away, its a short walk to the Thames and the Cutty Sark pub nestled alongside some beautiful mews houses, and its style is in keeping with the surroundings.  It's a Youngs pub with their full range on display as well as a decent supply of kegs on tap from Meantime Brewing.  Again there is plenty of outside seating, along the Thames and its easy to while the whole afternoon away here.






 
The Yacht
The Bar at the Yacht











If you continue to follow the Thames into Greenwich the footpath will take you past the old power station and alms houses and then go slightly inland and you will pass The Yacht on the right hand side.  It's a Taylor Walker pub with a great range of beers.  On my visit they had three ales, with a further two keg beers and craft ciders racked up on the bar.  A fridge of bottled craft beers from the USA, Australia and Cambodia completed the selection.  There is no outside area but that shouldn't put you off as the large windows overlooking the Thames are left open during the summer and again afford a great view of the river and the Isle of Dogs opposite.




Plume of Feathers


Plume Beer Garden



As you come out of the Yacht it's a few paces from the passage way to the Naval College and it's tempting to turn right and pop into the Trafalgar next door.  While I have nothing against it, they have plenty of passing trade from the tourists visiting the Naval College and health and safety demands you drink from plastic glasses if you want to sit outside, so I would encourage you to instead take a left and head up towards Greenwich Park and visit the Plume of Feathers instead.

Old Brewery Beer Garden
Again, like the Pelton this has the feel of a local rather than catering to the tourists.  The scarves displayed behind the bar show the Land Lady's allegiances to Selhurst Park but please don't hold that against visiting a superb pub.  The inside of the pub is the traditional wood and horse brass look and like the Pelton Arms the Plume takes great pride in their floral display both outside the pub and in the beer garden. There are two regular and two guest beers on tap and the Sunday roasts looked superb! 

Finally, if you still have a thirst then the Old Brewery, owned by Meantime Brewing, in the grounds of the Naval College has something for everyone.  They have a wonderful walled garden to sit outside while the full range of Meantime beers, a few guest cask ales and the most comprehensive collection of weird and wonderful bottled beers from around the world that I have seen.

If you want more variety than this, can I suggest you get a ticket for the Great British Beer Festival which runs from the 13-17th August at Olympia.  More details can be found at www.gbbf.org.uk






Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Charlton Fans worship at the Church


Pre-match Entertainment
Tuesday evenings at the Valley usually start with a relaxing pint at the Anchor & Hope, watching the planes descending into City airport and wondering how Powell will mix up the team from the usual match day squad.  They usually also end in a humiliating defeat to lower league opposition such as our opponents that night Oxford United in the Capital One Cup.

I was pleased to see Joe Pigott making the starting line up.  Having seen him play in a number of pre-season matches, he deserved his first team place and made the most of it with a calm and assured manner on the pitch.  He started alongside Simon Church who also made the most of his Valley debut with two goals in the 4-0 win.

The 700 odd Oxford fans were in fine form chanting “We're gonna win 4-1” when Church banged in the first goal from close range.  This was a reference to the game on Saturday when they conceded the first goal to Portsmouth only to win by the same score line.  Incidentally, Portsmouth were playing our own victors on Saturday, Bournemouth.

Church scored one more before being substituted but should have made it a hat-trick when Pigott, who could have taken the shot, unselfishly passed over the ball to him only for it to be shot wide!  Pigott’s unselfish act was acknowledged by Powell who gave a big thumbs up to the debutant.

Cook and Evina played well down the left hand side combining neatly when going forward and proved themselves a match for regulars Harriott and Wiggins in that direction.  However, the Oxford right wing proved a strong match for them and it took a number of heroics from Leon Cort to save their blushes.

My only criticism was that the team at times tried too hard.  Danny Green’s crosses were viciously hard on ball, meaning that many of his lobs were well wide of the mark, although I suspect that he was actually trying to score, which he eventually did with a freakish daisy cutter of a free kick.  Others were trying to anticipate runs into the area by fellow players which would have been spectacular if they had come off.  However, against this opposition there was time to wait and pass with a more certain outcome.
Celebrations as Piggott scores

It was pleasing to see Pigott get on the scores sheet after being given the opportunity to convert the late penalty won by fellow academy player Jordan Cousins who came on in the last few minutes.
Despite the 5,000 crowd, the covered end choir in the North block made the most of the game with loud renditions of old favourites during the second half.  Let’s hope we can keep it up when Middlesbrough visit the Valley on Saturday who have now lost both their first two games.


Also of note that evening was Yann Kermorgant’s Cantona’esque hair style.  While Yann's place is pretty much assured, with four recognised strikers now in the team, the competition for a starting berth is heating up and he’ll be hoping to ensure that he keeps banging them in like Eric.   

Bring on the Smoggies, the Valley is waiting !