Friday 25 May 2012

The Greatest Game - 14 Years On...

A brief look at the date today and my mind instantly drifted back 14 years to 1998 and that monumental match which would later be known as 'The Greatest Game'. Perhaps more significantly, a few years back it was voted the 19th greatest game of football ever played...and I am proud and honoured to say I was at Wembley Stadium that day to witness drama of the highest order. The picture above is a montage of a series of images I took from my seat behind the goal that day (with a disposable camera, no less! How times have changed?).

I absolutely love that image because, although poor quality, it represents an everlasting and cherished snapshot of one of the most memorable days of my life. Looking through that image and on to the pitch evokes so many memories, both good and bad.

Like anyone there, including those fantastic Sunderland fans, I went through a range of emotions throughout that whole day that are incomparable to anything I'd ever encountered before or since, and I can honestly say that I never, ever want to go through that again!

It was total agony and despair, elation and euphoria mixed up in one bubbling cauldron that just wouldn't calm down. The relentless noise inside that ageing old stadium was unbelievable. For not a single moment until Sasa Ilic saved Micheal Gray's penalty was anyone able to relax, and even then, the impact of that moment hit me like a sledgehammer. It was days after before I came back down to earth. 

The game ebbed and flowed back and forth and I have so many memories of individual moments that have been lodged deep inside my brain ever since. The moment  Mendonca (a boyhood Sunderland fan) controls Kieth Jones through-ball for our second goal will live with me forever and that goal is one of my all time favourites. I can recall rising from my seat and thinking "if he gets the second touch right we've scored". It seemed to take an eternity for the ball to hit the net. Oh, the despair when Nial Quinn scored their 3rd, before the elation of Rufus equalised so late on with what was his first goal for the club (the Addickted behind the goal was quite literally sucking the ball goalward). Steve Brown's crunching tackle that led to our 4th goal. The agony of watching Newton step up for a penalty convinced he wasn't going to score. How pleased I was to be wrong. The rest, as they say, is history.  

The Greatest Game...

On my wall at home is a framed time-delay image of Sasa saving that penalty. What a moment? What a day?

Friday 18 May 2012

Progressive Sounds...

One subject I don't believe I've ever really spoken about on this blog (in part, for obvious reasons considering the dominant theme) is my long-standing deep love of music, and I was saddened to hear of the passing of disco diva, Donna Summer, whom died from cancer yesterday aged just 63.

By some coincidence, in recent weeks I'd revisited the track to which she is perhaps best know, 'I Feel Love', and it is currently part of my playlist when I go out for a run (the full 12" version). I'd caught one of those brilliant late night BBC 4 documentaries recently on the conceptual stages of the disco scene in NYC and that track featured heavily. It is commonly accepted as the first mainstream disco tune and it has not aged one bit in the 35 years since it was made. If it was re-released today, it would stand up magnificently against the endless pop drivel churned out by men more interested in money than product.

I will always retain fond memories of that particular song as my Dad, who was no great music fan, absolutely loved that tune and it was played in our house quite regularly in the early 80's. I can remember him breaking into song when it came on the radio in the car once and me staring at him from the back seat: listening to the beat intently, mesmerised. Of course, as you get a bit older you begin to recognise how those brief moments in your life may well have influenced and shaped you.

The thing with I Feel Love is that relentless electronic beat, which was created by the Italian music producer, Giorgio Moroder, and was the progressive sound of a brand new music form. It is without question he would have been heavily influenced by the German band Kraftwerk (of whom I was to discover some years after), who themselves were breaking boundaries with their own electronic style of music, but he and Summer was taking that sound in a totally different direction. 

Looking back, I was clearly fascinated by it. This wasn't about the disco one bit: it was just recognising alternative music forms and appreciating different sounds.

By the mid-80's I'd got heavily into hip hop, which was another brand new music form of the day, before dropping back in timelines to a rather hazy period of Pink Floyd and Zepplin. From there, I've embraced every genre of music from every corner of the globe, from latin jazz, traditional African music or Scandinavian folk.    

In many ways, Donna Summer has a lot to answer for! RIP.

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Exceeding Expectations...

Johnnie Jackson when asked about lifting the Cup: "I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I'll probably give it a bit of a smacker and lift it as high as I can".

Well that's it then. Season over. Charlton Athletic, League One Champions. What a truly unbelievable season that will live long in the memory. I'm totally blown away by it all, if I'm honest. This promotion represents something far bigger than simply escaping the third tier of English football. This was the end of 7 years of gut-wrenching despair and decline when, at one stage, I even began to wonder if I would even have a club to support before long. Chris Powell has made an immeasurable difference to Charlton. What a man! Full credit to the new owners and Mr. Murray for recognising this club needed to regain it's pride and identity and for bringing in the only man who knew the club and supporters well enough to stand any chance of delivering it.

Sir or a Saint? God knows!
There can't be a football team the world over where the manager is so universally loved by each and every supporter. Not even King Kenny at Liverpool or Sir Alec at United could boast of such undivided support. When Chris Powell addressed the crowd after the game on Saturday there would barely have been a dry eye in the Valley. As Sir Chris paused for breath, the moment when the North Upper spontaneously sang 'We've Got Our Charlton Back' summed things up perfectly for every single Addick that has suffered down the years. Thankfully, Mark Ritson captured the moment wonderfully in his excellent compilation footage of the day which can be found here.

There will be plenty of time in the next few months to debate our prospects in the Championship, but personally, I just want to savour every last drop of this season before worrying about next year!

The only disappointing news that has come out of the Valley in some time is the announcement we will have an all black away strip next season from new kit suppliers, Nike. I think our current white away jersey has been one of the best designs ever (arguably better than the home jersey) and I will be sorry to see it go. For me, black should be reserved for the match officials.  

With the close season now upon us, my posts are likely to be less frequent for a while. Many thanks to anyone who has taken time to read anything I have written this season and especially those who have commented along the way. It is always greatly appreciated. This blog was born out of those darker days (I guess it acted like some sort of therapy, to some degree) and so it is hugely rewarding to be able to post my personal take on such a wonderful season. There are some fantastic Charlton bloggers out there and to feature amongst them in some small way is a great honour. Never has there been a time when social media has bought fans closer together, and I genuinely feel like I've shared this experience with every single Addick out there.   

I shall leave you with Martin Toal's rousing and emotional rendition of Nessun Dorma before Saturday's game and bid you a most pleasant summer break. 

Saturday 5 May 2012

Unforgettable Day...

A truly unforgettable day at The Valley! I simply can't smile wide enough. Still absolutely buzzing and enjoying a celebratory drink (or two), so perhaps tomorrow is a better day to make sense of it all in a bit more detail. Until's a few images and some video footage of the day through my eyes! Forever Charlton...proud to be an Addick!

Floyd Road bustling with happy Addicks

Smiling faces outside The Valley

The Red Devils drop in to deliver the match ball!
Sold Out! A packed Valley shows it's colours

Johnnie Jackson lifts the League One Trophy

Breton warrior Yann Kermorgant shows off the trophy

Big Yann and his medal

Friday 4 May 2012

Like A Kid Before Christmas...

From this...

Almost two years ago I wrote this piece the morning after Charlton lost the play-off semi final to Swindon at The Valley. That agonising penalty shoot-out defeat has to rank as one of the lowest moments I've experienced watching football; far greater than the disappointment of seeing the Addicks relegated 3 times. When Nicky Bailey sliced his penalty high into the night sky, Charlton's dreams of escaping the 3rd tier of English football at the first time of asking disappeared along with it. The Addicks were no longer brief guests of League One - too big for this division - this now felt scarily like home. In truth, the season was far from convincing all along despite it's dramatic end, and perhaps the hardest thing to come to terms with was the harsh, gut-wrenching realisation that the decline had not necessarily halted following relegation from the Premier league in 2007. There could well be more dark days ahead. Very tough times.

When they took control of the club at the start of 2011, even the new owners recognised that these were desperate times and urged us to "please don't give up on your team" in a letter sent out to season ticket holders. The gates dropped alarmingly; the floating fan drifted off to find something better to do. The die-hards continued hoping.

Yes, there are more important things in life than football, and I know in my heart my priorities should sometimes be different, but if I could just have a pound for every time I've wished for better days...  

Back in May 2010 I lamented that there would still be dark days ahead "unless a knight in shinning armour is riding in to SE7 at this very moment". Ok, things were not quite that literal, but in mid-January of 2011 he did arrive (or should I say, come home) in the familiar shape of Charlton legend, Chris Powell...or 'Sir Chris Powell' to his adoring public. Starting with a bang, Powell lead Charlton to 4 straight wins before facing his own tussle with the dark forces determined to drag Charlton further into the depths. So much needed to change and the big question was whether this young manager would be able to turn around the listing hulk that was Charlton Athletic. The die hards kept the faith and continued hoping.

But just like in the comic books, heroes always rise victorious in the end, and Chris Powell could not have made a more dramatic difference to The Addicks and I could not love the man more for it. In simple terms, Sir Chris has given us our Charlton back. The against-all-odds spirit that made me fall in love with a club to which I had no natural connection as a youngster is back.

To this...

Champions of League One...nobody in their right mind could have dreamt that in a million years!

And tomorrow we, the fans, are rewarded for our loyalty as the club puts on a show in our last game of the season. The Valley will be packed to the rafters: SOLD OUT!

There will be numerous events in advance of kick-off, which include strong rumours that the League One trophy will be parachuted into The Valley by the Red Devils, no less, with more events planned for half time. The football has become almost irrelevant to the overall occasion (although to equal the points record for this division would be the icing on the cake).

And what better opposition than Hartlepool United, who, for some years now, have a fantastic tradition of wearing coordinated fancy dress to their final away match of the season. The Valley will be awash with colour anyway, but it appears we will be joined by hundreds of Smurfs in the away end. Top marks for the effort, chaps, you will add to the occasion wonderfully.

And then there will be the sight of talismanic skipper, Johnny Jackson lifting that glorious trophy! Even the thought of it makes my eyes glaze over!!!

Sir Chris

Just after Sir Chris was appointed I wrote "My heart aches with a desire to see Chris Powell lead my favourite football team to glory". Sometimes the things you wish for do come true!

Like a kid on the night before Christmas...I just simply cannot wait for tomorrow to come around.