February 7th, 2005: Looking up, as well as down

The annual trip to Newcastle is always a high point for the travelling fan, but that’s largely because you have to climb 14 flights of steps to get to the away section.

Having seen their team lose on their last three visits to St James’ Park and get beaten in midweek by Liverpool, many Addicks travelled more in hope than expectation. It turned out to be a day of surprises, beginning with the fact that the trains were running on time.

Three changes to the starting line-up were apparently forced by injury, but they did nothing to undermine a very solid display.

Chris Perry was always going to be a capable replacement for Jon Fortune and Radostin Kishishev ought surely to have been on the teamsheet anyway.

But it was winger Dennis Rommedahl’s flurry of activity after the break that made the trip a memorable one and almost won the game.

That goal at Palace apart, the Dane has only impressed in fits and starts since his summer move to The Valley and would no doubt argue that this is due to limited opportunities.

He has also been unlucky in that the emergence of Jerome Thomas has left Alan Curbishley with the dilemma of whether he can accommodate two out-and-out wide men.

Rommedahl clearly worried the Geordies, however, and with a little more luck he would have claimed a second-half hat-trick. By the end, it wasn’t just mischievous Charlton fans singing about Newcastle boss Graeme Souness getting the sack.

I sometimes wonder if we are a little too ready to accept that clubs like Newcastle should expect to beat the Addicks and that their failure to do so is legitimate cause for grievance.

Fans criticise the media for not taking Charlton seriously enough, but perhaps as supporters we sometimes fall into the same trap.

February 21st, 2005: Foxes left in the hunt

I spotted a fox in my back garden last Friday. I thought at the time that it was looking a bit pleased with itself, although it was hardly in much danger of being pursued by hounds there, whatever the state of the law.

Shortly before five o’clock on Saturday there were plenty more gleeful Foxes at The Valley and the victory they were celebrating over a group of men in red certainly had nothing to do with the legislation to ban hunting that had just come into force.

However, their success was equally merited. Leicester’s winner was late, but Charlton’s cautious tactics and lacklustre display deserved to be punished.

The Addicks’ inability to progress in cup competitions can no longer be dismissed as a failure on the part of individual players or a statistical fluke.

It is clearly more deep-rooted than that.

Indeed, without a couple of smart second-half stops from Dean Kiely, the home stands would have emptied a lot earlier.

They weren’t exactly packed to the rafters at the beginning of the game, despite the arrival of another 14 Valley Express coaches from Kent.

The fact that there were nearly 3,000 unsold home seats at The Valley for a fifth-round FA Cup tie may be a sad reflection of the decline in the competition’s prestige relative to the Premiership.

Or it could just be a comment on the credibility of the Addicks’ challenge.

It’s hard to argue that Valley fans have had a raw deal overall in recent years and perhaps the saga of failure in cup competition is a small price to pay for relative success in the league.

But it’s in the nature of football supporters always to demand more. And on Saturday night we were entitled to feel that Charlton had let us down. Again.

February 28th, 2005: Back to the Cottage

When Charlton returned to The Valley in 1992, it seemed unlikely that another senior English football club would ever leave their traditional home and then go back.

A decade later, however, Fulham moved out to Loftus Road, in circumstances almost as controversial as Charlton’s 1985 departure for Selhurst Park.

At least the West London club left with the stated intention of returning, even if some doubted what they were being told and plans to redevelop the old ground have so far failed to materialise to the extent intended.

Fulham’s exile lasted only two seasons and began and ended under the same ownership, while The Valley was closed for seven years and the campaign to return transformed Charlton.

Even so, there is something precious about a football ground that has been lost and found, so Addicks fans will empathise with the locals more than usual when they visit Craven Cottage on Saturday for the first time since Boxing Day 2001.

After three miserable defeats by Fulham at Loftus Road in the intervening period, we must also trust that the switch brings with it a change of luck.

Certainly the tenacity of Charlton’s recent away performances, at Everton, Newcastle and most recently on Sunday at Middlesbrough, gives cause for optimism.

The Addicks have now lost only once in seven away Premiership matches, collecting 12 points in the process.

It is a tally they should extend, with trips to Portsmouth, Aston Villa and Norwich City also still to come before they wind up their away programme at Chelsea.

On Saturday they will hope not to have to rely as heavily on Dean Kiely as they eventually did at the Riverside. The travelling fans will want to see Fulham put firmly in their place, figuratively as well as literally.


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