Ten years ago, a little club called Charlton Athletic won a play-off to the then-called Premiership. It was a thrilling game, that both Charlton and Sunderland supporters alike cite as their "greatest game."
4-4 after extra time, and Sasa Ilic saved Michael Gray's shot in the penalty shoot-out to send the little club from South East London into the big leagues.
10 years on, and the end of that golden era in the Premier League is in sight. 12 points from safety, at the bottom of the Championship (Division One ten years ago), relegation is all but a certainty, and the club which fought so hard for their promotion look doomed to League One football next year.
Doomed? Really? This could be a good thing.
Something that has always puzzled me as I've grown up, is how seriously we take the placings in the football league.
Arsenal fans seem to think top 10 in the Premier League is not good enough, Newcastle fans are deluded to think that top 10 is a certainty (year in, year out), and supporters of clubs like Oldham and Peterborough are just happy to see their teams playing (and might I add, playing so well at present).
I've enjoyed the glory years with Alan Curbishley in charge, and I've supported Charlton through thick and thin. That's not going to change now.
League One football might be the best thing to happen to Charlton in a few years. It might make the club realise that punching above our weight, time and again, has a knock on effect on the players, manager and supporters, all eager to see the club do well—but at the same time, hurting more when we do lose.
Now this season has been something of a mess. The loss of Alan Pardew was the turning point - he had lost his confidence, with a team that simply didn't want to play. The squad has its heroes, but not enough of them.
The one thing I could never aim at the 1997-98 play off team, nor any of the teams that played in that red and white shirt up until 2006-07, was that they were lazy or not caring enough. I can this season—legitimately—because many of the regular players are on loan, and playing not for the shirt, but for their pay-cheque.
They may want it, but they don't want it quite as much as those legendary players of the play off winning team.
Hence, the picture at the top shows one of the players who loved Charlton, through and through.
Clive Mendonca became one of the few Charlton players to score a hat trick at Wembley, and its thanks to him and others like John Robinson, Mark Kinsella, Sasa Illic, and Stevie ("who ate all the pies") Brown that we've had such good times in the last decade.
Clubs rise and fall all the time. My old man remembers a time when Charlton were in a higher division than Manchester United (Or so he tells me)!
The crux of the matter, is that we go down with passion, which is all the supporters want—passion for the club, love for the shirt and determination to at least try. That's been lacking, but its getting better (even if the results aren't).
This isn't about pointing blame at anyone, or moaning because results haven't gone our way. This is about getting behind our lads, pushing them onwards, and waving a cheerful goodbye to the Championship when and if we do go down—and looking forward to next year, and doing better and appreciating what we have got.
We've still got our club, our ground, our supporters. We're Charlton Athletic, of Valley Floyd Road, South East London, and we'll be back in the Premier League one day!
Many miles have I travelled, many games have I seen...
..."Singing Valley Floyd Road, My Only Desire"...
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