No gulls on Saturday

Paul Breen laments not being able to watch Torquay United to celebrate his birthday:

There are three games I have long looked forward to seeing at The Valley. One is a future season’s 5-0 win over Millwall - or any result for that matter where we break our duck against them. Then there’s Liverpool who were once regular visitors in a time before I actually lived in Charlton.

Lastly, we have humble Torquay United - a team that we last played in a competitive fixture in September 1934. That was the second time in a fortnight we played them in Division Three South, beating them in both matches. Their team included Don Welsh who would join Charlton a year later for the sum of £3,250 and lead the club up through the divisions towards a peak of captaining the 1947 FA Cup winning team. Games against Torquay then could be seen as a good omen.

They’re also my non-league club, having as much of a collection through the divisions as Rory McIlroy. So on Sunday October 17th, the FA Cup draw brought up an appetising prospect. Torquay had been drawn away to Charlton in the FA Cup first round, the weekend before my birthday. Ultimate proof that there must be a God somewhere. A dream match for an afternoon of birthday drinks, seeing the Gulls against the Addicks. Probably, Charlton would win such an encounter – especially with the recent energy of having a great new manager at the helm.

There was just one small problem in the way. Before coming to The Valley, Torquay had to get past Havant and Waterlooville. The Seagulls had to soar higher than the Hawks. Three mornings after Sunday’s draw, their team bus headed to Hampshire for a match on a wet Wednesday night. Unfortunately, whatever happened along the motorway, Torquay’s team never really turned up. Although twice ahead, they were outplayed in the second half and hammered four goals to two. Torquay wouldn’t be coming to The Valley on the 6th of November. Conference South side Havant and Waterlooville pooped the party.

That was a fortnight ago now, in which so much has changed in the story of Charlton’s season. Even after dreams of perfect fixtures die, life goes on and the two most important events of the day are still happening. Birthday beers and a Cup tie are taking place on Saturday 6th November. For some of my guests it’ll be their first time at The Valley. Among them, there’ll be one of the youngest Addicks of the day. One of our visitors is bringing a Baby Addick, of even fewer months in life than Nigel Adkins’ short tenure at CAFC. Let’s hope Saturday’s a spark for lifelong support! But party atmosphere aside, this is an important match.

Although just a cup game, it’s crucial to build on the momentum of recent weeks. A cup run would be nice too, with a few new clubs coming to The Valley as we progress through the rounds. Equally important, this is a chance for fringe players to show their hunger and ability. Before the sea change at Sunderland, we couldn’t even find eleven with an appetite. Now that the mood has shifted, everybody should be hungry to get their slice of the cake. There’s still time to get back in contention for the play-offs, maybe managing a late surge as Blackpool did last season.

Hopefully then Havant don’t spoil another party on the day. At the same time, they’re not a side that should be written off easily. They’ve a wily manager in the form of ex-Sutton boss Paul Doswell and quite a few former league players in their ranks. These include goalkeeper Ross Worner who was at Charlton in Phil Parkinson’s tenure, playing eight games including a 4-3 League Cup defeat at Shrewsbury. Ironically, Havant’s Hawks also have a couple of ex-Torquay guys, striker Scott Rendell and right-back Joe Oastler. Despite their league position, they are a decent side. Before Covid, they were challenging for promotion. This season after ten games gone, they’re down in tenth, well adrift of Dartford, leading a chasing pack that includes Dulwich Hamlet.

For Havant, this cup tie is a chance to build momentum rather than continuing with it. Let’s just hope we don’t give them the opportunity and that The Valley’s not their Stadium of Light, sparking their season to life. CAFC should win on Saturday afternoon (hopefully) and despite their role as party poopers we do welcome Havant for their first ever visit.

And even if Torquay didn’t make it as a good omen, it’s almost ten years to the day since the fireworks of a 5-2 win over Preston which took Chris Powell’s promotion chasing team five points clear of Huddersfield. Such a score again, a 5-2 win, would set those birthday drinks up nicely.