Article originally written for Charlton Athletic Supporters’ Trust.
The TV camera zoomed in on the North Upper at the Valley to show supporters straggling their way to the exits just after the 74th minute. It then lingered for a moment on what, for me, has become the abiding image on a day of so many: the Grim Reaper, still sat in his seat, furtively glancing around.
You could clearly sense the dilemma – was it the moment to up and walk out in pre-planned protest with fellow fans or stay put and cheer on the team to an unlikely victory?
From my sofa – no, not that incongruous one by the corner flag – far away in Scotland I felt total empathy with this sinister black and white figure. If I’d managed the trip to London for this game, instead of the Reading humdinger a couple of weeks before, I’d be there now, near the front of the North Upper too. Would I get up and depart?
I’ve never left a match early – Dad ingrained that in me when he regaled the tale of how he nearly headed off once. Charlton were a man down and 1-5 down with half an hour to go. That was against Bill-Shankly-managed Huddersfield, back in the Fifties and every Addick knows the outcome: Charlton came back to win 7-6.
In our days together attending The Valley (and Selhurst and Upton Park and various away grounds), even if there were some pressing post-match engagement, at worst we might make our way to the top of the stairs in injury time, ready to make a sharp exit on the full-time whistle.
Watching the football to the bitter or occasionally sweet end is the reason we go, isn’t it?
Yet Dad was also an energetic shop steward in his prime, organising and rallying the troops against any perceived injustice. He fought for the right to strike, the right to protest, the right to challenge bad management. Don’t get me wrong – he was not a revolutionary – his union was on the more moderate side of the movement and he much preferred negotiation and communication to direct action.
Dad passed away a few years ago but I know he’d have been behind the current CARD-led protests in general. I don’t know for definite if he would have supported the walkout but he would have seriously considered it. I do know for definite he would have disapproved of the lack of direction of the club under Duchâtelet’s ownership.
If you have to make a personal sacrifice to join in a protest – foregoing the pre-match pint on the concourse, breaking the habit of a football lifetime by not buying a programme or even turning your back and exiting when the team is winning – does that not hammer home your point all the more strongly? Sometimes gain only comes with pain.
On Sunday I felt extremely proud to be an Addick, albeit a distant one. With no need to prompt, Chris Powell turned up suitably attired for a funeral. The procession with the coffin was dignified and impactful. The minute’s silence, viewed via a jumpy online feed, sent shivers down my spine. I was almost crying with a mix of joy and sadness as beach-balls rained down and stopped play before it had barely started.
The creativity and general good humour of the fans, while still getting across a powerful message, was positively embraced by the watching world. In the aftermath, we should be more united as a group of fans than ever. Let’s not detract from that by bickering about whether it was right to walk out or not. That was a difficult decision. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to ask the Grim Reaper.