Charlton’s indifferent start to the season can be summed up in one stat. The Addicks have failed to win two games in succession throughout the entire campaign. Impressive wins have been followed by sluggish draws or disappointing defeats.
But, after an outstanding performance in the 2-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night, hopes were high that the visit of Ipswich Town would provide Chris Powell’s side with their second three points in the space of five days.
With Powell naming the same side, the home supporters were anticipating a repeat performance of fast paced, attacking football from that confidence boosting win in midweek. But, in one of football’s great unsolved conundrums, it’s often the case that the same 11 players can go from marvellous to hopeless in the space of a few days.
Whilst Ipswich executed the perfect smash and grab away display, frustrating the home side for 90 minutes with their resolute and structured defending, the Addicks were flat, error prone and unable to utilise the wings in the same manner which proved so fruitful against Doncaster. Charlton rarely caused any concern to the visitors.
Once again the Addicks failed to record back-to-back wins, with the Tractor Boys coming away from SE7 with a well-deserved 1-0 victory.
On the day that Charlton celebrated the 21st anniversary of their return home, at least one member of the home support was making his first trip to The Valley.
“I’m from Greece, I support Olympiakos, I chose Charlton because of the red and white”, said the character that stopped me to ask for directions after arriving at Charlton station. That he also asked if he would be able to get a ticket suggested he wasn’t quite aware just how far apart Charlton Vs Ipswich was to a game at the home of the Greek giants. I thought I’d let him find out for himself.
Although a world away from Champions League football, he can’t have failed to have been impressed by the video on the big screen detailing the Addicks’ return to The Valley. It seemed appropriate to celebrate such an anniversary with the Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust securing the future of The Valley on Friday night admits reports that a prospected takeover could see Charlton move away from the home the worked so hard to make their own again.
But Charlton’s defence couldn’t emulate the protection the ACV brings to The Valley as they were overawed by a quick-starting Ipswich. The celebratory atmosphere could have vanished at any time during the first five minutes, with Ben Alnwick on hand to save well from David McGoldrick inside the first minute after he capitalised on some sloppy play by the Addicks (a theme of the afternoon) to break through on goal.
The resulting corner was met powerful by the head of Aaron Cresswell at the near post, but a combination of ‘keeper and Dale Stephens managed to block the effort and divert the ball behind for another corner.
Ipswich’s second consecutive flag-kick caused even more panic in the Charlton defence as Daryl Murphy headed towards goal with Alnwick performing miracles to keep out the forward and Christophe Berra, whose follow up effort was superbly saved by the man replacing the injured Ben Hamer. Cole Skuse volleyed over after Charlton half-cleared, and the Addicks were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief.
But that relief lasted barely more than three minutes as another corner from the visitors gave them the lead with five on the clock. Cresswell’s delivery found Tommy Smith in the middle, with the New Zealander leaping almost unchallenged to head past Alnwick via a deflection off a Charlton body. A poor goal to concede by the home side, who had failed to learn the lesson of previous set-plays, but it was hard to argue Ipswich weren’t good value for their lead.
With plenty of time left in the game, Charlton were far from out of it, but they needed to find their feet quickly. No one challenged for Michael Morrison’s inviting header across the face of goal, whilst a glanced header from Stephens caused a muttering of premature celebrations from the home fans as it sailed just wide. Frustrating, but the openings just two minutes after going behind suggested Town would have their work cut out to hold onto their lead.
Alas, Charlton struggled to get a hold of the game thereafter, taking far too much time on the ball and forcing themselves to hit desperate long balls forward in the hope Yann Kermorgant would create something with a flick on or Simon Church would chase down and win a lost cause. Their effort couldn’t be faulted, but, with both wings and the midfield ineffective, there’s only so much they could do on their own.
Jordan Cousins for the home side and McGoldrick for the visitors both skewed efforts horribly off-target from inviting positions, before the Addicks finally carved out an opening from the previously unused right wing. Lawrie Wilson drove into the box after Cameron Stewart had laid the ball back to him, but the curly-haired full-back’s ball across the face of goal skipped agonisingly beyond Church in the middle.
Church was again a matter of inches from connecting with a delivery after Kermorgant’s volleyed ball into Ipswich’s area came his way, but a crucial header from Skuse prevented the Welshman from levelling. Charlton’s following corner was wasted; the difference between the two sides.
The Addicks still hadn’t tested Dean Gerken in the Town goal, but an over-hit cross almost caught the ‘keeper off guard. Wiggins misdirected delivery became a testing effort on goal as Gerken, with the assistance of the post, scrambled to keep his clean sheet intact.
Although Charlton were coming forward, the restlessness in The Covered End was clear for all to see and hear. Every minor error was met with moans and groans, with disastrous long balls and misplaced passes angering The Valley faithful. Dorian Dervite’s tame header, from a position in which he at least should have tested Gerken, at goal after Kemorgant’s nod across goal only increased the animosity.
Murphy’s shot straight at Alnwick was the final action of the opening 45, with the Addicks leaing the field to a chorus of unnecessary boos; a bright second half start from Charlton was needed to get the crowd back on side.
That bright start was almost provided two minutes into the half by Johnnie Jackson. The skipper found space inside the box with a clear sight of goal, but his angle was narrowed after he delayed his shot and he was closed down. The effort he eventually had on goal was blocked by Gerken and cleared away by the Ipswich defence. It was something to lift the despondent mood inside The Valley, at least.
McGoldrick tested Alnwick again, but the ‘keeper saved the long range drive comfortably, whilst Wilson’s volleyed cross almost dipped in with Gerken backpedalling and tipping the ball away for a corner. The resulting delivery was met by the head of Morrison, but he couldn’t emulate his opposing centre back’s effort in the first half as Gerken calmly collected yet another tame Charlton effort on goal.
The chances kept coming for both sides as McGoldrick, ever a threat, forced Alnwick into another relatively comfortable save, whilst Stephens fired well over from range, but the threat Ipswich continued to cause and Charlton’s wasteful nature in front of goal had once again increased the frustration amongst the home fans.
And when Church, who had caused more problems to Ipswich’s defence than any other a player in a red shirt, was bizarrely substituted with 20 minutes to play, it seemed as if all hope was lost of a Charlton comeback.
Joe Pigott replaced the Welsh forward, whilst Danny Green was also introduced in place of Jackson, meaning the Addicks would now have to make do without his leadership qualities in a situation that was crying out for them.
But Pigott was involved straight away after leaving the bench, teeing up Stewart to strike at goal and force Gerken into a save low down to his right.
However, both Pigott and Green offered little after that, with Green struggling to beat the first man with any crossing opportunity he had and Pigott coming up second best in his aerial battles with Smith and Berra.
With the Addicks struggling to create anything, Powell threw on Marvin Sordell with five minutes to go, and he should have been claiming the assist for the goal that drew Charlton level in stoppage time had it not been for referee Duncan’s hastiness to give a free-kick.
Charlton maintained possession after Kermorgant was fouled by Berra and Sordell’s superb ball found its way through to Stewart with a clear sight of goal, but Duncan opted to bring play back for the foul despite the Addicks having an obvious advantage. It summed up the frustrating afternoon.
The free-kick was pumped long and skipped off the head of Morrison before going out of play, but defender sparked a brawl that resulted in a yellow for himself and former Charlton forward (as much as we would like to forget he ever was) Frank Nouble
That signalled the end of Charlton’s chances, and boos once again serenaded the players as they left the pitch; not the way many envisaged celebrating the return to The Valley’s anniversary. The booing was somewhat harsh and certainly not needed, but the frustration and disappointment was felt by every Addick.
Praise must go to Ipswich first and foremost. Their lightening quick start won them the game, whilst the pace at which they closed down a Charlton man every time a player in red received the ball prevented the Addicks from replicating the football displayed on Tuesday night. It certainly wasn’t pretty, but Mick McCarthy’s men ground out the result to perfection.
But, despite Ipswich’s resolute display, Charlton were lacklustre and well below the standards of recent weeks. Time and time again a hopeful punt up field lost the Addicks possession, whilst promising attacks often broke down with a poor pass or an over/under hit cross from an attractive position. Whilst the stats suggest Charlton were on top, with 60% possession, that certainly isn’t how it felt watching the game pan out across the course of 90 minutes. Our friend from Greece must have regretted not choosing another red and white English team.
Whilst Alnwick kept the Addicks in the game early on, his distribution was dreadful and got worse as the game went on. His performance certainly made me appreciate Hamer more than I already did.
In front of him, Dervite and Morrison did well enough in the air, but the pair took far too much time on the ball, with the Frenchman especially appearing to be playing in slow-motion. Like the centre backs, Wilson and Wiggins did well defensively, but their wing play was poor with crosses mishit on most occasions.
At times, the midfield was completely forgotten about with back to front long balls exclusively being played, meaning Stephens and Cousins didn’t have the chance to make any sort of statement on the game. Likewise, Stewart couldn’t express himself in the manner in which he did on Tuesday night, whilst Jackson failed to create much out on the left.
As mentioned previously, Kermorgant and Church gave their all, with Kemorgant winning most of his headers and Church continuing to chase everything until he was taken off, and the pair can’t be blamed for the lack of serious chances created with the service they were given poor.
The fact that two players, in Green and Pigott, who aren’t good enough for this division came on when Charlton were chasing the game shows just how little Powell has to play with and how much investment is desperately needed. With just over a month until the transfer window opens, every Addick, including Powell, will be praying investment occurs sooner rather than later.
The most impressive characteristic of Chris Powell’s Charlton is their ability to come out fighting when their backs are against the wall. Whether that be turning certain defeat into a win over the course of 90 minutes or picking up three points in a high pressure game, the flat-capped wearing boss always gets his side out of the mire.
Despite two relatively impressive displays against Leeds United and Queens Park Rangers, two defeats in two meant the Addicks had slipped to 21st, just three points above the drop, and were in desperate need of a victory to alleviate the mounting pressure.
But that league table pressure was unfair on the Addicks; lying so close to the bottom three was not a fair reflection of the upturn in performances since the start of October. There was always a high quality display and, crucially, three points within this Charlton side.
Doncaster Rovers could only stand still and watch in awe as the Addicks controlled the game with a combination of steady midfield build up and direct endeavour down the wing. 2-0 might have been the final score, and the victory sealed, but the win should have been by a much greater margin. This was a typical Chris Powell directed performance with the pressure mounting and, arguably, the most dominant Charlton display of the season.
Of course, Charlton were fortunate to claim the three points in the grand scheme of things. The previous meeting between these two sides was postponed with Doncaster leading 3-1, but the unplayable conditions meant playing the game again was the fairest thing to do.
And travel chaos threatened to disrupt this rearranged fixture, with signal failure sending London Bridge into meltdown and forcing hoards of both home and away fans to fight their way to The Valley by tube, bus and boot.
Those who were still outside SE7 with less than 30 minutes until kick-off would have started to wonder if it would be one of those nights as their Twitter feeds were full of news that ever present Charlton ‘keeper Ben Hamer had suffered an injury in the warm up and would be replaced by debutant Ben Alnwick. Although the return of Yann Kermorgant lifted spirits, surely this was a recipe for disaster?
Those fears should have been calmed somewhat after just two minutes as Simon Church latched onto a seemingly over hit chip from Jordan Cousins and shot from close range with his second touch. The Valley erupted in earnest; the ball trickled wide. The gaps from the home fans coincided with Church’s head falling into his hands. The evidence for it being ‘one of those nights’ was growing.
But Charlton were in superb form and certainly didn’t look like the side most likely to lose this one. Particularly catching the eye was Cameron Stewart, who had been moved to the right flank in place of Bradley Pritchard and looked far more suited to such a role. He impressed with flashy flicks and tricks, not to mention doing the simple stuff well in combination with both Cousins and Dale Stephens in the middle and Lawrie Wilson at right back.
Only Federico Macheda’s movement was causing any concerns for Charlton, with a couple of Doncaster crosses heading towards the Manchester United loanee before an Addick headed clear. All Anwick had to do in the first 20 minutes was collect a Rhoys Wiggins tackle than inevitably headed towards goal.
It was a steady start by Charlton, but a start that lacked chances. A cynical foul on Kermorgant was the catalyst for a host of Charlton half chances and near misses that increased both the positivity and frustrating inside The Valley.
Kermorgant dusted himself down and curled a free-kick not too far over Ross Turnball’s bar, but the Frenchman was a whisker away from giving Charlton the lead moments later. A low Wiggins cross found its way through to Kermorgant and the forward’s first time shot looked for all the world to be heading in. Again a faint whisper of celebratory noise began, but ended in gasps as the effort came back off the post.
Charlton were pilling on the pressure and a similar ball across goal, this time from Stewart’s right, was left to Jackson to hammer at goal. His well struck effort was superbly saved by Turnball, displaying the qualities of a man who has a number of Chelsea appearances to his name. There was a sense of inevitability Charlton would be made to pay for missing chances.
The Addicks fans were getting restless. Well, the Addicks fan that is always restless behind me was once again restless, berating Charlton’s ‘keeper for not disposing of the ball quick enough. I might have taken his comments seriously had he not decided Hamer was the man between the sticks. A later outburst at Wiggins for a rash clearance led to another fan shouting ‘yeah, take that Evina’. There’s nothing like football ground comedy.
However, there is something better than football ground comedy; witnessing a piece of footballing genius to give your side the lead in a crucial contest. Stewart’s 39th minute cross was headed away by the Doncaster defence, but only as far to Stephens on the edge of the area. The ball looped up and took an eternity to come down, enough time for your writer to wish for him not to shoot, but the playmaker timed his volley to perfection and found the far top corner. Stewart’s strike against Leeds suddenly felt a bit dull. This was sensational.
After Church made the most of a defensive mishap to tee up Kermorgant to finish into an empty net, it looked as if Charlton would double their lead just a minute later, but the Frenchman’s outside of the boot effort from 25 yards swerved wide of goal. A half-hearted offside flag just about saved his blushes.
Whilst the lead was just a solitary goal, the chance remained that Charlton’s wastefulness would cost them, and when Macheda danced into the box and left three defenders in red wrong footed, it looked like it would. But the Italian blasted his shot over the bar from a promising position.
As half-time arrived, finally there was a sense this would be Charlton’s night, even after Church failed to turn in Stewart’s driven cross from a matter of inches out.
The second half began from where the first left off; Doncaster causing few concerns to a very comfortable Charlton. It didn’t take long for Turnball to be tested against as Wilson, via the help of a lucky deflection, was able to break into the box and fire a shot away from a tight angle, but the ‘keeper got down well to block and Cousins’ long range effort in the aftermath sailed over the bar.
It was only a matter of time before the Addicks had their second, and the most deserving man of a goal on the pitch struck with an hour gone to surely put the game out of the away side’s reach. A defence splitting ball from Johnnie Jackson, occupying a wide left position, found Church, and the Welshman sprinted forward before coolly finishing past Turnball via the post. As is customary, Jackson cut the most heroic figure during the celebrations, making sure the Covered End knew just how much that goal meant to the players.
With the game all but secure, the pressure seemed to lift from Charlton’s shoulders and they played out the final 30 minutes in exciting fashion. Much of that exciting play came from Stewart, who forced Turnball into an excellent save before unleashing a vicious drive that cannoned back off the crossbar moments later.
It had got to the point where a 2-0 defeat almost flattered Doncaster, and no one who witnessed Church’s final impact on the game before being replaced will quite understand how it wasn’t at least three. Turnball was at it again, making a double save from Jackson and Stephens, but the ball landed at the feet of Church with the ‘keeper stranded on the deck. In the Welshman’s defence, he did have his back to goal, and in turning to tap home into the empty net, Church fell over his own feet and passed up the easiest of opportunities to score. Needless to say, aforementioned restless man wasn’t happy with Luke Varney’s miss.
Theo Robinson’s introduction had given the away side a bit of spark in the closing moments, and his shot forced Alnwick into his first real save of the night. The ‘keeper might well have held onto it, but his strong palm away was enough to keep his debut clean sheet intact as stoppage time passed with incident.
A crucial victory for the Addicks, and one that was celebrated by flat-capped Chris Powell doing his traditional fist pump jump to the hardy souls who had fought through transport chaos and the cold to witness an outstanding Charlton display.
It must be said that Doncaster were surprisingly weak, but this was a special Charlton performance that deserves all the praise it gets.
Alnwick, although fair from confident, did his job well enough, although I live in hope that Hamer’s injury isn’t too serious. The ‘keeper’s life was made all the easier by Michael Morrison and Dorian Dervite winning the vast majority of their headers and halting Doncaster attacks whenever they did break out. Wilson and Wiggins, as has been the case for the past month or two, were excellent going forward and at the back.
Jackson’s workman like performance out on the left was a joy to behold; the man’s legendary status grows by the week, whilst Cousins again improved his reputation with another steady performance in the centre of midfield.
Kermorgant was Kermorgant and a little bit more, winning headers, holding up play and popping up in midfield to help with the defensive work time and time again. The Addicks are certainly a weaker side without the Frenchman involved.
But the trio worthy of most praise were crucial in deciding the course of the game. Forget Church’s finishing, his endeavour and work away from goal was incredible. Whilst he may have had a hat-trick, running himself into the ground and his goal make up for that.
Stephens’ goal was one of the best seen at The Valley in my lifetime, but his performance was so much more than that. He pulled the strings in midfield, ending Doncaster moves and starting Charlton ones. After a slightly indifferent performance at QPR, he was back to his high quality best.
But the real stand out was Stewart. Time and time again the Hull loanee drove at his defender and left him for dead, whether that be through trickery or sheer pace; Doncaster were scared of him. Moving out to the right worked wonders for him, and there was even an end product to go with his flashy build-up play, something that had previously been missing.
Although clichéd, this result will mean nothing if it’s not followed up by victory against Ipswich Town on Saturday. A performance of a similar level, with some clinical finishing, and Ipswich will have to do a lot to prevent the Addicks’ from taking all three points.
Queens Park Rangers’ 18 man squad for the game against Charlton contained a total of 338 international caps spread across 12 players. Charlton’s squad contained 25, all belonging to Simon Church. QPR spent roughly £10,000,000 on transfers in the summer, not to mention the big money wages some of their players are on. Charlton didn’t spend a penny.
These aren’t excuses; these are facts. How can Chris Powell’s side be expected to compete against such a squad? It’s men against boys; players with experience at the highest level against a team of relative nobodies to most outside of SE7.
But for everything this Charlton side lack in ability, they go a long way to making up for in fight, determination and endeavour. This bunch of ‘triers’ assembled on a shoe string did their absolute utmost to compete with Harry Redknapp’s superstars.
At no point were the Addicks completely out of the game, rarely were they overawed and at times applied enough pressure on their opponents to make them worry, but a moment of brilliance, the sort you pay millions for, was enough to give QPR all three points. Charlie Austin’s wonder goal was all that split these two incomparable sides in the 90 minutes on Loftus Road’s turf.
The Rs showed their class from the off, comfortably knocking the ball around at pace in midfield and forcing Charlton onto the back foot. Patient and composed defending from the away side was needed. The Addicks lacked those much needed defensive traits as Niko Kranjcar broke into the penalty area in the opening stages after some fortunate deflections off Charlton legs, but the Croat rushed his shot and sliced horribly wide.
Charlton struggled to get out of their half, Simon Church was isolated on his own up top as attacks rarely concluding in or around the area when they did breach forward, with QPR in complete control. The home side continued to convert their possession into a number of early chances as a Dorian Dervite block from Jermaine Jenas’ goal bound effort kept the shot on target tally down, but Austin came close to given his side the lead with just over ten minutes gone. The poacher, leading QPR’s line in a 4-5-1 formation, got in behind Charlton’s back four and took his chance early, striking a sweet effort across goal that was parried away strongly by Ben Hamer, who made another save seconds later as Joey Barton collected the rebound and teed up Gary O’Neil to shoot straight into the Charlton custodian’s hands.
If the course of a football game was decided by the level of noise admitted from the fans, Charlton would have been well on top. The travelling 1,800, despite watching the opening passages of play whilst nail biting, didn’t stop; QPR’s all but sold out home support never got going but for the claps given to Barton to outweigh the Charlton boos every time he took a corner. All the Addicks had to cheer and applaud in the opening 25 minutes was some impressive last ditch defending, not least Bradley Pritchard’s crucial interception to prevent Barton from having a golden scoring opportunity.
The resulting corner was eventually gathered by Hamer and his outstanding kick forward set up a Charlton break as Church drove towards goal. With Cameron Stewart free on the left and Pritchard in support just behind, the Welshman opted to cut inside and fire a shot at goal that Rob Green claimed with ease. A meaningful effort on target, at least.
Another crucial interception was needed as Matty Phillips’ cross would have been headed into an empty net had it not been for Wilson nodding the ball behind with Austin waiting, but Charlton were starting to provide more of a threat to the home side.
Pritchard, who had spent much of the first watching on hopelessly as Benoit Assou-Ekotto casually disposed him before drifting past him, grew into the game as the half went on and, after winning possession in midfield, went on a neat run before picking out Dale Stephens on the edge of the area. He had the perfect opportunity to shoot, but instead opted to attempt a pass into the feet of Stewart that failed to reach its target and QPR were able to clear.
In Charlton’s next attack, The Rs’ defence could only watch on as Jordan Cousins, recently named the Football League’s Young Player of the Month for October, unleashed a vicious, curling strike from all of 30 yards that Green did well to fist away, with an offside flag preventing Church from continuing the pressure from the away side.
The Addicks were ending the half much improved upon from their timid opening. A QPR goal, where it might have been deserved previously, would have been cruel. It was.
Cousins allowed Austin to get away from him and no other player in red could get close to him, giving the forward a clear sight of goal from 30 yards. In a repeat of his strike for Burnley last season and his sixth career goal against the Addicks, Austin unleashed an effort that swerved out of Hamer’s reach and found the top corner. It all seemed too easy, but the stroke of genius gave QPR the lead going into half-time.
With calls from around the away end for Yann Kermorgant, on the bench but said to be back to full fitness after injury, to come at half time, Powell opted against making any changes and the Addicks started the second half brightly with plenty of possession in the opposition’s half.
They even mustered a few half chances, with Stephens’ free-kick from a wide position headed horribly off-target by Dervite. Pritchard, breaking into the box after a lovely interchange between himself and Stephens, then found himself in an excellent shooting position, but chose to take another touch and was disposed; another one for the every growing tally of chances the Zimbabwean has failed to take. The resulting corner was cleared to Stewart, waiting on the edge of the area, but his well struck volley flew just wide.
Although QPR continued to be a force, Dervite blocked well from Austin’s shot soon after Charlton’s flurry of chances, Chris Powell’s side were certainly giving plenty of headaches to the Rs. Those would only increase as Kermorgant and Harriott replaced the uncharacteristically off colour Church and Pritchard, who hadn’t quite got to grips with Assou-Ekotto.
The Frenchman immediately played a hand in another Charlton opportunity as Wilson’s deep cross was headed back across goal by Kermorgant into the path of Stephens, but his first time shot was fired high and wide of Green’s goal.
With Charlton committing men forward, there was always a danger they would get caught out at the back, and a QPR break saw them win a free-kick on the edge of Charlton’s area. Barton stepped up and struck his effort low and hard in the direction of Hamer’s far bottom corner, but the ‘keeper got across well to keep the Addicks in the game.
‘He’s better than Shaun…’ was sung in the away end as Bradley Wright-Phillips’ inferior brother entered the fray with 25 minutes remaining. In between reminding Wright-Phillips who the better sibling is, Charlton fans went up in unison for a hand ball shout after Richard Dunne blocked Johnnie Jackson’s header; referee Whitestone wasn’t interested. It didn’t look like the ball had struck Dunne’s hand, but the Charlton players were adamant. Lady Luck was once again not wearing red.
Time was running out for the Addicks, especially with a string of QPR corners and midfield domination by the Rs preventing Charlton from getting the ball forward. In fact, it was the hosts who looked most likely to score in the closing stages, with Wright-Phillips forcing Hamer into a save, Austin breaking free and firing wide.
But the visitors were presented with one final opportunity to grab what would have been a deserved equaliser. Barton’s foul on Kermorgant earned the one time England international a booking and Jackson the chance to increase his hero status in SE7. He couldn’t manage it, sending his free-kick soaring over the bar.
Cousins again shot from distance, skewing his effort wide from 30 yards with a minute to play, but that was to be Charlton’s last attempt on goal as QPR sought to the double their lead in stoppage time. Wright-Phillips hit the bar and Austin forced Hamer into another fine stop, but the Rs couldn’t add to their solitary, nor could Charlton draw level. Despite the disappointing result, the players were clapped off; a valiant effort against arguably the strongest side in the division.
Unless fuelled by irrational optimism, there can’t have been many Charlton fans who were expecting anything more than a defeat before the game. Unless wanting to harshly criticise their side, there can’t be many Charlton fans who won’t admit QPR certainly have the best team in the division player for player, and arguably played some of the best passing football I’ve seen this season with Barton particularly catching the eye. Dunne and Clint Hill won almost every header at the back, whilst Austin was a constant threat.
They’re a top, top side, and so they should be with that wealth of talent. Even the impending Charlton takeover going through is unlikely to do much to close the gap between these two sides.
But the Addicks gave QPR a very real run for their money, and the determination and fight shown by Chris Powell’s side possibly deserved a point. The defence coped well against QPR’s considerable attacking threat, with Wiggins doing superbly against the lively Phillips, whilst Charlton’s three man midfield did well to compete against the considerable quality in the home side’s central midfield three.
Hamer, after criticism in recent weeks, takes man of the match in terms of Charlton players, pulling off a number of excellent saves, distributing well and taking no blame for the goal that won QPR the game. A sign of how well both Hamer and Charlton did is that the Rs’ victory came courtesy of just that spectacular goal.
Unfortunately, as is becoming a running theme, Charlton’s failure to grab a point has a lot to do with a lack of quality in the final third. Stewart’s crosses were mainly over hit, Pritchard and then Harriott struggled to make an impact with Assou-Ekotto showing his class, and Church found life difficult up front on his own after a number of outstanding displays. He’ll hopefully have a partner for Tuesday night’s visit of Doncaster Rovers to The Valley, with Kermorgant doing well after coming off the bench.
Away from the niceties of Charlton’s performance being one worthy of some praise and a result not to be too disheartened over, the league table doesn’t make for pretty reading. 21st with the half way stage a little more than a month away is a little concerning. Dare I say it, but a win is needed on Tuesday night. These decent performances need to be turned into top ones with three points at the end of them.
Charlton Athletic will be looking to extend their recent good form on their travels when they take on Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road this Saturday.
The last time these two sides met at Loftus Road, Phil Parkinson saw his Charlton managerial debut in November 2008 end in a 2-1 defeat as QPR manager Paulo Souza picked up his first three points in his new role.
It was a season that would end in disappointment for both clubs with the Addicks dropping to League One and QPR’s big spending failing to propel them into the Premier League.
Parkinson was also in charge of the 2-2 draw at The Valley later on in the 2008/09 season; a fourth game without a win for Charlton over their London rivals.
Although a lot has changed since those last meetings five years ago, with managerial changes, a promotion and a relegation occurring at both clubs, the odds are against the Addicks ending their run of poor form against the Rs, who are yet to lose at home this season.
But Charlton go into the game on the back of two highly impressive away performances at Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City, not to mention credible displays at The Valley in recent weeks that haven’t always produced the deserved results, whilst QPR have claimed just one win in their last five games.
Chris Powell’s chances of masterminding a victory will be boosted if he can call upon previously unfit trio Chris Solly, Richard Wood and Yann Kermorgant.
The French forward is the most likely of the three to have recovered fully from injury after returning from the bench in the 4-2 defeat to Leeds United a fortnight ago, and he’ll be pushing to start alongside the inform Simon Church.
But given how successful the 4-5-1 formation was in the 1-0 victory over Birmingham at St Andrews, Kermorgant may have to settle for a place on the bench once again if Powell opts to pack the midfield, especially with QPR’s set to feature Joey Barton and Jermaine Jenas.
Despite injury to talismanic midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, QPR’s squad remains arguably the strongest in terms of both quality and depth in the division.
From the likely starting XI, Charlie Austin, who has five goals against the Addicks in his career, stands out as QPR’s main threat.
Should things not be working for the Rs, Harry Redknapp, who will be hoping to mark the celebration of his 30 year managerial career with a win, will have a wealth of experienced options available to him from the bench. Andy Johnson, Nedum Onuoha and Niko Kranjcar were all in reserve in the 1-1 draw with Reading two weeks ago.
The trip to QPR will be one of the tougher tests for the Addicks this season but, backed by what will be a large and vocal away following, signs are there to suggest that a Charlton victory, or at least a point for Powell’s side, is not completely in the realms of fantasy.
The list of Championship fans’ moans and groans is endless. Most of those moans and groans reside, in one way or another around money. Clubs attempting to charge £30 or more for tickets, programmes going up by a £1 in order to accommodate extra pages to celebrate Harry Redknapp’s career and the financial restrains making goal line technology impractical in the division are complaints that have emanated from my TV and my Twitter feed in recent weeks.
If clubs could secure income from other sources, not just the fans, then the cost of being a supporter would fall, goal line technology might become more than just a distant pipedream and Charlton could award contracts to the (roughly) 932 players and coaching staff whose deals run out in the summer.
So why is it that when a club locates an extra funding stream, and a relatively inoffensive funding stream at that, is there a significant challenge from both the club’s supporters and fans of football in general?
Derby County’s decision to sell the naming rights to their stadium has created quite a furiory. Sport drink company iPro will pay £7,000,000 over ten years in order to see Pride Park become the iPro stadium; £700,000 per year to help meet Financial Fair Play without having to overcharge fans or sell players.
Unfortunately, one condition of becoming a football fan is that you must lose the ability to think rationally.
‘It’s a p**s take, £7 mill over 10 year it’s f**k all!’ was one response to Derby’s Twitter feed revealing the news. The deal is in fact the largest of its kind in Football League history.
Even if, like myself, Financial Fair Play means nothing more to you than a rule that means you can’t make a dramatic loss, £700,000 from a footballing perspective is huge in The Championship. £700,000 added to a yearly transfer budget could be the difference between no signings and improving the squad; or a mediocre signing and a high quality buy.
Many fans are reluctant to view a football club as anything more than a toy. It shouldn’t be able to make decisions on its own, unless those decisions are made for it by the fans. But football clubs, first and foremost, are businesses. This isn’t a new phenomenon, they always have been. They need to run like any other business would, and turning down to £7,000,000 worth of sponsorship that doesn’t alienate and isolate the customer in other business would be unthinkable.
You might think renaming Pride Park does alienate the customer but, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think it does at all. If anything, it improves the customers’ experience.
The soul of the club, nor the ground, has died. Will Derby fans continue to call their home Pride Park? Of course they will. Who does the ‘soul’ of a ground or football club matter to most? The fans.
If Derby fans continue to call their ground Pride Park then the ‘soul’ will not be lost, no matter what name Simon Thomas on Sky Sports is forced to introduce his audience to when the Rams take on Blackpool in a live fixture next month.
In other words, everyone’s a winner. The club get a significant amount of cash to keep themselves financial stable, abiding by the rules and able to develop, whilst the fans will get the benefit from that without losing a sense of spiritual identity.
I appreciate the anger at this moment in time, but will anything be noticeably different when Derby fans take their seats at Pride Park next month and watch their club, still called Derby County, playing in the same colour kit as they did last weekend? Apart from the odd advertising hoarding and brand name dotted about the place, their experience will be identical to the one they’ve always had at Pride Park.
In fact, from a Charlton perspective, I’d welcome naming rights to The Valley being sold. It would still be The Valley, my season ticket would have a greater chance of staying at its current rate and Chris Powell’s hands might be slightly less tied. It’s bound to happen one day; it’ll happen to most stadia.
Having a brand name associated with a stadium is a small, and arguably necessary, price to pay in this world of Hull Tigers and Cardiff City playing in red. A small price that will quickly be forgotten about if the financial security it brings helps to propel the Rams back to the Premier League.
Leeds United at home is one of the fixtures that attract my eye at the start of each season they share a division with Charlton. In fact, it’s something of a pleasure to welcome such a historical giant of English football to The Valley. They travel in their thousands and don’t lower the volume for a second all game; that is until a late header from a less than prolific Charlton forward steals all three points in the last minute. And that’s another reason why I look forward to playing Leeds; the Addicks seem to do quite well against them.
Unbeaten in five fixtures between the two sides, as well as being unbeaten in their last five games this season, the stats pointed to a positive result for Charlton, especially given Leeds’ struggles away from Elland Road. But the stats hadn’t taken into account United’s 12th man.
Whilst their following was certainly vocal and Ross McCormack put in the shift of two men to score four, a bizarre performance from referee Keith Stroud played a crucial part in Leeds’ 4-2 victory over the Addicks.
Torrential rail before kick-off in South East London made Stroud centre of attention as early as 1:30PM, when he oversaw an inspection of the Valley pitch that had once again failed to contend with the elements. The rain had eased off by this point and, despite no official announcement, I made my way to the turnstiles after clogging my arteries in The Valley Cafe fully expecting to take to my seat for a 3PM start.
But Stroud called for a second inspection, any potential kick-off was put back to 3:30PM and the turnstiles remained closed; signs that suggested this game was in serious doubt and Charlton were heading for a second weather affected game four months into the season.
Thankfully, not least for the pride of Charlton fans and officials who would have surely faced a significant backlash, the pitch was given the green light. Colin Powell and his ground staff had done a wonderful job to get the game on, even with the 30 minute delay.
With the pitch far from perfect, standing water and grassless patches were holding up the ball, Callum Harriott, into the side for Bradley Pritchard in Charlton’s only change, used the conditions to his advantage for the first chance of the game. His touch from Dorian Dervite’s long ball got away from him, but the ball stuck in the pitch and the young winger was able to get a shot away, but a wayward one that failed to trouble Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal.
The academy graduate came closer to giving Charlton the lead soon after, cutting inside from the right and curling an effort a fraction wide of the far post.
Charlton had settled well in the testing conditions, with Dale Stephens and Johnnie Jackson pulling the strings in midfield, whilst Rhoys Wiggins used the conditions to his advantage to test the Leeds defence down the treacherous left wing the home side were attacking. But for some wasteful and selfish play from Cameron Stewart, the home side might have farmed out some more openings early on. It was a bright start from the Addicks, appreciated by the home fans that did their best to match the volume coming from The Jimmy Seed.
But the home ends were silenced with 17 minutes played as Leeds took the lead with their first real effort at goal. A long ball was flicked on by Dexter Blackstock for Ross McCormack to run onto, and the forward made no mistake, becoming the first player to find a way past Ben Hamer and his defence in over seven hours of football. A bitter pill to swallow for the Addicks who had been in control of the game up to that point.
The goal failed to knock Charlton off their stride, and an outrageous cross from Wiggins somehow evaded Simon Church in the area with Jason Pearce putting the ball behind with Harriott lurking at the far post.
There was a strong sense that Charlton’s deficit would only be temporary with the Addicks continuing to come forward and the Covered End right behind their side. When Church drove into the area after collecting Stephens’ set back and was sent crashing to ground by an outstretched leg, it looked as if Charlton would have the perfect opportunity to equalise. Unbelievably and unjustifiably, Stroud had other ideas and refused to answer the calls for a penalty. Church stood mystified with the decision, and did so again moments later as he was penalised for a foul that appeared to be committed by Lee Peltier challenging for the aerial ball with him.
The Welshman, as he had done in last week’s victory over Birmingham, refused to give up despite the officials’ calls not going his way and carried on giving everything he could for Charlton’s cause. He did superbly to break free inside the area after the lively Wiggins teed him up just before the half hour mark, but the post prevented the Addicks from drawing level.
Leeds were visibly aware of the pressure they were under and resorted to time wasting tactics in order to preserve their lead over half-time. Kenny was in no rush whatsoever to take his goal kick and received a yellow card after failing to take Stroud’s prior warnings; a booking for an opposition player produced the inevitable sarcastic cheers from the Charlton fans. But Leeds fans were almost cheering for real at the end of their side’s next attack as Luke Murphy’s cross found an unmarked Peltier in the middle, but he could only head wide from a promising position.
There wasn’t much of an argument to suggest the Addicks deserved to be a goal down, let alone two, and that let off was the catalyst for five minutes of Charlton domination at the end of the half that should have seen them go into the break in front.
Church, who must have walked under several ladders and smashed the dressing room mirror before kick, saw his first time strike from Wiggins’ driven ball into the box superbly saved by Kenny, but there was little the Irish ‘keeper could do with Charlton’s next effort on goal.
Jackson’s free-kick was headed half clear to the edge of the box, where Cameron Stewart was lurking. With his selfishness resulting in some wayward crosses and shots earlier on in the half, those at the back of the Upper North were preparing to catch the ball as Stewart steadied himself to shoot but, with the sweetest of connections, he volleyed the ball well beyond Kenny into the top corner. With the ball hanging in the air for an age, the technique was superb and the finish emphatic; Charlton finally had their deserved equaliser right on the stroke of half-time.
With the fourth official, whose holding up of the board was probably the most accurate piece of officiating all afternoon, signalling four minutes off additional time, there was the chance of a momentum driven Charlton to swing the game completely. Lawrie Wilson, evading the disgusting lunge from Rudolph Austin, broke free down the right and hit a low cross into the middle that was turned goal wards by Church but cleared off the line by Tom Lees amidst calls for handball and for Austin to be booked. Stroud warmed himself to Charlton hearts further by giving neither. Jackson’s delivery after the initial corner was cleared caused havoc, and Harriott’s effort with the outside of his boot dipped just too late to creep underneath the bar in the last action of the half. The Addicks were applauded off for their fine performance; Stroud followed after to a chorus of boos.
Charlton wouldn’t have wanted the first half to end with it seemingly only a matter of time before they took the lead. Within three minutes of the second, Stroud took the momentum away from the Addicks.
Danny Pugh collected the ball in the area and went down under Harriott’s clumsy yet legitimate challenge. It certainly wasn’t something you’d see in a defending textbook, but there was no argument for it being deemed a foul. Two seconds after Pugh had hit the turf, Stroud sounded his whistle and pointed to the spot. Anger and disbelief filled The Valley; Hamer saving McCormack’s spot-kick was the only hope for justice to be salvaged. McCormack made sure that wouldn’t be happening by lashing the ball into the roof of the net and putting Leeds back in front.
After the hostility towards Stroud and Leeds died down a little, a flat atmosphere filled the home ends and Charlton responded on the pitch with much of the same. The zip and spark that had been on show in the first half had vanished and the Addicks were struggling to get forward. But Harriott, who was probably the player guiltiest of fading at the start of the half, finally tested Kenny ten minutes into the half, forcing the ‘keeper into an outstanding save from his deflected shot. Leeds quickly broke after the resulting corner, which Dervite hit over after Jackson found him unmarked at the back post, and, after being sent through in acres of space, Austin sliced a glorious opening for the visitors horribly wide.
With the clock ticking, Powell brought Yann Kermorgant on for Harriott as the Addicks hoped their talismanic striker would provide the equaliser they craved. Although not involved, he’d barely been on the pitch five minutes when Charlton pulled level for a second time.
Church chased down a lost cause in a wide position in signature fashion and finally had some luck when his initial delivery deflected off a Leeds body and came back to him, allowing him to drive into the box and pick out Jackson, who tapped in from close range. The skipper turned to the covered end and signalled he wanted them to lift themselves for the final 20 minutes of the game in a way that only the captain of Charlton Athletic can; game on.
Three minutes later, the game once again slipped from Charlton’s grasps, and once again much of the anger was directed at Stroud, if only to deflect from Charlton’s inept defending. A foul was given against Rhoys Wiggins by the corner flag, which seemed incredibly harsh, before another foul was given which led to more angry protests from Charlton fans and players. The resulting free-kick was pumped into the box, the Addicks failed to clear with Dervite heading backwards and into the path of McCormack, who sealed his hat-trick with a sweet volley past Hamer. It would take a monumental effort to come back for a third time.
In a carbon copy of the response to the second goal, Charlton fell flat again and resorted to hopeful long balls that caused few concerns to Leeds’ defence with even Kermorgant struggling to win a header. There were more shouts for a Charlton penalty after the Frenchman appeared to be pushed in the box as he went up to challenge for a cross, but again Stroud refused to listen to the desperate cries.
Pritchard and Marvin Sordell were thrown on in place of Wilson and Jordan Cousins, but they had no time to make an impact. The Addicks never looked like equalising as the game headed into stoppage time, and the game was soon well out of their reach. A free-kick, and this time one that couldn’t be challenged, was awarded after Wiggins brought Austin down just outside the area, and not inside as Michael Brown pleaded for. But he needn’t have worried as McCormack stepped and curled a delicious free-kick into the far corner of Hamer’s goal to round off an incredible display by the forward and condemn Charlton to their first defeat in six.
To lose was incredibly harsh on Charlton; to lose by two hurt. The Charlton fans made it known to Stroud as he walked off the pitch at full-time that they were blaming him for their disappointment.
From the pitch inspections, to the shower of goals and the never ending questionable refereeing decisions, it was a rather odd afternoon at The Valley. One that I’ll remember for the sheer anger I felt as I walked out the ground listening to the Leeds fans sing.
Jealousy and bitterness? I’m not ashamed to admit that that’s probably the case, but I couldn’t help but feel Stroud’s incompetence, mixed in with some incredible hard luck in front of goal, had prevented us from being the ones celebrating after the final whistle.
17 Charlton shots to Leeds’ nine and 64% possession for the Addicks tells a story in itself. The impressive performance that saw the game controlled by Charlton for the best part of 70 minutes tells the same tale. The best side on the day lost.
Stroud’s decisions were key, Charlton’s failure to take their chances just as crucial, but our ability to deal with long balls into the box was possibly the most frustrating aspect of the defeat. The first and third goals were easily preventable; a fit Richard Wood in the back four and even Mr Stroud might not have been able to deny Charlton at least a point.
But that shouldn’t take anything away from an incredible performance from Ross McCormack, who showed Charlton’s forwards how to finish off chances when they’re presented . Church was excellent, and was desperately unlucky, but would McCormack have finished the chances the Welshman had? I’d imagine so.
The most frustrating thing about this most frustrating of days to be a Charlton fan is that we have to wait a whole two weeks to get going again and start another unbeaten run. There were plenty of positives in the performance, and Powell will no doubt get his side going again in time for the tough trip to QPR.
Whether you choose to believe the Office for National Statistics (1.5%), the Treasury (6%) or Stonewall (5-7%), you’ll know that a reasonable percentage of people in the UK identify themselves as gay. Based on those percentages, somewhere between 955,500 and 4,459,000 UK citizens are gay. That’s quite a lot.
Given those figures, you’d expect anywhere between 60 and 280 gay individuals in a group of 4000; possibly more in a group of 4000 made up solely of males.
So why is it that in the 4000 members of the Professional Footballers’ Association, not to mention the professionals in Scotland and Northern Ireland, there is not a single person who defines themselves as gay?
It’s disappointing that in times of almost universal societal acceptance, high profile homosexual athletes in other sports and gay marriage, not one professional footballer in the UK feels comfortable enough to come out in the environment their profession creates.
Whilst not wanting to justify it, you can certainly understand why a Premier League player would think twice about coming out; football fans are often unintentionally cruel souls, the media attention would be unbearable and outdated prejudices may well prevent an openly gay player from finding a club.
But those pressures aren’t there below the professional game. In fact, whilst someone stands on a soapbox every other week asking why no professional footballer in the UK is gay, non-league footballers are almost completely ignored in the crusade to find a homosexual player. You would hope in those circumstances a gay player, and given how vast the non-league structure is there must surely be plenty, would feel at ease to be open about his sexuality.
And there is one. But rather worryingly, we have to look as far down as Level 10 of England’s league structure to find an openly gay footballer.
Darran Gillions, who plays for Stony Stratford Town in Division One of the Spartan South Midlands League, is potentially the highest level openly gay footballer in England.
But, although you wouldn’t begrudge him for feeling a sense of pride, the possibility that he may well be England’s premier gay footballer disappoints the 23-year-old.
“It frustrates me that, within the 100 or so fully professional clubs in England alone, not to mention the rest of the UK, not one player feels able to come out and say ‘I am gay’.
“It does worry me that a fear around coming out exists, although I fully understand why this fear may exist due to the pressures and expectations of the game, the fans, and increasingly in the modern game the media and marketability of the player.
“I certainly feel that there will be many relatively high profile players who do feel the need to stay in the closet.”
But Gillions, a strong defender who has also played for Alvis FC and New Bradwell St. Peter, is more concerned with the lack of gay footballers in the non-league pyramid.
“I’ve not even been able to find an openly gay semi-professional player, not for lack of trying.”
That fact is hard to believe when Gillions explains his relatively painless period of coming out to his team mates.
“I didn’t one day before a game with all the lads sat round the changing room stand up and say ‘I am gay’, it was very different to that.
“Last season a few of the lads (at New Bradwell St. Peter) found out I had a boyfriend, he came to watch a few games, I didn’t mind people knowing, and similarly no one seemed to mind either.
“Then at the end of the season I was asked to move over to Stony Stratford Town, which I did. I already had a few mates there, who knew me, so I felt comfortable and settled in well immediately.
“Then one night at the gay bar me and my boyfriend bumped into a few of the lads who didn’t know I was gay, whilst they were on a night out, and from there it escalated.
“Nothing has changed. No one seems to mind at all, it has been liberating the last 6 months, knowing that the lads can get to know me for who I really am, not having to hide anything.”
Gillions’ story is incredibly promising, not least for the fact life continued as normal in two different dressing rooms. No dressing room and no group of players is exactly the same, but nor are they too different. The reaction from their teammates may well be the only factor stopping a player from coming out at Non-League level; they needn’t worry.
However, the nature of the professional game means a would-be gay footballer needs far more than the reassurance of his team in order to feel comfortable enough to come out.
“Within clubs I don’t think there is, nor would there be any problem (of homophobia),” believes Gillions.
“However I do feel in the professional game, regardless of the relative acceptance of colleagues and fellow professionals, the hostility of the crowds would add a hurdle which I am not going to have to encounter, and I feel do serve as the biggest deterrent.
“Whilst many chants from football crowds are merely light hearted humour, with no offence taken or intended, I feel a line should be drawn individuals start giving what may be termed malicious abuse, which I would hope would be treated more regularly in the same manner as racist abuse.”
Unfortunately, football fans struggle to appreciate the difference between light hearted humour and discriminatory abuse. When the Brighton and Hove Supporters Club, whose club is often the subject of homophobic taunts, recently attempted to highlight the issue of offensive chants from opposition supporters, the footballing public failed to take it seriously.
A quick look at the dossier released by the BHASC in conjunction with the Gay Football Supporters’ Network shows that much of what was chanted was far more than just innocent ‘banter’. The fact a player, Blackburn’s Colin Kazim-Richards, is alleged to have made a homophobic gesture is also incredibly disturbing.
With Brighton targeted because of their association with a large gay population, what’s to say a player wouldn’t be targeted after coming out? If I was a professional footballer choosing whether or not to come out, the abuse directed at Brighton and Brighton fans would persuade me to keep my sexuality hidden.
But, just like with racism in the past, there are schemes looking to educate, or at least get people talking, about homosexuality and homophobia. The recent Right Behind Gay Footballers campaign, initiated by Stonewall with the help of Paddy Power, achieved national coverage with support from the vast majority of football fans. It asked for players to wear rainbow laces, a very simple act, in support of gay footballers, and several did.
Twitter feeds were full of your average supporter championing equality and believing a gay footballer would be accepted; or at least they as an individual wouldn’t even raise a cynical eyebrow to a professional coming out. It got people talking, and in that regard it was a success.
But cynical eyebrows were raised by several high profile football clubs, who cited the poor planning and organisation of a campaign that appeared to pop out of thin air on the Monday and demand players were rainbow laces on the Saturday.
“I think that was a poor excuse,” said Gillions.
“At the end of the day how much planning does changing your laces need? It would have taken very little effort from clubs to get behind the campaign.”
Gillion’s view is a view shared by many, including myself. Could you imagine the uproar if a club refused to support a racism group because the t-shirts only arrived five days in advance of the weekend’s game? It’s disappointing that those clubs who refused to take part in RBGF campaign received little, if any, criticism. It’s also disappointing that only 20 out of the 92 Football League clubs are signed up to The FA’s Charter against homophobia.
But everything has to start somewhere, and RBGF will surely act as the foundations for many more campaigns of a similar nature.
Gillions, who couldn’t take part in the campaign on the designated weekend due to injury, but wears the laces currently along with 14 of his teammates, agrees: “I was pleased at the effect it had in getting people talking about the subject through all levels of the sport, not just the top.
“This (RBGF) on its own is not enough, it is however a superb starting place to get people talking and thinking about the subject.
“I hope to see more done soon.”
The catalyst that could lead to more being done would be a professional player in England coming out. But for that to happen, the player would feel like he would be accepted and able to continue his career. Something that Gillions doesn’t think would be possible just yet due to the ‘hostility of the crowds in Europe’.
And that’s part of the reason Robbie Rogers, who had just been released by Leeds United at the time, retired after coming out in February 2013; to avoid the scrutiny from ‘the circus’ of both the fans and the press. Rogers became the first player to have come out after playing professionally in England since Justin Fashanu, who tragically committed suicide in 1998.
But after he ‘seriously felt like a coward’ for not using the platform he had to become a role model, Rogers decided to return to the slightly more rational MLS audiences. He joined LA Galaxy and made his debut in May, becoming the first openly gay man to play in a North American professional league; quite a landmark in the development of equality and homosexuals in sport.
“He is a superbly talented player, and his return to game post coming out made me feel immensely proud,” said Gillions, who viewed Rogers as one of his favourite players even before he came out.
“A lot of (homosexual) people have already found their ‘hero’ in Robbie.”
“I am eagerly waiting the day when he is recalled to the national side, the first openly gay player to grace the international stage will be a momentous moment for not just football, but sport as a whole.”
Whilst talk of Rogers’ adding to his 18 USA caps is premature, the fact there is hope for it can only act as inspiration for a Premier League player to come out and continue to play in England.
“Should a top player come out I think it would either be a huge positive influence on the sport, breaking the ‘last taboo’, or it could go wrong, and see a career destroyed,” believes Darran.
“I would personally hope that it would serve as a catalyst and pave the way for others to follow suit.”
From Gillions playing in front of his boyfriend and a lost dog walker, to Rogers potentially playing at the World Cup, Stevenage’s centre forward, Blackburn’s full back and Manchester United’s winger will plug the caps in the middle. It’s surely only a matter of time before footballers at any level feel ready to come out.
And that’s one thing Darran is sure of.
“Within the next decade there will almost certainly have been an openly gay player in the Premier League.”