CAST Board Member Paul Breen voices thoughts that are in the hearts and minds of all Charlton supporters at this moment in time, after the passing of Dave Thomson, author of the popular and perceptive Drinking During the Game blog site.
The greatest tribute that one writer can pay to another is to try and copy their style. As I start to write this, there's a part of me that feels like I'm giving myself an impossible task because there really was no blog like a Dave Thomson blog. I loved it, as did thousands of Charlton fans, because it was so authentic, so knowledgeable and just exactly what blogs are supposed to be. By reading Drinking During the Game, we all knew Dave Thomson long before we'd even met him.
That's why I'm sitting here on my bed, drinking a bottle of lager, listening to a playlist of Scottish bagpipes as I write this. And I want to write as good a memorial to Dave as anything I've ever written. And maybe, to copy Dave's inimitable self-deprecation, that's a bit like the Scottish rugby team talking about playing the best rugby of their lives.
But I'll have a crack at it in as much of a Dave Thomson style as I can muster. Because when it came to whipping out stories in quick-fire fashion, as a Charlton writer, he was as regular as Charlie Connelly's shipping forecasts or David Ramzan's picture books. He was a Voice of the Valley whenever the mood took hold of him and what a voice he was.
A Scot with a south east London accent and a storyteller's heart. So it's fitting that I've got a story to tell about the last time I saw Dave, and the first time I was ever in his house. It's a story that links together football and life, the way he did in his blogs. There's also a cameo role for his missus and mine, both long-suffering mistresses in our marriages to Charlton Athletic.
Anyway that afternoon I had to pick up some stuff for the Supporters Trust in Dave's house. Even though he was very sick, he let us leave things there to be stored and gathered and left back again. He was just that kind of guy, always giving something of himself, whether in protest times or peace times, and long before supporting Charlton was shaped by either.
We can see that in the way his passing has been mourned on social media. He did stuff for people without fuss. And so that day when I went to his house to pick up stuff, I knew he'd have it sitting there ready to go. And he did. He was sitting there too in a dressing gown, but chatting about Charlton. And I had this feeling you get when you're in the presence of someone sick, of wanting to say something, but at the same time knowing that's not the way life is.
In the end we talked about Charlton's November fixtures and a coming work trip that I had to America. I could have mentioned the rugby but didn't, knowing that every spring the Six Nations always got a mention, which was a perfect example of why I said I loved Drinking During the Game. This was a blog that wasn't just about football. It was about life beyond that, the human side of things, the wee stories that make up the everyday and the big moments that dip in and out, in between.
And that's why that Saturday in his house I just wanted to say something more than what I said. I wanted to say that his blog was the first I ever read after moving to Charlton. It was his f*&**g fault in many ways that he passed on this awful curse to me of following Charlton because when I first came here, like a character in my own book, I wasn't a Charlton fan at all. But it was through reading stuff like Dave's and getting a feel for the place that I became a Charlton convert.
I wanted to find the words for that in a simple way but there weren't any. There aren't any. That's not how life works, any more than Scotland could ever have hoped to win the Rugby World Cup with the draw they had or Charlton will be in the Premier League two years from now. Actually if I was really imitating Dave's style, I'd be way more scathing of that.
But it's only the storytelling I can imitate because when it comes to football perceptiveness Dave was several leagues above me, with a far more healthily cynical view of those on the corporate side of the game. So back to my story - and where the missus comes in.
The night after going to his house, after the Bolton game, it was Dave Courtney's wake event at The Royal Oak. Since I'd gone there for a beer after the match, I invited the missus to come along, to the send-off for a writer and a gangster. I walked up the road a wee bit to meet her and we passed Dave Thomson's house. I pointed this out and said this man's one of my favourite Charlton writers and it was great to get a chance to see him today and chat to him.
For a woman not that well up on her Charlton writers this caused an awful lot of confusion as the two Daves got mixed into one - the gangster writer and the Charlton blogger who certainly wrote about his share of gangsters in recent years. And I thought at that moment of how many times I'd read Dave's stories of Mrs Peeps who I'd finally met in the flesh too. It was the little simple, sometimes daft, anecdotes like that which really captured a sense of what Drinking During the Game was.
We didn't just read Dave's stories. We wandered down Charlton Lane with him and into The Royal Oak or the Rose of Denmark where he used to drink and I was curious to know who he was, in the first days of reading his blog in that distinctive green-panelled background that was like your granny's bathroom. Lovely old-fashioned colours and a thousand memories.
I've a thousand memories of Dave's blog and that last meeting makes it a thousand and one. I'm not sure I've done what I set out to do but in the spirit of how I imagine that Drinking During the Game was written, I'm not going to edit this. It's the rawness that made the blog what it was, a true blog that deserved bigger things, far bigger things and a bigger readership.
But if somebody ever makes a time capsule for Charlton Athletic, make sure to print out a few pages, spanning a few decades, of Drinking During the Game. It'll take future Addicks on a trip through the good and the bad, but always the brilliant in terms of character-filled writing. I don't think anyone has ever captured the spirit of a Saturday quite like a blog that uses those four words in its title. The whole of bloody England is Drinking During the Game on a Saturday.
And it took a Scot, a great Scot, to capture that in a single line and a single title.
If there's such a place as Heaven Dave, I hope you're up there now swapping stories with Sam Bartram and Chris Duffy. Meanwhile down here, we'll all be remembering the story of Drinking During the Game as long as there's football played on a Saturday because it's a bloody good name even when we've had a bloody bad game. And life sadly isn't a very fair game - otherwise I wouldn't be writing this, because I'd rather not be. But that's life.
And you Dave captured the life of Charlton very well over a couple of decades. I will miss your words. I hope in some way mine do justice to the things I wish there'd been a way to say that day a few weeks ago. But that's not the way life works.
It might be gone now but not forgotten.
P.S. I could never be you as a writer because I am too damned sentimental. It's an Irish thing - except on the rugby pitch!