October 4th, 2004: Invincibles do the inevitable

The dilemma facing Alan Curbishley at Highbury on Saturday was starkly illustrated by his double substitution on 66 minutes.

With his side two goals adrift of the champions, the Charlton boss brought on attacking duo Jonatan Johansson and Dennis Rommedahl.

Four minutes later, Arsenal had doubled their lead and the two Addicks substitutes looked like the wrong men in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet had the Charlton boss not gambled by bringing them on, he may well have been accused of settling for damage limitation.

It’s worth remembering that Arsenal’s superiority has not always told to such an extent as it did on Saturday. Charlton beat them twice in 2001, achieving the rare feat of scoring four goals in the game at Highbury in the process.

The teams also drew 1-1 at The Valley last season, and the Gunners were lucky to hold out for a 2-1 victory at home.

Unfortunately for the rest of the Premiership, Arsenal keep on getting better.

While it’s possible to highlight individual defensive mistakes in the goals Charlton conceded at the weekend, errors are almost bound to occur given the slick movement and relentless pressure applied by the home side.

It’s of more concern that visitors fashioned so few chances themselves and failed to trouble Jens Lehmann when they did. The quality of the opposition shouldn’t really impact on the accuracy of your free-kicks.

As long as Thierry Henry can come up with goals as clever as his flick through Jonathan Fortune’s legs, it’s impossible to accuse Arsenal of being boring.

It’s also hard to argue that the development of a great side is bad for football, but I still believe that it will be better for the game if they are beaten soon.

New Year’s Day at The Valley would be ideal.

October 11th, 2004: Too soon to party

Here’s a quick trivia question.

Which football club celebrated its centenary after 99 years?

The answer, after this weekend, will be Charlton Athletic. The club is billing Sunday’s clash withNewcastleas its “centenary match”.

Forgive me for being a little confused by this, because it surely can’t be 50 years since I attended Charlton’s “golden jubilee” match at The Valley.

I know this because at the time my main activity was compiling Addicks scrapbooks at EastWickhamJuniorSchool. A quick check in Colin Cameron’s Home & Away with Charlton Athletic tells me that the match in question took place onAugust 28, 1971.

The club was celebrating 50 years’ membership of the Football League. The current fuss is to commemorate the first century of its existence.

It can be a mistake to place too much weight on accidents of the calendar, as the hype over the Millennium demonstrated. But if we are going to get excited about Charlton’s 100th birthday, let’s at least do it in the right year.

The debate about whether to designate this campaign or the next as the centenary one went to the highest levels of the club. I have no doubt that the right decision was reached, because it’s far more satisfactory to build up to the big day than to wind down from it.

And it would be almost impossible to stage the centenary match in the summer of 2005, as logic dictates.

Nevertheless, placing it in October 2004 is simply barmy. It has little to do with history and everything to do with the fact that the club only has permission to wear its centenary shirt in one match.

Marketing wisdom demands that this should be in a televised game before Christmas and hence Sunday’s celebration. Bah, humbug, is what I say!

October 18th, 2004: Adding to the problem

Say what you like about Charlton’s start to the campaign, there’s no doubt that fans at The Valley are getting their share of excitement.

Sunday’s battling draw with Newcastle United means the Addicks are unbeaten in their first five Premiership home games, a feat the club hadn’t previously managed in the top division since 1952.

Admittedly, the supporters were probably due some recompense for the dismal stalemate with Southampton at the beginning of September, but both the last two home games have been thrilling affairs, with the result in doubt until the final whistle.

Portsmouth’s visit on the second Saturday of the season had a dramatic – if somewhat fortunate – conclusion, and even the 3-0 win over Aston Villa was a closer contest than the scoreline suggests.

The club also deserves praise for Sunday’s half-time entertainment, which comprised a representative from each of various elements of Charlton’s community work taking a penalty against ex-goalkeeper Bob Bolder.

This seemed to me a clever way of getting across some important aspects of the club’s activities that can all too often be seen by fans not involved in them as worthy but dull.

I have to take issue with shoot-out commentator Steve Sutherland, however.

Following the arguments put forward in this column against the Newcastle fixture being Charlton’s “centenary match” – a designation that was quietly and rightly discarded - Steve announced on Sunday that the club is celebrating its 100th season.

I’m afraid that won’t wash, either. Addicks historian Colin Cameron confirms that Charlton closed down in March 1915 due to the First World War and, apart from one charity match in 1917, did not start up again until January 1918.

The centenary celebrations have many positive aspects, but I fear they could be undermined if the club doesn’t pay proper attention to the facts.


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