As Derby County raced into a 2-0 lead on Saturday, no one was more visibly upset inside Pride Park than Charlton’s goalkeeper. It didn’t matter if you were to blame for the goals being conceded or not, if you were unfortunate enough to be in Ben Hamer’s vicinity, you were going to get an earful.
Some might argue Hamer’s reaction to goals going past him isn’t helpful; how can a ‘keeper berating his teammates, who will surely already be disappointed enough as it is, be beneficial? “Get on with the game, Hamer,” is a familiar shout.
Possibly if the bearded stopper was at fault for the goals he conceded, or wasn’t making a worthwhile contribution, you could argue that Hamer reacting aggressively to a ball going past him is somewhat misjudged.
But it’s hard to blame him when the ‘keeper, more often than that, is one of the standout performers in the side. That was the case on Saturday, with the former Reading man faultless in the goals the Addicks conceded, whilst making two excellent saves and distributing the ball with intelligence and accuracy.
Frustration from a lack of protection from his teammates is one thing, but it’s also clear Hamer has strong feeling towards Charlton Athletic. There aren’t many others who appear to hurt so much from a defeat.
So it comes as no surprise that, on those rare occasions when three points have been achieved this season, Hamer has celebrated as if he was in the stands, or scored the winning goal himself. In fact, Hamer found himself amongst supporters after Dorian Dervite’s last minute against Bournemouth a fortnight ago; how else would you celebrate a late winner than by jumping into the East Stand?
Compare that to Hamer’s understudy, Yohann Thuram, who refused to travel to Leeds after being frustrated with a lack of first team football, and Charlton’s number one’s commitment to the cause appears even greater.
It really is difficult not to appreciate a character like Hamer. On the pitch, he’s enthusiastic, motivated and determined. Off it, he’s shown himself to be a likeable character, made a name for himself with his sensational Instagram videos and has recently gained an even greater amount of respect for his sensational facial hair. Charlton’s number on also hates the Palace scum, doncha know.
For me, those admirable characteristics are enough on their own to love a player. A bit of passion goes a long way to gloss over any cracks in actual ability.
But, for Hamer, his good guy character is merely a bonus. An excellent shot stopper, a superb command of his area and often, although not always, a clever distributor; Charlton’s ‘keeper is arguably one of the best in the division.
In fact, Kasper Schmeichel and Alex McCarthy aside, there’s no ‘keeper in the Championship I’d rather have instead of Hamer. It’s a desperately depressing thought that we stand to lose the out-of-contract stopper at the end of the season; a third vital player of the past three campaigns moving would be disastrous and he must be tied down to a new deal.
I can visualise the scoffs of laughter from many at that point, and Hamer’s often eccentric style has its critics. Whilst he’s far from error prone, the occasional mistake is made, and some would have preferred Ben Alnwick to still be Charlton’s first choice.
Alnwick himself was certainly a talented shot stopper and had a reasonable command of his area, but not only were his attributes a step down from Hamer’s, his distribution was frustratingly poor.
It’s also the case that when Hamer has spent time out of the team over the past three seasons, it’s made you appreciate his ability even more. John Sullivan, seemingly an equally as nice a bloke as Hamer and inseparable pair off the pitch, failed to impress, whilst David Button’s calamitous display in the defeat to Millwall last season increased the calls for the benched Hamer to return to the side.
The period before Chris Powell opted to take Hamer out of the starting XI was arguably his toughest time in a Charlton shirt. Mistakes had become a regular occurrence, and a horror show in the 2-0 loss to Nottingham Forest was the final straw.
But, as Hamer has said himself, the time out of the side did him some good, and he returned at the start of Charlton’s excellent end of season unbeaten run, playing a crucial role in a number of those games. Not least in the 0-0 draw with Brighton, two games into his a comeback, where Hamer pulled off a number of sensational saves, including an unreal reflex stop to deny Vicente in the final minute.
If that wasn’t the 26-year-old’s best night in a Charlton shirt, then his display in the fifth round of the FA Cup certainly was. Although Sheffield Wednesday weren’t laying siege upon Charlton’s goal, the Addicks and Hamer, playing his first game after an injury lay off, still had plenty of defending to do. Several superb stops were made throughout the night, before an incredible reaction stop, after Maguire’s effort deflected off Morrison, saw the Addicks through the quarter-finals.
That his two best displays have come after a period out of the starting XI shows the immense character that Hamer possesses; the Player of the Round award he won for the his brilliance in Sheffield was recognition for a ‘keeper that had long deserved such a high level of praise.
Whilst some will dig deep to find the moments when Hamer has been at fault for goals, or cost his side points, most will agree that the Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday displays aren’t rare occasions.
Opportunities to do so have been limited this season, but Hamer’s excellent in goal has won Charlton far, far more points over the past three seasons than his rare mistakes have cost them.
Although often having to do little but watch his team mates dominate in the League One title season, Hamer’s presence helped his side to crucial victories, especially in the back-to-back wins over the Sheffield clubs in January 2012.
With the ‘keeper having a lot more to contend with in the Championship following promotion, the list of unbelievable point winning performances grew and grew. A seemingly one-on-one duel for much of the second half in the 2-1 win over Leicester at The Valley in August 2012 between Hamer and Lloyd Dyer ended with Hamer on top, whilst his stunning double save to deny Hull a winner in the 0-0 draw four days later has been shown time and time again.
He’d started the season in superb fashion despite results, and Charlton fans were devastated to hear of his injury before kick-off in the win over Doncaster Rovers.
Since returning from that ankle injury, Hamer has regained his place and rarely put a foot wrong. Even if Thuram wasn’t a parody of the calamity ‘keeper, you’d be hard pressed to suggest that Hamer deserves dropping.
Since coming back into the side, Hamer has racked up his 100th appearance for the Addicks, achieved in the 0-0 draw with Millwall. A figure fitting of a very likeable figure during a time in which the club has been full of such characters.
The tunnel jump has become a sacred thing at The Valley, with only the best and most loved able to do it. There were only smiles as he leaped out of the tunnel following the win over Bournemouth; we’ve all grown used to his enthusiastic celebrations anyway, not to mention his desire to show his appreciation to his supporters as strongly and as frequently as possible. I can only imagine what sort of effect such passion and energy has on his teammates; it certainly has a motivational one on me.
A legend? A little extreme at the moment, but certainly a fan favourite and a treasured figure between the sticks.
In another 100 games, that legend tag might well be suitable for the out-of-contract stopper. Even so, losing Hamer at the end of the season would be seriously detrimental to the Addicks, and getting the stopper signed up is crucial.
Come on, Ben, put pen to paper.