Date: 2 May 2015
In August 2011 I saw Charlton beat us 3-0 at The Valley. Today the scores were reversed, and deservedly so. A neutral who was present (though heaven knows how he got a ticket when many loyal Cherries’ fans couldn’t!) described it as “men versus boys”.
The day began early, with all trains from Victoria to Charlton (London Bridge station was closed, so this route was Plan B!) packed with Cherries’ fans. Then we all hung around outside the stadium watching the police trot up and down on horseback; watching the team coach arrive; photographing everything in sight; waiting for the Tannoy announcement that the gates were (at last!) opening. Every police officer or steward was friendly, congratulating us on the promotion we’d already secured. No-one expected this to be anything more than Promotion Party Mark 2, what with Watford – one point ahead of us – having a home game and us having an away game, but we were determined to enjoy ourselves anyway.
I ate a steak pie (the vendor confusingly, in his SE London accent, insisted on calling it a “stick pie”) and settled into my seat. Not that I’d enjoy this comfort for long: as at Fulham, Brighton and Reading the away fans stand throughout the game itself. The team was unchanged from the last match I watched; more significantly, the nine players other than Surman and Boruc (who both joined the club during the course of the season) were unchanged from the very first match last August! And Elphick and Cook have started every single league match all season. The team played towards the far end of the stadium for the first half; so we saw the ball pass from Pugh to Kermorgant to Ritchie, left to right across the edge of the box, and we saw Ritchie attempt a curler of a shot. But there was a time delay before we were sure he’d scored! He had; and only ten minutes were on the clock. The cheering hadn’t subsided when just two minutes later Arter doubled our lead with a powerful shot straight down the middle. And thus it remained till half time, though the news that Watford were currently beating Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 meant this was all likely to be academic anyway.
In the second half the team played towards us, and the best effort early on was another shot by Matt Ritchie. Again it was a curler from the right and, although it didn’t look as if it were going in, as a result of a deflection it did end up hitting the spot where the crossbar meets the upright. So close! The game continued but the emphasis was really on partying, and singing: “Eddie had a dream...”, “Come on Wednesday”, “We’re Premier League” and the “Match of the day” theme. Some substitutions were made: first Gosling for Arter, who was a point away from the risk of a suspension at the start of next season. As this occurred exactly on the hour mark it was clearly pre-planned. Then, nine minutes later, the usual substitution of Smith for Pugh, with Ritchie moving to the left. Gosling and Smith as always played magnificently, Smith in particular dictating the game once he was on. The third substitution – Jones for Kermorgant – may have been a response to the crowd’s calling for him, or simply a final chance for Jones to make one final appearance before he leaves the club. Only time will tell.
We’d reached the eighty-fifth minute, and then everything happened at once. Ritchie had a shot blocked, but immediately had another go and scored. 3-0. Huge cheering and then: suddenly the noise levels increased by several decibels. This could only possibly mean one thing: Wednesday had scored against Watford! Somehow everyone – including coaching staff and players – seemed to know immediately. And as the Watford game only had another 30 seconds to run, in no time we were champions! We had more minutes to add on but nothing could go wrong now so the players just enjoyed it. The reserve players ran onto the pitch to join in the celebrations at the final whistle but the supporters – good as gold, as instructed – remained in the stands.
The Charlton team did their own lap of honour, to respectful applause from our own fans. But then they had the unenviable task of forming a guard of honour from which our players would – in due course – emerge. But first a platform needed to be erected, upon which the trophy would be presented. The trophy itself was carried to the podium by Jeff Mostyn, no less (to chants of “There’s only one Jeff Mostyn”). And finally the players returned to the pitch – and the celebrations, photo calls, etc., meant we didn’t leave the stadium for another hour. One of the most amusing moments was when Smith took a ‘selfie’ of himself in front of the crowd, encouraging us to sing as he did so!
Charlton were gracious in defeat, helped no doubt by the fact that they were never in with a chance of winning anything today anyway. Their stadium announcer congratulated us. Many of their fans stayed behind to cheer our team. And, as we left, the stewards and police continued to wish us well for next season. It’s one of those days that defy words but that everyone present will always remember, saying “I was there.”
The team lined up as follows at the start of the game (I've given the players marks out of ten):
Francis (8), Elphick (8), Cook (8), Daniels (7);
Ritchie (9), Surman (7), Arter (8), Pugh (8);