My second trip to London in a week! Perhaps I should consider investing in my own bed down in ‘that London’! After visiting League Two outfit Barnet the previous weekend; it was time to step up a division and visit League One highflyers Charlton Athletic.
It was my Grandad who suggested the whole trip, and he spent months organising the whole weekend down to a tee. We set off from overcast Atherton fairly early on the Friday morning and arrived at our first destination of the day – Walsall at around 12:30.
Numerous other stops at Northampton, Milton Keynes, Lovely Luton and Watford then followed before we finally arrived at the hotel in East Finchley.
After a quick shower it was off out for an Indian meal in Stoke Newington with a section of the Gibbons family who I had last seen when I supported Manchester City as a neglected 3 year old.
A decent nights sleep followed and we set out relatively early to visit Millwall before heading on to Charlton.
My Grandads friend Michael is a lifelong Charlton fan, and so as a treat he bought the match tickets and also booked us in at the stadiums Legends restaurant prior to kick off. We caught the tube to The O2, and then travelled on the bus to Charlton Rail Station.
The walk from Charlton Rail Station to the ground is mostly downhill, and takes only a few minutes. Arriving at the ground I purchased a programme for £3, which is cheap for London! I also purchased a Charlton Home Shirt for £20… it is a very nice shirt, and I am wearing it as I type.
Dad and I momentarily lost Grandad and Michael, so we were walking around The Valley asking various people if they had seen “two old blokes, one in a suit… the other on a walking stick” – Nobody had seen them! Minutes passed, and I finally saw them down the road; panic over.
It was around 12:40 when we went for dinner at the Legends Restaurant. Walking in we were greeted by a man in a suit, and a red carpet which had Charlton Blades emblazed all over it. I felt very posh indeed. We then entered a long room which ran the length of the stand. It had a view of the pitch – it was fantastic!
We were guided to our table and given the days fixed menu.
“Oh no! Not a fixed menu! They’ll end up chucking some Southern muck at me!”
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Here is the menu –
– Starter –
Homemade Vegetable Broth Soup, Served with a Fresh Bread Roll
– Main –
Chicken, Leek & Mushroom Pie topped with Puff Pastry
– Dessert –
Chocolate Sponge Pudding Served with Custard & Freshly Brewed Tea with Charlton Mints
Yes, I know for a fact you are getting excited as I was when you were reading that menu. I won’t lie, I yelped out in disbelief when I found out I was being served a delightful delicacy which involved the sacred pastry.
During the meal, an old man on the table next to us noticed that we had a camera, and he offered to take a photo of the four of us. He was a cheeky little pensioner, claiming he couldn’t understand my accent. Little did we know that he was celebrating his 90th birthday! So, he could work a digital camera – but he couldn’t understand my accent… Fantastic!
14:20, Dad and I went for a quick walk around the block before entering through the turnstiles.
Now, I am not a fan of heights. As a result, scaling up the West Stand was an unpleasent experience. We eventually reached the top of the staircase after clambering up 6 sets of steps. Now, I don’t have a problem with steps, but when you have a drop like this either side of you… I think I have an excuse!
We then fought our way across the concourse, which like the steps was of an unusual design. It was open to the elements, think of it as a hotel balcony… but without the beach. After finally reaching the correct entrance we were greeted by a steward – who to put it quite frankly, couldn’t organise a p*ss up in a brewery. He took the ticket out of my hand; stared at it blankly for around 30 seconds. He didn’t really know where our seats were, so he just pointed rather generically at an area of seating, and sent us on our way.
With a couple of minutes to go until kick off, Grandad and Michael finally emerged from the depths of the concourse. How my Grandad got up those steps on his walking stick is still beyond me!
The club had done an offer which meant all tickets for this match cost just £5. As a result The Valley was packed with 26,546 fans, Charlton’s biggest post-war attendance in the third tier.
We were sat in the West Stand upper. The two tiered stand holds 9,000 home supporters and was built in 1998 after Charltons promotion to the Premiership.
Opposite stood The East Stand. Replacing the old terrace in 1994 it can hold 6,000 home supporters. My Dad told me that he once watched Manchester City in that stand, in the pouring rain… and City lost AND he ran out of money so he had to walk back to Greenwich. Luckily for us, our day went a bit more smoothly.
The away fans were housed in the Jimmy Seed Stand. Named after their former manager the stand has a capacity of 3,000. There is a supporting pillar in the centre of the stand which may cause an obstruction to some supporters.
Another two tiered stand was to our left. The North Stand was built in 2002, replacing the old Covered End. The more vocal home fans were in the upper tier of the North Stand.
The game was a rather one sided affair, with Stevenage showing little in way of attacking quality. I was expecting a decent showing from the visiting team, but they never really got going. They looked completely different to the team I saw at the Lamex last season
The teams came out to the rapturous applause of a packed Valley, 1,200 of which were Stevenage fans. However, not everybody was so happy about the huge turnout. The deluded man behind me kept moaning about how there were “Too many fake supporters at this match. They don’t know where to go, or what they are doing!”
One of the stand out performers of the afternoon was Bradley Wright-Phillips. He should have scored a hat-trick at least seeing a great headed effort and a lob go just wide of the post.
The first opportunity of the match fell to Stevenage when Scott Laird floated a ball over the Charlton defence to pick out the onrushing Lawrie Wilson. Wilson then tried to place the ball into the back of the net but Addicks keeper Ben Hamer was equal to it.
A minute later and Charlton had a chance of their own. Bradley Wright-Phillips (Who is better than Shaun… well, so the Charlton fans sing anyway) did well to take the ball around Stevenage defender Jon Ashton. As Wright-Phillips was about to fire for goal, Ashton recovered and ushered the ball out for a corner kick. The Charlton forwards had metaphorically pitched their tent in the visitors area, and it took a good few minutes of resilience to clear the danger thoroughly.
Charlton should have taken the lead on 30 minutes when a great ball came in from the right hand side, before Wright-Phillips somehow cleared the crossbar from 5 yards out with his header. Just moments later Wright-Phillips squandered yet another chance when he found himself through on goal. He chose to lob Boro keeper Chris Day, and subsequently sent the ball flying over the crossbar again.
Half time arrived, and I decided I would go for a walk along the concourse. I didn’t get very far at all, and abandoned my mission very prematurely. I then went back to the seating area, and walked down to the media area where I could watch Gillette Soccer Saturday on a 5 inch monitor – better than nothing I suppose!
Now, what followed shortly after I totally condemn. Charlton Athletic Football Club thought it would be acceptable to play “A trailer for a movie which will be in the cinemas in the summer!” – It turns out, the club had put together a montage of goal celebrations, and slapped a message at the end of it.
“CHARLTON ATHLETIC FC – CHAMPIONSHIP 2012-2013 – COMING TO A STADIUM NEAR YOU SOON”
The first action of the second half brought a goal for the home side. A corner was swung in from the right hand side, and it was cleared to the edge of the box. Michael Morrison was on hand to launch a half volley straight into the top right hand corner of the goal. It is one of the best goals I have seen this season.
Charlton doubled their lead on 65 minutes. Again it was Wright Phillips who created space for himself. After beating the defence with his pace he went to place it past Day in goal; the ball ended up in the back of the net with a bit of help from Stevenage player Ronnie Henry. Henry tried his utmost to keep the ball out but ended up bundling it over the line.
Man of the match for me was Charlton right back Chris Solly. You know the one? The one who looks like Stuart Pearce (According to the bloke behind me) – Dad and I decided he looks more like Lee Bowyer.
The match ended, and Addicks boss Chris Powell ran on to the pitch to applaud the home crowd. He seems to have his own little celebration, which involves walking down the tunnel 3 times, before running back out and clapping the fans again? Strange if you ask me, but at the same time – amusing.
After the match Michael drove us back to The O2 to catch the tube back to East Finchley.
I really enjoyed my day out at The Valley, and I would like to thank Michael very much for looking after us. No doubt I will be there again next season when Bolton make the journey!
I would also like to thank my Grandad for planning the whole weekend!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 218 miles
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3