I’ve really nothing against Rochdale. Honest. After all, I’ve never actually been there (not for the want of trying, when we made it as far as Walsall before hearing the game had been called off). It might be a lovely place (although somehow I doubt it). But their football club will now, for me, forever be associated with the two worst points in my time as a Charlton supporter.
On 6 January 1973, on a freezing evening, I watched us play Rochdale at the old, open-plan and vast Valley. One of a crowd of 5,048 (yes, it is useful having the Essential History to hand). We’d been relegated from the second flight the previous season (by one point, having picked up three points from the final 10 games, rounding things off with a 0-5 defeat at Blackpool) and this was my first taste of the third division. It didn’t seem pretty. We actually won, 1-0 (King Arthur, who was to bag 29 for us that season, his first with us), but looking around the empty East Terrace and the isolated pockets of huddled fans for the one and only time in my life I questioned the wisdom of being an Addick. To my eternal shame, I briefly contemplated the idea of switching to Palace. I’d been taken there for a game and I was struck by the fact that their fans actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. It was a temporary aberration; I soon realised that they weren’t really happy. They couldn’t be.
That was the first three seasons we had in the third flight, marking what was then the worst period in the club’s post-30s history in terms of league position. For the record, that stands as finishing 14th in 1973/74). It wasn’t exactly plain sailing thereafter, as we all know, but to say there have been more highs than lows is something of an understatement, at least excluding the past six seasons (including this one). But now, having gone down 0-2 away to Rochdale to stand 13th in the division, there’s a feeling for me at least of having gone the full circle. But this time around, perhaps not being the callow and impressionable youth that I was (some may say not much has changed regarding mental age), there’s no question about the allegiance.
Yes, it does mean that the season ticket application will be filled out. On that front, I do think the new owners – who so far have impressed with their comments and actions - missed a trick, albeit one that would have cost some money. Renewing a season ticket in March/April and shelling out the cash for something that you only start utilising in August is something done grudgingly when there’s a real chance of having your seat nicked or when (as a year ago) we were clearly broke. It would have been a modest and appreciated gesture this time around to have announced that the deadline for renewals had been put back to, say, end-May. That would at least give a little time for us to take a break and start the process of self-delusion. The end-result in terms of actual renewals would I’m sure have been the same and the loss of interest on the revenue for one month might have been a price worth paying for making us feel better.
I declined the opportunity to use my ticket yesterday to make a fresh attempt to reach Rochdale. As I never got around to getting a refund either, this does raise the question whether I have in my possession an asset which has appreciated or depreciated in value. Notionally, until a few days ago it had a face value of £20, being the refund available. But if you factor in the cost of a trip to the ticket office, including the time taken, maybe it might have been worth a tenner. As a saleable item I think it would have gone for less (in fact I’m claiming the greatest waste of time in the history of emailing from having offered it to fellow Addicks). But now, an unused ticket for a game that will come to be seen as the trough of the current cycle, surely its value can only increase over time? I plan to hold onto it as a reminder of tough times until we are back in The Premiership; then I’ll flog it on ebay for a small fortune.
For the record, two colleagues (both currently on the run from men in white coats) did make the trip last night and this is what came in from one of them, stuck somewhere in the north on a wet night in March: “Just heading back down M6. Decent enough performance tonight, despite the result. Team looked better with lots of quick passing and several attempts on goal. First goal was shot from outside box when we should have closed player down quicker. Second was close range knock-in from disputed corner. Wagstaff had a good first half then was marked more closely. Parrot had good second half - lots of challenges & kept running. Elliott hardly had a save to make. BWP had best chance at 1-0 but lob of keeper didn't have enough pace to beat defender on line. Can't really believe we lost as we deserved at least a draw. Guess that's what happens when you're on this sort of run. Oh well, if we play with this much energy on Saturday we’ll tonk Orient”.
I’m actually looking forward to Saturday. Orient will bring a few with them and it might be a decent game. No pressure on us, nothing except pride (and contracts) to play for. Sir Chris might be talking in terms of a mini-season remaining, but his thoughts must be turning to who he wants to keep and who’s for the chop. Personally I hope he picks Jenkinson. I don’t really blame the kid for wanting to take up offers from elsewhere; he is, after all, a callow and impressionable youth. But it might help his character development if he gets a taste of the fact that all actions have consequences. Put him in the starting X1 and substitute him after 5 minutes.
As others have written before this post, last weekend was marked by news of the death of Paul Weaver, aka Charlton North Downs. I’d sent him an email wishing him a Happy Xmas with the hope we’d meet up before a game before too long. When on Saturday there was a reply I thought great, he must be planning on a game. But it was from his sister informing me of his death. I can’t say I knew Paul well; we’d met at one of the bloggers’ lunches and a couple of times for drinks before a game. But what came across was both his enthusiasm for all things Charlton (and tennis) and his good nature. I can’t imagine anyone meeting him who might not have liked him. All our condolences go to his wife and all of his family. And as others have suggested, whatever location we find ourselves in this Saturday there will be glasses raised to him.