January 10th, 2005: Scally wag-ons

The direct rail link between Charlton and Gillingham re-opens next Monday after a 12-month closure for engineering works.

I half-expect Gills chairman Paul Scally to position himself in front of the first train armed with a red – or possibly blue – flag.

Scally didn’t like Charlton’s community link-up with Kent County Council last year and now he’s complaining about the club’s plans to run £5-a-head coaches from across Kent to matches at The Valley, starting this weekend.

He thinks Charlton should keep out of Medway – if not the whole county - but in reality Addicks fans have probably outnumbered Gills supporters in Kent ever since Charlton reached the First Division in 1936.

It was Medway that spawned the first of the modern network of supporters’ club branches a dozen years ago, launched by my namesake Mick Everett, now the club’s operations director.

He lived a short free-kick from Priestfield and later helped raised funds for the Gills when they were in dire financial straits.

Medway CASC was closely followed by the Maidstone branch, which currently has more than 1,000 members and has been running coaches to The Valley for a decade, as has a similar group in Canterbury.

It’s commercial nonsense to expect the Addicks to turn their backs on those supporters and limit their activity to an area within the M25.

Judging by their comments on internet message boards, many Gills fans understand this and think their chairman ought to pipe down and get on with the job of promoting their own club.

But as the organiser of the new Charlton coaches, I’m afraid I can’t agree.

Scally’s determination to have a public row about it has been very helpful in publicising the service. I say, keep up the good work!

January 17th, 2005 (1): Fixture failings

Burnley’s FA Cup third-round tie with Liverpool on Tuesday night was anxiously awaited by many Charlton supporters.

With Everton already at home on fourth-round day, January 29th, the expected outcome at Turf Moor would see the Anfield club play host to Bournemouth the following day.

This was expected to result in an edict from the Premier League that Charlton’s clash with Liverpool on Tuesday, February 1st, should be put back 24 hours to allow the Merseyside club’s players more recovery time.

Now Liverpool may not currently be title contenders, but their visit is always one of the season’s highlights, especially since Charlton developed a habit of beating them.

Fans like Prague-based season-ticket holder Richard Hunt have made arrangements to fly in for the game – and back out the next morning. Forty fans of FC Roda are travelling from Holland. Countless others will have arranged their week around the match.

If Liverpool won and the Premier League insists on moving the Valley fixture at less than a fortnight’s notice, many people who have booked travel will lose out financially or even miss the match entirely.

The fact Charlton will have an extra day to recover from their own FA Cup game with Yeovil is potentially a source of advantage. But is it right for Liverpool’s problem to be resolved at the expense of the Addicks’ supporters?

If Premier League chiefs really believe it is unreasonable to play two games in three days then they need to explain why they scheduled a full programme of such matches twice over the Christmas and New Year holiday.

We learned from Sunday’s papers that the league is setting up an enquiry into apparently falling attendances. If Liverpoolis moved, I think it ought to start by reviewing its own policy of issuing such two-fingered salutes to the public. 

January 17th, 2005 (2): Lost and found

Seven hundred Kentish people poured off the Valley Express coaches in the Woolwich Road before Saturday’s game.

They included season-ticket holders taking the chance to leave their cars at home, youngsters and parents making their first-ever visit to Charlton, and pensioners returning after an absence of up to 50 years.

Each of the 14 coaches that arrived from all parts of the county seemed to carry someone with a special story to tell.

Happily the team was able to oblige with a victory over Birmingham City and a performance that left the newcomers thrilled by what they had seen at The Valley both on and off the pitch. 

The whole exercise was a typically Charlton collaboration between the club and its established supporter groups, who provided much of the organisation on the day.

The extent of the positive feedback from those who had travelled for the first time was hugely encouraging and the initiative now looks set to go from strength to strength.

But despite the overwhelming success of the club’s pilot route from Thanet since the start of the season, I have to report that there is at least one passenger who probably won’t be back.

The teenage girl was among those who climbed aboard at Margate before the recent FA Cup tie against Rochdale.

The coach then made its final pick-up for the day further along the coast at Herne Bay, before heading up the M2 for The Valley.

It was only when it pulled up in Charlton more than an hour later that it emerged not everyone was looking forward to the afternoon’s game.

Having been embarrassed into silence by the situation she found herself in, the unfortunate girl approached the steward to reveal that she had had mistaken the coach for a rail replacement bus service to Ramsgate.

January 24th, 2005: Turning the table

Following Charlton increasingly resembles the film Groundhog Day, in which a shallow Bill Murray endlessly repeats the same 24 hours until he finally hits the right note with Andie MacDowell.

For the fifth successive season, the Addicks are set to emerge from deepest mid-winter with any relegation worries put firmly behind them. And this is, let no one be in any doubt, a massive achievement.

Alan Curbishley’s side has exactly matched its points tally after 24 games last season and is four and five points ahead of its total at this stage in the three campaigns before that.

It is only the early four-goal beatings at Bolton, Manchester City and Arsenal that limit the team’s league position to seventh place on goal difference.

Apart from still being in the FA Cup, at least until the weekend, the crucial difference from last January is that this year there is no Scott Parker crisis.

Whether or not the manager adds to his squad, he appears to have the players to see out the season successfully.

But as every Charlton fan knows, in each of the four previous campaigns the closing months have seen the team’s performances and league position decline.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of Parker’s departure, the reason his loss was so keenly felt was the fact that it denied the Addicks a fourth or fifth-place finish and the prospect of European football.

Implausibly – and hugely to the manager’s credit – that door has now swung open again.

Few could have imagined that Charlton would have had so many opportunities in such a short space of time to take the next step in their progression.

This time, surely, the team must be equipped to claim the prize. So wake up, sleepy-headed Addicks everywhere. Now is the time to move on.

January 31st, 2005: The magic of the FA Cup

Leicester City may not be the most glamorous FA Cup opponents, but there was a quiet nod of satisfaction among Addicks fans at Charlton’s fifth-round draw on Monday.

Foxes’ supporters won’t be too thrilled by the prospect of a trip to The Valley, but they will probably feel they have a reasonable chance of taking us back to the Walkers Stadium for a replay at least.

From the Charlton perspective, the fact that we will face a lower division team at The Valley for a third consecutive round has to be good news, albeit Leicester are a step up from the minnows we’ve encountered this season to date.

Apart from the greater chance of progress against lower opposition, the cup is never quite the same when you come up against a side from the same division.

The Addicks have only reached the sixth round twice since winning the competition in 1947, losing out to Manchester United in 1994 and Bolton Wanderers in 2000.

That is a more telling statistic to me than the list of poor results in recent years.

Professional pride and local rivalry apart, it makes no difference who knocks you out of a cup competition. What matters is how far you progress - and Charlton fans have been starved of such success for too many years.

Something fresh is also required to energise the Addicks in the closing months of the season. Progress to the quarter-finals or beyond could be just that, with spin-off benefits in the Premiership.

Charlton supporters may be blasé about facing the biggest clubs in the country these days, but even in February the distant glint of the old trophy remains enough to set this fan’s pulse racing and I doubt if I’m alone. Are we still up for the Cup? You bet.

Voice of The Valley is part of the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet (click logo for more details)

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