There was a buzz before Saturday’s proposed FA Cup fifth round tie against Sheffield Wednesday; a special kind of buzz that only football’s most treasured competition can bring.
On the surface, it’s quite irrational. Who really gets excited by the thought of travelling to a rather miserable city several hundred miles away in the midst of an unrelenting storm to see a team that Charlton have faced seven times since late 2010?
But it’s much, much more than that. Whatever the sceptics might want to tell you, the FA Cup isn’t dead. The first round stories of plumbers and postmen outdoing established league pros still exist, those top flight sides outside of the European picture live for cup competitions and watching your side win at Wembley, I imagine, is a magical moment.
Where 200 might have visited Hillsborough for a league fixture between these two sides, 2,000 (two-thousand!) odd Addicks were expected to make the trip up north, gripped by cup fever – a condition that does exist and one that I have been suffering from all week.
In a season of few highs, plenty of indifference and occasional despair, the cup felt like not only the perfect platform through which to reignite Charlton’s campaign, but an excellent opportunity for Chris Powell’s side to run out at Wembley.
That the game was against Sheffield Wednesday, arguably a winnable tie, only increased the excitement. A win here and we’re 90 minutes away from the arch. A constant battle between premature celebration and painful worry occupied my head for most of the week; a better battle than deciding whether to cry over Yann Kermorgant’s departure, the Wigan defeat or the league table.
If you’d chosen to place your mind in that ditch of despair, a browse of Twitter towards the end of last week would have quickly made you aware of just how massive this game was for Charlton. Often ignored, the eyes of the country’s media were now on SE7.
Piotr Parzyszek and Reza Ghoochannejhad discussed their unfamiliar names (Peter and Reza to me and you) with the London Evening Standard and the Mail respectively, the bastion of all things laddish, Johnnie Jackson, bemoaned the ‘feminine’ nature of this year’s FA Cup ball (just ban ta, promise), whilst, in a rare move towards something resembling seriousness, Roland Duchatalet was profiled in the Guardian. It turns out Fleet Street and friends are in fact aware where SE7 is.
The most important game in Charlton’s recent history? Probably not, but the week long excitement, anticipation and nerves have rarely been felt before.
This was certainly going to be one of the better days of this sluggish campaign; the best if a victory could be secured.
However, today wasn’t the first time since August that Charlton fans have felt a buzz. Today wasn’t the first time that the buzz turned to nothing but torture.
It was predictable, the weather conditions were atrocious and Hillsborough, taking nothing away from its history and tradition, is no modern arena, but when my bleary 8AM eyes picked up something about a pitch inspection, a Yann Kermorgant-has-been-sold-type stomach drop occurred.
Not today. This day couldn’t be taken away from us. Surely our luck wasn’t so out that the most anticipated fixture of the season, even more so than the lovely trip to the calm surroundings of The New Den, could be postponed?
Why did I even doubt it? Of course it would. False hope and crushed excitement has been a trend this season.
Even before the big kick-off, the signings of Marvin Sordell and Simon Church promised goals. The pair haven’t delivered.
The first league fixture saw Yann Kermorgant’s sharp volley draw the Addicks level against Bournemouth; a route back into the game and an excellent way to kick start the season. Bournemouth’s winner ended that hope.
A win against Leicester City and a draw against Watford were followed by three dour defeats. Five games unbeaten between October and November ended with a painful defeat to Leeds United and a tiresome display against QPR.
Arguably the most exciting performance of the season, a 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers, came before five games without a win. No league win has been picked up since the superb 3-2 victory over Brighton; no point has been secured since Jackson’s last minute goal at Ipswich.
Roland Duchatelet’s takeover promised signings, contracts and stability. Yann Kermorgant, Dale Stephens and Ben Alnwick all left SE7, crippling confidence and hope.
But Chris Powell’s new side, so abstractly put together that Picasso would have been proud, started strongly against Wigan, only to have a win cruelly snatched away from them.
It’s not a criticism of Charlton, of Powell or his players and it’s not an excuse; our luck has been rotten and highs have been sent tumbling by horribly unfortunate events.
Today was going to be different though. The FA Cup was our source of joy; our escapism from the stresses and strains of the league. This buzz wouldn’t be shot down.
A defeat would have been hard to take, but the day would have softened the blow. There would be something to take away from the trip no matter what happened, and it couldn’t be worse than watching Dan Seaborne and Salim Kerkar at Hillsborough last season.
But not being able to make the trip, with the game postponed whilst my journey was in its infancy, and having that anticipated magical FA Cup day taken away from me was horrid. A feeling felt by every Addick on their way up north.
I’ll be doing all I can to make the rearranged tie, but it won’t be the same. There won’t be 2,000 Addicks there, there won’t be the media build up and the excitement will be tainted. Wembley still awaits, but it strangely seems further away than it did on Friday night.
The final nail in the coffin that was concealing me come 5PM today was from that lovely chap who reads the final scores on Sky Sports News.
I’ve missed his soft, well-spoken tones over the past two seasons, with almost every Saturday spent at The Valley or some location your average human couldn’t point to on a map, but today his words were painfully apt.
Sheffield Wednesday Vs Charlton was described as a ‘Weather casualty’. I will be a casualty of this season if it continues to snatch my hope and my excitement away from me.
But today was the end; I can’t hurt any more than I have done today. It’s all up from here; up the league and up, slightly, from SE7 to Wembley.
That’s just more hope that’ll be crushed, isn’t it?