In the picture above a number of Addicks, including some well know listers, can be seen joining Wyn and Maggie Grant at the match ball sponsorship for the 3-0 victory against Reading.
Sometimes the last home game of the season is an anti-climatic experience with a lower mid-table position being 'celebrated' with a 1-1 draw against Port Vale or a 0-0 draw against Sheffield United. But the mood was very different in the Rose of Denmark as a small group of listers gathered before the game against Tranmere. Although Boro's overnight victory at Port Vale made automatic promotion less likely, we knew that the worst position Charlton could finish in was 4th. We came down on the train and passed the twin towers of Wembley where we hope to be in a little over a month's time. And even if we don't get promoted this year, we have an excellent platform on and off the pitch for automatic promotion next year.
There was an air of greater excitement and anticipation as the team came on to the pitch of Fortress Valley with the prospect of beating the club record with eight wins in a row. Was the fact that the referee came from down the road from me (Southam, the most nondescript town in Warwickshire) a good or bad omen? It seemed to be a good one, as the Addicks were soon given a justified penalty which was cleanly put away by Clive Mendonca. But the Valley then fell almost silent as no follow up goal arrived. The Tranmere defence was well organised and midfield maestro Keith Jones seemed to be below par (it was later revealed that he had had a late test for a septic foot). Loan player Heaney seemed to be more effective than in past matches, and Sasa 'clean sheet' Ilic made his usual brave saves, on one occasion earning himself a yellow card. Rather unusually, it was a second penalty struck firmly by Clive Mendonca that gave the Addicks a 2-0 victory. It was not a classic match - the Addicks seemed a little nervous - but the three points kept Charlton in third place with the same points total as 'Boro and Sunderland.
With Steve Dixon at the mike, the players were brought out one by one from the tunnel after the match to receive the plaudits of the crowd (suspended working class hero Steve Jones was not among them). The directors received a great burst of applause. Then the players, Curbs and other members of the management team paraded round the ground with Morts's young son attracting a lot of attention. Needless to say, they received a great reception, and shy Mike Salmon even directed a thumbs up sign at our section of the east stand. Curbs then took the mike to say a few words in front of the Covered End, giving his thanks to the fans for their support - this was much appreciated by me and, I think, others.
We made our way back to Euston where we were met a couple of Spurs fans on the train. We had a long chat about the premiership: they were very impressed by what Charlton had achieved, but thought that we would find it hard in the premiership. We know that: the trick will be to survive the first season. Some Addicks are concerned that promotion will mean that the club will lose its identity as a friendly, community based club with good lines of communication between the boards, the management and the fans. There are, however, models of clubs that have gone up and not lost their distinctive identity, notably Leicester. Having started to support Charlton when they were one of the country's top teams, I want to see those days back - or at least see us in the premiership. I trust the board to do that without sacrificing what is special about Charlton.
Birmingham's hopes that they might squeeze into the playoffs were dashed by a tense and exciting 0-0 draw at St.Andrews between the Addicks and the Bluenoses. Sasa Ilic was the hero of the hour, keeping his cool under considerable pressure, and making a series of stunning saves which silenced the Bluenoses as they anticipated goal after goal. The combination of traditional Brummie hospitality with Karren Brady's corporate box approach to football made for a special atmosphere at this game. Moreover, there was brilliant half time entertainment from 'comedian' Jasper Carrot who formed the focus of Central TV's post match report which at least showed what a real comic he is. Fortunately, we were spared his daughter who plays Hayley in The Archers with a fake Brummie accent.
A somewhat poignant day for me as my father who introduced me to Charlton died twenty years ago and May 3rd was also my late mother's birthday (she was also an East Terrace regular). I set out for Watford Gap services where, courtesy of Wendy Perfect and Tom Morris, I was able to join one of the northbound coaches. I was pleased to find myself sitting next to the chair of the Lewisham branch as we talked about the club, whilst keeping an eye out for the noble sights of Britain's second city. Well we did see one: the Villa ground. On our rather circuitous approach to the home of the Millwall of the Midlands, we were given a traditional Brummie welcome by a group of vagrants. As we slowly headed up the hill to the ground, a number of those with blue painted faces or noses already seemed beside themselves with anger.
Birmingham created most of the chances, but Ilic's brilliance (he has now equalled Sam Bartram's record for clean sheets) was reinforced by strong defending by Rufus, Mills and Youds. The referee did his best to even things up for the Blues and even booked Heaney for a perfectly fair tackle which produced theatrics from the Birmingham player involved that would have graced the nearby Hippodrome. Meanwhile, the Birmingham fans in the tier below were displaying the traditional welcome of their city which is believed to be a celebration of the special mental powers of the average Brummie. The good judgement of the Birmingham management was displayed when they announced (twice) while the game was on that Sunderland were 2-0 ahead at Swindon. Birmingham forced a succession of corners, but the Addicks managed to survive, although Shaun Newton seemed to be below par. In the second half, the introduction of Steve Jones in place of Heaney (who I thought had had a good game, but the consensus on the List was otherwise) livened up the Charlton attack and Jones managed to put the ball in the back of the net, but the referee was able to find grounds to disallow it. The Birmingham fans, who had produced a tumultuous noise, increasingly fell silent as it became evident that the Addicks could not be beaten.
At the end of the match, a number of Birmingham supporters attempted to break down the wire netting separating them from the Addicks, some of them showing that they could rival Forest when it came to spitting power. Mounted police intervened and one of the City supporters was led away in handcuffs. Neil Heaney's girl friend entered the ground to greet him among cheers from those on the coach. A considerable proportion of the West Midlands police appeared to have been assembled to close off roads so that the Addicks coaches could enjoy a speedy departure, thus depriving Auto Windscreens of business and not allowing the Addicks to collect the traditional Birmingham brick as a souvenir to take home to transpontine parts. If Charlton can defend this well at Portman Road, their chances in the semi-finals look good.
Wednesday night saw me driving down to The Valley to get my tickets for the home leg and then attend the kit sponsors' evening which was, once again, an informal and relaxed affair. I talked to Keith Jones about his plans after he stops playing and he told me that he intends to take a degree in sport physiology - this is not physiotherapy, as he explained, but includes the study of factors such as diet. He felt that attention to such factors, including varying diet throughout the year, had helped to maintain a high level of fitness which had contributed to Charlton's success this year. It was nice to talk again to this pleasant and intelligent player who has had a great season - and we hope there is more to come. I also chatted to Alan Curbishley who was as relaxed and confident as I have seen him, and this seemed to be the general mood in the camp. My wife talked to Kevin Nicholls, whose third shirt she sponsors, about the injury problems which have plagued him this year.
Getting a ticket for the away leg would have meant a return trip to The Valley and with important meetings in Brussels coming up, I had too much work to do to take the time off. Thus, I drove across Leamington to watch the match on Sky through the courtesy of Soph and Pete. This is a much more tense experience than being in the company of fellow fans.
With Bobby Robson as the guest, the slant on the Sky commentary was clear. Charlton's three defeats at the hands of Ipswich this season were much dwelt upon (ignoring the fact that they were against an Addicks side that was defensively much weaker). An attempt was also made to cast Ilic as a potentially 'dodgy' goalkeeper.
But once agan it was 'clean sheet' Ilic who contributed considerably to the 1-0 Addicks victory over Ipswich, although MoM deservedly went to Kinsella who kept popping up everywhere. He nearly put the Addicks ahead after thirty seconds with a powerful strike which nearly found the top corner of the net, but was pushed over by the Ipswich keeper. Ilic must now have equalled the record set by early 1920s player Fred Wood who later ran a confectioners and tobacconists at the bottom of Charlton Church Lane as well as playing for Bostall Heath. But it was an excellent pass played in by 'young' (B Robson) Keith Jones that put the Addicks ahead after it was put into the goal by the hapless Ipswich defender Clapham. He tried to redeem himself later with an 'unstoppable' strike which was stopped by Ilic. Ipswich continued to pile on the pressure in the second part of the first half but with impressive performances by Rufus, Youds and Mills, Charlton held on to their lead.
With the Sky commentators looking for a 3-1 Ipswich victory, Town came storming out in the opening minutes of the second half. Charlton weathered the storm, but the game became increasingly bad tempered with bookings for both sides. Former Norwich player Danny Mills, hence a marked man for the Ipswich crowd, clearly found the pressure getting to him and was sent off for a second bookable offence. This was after Charlton were denied a marginal penalty decision when the cameras showed that the handball offence occurred just within the area. A reluctant Bright (subject of a feature in the Sunday Times ) had been replaced in the 64th minute by Steve Jones and this proved to be a wise choice by Curbishley. After the sending off, Jones was often the only Charlton player in the Ipswich half, but he gave them a lot of trouble, and nearly got clear through on goal when he was brought down by an Ipswich defender. After Charlton went down to ten men, the unimpressive Heaney was replaced by Barness who was equally unimpressive. Steve Brown was subsequently brought on for a tiring Keith Jones, but saw little of the action. Ipswich showed why they will be no pushover in the return leg when Johnson came close to scoring on two occasions in injury time, once putting the ball into the side netting. However, Charlton held out and put themselves in a good position for the return leg. The one problem will be the absence of the influential and combative Danny Mills. Given Barness's lukewarm performance, one might take a risk with young Paul Konchesky.
Charlton's E Mail Addicks who had participated in a lively E mail list were stunned to be told on the afternoon of 11 May that the list was going off line with immediate effect. In a brief message, webmaster Glynne Jones, whose efforts to provide services such as Real Audio have been much appreciated, announced: 'Sadly I've been told that I can no longer run this list, or any other services related to Charlton Athletic FC, on my workstation.' E Mail Addicks immediately began contacting each other to see if an alternative service could be established.
Addicks who had not realised how much they had appreciated the E mail list until they lost it were delighted to hear on the morning of Charlton's second leg tie against Ipswich that the List was back up again. Webmaster Glynne had worked until 2 a.m. to restore a service from a machine in his own home. Overseas Addicks in particular had missed the service, and Glynne's hard work is much appreciated.
The Warwickshire Addicks set off down the M40/M25 south. Approaching the A2 turnoff, we passed a red three wheeler. Was it Rick loaded down with free copies of the Merc? We were going too fast to see, but it seemed to be a good omen. As usual, we parked in Canberra Road, outside one of the houses with a CAFC sticker. Who should turn up at that minute to go into the house but webmaster Glynne? So we were able to have a chat and I was able to thank him personally for his efforts to restore the List. Then it was off to the Rose of Denmark for pre-match drinks with a few Listers and then into the ground in time to see the Football Combination trophy presented.
The atmosphere in the ground was one of excitement, but also nervous and tense. An initiative in the Covered End had led to the distribution of score cards with '9.5' and '10' to salute Ipswich's efforts at diving. The ref stamped his authority on the game with an early yellow card for Ipswich. Charlton's nerves were put at rest by Shaun Newton, who had been giving the Tractors' defence a lot of trouble, and delivered a superb strike around the 34th minute. Earlier in the season, it was Newton's laws of motion, now it was Newton's laws of force.
Ipswich threw everything they could at Charlton after the break, but their tractors could not summon up enough power to break down the Addicks' defence. Sasa 'clean sheet' Ilic made a number of superb saves. The football offered by the Addicks was not classic, and sometimes showed signs of panic, but it did what was required. The hard working Steve Jones was replaced by Paul Mortimer, to the disappointment of some, and Morts had relatively few opportunities to display his on the ball skills. Heaney was in general rather unimpressive and is unlikely to win favour with the fans for a permanent place at The Valley. As the game neared its end, the tyres of the tractors deflated, and as the final whistle blew, The Valley erupted in a paroxyms of joyful celebration. The players and Curbs did a circuit of the pitch to receive the crowd's tribute while ticket sale arrangements for Wembley were announced. As we walked up the hill, we were passed by cars full of fans shouting 'Wem-ber-lee', one standing up through a sun roof. Transpontania was en fete and the light outside Glynne's house seemed likely to burn late. But we could not celebrate down the Royal Oak and headed home to open a bottle.
A long journey down to Charlton by train on Sunday to get my Wembley tickets. Lots of Arsenal fans at Charing Cross returning from their parade. Richard Redden's book tells us that in the 1950s Charlton's attendances were depleted by 2,000 when Arsenal were at home on the same day and there certainly still seem to be plenty of Arsenal fans in South London. Two even got off at Charlton! I noticed that the utilities housing on the top of a tower block near Deptford had the following graffiti: 'www.graffiti.org.uk'. So the Internet even invades Graffiti! I decided to opt for the singing area, so I didn't have too long to queue, whereas those at the main box office had a long wait (over six hours for some). There were rumours that some people had slept out overnight. But at least it was a warm sunny day. Then, as is increasingly becoming my habit, up to Waterloo to catch Eurostar for Brussels. Two days in a windowless room in the Square de Meeus trying to focus on tropical hot air which can't be defined, measured or priced ... Onward to Wembley!
One year ago he was playing in the Doc Marten's League. At Wembley on 25 May 1998 a save by Sasa Ilic in a sudden death penalty shoot out put Charlton into the Premiership. Contingency plans to rush Brian Cassey away under a blanket and drive him straight to Heathrow under police escort were shelved as it was realised that the Antipodean photographer had brought Charlton their final piece of luck to end a fabulous season.
Like many Addicks we were in a nervous mood on Monday morning. The time passed slowly and I even spent some time on CM2 consolidating Clyde's position in the Scottish premiership. Was the fact that we were going direct from Leamington station to the game a good omen? No, it was too late to think of omens, although my wife's intuition was that we would do it thanks to Sasa Ilic. On the train down, we looked out for fellow Addicks, but what we mostly saw were Sunderland supporters who are apparently concentrated in great numbers in 'beechy Bucks' with Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross ringing to the accents of Wearside.
We met up at Wembley with former Warwickshire addick Steve Loveday who now lives in Canada. The stadium itself was showing its age, although it looked smaller than I anticipated. Our seat up high up behind the goal gave us a good view of the pitch and of the sea of red in front of us, as well as the Charlton drummers.
Charlton started impressively and it was 23 mins. when Mendonca put in a stunning strike. I thought that we took our foot off the pedal a little as half time approached. The striking of 'To the Londoners 1-0' also worried me a bit, as it seems to me that that chant is invariably followed by an opposition equaliser. Half time saw some strange representations of birds on stilts manipulated by people with muslin over their faces coming round the track. A nearby Addick shouted 'what are you?' and for me this was the strangest piece of postmodernism I had seen since the outbreak of south coast surrealism at Pompey just before Christmas.
Peter Reid is well known for his forceful but restrained use of a wide range of English vocabulary and he had clearly been at his Biblical best during the interval as Sunderland came out as a renewed and revitalised team. One thing that had been worrying me in the first half was that wide spaces had been opening up in our defence. I was also concerned about Sasa's ability to handle crosses. It was a header from a needlessly conceded Summerbee corner that did indeed produce the equaliser from Quinn. Eight minutes later Phillips scored impressively for Sunderland. The Sunderland supporters were now in full song as they anticipated their elevation to the Premiership. Trouble broke out with quite a few Sunderland supporters in the Addicks area, while down on the track a bare chested Wearsider was brought to the ground and handcuffed. The unimpressive Heaney had in the mean time been replaced by Steve Jones who many Addicks would like to have seen on the pitch from the start.
However, Sunderland supporter Mendonca had other ideas when he scored his second and probably his best goal of the game after he split the Sunderland defence with a run. Alan Curbishley later noted the 2-2 situation as a crucial point in the game and Sunderland replied almost immediately with another strike from Quinn. For me the 2-3 deficit was the most worrying point of the game, not least because a lister had dreamed before the semi-finals that we had lost 3-2 at Wembley to Sunderland. In the 76th minute Robinson came on in place of Danny Mills and in my view immediately added a new threat to the Charlton attack. It was a Robinson corner that gave Richard Rufus his first ever Charlton goal to make it 3-3. Extra time saw the tiredness showing in the players, with Brown brought on very quickly after the re-start to replace Bright. Summerbee scored for Sunderland in the 99th minute, but Mendonca then had another brilliant finish four minutes later to score the first hat-trick in a play off final. Charlton had replicated their 4-4 score against Norwich the previous season, but in much more crucial circumstances.
So it came to the penalty shoot-out. No worries when Mendonca stepped up to score calmly. I had complete confidence in courageous Steve Brown, as I did in dependable Keith Jones and captain Mark Kinsella. Mark Bowen's experience showed, as did Robinson's skill and Newton's shot was accurate even if not as forceful as usual. The tension was by now unbearable, but what must it have been like for the players making the long walk up to the Sunderland end, or for Sasa waiting for each turn. And it was Sasa who saved Michael Gray's effort at the historic score of 7-6. This was one of the most incredible matches ever seen at Wembley, ranked alongside the Matthews final and the England-Germany world cup final by commentators. As we returned to Leamington, our Cov City supporting neighbour rushed out to share our joy. The calm of a Leamington evening was spolit as a large bottle of champagne was opened in the garden.
That evening I just watched the extra time and the shoot out, but later in the week I watched the whole video of the match. On reflection, I felt that I had been a little unfair to Heaney who did put in some good crosses (was the presence of his girl friend on the celebration bus an indication that he is to be signed?) The player who came across as outstanding on the video was Youds who was strong and determined and made some key interventions. He and Rufus are a Premiership pairing.
We rarely go to Woolwich and my wife vainly tried to identify the branch of Lloyds Bank where she worked as we headed for a very crowded Wellington Street. The bus was parked in front of the town hall and the crowd was being told by an unknown person that they had been great supporters. I found myself next to the legendary 'scarfman', but gradually found my way to the front behind a bloke even taller than me (the legendary Jeff Prior?) Some of the team including Rufus came down to our end of the street, as did Curbs and a very happy Keith Peacock. But it was an overjoyed Sasa Ilic who really worked the crowd, finally coming down to our end to greet a handicapped person. Then it was all over. On the way back to the Arsenal station I saw the tower of the now closed Co-op store in the distance which when I was very young looked like a skyscraper to me (it came to my mind when I first went to Chicago), while the store itself seemed the height of sophistication. A lot has happened since then, but few things as good as these events as we started to speculate on who our first Premiership opponents would be. At London Bridge I and a young woman supporter nearly accidentally hit each other with our furled banners, and we exchanged a few words before heading off to our respective destinations and the Premiership.
It can't be easily put into words. But when I started supporting Charlton in the 1950s we were a leading top flight club. I recently got hold of a programme for a Charlton v.Portsmouth match which marked Sam Bartram's 500th apperance and I noticed that in the table we were the leading London club. Charlton are now back where they deserve to belong. We have been under estimated all season, and now the same people are saying that this 'tiny' (no longer small) club will go straight down again. Well, they underestimate the genius of Curbs; the management skills of Peter Varney; the spirit of the team; and the loyalty of a great bunch of fans. Charlton will show that a well run club rooted in the community can compete with the top Premiership sides. Man Utd at The Valley, Charlton at Highbury, a local away game at Highfield Road .... what more could I ask for. Thank you, everyone and visit Addick's Premiership Diary next year.
Warwickshire's No.1 Addick