A 23rd loss of this torrid Championship campaign it might have been, and another to add to the list of defeats suffered in pathetic fashion, but Charlton supporters have rarely been able to feel such a proud feeling of victory this season.
In fact, not since the return to The Valley has there been a day that felt so important in SE7. A collective effort more powerful, more meaningful and potential producing a greater reward than any footballing win could achieve.
A collective effort which not only featured supporters of the Addicks united in their unanimous desire to rid their club of a poisonous regime, but fans from opposition club Brighton and Hove Albion as passionately demanding that Roland Duchatelet end his reign of wilful destruction.
It’s not just those disillusioned and disconnected Charlton supporters, apathetic towards their relegation but angry over how this regime has managed to inflict it, who can see the damage Duchatelet has done. The entire football community dismayed and disgusted with the manner in which the Belgian has treated this once model club.
“We’re Brighton and Hove Albion, we want Roland out,” the chant as Blue and White joined Red, Black and White on a march the featured 5,000 supporters, nearly as many placards, and one giant balloon which featured the unpleasant face of Charlton’s owner. As close as he’s got to appearing in SE7 on a matchday since 2014.
The away end joining in with the deafening chant of “we want Roland out” as beach balls, balloons and toilet roll immediately delayed a meaningless game for the already relegated Addicks. The scene incredible. The passion and connection, which Duchatelet has sought to destroy, inspiring thoughts of the better days that lie ahead once this regime has been removed.
Katrien Meire, in the week that her relegation statement was mocked and the squad spoke of their dismay with her actions, may have smirked in the Directors’ Box, but she would have been trembling inside at the sight of this powerful and visual display of displeasure.
A reminder that this game was merely a platform to protest for those with a Charlton connection as, once it had resumed, dire defending allowed Sam Baldock to convert from close range. Celebrations beginning after those inside the ground realised a loud whistle had not come from the referee, but within the stands.
The goal applauded by the home supporters, the Brighton striker returning the gesture, and the Brighton supporters finding another opportunity to sing against Duchatelet. Even the Seagulls, many speaking of nerves pre-match as they battled for promotion, were aware what the most important part of this day was.
An equaliser may have been scored by Jose Riga’s side shortly after a pitch-invading object interrupted second half was allowed to resume, with Jordan Cousins crossing for Johann Berg Gudmundsson to tap in with ease, but it mattered little. Horrendously undeserved, given how poor Charlton were, and not able to prevent an immediate chant against Duchatelet.
Nor was it able to give the Addicks any momentum on the pitch. The only fight, desire and effort in the stands as Jiri Skalak rounded off a slick Brighton move with a stunning finish just four minutes later. The slender lead the least the Seagulls deserved; a reward for their support of our protests, and a reward for their performance.
And though their lead was not doubled until the 90th minute, by which time understandable anger had resulted in a movement towards the Directors’ Box and a single red smoke bomb exploding on the pitch, the gap in class and quality between the two sides could not be more obvious. Tomer Hemed converting calmly from the spot after Rod Fanni had hauled down substitute Anthony Knockeart.
But there was no gap between the two sets of supporters. The unity again obvious as The Valley emptied, with helping to oust Duchatelet still high on the priorities of those in the away end despite the joy of their vital victory, and many in Blue and White relocating to behind the West Stand. Their delight put to one side, to support a set of supporters who had offered them an equal amount of assistance as they fought for a home.
This might have been another bleak and gutless effort from Charlton, reflecting the state that the club has been left in by Duchatelet, but it was a proud effort from those who support this club, and those who feel a sense of injustice that they must suffer this pain.
A victory for football supporters. A victory for Charlton supporters. A defeat for those who think they are merely weird customers, and their club can be treated as a toy.
That was, in truth, the only victory that could be achieved from a Charlton perspective. The eyes normally diverted towards phones come 2pm, with no interest in which side Jose Riga had selected to represent the League One Addicks, were fully focused on the scene outside the Liberal Club.
While it was being revealed that Morgan Fox, Alou Diarra, Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Callum Harriott had returned to the side, in favour of Harry Lennon, Johnnie Jackson, Yun Suk-Young and Simon Makienok, the anti-Roland chants amidst a sea of black and white had begun. The march towards The Valley preparing to get underway.
The numbers large, the Brighton presence powerful, and the numerous banners increasing the intensity. All overseen by a black and white Duchatelet balloon, that followed the group as it headed towards the ground. Emphatic.
In many circumstances, this would have been enough to make the desired point. But this well attended and incredibly impressive march was, as promised, just the beginning of a day of protest. A day of protest required to pressure and embarrass an ignorant regime that have crippled a club into selling.
Thousands of black and white balloons floating upwards from the stands as the two teams took the pitch. Black and white beach balls, and an unrelenting shared chorus from both sets of supporters against Charlton’s ownership, appearing as an attempt was made to get the game underway. The best part of seven minutes required for the protest to be quelled to the point that play could resume.
Incredible. Emotional. Proud. The Addicks reaffirming their disgust with the way their club has been treated, and repeating their desire for change. A fight they simply won’t lose.
If only Duchatelet, Meire and Richard Murray could crumble as quickly as Charlton’s defence. For just one minute after Nick Pope’s goal area had been cleared of spherical objects, another found its way into his goal.
Skalak’s free-kick ultimately knocked across goal by Connor Goldson, where an unmarked Baldock was able to convert into what was effectively an empty net. Those in red, not for the first time, offering little structure or resistance in their efforts to defend a set-piece situation.
And not for the first time this season, an opposition goal was well-received by home supporters. But that Baldock and Charlton supporters shared applause sent a greater message than the appreciation Yann Kermorgant received after scoring against his former club. A greater mutual respect and understanding between another club and its players than there is between the regime and those that follow the Addicks.
Regardless, an immediate response was required from those representing Charlton to prevent this day being an embarrassing one for them too. Jorge Teixeira headed a Gudmundsson delivery wide, and Morgan Fox failed to make solid contact when a chance fell his way from a corner, but this was no spirited response.
The Addicks without composure, quality or creativity. Too long taken on the ball, before it was ultimately gifted to the opposition. Dale Stephens, whose name was sung by the home support, and Berman Kayal dominant in midfield. Those in wide positions running into dead ends, and unable to supply.
As anti-Duchatelet songs continued, there could be no excuse for such a weak performance. They had won in similar conditions, but were now being overwhelmed by the Albion. Goldson headed wide, while the excellent Anthony Knockeart glided forward and forced a save out of Pope.
But though it was Brighton who remained in control, with their football slick but their end product a little disappointing, it was the disorganised Addicks who went closest prior to half-time. Gudmundsson’s striking into the side netting having been played through by Harriott, and offering a reminder that maybe the hosts weren’t completely out of this game.
Not enough, however, to prevent the effort in the opening 45 being met with boos. This the sort of performance you might expect from a side already relegated, but not one that was in any way acceptable.
And with Meire not announcing her resignation during the interval, nor was there reason to postpone further protests at the start of the second half. Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale, with little else to do, made himself a hero to the Covered End as he pretended to use the toilet roll thrown onto the pitch in a more traditional manner.
But few were laughing once the game had resumed, as the Seagulls almost immediately created a glorious opening once again. The lively Skalak sending Baldock through, but the forward only able to flash his strike across the face of goal.
No expectation that that would be a costly miss. Merely foreshadowing the bombardment that Charlton’s goal would surely face throughout the half. Little chance of this beleaguered group of Addicks drawing level.
A minute later, however, and Baldock had been punished. Or, more accurately, Brighton had been punished for a momentary lapse in defence. Ademola Lookman’s tenacity ultimately allowing Cousins to break down the left, his driven cross missed by an unmarked Igor Vetokele, and an equally unchallenged Gudmundsson able to convert the simplest of goals at the back post.
The response, as you might expect, rather muted. A few high fives on the pitch, a brief cheer in the stands, and more definite cry of “we want Roland out” following before play had even resumed. The objectives of this afternoon, as if they weren’t already, were clear.
Regardless, there was still a desperate need for the Seagulls to record victory, and it was there rather lively response to falling behind that prevented Charlton from gaining any sort of control of the game. Pope continuing his recent good form as he denied the frustrated Baldock, turning inside and waltzing past Fanni, from close range.
But such resilience, if only from Pope, was not to last. Absolutely nothing the goalkeeper could do as the Seagulls broke, Kayal split Charlton’s defence with an excellent pass, and Skalak finished in stunning style. The away end bouncing, the Addicks flat once again.
At least the home supporters could once again applaud the efforts of the travelling fans. A chant against Duchatelet following soon after their celebrations had died down. That more promising than Charlton’s next attempt at goal, as Cousins seemingly aimed for the top tier of the Covered End with a first time drive from outside the box.
Such wayward efforts meant that, despite a lively Gudmundsson giving the Addicks something on the break, Brighton’s advantage always felt larger than one. It might have been actually been larger had Pope not got his body in the way of a Hemed shot following a corner.
But while it remained just one, regardless of the sluggishness and acceptance that Charlton were playing with, there was always a chance the Addicks could frustrate the Seagulls. Ten minutes to play as Fox’s cross was meant by Gudmundsson, but the Iceland international couldn’t quite keep his volley down.
Nor could Charlton supporters keep their emotions in check. Not an official protest, and not one that would be endorsed by CARD, but you could certainly understand why some felt the need to move towards the Directors’ Box. The frustration and anger that this regime has wilfully created far too create to control.
It certainly wasn’t going to be calmed by a rare shot on target as stoppage-time approach. Harriott’s effort from the edge of the box tame, and simple for Stockdale to claim.
Keeping out Knockeart’s strike at the other end, however, was anything but simple. An outstanding diving stop from Pope, but it was merely delaying the inevitable.
For the excellent Knockeart broke into the penalty area five minutes into the eight added, and was brought down by Fanni’s loose leg. As clear a penalty as you’re likely to see, and as cool a finish as you’re likely to see. Hemed rolling the ball into the bottom corner, with Pope diving the other way, and sparking wild scenes of relief-filled celebration in the away end.
And yet, those of a Brighton persuasion, as they had been throughout the day, remained committed to Charlton’s cause. Their own forgotten for a moment, as one final anti-Roland chant from the Seagulls was met with applause from the emptying home ends.
While the Addicks slumped off defeated, at least supporters could take pride in their own efforts, and feel proud of those in the away end.
For the result for already relegated Addicks really didn’t matter. The performance, pathetic and weak though it was, is hardly worth getting worked up over when there have been so many similar in more meaningful games this season. That the attitude of those in red was a little questionable was probably to be expected.
What mattered was that so many, in such loud voice, joined the protest march. Displaying their placards, and creating a powerful scene against the regime.
That the game was interrupted on so many occasions, further embarrassing this horrendous ownership and leaving them weaker than ever.
That the anti-Duchatelet message was clear throughout the game, regardless of events on the pitch.
That the number at the post-match demonstration were large, reinforcing just how many supporters feel disenchanted.
That the support of the Brighton fans, and their players, made our protests stronger than ever.
That we showed we would be fighting until the end to get our club back, and that we will do it.
A proud day to be an Addick. We’re winning this battle.