Tuesday, March 29, 2011

One of My Friends is A Passionate Friend

Passion, within sports fans, is a strange thing. Sometimes it can be good, very good even, but sometimes it just pushes all of the wrong buttons.

Recently I was in Sri Lanka on holiday, and the burning desire of the people there to support their home nation during the Cricket World Cup was immense. At no stage did anyone I meet tell me that they were going to win the World Cup, but that was what they hoped and desired. They love their cricket, as I do, and we got on famously during my holiday. It was no surprise to me when Sri Lanka humiliated England in the quarter-final, and I hope they go on to beat New Zealand today (they are well placed as I type) and win the final too.

The day after I returned home from Colombo airport, I went to watch Charlton play at Dagenham and Redbridge. While I had been away, games against MK Dons (2-0), and Brentford (1-0) had followed a home draw with Tranmere (1-1 with Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring from Miguel Llera’s header). None of these results surprised me after the dirge we saw when playing Carlisle, just before I went away.

I was one of those fans who didn’t go to the FA Cup tie in East London those few years ago, so this was a new ground for me. The trip into London was painful after a signal failure stopped many trains, and once I’d negotiated London Underground’s crazy replacement bus options I finally got to the ground about 2.30. On my way around to the visiting fans stand, I was stopped by a young lady who asked me for an interview which she filmed on her phone for a website. How long had I been a fan? Who was our best player? What did I think the score would be? (I said we’d lose…), and did I have a message for Chris Powell.

A couple of hours later the message that Powell got was pretty clear. I can’t comment on the games played while I was on holiday, but the display in East London that afternoon was dreadful. With the dressing rooms under the newly constructed visitors end, and the players forced to walk through a tunnel right beside the fans, the abuse after the 2-1 loss was huge. The passion the fans showed that afternoon was immense, but it did push boundaries and was vitriolic.

Quite frankly, everyone had a point. Other than Ross Worner in goal, few of the team seemed to make any effort at all. When Scott Wagstaff, one of the better players on the day, was substituted, the congregated fans made it clear to Powell just what they thought. If he did know what he was doing, then it wasn’t clear to us!

That match ended a run of games where Charlton could have, on paper, expected to be on top and winning points, but then came a group of games where it was going to be tough to get anything, especially after the one point from 24 run the team were on.

Southampton at The Valley the following Tuesday saw a number of changes. Back came Rob Elliott for the now injured Worner, and out went want away Carl Jenkinson, Matt Fry (who had returned to West Ham after his loan spell), and Alan McCormack. With Federico Bessone and Chris Solly now at full back, and with Therry Racon joining Jose Semedo and on-loan Dean Parrett in midfield, the team suddenly looked much better. Southampton may have expected an easy game, but Charlton stuck to it and held on. And they kept holding on, right the way to half-time. It took an hour for the visitors to score (to the surprise of many), but Charlton stuck at it and equalised when Parrett played in BWP and he slotted home. A grandstand finish saw both sides close to winning the match, but the point gained was at least welcome in both ranks.

Charlton then maintained the positive vibes at Bournemouth on Saturday, gaining another point in a 2-2 draw, with BWP once more scoring a late equaliser. This game though, even after Wagstaff had chested the Addicks into the lead, was one where the team were once more outplayed, and only a few magical saves by Elliot (and the woodwork) kept the scoreline respectable.

Tonight our heroes travel up to Rochdale for the twice postponed game with them. When it was first due to be played, Charlton were looking good under Phil Parkinson, while ‘Dale were in a poor run of form. Now the roles have changed, and anything gained from tonight’s game will be seen as a bonus in SE7 and by Chris Powell. There won’t be much passion in the travelling Addicks ranks I suggest, but the fans of Rochdale are on cloud nine and looking toward their highest ever league finish. Good luck to them.

Passion is great; passion is harsh; and passion can be cruel. One fan who won’t be there tonight is fellow blogger Charlton North Downs, who sadly died recently. I only met Paul a couple of times at bloggers do’s, and he was a genuine nice man. Perhaps the players might want to realise sometimes that we fans are just that – genuine nice people, albeit with a passion for our football club. They can come and go; chop and change; kiss one badge and then another, but we fans have to put up with everything, good and bad, until we die.

It would be nice for the players to win this game for Paul.


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