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Game Days, Bloody Great Days

February 26, 2015
Game day at The Valley.

Game day at The Valley.

I love going to football grounds. State-of-the-art stadiums are brilliant, of course, but I’m talking proper backstreets grounds that are laden with history, strewn with pie-wrappers, and fringed by houses.

I caught the bug from my partner, with his nostalgic tales of rainy, mud-spattered Saturday afternoons in Melbourne spent watching his Aussie Rules footy team kick a sodden bag of leather around. He took me on a tour of all the famous and faded suburban grounds. To Arden Street, where we could just make out the Dry Area sign. To Brunswick Oval, where his grandfather’s ashes were scattered (old Len had been a Victorian and Tasmanian champion). To the hallowed turf of Glenferrie Oval where his dad, just off the boat from Ireland, first saw Hawthorn play and started a family tradition that will last for eternity.

We even visited grounds with which we had no connection. We stood on a hill in South Gippsland and watched Poowong versus Kongwak (I didn’t just make those names up). Locals sat in cars behind the goals and honked their horns after every goal. We saw Harcourt play Trentham in Victoria’s Central Highlands, and felt a bit sorry for a kid called Russell. He was probably doing first year arts at Melbourne Uni and he definitely didn’t want to be out there. To add to his sulking pain, his nan spent the entire game yelling “have a bloody go, Russell!”

Now that we’re on the other side of the globe, the ground-seeking continues but the ball is round. We’ve seen the bubbles drift over the pitch at the Boleyn Ground, we’ve watch the millionaires trot about at Old Trafford, and we’ve held fatty Scottish pies in our wee frozen hands while Dundee lost to St. Mirren at Dens Park. We’ve enjoyed a rare burst of winter sunshine and three Leyton Orient goals at Brisbane Road. We took the Eurostar to Lille one January to soak up the minus 11 degree ambience of the giant deep freezer known as the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. Closer to home, we’ve taken the bus to Welling’s Park View ground to cheer the Greenwich Mariners to victory in the Woolwich & Eltham Sunday League.

All wonderful days out. But nothing quite compares to a day at the Valley.

We’d only been living in Woolwich (and indeed the UK) about a fortnight when we noticed road signs pointing to Charlton Athletic. We’d barely begun to understand where we were on the map, but that didn’t stop us heading down to the Valley for a Tuesday night game in February, clad in our woefully inadequate Melbourne coats. Over the past four years, we’ve been back quite a few times, drinking before (and usually after) at the Rose of Denmark. We’ve rubbed shoulders with the CAFC faithful, a knowledgeable, passionate, nattily-dressed, and storied lot. We’ve seen Charlton play like shit and play like champions.

The actual 90+ minutes of play aside, I love game days for how a suburb comes alive. Charlton is wonderful like this. I love the hungry queues outside Seabay Fish Bar and Charlton Kebab House. The away supporters loitering outside the Antigallican. The burger vans exuding aromas of fried onions and chips. The stalls hawking scarves and flags, and the folks selling programs.

On game days, the normally sleepy streets around the ground team with kids, parents, grandparents, lads, lasses, everyone. For outsiders like us, a day at the Valley is a way to try and connect with our new surrounds, to feel in a small way that we’re part of the beating heart of a place and a culture that is so far removed geographically from Melbourne, yet so utterly familiar.

Game days are bloody great days!

For more about Charlton Athletic go to www.cafc.co.uk.

For an insight into what it’s like to be a Charlton supporter, read some of the blogs. There’s charltoncasual.blogspot.co.uk, hungryted.blogspot.co.uk, and algordoncafc.blogspot.com to name a few.

 

 

 

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