Today marks the 20th anniversary of Charlton Athletic’s first match back at their home ground, after seven seasons sharing Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace.
To English football fans, the concept of ground-sharing invokes anger at its very suggestion. But for Charlton they had no choice.
They became the reluctant but necessary lodgers at the home of one of their biggest rivals.
In 1984, after a change in ownership and increasing financial troubles, the Addicks went into administration. A year later, with no money to make necessary safety improvements to The Valley, they were forced to leave.
It seems strange to think that a club who for so long were a mainstay in the top-flight once had nowhere to call their own. But even in these wilderness years they had some success.
The year they left The Valley they won promotion to the First Division, remaining there for the next four seasons, until their relegation in 1990 ultimately proved to be one of the best things ever to happen to them; because a year later – first in a joint role with Steve Gritt and later independently – Alan Curbishley took charge of the team.
Remember him? He turned Charlton into a consistent Premier League presence. He guided them to the greatest game in their history…and possibly the greatest, certainly the most dramatic game Wembley has ever seen.
By the time of that 4-4 playoff final against Sunderland, Charlton had been back at The Valley for six years.
They played their homecoming game on the 5th December 1992, winning 1-0 against Portsmouth.
And in the years that followed, Curbishley worked wonders; wonders that may have only been truly appreciated once he had gone.
For some clubs, the dark days are never successfully navigated. For the unfortunate few, they are lost entirely.
But today a club celebrates two decades back home, in the middle of a season that promises much, under a manager who promises so much more.
Charlton are currently 13th in the Championship, five points outside the play-off places. In a league as unpredictable as that one, there is no telling where they will end up. But in Chris Powell they have a manager who looks like the real deal.
After taking over a Charlton side growing stale in League One, in his first full season he won the title with 101 points. He was also chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association for five years previous.
So he has both the tactical nous and the every-day-smarts to be successful. Whether he can raise his team to the heights Curbishley once did is yet to be seen. But they have a home. A home unrecognisable from the one they had to leave 27 years ago.
Football fans everywhere would do well to celebrate what they have, before they bemoan the lack of what they crave.
Sometimes it is enough just to have somewhere to play the game.
image: © Ewan-M