I wasn’t even alive 25 years ago, and yet I feel no sense of exclusion from Saturday’s anniversary celebrations of Charlton Athletic’s return to The Valley in 1992.
For the event is one that defines the identity of this football club. An identity that all supporters attach themselves. An identity that is passed down through generations.
The story of the Addicks being forced out of their home, the fight of supporters to win back The Valley, and the subsequent return is a story that must be heard before you’re inducted into the world of Charlton Athletic. The scenes of The Valley in a state of disrepair, the Valley Party’s campaign posters, and the scenes of celebration as a return to The Valley was announced all images that sit as strongly in my mind as anything I have actually witnessed. The clips of the gates being opened, Alan Curbishley’s plea in the dressing room for “plenty of shots” before his side took to The Valley pitch for the first time in seven years, and Colin Walsh converting in the seventh minute against Portsmouth to the sound if “and it becomes the perfect start”; iconic scenes, that evoke meaning even for those that weren’t there.
I cannot, of course, replicate the emotions of those who were involved the process of fighting to get back to The Valley. Who formed The Valley Party, who fought against every barrier put in their way, and ultimately helped to achieve a return home through the most remarkable display of fan power. The feeling upon returning to The Valley, and the pride and wonder that must be felt in recalling those feelings now, on 5 December 1992 cannot be imagined.
But I can acknowledge my own incredible moments I’ve had while watching Charlton at The Valley. From my first game in 2004, from which I still remember my first sighting of The Valley under a late summer’s evening sun, to incredible games and goals, and as sometimes a sanctum of release from the misery of the real world. Maybe soon, the process of fighting for something as a supporter and getting reward will become part of that, with Roland Duchatelet’s reign nearing its end.
Without those who fought so hard 25 years ago, I and supporters like myself would not have had those experiences. We probably would not have had a club to support. They have the assist for all I have witnessed, experienced and felt as an Addick.
There is, of course, a football game within all this. And quite an important one for the Addicks. Portsmouth returning to The Valley; the same opposition faced 25 years ago.
A Pompey side in relatively handy form, winning three out of four games to climb to eighth. A Charlton side that have stuttered in recent weeks, with results and more obviously performances deteriorating. The Addicks in need of a win, and a strong performance, to tame concerns and keep the pressure on those above them.
But foremost, this is an afternoon with an opportunity for Charlton fans to admire the unique heart of their club. For those that were involved in fighting for a return to The Valley to relive the journey and the achievement, for those born too late to admire those that fought, and to remember the many incredible moments experienced inside Charlton’s home over the course of the previous 25 years that might not have been possible. And to hope that, with Duchatelet on the verge of selling, the attachment between club, supporter, and home will strengthen in the coming months and years.
LAST MEETING – PORTSMOUTH 0-1 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (20/01/2007)
Amdy Faye’s first, and last, positive contribution in a Charlton shirt earned Charlton their first, and last, away victory of a season that would end in relegation from the Premier League, as the Senegalese international’s goal gave the Addicks what appeared a crucial three points at Fratton Park in January 2007.
Not only was it Faye’s first goal for Charlton after arriving in the summer amid a number of questionable signings made by new boss Iain Dowie, replacing the outgoing Alan Curbishley after 15 years in charge, it was his first, and last, during an eight-year period spent in English football.
And not only way it Charlton’s first away win of the season, it was their first since October 2005, also achieved at Fratton Park. Four managers – Curbishley, Dowie, Les Reed, and leader at the time Alan Pardew – had tried and failed to win a game away at The Valley during that 15-month period. A period that took in 25 games.
There little confidence that this horrid run away from home would end for the relegation threatened Addicks on the South Coast, with Portsmouth challenging for European football and the Addicks coming into the game on the back of consecutive defeats following a semi-positive start under Pardew’s ‘guidance’. Pardew was also unable to call upon the injured Darren Bent, meaning goals in the side were minimal. A start for Marcus Bent, with a mammoth two goals to his name all season.
And so it was the goalless Faye who stole an unlikely three points with 11 minutes to play. The midfielder combining with Bryan Hughes, and firing home against his former club.
The win leaving the Addicks just three points from safety, but ultimately a relatively meaningless one. Only three further wins would follow in the remaining 14 games, and they would join Watford and Sheffield United in being relegated to the Championship. A fate finally sealed with defeat to Tottenham in the penultimate game of the campaign, with no return to the top flight ever coming close.
A grounded sense of expectation preceded Pompey’s first campaign above League Two level in five, gained having been promoted as champions. No frantic demands for successive promotions from supporters, for desperation to return to former glory is an emotion eclipsed by strong attachment to a club that they saved from liquidation, and will always remain theirs despite the Supporters’ Trust selling the club this summer. Gaining a stable footing in the third tier, not least after needing to replace boss Paul Cook with Kenny Jackett, and continuing to operate with the same bond between supporters and club would surpass.
But this a club who played in the Premier League for seven consecutive seasons, who won The FA Cup ten years ago, and played in Europe. When a club holds such status, when it is so well supported, and when momentum from the previous season instils confidence, there always going to be a degree of belief that something more than stability can be achieved. Belief that is increasing on the back of recent results.
In fact, while the gap between Charlton Athletic, and their fellow play-off occupiers, and those below the top six is a comfortable six points, Portsmouth are one of two clubs (along with Peterborough United) who are six points away. Three League One victories in four games placing Pompey almost at the very top of a congested mid-table. Their only defeat in that period, frustratingly, coming against Peterborough.
Blackpool, Southend United, and Plymouth Argyle beaten. Their home record the fifth best in the division, and in Brett Pitman they have the second best goalscorer. In Jackett, they have a boss who has utilised his comparatively limited resources well, and created and an efficient side.
But concern for Pompey comes in their record against top six opponents. With Charlton and Shrewsbury Town still to face in this first round of fixtures, Jackett’s men have picked up just one point (from a 1-1 draw with Wigan Athletic) against the current occupiers of the top six. Concern ahead of the trip to The Valley, and maybe a reminder that keeping expectations grounded, irrespective of what the league table suggests, might be the best policy.
There little doubt that December stands to be a crucial month for Charlton. And that not simply because they face two in-form promotion rivals away from home, and three other sides in the division’s top half. There a need for the Addicks to improve the standard of their performances, and regain form.
For nine league games without defeat has become four with only one scrappy win. A horrendous display in FA Cup defeat to AFC Wimbledon for good measure. Karl Robinson’s dropping to sixth, with Scunthorpe United and Blackburn Rovers now appearing the most likely sides to challenge the top two, and missing out on The FA Cup Third Round.
Various elements of performances, both at the back and going forward, causing concern. A failure to take chances meaning brief periods of attacking threat go without reward. Defensive errors allowing teams to take advantage of an increasingly uncomfortable side.
But it is concern, rather than any sort of panic. A hurdle to get over with a stable foundation, rather than a fence while leaping from a waterlogged field. There positives to extract, and it not simply a case of returning to the nine-game unbeaten run and believing the Addicks will soon resume that form.
The incredible comeback against Peterborough Untied, in which two goals were scored in stoppage-time to equalise, reaffirming the character and determination of this side to earn points even when performances are below par. Key players are returning from injury, desperately required to stabilise a side losing its defensive resolve and liven up one lacking potency in attack. There no question of the side’s underlying qualities, just a desire for improvement.
And it improvement that needs to be seen during this month. One that could eat away at Charlton’s comfortable lead over seventh place. Or one that could take them into the top two of the division, displaying their strength by beating promotion rivals along the way.
Portsmouth boss Jackett is hopeful to have several additional bodies available to him this weekend, after injury hit his squad heavily prior to last Saturday’s Checkatrade Trophy win over Northampton Town.
Oli Hawkins (knee) and Kal Naismith (hamstring) both had to be withdrawn during the league victory over Plymouth a fortnight ago, but both are set to appear at The Valley, while Dion Donohue is also nearing a return following a back complaint.
And, most importantly for Pompey, an appearance for Brett Pitman looks likely after recovering from a hamstring problem. Summer signing Pitman has struck 12 times in 15 games this season, with only Rotherham’s Kieffer Moore (13) scoring more than him. A huge boost for Jackett’s side.
Christian Burgess will also return, after the defender missed the win over Plymouth through suspension.
But Pompey are likely to remain without Ben Close. The midfielder missed Saturday’s victory over the Cobblers with a thigh complaint, and more time is required to nurse the injury. A regular in the side, the academy graduate’s absence will be felt.
Close is joined in the treatment room by long-term absentees Milan Lalkovic (Achilles), Jack Whatmough (knee), and Damien McCrory (knee). Charlton academy graduate Tareiq Holmes-Dennis another with a serious knee injury, suffered less than 45 minutes into the new season. The left-back, who played 14 times for the Addicks before joining Huddersfield Town, is on loan at Fratton Park from the Premier League club.
Robinson’s squad should be strengthened by the return of a number of players who have missed several weeks through injury.
Skipper Chris Solly, having missed the dramatic draw with Peterborough and The FA Cup defeat to AFC Wimbledon, will be available, while Ben Reeves and Billy Clarke, whose presence in the central attacking midfield role has been missed in recent matches, are also set for a return.
Charlton’s boss may also have Jason Pearce available to him, with the defender featuring in the Checkatrade Trophy in midweek 11 weeks since suffering a knee injury during the draw with Bury. Particularly useful given Patrick Bauer, hauled off during the draw with Peterborough, set for a period in the treatment room. Harry Lennon, who made his first appearance in 13 months at Kingsmeadow after a torrid time with injury, another centre-back option Robinson can call upon, providing competition after a horrid defensive display after the Dons.
But a quad problem will keep the influential Tariqe Fosu on the sidelines. The winger’s seven goals meaning he remains the club’s top goal scorer, despite missing the previous four games.
Elsewhere, a start for recent signing Leon Best, particularly with Clarke and Reeves returning to give the Addicks further options in the final third, is unlikely to start as he continues to build up match practice.
KEY BATTLE – A STRUGGLING DEFENCE KEEPING PITMAN QUIET
So poor were Charlton in defence during last weekend’s defeat to AFC Wimbledon, the home supporters at Kingsmeadow saw it fit to thank the error-prone Naby Sarr by singing his name. The centre-back, who has been impressive since returning to the side but endured a torrid afternoon in West London, part of a backline that too frequently allowed the Dons in behind as a collective, and too often made individual mistakes that gave the hosts the opportunities from which they struck three times.
These not errors that can be ignored because it was The FA Cup. The extent of the errors too great. And the committing of defensive errors merely a continuation of what has been seen in recent weeks.
The Addicks a complete mess in the early stages against Rochdale, allowing the Dale to take an early lead and would have been two behind had they not had some fortune in seeing Matt Done’s strike come back off the inside of the post after a mix-up between Ben Amos and Jay Dasilva. Peterborough’s counter-attacking play constantly seeing them in behind Charlton’s backline, and truthfully, they should have had more than a two-goal lead by the time the Addicks started their comeback. What was only a few weeks ago a backline that was successfully grinding out single-goal victories has now become a great concern.
Defensive uncertainty that Portsmouth forward Brett Pitman will be eyeing up with great delight. The forward scoring 12 times in 15 games, in a team that has struck 25 times in 20. His important to the Pompey side, and his potency, unquestionable.
And so should the collective faults, and more importantly the individual errors, or recent weeks appear again on Saturday, it highly likely that they will be punished. A prolific forward in the opposition ranks to capitalise upon such mistakes. The Addicks can’t invite such a threat into shooting positions.
Charlton’s position will hopefully be helped by having defensive alternatives. Fit again Chris Solly will certainly come back into the side, after Anfernee Dijksteel conceded a penalty at Kingsmeadow, while if Jason Pearce is fit enough to start then Sarr and Konsa’s places are in doubt after their efforts against the Dons. Pearce, with his leadership and composure, the sort of figure required when things aren’t quite going to plan.
But irrespective of who forms the backline, with Pitman lurking, it has to show a greater deal of resolve than it has in recent weeks.
Well, there’s only one result, isn’t there? Charlton Athletic 1-0 Portsmouth