Most Charlton fans would have predicted that the attendance for the home leg of the play-off semi final against Doncaster would be higher than the 14,367 who witnessed the home leg against Shrewsbury this time last season. But would anyone have dared to suggest that it would be not far off doubling it?
The achievement of a total sell out of all available home seats is quite extraordinary.
There really has been no hint in recent months that such an explosion of interest was imminent. Attendances for recent home games have shown no evidence of any mounting enthusiasm or resurgence of support. The big game v Luton was watched by 16,449 but the 4-0 home wins against Scunthorpe and Rochdale drew crowds of only 11,973 and 12,705 respectively. Home support in these games would have been at most 13,000, some of whom would have been season ticket holders not actually in their seats. It was only two months ago that a mere 9,505 turned out for the Burton match and only 17,267 attended the football-for-a-fiver game v Blackpool in February.
And yet the attendance on Friday night will be over 26,000. This will be a bigger crowd than for the West Brom v Aston Villa Championship play-off second leg on Tuesday and higher than the attendance at Sunderland's 49,000 capacity Stadium of Light first leg v Portsmouth last weekend.
What does this tell us about our club?
First, it shows what great potential it has. What a great reservoir of support there is to be tapped by a new owner prepared to embrace the club's traditions and values and to show some ambition.
Second, it shows what a tremendous job Lee Bowyer and Johnnie Jackson have done in putting together a squad of players who are not only skilful but also committed to each other and a common cause. Furthermore, it is a squad which has built a rapport with supporters and fired their imagination. The charisma of Lyle Taylor; The cult status of Naby Sarr; the pride for the Academy graduates; the commitment of the loanees. We've not had such a bond since the Chris Powell days.
Thirdly, it is likely that Charlton supporters are coming to the game in such hoards because they understand how crucial it is for the club's future. In our recent survey 93% of respondents said that they felt negative about the future of the club if Roland Duchatelet remained as owner and the club were not promoted. There is little that fans can do about the ownership and there has been a growing dismay that all the energy of the protests has failed to dislodge him. But there might be something fans can do about driving the club to promotion. Perhaps the frustration about the former lies beneath the passion of the latter.
Finally, I'd suggest that the massive turn out makes a statement to Roland Duchatelet. The club owner seems to be far more interested in insulting supporters and congratulating other clubs than in getting behind his (still contract-less) manager and the team. The 25,000 fans cheering on the team on Friday are saying: We can't stop you making foolish statements and embarrassing our club but we are here despite that. We are not undermining our club. We are not causing a distraction. We are one hundred per cent behind the team. We were here before you came and we will be here long after you've gone.