Already-promoted Burnley travelled to already-relegated Charlton Athletic looking for the win which would seal their place as Championship champions. Though the Clarets ran out comfortable winners, the Charlton fans stole the show as their protests against owner Roland Duchâtelet went on before, during and after the match.
The pre-match scene was a dramatic one. Fans organised a “sit-in” protest as they all sat outside the players’ and officials’ entrance, holding up various banners and posters. Anticipating a toxic atmosphere, a large number of police and sniffer dogs had been deployed. A large net was put up in front of the North Stand so as to stop fans from throwing things onto the pitch, but it had little effect.
During the match, chants of “We want Roland out” were common, along with more profane insults to the board, and three smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch. Various missiles, mostly rolled up pieces of paper, were thrown onto the pitch, one of which caused Charlton left-back Morgan Fox to slip as he attempted to fire in a cross. In the second half, a fan holding an anti-board poster invaded the pitch.
As for the game itself, the match was surprisingly open. In the 20th minute Charlton gave away a goal as Burnley waltzed in behind the defence to score. Sam Vokes had an easy finish after a cross from Stephen Ward to give his side a 1-0 lead.
The Addicks did not let their heads drop, however, and they created a series of good chances towards the end of the first half. Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton was forced to make a number of great saves, the most impressive of which was a low parry to his right from a great strike by Johann Gudmundsson. Shortly afterwards, Charlton had their best chance of the match as they counter-attacked from a Burnley corner. Callum Harriott found himself in space but could not convert, hitting his short too near the goalkeeper.
In the second half, Burnley killed off the game in devastating fashion. In the 49th minute Ward again was able to get in behind the defence and his cross found George Boyd, who made no mistake in smashing home from close range. Two minutes later, striker André Gray received a great pass from Dean Marney but couldn’t quite control it. However, he did well to get the ball back and ran into the penalty area, slotting the ball into the back of the net through the ‘keeper’s legs.
After the third goal, the match began to peter out. The Charlton fans did their best to add to the entertainment with their flares and pitch invasions, but no more goals were scored. Very near the end of the match Morgan Fox hit a great strike from range which was tipped over the bar by Heaton, but that was the closest the home side got to scoring in the second half.
At the full-time whistle, the Burnley fans rushed onto the pitch to celebrate being crowned champions with the players. In a bizarre turn of events, the Charlton fans joined them, and both sets of fans started further chants of “We want Roland out” opposite the directors’ box. The away fans chanted “we are staying up” and the home fans, ever able to laugh at their present situation, chanted “we are going down”.
After the game, Charlton manager José Riga gave an honest press conference during which he announced that he will not be staying at the football club. Thus came to an end his second spell at the club, and he wished Charlton all the best in the future. He congratulated Burnley on their success, and said that England is “the place to be” in football.
Sean Dyche’s press conference was more upbeat. He started off by mocking the idea that Burnley could “do a Leicester” in the Premier League next season, but stated that:
“We’ve made enormous strides as a football club since I first got here and that’s massive credit to all involved, but particularly the staff and players.”
When asked about next season, he said:
“It [the squad] is ready to attempt to stay in the Premier League. It’s a massive challenge. We were written off last time—we got 33 points—and we’ve been written off again this time… that’s just the way life is. We will have to work carefully. We will have more available to us to progress on the pitch.”
Both teams will be playing in new leagues next season: Charlton will be in League One; Burnley the Premier League. Both will be difficult challenges and the two teams will go into the 2016-17 season in very different spirits and with very different expectations.