For the travelling Addicks setting out for Hillsborough on Saturday, a stunning Johnnie Jackson free kick and resilient victory should have ensured the perfect day. Sadly, the incompetence of the train network resulted in this being anything but perfect for many of those setting off from St Pancras. Below, Tricky recounts the frustration he suffered.........
I started off Saturday 14th January wondering how I could kill time before kick-off.
I'll get to Hillsborough early, I thought to myself, and soak up the atmosphere in a stadium I was looking forward to visit.
As the 10:55 from St Pancras slowed to 'Gary Doherty pace' before stopping less than an hour into the journey, I thought it was no problem at all. I've got loads of time. ANYTHING can happen to this train and it will be FINE.
One hour later, still in the same spot, I was a little less confident. I had a nagging feeling that all was not going to plan. Still, it couldn't be worse than Chesterfield at home, when train problems meant I got into my seat as the clock on the big screen turned to 69:00, could it?
A while later, it soon dawned on me. Yes, it was worse. Much worse in fact.
As much as I appreciated the opportunity to study some lovely countryside outside Kettering in fine detail, the feeling was excruciating. The biggest game of the season, nay, the biggest game for a few seasons, was slipping through my and other supporters' fingers. There was nothing we could do about it.
The decision was made, by me and many other Charlton fans, to abort at Leicester when it finally rolled in at 3.20. Going onto Sheffield wouldn't guarantee seeing any of the game, and it didn't seem like the prospects of getting back home were much better either.
I decided to take stock, regroup, and do all the other things that pundits suggest when a team go in at half time 1-0 down, and go and get something to eat.
Even Rik Waller on his first visit back after giving up fast food for Lent would have struggled to experience the surge of positive emotion that I felt in that queue at Burger King. I got a text through from a Lifer Lurker telling me we were one goal up from a Jacko free kick.
From then on it was a nightmare. The yearning of wanting to receive another text to say we had gone two up was matched only by the fear that another text coming through could mean an equaliser. The message I received just before half time to say “Sheff Wed score...but it was offside!” really didn't help to calm the nerves.
At half time I decided I had seen enough of Leicester, and headed back to the station. By this point, all I wanted to was fall asleep, preferably on a train back to London, and wake up to a text saying “All over, 5-0”. Of course, in line with the rest of the day, this plan didn't come to fruition.
I managed to jump on a half empty train back to London that seemingly nobody else at the station knew about in time for the second half.
Of course, this was when the real agony began. Worse still, due to constant phone use on the way up, my phone was running low on battery and unlikely to last the second 45 minutes. So instead of checking on CL or updates on Twitter, I had to sit back, do the opposite of relax, and wait for any updates to come through by text from my trusty sidekick back at home.
My “D” at AS Level Maths served me well as I successfully managed to work out what sort of time the match would end, plus the inevitable 10 minutes of injury time that would no doubt be added on. It wouldn't be a true tight Charlton away win if we were the first score to come in now would it?
Things were getting tense on my train, but nobody else knew about it. I had my iPod with me, and started to count down the time left in terms of songs.
Five songs to go...no news. Four songs to go...still no news but considerably shorter fingernails. Three songs to go...still no news but considerably shorter fingertips. Two songs to go.
Halfway through what I hoped would be the second to last song, I got a text at 16.46. “Wiggins off the line – three mins to go”. I hoped that was their once last chance. But I couldn’t help imagining elbows, bleeding heads and sore necks from the aerial assault that Megson's hoofers would be applying. I've seen Andy Hughes warm up more calmly than I sat in that train seat.
One more song to go.
A text came through at 16.59. All I'd been through that day flashed through my mind. The start with a slightly sore head. The freezing cold all day. The train into London. The four hour train trip to Leicester from London. The horrible realisation that we weren't going to make it. The knowledge that the way back would probably be just as bad. Sitting alone in Burger King in Leicester comforted by only some chips and questionable 80s music. The board of cancelled trains. The agonising wait to hear the score combined with the worry my phone would run out of juice before full time leaving me in limbo.
Suddenly, it all became worth it. “Full time. You can celebrate :)”.
I'll take the same again at Huddersfield.