September 13th, 2004: Early days of Valley Express

On Monday night I had the unusual experience of arriving at The Valley by coach. The vehicle in question had started its journey 73 miles away at Ramsgate.

The Thanet Addicks venture was launched at the start of the season and is proving very popular. Monday’s coach was sold out. And this is just the start.

Many fans will remember the Target 10,000 initiative launched by the supporters’ club ten years ago, which was about rebuilding Charlton’s following after the years of exile from The Valley.

Not only did the scheme achieve its goal of getting the average crowd up to 10,000 in its first season, but it also did the groundwork to ensure that when the team was promoted to the Premiership and the stadium was extended the fans were there to take the extra seats.

A number of us are convinced that a similar opportunity exists now and that work needs to be done in building support in preparation for the next increase in capacity.

All the five fans elected to the Charlton board since 1992 – Steve Clarke, Craig Norris, Mick Gebbett, Wendy Perfect and Sue Townsend – have volunteered to join myself and various members of the club staff, plus directors Martin Simons and Peter Varney, in forming a Target 40,000 committee.

It’s perhaps worth stressing that the Thanet coach travellers are paying the same ticket price to see the match as everyone else. All Target 40,000 has done is to make it easier for them to get to the ground.

Many of the things the new committee needs to do are much closer to home and we recognise that. But I am absolutely convinced that if we get things right we can fill The Valley to the rafters every week, however big it gets.

September 20th, 2004: Mid-table murmurs

Whatever colours their team plays in, football fans tend to think in black and white.

Failure is the absence of success and lows can replace highs in a matter of moments.

Little wonder, then, that Charlton’s start to the season has had most Addicks fans scratching their heads.

After six league matches, it’s still hard to discern the shape of this campaign. The search for clues continued at St Andrews on Saturday, but nobody emerged much wiser.

With eight points from six games, Charlton have equalled their best Premiership start, previously achieved in 2000/01 and 2001/02.

While they have yet to meet the big guns, it’s equally true that they haven’t faced any of the newly promoted sides as the latter struggle to find their feet.

Still, there is a stubborn suspicion among the faithful that the points gathered to date conceal a structural weakness already exposed at Bolton and Manchester Cityand likely to prove more damaging in the months before the transfer window re-opens.

Saturday’s draw may not have been pretty, but it did indicate a stiffening resolve away from home that will be essential if further embarrassment is to be avoided.

One man saddled with a large burden of public expectation and thus the source of corresponding disappointment to the home fans has been Danny Murphy.

The crowd’s overall response to the Southampton debacle produced protective noises about Murphy from the playing camp, but they were hardly needed.

When he came to take a corner in front of the east stand late in last Monday’s game, he was warmly applauded by the fans in that area.

It was a generous gesture at the end of a terrible game and perhaps a demonstration of faith that better days lie ahead, both for Murphy and the Addicks.

September 27th, 2004: Stuart adds the spark

It was victory for the optimists at The Valley on Monday night.

The margin may have been slender, but Charlton’s win over Blackburn left little room for further argument over the team’s start to the season.

Whatever may have been happened in the first seven Premiership games, 11 points represents a better than satisfactory return. Just ask Crystal Palace.

It’s also significant that the Addicks have taken ten out of the available 12 points at home, meaning the majority of fans have been able to witness the success.

There was a buzz about The Valley on Monday that had previously been missing and it was generated by the renewed sense of purpose on the field.

Graham Stuart will be 34 next month, which perhaps accounts for his absence from the side at the beginning of the season, but against Rovers he was inspirational.

And the fact that Charlton have conceded only one goal in the four games since Chris Perry returned to the central defence is more than a coincidence.

Rather than criticise boss Alan Curbishley for leaving the two of them out in the first place, I prefer to give him the credit for their early reinstatement.

He’s much more likely to be able to blend in his summer signings now the basis for a successful season has been established.

The next three fixtures bring the Addicks face to face with Arsenal, Newcastle United and Liverpool, which would be a formidable prospect in any campaign.

A team that has conceded nine goals its three previous Premiership away games might reasonably go to Highbury in a state of trepidation.

In fact, Charlton go there on Saturday with nothing to lose and a place in football history as their prize. The optimists might argue that’s not a bad position to be in.


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