When you wake up and realise that Canvey Island will go further in the FA Cup than us (I’ll admit to a vested interest here, an uncle of mine turned out for them in the 1960s and the only plus point for me if we’d beaten Plymouth would have been the chance to get them in the second round), it’s perhaps time to reflect on some better moments in the competition (and no, Northwich Victoria does not get a mention).
Most of the ‘magic of the cup’ has gone, probably for good; it’s now limited to the very real delight for the non-league clubs that make the first round proper and especially if they reach the third round, to a lesser extent for Championship clubs to test themselves against Premiership opposition (their reserves at least), and in the final stages for the main contenders to contemplate a Wembley trip and a trophy. Hopefully next season we will be in the second category, but for now, as outlined by Lee Bowyer after the game, there are no regrets at exiting early.
So what would be my five best Charlton FA Cup moments, given that I can’t include actually winning the damn thing? In reverse order (and with the order determined by at what point in the process we were happiest):
No.5: Operation Riverside March 2006, quarter-final. Let’s face it there wasn’t much magic about this one, just really for the first time in my life the outside possibility that we could actually make Wembley. In what proved to be Curbishley’s final season we’d seen off Sheff Wed, Leyton Orient and Brentford and a quarter-final tie at home to Middlesbrough was winnable, even though the team, having enjoyed an excellent first couple of months in the Premiership, was already following the norm and in something of a decline. It was a 0-0 draw at The Valley in a dull encounter, then the free transport was laid on and some 6,000 Addicks were transported north for the replay. We lost 4-2, never being ahead. Best actual moment? Actually being in the draw for the semi-finals, don’t think we’ve managed that before or since in my lifetime.
No.4: Sheffield Utd, March 2014, quarter-final. This time we’d beaten Oxford (after a replay), Huddersfield and Sheff Wed. A crowd of 30,040 to see which team would get a trip to Wembley for the semi-final. We all know what happened, poor display by a team struggling in the Championship, we miss a decent chance then get undone by two goals. Before the game Miere was promising to swing from the crossbar with Sir Chris if we won; after it Duchatelet had the excuse he needed to sack him, having offered him a new contract (which was turned down because of its contents). Best actual moment? Before the kick-off. Great atmosphere, good expectations, all fell apart when the football started – and got worse in the aftermath of the game.
No.3: Wolves, February 1976, fifth round. We’d seen off Sheff Wed (again) and Portsmouth and took around 7,000 fans to Molineux (I was on a coach with my father). This was the season when Killer was flying high, going for the £10k (described then as a ‘small fortune’) for being the first in the top two divisions to score 30 goals (he failed to find the net in our final two games and finished on 28). We lost 3-0, with John Richards, who started on the bench but came on after 21 minutes, scoring a hat-trick – although we should have had a penalty when only 1-0 down (Hales said it was a pen and that’s good enough for me). Best actual moment? 20th minute of the game, before Richards came on.
No.2: Man Utd, March 1994, sixth round. Apparently we sold out our 10,000 tickets in the first day they were on sale, for our first quarter-final since winning the cup, to take on Cantona, Giggs, Hughes etc. We travelled more to enjoy the day than with great expectations, but when Schmeichel late in the first half came out of his goal and was sent off either for handling it or for flattening Kim Grant (Ferguson unbelievably later said the ref would be embarrassed by his decision) we started to believe. Wasn’t to be. Ferguson was apparently persuaded to keep an attacking side and in the second half Hughes scored then Kanchelskis just ran us ragged. We lost 3-1, with Leaburn scoring the late consolation. Best actual moment? Half-time break, when we sang and danced to ‘Things Can Only Get Better’.
No.1: Crystal Palace, January 1969, third round. This was our glorious ‘interlude’ season when we nearly won promotion (which has been in our minds of late with the sad death of Matt Tees, with Graham Moore not that long ago either). And we did have a splendid team (Wright, Curtis, Kinsey, Campbell, Went, Reeves, Gregory, Treacy, Tees, Moore, Peacock). The two teams played out an edgy 0-0 at The Valley, in front of some 32,000. It was a game we should have won but failed to take our chances. The draw for the fourth round was made before the replay and the winner would go to Highbury to take on Arsenal. We feared that chance may have gone. But on a glorious cold and damp January evening, spent trying to keep our feet on the grassy terrace at their place, Ray Treacy scored twice in the first half. Palace hit the post from a penalty with about 20 minutes left and we saw the game out. The trip to Highbury ended in a 2-0 defeat but we had a little glory, my first chance to watch us take on one of the ‘big teams’. Best actual moment: Tempted to say the final whistle but really it was when their penalty came back off the post, we knew then this would be our night.
It's not much of a record in over 50 years of football. But who cares? I’ll be there when we lift the trophy again.