I’ve said it before and, no doubt when I write my next unnecessarily emotive piece, I’ll say it again; my suffering as a Charlton fan is merely Chris Solly shaped when compared to the Andre Bikey sized pain that older and more wiser Addicks have had to endure.
But it doesn’t mean the defeats to Millwall haven’t hurt me. It doesn’t mean watching us conspire to play like a half-hearted non-league side at The Valley whenever they’ve visited hasn’t forced me to curl up into a ball and sob endlessly. It doesn’t mean our record against our South East London rivals doesn’t make me want to pack in this football nonsense and spend my Saturday afternoons walking round the great shopping centres this country has to offer.
Alas, as tempting as fighting Christmas shoppers at Bluewater or curling up into a ball and sobbing is (you’d probably have to do the second if you did the first), I shall once again be in SE7, blindly hoping that a Charlton side, probably without Igor Vetokele, can record the Addicks’ first win over their neighbours since before Joe Gomez was born.
The last derby victory I, and other Addicks, experienced was the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace in 2009. Matt Spring’s emphatic volley (it was a tap in, really, but it was against Palace so let’s call it emphatic), ended a run of 18 games without a win, and made Rob Elliott celebrate at full-time with more passion and excitement than almost any other Charlton player past or present. In a disgusting, Alan Pardew-infested season, it was one of few incredible nights.
Likewise, the defeat to Millwall in March 2013 put a dent on what was a season of relative success for the Addicks. The defeat to the Lions last season epitomised all that was wrong with a side capable of being absolutely horrendous. Horrible memories.
It makes you first of all fear defeat before you can contemplate victory. Because these games do matter. I like to underplay the importance of derbies, but once they’re around the corner, I’m as nervous as any other Charlton supporter.
Millwall fans will tell you that this contest isn’t a derby, rivalry or anything else other than another game for them. They don’t care about us, but they care about us enough to say they don’t care. It goes without saying that they care just as much as we do. They’re thriving off their current record and couldn’t stand for it to be ruined.
But some Charlton fans like to play the ‘it’s just another game’ card. They’re the wise ones. They’re clever enough to know that getting wrapped up in the emotions of a derby is a dangerous game to play, especially as an Addick.
But it’s almost impossible not to get wrapped up in the emotions. Not to feel broken after a defeat.
Once again, I probably have it easy. I can come back to my student flat in Eastbourne, lock myself away and pretend football doesn’t exist for a day or so. There’s no Millwall fans down here to make me want to make the short walk to Beachy Head and call it quits.
For Addicks who actually live in and around South East London, life after a derby defeat isn’t so fun. Avoiding Millwall fans for a week seems like a tough ask.
But that tactic, the hiding away and pretend it hasn’t happened one, so rarely works. It fact, it doesn’t work at all. Whatever Millwall fans want to believe, whatever those who pretend it’s just another game believe and whatever those who think they can just brush the result off believe, this is a vitally important fixture. The same three points, but not the same feeling.
In other words, please don’t make my life unbearable by being pathetic failures today, Charlton. Please.