Most football clubs have a certain ‘je ne se qua’ about them which gives the supporter a reason to choose and consequently follow their club. Close proximity is the primary reason for choosing a team followed by (in no particular order) choosing (or being forced) your parent’s/grandparent’s/sibling’s team, following a successful team, following the team of your favorite player and following through affiliation (you know someone who works or plays for the team or your parents used to live there, etc).
I, however, fall into none of the above categories; but rather I follow Charlton Athletic for an altogether more basic reason – My name. About the time I was getting into football way back when Denmark were unlikely Champions of Europe, Charlton were nomads – they had, 7 years previously, been evicted from their home due to safety concerns and as such were ground-sharing with West Ham and Crystal Palace; the club was in administration, in disarray and in serious danger of going out of business. My dad was watching a programme about the debacle when I should have been in bed but I stayed up and in my inquisitive nature (and because I was young and didn’t understand the big words on Panorama, or whatever programme it was) I asked what was going on. He explained that the Club had been banned from playing football at the Valley and that the club was fighting for it’s life. As a 6-year-old, I thought this completely unfair and since apparently they didn’t appear to have many friends, I decided that I would like them. I then asked dad where they were from as I’d never heard of a place called Charlton before; when he stated that they were based near a place called Bromley I was sold. They would be my team.
Since that fateful day in 1992, my experience of following the team has been, although I hate the over-used cliche term, a rollercoaster ride – in more ways than one. We have been relegated and promoted more times than you can shake a stick at. We have watched our close associates up and play their part in the football leagues and yet, but for a couple of extraordinary results, we have been very much a non-entity throughout not just my supporting life, but through our entire existence. Not many people know that we won the FA Cup… once; however many could indeed guess that that is all we have ever won and they would be right. For what is speculatively deemed by most as a ‘relatively big club’, it’s not too harsh to say that our trophy ‘haul’ is rather unimpressive – so much so that Wikipedia has filled the honours section with our play-off wins. It does say that we once won the Football League, which I suppose we did, but that was in 2000 when there was another league above the one that we won. Put into context I support a relatively over-estimated club.
We have never really been well followed and indeed I find that when I tell people that I support Charlton, the usual answer is “oh, I don’t know anyone else who supports them”. The reason is pretty damn clear; we aren’t a popular club – we are by no means fashionable, we are battling for support and losing out to bigger London clubs and we are in a rubbish part of our history right now. We once punched our weight with the big boys and for one brief moment in 1998 we were top of the Premiership, but the predictable loss of form and subsequent post-Curbishly plummet means that we now play in the Npower League Division 1 (the old third division to those who can remember) which is physically, if not emotionally, the lowest we have been for over 30 years. It’s the lowest position that I have ever seen us in and even when we didn’t have a stadium we were doing better than we are now.
The reason for such a dip is clear; under the ever-charming Alan Curbishley we were consistent. We went back and forth from the Premiership and Division 1, but we were always there or thereabouts before we finally broke into the top tier and established ourselves as a mid-table team. Mediocre, I think they called it. But that was the problem; we were nothing but mediocre and we thrived on the consistency and predictability that Curbishley bought us. Without him we became rudderless, and as a result of the rut that we had become stuck in we simply could not cope and dropped points, positions and eventually leagues. In the standard ways of the footballing world, we lost all of our best players to bigger clubs with more money and promises of better football. As a result of our ballooning debts, the money gained from sales went straight back into stabilizing the club leaving us with a less than modest transfer budget. We were struggling for players, form and money so when we lost back-to-back sponsorship deals from Llanera and All:sport due to both the liquidation of both companies we were left with even less money and our fall continued.
In terms of the Club’s position relative to the other TIB supported Clubs, these are the stats: when we all started University back in 2005, Leeds had just missed out in the Championship Playoffs and were en-route to their relegation to League 1 to join Brighton. Manchester City had just easily avoided relegation but Sunderland finished rock-bottom of the Premiership while Charlton enjoyed yet another mid-table finish below Wigan, Liverpool and Manchester United, the latter 2 being the most successful clubs Ever in English football. 6 years later and all except 3 teams are secured in the Premiership (one as the richest club in the world); of the 8 clubs, only Charlton are in a lower league than they were in the middle of the noughties; Leeds were relegated but have subsequently come back as a force in the 2nd tier of English football. Our captain is a 39 year old ex-Derby bench warmer and our best player is arguably Bradley Wright-Phillips (remember him? remember his brother)
It makes for depressing reading, but that’s the harsh reality of football and I follow my club regardless. People ask why “do I support Charlton”, and I often think “Good Point… why /do/ I support Charlton?!” but I tell them that It doesn’t really matter why I support them; I just do. I do it for the ride, and the fact that although they are often called a mediocre team, they are as unpredictable as the weather; just like Bolton, only a lot more crap. They consistently churn out results that make me both love and hate the beautiful game, from the dire run at the end of the 09-10 season to the highs of being (for a couple of nights) the best team in England.
We have the ability to thrill the public every now and then too. Think back to the Playoff Final in 1998 against Sunderland. The game had it all and ended 4-4; possibly our finest and most memorable hour and a game which has been referred to as the “greatest game Wembley has ever seen” by more than one journalist. Taking into account that England’s one and only World Cup win came on the hallowed turf, that is no mean feat. We allow goals of the season to be scored against us, we once had some great players: European Player of the Year Allan Simonsen, Scott Parker, Darren Bent, /Marcus/ Bent? We also had some pretty kak players too: Clive Mendonca, Richard Rufus, Martin Pringle (all legends, but ultimately rubbish). Current Aston Villa full-back Luke Young learned his trade with us, alongside Mark Fish, Jorje Costa and Jonathan Fortune (the famous ‘Young Fish Costa Fortune’ back-four).
When people think about it, they do remember us being a pretty decent outfit; it’s just that recently we haven’t really done anything to make people remember the good ol’ days, which aren’t really very old at all. I have faith that we’ll do something soon. Maybe next season. /Hopefully /next season.