Thursday, 23 October 2014

20 Years Ago...

I've written previously on this blog about how I gradually fell in love with the Valley as a small boy obsessed with football stadiums and how it ultimately led me to become a Charlton Athletic fan. It was an unusual path to take, I'd be the very first to admit that, but fate works in mysterious ways. I realised late last night that yesterday's date marked the 20th anniversary of my first visit to the Valley.
It was on a cold and gloomy Saturday afternoon in mid-October 1994 - nearly 2 years after Charlton returned home - that I finally made the trip to SE7. Up until then I was regularly watching my local non-league side, Bishop's Stortford.  
I can recall traveling down so early on that day that the ticket office wasn't open and I had to wander about aimlessly on my own for hours (something I can be very good at). I think I was probably the first person through the turnstiles and nobody would have worn a grin as big as mine. Of course, the Valley had been spruced up since that glorious return that Charlton fans had fought so, so hard for and it was certainly very different from the huge, lumbering, often-neglected stadium that fascinated me so much as a young boy.

The history of a ground that was once amongst the biggest in Europe resonate in the matchday air and I loved it, just as I do today...
One major regret I still have to this day is never having stood on the old East terrace, so I guess it wasn't surprising that I chose a seat in the newly constructed East Stand for my first visit. It's as close as I'll ever get and I'm still there to this day, sat pretty much overlooking the half way line.
Unfortunately Charlton couldn't raise themselves for my big day out and we went on to lose the game 2-1 against Burnley, playing pretty poorly, as I recall. The late, great David Whyte scored Charlton's only goal and I will always remember him fondly for that.
To the detriment of Bishop's Stortford F.C, I knew after that first visit there was no going back (something I do feel genuinely guilty about, even though I still attend Stortford matches whenever I can). In 20 years I've missed less than a dozen games at the Valley, edging close to 500 matches I would guess (I've never actually kept count), witnessed three promotions, three heartbreaking relegations and travelled around 50,000 miles back and forth from Hertfordshire (almost entirely on my own, I might add).
I'll never tire of emerging from under the railway arch on Ransom Walk (pic above) on a matchday and seeing the Valley open up in front of me. Just like the very first time, the hope and anticipation lifts me. It's what Saturdays are all about. It's something I can't live without.  
So many memories, both good and bad. Tears of joy on occasions but plenty more in utter despair. If I had to pick one single game at the Valley that stands out, then I'd have to say the 4-2 victory against Chelsea on Boxing day in 2003. What a day that was!      

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Depleted But Victorious...

Ravaged by injuries, unnervingly short of experienced squad options and with the statistics of the game once again heavily against us, Charlton somehow managed their 4th home victory of the season last night against a decent-looking Bolton side who must be hoping their fortunes will improve under the thoroughly dislikable Neil Lennon. I say somehow, but not for the first time this season Charlton have a solid defense to thank for providing a platform to grab vital points.
Henderson, Wilson, Bikey and Ben Haim looked comfortable and in control throughout; Wiggins looked mightily relieved when tricky winger, Liam Feeney, was replaced just after the hour. I have no idea why Lennon replaced one of their greatest attacking threats so early, but thankfully he did.     
His form has been indifferent lately, but loosing Buyens for Friday's game at Fulham is a big blow. The midfielder picked up his 5th yellow card of the season and will sit out the televised clash. On occasions, the hard-working Belgian loanee can produce classy and really intelligent passing but is woefully wasteful with others. Even so, Charlton play their best football when he's on top of his game and it's hard to see how Peeters will fill the gap on Friday night. The most obvious option would be to bring Cousins into the middle. It may be a blessing; Cousins is never a wide midfielder and being continually played out of position is affecting his game and peoples opinions of him, which is tough on the lad.
I remain unconvinced regarding Bulot. The Gabonese midfielder looks lightweight and has offered very little going forward and even less defensively. The same might be said of Moussa, although I think I can see something in Franck that could easily leave you open-mouthed as he produces a piece of magic out of nowhere. We continue to wait patiently for both to kick into gear.
And then there's George.
Tududean will forever divide opinion. That much is sure. Little else about the Romanian Striker is as easily predictable. For nearly half an hour Tucudean lay on the Valley grass, arms out wide, appealing for yet another 'foul' that never was. I wondered why he doesn't use his sizable frame to attempt holding up the ball for once. He's clearly not short of ability on the ball. Frustrations inside the Valley grew steadily, and then George goes and produces a magic moment with a left foot strike and Charlton are one-zero to the good out of nothing. Later in the game he set up Johnnie Jackson for what proved a well-taken winner. On the balance of things, he deserved his standing ovation when he was substituted in injury time, but it's a fine balance!
A hard-fought win and 22 points after 13 games. Nobody would have predicted that when Big Bob was appointed. It's not always been pretty to watch, but sometimes it has been and there can be few valid complaints at the moment. Some of the chaps around me last night were discussing the rumour that Big Bob is about to be relocated within 'the network'. Standard Liege are struggling, and some think Peeters is the man to sort them out. I hate speculation. Comments after the game from Big Bob would suggest their are no foundation to the rumours, thankfully. Let's hope Roland feels the same. 
I'll be at Craven Cottage on Friday, but won't be going with high expectations given the growing injury list and lack of squad depth and experience. I'm hoping the game of football won't spoil a good few beers with friends.      

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Cheap Seats...

I was pleasantly surprised to read this morning that Charlton have the 'honour' of offering the cheapest season ticket in England's top four divisions. BBC Sport's 'Price of Football' study can be found here. What didn't make for such good reading was that buying a season ticket has increased around twice the rate of the cost of living. Shocking!
I was interested to see that on the clubs website it is claimed those £150 tickets in question have now completely sold out. The Club stated "Season tickets priced at just £150 for adults in Zone 6, which is situated in Block A of the East Stand, proved extremely popular and have now completely sold out". No great surprise there. I remember, however, when the new pricing structure was announced being more than a tad concerned about the impact of those cheaper seats (situated in block A of the graphic above) with no discernible way for the club to manage the movement of those ticket holders who may attempt to 'sneak' into other neighbouring blocks to gain a better view (I couldn't blame them). I had visions of numerous matchday issues with people sat in the seats of others. I'm not sure if that has proved the case, but all I do know is block A is not full to capacity on a matchday, meaning there has undoubtedly been a migration to other area by some. 
I sit in block E, and along with Block D, enjoy the most expensive view the Valley has to offer at £520. I also have a junior ticket for my boy priced at £75 which I think is truly outstanding value. I try not to think too deeply as to whether I've received value for money down the years (I certainly did during those heady Premiership days).
Does it annoy me that there is a £370 difference in the cost of my seat over someone who has paid for Block A, but whom could feasibly sit in the spare seats around me? Yes, it does a bit, if I'm honest. But that's life. We all have choices.
The release of this report, which I note has already been heavily featured on radio and T.V, will reflect well on Charlton and the new ownership. Another small positive step forward...

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Lead By Example...

Be honest, who was stupid wise enough to have predicted that beforehand?
Despite the unrelenting wave of yellow and green that pounded Charlton's defense time and time again, Peeters new-look Charlton impressively held firm and a late, late Johnnie Jackson goal gave the Addicks a perfect 'smash and grab' victory. As results go, it's hard to imagine there will be a more significant one all season, and one that comes against greater odds.
Back up to 7th. Still unbeaten going into October.
As Charlton's impressive unbeaten run continues, so does my poor run of non-attendance for away matches. I should have been at Carrow Road last night; I had bought a ticket. It would have been my first away trip of the season and I was very much looking forward to it. Unfortunately my wife's Granddad passed away a couple of weeks ago and the funeral was arranged for yesterday. I missed one of those classic nights that will long live in the memory of those who were there, but some things are more important than football matches. Having spent an uplifting day remembering the life of 'Granddad Mac', who stood impressively at the head of his large family well into his 80's, I was reminded of how important it is to have a leader driving you on by example.
In the same respect, Charlton are very, very fortunate to have Johnnie Jackson.
Even to this day, one of my greatest Charlton memories occurred in late '96 when, after loosing every away game up until that point, a wonderful long range Mark Kinsella goal secured a 2-1 victory over Norwich at Carrow Road. Kinsella was the quintessential captain of that time and so is Johnnie Jackson now.
For me, Johnnie remains the very essence of what 'being Charlton' is all about. All my hopes and dreams dragged forward, sometimes majestically, other times by brut force and sheer effort, by a man who I believe cares as much as I do. Read this from fellow Charlton blogger and wordsmith, Kyle Andrews. The opening few paragraphs left me glassy-eyed, the remainder a perfect piece of writing from someone who is always at the games.
When I knew I wasn't going to make the match I gave my ticket away rather than see it go to waste. The recipient would have enjoyed a great end to the night stood amongst the travelling Addicks. But, to be fair, I had a great end to a very emotional day stood alone in my kitchen listening intently on the radio, sharing numerous texts back and forth with my mum as we both urged the Addicks on, nervously expecting the worst until the last few moments.
I struggled to sleep after a long day, but I bounced out of bed this morning...