Addick missed four Charlton games, having first gone to Malta for some winter sun and then on a working trip to the States. The Times of Malta profiled Charlton, informing readers that Alan Curbishley's Valiants [sic] are 'strong at The Valley, but very sick on their travels.' In the States, I was approached in Baltimore by a Crewe Alexandria season ticket holder (resident in Italy!) who recognised me from my web page! On Saturday, I decided to wear my Addicks Collection sweatshirt to show solidarity. I was then assailed in a restaurant by a Wolves fan who had been at the cup game and had original lines like 'Valley of No Hope'. Leaving to catcalls of '3-0', I was amused to see that Wolves lost 1-3 at home that day. An obese American asked me if Charlton were an Australian Rules team and an Arsenal fan approached me for their score. When I got back, I learnt from a colleague that he had had a phone call from Oxford University where my appearance at a meeting of the Council of Europeanists in my Charlton sweatshirt was a topic of conversation!
On Tuesday 3rd, our local Baggie came into my office, dejected by the drubbing he was sure we were going to give his team that evening. On the Underground, I overheard two Millwall fans in an 'intelligent' four letter discussion of their team and wondered if this was a good or bad omen.
Charlton started slowly and hesitantly, and a Mark Bright goal just before half time settled the crowd's nerves. Leaburn could play football, but could not score many goals: perhaps Bright is the opposite. We were not prepared, however, for the torrent of goals in the second half which saw Charlton win 5-0. Perhaps Keith Peacock's decision to come over to the East Stand side and shout instructions at the team, as he successfully does in the reserves, had something to do with it. The second goal came from a considered and measured strike from Shaun Newton, followed by a Mendonca penalty, a Kinsella goal and a second goal from Mendonca. To give the Baggies credit, they came out and played football, unlike many teams who come to The Valley.
Seeing my Charlton ticket on the way back, the ticket collector asked, 'Have you been to the match? Who do you support?' When I said Charlton, he commented 'it's a good night for you.' And indeed it was, worth not getting home until 2 a.m.
I missed the Ipswich match as I had to be in Florence. When I phoned to get the result before going out to meet a Milan supporter for dinner it had not arrived so our Tuscan feast was not spolit by news of a 1-3 defeat (my friend has been to Charlton with me and follows our fortunes.
8.30 a.m. on Sunday 15 March saw me setting out in a taxi for Coventry Station to head for the televised match against Sunderland. I was a little surprised to see a group of football supporters in team shirts getting on at Coventry as I didn't think there were any Premiership matches. When I saw them on the train and discovered that they were Sunderland supporters, I regarded this as something of a bad omen. We were promised a band before the match, but this turned out not be of the 'oom pah' type, but a rather noisy group, one of whom was wearing a Sunderland shirt. However, they did give a half decent rendition of Valley, Floyd Road.
The match was one of the more exciting ones I have seen this season with some good football played by both sides. Charlton played well in the first half, but found themselves 0-1 down. The sending off of ex-Millwall player Alex Rae was popular with the home crowd and when Charlton levelled after the break there were hopes of a win. Sunderland manager Peter Reid of 'cheer up' fame certainly seemed to becoming increasingly distraught. However, for a long spell in the second half, Charlton seemed to have lost the plot, in part because key player John Robinson seemed to have been affected by knocks picked up in the first half. When he was rather belatedly substituted by Lisbie, Charlton found a second wind and made some impressive attacks, but it was too late.
Being in no hurry to get away, I had a scalding cup of tea afterwards and was able to see photographer Tom Morris sweep out of the ground in his Jag (well, not really, but it would be a nice contrast to Rick's fictional red three wheeler). The cup of tea rather contrasted with the glass of champagne I was given to sip as Eurostar glided through Orpington. Reflecting on the match I felt that the result was a fair one and did not alter my view that Charlton would be in the play-offs - although the key question now is what shape they will be in, as the last time we reached them we were knackered and performed accordingly. As Eurostar surged into the tunnel, I was able to read about an exhibition on surrealism in Brussels and reflect on the transpontine surrealism that lurks beneath the surface in SE7. With these thoughts I fell asleep and woke up as we approached Brussels, a little more refreshed for my discussions with Commission officials.
One of those matches where I get some advantage from living in the Midlands. The booking clerk at Coventry seemed to be surprised to be asked for a return to Crewe. I think he must have thought that I was a trainspotter. Gresty Road is right by Crewe Station with the mission to railwaymen opposite the ground. I wasn't expecting another Molineux, but I was taken aback by how small the ground was - the largest stand was ten rows deep! The attendance was just over 5,100, nearly a thousand of whom were Addicks.
Charlton started in just the right way with a goal after three minutes by new signing Danny Mills who continued to make a positive contribution to the game. With some accurate passing, and some poor use of the ball by Charlton, Crewe were soon back in it and had a host of chances which they failed to take. Sasa Ilic was once again authoritative in goal. Just before half time, Mendonca set up Newton for a cannonball of a goal. Charlton were more on top in the second half. Morts came on in place of Robinson (who had picked up an unnecessary yellow card) and was greeted by chanting of 'Mortimer - OOh! Aah!' from the faithful. He was quickly displaying his skills and a clever shimmy set up Kinsella for Charlton's third. Kinsella was englufed by a number of Addicks and the subsequent celebrations led to a number of supporters being ejected. Lisbie came on in place of Keith Jones and showed speed and penetration. Konchesky also came on in place of Mills and showed what a promising player he is.
Returning to Crewe station, I just caught a North Western Railways train which has hauled by a freight engine and had old fashioned corridor stock. Radio 5 gave a glowing report of Charlton's win, referring to 'Grestfallen Road'. Newton received special praise. But I didn't hear any discussion of Charlton on 606 - the usual old crew, Forest, Manchester City, and Mellor urging 'Boro fans to ring in. Bring on Forest!
I took this heading from the Web page, as it seemed the best summary of our 4-2 victory over Nottingham Forest. After a week looking after four hundred Europeans and Americans at a conference I was organising, I was specially looking forward to the match. And I was not disappointed: it was one of the most exciting games that I have seen at The Valley in recent years. My wife thought that it represented Premiership class action from both sides.
We had a smooth run down to Canberra Road. There is something about the weekend that sees the start of summer time that always raises my spirits. The smell of grass cut for the first time since the winter brings back some positive but unspecific childhood memory just beyond the reach of recall (perhaps I should ask fellow former St.Margaret's pupil and Charlton photographer Tom Morris who seems to possess an elephantine memory).
After a visit to the club shop where we were tempted to splash out on some new merchandise, we headed for the Rose of Denmark where we were due to meet up with some fellow Listers. I met one or two people I hadn't seen before and two excellent pints of Guinness set me up for the match. Czech entrepreneur Richard Hunt made an appearance having flown in from Prague for one of the key games of the season. Richard told me that his mother had moved back to their old road in Eltham, so setting out for the match was just like the old days.
One could sense the electric atmosphere in the ground and the fans were in fine chanting and singing form. Bright used a header back from the line from new signing Youds to score Charlton's first. Forest replied quickly to make it 1-1 at half time. A brilliant piece of individual football by Paul Mortimer which must be considered for goal of the season made it 2-1. The flowing football continued and a Forest free kick hit the post and then bounced off Ilic into safety. Having made good use of a surprise long ball, Mendonca was brought down in the area and stepped up to make it 3-1. Then a piece of wizardy from Kinsella made the score identical to that in the cup match. Unfortunately, a little slackness allowed Forest to grab a late consolation.
One negative feature was that Robbo was carried off on a stretcher after colliding with Ilic in an effort to stem a Forest attack. This actually pleased the supporters to my left who had been moaning about Robbo throughout the game. I hope that the report of cracked ribs is incorrect. Robinson is one of our most inspiring players and we need him for the play-offs in particular, even though we now have more cover.
When we got home, I thought that the match and the result was good enough to justify opening a bottle of champagne. Reading Bertie Bassett's comments on the PA he complained that it was not a 4-2 game and that Forest had been let down by not taking their chances and poor defending. Well, yes. He might with more justification have complained about the referee who was absolutely hopeless. Anyway, as one Lister remarked in the pub, we could be standing here next year about to play the same club in the Premiership.
One of the disconcerting aspects of growing older is opening the paper when there is a honours list and finding that yet another friend or acquaintance has been made a life peer (I never quite got over finding that a work colleague had been given a peerage). Having dinner with a friend who is a peer the other day, he gave me a little homily on 'my duty to twavel up and down the countwy in the cause of constitutional rewform.' One of the other people there said that they had spent five hours on a train to Cardiff the previous Saturday in just this cause. I didn't mention that I felt that my duty (and pleasure) was to accompany the Addicks in their promotion push. Constitutional reform can go ahead without me.
An away at Swindon means a nice little trip from Warwick over the Cotswolds. My wife has been sufficiently enthused by Charlton's progress to agree that she should accompany me to her first away match. So off we set via Burford - what images that place conjures up - the left-wing rebels against Cromwell being imprisoned in the church and leaving graffiti there before being hung, the Mitford sisters ... It is also today a favoured home for upmarket journos, but the Foreign Editor of the Financial Times was not around to see me drive up the main street with my Charlton banner.
Swindon has an open end and for the first quarter of an hour the Charlton support was drenched by driving torrential rain, provoking a chorus of 'Singing in the Rain'. The rain and the driving wind meant that this was never going to be a classic game. Charlton's passing often seemed to be less than accurate, and not all of that could be put down to the weather: too much hoofing the ball up the field to no one in particular. Swindon often looked fast and accurate, but the Charlton defence looked solid. Sasa Ilic looked in command of his area, even if he did take some risks - but they paid off. Rufus was his usual authoritative self and Mills looked useful. The attack was less impressive with Steve Jones missing one chance and some great runs by The Newt ending up with a poor finish. Morts showed his usual sparkle and skill.
As the match ground on, one started to fear a goalless draw. But Steve Jones redeemed himself by scoring the winning goal for Charlton. With 'Boro losing at West Brom, it meant three important points for Charlton. As the fans were leaving, the team came out again to warm down and there was an enthusiastic burst of mutual applause. We headed back over the Cotswolds to change out of our wet clothes.
On Thursday there was torrential rain in Warwickshire and by Friday morning the Leam had burst its banks for the first time in thirty years and, sadly, two people had been swept away by flood waters. One of our party for the match was cut off in Shipston on Stour in the south of the county. He managed to get out in the morning and then it took us an hour to get out of Leamington on the only road left open. Once on the M40, I beat my own record and got to The Valley in under two hours in time for the start of our match ball sponsorship where I was joined by family and a number of fans.
Let me say what an excellent job that Steve Dixon and his staff to do to make their guests feel welcome and put on a quality event that everyone thoroughly enjoyed. The staff in the marketing department are not at the forefront of everyone's attention, but they are part of the story of ever improving quality on all fronts at The Valley which will take another step forward with the building of phase two of the West Stand.
We were taken down through the players' area and up through the tunnel. A strong smell of embrocation round the dressing rooms. It was good to see John Robinson on his feet and looking cheerful. As you come out, you get hit by a tremendous burst of noise. We went out on to a saturated and slippery pitch to give the match ball to the referee (at one point there had been doubts about whether the game would go ahead). From the centre of the pitch The Valley seems to be a strangely intimate place with the crowd very near.
With all their new signings, Reading seemed strangely disjointed, although they did make some menacing attacks which called for action by Sasa 'Clean Sheet' Ilic. It was a long ball by Ilic that was picked up by Mendonca for the first goal. We then had a classic free kick from Morts and Mark 'goal a match' Bright rounded off the action in the second half. Despite the wet conditions, the Addicks played a neat, passing game.
We had a real problem in the sponsors' lounge afterwards deciding who to vote for as man of the match. As a number of Listers remarked in E mails afterwards, one could not say that any player had given a below par performance. Mendonca and Morts had both scored classic goals and had displayed their ability to outfox the opposition. Keith Jones had controlled the midfield in his usual quiet but authoritative way. Rufus had been superb in defence. But, in the end, the vote went for new boy Danny Mills who had displayed an impressive mixture of commitment and skill, not only defending well but also making runs forward. When he presented the match ball to me, I told him 'you are a great signing for the club. 'Is this really Charlton?' someone asked. Yes it is.
Our Reading based daughter reported on the way back that the Reading fans were singing when 'the red, red Robin comes bobbing along - shoot it!' I do feel sorry for them with their new stadium. But with Sunderland only managing a draw at home against QPR, it did at last seem 'Now you've got to believe us, the reds are going up'.
Vale fans might feel like smashing some of the locally produced teapots after this match which saw Charlton nick a 1-0 victory over the Potteries side. Charlton had a lot of luck, but that's what you get sometimes in a promotion run. I had the feeling it might be a lucky day when in the Championship Manager 2 computer game I got my Scottish club, Clyde, up to the premiership, having got them up from the second division in the previous season. If anyone can guess why I should follow Clyde in Scotland, they deserve a prize.
We set out for Burslem in good time and had few delays on the M6 so were well ahead of the Charlton coaches - variously reported to be forty-five, fifty-three or fifty-six. While waiting for the coaches to come in, we talked to a fan from Preston who said that he did not want to go up this year but next. Not quite sure why, but if the argument is that we are not ready, will we ever be?
We piled into the stand and as much as an hour before the match the chanting and singing was under way. This acquired additional momentum and force with the arrival of the drum which was greeted with a great cheer. The Vale support seemed a bit bemused by the size of the Addicks support and the constant noise that the Charlton faithful produced. Just before the match began, our directors ran over to applaud the crowd and to receive warm and vigorous applause in return. This puzzled the Vale fans even further who don't seem to have the kind of rapport that we have with our board.
Vale quickly showed themselves to be valiant and forced corner after corner. Their failure to score may be put down to poor finishing, as well as vigorous defending by Rufus and Mills. Unfortunately, the hapless Barness made error after error, making the travelling support realise how valuable a member of the squad the injured Bowen is. Heaney's lukewarm performance also attracted criticism. At one point the ball was nearly forced over the line in a defensive mix up, and this was followed by a brawl which ended up with Danny Mills on the ground. An elderly Charlton supporter was led away by the police.
Somehow Charlton held on until half time and in the second half Morts was brought of in place of Heaney and quickly began to display his usual skills. Brown had also been brought on for the (injured?) Rufus and displayed his usual battling determination. But having played four times in ten days, some of our better players such as Kinsella seemed a little below par and made avoidable mistakes. Danny Mills was, however, to the forefront in defence and attack and when he was brought down in the area, the resultant penalty was struck home by Clive Mendonca. Vale fought on and were denied by a bizarre ball that bounced from one post to the other and then out of play. The ref seemed determined to add as much time on as possible, but eventually the whistle blew and Charlton had secured a vital three points.
Indignant Vale fans who felt they had been cheated extended an invitation to continue discussions outside. As we got to our car with its Charlton fans some angry looking Vale fans were eyeing it and we got some verbal about 'cheating southern bastards'. Vale have done a lot with very little and don't deserve to be relegated. For Charlton the result meant that automatic promotion was still a possibility. Could a miracle happen in south-east London?
One thing that has concerned Charlton supporters is the lack of media attention given to the club. David Mellor's 606 phone in attracts a substantial audience and when I heard him talk about 'the magic of Charlton' on Saturday, I decided to give it a go. I couldn't get through then and clearly the knack is to ring before the programme starts. This is what I did and I found myself on to talk about what had gone right at Charlton. Now I have some experience of radio: I have actually run phone ins myself and I do the odd piece for Radio 4 now and then. So it was interesting to see how effectively David Mellor steered the conversation. One question that did floor me was the total value of the Charlton squad, and I gave an estimate that was probably too low. Still, hopefully, a little bit of positive publicity for Charlton and a pat on the back for Alan Curbishley and some of the players, not least Keith Jones.
On Wednesday we went to see Shakespeare's Two Gentleman of Charlton at the RST in Stratford. This modern dress version of Two Gentlemen of Verona includes a football fan who shouts 'goal' which I am sure was not in the original text. It also included the dog of someone we know who was one of the stars of the show.
Given the serious flooding that Warwickshire has suffered recently, a few lines (superbly delivered by the actor at this world class theatre) brought the house down:
The uncertain glory of an April day
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun
And by and by a cloud takes all away!
When the bard wrote these I do not think that he had the match between Charlton and Pompey. Private Eye had a quiz this week which people could take to find out whether they were part of Tony Blair's Cool Britannia. Question 6 was which is your favourite team? Arsenal [cool] or The Royal Naval Field Gun 'A' Squad (Pompey) [uncool]. Certainly the weather continued to show the enduring merit of Shakespeare's observations on April. Driving home listening to The Bear ('for Shakespeare country and the Vale'), I was shocked to hear, in between the same three records they always play at 5.30 p.m., that 'The Valley is still flooded.' But it turned out to be Pershore Town (BTW, Pershore is 'Borchester' in The Archers)..
I was up early on Saturday and an exchange of E mails showed a fellow lister in New Eltham to also be up early and in anxious mood. We had a smooth run down to The Valley on Saturday and went to the club shop to purchase some more of their excellent merchandise. There was a certain note of apprehension in the ground and the Bloke Behind Me was in his usual gloomy mood: 'I have a bad feeling about these last three games. We'll lose all of them and then we'll be in a bad state for the play-offs.' Portsmouth were clearly playing for the draw and defended in depth as so many sides from the lower end of the table have this season. It was really half an hour before the Addicks got in a decent shot on goal, but Sasa Ilic did not really have a shot to worry about during the whole ninety minutes (the best Portsmouth chance in injury time was sent wide by pugilist Paul Hall). Indeed, the quality of Pompey's finishing was comparable to that of Vale and suggests why they are where they are. Equally, our finishing has improved tremendously this season.
The Bloke Behind Me was by now in full whinge mode, 'Hit it further' - 'No, not that far', 'You're too deep Charlton'. 'You're second best, Charlton.' The Pompey fans found it amusing to imitate Charlton's chants and songs. Newton looked menacing with his runs on the right (I like his acknowledgement of the fans after the break), but it was working class hero Steve Jones who scored the winning goal from a Heaney cross (the former Saints player attracting the hostility of the naval faithful). The Addicks survived an anxious last few minutes to equal the club record of seven wins in a row.
Stopping at the BP station in Welling, the attendant was keen to know the result. An Arsenal fan came in and said that his son had been to see Charlton his 'second team'. 'What happens when we go up to the Premiership?' I asked. My wife is enjoying the football this season so much that she is talking of getting a season ticket. Not a glorious April day, but not a bad one either.
Set off from Leam to Marleybone, the much put upon Tom Morris asked to ring me if the reserve game against The Saints was suddenly shifted to Park View Road or Sparrows Lane. But, although it was pouring in the Midlands, it was a sunny and warm day in Transpontania. I was able to enjoy a meal and a drink in Floyds before seeing the match. Playing their second match in 48 hours, Charlton Reserves included a number of youth team players, Brown and Balmer having been pulled out because of injury fears about key defender Richard Rufus who had taken a knock at the training ground. Southampton put out a big, determined side including Kevin Richardson at No.4 and the excellent Darryl Flahavan in goal. I do not think I have seen a match in which Charlton had so many near misses. They went up 1-0 just before the break with a well taken penalty from Paul Konchesky after Bradley Allen had been brought down. Southampton stepped up the pressure after the break, and despite heroic efforts by Andy Petterson, managed to get the ball across the line. The Addicks fought back heroically, encouraged by an increasingly vociferous Keith Peacock, particularly after Leigh Hales and Charlie MacDonald were brought on to replace tiring players, b ut shots either just missed or were saved by Flahavan. Steve from Sidcup and I agreed that we had seen an excellent game of football which showed skill and commitment from both sides with 1-1 a fair result. Paul Konchesky (who managed to kick a defensive ball over the top of the East Stand!) was my MoM. There were also excellent performances from promising youngsters Anthony Allman and Kevin James as well as Bradley Allen. I particularly watched twenty old year Nigerian trialist Emeka Ifejiagwa and thought that he showed good on the ball skills, although perhaps sometimes he tried to be a little too clever. The referee, who has been a source of trouble at Park View Road (I am told), was a petty minded authoritarian. Then it was up to Waterloo, on to Eurostar and off to Brussels. The next morning (after a mishap when I caught the wrong tram) I was at the Sheraton to sit looking intelligent and supportive in the front row while Franz Fischler, resplendent in a green jacket, obfuscated about the olive oil regime. Some contrast to The Valley!