Burnley – Beware the Smurfs of May

Heather McKinlay looks back four years...

All seemed rosy red in the Valley garden for the final match of the 2011/12 season. A sell-out crowd packed every stand. We took our seats early to witness the spine-tingling spectacle of the Red Devils parachuting into the stadium, landing with an audible thud then skipping and skidding into the eighteen-yard-box, trying desperately to regain their balance and remain on their feet - a far contrast from a penalty-seeking football striker.

As the teams emerged, we proudly waved red and white sheets of paper on high, club and fans working together in harmony to create a lively atmosphere in celebration of Champions Day. The Addicks were already promoted, already winners of League One. All that remained was to see off lowly Hartlepool, break the 100 point barrier and set down a record marker.

The Charlton team did their bit to enhance the excitement by initially falling behind. Glorious goals from Danny Hollands and Danny Haynes sparked the comeback mid-way through the second half. The scene was set for an outrageous finish in front of the Covered End.

The latter was the masterpiece of Yann Kermorgant, a Leicester City cast-off signed on a free transfer by the astute Chris Powell. The beefy Breton had quickly powered his way into Charlton hearts with his muscular presence, vital goals and frustrating of opponents. On this final day of a successful season, his more silky skills graced us with their presence. As he hooks the ball over his shoulder with his back to goal from a near-impossible angle, it’s still hard to determine whether it was a shot, a cross or simply a desperate attempt to keep the ball in play. Perhaps the biggest clue was in how the forward stood rooted to the spot, watching calmly as the ball hit the side-netting inside the far post. Without a hint of incredulity, he regally raised his head and peered up at the packed rows of jubilant supporters. Then Kermorgant smiled coyly and gave a little bow, emulating the conductor of the orchestra at the end of a virtuoso performance.

Victory and record points haul secured, the team raised the trophy while the fans raised the roof. Chris Powell grabbed the microphone and emotionally declared, “We’ve got our Charlton back”.

Yet four years on “our Charlton” has gone AWOL once more. We find ourselves sinking back with barely a murmur to the murky depths of League One. The fans won’t be turning out in full force for the final match against Burnley - too many of the Addickted have drifted away in despondency and despair. Those who do put in appearance are more inclined to have protests than football in mind – just like the writer of this preview. Last year we looked on painfully and forlornly as Bournemouth and Yann Kermorgant lifted the Championship trophy on our turf. Now the cruel fixture computer has the Premier-League-bound Clarets arriving with another handful of salt to rub into the open gash of the Charlton Athletic wound. We’re not allowing Burnley the satisfaction of a cup presentation, though - purportedly because our relegation makes that the wrong thing to do; realistically because our recent match disruptions have led to inflated concerns.

Eloquent words have been written, stirring videos produced, strident chants invented: all to sum-up how it has all gone so wrong for Charlton Athletic. Looking back now, the portents were there even on Champions Day. Rumours had already started circulating that owners Tony Jiminez and Michael Slater were reliant for funding on a mystery-backer and that his appetite for pouring in cash was waning.

And then there were the Smurfs.

We should have paid more attention to those Smurfs. At the time we laughed at the jovial Hartlepool fans in end of season fancy dress, grateful to them for adding to the carnival atmosphere. We welcomed them into our home and our hearts. Yet with their blue and white outfits, hipster-style beards and pointy hats, they were clearly out of place at The Valley. If we’d known then what we know now, we might have looked at them much more quizzically. After all, the Smurfs come from Belgium and inhabit a fantasy world, rooted neither in reality nor truth, where a smile and a giggle are all it takes to ensure a happy ending. The football world doesn’t work like that - as we Charlton fans have learnt to our considerable cost.