It is said of men that they change their women and move jobs but never alter their allegiance to their football team.
I was born in Woolwich Military Hospital in December, 1949. My grandfather took me to my first game at The Valley in April, 1958 when The Robins (we play in red) or the Addicts as they are more familiarly known today, needing only a draw to go back up to the First Division (Premier League as is) against Blackburn (Douglas, Clayton et al) but we lost 4-3 and so it was them not us who were promoted. The crowd of 70,000 made its way home berating the injury to our goalkeeper Willie Duff who went off and so we played on with John Hewie in goal and 10 men. I can remember it as though it was yesterday.
On Saturday, we play Leeds. We are both languishing in what was the Third Division but is now prosaically called the “First” Division. Leeds need to win to automatically go up we need a win to make the play-offs. Three seasons ago we were in the proper first division so our descent has been painful especially to the Board who have forked out something like £25 million plus to keep us afloat which frankly looks like a lost investment.
The amount a soccer player can earn in the “First” division is just as outrageous as the amounts a premiership player receives. No-one is worth £15k a week for kicking a ball for 90 minutes or so. But, for the moment until the banks foreclose or the FA grows up (no chance) the game stutters from one disaster to another. Meanwhile, I am desperate to see the Addicts back in division two – “The Championship” but I am not sure we have the raw talent to do so. A second season in the third division will be hard to take.
In some ways I wish I’d played professional football. At school I used to play soccer in the morning and rugby in the afternoon until I was 16. I was always a better soccer player but rugby began to make claims on me and at 18 I had a final England trial when at Colchester RGS. It took some time for me to make it at senior level playing for St Luke’s College, Chichester and Ipswich before moving first to Bedford and then Bath. I toured Australia with England in 1975 and played for my country in 1976 and again in 1977.
Of course, since you ask, my son, Jack, was taken by his grandfather to his first game at The Valley. It was in the mid 1990s a few years after we had returned to our home ground; we’d reached rock bottom by having our wonderful Valley closed on health and safety grounds and so we had to play our home fixtures at Crystal Palace and West Ham. My Dad and I went to the first game back in 1992 against Portsmouth which we won (just) 1-0. Jack had been an Arsenal fan but gradually by coming to the Valley he fell for Charlton too and we came to nearly every home game for three seasons or so when, you’ve guessed, his head had been turned by his fondness for rugby.
So, on Saturday, I know you’ll be looking at whether Man U or Chelsea or Arsenal have won or lost but spare a thought for all those football supporters in lesser leagues who turn up week in week out to support their sides out of a strange and peculiar love affair for them.
But especially hope that Charlton beat Leeds.