In an exchange of emails over the weekend, Chicago Addick pointed out that there appears to be an unfortunate rise in bickering amongst Charlton fans, whether in the stands, or on the message boards and blogs.
As a result, on Jan 2nd, he issued a 'cry for togetherness'. Now, I won't go that far (not least because leadership qualities are not really my strong point), but it seems a reasonable juncture at which to assess our current support, especially in light of Alan Pardew's own comments on Saturday aimed squarely at our quieter fans:
Although it's difficult not to do so, I try hard not to differentiate between 'good Charlton fans' and bad ones. Everyone has their own reasons for turning up and paying good money for football at The Valley; personally I was effectively brainwashed as a young child, and thus view my support (and often related irrational behaviour) as essentially an involuntary reflex.
Others however may simply have come across Charlton in recent years, or even perhaps football in general; as we well know, The Valley is a very agreeable place in which to embark on that voyage of discovery, and very welcome they are too.
Given that the club's marketing policy since 5 Dec 1992 (pictured) has centred upon emphasising the very family atmosphere to which they are so attracted, it would be a little disingenuous to feel any differently about our newer fans. We simply could not have achieved the success (which in a relative sense, certainly continues today) without them, and the additional stability they engendered.
However, at the same time we need to recognise that their incentives for attendance may be vastly different from those of us who have been going along for decades. More importantly, your benchmark for success is going to be a lot different if (like me) you recall seeing Charlton in the third-tier of English football. For some of our fans, this season has been their first experience of football outside the top tier. It's no wonder some of them feel a bit miffed.
My Burnley-supporting pal in New York yesterday suggested to me that QPR were inherently a bigger club than Charlton, regardless of any recent financial boost. I responded that he was wrong, and then helpfully pointed out why he was wrong: his base of football knowledge was developed in the mid-1970s, around the time when QPR's form peaked, once finishing 2nd to Liverpool (in 1975/76).
The 1970s were a fleetingly good time to be a Rangers fan for sure, but probably not very meaningful as an indicator of their relative glamour today. Likewise I tend to irrationally view the likes of Bristol City and Brighton as bigger clubs than they truly are because I began my own footballing journey just a few years later. If one views those moaning Charlton fans in this type of context, then one might begin to have more sympathy with their frustration.
It's also worth noting that a separate subgroup of these newer fans may not even care much whether Charlton win or lose at all (shock horror). The Saturday routine that I was brought up upon is a very enjoyable one with plenty of attractive attributes, allowing some quality time with family whilst watching some live sport (in a friendly stadium), being perhaps the most obvious. I've little doubt that the passion on display at the New Den for example is greater , but just stop and compare the relative League positions.
You don't have to risk ruining the rest of your weekend (as I certainly do) by ultimately being that bothered if your adopted team is victorious. Unless we're planning to turn The Valley into some sort of exclusive membership club (admission given on proof of attendance at the 5-1 defeat at home to Rotherham in 1982), then there isn't much we can do. Then again, I would qualify for the club so perhaps it's worth considering.
I have never booed at Charlton matches, never stood up and berated the referee, nor frantically tried to draw the linesman's attention to a possible offside (the alcohol ban assists in this regard). I don't run for trains, drive fast or speak on my mobile phone in public (you get the picture). Not surprisingly, my fairly introspective nature does not lend itself to cheering or singing very much either, but I would take great offence if how much I cared about the club was brought into question (though don't expect me to Stand Up If I Love Charlton). In short, I like to free ride upon the atmosphere created by others.
For some reason this type of obsession with showing passion (rather than merely feeling it) is unique to football. I don't recall attending a live gig for example, and having fellow fans of the band scold me for quietly sipping a pint and tapping my feet, rather than joining them in the mosh pit. The battle for free expression was a hard-fought one, I don't think The Valley is the place to re-enact it.
And sadly as much as Pards may wish to think otherwise, whilst there may be a correlation between booing fans and poor results (although the causation is doubtless two-way), there is no discernable correlation between quiet fans and poor results (witness Sir Alex Ferguson's complaints about the atmosphere at Old Trafford). If you don't believe this, you'll have to go some way to explaining Newcastle's perennial underachievement.
As for those that do boo the team, the chances are they are the sort of people who take that same positive and laid-back attitude into other areas of their life. You know the sort of people whose heart rate rockets when the traffic lights change against them? He's probably sat behind you in the East Stand.
More curiously, during my decades as a philosophical football supporter, I've concluded that often it's not so much the booing per se that is an annoyance, but the fact that these fans tend to boo at the wrong moments.
My favourite (and adaptable) example is as follows. How many times in recent seasons have Charlton scored when a player has attempted to shoot during open play from 25 yards or more? The answer instinctively is 'not very many times', and a quick review of our stats for this season would suggest perhaps only Danny Mills' deflected equaliser versus Plymouth, and Matt Holland's opener against Cardiff might qualify. Last season, perhaps only Talal el Karkouri's goal against Sheffield United.
This phenomenon is true of all teams of course, not merely Charlton; the stunning entrants in the MoTD Goal of the Month competition are memorable precisely because they're so rare. I don't care what goalkeepers say about the movement from the new footballs; they're always willing players to shoot from distance, because they hate conceding goals.
Meanwhile, how many times are goals scored when a Charlton player has possession in a similar position, but rather than taking on the potential shot, chooses to pass/run/cross* (*delete as appropriate)? Unfortunately I clearly don't have a specific answer, but by definition the answer must be 'very many indeed.'
You get the picture. Yet, whenever a Charlton player attempts a shot from 25-yards which narrowly misses, why do the crowd give a collective whoop (understandable because it's instinctive) but then inexplicably follow it with a warm round of applause? Meanwhile those same fans would doubtless rain abuse upon say, the oft-booed Darren Ambrose if he attempted to execute a delicate through ball from 25-yards out which was intercepted? Perhaps they also wonder why Arsenal's players shoot so rarely despite seemingly having ample opportunities to do so?
Thus, whilst accepting that footballers are not very bright, they are however somewhat rational, and are presumably happier being cheered rather than jeered, and will thus play with this in mind. If the boo-boys want to continuing booing whilst simultaneously helping our chances, it would be beneficial if they would learn to stop booing at the wrong times. I can only hope that Pards and his coaching staff can spot the paradox.
If promotion is not achieved this season, and if the club chooses not to re-offer its free Premiership season tickets (though I suspect it will), then it is reasonable to assume that our attendances will drop off markedly next season. If those that yearn for the good old days think that (more passionate but smaller) home attendances will be beneficial to our chances, I think that they ought to be careful what they wish for.