Football: Fan's eye view - Charlton Athletic: Awkward problems of being Addickted

FAN'S EYE VIEW Charlton Athletic
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The Independent Online
AS SOON as you are identified as a Charlton supporter these days, a familiar and now oft repeated ritual round of remarks begins.

"Great Game at Wembley, fantastic," it begins. It continues to "I think you'll go straight back down, mind" accompanied with a smile, as though this blindingly unoriginal thought would be fresh to our ears. After the first few games it changed slightly to: "Doing well aren't you?" I almost expect a pat on the head for being such a clever boy. Then comes the big one. If they have read one of the more highbrow features on the club or maybe can drag the fact from distant memory they ask: "Why are you called the Addicks?"

I'm not alone among Charlton fans in dreading this question. Some of us do not know and do not care. Most do but know that the explanation we will have to give is so long winded that we lie and say we do not. The likelihood of appearing to be the type of anorak who can remember all the advertising hoardings from every game they've ever seen is extremely high. Many make up ridiculous stories about the nickname deriving from haddocks. It's either "we always treated the opposition to a fish supper after games" or that "someone once turned up to a game with a fish on a stick". Most Addicks use whatever story they fancy at the time or the one that they feel is most likely to get the other person to buy them a drink or give them their phone number.

Charlton fans are more aware of history and their place in it than most. The fight to return to The Valley is well documented but a better example comes from the recent derby game at Highbury. Addicks fans taunted their erstwhile neighbours with chants of "Woolwich Rejects". The Arsenal fans were totally bemused but Charlton fans don't see anything strange about reminding the Gunners of their treachery, even if their desertion of south London took place 85 years ago.

The founding fathers, well 14 and 15-year-olds actually, who launched the club in the back streets of industrial Charlton, hard against the south bank of the river Thames and close to the current Thames Barrier site, were well aware of their local history. In Charlton Village, above them by about a mile geographically and a million miles in social status, stands Charlton House, the finest Jacobean home in England. Until recently it was the seat of the Maryon-Wilson family, who had inherited the stately pile by intermarrying with the original owners, the Spencer-Percivials. Sir John Spencer-Percivial, the sole distinguished member of the family in the past 500 years, is still the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. He is buried in the family plot in St Luke's Church opposite Charlton House, just 10 minutes walk from The Valley. When the lads founded Charlton Athletic on a street corner on 9 June 1905 they adopted the Spencer-Percivial family crest of a hand holding a red sword on a white background. The colours have been reversed and the design modernised but Charlton players still run out with what is basically the family crest on their chests.

And the nickname? The Percivials came over with William the Conqueror and retained their Norman-French motto. A literal translation means sharp but it is used in the sense of ready for action, hence the drawn sword. If you know the south London dialect, you will not be surprised to find that the Norman-French word "Addique" soon became "Addick".

So now you see what we mean about taking so long to explain. Next time I'm going to sod history and say we're called the Addicks - because we used to change in a fish and chip shop.