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Charlton Athletic Football Club

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I didn't know Rodney's middle name was Charlton.
Yeah, it was me Mum. She was a fan.
Of Charlton Heston?
No, Charlton Athletic.
An exchange from the BBC comedy Only Fools and Horses1

Charlton Athletic may not be everybody's favourite team (indeed, there are certainly teams in lower divisions with larger fan-bases and larger attendances) but, despite adversity through the years, it is surely one of the friendliest and cosiest family clubs in the English Premier League. Charlton, in south-east London, overlooks the River Thames near to the Thames Barrier and is the closest league-football ground to the Greenwich Meridian.

Ancient History

On June 9, 1905, a number of youth clubs in the south-east London area, including both East Street Mission and Blundell Mission, combined to form Charlton Athletic Football Club. Making rapid progress through the local leagues, Charlton joined the Kent League shortly after the First World War, turned professional when the club joined the Southern League in 1920, and was elected to Division 3(S) of the Football League-proper in 1921.

The Golden Years

Charlton enjoyed its finest moments to date in the years surrounding the Second World War while under the stewardship of Charlton's most successful and popular manager, Jimmy Seed. Having won Division 3(S) in the 1934-35 season, Charlton spent only one season (1935-36) in Division 2, where they finished runners-up to Manchester United and got promoted, and finished the following season (1936-37) as Division 1 runners-up (to Manchester City) in their first season in the top-flight2. To date, it is the club's best league finish. It was in the following season that Charlton logged one of the biggest attendances in English footballing history with 75,031 turning up at The Valley on 12 February, 1938, to watch the club play Aston Villa in the FA Cup 5th Round.

Shortly after the Second World War, in the 1945-46 season, Charlton Athletic finished runners-up in the FA Cup Final, losing 4-1 to Derby County. The club went one better the following season, beating Burnley 1-0 to take the trophy home to Charlton for the one and only time in the club's history to date. Notably, however, the players took home bronze winner's medals instead of the usual gold medals because there was a shortage of the precious metal at the time. Moreover, somewhat uniquely, one player, Arthur Turner, while taking home one of those winner's medals for himself, never actually played a league match for the club - there was no league football in 1946-47 and he left the club before the start of the next season!

And Then It All Went Pear-Shaped

Having failed to evolve, it all went pear-shaped for Charlton in the mid-1950s. In 1956, legendary goalkeeper Sam Bartram3 retired, and the club suffered immediate relegation to the Second Division at the end of the following season (1956-57). As a result, manager Jimmy Seed was sacked, although his presence is still felt at The Valley since the opening on 18 August 2001 of the Jimmy Seed Stand.

The club stayed in the Second Division until the end of the 1971-72 season, when the team was relegated to the Third Division. Charlton again yo-yoed between the Third and Second Divisions in seasons 1979-80-81, finishing flat-stick bottom of the Second Division in 1980, their fate somehow portended in January 1979 by the sending off of both Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan (Charlton team-mates), for fighting with each other.

Some brief hope came then in November 1982 when former two-time European Footballer of the year Allan Simonsen was surprisingly signed from Barcelona. It was an expensive punt which rebounded badly. Simonsen played only 16 games for Charlton before returning to his homeland, Denmark.

Some twelve months later, trapped in a downward spiral of debt with dwindling attendances and expenditure exceeding income, Charlton Athletic was just five minutes from going into receivership when a rescue package was accepted by the High Court and the club was saved.

However, the ground was not. Not yet, anyway.

The Houdini Years

Charlton Athletic had declared its ability to get out of scrapes in 1983 by avoiding bankruptcy by the skin of its teeth. The club backed this up in the 1980s with similar gutsy performances on the field and an edge-of-the-abyss attitude to relegation. Despite problems off the pitch, the club did eventually achieve promotion to Division One in 1986 under the management of Charlton managerial legend, Lennie Lawrence, where the fans were once again given a roller-coaster ride, missing out on relegation by one place in both the first and second seasons back, eventually succumbing to the drop only in 1990.

Meanwhile, The Ground Saga

Initially, the club had used a number of grounds...

  • 1906 - 1907: Siemen's Meadow
  • 1907 - 1909: Woolwich Common
  • 1909 - 1913: Pound Park
  • 1913 - 1919: Horn Lane

... before, in 1919, moving to The Valley, a ground hewn by an army of volunteer fans out of an old chalk-pit in the heart of Charlton Village. A brief spell was spent at The Mount in Catford for the 1923-24 season before they returned to The Valley, theoretically for good.

The real fun though, was yet to come, when, shortly after the administration hearings, it became apparent in 1985 that the club could not afford to stay on at The Valley. Supporters received the news on 8 September, 1985, as they entered the ground for the game against Crystal Palace, with whom they were destined to ground-share, the first time in Football League history that such an arrangement had existed.

Into Exile

Charlton played seven years in exile...

  • 1985: Selhurst Park (home of Crystal Palace)
  • 1991: Upton Park (home of West Ham United)

... before returning to The Valley.

Briefly, in 1988, the scenes of 1919 had been recreated when brief hopes of returning to The Valley saw an army of fans once again take up tools to clear the ground of debris that had accumulated on the pitch through three years of neglect. Plans were quickly scuppered however, when it soon became apparent that to allow the club to return to The Valley some substantial redevelopment work would be required, for which planning permission was required, permission Greenwich Council weren't prepared to give.

The Valley Party

Give us back our home!
Political Campaign Slogan, The Valley Party

Not to be put off, the fans formed 'The Valley Party', a political party with a simple one-issue manifesto, to secure Charlton Athletic Football Club's return to The Valley.

Into the Valley
Betrothed and divine

Opening line of 'Into the Valley' by The Skids

It was a move which paid off. In the 1990 local government elections, The Valley Party fielded 60 candidates contesting all but two of the seats and, with 14,838 votes cast their way, won a respectable 10.9% of ballot. The upshot was that in April 1991, the sought-after planning permission for the redevelopment works was granted and on December 5, 1992, after 2,632 days in exile, Charlton played their first game at the Valley, winning 1-0 against Portsmouth FC.

But even then, the potential for more change was still not gone. In 2000, after the much-maligned New Year party at Greenwich's Millennium Dome, there was some speculation that Charlton may relocate to play their matches in the Dome.

In 2003, those rumours appear to have been scotched.

And So Back To Glory Glory Days ... Charlton Athletic standards anyway.

Steve Gritt, Steve Gritt
Stevie Stevie Gritt
He's got no hair but we don't care
Stevie Stevie Gritt

Terrace Song (sung to the tune of Boney-M's 'Hooray ... Hooray ... It's a Holi-holiday')

After Lennie Lawrence, the club was managed jointly by ex-players Steve Gritt and Alan Curbishley, an arrangement which lasted some four years until 'Curbs'4 assumed full control in 1995.

In 1998, Charlton finished fourth in Division One, thereby qualifying for the play-offs. Having reached the Wembley final by beating Ipswich over two legs, opponents Sunderland were easily favourites to win promotion. However, a hat-trick from Clive Mendonca helped Charlton to an extra-time 4-4 draw, and, after 13 penalties, Charlton goalkeeper Sasa Ilic5 saved Michael Gray's (admittedly weak) effort, winning the game for Charlton. As Division One play-off champions, Charlton Athletic were in the Premier League. World Cup Finals aside, it is widely regarded as one of the greatest matches ever played at Wembley.

The Charlton roller-coaster didn't stop there, as the club got relegated in 1999 after only one season in the Premiership but bounced straight back up in some not inconsiderable style in 2000 as Division One champions. And now, while mid-table mediocrity may not be everybody's cup of tea, for the run-of-the-mill Charlton-supporter, life in 2003 is sweet indeed.

The Badge

When the red, red robin
Goes bob, bob, bobbin' along...

Words and Music by Harry Woods, 1926 (to which the Addicks run onto the pitch)

Charlton Athletic has used a number of crests or badges throughout its history and, save for a spell in the 1970s when the unadorned initials 'CAFC' briefly appeared on the shirts, the current design has not been altered since it was adopted in 1968.

The result of a competition in 1963, the current badge features a hand holding a sword, an image which gave rise the nickname 'The Valiants' (also associating the club's name with its ground, The Valley). However, 'The Valiants' never stuck, and Charlton Athletic remains known affectionately as 'The Addicks'.

Fish Supper

Charlton Athletic has used a number of nicknames during the club's history, including 'The Robins' (which used to appear on the Club crest), 'The Valiants' (see above), and somewhat unimaginatively 'The Red Devils'.

However, back in the clubs formative years, Charlton habitually treated their opponents to a fish-supper - a plate of Haddock and Chips - after the game. In Estuary English, an 'Addick (dropped aitch) is the next best thing to a Haddock, and the name is now synonymous with Charlton.

Not-So-Trivia - The First Substitute

On 21 August 1965, Charlton Athletic's Keith Peacock became the first substitute to appear in the Football League, replacing injured keeper Mike Rose after 11 minutes of Charlton's match at Bolton. During the first two seasons (1965-66, 1966-67) that the substitute law was introduced, a substitute - and only one was allowed - could only come on for an injured player. However, that changed at the start of the 1967-68 season, to allow substitutions to be made for tactical reasons.

Famous (and not-so-famous) Fans

Gary Newbon: Anyway, Charlton have got quite a lot of celebrity fans, haven't they, and I know another one who never misses a match is another great pal of mine, the actor Keith Howman from Brush Strokes.
Jim Davidson: His name's Karl Howman, Gary.
Gary Newbon: Right, and a massive apology to my great friend Karl Howman from Brush Strokes....

  • Gary Bushell - Sun6 columnist
  • Jim Davidson - Comedian, TV presenter- Big Break, Generation Game
  • Steve Davis - Snooker player
  • Michael Grade - Former head of Channel 47 Businessman
  • Karl Howman - Actor, Jacko fromBrush Strokes8
  • Steve Ryder - presenter of Grandstand9
  • Alan White - Oasis'10 drummer
  • Steve White - Paul Weller's11 drummer

Charlton In The Wider Community

On a social level, football is not just about winning trophies, an attitude which Charlton has clearly taken on board. After the hooligan years of the 1970s/1980s and the anti-football sentiment of Thatcherism, the authorities and the clubs are now reawakening to the fact that football clubs are an important and unifying part of the community. In this regard, Charlton Athletic Football Club takes its responsibilities seriously, perhaps as a result of the fact that the club owes its life to the untiring efforts of its supporters while in exile.

Thus, when Charlton came back to the Valley in 1993, it was just after the racist murder of youngster Stephen Lawrence, and there were fears that the club would serve as a focus for racism (distribution of their irksome literature outside the ground having been a not unusual feature on match-days). Thus, recognising that the football club is part of the social fabric of the community, the Club, working together with Greenwich Council, established the Charlton Athletic Race Equality (CARE) Partnership. This has been highly successful, and in the 10 years since its establishment, the club and its supporters have gained an earned reputation against racism. Now (2003), the club has one of the highest representations of black coaches in the country, a statistic of which it is rightly proud.

CAFC has also established a 'football in the community' scheme, which delivers coaching to young people (both boys and girls) throughout the region. An extension of this is the availability of training courses for people wishing to become coaches. Moreover, the club works with disabled people, has a disability liaison officer and is actively looking to improve facilities for disabled people.

Charlton also supports the Women's Football Academy of the South East, working with players over 16 and looking to develop women both in their game and their personal development. In the Senior Women's game, striker Amanda Barr gained a Golden Boot award in 2003, having scored 17 goals in just 17 games in her first season with the club.

1In the TV comedy series, Rodney's surname is Trotter. Interestingly, Charlton were managed by Jimmy Trotter from 1956-1961.2Division 1 was the 'top-flight' in those days.3Club's all-time highest-capped player with 579 appearances for Charlton.4A connoisseur of Led Zeppelin.5An Australian tourist picked up for not much more than a song and a sixpence6Tabloid 'red-top' newspaper.7Independent UK TV channel8BBC comedy series from the 1980s written by John Esmonde and Bob Larbey9BBC's weekly flagship sports show10A rock and roll band, also famous for its not-so-subtle support of Manchester City11Trendy musician.

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