HOW OFTEN does a crowd filter out of a football stadium feeling they haven’t really been entertained? All too frequently, there’s a collective shrug of the shoulders, comments like, “not bad” or “they tried”, although supporters of the winning team console themselves with the result, a case of points over performance, function over form.
Not so the 18,500 people who witnessed Fulham against Charlton, a four-goal thriller that could have been won by either side. Fast, furious stiff, a little niggle here and there, and a couple of ejector seat goals. What’s more, the atmosphere was, at times, intense, boosted by a healthy contingent from South London, fans who are clearly enjoying Charlton’s return to the Championship.
Fulham’s form had taken a turn for the better again with two wins, against Wigan and Reading. When they faced Wigan a week earlier, they had not won for five league and cup games, now they are unbeaten in five, thanks to the 2-0 victory against the Latics and a midweek mauling of Reading (4-1). Draws can be destructive when you’re chasing promotion, but stick a couple of wins in a sequence and it suddenly looks far rosier. Charlton, meanwhile, had won half of their 10 league games and were sitting comfortably around mid-table, just one point behind Fulham.
A couple of years ago, Charlton looked like a very unhappy club, largely due to the fans’ dislike of Roland Duchâtelet, the Belgian portfolio club owner. Charlton were relegated to League One in 2016 and they spent three seasons at that level before winning promotion via the play-offs in 2019. The club was losing more fans than any London club in the previous few years, but there’s a sense of revival about Charlton at the moment, even though they are said to have the lowest budget in the Championship. They are averaging 18,000 at their home games this season.
Duchâtelet wants to off-load the club, but he’s asking £ 60 million, a figure that deters would-be buyers. He told the Charlton fans that he’s been trying to sell for two years, but pointed to the annual losses suffered by Championship clubs as a deterrant. “It has become unaffordable for nearly anyone to own a football club in the Championship, meaning it is not easy to find a suitable buyer.”
At least Charlton fans have a manager they like in Lee Bowyer, although he almost left in the summer after initially turning down his current contract. Bowyer started his playing career with Charlton before joining Leeds United in 1996 and also played for West Ham United and Newcastle United, among others. He’s the proverbial “one of our own” that fans love to crow about.
Bowyer has done a lot to unify the club during a fractious period at the Valley. Certainly, the mood among the Charlton fans at Craven Cottage seemed buoyant and positive. They were in fine voice throughout the 90 minutes, letting us know that they “hate Millwall” and that their club had won the FA Cup.
They had plenty to sing about in the first half as their team went in at the interval a goal to the good, a neat low finish from Conor Gallagher, scored after 41 minutes. Charlton had looked the better side for much of the first period, but Fulham improved considerably in the second half and equalised on 55 minutes with a superb strike from Ivan Cavaleiro. Fulham were level for less than two minutes as Macauley Bonne headed Charlton back into the lead. Finally, Aleksandar Mitrović scored from close range in the 63rd minute to make it two each. Both sides could have snatched victory, but it was Fulham that went closest, Anthony Knockaert crossing and “Mitro”, who seemed to enjoy a robust afternoon, striking the crossbar. It was exciting stuff and kept the crowd interested right until the final whistle.
It does look as though the Championship is going to be a tight affair again this season, but Fulham, and their entertaining brand of play, should feature in the race for promotion. Charlton are not far away, either, although the 46-game programme will test them, but on the evidence of their draw with highly fancied Fulham, Bowyer’s side shouldn’t have much trouble keeping away from danger. This was a game involving two teams who were keen to play football and go for a result. It was 90 minutes that made you feel glad you had a Fulham season ticket in your back pocket!