Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sixth Round memories

Only three times during my lifetime have Charlton made it into the sixth round of the FA Cup, and that, for me, makes this Thursdays FA Cup quarter final with Middlesboro a little bit special.

It took a long time for me to see a cup quarter final: 1994 in fact, when Charlton were drawn away to Manchester United. This was the Addicks first sixth round game since 1947, the year the Cup was won!

The next venture into never-never land took a mere six years - in 2000, Charlton won through to play Bolton Wanderers away at the Reebok, and now, another six years on, we finally have a home draw quarter final against the Teesiders.

My memories of the Old Trafford game are quite distinct. I had been to Old Trafford a few times beforehand, even being present when Mark Stuart scored an amazing winner just after half time in 1986, our first win when back in the old first division. This time, I travelled up by train with my father. I remember being goaded by four drinking fans who kept mentioning fair weather supporters, johnny-come-lately's, etc etc, and looking at me and my dad. I ignored them until one accused my dad of being Ron Noades. That was too much and I had to shut them up with a response (which luckily worked). At the ground, we were among the 10,000-odd Charlton fans who gained tickets; amazing to think that, during a week when we are struggling to sell out The Valley, an away tie in Manchester twelve years ago had the board scrambling around asking for a bigger ticket allocation from the Red Devils! The atmosphere was electric; no problems with Addicks fan noise in this game! But it was half time where my fondest memory occurrred, the thought of which still gets the hairs on my arms standing up. Charlton had clung on to a goalless half, which ended with Kim Grant running free wide right before meeting an on-rushing Peter Schmeichel (left). It didn't matter if he was sent off for handball or bringing Grant down, the red card came out, and Les Sealey was eventually brought on as a sub for Paul Parker. Halftime in the dressing room must have been amazing, but maybe over-confidence came to the fore? Inside the stadium, the PA system crackled into life with "Things Can Only Get Better" by D:Ream. Was this more appropriate for Charlton or Man Utd? Who cared! The whole Charlton fan base seemed to sing along and jump up and down - a fantastic sight that lives long in my mind! Second half kicks off and Mark Hughes scores following a corner and a fantastic Vaughan save. Kanchelskis scores twice more in quick succession and it's game over, but the fans keep singing. Eventually Carl Leaburn heads in a late consolation, and the fans go mad and demand more. It wasn't to be. Proud, we all left the ground with smiles on our faces and thoughts of what might have been...

In our Championship winning season, we met Bolton, who were also in our division. Here, the ticket problems didn't get resolved so quickly, with Bolton offering under 2000 tickets to Charlton. They claimed police advice and redevelopment work prevented more being available, but this was surely not really true as the ground was not full that day. Two well known players who have made their names at other clubs stole the headlines that day, along with one who is still at the Reebok. Claus Jensen was majestic for the Trotters, and it was this display that eventually persuaded Curbs to buy him for £4,000,000 at the end of the season. King Claus set up the goal for Eidur Gudjohnsen (left), midway through the second half, to shoot past Deano. John Robinson had a late chance to equalise but his effort was brilliantly saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen. Charlton lost 1-0 that day, and Bolton went on to lose in the semi-final. A couple of weeks later, goals by Andy Hunt and Martin Pringle secured the three points during Charlton's record breaking winning streak, as Charlton moved closer to securing the Championship trophy. Which would we have preferred - a quarter final win or three more points? I have to say that in hindsight, a semi-final would have made that season even more fantastic!

So here we are in another FA Cup quarter final week for Charlton. The ticket problems are not about getting more, but of selling what we have. The previous two matches were away from home and lost - hopefully this Valley fixture will see a change of fortune.

Come on you Reds!

Good luck on Thursday - Will be watching it on the beeb hoping for a home win
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