R.I.P. Seb Lewis

We are grateful to CAST member Paul Breen for this moving tribute to Seb Lewis.



THERE will be more of us before this storm has passed. But there is something tragic in this morning’s mists rising off the Thames in the news that one of our football club’s most famous fans will never pass through the gates of The Valley again. He has gone instead to whatever great valley lies above, beyond or beneath us. The same valley as that occupied by other legends that have left us by from Jimmy Seed and Sam Bartram to PC Keith Palmer whose anniversary passed by barely noticed this week.

Writing of Keith Palmer a couple of years ago I felt a sense of solidarity in what was then a time of many divisions. Battles over the ownership of our club and the aftermath of the EU referendum. Today I feel sadness and anger. Sadness that Seb will not be seen wandering the side streets and the train routes that extend out beyond the arch of Ransom Walk. Anger that so many in this country failed to see how close this was going to come to home. Right now it feels as if The Joker from Batman has taken charge of the universe and is playing games that end in cruel ironies.

Perhaps Seb is not the first Charlton fan to pass away as a result of this savage illness but there’s a cruel symbolism in his story. This morning, when discussing Facebook with one of the people I am closest to in this whole world, I was reminded that in this life we should prioritise those who will be at our death beds. Not literally. Just those people who dignify us with respect for our lives. Though a Facebook friend, I only knew Seb in the most basic of ways. Sometimes I’d see him on match days, home or away, but as we know he was an odd sort of lovable figure who said very little.

At the same time more than anyone he symbolised Charlton values which are much the same as any small club’s values. They are family values. They are the values of a shared experience, a knowing of faces and a familiarity built up over time in the many miles that we’ve travelled, separately and together in the cars and the trains and sometimes boats that have taken us from Fulham’s riverside to Middlesbrough’s Transporter Bridge over the years. Seb’s place in Charlton’s folklore is engraved in the footprints of attendance at over a thousand matches.

Sadly that great unbroken run has come to an untimely end. Just a few weeks ago on social media Seb supported the idea of cancelling games. Having underlying health problems, I imagine he understood the risks and the fact that for all its great importance in his life, football is not the most important thing in the world. Shortly after posting this, Seb complained of a stomach bug and then the flare up of his asthma. Shortly after, he was admitted to hospital with a chest infection. A few days ago he got diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus – that thing that some in our ranks still think of as nothing serious it seems. Too many.

This disease is a bastard like none that has swept the planet in a hundred years. Because I was supposed to go to China in February I have been following what has happened out there. I have been the equivalent of Roy Keane whining to everyone that England aren’t going to win the World Cup. This thing has been creeping closer and closer across continents by the week.

Having grown up in Northern Ireland’s troubles I haven’t been shocked at the indifference I see amongst people towards strangers and ‘others’ on respirators. Some people seem not to care unless suffering comes to their own doorstep. But I’m hoping that the death of people like Seb will bring the message home to the doubters that this is coming and we have to fight hard to relegate it to history. In fact, edit out "people like Seb." It should just be the death of Seb Lewis, ordinary bloke who wandered the towns of England on Saturday afternoons smiling to himself, counting up the growing number of grounds he’d visited and posting the news on social media.

Most of us had never shared a drink with Seb Lewis. But in the past couple of years no Charlton fan has drunk in a town on a match day that was not also frequented by Seb. If we let that thought sink in, it shows the passing of more than just one of our supporters. It shows the passing of ordinariness and simple ambitions. There was something simple and ambitious and even obsessively compulsive in Seb’s desire to see more consecutive games than anyone else had ever done in Charlton’s history. It was for the likes of him and all of us that Keith Palmer died. It was for him that Jimmy Seed led this club to an FA Cup win nearly four decades before Seb was even born. Something he and we are or were reminded of every Saturday we pass through the Valley and see pictures of Don Welsh amongst those that decorate the walls.

Seb, who has passed through the gates of a different valley now, was the epitome of Charlton’s spirit. Maybe he was a bit like this story – rough, unedited, what you see is what you get. It’s a first draft written in anger and written in celebration too. I hate this virus and the cruelty of a thing we cannot see that is all around us. In the minds of Charlton fans Seb was always around us. He was every one of us. He was one of those loved ones that we apparently are going to have to face the death of.

Going back to broader football comparisons and Roy Keane’s 2018 realism, we’re kicking off the first period of extra time in the World Cup semi final against Croatia. We are about 19 minutes away from a free kick being delivered to Mario Mandzukic. But at the same time this isn’t football and we know what’s coming. We can stop this if we take it seriously. For Seb’s sake, please do so. Some day soon football’s going to be played again at The Valley. Seb’s not going to see it. That’s not just sad. It’s tragic.

Let’s just hope in that other valley somewhere beyond, if there is one, the game of life is not so fucking cruel. And I’m happy to be as miserable as Roy Keane if it helps in people not suffering the grief that the Charlton Athletic family and more sadly Seb’s family has suffered with this morning’s news. But when we remember him, he won’t just be a statistic amongst the many nameless dead. He’ll be the Duncan Edwards or Gary Speed of football fandom, something legendary even when he was young who could have gone on to even greater immortality, even more games. But he was mortal and he has gone from us all too soon.

Paul Breen @CharltonMen