Historically, red is the most successful jersey colour in English football, closely followed by blue.
As a Charlton Athletic fan, that should fill me with misguided optimism for the many, likely mediocre if not incredibly disappointing, campaigns to come. Yet my favourite jersey colour has always been black; not because of a deep-lying masochistic desire to be a referee, but because of one incredible game against Arsenal back in 2001 – and particularly one incredible goal from Claus Jensen.
This summer represents the 25th anniversary of the incarnation of the Premier League and when considering truly classic moments, the usual suspects come to mind; Eric Cantona’s lob against Sunderland and/or assault on a Crystal Palace fan, Wayne Rooney exploding onto the scene with a stunning goal that abruptly ended Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ run, Sergio Aguero’s last-second title winner that ushered in a new era of a Sheik-funded superpower in Manchester, Luis Suarez inexplicably biting Branislav Ivanovic.
But away from the iconic names, title-chasing clubs and all the silverware that came with them, Charlton take a very unique place in Premier League history. For eight years in two spells, they were everybody’s second-favourite team, ever the plucky underdogs yet too insignificant to be considered a genuine enemy of anybody.
Even the Addicks’ rivalries with Crystal Palace and Millwall are very much one-way. Charlton scored some half-decent goals too – including Jensen’s. In a nutshell, Chartlon under Alan Curbishley were a team pretty much every Premier League fan could enjoy, or were at the very least allowed to.
Believe it or not, Charlton have a rivalry with Arsenal too; once again, incredibly one way. Arsenal of course get their name from Woolwich Arsenal, a subsection of nearby Woolwich most fans pass through on their way to The Valley which used to be the Gunners’ home before moving to north London in 1913. Thus, any contest with the Gunners is met by cries of ‘Woolwich rejects’ from the Charlton faithful.
From 65 meetings, Charlton have beaten Arsenal just nine times. Free from the shackles of a particularly undesirable part of South East London, meanwhile, Arsenal have won 13 top flight titles and 13 FA Cups since leaving.
Understandably, Arsenal fans really couldn’t give two hoots about their original home or Charlton fans’ almost oxymoronic interpretation of their departure from the neighbourhood over a century ago. It’s not really a blip on their radar amid all the silverware and Wenger-In-Wenger-Out infighting.
Yet, the beauty of football has always been that every dog eventually gets their day and in the context of the one-way rivalry with Arsenal, Charlton’s last and arguably greatest came in November 2001 at Highbury, wearing all black.
Ironically, it was a game that started poorly for Charlton in a season that ended in Arsenal lifting the Premier League title. The Addicks didn’t create a single chance in the first 35 minutes and by the time the final whistle came, they produced just five efforts at goal compared to Arsenal’s 25 – 13 of which were on target before half-time.
But that was very much the cause of the shock upset in north London, one of just three league games the Gunners lost that season; wastefulness in front of goal, combined with some calamitous disorganisation at the back in the absence of David Seaman, Lee Dixon and Tony Adams.
In fact, Charlton found themselves one goal down and onto a hiding after just seven minutes when Thierry Henry broke the deadlock with a predictably calm, predictably Henry left-footed finish. But when Ashley Cole fouled Jonatan Johansson just under half an hour later, the tide suddenly turned; Paul Konchesky whipped in a delicious free kick and Steve Brown – a true Charlton cult hero not least because of the defender’s in extremis outings in goal – crept ahead of Gilles Grimandi in the penalty area to put home a glancing header.
Just before half-time, another free kick cost Arsenal dearly. Seemingly fearing a similar outcome as Brown’s equaliser, a naively over-proactive Richard Wright ended up punching the ball off Jason Euell’s head and into his own net.
Half-time came and went, and then the onslaught truly began. Charlton came out pressing high and caught Arsenal in their own third as a loose throw-in was followed up by a lackadaisical touch from Patrick Vieira. Johansson challenged and won the tackle, leaving Jensen to step a few yards wide before dinking the ball from a seemingly impossible angle above a disorientated Richard Wright, onto the left post and into the net in the most delicious, gorgeous and irresistible fashion possible. A moment of madness from Vieira; followed by a moment of pure class from Jensen.
Four minutes later, Jensen turned creator to make it 4-1, stepping beyond Giovanni van Bronckhorst in midfield before weighting the perfect through ball for Euell, Charlton’s eventual top scorer that season, to slot past an, on this occasion, helpless Wright.
Arsenal soon pegged one back on the hour mark as referee Mark Halsey wrongly awarded a penalty for a Mark Fish challenge that saw his extended toe get the tiniest but most pivotal of touches of the ball, but the controversial call proved to be semantics as Charlton left with only their ninth-ever victory over their one-time neighbours.
After the match, the opinions of the managers couldn’t have been more contrasting; Curbishley wondering just how his side had escaped Highbury on the right side of a six-goal thriller, Wenger contemplating how his eventual title-winners had lost, describing it as ‘one of the most difficult defeats I have had to accept’.
For a then ten-year-old Charlton fan, meanwhile, it was the start of a love affair, with the defiant underdogs Alan Curblishley had created, with the ever-underappreciated brilliance and class of Claus Jensen and most importantly, with black kits. The Men in Black had put on an absolute Premier League classic, one that, as we look back upon the last 25 years, probably deserves greater recognition.