Paul Breen remembers a heroic romantic failure .............
The words "women" and "football" have appeared together a lot recently in stories connected to Charlton Athletic. Firstly, there’s the furore over the proposed name change to the women’s team. Then we had the story of the die-hard fan who travelled the length of England to watch the Addicks play Morecambe, while not being able to spend time with his fuming girlfriend for over a week.
This weekend, when we face Wycombe on New Year’s Day, another story of women and football comes to mind. That’s the story of when I tried to convert my wife to the Charlton cause in that great promotion winning season of 2012. Having tried all season to get her to watch a match, she finally accepted my proposal in the closing stages. Though not quite as big as some other accepted proposals at The Valley, these were special times. We’d just sealed promotion from League One and were sitting top of the table with three games to go, six points clear of Sheffield United and ten ahead of their massive city rivals, Wednesday. Needing just another couple of wins for the title, a mood of euphoria had swept through the surrounds of SE7.
Unfortunately this euphoria was not shared by my better half. Her first reaction was to ask if she could bring her book to read. I reacted to her blasphemy by asking if she’d do the same in a West End theatre show. Even when I tried to teach her some of the history, she still seemed more interested in Sophie Kinsella than her namesake Mark. She’d even less interest in the part Wycombe had played in our recent history and us in theirs. But I told her all the same - ‘mansplaining’ as I suppose it would be called nowadays.
I told the tale of how, back in that fatal relegation season of 2006/2007, they stunned us at The Valley with a 1-0 win in the Carling Cup quarter finals. They were in League Two and we were in the Premiership, but they were the ones who made it to the semis. This was a club that had graced the lower reaches of English football until the great Martin O’Neill came along and lifted them onwards and upwards out of the Vauxhall Conference. That defeat to the (then) small Buckinghamshire club, in the week before Christmas 2006, wasn’t just the end of our cup run. Effectively, it was the last straw for Les Reed’s management too. By Christmas Eve, Alan Pardew would become Charlton’s third manager in barely half a season.
Come 2012, that thundering slide had been half-forgotten. Under Chrissie Powell, a new story was being written and it deserved everyone’s full attention. My missus though would have much preferred to be shouting back ‘Yesss’ when the opposing fans came out with that usual away-day refrain of ‘is this a library?’ Shortly after, the ever-creative Yann Kermorgant stepped up to take a free kick and scored. One nil and the place was rocking. But my partner in crime sat as silently in the background as the suspect in an Agatha Christie mystery. I knew then there was no hope. Maybe football supporters are born and not made, regardless of gender.
By half time that afternoon, Wycombe equalised but it didn’t matter so much. MK Dons were beating Sheffield United. If things stayed the same for the rest of the afternoon, Charlton would be champions. Knowing that made time move slowly though. The second half passed with far less drama for the missus than Harry Potter novels on a rainy childhood afternoon. Then with seventy four minutes on the clock, as she was reaching for her book, Rhoys Wiggins, our roaming but reliable left back, sent a ball towards the box. Yann Kermorgant, in the year when he was League One’s Eric Cantona, headed the ball down towards Dale Stephens.
‘Goal, goal, goal,’ the cry rose up around us.
The countdown was on to the trophy lift, as we kept the score at a decisive 2-1 and MK Dons held out to beat Sheffield United. By the time we got out of the stadium and reached Floyd Road they’d already started selling tee shirts hot off the press announcing ‘Charlton Champions 2012.’ The return to the Championship had been sealed. Even though that won’t happen this weekend, we are at a pivotal stage of the season. We’re thirteen points off Wycombe in sixth with half our games played. Anything less than a win and for all Johnnie Jackson’s fine authoring of results lately, we’ll face an uphill battle to reach the play-offs. Sitting in twelfth, there’s even a three point gap to Ipswich directly above us. The fact that they’re picking up a head of steam too is another reason why a win’s badly needed.
Whatever happens this weekend though, our wanderings against Wycombe will always be a memorable affair. And in my case, I definitely failed to convert a religiously non-football fan into a devoted Addick. Even the fast-growing women’s game holds no attraction for her. She still reads books and goes shopping on Saturday afternoons. I still watch League One football and write about it.
Paul Breen @CharltonMen