“My desire is always to be found at, Valley Floyd Road.”
- Valley Floyd Road, the main Charlton supporters song.
Just two days before my flight to London, I had only booked one ticket in England. Charlton Athletic vs. Cardiff City in southeast London, at the Valley, was the match. Charlton have fallen again back on some hard times, but are back in the Championship, the second tier of English football, after winning the League One last season. Meanwhile, Cardiff were top of the league, and one of the best sides in the division.
On a cool evening, I made my way towards Charlton, via the British national rail service. When you get out at the Charlton train station, you are thrown right into the neighborhood. Luckily I was able to follow others, where the stadium soon pops up from behind the apartments and flats in the area.
Charlton plays their home matches at a very British style stadium, called “The Valley”. It’s got four stands, none of which are connected, with a capacity of over 27,000. The home fans are on three sides of the stadium, with one stand reserved for the road supporters. Luckily for me, the ticket I had purchased was smack dab in the middle of the supporters section, which ended up being the best supporters section I’ve seen so far on my trip.
As the game was on a Tuesday night (7:45pm kickoff), and the Addicks lost 4-1 at the weekend, it wasn’t a full house, which was a bit disappointing. However, the supporters section in “The Covered End” completely made up for it, belting out song after song for the entire 90+ minutes of the match.
The match began with plenty of doom and gloom, the form from the weekend continuing for Charlton. The Red Army gave up two goals to Cardiff in the 4th minute and 24th minute. Though it seemed like it was doom and gloom, the team and supporters kept on going.
Charlton were rewarded in the 39th minute, when a corner kick was bundled by Cardiff keeper David Marshall, and Charlton captain Johnnie Jackson pounced on the rebound to slam it into the back of the net! Charlton was one back, and the crowd at the Valley was alive again.
Just minutes later, it was Jackson again to the rescue, with a superb header off a corner kick just sneaking past the diving hand of Marshall. Seemingly against the odds, Charlton had clawed back two goals in five minutes, tie-ing the match. The crowd around me were absolutely delighted, and had plenty of new cheers for the visiting support across the pitch from Cardiff.
During the half I got to chat with a couple of supporters around me. Both are season ticket holders, and both agreed that the team wasn’t looking great, but at this point in the match, needed to at least go for three points, even if they lose the match in the process.
As the second half began, Charlton kept pushing on, and put themselves in good positions often. In the 54th minute, a stroke of luck occurred. Dale Stephens, a Charlton midfielder, launched a free kick into the box. In the dry London night, the ball sailed past the Charlton players, but also past the outstretched arms of Marshall, and into the back of the net! The fans went nuts, and I’m sure if you asked Stephens, he’d say he meant it to go in the whole time.
Charlton’s comeback was complete, and even with a 3-2 lead, they weren’t done yet.
Cardiff’s defense were all over the place, and Charlton took advantage another five minutes later on a counter attack. Chris Solly’s long ball forward was brilliantly taken down in the right channel by Bradley Pritchard, who in one move on the volley crossed to a wide open Danny Haynes, who headed home. It was 4-2, and the Covered End was going absolutely mental.
Six minutes later, Charlton was at it again, scoring their fifth straight goal of the night, when former Premier Leaguer Rob Hulse got on the end of a corner kick and sent a fierce header into the net! 5-2 was the score, and the fans were in heaven!
The cheering and chanting was louder than ever, and everyone, including the players, was in good spirits and confident. Heading into the final minutes of the match, we were all sure that the final score would stay as is. But it was not to be.
After the referee’s assistant signaled for six minutes (SIX!?…no one knows why.) of injury time, Cardiff City got one back, with the Charlton defense turning off and Craig Noone going on goal all alone and finishing well. Just another minute and a half later, the same thing occurred with Aron Gunnarsson. Suddenly, the score was 5-4, and it seemed like the crazy damn game would never end.
But lady luck shined on Charlton Athletic, who stoutly defended the final throngs forward from Cardiff, and were rewarded from their energetic play with the final whistle, and a 5-4 victory over the top of the table Welsh side.
It was a thrilling game at both ends of the park, but the home fans all got to go home happy, and knowing that they witnessed maybe the game of the year.
One thing I realized after the match was that Charlton has the “real” fans in football. The big clubs I’ve seen, Arsenal, PSG, and Chelsea (more on that later), have plenty of their own fans, but because of their clubs reputations, there are many tourists and outsiders who attend matches, and change the atmosphere. Meanwhile, I think I was the only tourist at the Charlton match, since they’re in the second division, and may have even lost more fans since they were last year down in League One.
At the end of the day, it was probably the best game I’d been to so far. After just two goals from the two home teams in the games I saw, I got to see five goals, and celebrate like mad! It was almost as wild as the celebrations after the Indiana vs. Kentucky game last December.
Of course, nothing will ever top that, but I’ll always remember my experience at the Valley. My only desire is to be back, on Valley Floyd Road.
Follow Dan Karell on Twitter: @DanKarell15
- It took me a good 20 minutes to figure out the main chant that the Addicks supporters were saying. “Here she comes, Red Army”, (pronounced Ish-ee Combs Read AH-MAY) but to me it sounded like “Here she goes, Celery”. Southeast London accents are…way out there.
- The match was about as stereotypical English football as it gets. Lots of long balls trying to take advantage of miscommunication at the back, with some slick passing in the final third, that was much better than I expected.