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!      

1 comment:

  1. Happy anniversary Ted. I used to stand on the old East Terrace with my Dad and now when I'm at a game I like to sit in a similar place, although it is a little further back I suspect. The East Terrace could only be loved by a mother as it was truly in a state of disrepair by the time we left for Selhurst if we're honest.