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Letters from London: One Night in The Valley

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LONDON – “I think I’d be happy with mid-table,” an Addicks supporter says when asked about Charlton’s chances this season. After racing away from League One last year, the London-based club is within one step of a Premier League return, though that’s far from fans’ minds. Opening their season with Birmingham City and Leicester City (two sides among the favorites to earn promotion), fans need results to fuel new dreams.

“We haven’t added anybody, have we,” the same supporter (a mid-20s professional) tells me, having come to the stadium straight from work. “It’s pretty much the same team that came up. We still need a bit more depth.”

They may be thin, Chris Powell’s side has made a strong impression. On Saturday, they earned a 1-1 draw at Birmingham City, with only a late Nikola Zigic goal keeping the Valiants from a surprise three points. Nonetheless, fans were happy with a result at one of the Championships’ bigger clubs. Brum won the League Cup just over one year ago.

Charlton, who spent nine seasons in the Premier League between 1998-99 and 2006-07, is now five years removed from England’s top division. Three seasons ago, they finished last in the Championship, earning their second relegation in three years. It was their first trip to the third division in 27 years.

In their first League One campaign, Charlton missed automatic promotion by two points before losing in the playoffs to Swindon Town. Although they collapsed to 13th a year later, Charlton bounced back in Powell’s first full season to win the league by eight points.

Considering the occasion, Charlton’s first home game could have had a celebratory atmosphere. Instead, their return was scheduled for a weeknight. It’s a perfect evening following a day that gave Londoners a reprieve from three days of blanketing humidity, but there’s still no change of selling out. On a weekend, however, the place would have been full, just as it did on the final day last season. For a 7:45 p.m. kickoff on Tuesday, 16,658 showed up at The Valley, Charlton’s 93-year-old, 27,111-capacity ground located in a working class Southeast London.

A retiree and his wife, season pass holders in the upper west stand, point to seats that will likely be empty, usually occupied by regulars who will be unable to return for this kickoff. I’m mistakenly sitting in another pass holders’ seat.

“No, it’s alright,” the husband says, a vague exoneration. “They might not be able to get back in time.” The couple would arrive just after kickoff.


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LONDON – The National Maritime Museum Gardens in Greenwich, where banners for the 2012 London Summer Olympics still hang. Greenwich Park hosted the equestrian and pentathlon events at the games. August 22, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Two miles west of Charlton is Greenwich, an affluent, historic town on one of the Thames River’s southern bends, five and a half miles from London’s center. The district has one of the city’s larger parks, gave its name to 0 degrees longitute (Greenwich Meridian) and GMT (Greenwich Mean Time), and is considered somewhat posh. After all, it’s official name is Royal Greenwich.

Walk east along Trefalgar Road as it becomes Woolwich and you’ll hit Charlton in 40 minutes. Along the way, you’ll see a cross section of London, albeit a simplified one. Near river’s edge, where you’ll find Greenwich’s historic Old Royal Naval Museum and the National Martime Museum, the streets are dotted with Fiats and Mercedes Benz. Tourists step off river ferries to snap pictures of the Cutty Sark before ambling south toward the market. A few blocks to the west, rows of ivory temporary tents still welcome Olympic athletes who departed last week, with isolated people stopping to snap photos of the area cordoned off by cast iron gates. With the scene lacking the amusement park urgency you’d see from other tourist spots, like the London Eye, even Greenwich’s tourists seem upmarket.

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LONDON – A bridge crossing Woolwich Road along the walk from Greenwich to Charlton in southeast London. August 22, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Along Trefalgar Road the scene becomes a New England fishing town. Small shops occupying old brick buildings line the main road, with sheets in windows above the business’s signs hiding apartments that beg you to guess their rent. The blocks closest to Greenwich have supermarkets like Tesco’s and other big businesses, like Blockbuster Video, but soon there’s only one convenience store per block. After you pass the midway point – the A102 – it’s only fast food and pubs, with the white paint on one row of houses having faded to a shade between grey and neglect.

At the edge of Charlton, large industrial buildings start to appear on the north side of the road. The pubs and restaurants are to the south. Two hours before game time, blue shirts speckle the sidewalk, Leicester City fans who made the journey from the East Midlands arriving early to enjoy an evening in London. Outside the Rose of Denmark, a few blocks east of The Valley, Foxes’ fans have taken over a pub which hangs a Charlton Athletic supporters’ group tapestry from the patio’s fencing. Aside from a few red Addicks scattered amongst the blue, it’s still too early (and too far from the stadium) for the local support.


“We’re bringing 1,200,” replies Steve to a curious Charlton fan, his name written in gold across the shoulders of his Fox blue shirt. Outside Seabay Fish Bar on Valley Grove, he talks to what appear to be a grandfather, father and his son, three generations waiting for their pregame meal. The surrounding blocks are lined with fans sitting on rock walls and crouching on sidewalks, all hovering over paper boats filled with fish and chips. At one point, the line neared 25 people long.

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LONDON – Outside Seabay Fish Bar in Charlton, just outside The Valley, home to Charlton Athletic F.C. August 21, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

It’s a strong traveling party for Leicester, who will fill up three-quarters of the Jimmy Seed Stand – The Valley’s south end, allocated to the visiting support. Two buses of supporters arrive an hour before the match and are funneled into the venue’s east entrance. They’re joined by the majority who drove or (more likely) took the two-hour train from the East Midlands.

Nick and his wife, two retirees from Leicester, are amongst the traveling support. They always are. Life-long Foxes fans, they travel to every away game.

“Even Cardiff,” I ask, failing my British geography. The Welch capital won’t be their longest trip.

“Sure,” replies the wife, kindly.

“And Blackpool?” I’m getting slightly better. Blackpool’s over 260 kilometers (165 miles) from Leicester.

“Oh, yes,” she says. “We’ll go a few days ahead of time. If the game’s on a Tuesday, we’ll go up Sunday.”

“And Middlesbrough?” The North Yorkshire city is actually slightly closer than Blackpool.

“Yes,” she says before conceding, “that’s the tough one.” Teeside must offer few of Blackpool’s charms.

“And you’re expecting to go up this year, right?” I’m cutting to the chase.

“Well,” Nick starts, remembering last year’s expectations. Reluctantly, he concedes, “We’re hoping to be there, yeah.”

Like Charlton’s fans, he doesn’t want to invest false hope, though for different reasons. A year ago, former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson brought in a series of expensive signings only to be dismissed mid-season. This year, although some of Eriksson’s signings remain, it’s Nigel Pearson who’ll try to end Leicester’s eight-year spell outside the top division.

Pearson, in his second go at Leicester, is part of one of the night’s two major on-field subplots. While with the Foxes from 2008-2010, Pearson gave Chris Powell his first coaching job, transitioning the defender from his final spot as a player. In his pre-match notes, Powell acknowledged Pearson’s contributions to his career, his tone helping to defuse the Pearson versus Powell angle.


The start is furious, the sides racing end to end, and although Leicester has held more of the ball, only one team’s executing in their final third. In the 18th minute, that execution pays off when Bradley Wright-Phillips, younger brother of Shaun, let loose from the edge of the area, drilling a ball past Kaspar Schmeichel into the lower left hand corner of goal.

Within seconds, the crowd is paying tribute to last year’s leading scorer:

“Better than Shaun
Better than Sha-aa-auun
Bradley Wright-Phillips
He’s better than Shaun.”

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LONDON – Leicester City supporters stand in silence after Yann Kermorgant’s goal for Charlton on August 21, 2012. Charlton would go on to win 2-1 at The Valley. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Fourteen minutes later, the night’s second major subplot reached it’s climax when former Leicester forward Yann Kermorgant scored Charlton’s match-winning goal.

When lineups were announced, the former Fox garnered the largest (and most contentious) reception. Kermorgant’s history with Leicester City meant he was destined to be the match’s focal point. Having scored, he was the match’s hero, stealing Wednesday morning headlines with the goal that sank his former club. Had he failed to get on the scoresheet, he would have been the goat. Such is the 30-year-old Frenchman’s place in Leicester City history.

That history dates back to 2010, when Leicester’s Championship playoff semifinal against Cardiff City went to penalties, each side converting the first three. With the fourth, Kermorgant attempted a Penanka – a chip into the middle of goal designed to take advantage of `keepers’ tendencies to guess and dive for either corner. Bluebirds’ goalkeeper David Marshall did guess, leaping to his right, but stabbing his right arm into the ground, he was able to stop his drive. Reaching back with his left hand, Marshall saved Kermorgant’s Penanka. When Cardiff went on to win the shootout 4-3, Kermorgant’s irreverence became unforgivable.

It was the final touch Kermorgant would take for the Foxes. He spent the next season on loan in Ligue 1 ahead of last year’s move to Charlton.

After Kermorgant’s shot beat Kasper Schmeichel, Addicks fans erupted, shocked their team had run out to a 2-0 lead over one of the league’s favorites. And after collecting themselves and realizing who’d scored, a small number of Charlton fans turned their applause toward the south end, sarcastically reminding Leicester supporters of their pre-match derision.


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LONDON – Charlton Athletic manager Chris Powell (lower right) responds to fans in the north end of The Valley. Charlton had just defeated Leicester City 2-1. August 21, 2012. (Photo: Richard Farley)

An hour later, Powell was the last man off the field, at one point looking toward the supporters’ end from the center line, hands folded behind his head as he led the scene wash over him. Just under two years into his managerial career, he’d taken the club he spent seven years at as a player to a third division title, following that promotion with a victory in The Valley’s first match of the season. His stride slowed, his shoulders straighten as he took in the moment, having knocked off a division favorite to cap a four-point start.

As Powell approached the tunnel in the field’s northwest corner, the supporters, few of whom had left, started chanting: “Chris Powell! Chriiiis Poooowell!” They were begging for a sign, acknowledgement the 42-year-old was eager to give. The former Addicks’ left back, a member of division-winning teams for both Charlton and Leicester, extended his hands, the crowd’s appreciation ringing like thunder against the section’s metal roof.

“He’s extremely popular,” a Charlton supporter explained midway through the second half, after the Addicks had their lead reduced to one. “When he [was hired], I think he won his first four games, but then the team struggled after that. If he wasn’t so popular, I don’t think he would have survived. But then last year, it was brilliant. It’s nice that the manager has time.”

Powell’s hands don’t come down until he hits the retractable tunnel, but that doesn’t stop the chants. Within seconds, he’s back on the field, giving a final curtain call. When he leaves, the fans have permission to go home.


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LONDON – Fans leave The Valley on August 21, 2012 after Charlton Athletic defeated Leicester City, 2-1. (Photo: Richard Farley)

Leicester fans are already gone, most flocking to Charlton’s train station near the top of Floyd Road. The Southeastern Line will take them back to London Bridge, Waterloo Station, or Channing Cross. It’s a two-hour ride back to the East Midlands, riders left to stew in their team’s first loss of the season.

“Beckford was terrible tonight,” one supporter tells another, referring to striker Jermaine Beckford. Eriksson’s £2.5 million buy from Everton was substituted at halftime, playing more to the price David Moyes paid when he moved to Goodison Park from Leeds United (on a free transfer).

“He turns it off in the second minute,” the supporter bemoans at the suggestion that Beckford, when he’s on, is among the best players in the league. “He never turns it on.

“It’d be a mistake if Pearson plays him again.”

Coming off a weekend win over Peterborough United (a favorite to get relegated), Leicester has a respectable three points after two matches. That’s not enough for this train. Fans stand in clusters, reviewing what went wrong: Andy King, who scored the Foxes’ only goal, should have started ahead of Matty James in midfield; The tactics were wrong; The team needs defender Sean St. Ledger back; Jermaine Beckford is useless. Nothing like a tough road loss to bring out supporters’ high expectations.

Just as before the match, nobody’s willing to make predictions about where Leicester will finish. And although the win had made a few Charlton supporters regret not picking up full points at St. Andrews on Saturday, Addicks’ fans remain cautious. The season is 46 matches long, and each team has only passed its second hurdle. There are still plenty of mid-week matches left in this Championship season.

FIFA ending racism task force denounced as shameful betrayal

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 25:  FIFA presidential candidate HRH Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein addresses the UEFA XI Extraordinary Congress at the Swissotel on February 25, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. FIFA will hold a Extraordinary Congress in Zurich tomorrow, 26th February to decide the next President of FIFA.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA’s abolition of its anti-racism task force was denounced as a shameful betrayal on Monday as the governing body went on the defensive to reaffirm its commitment to fighting discrimination.

The Associated Press revealed Sunday that the anti-racism group was being dismantled after FIFA decided that its mission had been completed after three years.

Kick It Out , English soccer’s anti-discrimination organization, said it was “perplexed” by FIFA’s decision, given the World Cup is being staged in 2018 in Russia “which is notorious for racism and abusive activities towards minorities.”

Jordanian federation president Prince Ali said he found it “incredibly worrying” that the task force was being scrapped given the “very real and apparent” discrimination problem that remains in soccer.

“The fight against racism is far from over and the notion that the current FIFA leadership believes that the `task force’s recommendations have been implemented’ is shameful,” said Prince Ali, a former FIFA presidential candidate and FIFA vice president. “Now the idea that FIFA believes that it’s the right time to disband its anti-racism task force is ridiculous.”

Prince Ali believes the task force should have been empowered to work further with soccer authorities and governments to use the sport to tackle discrimination in wider society.

“There is still so much work to do, and FIFA must show leadership, take responsibility for reform and be accountable if change isn’t put into practice,” Prince Ali said.

“Transparency, trust, credibility and integrity are the values that should run through everything FIFA does. Not tackling the plague of racism and discrimination properly is an absolute betrayal of those values.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced in September 2015 as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari.

“The reality, as with many programs within FIFA, is that the task force was never given real support since its conception and its role was more about FIFA’s image than actually tackling the issues,” Prince Ali said.

FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura fended off the criticism, insisting her organization remains committed to combatting discrimination in the world’s most popular sport.

“The task force had a very specific mandate that to our knowledge it has fully fulfilled,” Samoura said at the SoccerEx convention. “Its recommendations have now been turned into a program and a strong one.”

Samoura was appointed in May as the organization’s first female and first African top administrator of world soccer’s governing body as part of the overhaul under Gianni Infantino. The Senegalese former United Nations official said her “presence here is a strong testimony that for FIFA, it is a zero tolerance policy” on discrimination and it is an inclusive organization.

Responding to criticism of the task force being shut down, Samoura said, “We can live with perceptions, but we are taking very seriously our role as the world governing body of football to fight discrimination.”

Kick It Out urged FIFA to publish a “clear and concise strategy” on its fight against discrimination and promotion of equality. It was one of three organizations in the running to win FIFA’s new diversity award from Samoura at a ceremony at SoccerEx later Monday.

Although racism is no longer rampant in English soccer, 402 incidents of discrimination were recorded by Kick It Out last season – up more than 40 percent from two years earlier, although reporting mechanisms have been enhanced.

“There is clear evidence that discrimination, prejudice and hate are on the rise in developed societies, particularly in Europe but also in different forms across the world,” Kick It Out said in a statement. “Football should seek to lead the way in combating such intrusions.

“It is clear that organizations that are actively campaigning against racism and discrimination will be deeply disheartened to hear news of the disbandment, as they look to FIFA for leadership in a game which is so popular across the world.”

The pressing problems for FIFA are in Russia with less than nine months until the country stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

Earlier this month, European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, ordered Russian club Rostov to close a section of a stadium for a Champions League game as punishment for the racist behavior of fans.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, compared to a total of 83 for the previous two seasons combined.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

PSG’s defender Aurier sentenced to prison

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 03:  Serge Aurier of Paris Saint-Germain in action during the UEFA Champions League Group A match between Real Madrid CF and Paris Saint-Germain at estadio Santiago Bernabeu on November 3, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier has been handed a prison sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

Aurier, 23, was convicted of striking a police officer with his elbow in May after being asked to take a breathalyzer test outside a Paris nightclub.

The Ivory Coast defender has appealed the verdict but he has been sentenced to two months behind bars and has been fined $650 and has to pay $1687 in costs.

This is not the first time Aurier has been involved in controversy off the pitch as he was suspended by PSG last February after posting a video on social media which saw him ridicule his former manager Laurent Blanc. He later apologize for that incident but now he’s in plenty of trouble again.

Seeing as Aurier has appealed the decision from the French court, he will be able to play in PSG’s UEFA Champions League game against Ludogorets on Wednesday.

In a statement posted on the club’s website, PSG addressed Aurier’s current situation following his conviction.

“Serge Aurier appeared personally before the Paris court to answer the charges against him. The club takes note of his conviction. An appeal was made to the output of the hearing by counsel for the player. Thus according to the rules of criminal procedure, Serge Aurier is again presumed innocent pending the decision of the Court of Appeal. Pending this decision, the player is allowed to continue the exercise of his profession in France and abroad.

“Furthermore, the club wishes to stress the professional attitude of the player since his return to training on July 4. Meanwhile, Paris St Germain reaffirms its commitment to respect the forces and their missions. No further comment will be made by the club by the appeal.”

Southampton’s chairman leads Team Europe to 2016 World Cup of Hockey final

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach of Team Europe Ralph Krueger looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Yeah, you read that headline correctly.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea?

The chairman of Premier League side Southampton, Ralph Krueger, is currently the head coach of Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey and against all the odds he’s led his side to the final in Toronto.

Krueger, 57, has a strong hockey background after being the former coach of the Swiss national team and the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL following a 10-year playing career in Germany.

The former German national team player, who hails from Manitoba, Canada, has certainly made the most of his few weeks back in hockey and away from the day-to-day running of Saints. As for Southampton, yeah, they’re coping just fine, racking up four-straight wins in all competitions, scoring nine times without conceding. What a week for Krueger on all fronts.

Before the prestigious hockey tournament began Europe (which is comprised of players from eight countries other than Sweden, Finland, Russia and the Czech Republic who all have individual teams competing) were 33-1 outsiders to win it all but they now face off against star-studded hosts Canada in a best of three final with the first game taking place on Tuesday.

Europe beat Sweden 3-2 in Overtime on Sunday to book their spot in the final against a Canadian side they lost to in group play. Whatever happens in the final, Krueger has led Europe on a fairytale run through the competition with wins over the USA and the Czech Republic surprising everyone.

It’s not often the soccer and hockey worlds collide (I mean, our interview with Wayne Gretzky at White Hart Lane and the fact that most NHL teams warm up by juggling a soccer ball is about as close as it gets) but this is a pretty cool achievement from someone now thought of very highly in both sporting realms. Krueger is one of the most interesting people you will ever meet. From the books he’s written on leadership and positive thinking, to being part of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland and his exploits in both the hockey and soccer worlds, he is once again impressing in Canada by leading a team of underdogs to great things.

And of course you can keep up to date with all the latest news from the World Cup of Hockey with our friends over at ProHockeyTalk.

West Ham’s owners release statement as slump continues

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 25:  West Ham players look dejected as James Ward-Prowse of Southampton scores their third goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Southampton at London Stadium on September 25, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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West Ham United is off to its worst start in a Premier League season with five defeats from their opening six games.

All is not well at the London Stadium.

[ MORE: Bradley to Swansea? ]

After being hammered 3-0 by Southampton on Sunday the joint-owners of the Hammers, David Gold and David Sullivan, have commented on the current slump on the pitch, as well as plenty of issues in their new home.

Since West Ham moved to the former stadium for the 2012 Olympics in London there have been plenty of issues with fans and stewards involved in ugly scenes as the row about standing at games continues.

There’s no real suggestion that Slaven Bilic‘s job is under immediate threat — after all, Bilic guided the Hammers to a seventh-place finish last season in his first year in charge — but the Croatian manager acknowledged after their fourth-straight defeat in the Premier League that the situation is not a good one.

In a statement on their website, the owners had the following to say:

There is no question that this has not been the start to the season that we were looking for but rest assured we are doing everything we can to fix the situation. The facts are there for everyone to see. We know we are letting in too many goals and not scoring enough, but be assured we will sort the problems out.

There have been factors which have contributed to the poor start with injuries to key players and some key decisions which have gone against us. But we are not going to make excuses and know that Slaven and his team will be working even harder on the training ground this week to get things right. We have got to remain positive. These are the same players that helped us enjoy such a memorable final season at the Boleyn Ground.

We know this is a difficult time for our supporters at the moment but we want to thank you personally and wholeheartedly for staying with the Club. We will turn our season around. These are tough times but as Mark Noble said over the weekend, this is the time that the West Ham United family needs to come together. We can’t thank you enough for the impeccable way you pulled together and supported the team yesterday.

Our fans have always shown over the years the amazing support they have for the team and we have no doubts they will get behind the players even more over the coming weeks. We stated last week that we would be putting measures in place to make the London Stadium experience something everyone can be proud of and we would like to thank all our supporters for their support in this regard.

Supporters can rest assured that we will not be slowing our efforts despite the match against Southampton being completely trouble-free, and we will not stop working until everyone feels they have a Stadium to be proud of – on and off the pitch. We would like to thank all fans for their incredible support and continued cooperation.