Always keen to explore the philosophical implications behind matters of great importance, Basil Fawlty knew a thing or two about the effects of losing to the last minute goal. He understood that it knocked what was left of your stuffing out of you. As he shrewdly observed, "it's so final!"
Okay, so Basil was actually talking about death at the time but it's not such a leap from one thing to the other. They both leave you breathless. And though Charlton didn't suffer last gasp heartbreak and it's true nobody died on Saturday, the mood aboard Betty Hutchins' supporters' coach on its way to Chesterfield shortly after 10 a.m. became abruptly blacker than Newgate's knocker. You could have blown us down with a feather when word filtered through that the game at BT Internet@hotmail.dot.com.uk Stadium was off. Kaput. Down the Swanee. Up the Pictures. A Diabolical Liberty.
We'd set off from Anchor and Hope Lane at 9.20 a.m in reasonably good shape and hoping for the best, ignorant of the fact that the overnight temperature in North Derbyshire had plummeted (temperatures either plummet or soar) to ten below and that there had never been a chance this game would go ahead and, in fact, should have been already postponed. But there are, of course, motions to be gone through and referee Colin Webster presumably thought he was doing everyone a favour by scheduling his pitch inspection for 10 o'clock. So by the time he drew the blindingly obvious conclusion that play had never been remotely possible, we were already on the M25, blissfully unaware that we were on a journey to nowhere. It hadn't occurred to Webster to swerve his hotel shower till later, bolt his breakfast and do his job at 9 a.m. instead. Then a quick call to Charlton might have had us back in bed by ten. Here's a word for Webster's Dictionary. Twerp. Here's three more. Waste of space.
The reaction through the coach was one of quiet resignation. Football fans are used to being mucked about. But a second successive Saturday in front of Ceefax was almost too much to bear. I don't know how they do it. At the game, after all, you can offer helpful advice and kid yourself anyone even hears it. At Tuesday's clash with Bury, I knew exactly what Dale Stephens needed not to do when the ball rolled out to him in the 93rd minute. I was still screaming "Don't shoot!" as his fearsome drive bulged the rigging. I'm no tactical titan, that's for sure but I do what I can. And I'm always ready to share my acumen with childlike generosity. "Get rid of it!", I cry, or "Anywhere'll do!" But I'm not all about negativity. When we're behind, I've been known to urge Charlton to "Keep it on the Island!" You won't find those pieces of sound advice in the modern coaching manuals. It did Harold Phipps no harm. Dear old Harold mastered the first two but found the third one tricky.
So I settled down to watch England in the rugby, promising myself I wouldn't keep checking the Sheffield clubs. And I stuck to my guns until half-time when my manly restraint was rewarded by two 0-0 scorelines. I couldn't stand it, though, and when I checked again, stone me, Jermaine Johnson had scored for Wednesday at Exeter, while United were 2-0 up at home to Wycombe.
Well, that's it, I told myself and returned to the rucking and mauling in Rome for consolation. At precisely 4.47 p.m I braced myself for disappointment and punched up 318 to confirm the worst. And, blimey, good old Exeter were only beating Wednesday 2-1 but it wasn't over. Back I went to the rugger, where the pack had collapsed or something, so I sensibly left them to it and , dreading the worst, tempted fate again at St. James Park. Still 2-1, ten to four but they're still at it. By now, I was hysterically willing the invisible Grecians to get rid of it and assuring them that anywhere will do when an unseen hand smoothly replaced that agonising "L" with what was, by then, the two most attractive letters in the alphabet. "FT" it announced and we had consolidated our advantage over Wednesday without even playing. United won 3-0 but you can't have everything.
Expecting to be home about 10.30, there was an unexpected Saturday evening to fill but we were too drained go out. A thoroughly satisfying menu of Dad's Army, Harry Hill and Desperate Midwives on our Eye pods did the trick before the football saw us off. But not before one more helping of "The Kipper and the Corpse" from Basil and the chaps. And then it really was final.