Boris Johnson’s announcement today means Charlton fans won’t be making the long awaited return to The Valley this season, but in Valley Pass Live they have access to the next best thing.
On the last day of last season, I dutifully purchased a live stream pass for Charlton’s game against Leeds United. It was exciting, obviously, as our post-lockdown relegation battle came down to the final day with a real chance of Championship survival. The performance that day was dire, made even worse by Barnsley’s last minute heroics, and the viewing experience was not much better.
Terry Smith and Greg Stubley’s exceptional commentary aside, the remainder of the live stream was not much cop to say the least. The picture was grainy and glitchy, sometimes cutting out altogether and requiring a refresh in order for the stream to restart. Just one camera angle made events at either end of the pitch difficult to follow, and there was nothing to enjoy pre-game, post-game or during half-time beside a series of still-image EFL sponsor advertisements.
When it became clear that fans would once again not be able to attend games to start this season, I was not inspired by the thought of having to pay £10 a game for a similarly poor viewing experience – so I didn’t. Instead I followed the game on Twitter or listened on the radio, and caught the highlights afterwards. I daresay I wasn’t alone in avoiding what the live stream had to offer.
In mid-December the club announced that Scott Minto would be hosting a new live streaming service named Valley Pass Live, produced exclusively in-house, with guest pundits, a multi-camera view and in-game highlights. To say this has been a success would be an understatement.
For a while I remained stubborn and reluctant to part with a tenner a game for what I thought would remain an amateur production, but then I started to hear glowing reviews from friends and other fans on social media. I finally caved for the Gillingham game and afterwards I couldn’t buy my pass for Fleetwood away fast enough.
Scott Minto is an absolute natural in front of the camera, but we already knew that from his numerous years working for Sky Sports heading up the EFL coverage. Regular guest Alan Curbishley is insightful in his analysis and clearly still passionate about the club, and the ex-player that joins them each week is always a treat for fans. Steve Brown has been particularly impressive – his knowledge of the game is clear for all to see and his personality really shines through.
Terry Smith and Greg Stubley’s commentary seems to improve every game, and the introduction of in-game highlights allows them to provide an even clearer view of events. 45 minutes of pre-game features and interviews with players give the ideal build-up to the main event, with the Memory Lane feature in particular proving a real success.
Thomas Sandgaard and his commercial director Wayne Mumford wanted to drastically improve Charlton’s virtual matchday offering, and they have certainly done that. Sandgaard revealed last week that the live stream viewing figures have more than quadrupled since he took over, and the number of people now tuning in each week is as many as top Championship clubs are getting.
It also provides a crucial source of income for the club. The lack of ticket sales must have hit every football club hard, but Valley Pass Live has softened the blow for Charlton ever so slightly. The hope is that fans will continue to tune in once things are back to normal, particularly those living abroad who are unable to attend games in person. Sandgaard sees the streaming service as a key factor in broadening the clubs appeal internationally.
Fans will be back at The Valley one day soon, probably not until next season after today’s announcement, and that day can’t come soon enough. There’s no substitute for watching football in the flesh and the atmosphere can’t be recreated no matter how good a production the club has put together. In Valley Pass Live, however, Charlton fans have access to the next best thing.