It’s probably a comparison that is slightly misjudged, and certainly overstated, but it felt like a loved one was passing while I watched on hopelessly.
Football had broken me on several occasions before, and this wasn’t the first time I’d experienced something that resembled grief inside a ground. But the soul-destroying nature of that day remains difficult to stomach nine months on, and that’s without taking into account the events that followed two days later.
There’s strong competition, but standing in Brammall Lane in a state of shock, disbelief and the sort of anger that makes you want to cry rather than punch walls was very possibly the worst I have ever felt inside a football ground.
I don’t need to remind anyone of the collective pain felt in that away end as a combination of hard to believe factors resulted in as dispirited Charlton performance as I’ve ever seen on a day where so much was demanded.
The FA Cup Quarter-Final defeat to Sheffield United, and all that goes with it, will be something that even the most half-hearted of Charlton fans will probably never be over.
That it was the FA Cup, this competition with such a magical quality that has yet to be effectively described in less than something resembling a thesis, and that seeing an adored group of Charlton players led out by their legendry manager at Wembley was so close, made it the whole experience infinite times worse. Excuse me while I take a break from my writing to have my 4,320th cry over it all.
And yet, I’m looking forward to Monday’s FA Cup Third Round draw more than someone who is still recovering from heartbreak should be. More than a Charlton fan should be. Playing Huddersfield yearly, avoiding big teams like the plague and giving up on a cup run 20 minutes into the Third Round more often than not isn’t exactly fun.
In addition, last season’s despair wasn’t the first the FA Cup has given me in my 11 seasons as an Addick. We’ll never get a better chance of reaching the final than we did in 2006, and a very young Chris Powell’s Flat Cap cried himself to sleep the night after the Quarter-Final defeat to Middlesbrough. All the evidence suggests I should hate the competition like I do Simon Jordan, Ian Holloway and the sort of people who would boo Powell and Yann Kermorgant on their returns to SE7.
But it’s a night that occurred not three weeks before I was crushed that means my faith in the FA Cup remains. It was one of the best nights I’ve ever had in an away end, if not anywhere.
The mature class of Diego Poyet, the unrelenting determination of Johnnie Jackson and Simon Church’s elbow all worshiped. More than 1,000 barmy Charlton fans creating a sensational atmosphere at Hillsborough on a cold Monday night. Chris Powell, a man of many great celebrations, making his last the most memorable.
For that Fifth Round FA Cup victory over Sheffield Wednesday is something I remember, and probably always will do, as vividly as the United defeat. Had it been a league game, it would have been enjoyable, but nothing too special. The FA Cup’s incredible quality to make the better moments have a magical quality about them had struck.
I wouldn’t for a second suggest that such joy made the pain suffered thereafter worth it, but in that moment, there were few ways of expressing my sheer joy coherently. It was a pleasure the Addicks had so rarely provided.
And then there’s those few big days out. So rarely awarded to the Addicks since our demise from the Premier League, but enjoyed despite ending in big defeats when they have come along. The Tottenham fixture was decent enough; 7,000 Addicks at Fulham belting out Valley Floyd Road despite being 4-0 absolutely sensational.
These are the sort of moments I live for as a football fan. In years to come I’ll be able to recite happy tails from Wednesday, Fulham and even Huddersfield away. Just thinking about those days and nights now gives me a buzz akin to the sadness I feel remembering the United game.
The competition in general also maintains an incredible quality that means, no matter how much it’s made you suffer, it’s hard to adore it. It’s arguably one of very few things in the modern game that is emotional journey first, and some sort of many making nonsense second.
Even seeing the likes of Warrington and Blyth Spartans celebrate their cup successes this season, in addition to Dover Athletic, a club who I have an irrational like for and saw beat Oxford City in the qualifying rounds last season in another fantastic day the FA Cup has given me, has made me quite excited for a couple of ex-professionals you’d forgotten existed to draw some balls out of pot.
So who do I want? Anyone but Sheffield United.
In seriousness, it would have to be a tie that gives us a platform from which we can enjoy another cup run. A cup run that can be ended by a Premier League club in the latter stages of the competition, where the heartbreak will be minor owing to the nature of the opposition and the day out had.
So roll on losing to Watford at The Valley in the first week of January!