It is nearly 30 years since I first went to Chelsea. It was a Second Division fixture at Christmas 1975 and newly promoted Charlton won 3-2, with Derek Hales scoring twice. I remember being thrilled.
Despite this introduction, I have never liked Stamford Bridge. And on Saturday, for the first time in three decades, I won’t be there to see the Addicks play.
Chelsea are deserved champions and I admire their football, but that doesn’t prevent me holding the club in contempt.
For many years they have ripped off away supporters with inadequate facilities at exorbitant pricing, something lamentably reciprocated by the Addicks this term.
Last year Chelsea used their financial muscle to rip the heart out of Charlton in mid-season. We haven’t recovered from Scott Parker’s enforced sale yet.
But the real reason I won’t be there is not about Chelsea. In five matches against the top three so far this season, the Addicks have now conceded 17 goals and scored once.
Only a fool would expect Charlton to beat Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal on any given occasion, but this Addicks side has offered no kind of challenge to any of them. Perhaps that’s how the Premiership is going, but if so I don’t have to watch it.
Charlton’s failure in these games has been compounded by a litany of listless, negative performances against teams that ought to pose less threat.
No wonder chief executive Peter Varney reports that the uptake of season tickets has been slow, although much blame for any shortfall will lie with the board for adopting a pricing structure that stands commercial logic on its head.
It saddens me, but like Elvis Costello I no longer want to go to Chelsea.
Just now I’m not too keen on the next match at The Valley either. Anyone for cricket?
It was all so very predictable. After the long hours on the road, the highs and lows of the campaign, the headlines and the punditry, the final outcome is exactly what so many predicted from the outset.
No, I don’t mean Tony Blair back in Downing Street.
I refer, of course, to Crystal Palace coming to The Valley on the final day with their Premiership survival at stake. Many had felt that Sunday’s scenario was destined to be from the day the fixtures were announced.
Charlton could be accused of collusion, after handing wins in recent weeks to strugglers West Bromwich Albion andNorwichCity, and twice failing to beat Southampton during the season.
The outcome of the match may not itself determine Palace’s fate. Results elsewhere could render the outcome meaningless. But if the Eagles lose on Sunday, they will go down. Charlton fans will demand victory and in these 90 minutes their team has the opportunity to redeem its season or destroy its credibility entirely.
It is a huge fixture for both clubs and anyone at The Valley who thinks otherwise should be provided with a history lesson to help them understand why.
The Addicks have come in for much criticism recently, but the television coverage suggested that they were cheated out of a well-merited goalless draw at Stamford Bridge last weekend.
True, Chelsea receiving the Premiership trophy was the story on the day, but it’s pathetic that such an obviously incorrect penalty decision was so casually disregarded by the national media. Implicit in this was the suggestion that Charlton’s season is already over.
Anyone at The Valley on Sunday will find that is very far from the case.
Three points for the home side could still secure a top-half finish. Defeat is unlikely to be forgotten - or forgiven.
So farewell then, Crystal Palace. You came, you tried and you weren’t quite good enough. Back you go to the shadows of Croydon.
Mind you, if it hadn’t been for the dash of verve that substitute Jerome Thomas brought to a flagging Charlton side in the second half on Sunday, Palace would probably still be in the top flight. He rescued this Addicks team from ignominy.
Credit also goes to Jon Fortune for a brave equalising header to atone for his earlier mistake, although I still don’t believe he handled deliberately – as required by the rules - for the Palace penalty.
It’s equally hard to credit – as jubilant West Brom fan Frank Skinner put it – that it is the surviving Premiership clubs who will be playing Wigan Athletic next season.
But well done, Wigan. New grounds to visit are rare these days and many of us will be pleased to exchange the short trip round the South Circular for the long haul up the M6.
Farewell also to a season that for the most part will not live long in the memory of most Charlton fans. We have grown wearily accustomed to the team’s end-of-season decline, but taking only three points from the final nine games was a dismal effort.
I hope the players feel embarrassed by their performances since mid-March, because the club’s supporters certainly do.
Achieving six consecutive seasons in the top flight has raised expectations among Charlton fans, but may also have also bred complacency.
The Addicks never looked in any danger of going down this season, but the rate at which they conceded goals was shocking and Shaun Bartlett was the only significant forward.
Unless Alan Curbishley makes substantial changes, it could well be Charlton with that sinking feeling this time next year. We won’t be laughing then.
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