For reasons best explained in my match preview I really haven’t done a lot of away games recently. Perhaps the blog’s name is another clue. But yesterday was a proper day out in That London and I suspect it won’t be the last for another seven years.
A while back, as I mentioned in the preview, when a mate offered to get tickets for me and The Boy to Charlton I thought it would be the perfect first away game for him, due to easy travel access and low expectations. Network Rail ensured that the easy travel access lasted considerably longer than it should have, as we plumped to travel via the beautiful Arun Valley line. I got the first grumpy look of the day from The Boy as I made him look at Arundel Castle out of the window, until I remembered that we ALWAYS make him look at of the window at Arundel Castle. And we go through Arundel a lot. It’s the equivalent of someone repeatedly pointing out to me the presence of a silver Ford Focus in a residential side street.
There was also plenty of time for my mate to helpfully point out that as we were right down at the front the players might celebrate in front of us if we scored at that end. That’s the low expectations destroyed in a sentence then.
Castles and expectations aside we reached Victoria dead on time and rewarded ourselves with coffee and cakes, for this was to be a sober away trip, something I’ve probably not done since I was sixteen and sitting on a Costa Express coach without a loaded bottle of magic lemonade. An extended thirty mile an hour clank round South East London later and we were at Charlton station. I can’t speak for the boys but for me this is where the magic begins. The Valley, despite the wilderness years and the renovations, is one of those perfect old football grounds.
You emerge from the station in to tight residential streets that reek of chips and onions and horse shit. The path to the away end is almost natural and you divine your way to it, no thought of Google Maps or Garmins. And then a proper revolving turnstile. When the last of these goes in favour of card reading bleep machines I will genuinely cry. Portakabin bogs and an outside “bar” are your reward for entry through the metal gates, thence a large, roofed stand with tiny seats that everyone stands in front of. In short, The Amex it ain’t, and all the better for it. Unless, of course, you are The Boy taking a wee in that Portakabin. “DAAAAAAD! There’s no soap!” he yelled while washing his hands (the very act of washing already marking him out as a newbie). “No there isn’t son” I had to agree. “It’s soooo unhygienic!” came the reply. You’ve got a lot to learn son. A lot to learn.
We found our standing position which was, indeed, at the front though not front row as row A at Charlton isn’t always the front! Within seconds my name was shouted from behind. An old mate that I used to travel with to many away games and stand with at The Goldstone was right behind me with his son, a little older that our two travelling companions. A general game of musical chairs ensued to try to make sure the adults could chat while the boys could see and then we were off.
A largely forgettable first half but for a few things of note. Firstly there is a difference in us under Hughton (as was starting to emerge under Jones) that is subtle and hard to put your finger on, but nevertheless there. The players seem to give a bit more effort, there is a little more organisation, leadership and luck. Definitely luck, since down our “end” Charlton were denied what looked like a clear penalty for a Joe Bennett hand ball and Stockdale made a magnificent feet first save from the already-injured Johnnie Jackson, the ball squirting to safety, Calde landing on the dangerous Charlton player who was taken off at half time. There was also an opportunity for the 3000 away fans to get a close up view of the fact that Lewis Dunk has now graduated from the Adam El-Abd school of Centre Back Wind Ups as he mercilessly teased Tucudean who was in his pocket until coming off early in the second.
Three thousand away fans you say? Must have been quite a noise. And, of course, it was. The non stop singing, combined with our domination of possession, were the other notable things about the first half. I had privately warned The Boy there may be a teensy bit of naughty language. If I’d known that Charlton fans now have an effing DRUM I’d have said it was a certainty. Within seconds of it starting up it was drowned out by a rousing chorus of “you can stick that f***ing drum up your arse”. I looked down in case there was any chance the boys hadn’t heard. They were in fits of giggles. Oh well.
The second half saw both teams up their game and Charlton forced in to a couple of early subs, For fifteen minutes we were on our heels. On 61 minutes this culminated in Charlton opening up our defence and Solly (theirs, not March) hitting the underside of the bar with Stockdale beaten. The ball bounced out and we lashed a long ball up field. CMS hared after it like an eager puppy and was brought down level with the penalty area. Solly (March, not theirs) took a perfect kick and Rohan Ince was on hand to convert an unmarked header. The away end went absolutely BARMY. Ince initially headed for the centre circle before remembering we were there and celebrating right in front of us. Pressure off.
We held on for the win. Charlton had a couple of chances to equalize, Solly March could have put us two up had he shot earlier and that was that. A win, the first The Boy has seen this season and the whole stand bounced to Ring of Fire. The. Whole. Stand. As the players came over Calde had the cheek to suggest we might want to up the noise level! The bond between players and fans has been restored. The confidence and luck is back. Or, as The Boy said, on the way home, “it’s like watching the old team”.
Ring of Fire is by Johnny Cash. In Walk The Line, the film of his life, Jerry Lee Lewis says “We’re all going to hell for the songs we sing!”. No better illustration of this exists than when I was in the Burger King queue at Victoria, post game. Quietly, but loud enough for me to hear, my son involuntarily went ‘ohhhhhhhh, you’re shit ahhhhh’. Yes, he hadn’t missed that one either. I told him to stick to Ring of Fire.