Eleven years as a Charlton season-ticket holder makes me a relative toddler when compared to other Addicks. Not only in terms of years spent watching football at The Valley, but also in woes suffered.
The older, and wiser, Addicks would suggest I know absolutely nothing about supporting Charlton. And they would be right.
I was not in a state of panic as the club I loved almost ceased to exist. I did not have to endure the pain of being removed from my spiritual home. I have never had to begrudgingly refer to Selhurst or Upton Park as a temporary home.
Quite simply, I was fortunate enough not to have been alive during a time of misery for Charlton supporters that is incredibly difficult to comprehend for those who haven’t experienced it. Going a few weeks without stepping inside The Valley is hard enough, let alone seven years.
The Charlton supporting kids of today might well have it easier, but they certainly don’t have it easy.
In eight of the ten completed seasons I’ve witnessed, the Addicks have finished lower than the season prior. There’s been two relegations, three cup quarter-final defeats and a play-off semi-final defeat. Players and staff I’ve become attached to have almost always left in heart-breaking circumstances, while the likes of Alan Pardew, Tresor Kandol and Frank Nouble extended their stay longer than I could bare.
The equivalent of stubbing your toe to those supporters who lived through the 80s and early 90s, but enough to make supporting Charlton emotionally draining work.
So why do we do it? Partly because supporting the Addicks was enforced upon us; we have no choice but to blindly follow their fortunes. Partly because, like all football fans, we gluttons for punishment and thrive in moments of misery.
But above all, it’s for those brief moments where no one can deny you the right to be proud to support Charlton Athletic. Those days where the Addicks are faultless. Those nights where you and your fellow supporters sing and chant in harmony, guiding your heroes to an impossible result.
Two years ago today, one such result took place. One of those nights under The Valley floodlights that make the tears you’ve shed there seem worth it.
There have been more complete Charlton performances in my span as an Addick. A 2-0 win over Liverpool, ending Huddersfield Town’s unbeaten run and the 6-0 win over Barnsley come to mind.
There’s also been better raw moments. Jon Fortune’s header to relegate Crystal Palace, Yann Kermorgant’s incredible volley as promotion was celebrated and the celebrations that followed Johnnie Jackson’s winner against QPR.
But no night has encapsulated so many emotions, made you so engrossed in both your role as a supporter and the events on the pitch, and left you feeling such a feeling of pride and indescribable joy than the 5-4 win over Cardiff City in November 2012.
In other words, if someone was to ask me for a single game that showed why supporting Charlton isn’t just a continuous exercise of pain and suffering, it would be this one.
Not a soul could have predicted anything like it. In fact, most were anticipating a demoralising evening.
That first emotion of the night. Negativity and apprehension. Only fools are positive, because misery so often follows.
The Addicks had come into the game on the back of just two wins in 12; the step up to the Championship for Chris Powell’s side not necessarily too big, but there had been a few teething problems in the season’s opening months.
“I was apprehensive going into the game – they were flying high and we’d been very stop start – the Saturday game hadn’t filled me with confidence” – Alex Stedman, Charlton fan and writer
And only three days prior, The Valley crowd had witnessed a spiritless capitulation to Middlesbrough. Salim Kerkar’s efforts to occupy the left-back position will haunt many Addicks until their final day.
Thankfully, the Algerian was moved into a more natural position against top-of-the-table Cardiff, but Powell’s XI remained a little disjointed and a relatively weak. Michael Morrison was forced to slot in a right-back, Chris Solly reverted to the left, while Danny Haynes came in for his first start of the season as part of a five man midfield. Form, injuries and the class of the opposition meant this was only going one way.
But, as ever, there was hope once the first whistle of the game was blown. We wouldn’t bother turning up each week if we didn’t start the afternoons and evenings full of the irrational belief that Charlton are the best side in the world. And with Rob Hulse leading the line, it’s hard to argue that Charlton weren’t the best team in the world.
The Covered End, the confidence they lacked put to one side, started off vocally. There was a sense that, regardless of the unlikelihood of the hosts getting a result, this was an important game, and their support was needed, especially for their heroic manager, being put under pressure by some with short memories.
“Our form wasn’t very good leading up to the match and murmurings were starting to emerge that Chris Powell may not be around for too much longer. I was and still am a massive Powell advocate so the thought of him being dismissed was causing me some anguish.” – Owen Green, Charlton fan who followed the game from a pub lacking signal in Cornwall
But, as has been the case so often during my Charlton supporting career, the hope constructed without evidence quickly turned to despair.
There’s certain goals you remember purely as a visual experience, and others for the feeling they gave you. In this case, I had to look back to remember the nature of Cardiff’s 4th minute opener, but I can perfectly recall how I reacted to Charlton’s net rippling and Heidar Helguson being flanked by his teammates in celebration below me.
I sat frozen in my seat, hoping that this hadn’t actually happened; asking why it had to happen. For not only was the loss of hope hard to take, but I was incredibly worried that another defeat would see the end of Powell’s association with Charlton. A sacking that would have been just as undeserved as his eventual dismissal.
There was no way a beleaguered side would respond from this. My heart sunk.
The moment was made all the worse by a character who sits near me in the Covered End, and has done for the 11 years I’ve been a season ticket holder. There’s no questioning his commitment to the Charlton cause, and his vocal supporting can make the better moments more enjoyable, but his often aggressive response when things aren’t going the way of the Addicks can be unbearable.
In this instance, he took to his feet and launched a tirade of abuse at Powell. Then he did so again. And again. At regular intervals, the supporter unleashed his frustration at a man who deserved support, while those around him tutted in disgust.
But you couldn’t hear that tutting. In fact, you couldn’t always here the agitated supporter, because the Covered End had begun a rendition of Chrissy Powell’s Red Army that would barely pause or lose its intensity throughout the half, even if said disgruntled fan suggested it shouldn’t be being sung.
Even in the immediate aftermath of the goal, the noise from the Covered End was fairly emphatic. It was as if the Addicks, and not Cardiff, had just scored.
Often chanting after a goal has been conceded can be a little monotonous. Few are in the mood to show energy and passion, rallying behind their team. But this was different; the Covered End was loud, and grew louder still after a comedy of errors had given Cardiff a second after just 24 minutes.
And as that second goal went in, Joe Mason pouncing as Charlton, and Ben Hamer in particular, failed to deal with a corner, the continued effort from the home fans meant that the overriding emotion was one of pride.
There was a real sense of togetherness and belonging. The home support (apart from agitated man who had now become sulking man) in unison, fully behind their manager and his players.
You feel prouder to be among the support in moments of adversity, and that continued chorus of chanting for Powell only comes second to the rendition of Valley Floyd Road that didn’t stop regardless of Jermain Defoe scoring to confirm Charlton’s relegation halfway through it.
“The start couldn’t have been worse, but the response from the Covered End couldn’t have been more impressive. Even as Cardiff were still celebrating their 4th min goal the relentless wall of noise driving down from the upper tier in particular was something that still puts hairs on the back of my neck when I think back. A constant, deafening chorus of ‘Chrissy Powell’s Red & White Army’ resonated around the Valley for much of that first half, even defiantly ignoring a Cardiff 2nd.” – Hungry Ted, Charlton blogger
But while the overriding feeling was pride, it was hiding the belief that all was lost. The points, Powell’s time at Charlton, and the positivity that he had brought back to the club. This was desperate. Possibly not to those more experienced Charlton fans, but certainly to those of a slightly younger vintage.
Hamer’s dejection summed it up. He was angry with himself, he kept gesturing in frustration and shouting out in anger. Desperate.
But that was not the response of a man, in a team, who didn’t care. A team that were two goals down for a lack of effort. Charlton had not thrown in the towel just yet.
They’ll tell you they had a part to play, and they probably did. That continuous roar from the Covered End could have only acted as motivation, motivation for those unquestionably committed to the Charlton cause.
For it was Johnnie Jackson that got the Addicks back into the game with 39 minutes played. The heroic skipper. The man who loves the club as much as anyone singing his boss’ name in the stands.
It wasn’t against the run of play, for Powell’s men were competing, but nor were there any signs that it was coming. Morrison, acting as a maundering full-back in possibly the strangest factor about the night, saw his cross spilled by David Marshall, and the cleverest of touches from Salim Kerkar set the ball back perfectly for the skipper. The finish was emphatic.
But it made agitated/grumpy Addick sulk even more. While the fans around, myself included, celebrated with a mixture of hope and a feeling that their supportive efforts were being rewarded, he sat emotionless in his seat. Tutting followed.
And tutting soon became a more pronounced gasp, the sort that football fans are so good at producing in unison.
With Charlton now on top, but half-time just around the corner, their momentum needed to be capitalised upon before Cardiff were able to regroup during the break. It meant seeing Rob Hulse’s effort cleared off the line was nothing short of agony.
In fact, I’d momentarily forgotten Mark Hudson’s clearance had given the Addicks a corner. I removed my head from my hands just in time to see an inspired Kerkar pick out an unmarked Jackson to thunder a header beyond a stationary Marshall.
“Deflated. Dejected. Downhearted. This was how I felt immediately after Charlton went 2-0 down at home to Cardiff. Having conceded 4 at home to Middlesbrough a few days earlier I feared the worst. I also feared for Chris Powell’s job. But what happened next was remarkable. The fans stuck with the team and chants of ‘Chrissy Powell’s Red Army’ echoed out of the North Upper for a solid 20 minutes. The inspirational Johnnie Jackson led the fight back with two quick fire goals before half time and suddenly we had belief.” – Jon Brand, Charlton supporter
The image of Charlton’s leader throwing his fist in celebration as Dale Stephens chases after him is iconic. The relief I felt as Jackson wheeled away in celebration akin to monetarily dropping a phone, before catching it during its descent.
And that’s exactly what Jackson had done; saved his side from a very uncomfortable descent. But still grumpy Addick remained in his seat. A few point and laughed, like you would at an animal in zoo, but he remained unflustered.
Regardless, the hope experienced before the game had returned.
But the nature of this hope was different. The momentum that was moments from being snatched away from Powell’s side was now firmly in their possession, epitomised by the roar from the Covered End as the players retreated to the dressing room. Cardiff could regroup all they want, but the confidence and belief to win the game was greater in the home dressing, and in the home ends.
“At half-time, I was buzzing, absolutely buzzing. They say that in a time of crisis, ‘it must be the captain who steps up’ and my god, didn’t Jackson do that. The game was still dramatically poised, but two goals before the break gave us the momentum heading into the second-half.” – Greg Stubley – Charlton fan and NewsShopper contributor
I specifically remember that 15 minute interval taking an age. I was engrossed by the game, delighted that Powell’s side had shown an incredible amount of fight but equally nervous that capitulating again could see the end of the flat-capped one. Probably as much as the players, who returned to The Valley’s pitch with another roar from the Covered End, I was anxious for the game to get going again.
Given what had gone before, and the anxiety I felt, you would have expected knee slides and all sorts from me as Charlton took the lead early on in the second period. Instead, I laughed in disbelief.
The manner of the goal didn’t help, Dale Stephens’ over-hit free-kick looping over an out of position Marshall, but there was a very surreal feel about it all. Half trying to convince yourself that this was indeed happening, half feeling levels of joy, pride and sheer euphoria you didn’t think were possible. Charlton, bloody Charlton.
So too laughing disbelief was the Addick behind me, finally on his feet, hands aloft to apologise for being very wrong about Chris Powell’s Charlton.
And while there was more than an element of luck about the goal that put the Addicks ahead, the ball almost willed into the net by the noise in the Covered End behind it, you would be hard pressed to argue it wasn’t deserved.
For Charlton were now in complete control. Their passing snappy and potent, their exploitation of the flanks a constant threat, individual performances from Jackson, also criticised before the game, Stephens and Pritchard utterly phenomenal. Powell hadn’t changed much in terms of shape, that isn’t what Powell does, but his motivational abilities and the belief he instils in his side to overcome desperate times was shining through.
Cardiff had no answer. It wasn’t that they had given up or looked beaten, but they simply couldn’t contend with this rampant Charlton side.
And having seemly had the game won after 24 minutes, they were out of it by the 59th.
Solly, apparently as natural a left-back as he is a right-back, delivered a sensational ball to Pritchard at the back post, but there was still plenty to do for the diminutive Zimbabwean.
The touch with his chest brought the ball down perfectly, and great strength was shown to fend off a Cardiff defender before knocking the ball perfectly across for the unmarked Haynes.
His header wasn’t as well executed as it could have been. In fact, on a night where Marshall wasn’t conspiring to make Charlton’s life a lot easier, it would have been saved.
But that mattered little to home supporters. Most of the night is still very visible in mind, but this more so, and not only for the fact that my irrationally adored hero, Pritchard, was involved.
Haynes darted away in celebration while I made up for being a bit reserved for Stephens’ goal, jumping on my poor, defenceless father without warning. Incredible scenes in the Covered End. Truly incredible.
A rendition of Valley Floyd Road followed, sung so loudly and passionately by not just the Covered End, but the entire crowd. Their efforts, and those from the players that they inspired, had warranted this.
“There can be no question the crowd played their part that night. It was a powerful show of undivided support and the quintessential proof of how effective the ‘12th man’ can be.” – Hungry Ted
Did they deserve to witness their side go 5-2 ahead? Five two. Five goals against the side who would hold onto their top spot all season. Five goals after a woeful weekend and a more than worrying start to this encounter.
Whether they deserved to or not is one thing, but the fact it actually happened was beyond surreal. That Rob Hulse was the scorer of the fifth left you having to pitch yourself before allowing yourself to celebrate.
In truth, Hulse, although I’m sure he did his best, couldn’t miss. Kerkar’s delivery was nothing short of sublime, the QPR loanee merely had to move away from his marker and nod past a motionless Marshall.
If it wasn’t already the greatest night at The Valley I’ve experienced, it certainly was now. The comeback in the circumstances incredible, the performance utterly sensational, the pride felt as Powell’s players stood up and fought for him indescribable.
Standing there, arms aloft, as Hulse celebrated might not have made up for all the suffering I have endured in that seat, but it made it worthwhile. If those relegations, dire defeats and feelings of misery in the Covered End amounted to this once every few years, I’d grit my teeth and do it all again. Even grumpy Addick was now a very happy, if a little embarrassed, Addick.
“I somehow obtained signal at half time and saw were all level and that would have been fine for me as Cardiff were favourites to get promoted and sitting up at the top of the table. Emerging from the pub with around 15 minutes to go in our match I had to double take when I saw we were 5-2 up.” – Owen Green
Such was the nature of the night, I’d allowed myself to forget that this was Charlton who I was watching. Notorious heart breakers; experts in making my life harder than it needs to be.
And such naive thoughts were only encouraged by how comfortable the Addicks looked for the remainder of the 90. Possibly helped by a shell shocked Cardiff, the hosts rarely looked troubled, even troubling the visitors on a few occasions. The game was being seen out in effortless fashion.
“The away end wasn’t the prettiest. People flooded out cursing and punching things as they went by.” – Dean Rood – Cardiff fan who was at The Valley that night
But a rather generous six minutes of additional time was awarded. You could be 8-0 up, and seeing such a figure would still make you uneasy.
Maybe it was something of an irrational reaction, but as a monetary lapse in concentration in a back four that had been resilient since Cardiff’s second allowed Craig Noone to reduce the Bluebirds’ deficit two minutes into that added on time, my heart sank. Most around me laughed it off, but I was genuinely worried.
It’s Charlton, isn’t it? It would have been very Charlton if they had found a way not to win from such a position. In fact, it probably would have been worth some applause; a fantastic showing of traditional ineptitude.
And those worries were confirmed when, with the best part of two minutes still to play, Aron Gunnarsson latched onto Rudy Gestede’s flick on to bring Cardiff within one goal of Charlton.
The Covered End that had previously laughed off a goal was now, and probably for the first time that evening, silent. Well, silent but for the occasional expletive.
“After Cardiff made it 5-4, I was by this point sitting reaching for my phone charger, refreshing my Twitter feed every half second begging for the final whistle whilst receiving daggers from my better half for spending the last prior 90 minutes glued to my phone. A real roller coaster evening, made even more nerve wracking in a way by not being there and not being able to cheer the team on, watching the game on a Twitter feed almost made it worse!” – Aaron Sharp, who followed the game on Twitter
Cardiff had suddenly become unplayable, inspired by encouragement from the hardy souls in the away end just as Charlton supporters had pushed their side on.
And most unplayable of all was Noone. Almost immediately, the tricky winger created some space for himself and made another opening.
Heart in mouth may be a god awful expression, but there was certainly something in my throat that was preventing me from breathing as Noone shaped to shoot. It must have been the same for all Addicks, as the ground again fell silent.
There was power in the strike, it was well hit. But hit too well. Not by much, but by enough, the ball sailed over Hamer’s crossbar. The function to breathe has never been so valued. The final whistle that followed celebrated as much as any of Charlton’s five goals.
What an incredible night to be an Addick.
“Cardiff pulled one back, the defence had gotten sloppy, the midfield knackered. Then three minutes later a fourth. No. Just no. Surely not. The renewed, panicked energy meant defending became more frenetic. A free kick on the edge of the box probably caused numerous fans to have a heart attack. The attack was absorbed, nullified. The torturous added time expired. The game was won.” – Dan Webster, former Charlton Blogger
Did those goals take the shine of the night? At the time, they did. I felt 5-2 was a more reflective and deserving scoreline and, in the immediate aftermath, almost felt a sense of injustice.
But looking back now, they merely added to the incredible nature of the night. They gave you another emotion to endure, that of nervous agony, and made the full-time whistle so much sweeter.
It proved to be one of those games that you can look back on and smile… had we missed out on promotion by a point then I wouldn’t have reflected on it with quite the same fondness.” – Daniel Lewis, Cardiff fan and journalist who followed the game via radio
They certainly took nothing away from the celebrations at full-time, as the exhausted members of Charlton’s side visibly expressed both their joy and relief, while the man under so much pressure got the moment he deserved, leaping from the tunnel and fist pumping in the direction of those who had supported him so valiantly.
For this was not only my best night as a Charlton fan, it was probably Chris Powell’s best evening as Charlton boss.
“We looked like we were heading for another pummelling and, privately, many of us in the Valley may have even begun to doubt the capability of Chris Powell’s side in the Championship. Five goals, a Johnnie Jackson tour de force and a Chris Powell tunnel jump later, those same people were asking themselves how they could have ever been so stupid.” – Joe Hall, ValleyTalk Editor
Under scrutiny, with a weakened squad and facing disaster in the face at two goals down, Powell and his players pulled off something utterly incredible, and gave the Addicks the most incredible of games, topping a whole host of other unbelievable games for which Powell was leader.
I have produced this with a smile on my face throughout. Remembering such a night has been an experience almost as enjoyable as the night itself.
From the pain of having seemingly lost the game and the boss, to the pride of knowing my contribution as part of the Covered End choir had contributed to Charlton’s turnaround, it was a night full of emotions that I will never forget.
For Charlton fans of a certain generation, it probably doesn’t mean as much. In fact, I asked my father about where the game ranks for him. The simple response: “It doesn’t. It didn’t mean anything in terms of promotion or relegation.”
But for a large number of Addicks, two years ago today saw them enjoy their best night at The Valley.
“No question, that game will still be spoken about in 20 years’ time and I’ll still be shaking my head whenever I think about it. The gate was close to 16,000 as I recall, but far more people will claim to have been present. I Left the Valley in utter disbelief at what I’d experienced but immensely proud of Johnnie and the boys and my fellow Addicks. Night games at the Valley are always special, but that went off the scale.” – Hungry Ted