They never make it easy for the supporters . Every football club’s fans probably make that claim . The difference is with Charlton it is true . As was proved beyond doubt at the Valley on Friday night. Charlton v Doncaster Rovers League One Play Off Semi Final 2nd leg – CAFC 2-1 up . A night that for a brief moment looked like it could be straightforward turned out to be anything but with more twists and turns than you could imagine . Days later I am still trying to make sense of it .
It was a sell out . Just like the Premiership days . The full crew is here . Including Diana’s niece , who had arrived 36 hours before from Colombia . She had not come just for the football admittedly – here to learn English – but has pitched up in the midst of a cauldron of excitement that the Valley had not been for years . Goodness knows what she will make of the contrast if she comes next season .
But right now hopes are high . This is a special side . The best we have had for years . Apparently . I can’t claim personal insight as I have boycotted Charlton this season along with thousands of others in protest at the Deluded Duchatelet Regime . Lee Bowyer – a returning hero – has worked miracles and fashioned a successful team sprinkled with home grown and borrowed talent . Most of all he has signed something we haven’t had for years : a goal scorer – Lyle Taylor . But Lyle is much more than that – both on and off the pitch . He leads the line with courage and energy ; his play is intelligent as are his comments whether about football or life more generally . With Lyle in our team everything is in our grasp .
I have only boycotted the club , or anything except South African oranges , once before . It was in 1985/86 over the club abandoning the Valley over safety concerns about the old , massive East Terrace and relocating us to the hated Selhurst Park . The club was then owned by Sunley Homes whose motives were always under suspicion . That boycott had ended in promotion . Ironically when we finally returned to the Valley after the wilderness years it was to a three sided ground .With the old East Terrace barely touched and eerily empty . So the exile was just one of many entirely avoidable and damaging journeys that CAFC has taken its supporters on .
So will this season’s boycott end in promotion too ?
Tonight our thoughts are on a new and positive journey – to Wembley. The Valley is rocking as the teams take the pitch. The Reds are sweeping towards the Covered End . A high ball into the box, Bielek rises to meet it. It’s in the net and we’re jumping in the air . Under two minutes and Charlton have a lead of two goals . We are on our way to Wembley. We keep sweeping forward and go close and then, nine minutes after we scored, Doncaster somehow score with a shot from the edge of the box.
The mood changes. In the crowd and on the pitch. Charlton go from looking in control to being anything but. Half-time comes and goes with Pratley on for Morgan . The tie is still Charlton’s. But we know that as time goes by the temptation will be to drop deeper and deeper and defend what we have. We all know how this one goes. We have seen it so many times before. Concede a goal and the momentum shifts to Doncaster. Two minutes to go and we concede . It’s going to extra time.
Then the inevitable happens. In the first period of extra time former Millwall striker Marquis scores . For the first time in the tie Doncaster Rovers are ahead. For goodness sake we finished 15 points ahead of this lot. We haven’t been beaten at home in 17 games. Now this .
But this is a special Charlton side. within a minute Lyle Taylor is down the other end driving in a low cross, players stretch and Pratley makes contact – it’s in the net. The tie is now level again . If it stays this way it’s the dreaded penalty shootout.
And it is. We are all standing .The noise is deafening. The police match commander is on the pitch with the referee . Must be advising that the penalties will be taken towards the Covered End on safety grounds. Away from the 2000 Rovers fans . Good.
Nerves jangling . Three well taken penalties from both sides, Taylor converting his with a sort of ambling nonchalance . Aribo puts away the fourth for Charlton and then John Marquis, a poor man’s Andy Carroll, steps up. It’s the first poor penalty of the night and Dillon Phillips goes the right way. Advantage Charlton.
Naby Saar who this season has transformed himself from a subject of derision is striding forward. Seriously?
It turns out not to be the moment when Naby cements his cult status. Not driven right into the corner and Rovers keeper guesses the right way.
Now it’s Rowe . He has been outstanding all night. And he blazes it wide.
That was it. The Reds are going to Wembley . For the first time in 21 years. Same opponents – Sunderland . Then it was 4-4 after extra time and 13 penalties before one was missed. Often described as the greatest game at Wembley . I would settle for a dull game and a 2 nil win .
Sharing ideas and experiences drawn from 30 years as a Public Service Leader . Firm believer in the value of Public Service and the importance of vision , strategy , communication and engagement in making a positive difference to people’s lives .Hopefully helping make sense of what often seems a complicated world .