Charlton Athletic away on May 7 could be the day Burnley take the Championship title and make an instant return to the Premier League.
Burnley, Middlesbrough and Brighton go into the final two games locked on 87 points and are separated by just a few goals. The Clarets take on QPR who have dangerously been labelled as ‘already on the beach’, and then head to the capital to face the Addicks.
For those with their head in the sand, Charlton are in disarray and have already been relegated to the third tier of English football. Fans of the club are currently using every home game to take their anger out on sassy chief executive Katrien Meire, and tyrant owner Roland Duchatelet.
The protests have been in full swing for a while now, back in February they carried out a mock funeral before the Middlesbrough game before throwing beach balls on the pitch – against Brighton last week it was more of the same.
According to the forums and annals of Twitter, it will be anything they can get their hands on against the Clarets, including toilet rolls, newspaper cuttings, flares, drawing pins, glitter bombs and, interestingly, Brussels sprouts.
The Charlton fans, who have formed a group called the Coalition Against Roland Duchatelet (CARD), are not daft; they know this game against the promotion-chasing Clarets will be a superb PR opportunity and a great chance for their antics to be screened worldwide. The protests against Brighton and Middlesbrough will be tame in comparison; this is their last chance to be heard before slipping through the trap door.
A lot of Addicks were not keen on attending someone else’s promotion party but the sub plot emerging at the Valley will fill the ground come match day. I predict mayhem – Charlton fans will not be there to watch football, they will be at the game to generate maximum exposure to their cause of ousting Roland Duchatelet.
You can bet your bottom dollar that thousands of Burnley fans will be outside the Valley on the hunt for tickets in the home end, but Charlton have already said they will only sell tickets to fans with a track record of buying from them.
It will be an intriguing tie for Burnley as it will be more than a football match, and Sean Dyche will have long ago briefed his men on what they are to expect. So with feet in the Burnley camp, how do you react to this?
It’s quite simple – you empathise with the CARD group. The club has been run poorly – the last thing Clarets fans are to do is to rile up the home crowd and encourage them to stop the game every ten minutes, which has been muted by Addicks fans, and even worse, get the game abandoned, which Blackpool fans managed to do this time last year against Huddersfield Town when they staged a sit down in the centre circle.
Burnley fans know what it is like to watch a club in decline with the club nearly going out of the Football League in 1987, however the shoe is now on the other foot – I have no doubt Sean Dyche and his men will show a first class attitude at the Valley amongst the organised chaos surrounding them.
Brighton and Boro, who will be battling it out in their own promotion play-off at the Riverside, will be hoping Charlton do enough off the pitch to unsettle Burnley on it, the ‘strong jaw’ Dyche talks of will have to take a few more hits.
The Clarets look the strongest placed out of the three teams with the fixture list throwing together Burnley’s closest rivals on the final day.
I am happy for Dyche to continue playing the same XI if he throws his heavy artillery on early doors to make an impact – Lloyd Dyer, Ashley Barnes and Matty Taylor all changed the game in the invaluable point against Boro.
The introduction of Barnes for Andre Gray in that game was a masterstroke by Dyche as Barnes bought Burnley free-kicks in areas which ultimately led to the equaliser. This squad has no passengers.
Interesting permutations could arise against Charlton, will they protest if they take the lead early on? What happens if they actually manage to get the match abandoned or substantially delayed? Will the referee at the Riverside synchronise the second half kick-off with that at the Valley?
It could play into the Clarets’ hands if the final whistle at the Riverside has long gone and Burnley only need a point.
The CARD group threw stress balls on to the pitch in the protest in the match against Birmingham City – the travelling Clarets fans might want a few of those handy if things don’t go according to plan early doors at the Valley.
The Football Association will have to get involved once results from this weekend are out of the way, as all three teams know what they have to do to get promotion. English football’s governing body need to put preventative measures in place to halt the Charlton fans and contingency plans if they fail to do so.
Burnley fans are used to seeing chickens on the pitch, beach balls and the like should be no bother.