I did think of offering something like this to Rick Everitt for Voice of the Valley. But even though Rick is sometimes desperate for copy, I think he might think this was a bit too sad even for his readers. Latest entries here:Volume 4.For the intermediate volume Volume 2and Volume 3
When I first started supporting Charlton, it was a simple matter of walking down to Plumstead Common Road and getting the 53 bus. Now I have to decide whether to go by one of three rail routes (from Coventry to Euston or from Leamington to Marleybone or Paddington), or to go by car. On this Saturday,with Charlton facing Stockport County in the league for the first time ever, I decided to go by car and the M1/M25 was surprisingly clear. A good omen? Running into another E-mail addick outside the ground, we shared our forebodings. This was just the sort of match that Charlton needed to win if they were going to be promotion contenders, but, remembering home defeats by Southend, Bradford and Grismby in previous seasons, just the kind of match they were capable of losing.
And so it turned out to be. A Paul Mortimer strike put us 1-0 ahead, but we failed to get the second goal that would have clinched the match. Once Stockport equalised, our defence went to pieces and our midfield seemed to disappear. Aided by the talents of Alun Armstrong, Stockport took full advantage of the space available to them and we lost 3-1. As my neighour in Row Q, a long standing and hence philosophical Charlton supporter, commented, 'On our day we can beat any team and on our day we can lose to any team.
A working trip to Greece meant that I wasn't able to see Charlton's morale boosting wins that had preceded the Stockport match:4-0 at Norwich and the 4-1 victory over Bradford. Now my attendance at Loftus Road was in doubt. The end of the week would see me representing the UK's interests in Brussels and the secretary of the committee had warned me that the meeting could be long and difficult. Hence, it was scheduled to continue on Saturday, but I took a risk and booked myself on the last flight on Friday night to Birmingham. Come Friday afternoon, the predicted difficulties were arising. Would I have to get one of Brussels's crazy Moroccan taxi drivers to take me the wrong way down one way streets (something they don't need much encouragement to do!) to make my plane. I had told the chair that I wanted to be at Loftus Road the next day. Suddenly, from nowhere, he produced a sum of money which solved the main obstacle, and I was on the flight to Brum.
Next day saw me on the train to Marleybone. Radio 5 commented that QPR were quietly confident of victory, observing that 'the cream must rise to the top' in Division 1! Well, we are used to being patronised by the media.
On walking to Baker Street, disaster struck. The Hammersmith and City line was out owing to 'subsisdence at Edgware Road', so I had to go across to the Central Line and travel to White City. I arrived five minutes late somewhat hot and flustered.
But what a feast of football! As the QPR web page later admitted, Charlton came determined to win and comprehensively outplayed the 'Super Hoops'. What is more, the Charlton faithful outsung a largely silent home support. Robinson took us 1-0 ahead, and after QPR had equalised, Steve Jones put us ahead before half time. A second Robinson goal and one by substitute Phil Chapple completed the picture. In the last fifteen minutes, however, we let QPR back into the game. Our defensive weaknesses under pressure became apparent and only a couple of great saves by Andy Petterson stopped it going to 3-4. And, as QPR had come back from 4-0 at Port Vale to draw 4-4 last season, anything could have happened then.
Nevertheless, a sparkling Charlton performance. Good attacking football, with Kinsella in midfield playing probably his best game of the season to date. So Charlton fans could with justification chant, 'QPR, ha! ha! ha!' However, as far as the media were concerned, it was not a question of Charlton winning, but of QPR losing.
One needs to be specially addickted to venture into the transpontine wastes of South London on a wet Wednesday afternoon to see the reserves.(No offence intended to residents of New Eltham, it's just not seen at its best on a very wet afternoon). However, a morning appointment in London and a free afternoon saw me on the train to Bexleyheath where I was to be met by fellow E-mail addick, Neil. We headed for Welling's ground at Park View Road to be met by a bleak notice stating 'Match off'. A phone call to The Valley revealed that the match was being played 'behind closed doors' at the training ground at Sparrows Lane. But genuine Charlton fans would be allowed in, although they couldn't use the pavilion at half time.
By the time we had got there, the game had started, the ref refusing to postpone the kick off until 2.30. We were just in time to see Bradley Allen net his first, followed by a real beauty of a second goal. Bradley later made it three, while Keith Lisbie added a fourth. Despite driving rain, Charlton played excellent football against admittedly a depleted West Ham side. The ball was kept on the ground, the pace was good, and the passing crisp and accurate. Responding to the players available, Keith Peacock chose to play a diamond formation with Jason Tindall as anchor man. Apart from Allen and Lisbie, Paul Emblen was busy in attack, while Jamie Stuart in defence put in an impressive performance that could help him back into the first team. Mike Salmon in goal had nothing to do until the last ten minutes. The excellence of the football and another good res ult from the reserves made it worth getting soaked through.
J B Priestley's novel The Good Companions starts with a cloth capped crowd streaming away from a football match at 'Bruddersfield', a thinly disguised Huddersfield. Huddersfield's glory days were in the 1920s and despite their splendid new stadium, there is little to cheer at Huddersfield these days. Indeed, on the 14th October, the crowd got excited about their side winning a throw in. A shame I didn't take some photos of the stadium as it is difficult to believe that Charlton and Huddersfield will be playing in the same league next season. The Bloke Next to Me thought that the stadium lacked atmosphere, but this probably was because the home crowd were subdued by their side's mediocre performance, whereas there were only 277 Addicks there to cheer their side's 3-0 victory.The omens looked good for the match when a true Good Companion arrived in the shape of Lee Bowyer who sat in the row in front of me. One of the most naturally gifted players ever to appear in a Charlton shirt, Lee's presence promised a good evening. The Bloke in Front of Me noticed that Charlton were wearing Huddersfield shorts, but even that didn't dampen my mood of optimism. This was in spite of a drive up a spray drenched M1. Indeed, it continued to rain throughout most of the match and the pitch was very slippery which undoubtedly had some impact on the quality of the play.
Charlton opened their account with a goal from that class act, Clive Mendonca, although he missed a good chance later. Second half goals came from the Brighton Battler, Steve Brown, and from John Robinson. Nevertheless, there were defects in the Charlton performance. It could easily have ended up 3-3 if it hadn't been for some superb saves by the anointed successor of Sam Bartram, Andy Petterson. As Charlton establish themselves as serious promotion contenders, the defensive weaknesses in the team need to be addressed.
Nevertheless, this is the kind of match that would have ended up in a score draw or even a defeat last season. I met up with a Stoke addick who was seeing Charlton live for the first time this season. His view was that last season we had been playing pretty possession football to little effect, but that now we were showing real bite and determination. Let's hope this new spirit can be maintained.
'Pride of the Potteries' said the banner draped over the fence at the Jimmy Seed Stand at The Valley. Last year both Potteries teams gave us grief and went away from The Valley with three points. So I suppose we should feel reasonably happy about a 1-1 draw with Stoke on a glorious October day. My wife made one of her occasional visits to The Valley and was not happy with the middle part of the match when she thought there was too much patting the ball about in the middle. Having seen our recent scorelines, Stoke came to defend in depth, seeking to control the midfield and doing so for much of the time. They then caught us on the break with what has to be admitted was a superb strike. The introduction of Matty Holmes and Bradley Allen had a marked effect on Charlton's performance. In the last twenty minutes, we regained our spirit and victory was at least a possibility.
Does this mean that Charlton cannot seize the opportunity to go really big time as the Radio 5 commentary apparently suggested (although the main beef of the commentators seems to have been about poor tea making facilities at half time). Or do the crowd at The Valley have high expectations, lose patience easily, and hence exert psychological influence on the players? The consensus of E mail addicks would seem to be that this is a match would have lost 0-2 last year and battling for a draw reflects a new resilience in the team..
I don't miss many home games at The Valley, but midweek ones are always the most difficult, usually involving a quick dash to make the 5.07 from Coventry. However, Wednesday found meet on meet 'n' greet duties (fortunately not a 7.30 breakfast call this time). My lunch guest, who I had not met before, turned out to be a Bruddersfield supporter who had been at the match. He reckoned that we played them off the park. What Huddersfield needed, he believed, was a tall centre forward who could hold up the ball. Now who would fit that bill at Charlton?
The evening saw me chairing a guest speaker from Australia and taking a party of fellow Sandgropers out to dinner afterwards. As the evening went on the conversation about various drinking exploits in Perth and Freo became louder and when I was able to get on to my mobile it was difficult to hear what was happening at The Valley. When I heard that we were only 1-0 ahead with eleven minutes to go, I feared the worst, and inevitably the Millwall of the Midlands equalised. Two points from three home games is, as someone pointed out on the E mail list, relegation rather than promotion form. The consensus on the list was that visiting sides have worked out what to do at The Valley: shut us down and wait for the break. We have to find a way round it, perhaps through an unanticipated pattern of play.
On Friday night, the family went out to celebrate my wife's birthday. Born in Croydon and brought up in Thornton Heath, she started on the path to redemption by taking her first job in Woolwich. Because, rather unusually, the whole next generation of the family was in the Spa on Saturday morning, I couldn't leave for Tranmere in time to get there (the M6 seems to have been particularly bad anyway). Like Joanthan Acworth, I have a second (non-league) team which I sometimes watch when I can't get to a Charlton game.
Back in the 1980s, Leamington had its own non-league team: AP Leamington who played in the equivalent of the Vauxhall Conference. They played on a ground owned by Leamington's biggest employer, Automotive Products (there used to be a sign outside the town saying 'There's a part of Leamington in every car' while it was also claimed that the town was 'the brake and clutch capital of the UK.' Probably was as well. Anyway, because of the ferrying around commitments involved in having teenage children, I sometimes used to go down to the Windmill Ground. The club was nicknamed 'The Brakes' and I always found the chant 'The Brakes Go Marching On' a bit odd. Somehow the chant of 'You'll never walk down Tachbrook Road alone' from the notorious 'Whitnash End' also failed to inspire me.
Eventually AP pulled the plug on the team and the ground is now a housing estate. Leamington is supposedly Britain's most prosperous town because of its mix of specialised manufacturing and service employment: certainly unemployment is negligible. The total population of the Leamington-Warwick mini-conurbation plus surrounding villages approaches 200.000. But the only club is Racing Club Warwick who play in the Midland division of the Southern League (to give it its proper name) and who had a lot of their supporters frightened off last year after a visit by Bedworth. Warwick is a tourist town (well worth visiting). If you are ever there, call in at Lloyds the chemists and tell the manager, Erith born Sophia Grant, that you are a Charlton fan.
What all this rambling comes to is that when I want to see non-league football I drive across to Northamptonshire to see Rushden and Diamonds in their sparkling new ground in the middle of the countryside. It's a great ground and their crowds usually approach 3,000. It is also salutary to see non-league football now then and remind onself that there is real quality in Division 1. A lot of the time a sort of pinball is going on in a fifteen metre strip in the middle of the pitch or the ball is being hoofed up and down it - but then I suppose we do see that at Charlton. Anway, I didn't make it on Saturday to see Rushden draw 1-1 with Boreham Wood in the final qualifying round of the FA Cup. For much of the afternoon, I was following events at Tranmere through Club Call (not for the whole match! The amount I listened to worked out cheaper than the costs of going to Birkenhead, although I would still like to have been there to witness the mystery of Leaburn's return). I think Leaburn has many fine qualities as a player, not always best used, but we were told at the beginning of the season that he was 5th choice striker.
Although I have lived in the Midlands for approaching thirty years, and although I have a number of friends who support the Villa, I had never been to Villa Park before 28th October. To be frank, I don't like our Second City all that much and I often feel unsafe there in a way that I never do in London. However, when Rick Everitt asked me if I could cover the Villa Youth versus Charlton youth game for the Merc it seemed like a golden opportunity. My two years of reporting for the Brentwood Gazette where a long way in the past, and I had covered local politics rather than sport, but once a journo, always a journo.
In 1946 my parents went to Villa Park to see Charlton play Bolton in the cup semi-final before a crowd of over 70,000 which broke the then record for ground receipts. Charlton won 2-0. The 2nd round of the Southern Junior Floodlit Cup was, however, a rather different sort of fixture. On arriving at reception, I was told rather sniffily that they weren't opening the press box for this match. Anyway, I got a comp. ticket and blundered round the vastness of Villa Park, passing a dressing room where the Charlton players were being reminded 'We've got the best players in the district.' I eventually found five people shivering outside a turnstile, one of whom was demanding access to the Charlton players.
Eventually I got into the Trinity Road stand which seemed to date from the ark. I heard one young Addick call it an 'assault course' later on. A rather nervous looking group of Charlton colts came out on to the pitch to confront a ground where the silence was broken only be fireworks being let off in inner city Birmingham. Eventually, a crowd of around two hundred gathered, including a group of hardy Addicks.
However, the atmosphere in this large echoing ground clearly had some effect on the Colts who spent most of the first quarter of an hour defending in their own half. One of my friends who supports the Villa suggested that my presence there was really a cover for Charlton scouting activities, and I certainly found Villa's No.10, Darius Vassell, a great prospect: fast and with excellent ball control. Both sides had their chances before half time, but Charlton suffered the pyschological blow of going 1-0 down just before the break. Things got worse when they conceded a second goal six minutes into the second half. Scott Parker directed a blistering long range free kick at the Villa goal, but Villa got a third in a move started with a long punt upfield by their goalie. In the Charlton goal, Sam Turner made some great saves and there could have been a massacre without his efforts. As it was, sub Kevin James got a consolation goal for Charlton in the final minute. I went off to search for a bus which was delayed because someone had been mugged. New Street station contained one or two disconsolate Addicks faced with the trek back to London, but I was nearer home for once and went back to the office to file my report.
Those of you who have read Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch may recall that there are certain rituals that the main character goes through on match days like always buying a programme from the same seller. I don't do anything like that, but I do sometimes attach meanings which aren't really there to my journey to The Valley. I have a choice of car or train, and then of at least three routes for each mode: by car, M40/M25 south/A2 - motorway almost all the way, but invariably disrupted by roadworks; A45/M1/M11/Blackwall Tunnel (the most direct, but afflicted by delays); and A45/M1/M25 North/A2 (my most usual route). Come the dark nights, I go by train and this means via Marleybone with Chiltern; via Reading and Paddington (perhaps seeing my daughter who is a manager at Reading Station); or Virgin Trains from Coventry to Euston. An interrupted service south of Leamington found me on Virgin Trains on All Souls Day. We got into Euston from Cov, including a stop in Milton Keynes, in 1hr. 7 mins. which in my book is almost a record. BTW, do any of you remember there was once a plan to relocate Charlton to Milton Keynes? (And to Romford in the 1950s?) Having got to Euston, I decided to take the Northern line via the City to London Bridge rather than go to Charing Cross. This is a route which I have taken on great match days in the past: I got a train immediately and made a quick connection to Connex at London Bridge. So I was in Charlton just two hours after leaving Cov., almost a record, which might seem to bode well for the game.
Nothing divides Charlton fans as much as the L-word and he was in the team on Saturday. I think Leaburn has many fine qualities as a footballer and in many ways would be better used as an advanced midfielder rather than as a striker (where his annual tally has never justified the description of him as 'the most feared striker outside the Premiership.' But his selection on Saturday was a good decision by Curbs, as he showed full commitment and gave intelligent support to Mendonca. But I can't understand why people support him so fanatically: the Bloke Next To Me bellowed 'Leaburn' every time he touched the ball.
With twenty minutes to go we were 2-0 up against Ipswich with goals from Mendonca and the continually improving Phil Chapple. The Super Whinger behind me was proclaiming, 'They'll nick it from us. It'll be 2-2.' My mate Steve commented, 'Why are we nervous when we are 2-0 up twenty minutes from time? It goes with the scarf.' But Charlton maintained their disciplined approach and Leaburn made it 3-0 just before the final whistle. Charlton were 3rd!
On the train back from Euston, I tuned in to Mellor, but, although Notts Forest and Swindon fans got on air, I didn't hear anyone from Charlton. The 'smalll club' syndrome again! The train seemed unusually crowded, and when I got off a horde of Cov City fans emerged chanting, 'Jingle bells, jingle bells, oh what fun it is when City win away.' Well, it doesn't happen very often!
A sparkling day in the Spa with the town looking at its best as I walked down to the station to get to the direct train to The Hawthorns. The Solihull Baggie had advised a late train, but I ignored his advice, and he missed the start of the game! If anything, Centro are worse than Connex. Found myself sitting next to a young lad 'in retail' who has to take time off to see Saturday matches and hence has to be very selective.
Our opening pressure was excellent, but in the absence of injured Clive Mendonca, it was the old Charlton story of lots of possession being let down by poor finishing. Robbo (somewhat below par) hit the post and Carlo (surprise, surprise) never looked like scoring. Kinsella fluffed a chance, but the big disappointment was Bradley Allen who had a good chance to score in the second half, having turned his man, but somehow managed to shoot wide. The Baggies won as a result of a defensive mistake by Phil Chapple: when he makes mistakes, they tend to be bad ones. Indeed, he made another error later on in the first half which was retrieved by Petterson who also made a brilliant save in the second half.
Caught up with the Solihull Baggie at the station. He thought that their goal was 'offsideish' and that we look defensively weak. I agreed with him that Rufus had faded in the latter part of the second half. He thought that our most impressive player was Newton who had come on a sub and showed his usual threatening pace. On the advice of the Solihull Baggie, I changed trains at Dorridge which left me standing there in the pouring rain for fifty minutes! What one does to support Charlton. The Solihull Baggie is a Londoner (he has even kept his accent) and I can't understand his support of a Midlands team. I have never 'gone native'. Midlanders are pleasant enough individually, but they are less cosmopolitan and have a narrower vision of the world than the average Londoner.
Central Television gave the game a lot of coverage on Saturday and Sunday, treating it as the equivalent of defeating Barcelona. I got the Sunday Mercury (it has a whole page of Barry Fry) and it too had good things to say about Charlton, and even more about what a boost it was to West Brom to manage to beat such a top team at home 1-0! Unfortunately, it's points, not praise, that count. We are now 6th, with some good teams just behind us.
Keith Peacock's success with the reserves this season has increased interest and a crowd of at least five hundred had assembled by kick off. Just to my right were a few Norwich supporters: unusual to see away support at a reserve game - some people say that it is the ultimate definition of being a sad obsessive. In any event, there was soon a bit of verbal between the Canaries and Addicks.
Where do they get the officials for Combination games from? The referee looked older than me and was totally useless, and the asso on our side was just as bad. He gave Norwich a very dubious penalty which Mark Bright missed. When Jamie Stuart was injured, he took ages to call for the stretcher which by then was proceeding laboriously around the side of the pitch.
Club Call called the 0-0 game 'disappointing', but there was some excellent flowing football played by both sides. Charlton, particularly Steve Jones, had a number of chances were were somehow missed. Shan Newton made some great runs and Anthony Barness, playing in a No.11 shirt, was in sparking form. Of the younger players, Scott Parker demonstrated his potential once again, while Charlie Macdonald had some great runs when he came on as a sub (apparently he comes from the Old Kent Road). Jamie Stuart had a great game as centre back. Konchesky and Tindall played well, but Goldup was less good. Mike Salmon played professionally in goal, and Norwich were undoubtedly helped by Bryan Gunn at their end.
A lot of talk around the club about whether Curbs might leave, either to Sheffield Wednesday (although that story was scotched by the end of the day) or to QPR. There's no doubt IMHO that he would be a loss and that any change of manager at this crucial point in the season would be unsettling. But having listened to a rather sycophantic interview with Richard Murray on Club Call, it is clear to me that the club is determined to keep him.
A match sponsored by train company, Connex, and graced by the presence of Connex the Cat, almost had as unpredictable an outcome as the company's train services. Having gone up 2-0 against the Railwaymen, Charlton started to look casual, and allowed Crewe back into the game with a goal conceded just before half time. Crewe's second goal was even more baffling, with Andy Petterson apparently distracted by a need to look at the departure screens to see whether the 15.53 to Slade Green had been cancelled. To their credit, Charlton did not react in an undisciplined way to this setback and continued to play a fluent passing game which found its reward in a strike by Matty Holmes. Perhaps the lesson of this match is that there has been too much focus on who should partner Mendonca and not enough on what are evidently defensive weaknesses. In many ways I enjoyed this cliff hanger of a game as much as any this season, but then I enjoyed the 4-4 against Norwich last year, and it is important to win as well as be entertained. On arrival at Charlton Station, a train was mysteriously stuck halfway up the platform with its doors closed and there was no Connex the Cat on hand to distribute boiled sweets to homebound Addicks.
There was little pleasure to take from this game which saw Charlton defeated 5-2 and quite a bit of crowd trouble. I decided to go by train as parking in Nottingham looked likely to be difficult. A group of young Charlton supporters got on at Leicester (Leicester University students?) The Sunday Times report of the game thought that Charlton were on top until Matty Holmes had to go off injured in the first ten minutes. But Forest's class soon showed through and Charlton were comprehensively outplayed. In particular, the defensive weaknesses of the Addicks were ruthlessly exposed. Not that goalkeeper Andy Petterson was to blame: he made two superb saves, and the Forest goals were either unstoppable or were the result of errors by Charlton defenders. At least Charlton did not give up and managed to pull back two goals, one an own goal, the other an excellent display of skill by Bradley Allen. Robinson had a poor game and Keith Jones looked out of his depth. The game was marred by a nearby section of Forest supporters continually goading the Addicks, while other Forest fans spat from the upper tier. Apparently, there was more trouble after the game in a side street while I saw an incident at Nottingham Station. Not the happiest of days all round, but I didn't expect to win there. Friday's match against Swindon will show whether we are what Central TV called 'promotion pretenders'.
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