‘This is my release’: Charlton fans return to valley as lockdown lifts | Soccer

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For in the past 266 days, since the coronavirus pandemic sent sporting events behind closed doors, professional footballers have had no choice but to get used to the lifeless silence that has accompanied their work.

Wednesday night, for the moment at least, this era ended in style for some. When the Charlton Athletic and Milton Keynes Dons players first appeared in the Valley to warm up before their meeting, they were greeted by fans who stood up and gave the teams a long thunderous ovation.

A total of six EFL teams brought supporters back to the stadium on Wednesday, with Carlisle opening the night at 7 p.m. with a 2-1 win over Salford in League Two. In Charlton, the voices of 2,000 spectators dotted the stadium with a capacity of 27,111 on every corner. They applauded every good decision made by their players and every favorable call from the referee. When the MK Dons side approached the crowd with their first attacks on goal, they inundated the away team with petty and mischievous boos.

When the fans first arrived, they were given staggered arrival times to ensure minimal mixing, and they were very quickly swallowed by the turnstiles after going through temperature checks. Every fan on the other side was waiting for a free hot chocolate provided by Charlton sponsor Andrew Sykes. Even the drink of choice was a reflection of the times, with hot chocolate being deemed preferable to people looking for milk and sugar for tea.

They each came with their own stories. Ally Hall, a 10-year-old surrounded by his uncle and third-year brother as a constant presence at the Valley, explained with a blazing smile how he had adjusted to the past nine months without live football. “Since there are no games, it’s so boring and there’s no point watching football,” he said. “Especially my uncle, he got rid of his Sky because he didn’t like football without fans. This is how it was boring. It was like watching the reserve games.

Shirley, a security official who worked throughout the pandemic as a key worker, hasn’t been able to take much time since the pandemic began, so she missed Charlton’s test match in September, when the club briefly hosted 1,000 fans against Doncaster. For her, returning to the valley meant a departure from the mundane life of the past nine months.


Charlton fans at the valley

A total of 2,000 Charlton fans were allowed into their 27,111-seat stadium for the MK Dons game on Wednesday. Photograph: Matthew Childs / Action Images / Reuters

“I miss my Saturdays,” she says. “For me, people take drugs, people drink. It’s my drug. You know what I mean? This is my pressure cooker. Being at work, you can’t let go. Life can be a bit shitty sometimes. This is my release. ”

For Peter Quinlan, a 70-year-old still full of energy and vitality, it marked the longest time he has spent away from his team since 1963. “Coming back is brilliant,” he said. “Before that, well, you have to live with it. It is an integral part of what is happening all over the world. I have no qualms about it. I knew we were going to come back eventually, but these are small steps. Eventually we will have the ground filled and we will return to some form of normalcy. But now 2,000 is better than nothing. ”

What they saw was not always ideal. It was actually MK Dons, despite arriving in south-east London 19th in the league, who burst into the game with greater power, creating so many clear chances in the first half. Perhaps it was a reflection of the sheer value of energy emanating from surrounding fans, regardless of which team she was destined for. Encouraged by the noise, spirits sometimes frayed, with Darren Pratley pushing Matthew Sorinola and the two players ending up in the book.

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Still, as fans boosted their vocals again and were able to release the energy suppressed over the past nine months, for a change, the result – 1-0 for the visitors – wasn’t all that important. “I really only have one passion in life besides winning the lottery and that’s it,” said Shirley, finishing one last cigarette before entering the stadium. “It’s been since I was about 12, 13, since I started going down. Anytime I could get off here, I have. It’s in the blood – grandfather, father, me. And that’s how it goes. It feels good to be back. ”

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