Friday, 18 March 2022

Referees called for a form of VAR 100 years ago

New technology is always controversial in football, note the row this week when a goal from Coventry City was shown not to have got fully across the line.

As I have noted in earlier articles [for the Leamington FC programme], tensions between football crowds and referees were on the increase in 1922.  In the Leamington area the police had to be called on more than one occasion to evict spectators who had abused the referee.  It was also claimed that crowds had started chants which questioned the capacity of the referee to officiate. 

  The Football Association was so concerned that they launched an overall review, but as a first step they decided to ban referees who wore glasses, following a number of complaints about the poor eyesight of some officials.   This caused some confusion at the meeting of the Birmingham FA. Should all referees who had been seen wearing spectacles be struck off the list?  It was eventually decided that it should only apply to new officials.

Writing in one newspaper, referee ‘Solo Whistle’ argued that some sort of X-ray machine might help to resolve disputes on the field of play, clearly anticipating VAR.    What was needed was some scientific means of determining what was intentional and what was accidental.   

Among the incidents where an authoritative decision was needed was ‘when a ball goes to hand, when a player kicks an opponent in playing the ball, and when a player goes down apparently injured, or may be only pretending to be hurt so as to give his side an advantage by temporarily stopping the game.  There is a wide margin of contrast in the attitude of different officials in cases of injury, or supposed injury.  One spectator writes describing an incident in which two opponents went for the ball together, one clearing the ball, and, as he drew his foot back, accidentally kicking the other man in the wind [sic], placing him hors de combat.   The referee’s attention was called, but he ordered play to proceed.  The ball went out of play, whereupon he called the trainer and had the player carried off.   

I am reminded of another case in which a referee ordered play to proceed to the extent of the ball being worked up and down the field, passing the prostate body of the injured man three times before he called a halt after the ball passed over the line.’   Solo Whistle’s conclusion was that ‘Accidents are inseparable from the game of football, and are all in the game.’

In some cases referees were attacked by spectators.   At a game in Scotland between Tullibody and Tulliallan football clubs ‘the referee had an exciting experience.  Attacked by a spectator at the interval, he collapsed in the second half at the game and had to be carried off the field.’   The spectator appeared at Alloa Sheriff Court.  ‘It appeared that he was a supporter of the Tulliallan club, and was evidently dissatisfied with the ruling of the referee.   When the interval came he took the referee by surprise, butted him with his head, broke his artificial teeth and lacerated his mouth.’  It is no surprise that when the referee tried to carry on he collapsed.   

The Sheriff told the defendant that he lacked a sporting instinct and fined him £5 or 30 days in prison.   This is £300 in today’s prices, beyond the pocket of a labourer.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

How Charlton got into the Football League

It is now 100 years since Charlton Athletic were admitted to the Third Division (South) of the Football League.   There were two available places and Charlton faced competition from what was described as ‘a fleet of South Wales clubs’.

    Charlton’s simultaneous admission to the London Combination might seem to be a sideshow, but in fact it was not for two reasons.   First, it enabled the club to have a competitive reserve side.  Walsall, who were admitted at the same time to the Third Division North, were obliged to compete with the minnows in the Walsall and District League.   Second, the application revealed some of the complicated politics that surrounded Charlton’s Football League application.

    There was a widespread suspicion in football circles that Charlton were a nursery club for Tottenham Hotspur.   The Athletics News referred to ‘the suggestion that Charlton Athletic are but protégés of Tottenham Hotspur, and that the London clubs can do without nurseries that are so well known to many of the Midland League organisations.’   There was some substance in this report as Charlton admitted that Spurs had advanced them £500 when they were transitioning from a junior to a senior club.   This would be £25,000 at today’s prices and was hardly likely to be just an altruistic gesture from north of the river.   Indeed, the Charlton management admitted that they received ‘kindly and encouraging advice’ from Spurs.  Charlton had to pledge to repay the sum when they were admitted to the Football League.

     The proposed admission of Charlton to the London Combination created a lot of bad feeling and was initially opposed by three clubs: Arsenal, Clapton Orient and Fulham.  Arsenal were suspicious of Charlton’s links with their North London rivals.   More generally, there was a concern about Charlton being the only professional club in London outside the ten members of the combination.  It was feared that if Charlton were admitted other clubs might be encouraged to professionalise, increasing competition for spectators in the capital.

     This prospect particularly worried Fulham.   The Athletics News explained: ‘Fulham draw a lot of their support from the south side of the Thames, and bordered as they are on two sides by Chelsea and the Rangers, they do not want a new professional club to come to oppose them on the south.   The club they fear is Wimbledon.  They are drawing large gates.’

     The club that would be most affected by Charlton’s admission to the Combination and then to the Football League were Millwall, but they were strongly in favour of Charlton’s admission.  They believed it would be good for football in general, as well as from a financial aspect.   Their chairman said: ‘I would not object if a club was started in the next piece of ground to ours.  It would help us both, for we should both be educating the local public in the benefits of Association football.  If they got part of our gate one week we should have a share of theirs the next.  When Charlton Athletic played on our ground in a Southern League fixture, the gate was over £500 and there were nearly 600 more spectators present than there were on Easter Monday when our first team met Plymouth Argyle.’

     The club did what it could to whip up enthusiasm and at a well-attended meeting in Greenwich, the chairman (Mr A.E. Brandon) said Charlton had made wonderful progress in a few years.  They  had practically carried everything before them as juniors and attained a lot of success as seniors.  The spirit of ambition was always with them, and after one season as professionals they desired to join the Football League.  When completed they would have a ground second to none in the kingdom, but money was needed to carry the scheme to fruition.  All their present players had expressed a desire to stay with the club, and other first-class players wanted to wear the Charlton colours.   If the local enthusiasts would only rally with financial support the future of the club would be assured.   Of course, they did not to the extent needed and the club was beset by financial challenges throughout the following decade in the absence of a wealthy backer.

    Rick Everitt notes in Battle for the Valley that the proliferation of Welsh clubs competing for admission helped Charlton.   In practice, the standard bearers for Wales were Aberdare Athletic who were given the wholehearted support of Cardiff City as the senior Welsh club who said they would do anything to help their cause.  Aberdare had won the Welsh League in the preceding season and were the runners up in the Southern League.  Their average attendance was 16,000 and they owned the freehold of their ground.   The Athletics News commented: ‘Everything is first-class and built of material to last.   The town of Aberdare is accessible without the least difficulty.  The genuine character of Aberdare as a town’s club, the men at the head of it, and their policy, should ensure their election’.

     What did Charlton have to offer in comparison?   The Athletics sent ‘Achates’ to find out and he was shown round by the chairman.   He reported:  ‘Whenever I have travelled Woolwich way I have been struck by the position of a football ground outside Charlton Station, and had an eager desire to inspect it.  This Charlton ground would have delighted the ancients looking for an amphitheatre in which to hold an Olympiad.  I realised that Stamford Bridge could be almost lost in it, for the enclosure already fenced in covers over ten acres and extra land is available to make up the round dozen.’

     ‘It I situated in a pit, exceptionally well drained I understand, with tremendous cliffs on two sides, and banking possibilities out of the ordinary.  It is at present in a more or less rough state, but 50,000 spectators could see a game now, and one scheme has been prepared whereby accommodation, if it were necessary, could be made for nearly 20,000.  Visions of a national ground for the Cup Final, I wonder.’

     ‘Charlton Athletic is an ambitious club.   This season they became a professional organisation on modest lines.  With “Wally” Rayner as manager, with whom I renewed acquaintance, remembering him as a player with Croydon Common, Norwich City etc., attention is being paid to the development of local talent, with a wise leavening of experienced men.’

     ‘For the freehold of the large ground they occupy the price is £3,000 (£150,000 today), and at a recent meeting purchase was decided upon.   At the same time it was agreed to float a company with a suggested capital of £10,000 (£500,000 today).  To me there appeared every reason why a Third Division club should be successful.  Next season a long stand will be erected as a first instalment of the improvement scheme, and it is in the centre of a very populous district, exceptionally well served by train, tram and bus, and only a short journey from the City.  Woolwich Arsenal used to flourish in the district, and Charlton have paid them the compliment of wearing the same coloured livery.  Charlton should one day be one of the big clubs of London.’

     Presenting Charlton’s case to the Football League, Mr E Radford pointed out that the town adjoined Woolwich, which was the cradle of professional football in the south.  The club was established 16 years ago, and had done splendid service in fostering the game.  They were the rightful successors to the Arsenal, and they hoped to continue that succession by again taking league football to that part of the metropolis.   There was a population of a million immediately surrounding the ground and the revenue last year, without a stand and with a 9d gate, was £8,000 (£400,000 today).  The accommodation on the ground could be expanded to 100,000, and by the opening of the season they were expecting that they would be able to accommodate 50,000 with great comfort. They had over 20 professionals and he held in his hand from certain directors and other local gentlemen a financial backing to a very considerable sum – far more than would be necessary to carry out any obligations for next year.

    Apart from Aberdare Athletic, which received 38 votes to 30 for Charlton, the fleet of Welsh clubs did not do well.  Despite Pontypridd claiming that it was the most accessible spot in South Wales with a population of quarter of a million within six miles of the ground and similar gate receipts to Charlton, it got just five votes, followed by Abertillery with four and Barry with just one.   The main rivals to Charlton were Bath, but they got just 12 votes.  Their case was weakly presented, it being argued ‘that there were huge possibilities for the Association game in Bath.’   In fact it has remained an area where rugby is the most popular spectator game and Bath have never achieved league status.  Aberdare Athletic failed to secure re-election to the Football League in 1927.

    In August 1921 the Daily Herald published a number of stories boosting what they described as ‘London’s baby professional’, although it is questionable whether a story about a reporter turning up at the ground and finding players engaged in a makeshift game of cricket did much for the cub’s image.  On August 9th a detailed report stated that ‘Those who saw the wild, uncultured surroundings of last year at Charlton will be surprised to find a ground this season terraced on three sides, affording a view to 35,000 spectators.’   The grandstand had been held up by a delay in consent being granted by the London County Council, but was now being built on the lines of that at Spurs.

     It was noted that ‘The playing pitch, which came in for some criticism last season, has been greatly improved.’   Those parts of the ground not used for football would provide facilities for cricket, bowls and tennis.   The ground was only two minutes’ walk from the almost continuous LCC tram services, and not a half minute elapsed before a bus or tram could be boarded going in either direction.  ‘The club should meet the desire for good football felt in the Woolwich, Greenwich and Blackheath districts.  With the right sort of support from the enthusiasts among the million and half inhabitants of the neighbourhood, Charlton Athletic should prove an undoubted success.’

    Unfortunately, although respectable, the crowds did not appear to the extent hoped for.  The club was under capitalised and the flawed move to Catford lay ahead.   In many ways getting membership of the Football League was the easiest hurdle the club had to overcome.   Without it, the club would never have flourished.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Referee's green handkerchief in use at first league game

One hundred years ago today Charlton played their first match in the Football League, beating Exeter City 1-0.

The Western Morning News admitted that 'A word must be said in praise of Charlton Athletic, who gave an indication of great possibilities and should be a welcome addition to the Third Division.'

'The game cannot be described as a great game of football, but it was surprisingly good.  Taking all things into consideration, it was really gratifying to see the enthusiasm and energy displayed by both sides.  Every man of the twenty-two seemed all out to win from start to finish, and even Mr Small, the referee, who with his well-known green handkerchief with which he rubbed an injured man's face, wherever his injury occurred, seemed awfully keen on keeping the players up to concert pitch.'

The Western Times reported: 'For some sixteen years the Charlton people have kept their heads above water in a stronghold of professional football, and now that they have realised the height of their ambition the club have received a tremendous fillip.   There is any amount of enthusiasm.  The new ground is said to be in excellent condition - although footballers are suspicious of "new" grounds; there is to be a new stand capable of holding 4,000 spectators, and the total accommodation is to rise as the season progresses from 30,000 to 50,000, with plenty more room available if required.'

'The new ground has been built on an old chalk quarry, and it is very hard, rough and uneven as yet.   There is no regular stand, the plans having been held up by London County Council.  A small temporary erection did duty for the day.  The fact that Millwall were at home three miles away affected the game adversely, but even so, there were nine thousand people present when the teams fielded.   Charlton wore white shirts to obviate confusion.'

'Play was fast and very inspiring, and the crowd bubbled over with enthusiasm.   The crowd went wild with delight as Dowling took over from his inside forwards and, beating Mitton for speed, scored the opening goal with a shot that Fryer touched but could not stop.'   [It was the only goal he scored in 21 games for Charlton].

In the second half 'the attendance has increased to about 11,000, excluding the hundred or so who received a bird's eye view from the lip of the quarry.'  [Some reports give a figure of 12,000].   'Play continued very fast, and with not a pin to choose between the teams except that Charlton's trio of all experienced inside forwards were more dangerous in front of goal.'

'The match was contested at a gruelling pace and was surprisingly good, considering the state of the field.  Charlton are a very sound team, quick and resourceful four and aft, and with some very speedy forwards.'

Saturday, 3 July 2021

When Moscow Radio thanked Charlton

I am now in my seventh decade of supporting Charlton.   Unlike many people, I cannot remember the first game I went to.   The one that stands out most clearly in my mind is the 6-0 defeat of Liverpool on 26th September, even more than the 8-1 win over Middlesbrough in the previous home game.   However, probably the first game I went to was the home game against Burnley on 22nd August which Charlton won 3-1.

Getting to the game in those days involved walking from our house down to Plumstead Common Road, catching the 53 bus and then walking through Maryon Park amongst a large crowd.   My mother usually came as well as my father which could be a slight embarrassment as she was convinced that some referees had it in for Charlton and would shout ‘Dirty ref!’ in a loud voice long after the incident that had offended her.

Until I was seven years old, I went through the turnstile with my father and I was quite daunted the first time I went through on my own clutching a few old pennies to hand to the gateman.  We would then walk on to the East Terrace, standing some way back from the pitch, not far from where I sit in the East Stand today.

Some players were real attractions for a small boy and first and foremost among those was Sam Bartram who was known for his flamboyant style of keeping goal.   I particularly remember the match on 6th March 1954 when Sam was presented with a special cake by Pompey skipper Jimmy Dickinson to mark his 500th league match for the club (actually it was 497th as the three matches played in 1939/40 didn’t really count).

It was a real shock when Bartram was not in goal and was replaced by his loyal understudy Eddie Marsh as happened on March 20th 1954.   I asked my father why this was and he said that Bartram had been injured in training, although quite how that had happened is unclear as training usually involved running around the pitch and up and down the East Terrace.   The idea was that keeping players away from the ball made them hungry for it when the match came, but I think that the keeper did practice saving shots.

In any event I could see that Marsh was under real pressure in the Charlton goal and in a match full of fouls they scraped home 3-2.   However, Bartram was still out the following Saturday when they lost 4-1 at Huddersfield.   Perhaps he had strained his back lifting a heavy package in his shop round the corner.  My father was rather sceptical of this business venture, noting that people would go in there hoping to see Bartram and instead would meet a manager he had installed.

I have a rather worn version of the programme for the match against Wolves on 21st November 1953.    Much was made of ‘Personality No.1’ in the Wolves team, Billy Wright.  It was noted that Wolves, like Charlton, had never won the title, but they won 2-0 on that day and went on to be champions, Charlton finishing 9th.

 ‘Echoes Across The Valley’ noted that Moscow Radio had thanked Charlton for the splendid hospitality offered to three members of the Central Committee of Physical Culture.   However, ‘Our guests from the Soviet politely declined alcoholic refreshment and drank mineral waters.’  It was noted that a Finnish football coach who had been studying Charlton’s training methods and tactics had now been replaced by a Norwegian football administrator.

However, a suggestion that Charlton would fly out to South Africa to play one match in May was dismissed as very unlikely to happen.   It was explained that ‘Even in these days of the Comet [jet passenger aircraft which turned out to be liable to crash in midair] such a journey would be too big a strain on our players.’   Should they require entertainment closer home they could go to Leicester Square to see ‘From Here to Eternity’, the picture in the programme advert showing the famous clinch between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr.  Fans were assured by Beverley Baxter MP that the film had been ‘produced with passionate sincerity’.   Such an endorsement from a politician would go down less well today.

 Once we got home, my father would check his football pools coupon.   He never won a big prize, although he did win small prizes with the ‘Easy Six’ made up of matches that were difficult to forecast.  Sunday morning would see us make the long walk down to my uncle’s newsagent shop in Lakedale Road to collect the Sunday papers, but also to discuss the previous day’s match.   As the gas lamps hissed, customers would give their opinion on the game and the result.   One of the perennial subjects of discussion was perceived tensions between manager Jimmy Seed and trainer Jimmy Totter.   Eventually, of course, Trotter replaced Seed as manager.

It was, of course, a different game in those days.  Players were paid the same as a skilled worker which is how they were seen.   They would often walk to the ground or come on the bus and on Christmas Day might rely on a lift from fans.   The pace was slower, with no substitutes players had to play on if they could when injured, and the leather ball was heavy, particularly when much of the pitch was a sea of mud, as it often was.   With no floodlights, matches in winter were often played in gloomy conditions towards the end of the game, even with a 2.15 start.    What I did get was a taste for was supporting Charlton which has remained with me until today.

  

Sunday, 27 June 2021

They also kept goal

It’s March 20th 1954 and I am at The Valley with my father watching Charlton play Cardiff City.  Early in the game in the game I am surprised to see the keeper fumble the ball and almost concede and I realise that Eddie Marsh rather than Sam Bartram is in goal.   I ask my father what has happened and he says that Bartram was injured in training.   Outfield players were not usually allowed to see the ball during the week to make them hungry for it at the weekend and just underwent rather unsophisticated fitness training.   

The exception was the keeper and Bartram, no doubt acrobatic in training, had managed to injure himself.    Charlton took the lead with two goals, but Cardiff got two back.   Eventually, Charlton managed to score a third goal to win 3-2.   Next week at Huddersfield with Marsh still in goal Charlton lost 4-1.  An extra two points would have seen Charlton go above Chelsea in the final table.

Eddie (‘Wilson Edmund’) Marsh was signed by Jimmy Seed after he saw him play for Erith and Belvedere in a VJ Day match.  He then had to undertake national service.  While Bartram was keeper, he made just six appearances.   After playing in the reserves for many years, he had 20 more outings after Bartram retired, but Charlton started to concede goals at an alarming rate in the 1956/57 relegation season, 120 in all (although Marsh was not the only keeper).   He was sold to Luton Town for £250 in the summer of 1957 and later joined Torquay United.   He also had a year as trainer-coach at Plymouth Argyle, then managed by Charlton legend Derek Ufton.

If a keeper was injured during a game before there were substitutes an outfield player had to step in.  Charlton’s worst ever defeat was 11-1 against Aston Villa on 14 November 1959 at Villa Park.  Duff conceded six goals and then dislocated a finger through his efforts.   Townsend took his place and conceded another three.   Stuart Leary then took his place and conceded another two.  This was understandable for a centre forward who had a pulled leg muscle that greatly restricted his movement.

Even when three substitutes were permitted, it did not necessarily make sense to include a keeper rather than an attacker, a midfielder and a defender.    This is where Steve ‘He’ll never let you down’ Brown had to step in.   On Fridays training finished with a five a side match but the keeper for the next day did not take part and Steve usually played in goal.    However, as he noted recently on Valley Pass, it is a myth that he never conceded a goal as a keeper, he did against Manchester City.  He did play four times without conceding, in particular I remember him playing the greater part of the match in goal at Southend United.    In our first season in the Premier League, he took over in goal at Aston Villa after Andy Petterson was sent off and made a crucial save from a free kick enabling Charlton to win 4-3.   Unfortunately, it was not enough to avoid relegation.

In non-league football, the sudden departure or injury of a keeper can create a crisis as there is sometimes no number two.   When my non-league club, Leamington, were lower down the pyramid than tier two, we faced this situation.   Then someone remembered they had been talking to an Italian living rough on the station who claimed to have played in the regional leagues in Italy.   He came in for a trial and showed himself to be an accomplished keeper.   He was grateful for a square meal, a shower and some spending money.

Returning to Charlton and thinking about keepers over the last twenty-five years, there are many names to choose from, including Tony Caig who played just one half of one game for the Addicks at The Valley.   Local lad and Charlton fan Rob Elliott played a total of 95 games for us, and has recently been training at Sparrows Lane. Darren Randolph perhaps didn’t get the opportunities his talents deserved.    American keeper Mike Ammann was spotted by director Mike Stevens and played in 30 games between 1994 and 1996.   I sponsored his socks!

Scott Carson came in on loan from Liverpool in 2006/7 after Charlton had failed in an attempt to sign Robert Green from Norwich City.   He played in 36 out of 38 Premier League games that season (he was absent for the two against Liverpool).   Although we were relegated, we would have done worse without him and he was the first loan player to be voted Player of the Year.   Andy Petterson played 10 games for us in 1998/99 (somehow I thought it was more) and I remember a stunning save at The Valley against Crystal Palace.   Sasa Ilic’s penalty save at Wembley made him a Charlton legend.  The less said about Roland Duchatelet’s import Yohann Thuram the better, Chris Powell reportedly instructed to play him instead of Ben Hamer.

However, myfavourite keeper of the recent past and the one I rank alongside Sam Bartram is Dean Kiely who played in 177 games for Charlton.   Alan Curbishley spotted him when he was the standout player when Bury came to The Valley and drew 0-0 and signed him to some scepticism for £1m.  In fact it was a classic example of Curbishley’s ability to spot underrated talent.

Goalkeepers are often remembered for their mistakes rather than their great saves.   On 11th March 2000, after a good run, Charlton played lowly Swindon Town at The Valley.   I bought a hospitality package that day and invited an Addick from Swindon, anticipating a victory.   Kiely made a rare mistake and let a soft goal slip underneath him, Charlton losing 0-1.   The fan from Swindon was beside himself.   Curbs said recently on Valley Pass that he was not so concerned about losing to Swindon, as it was more important to win against the teams around Charlton and we went on to win promotion.

Deano’s parents lived half a mile away from me and his son was for a while the keeper at Leamington.   I saw Dean Kiely at the club on an awards night and I approached him and identified myself as a Charlton supporter.   He could not have been more pleasant.

Finally, one must mention Nick Pope who was brought in from Bury Town and played 33 games for Charlton before he was snapped up by Burnley, Sean Dyche later admitting he got a bargain.   Pope, of course, has gone on to play for England.

At one time keepers were often rather distinctive and flamboyant, like Sam Bartram, but they have had to become more professional and integrated members of the team, benefitting from specialist goalkeeping coaches who were not available in years gone by.  There is too much at stake in the modern game for too much individualism.  

Sunday, 20 June 2021

Remembering Sam Bartram

It’s Sunday 7th March 1954.  Around the middle of the morning, my father and I walk down the hill from Plumstead Common to my uncle’s newsagents shop in Lakedale Road.  Our ostensible objective is to collect the Sunday papers for ourselves and some neighbours, together with a week’s supply of the Daily Mirror and the Racing and Football Outlook for my grandmother so that she can work on her continuing analysis of promotion and relegation prospects.

A less formal purpose is to chat about football.   The other main topic was politics and this often amounted to speculation about the sexual conduct of prominent politicians.    Of course, at the age of seven I didn’t realise what, for example, references to MP and newspaper columnist Tom Driberg’s preferences (he was gay) meant.  But as I leafed through the football pages, my uncle would advise me to always read ‘between the lines’ of any news story.  What was left unsaid was as important as what was said.   I shouldn’t take anything at face value, but develop an ability to criticise, some of the best advice I ever had.



Lakedale Road was then a bustling shopping centre, but it is relatively quiet by around 11 am on a Sunday in my uncle’s shop, so much so that you can hear the hissing of the gas lamps, perhaps interrupted by the passage of the Salvation Army band.    With no social media, Charlton fans knew that they could drop by for a few minutes chat.   Apart from the preceding day’s game, a favourite topic was the tensions between manager Jimmy Seed and trainer or coach Jimmy Trotter.

However, this was a rather unusual day in terms of Charlton coverage in the Sunday papers, or at least that is how I remembered it.   Memory can play tricks and when I searched the British Library newspaper archive online, the coverage was much more perfunctory than I recalled through a sepia glow.    However, the Daily Mirror did comment with some surprise on the Saturday that they had met a man who did not know what was happening that day at The Valley.

On the preceding day we had been at The Valley for Sam Bartram’s 500th match for Charlton which was estimated to boost the normal gate by 10,000 (including Sam’s mother who travelled from County Durham).   Arguably it was actually his 497th because the three matches at the start of the 1939-40 season before the outbreak of war had been expunged from the official record.  But let’s not allow a technicality to stand in the way of a celebration.  

Charlton had played Portsmouth that day, winning 3-1 and their skipper Jimmy Dickinson had helped Bartram to cut a giant cake (30 inches by 18 inches) supplied by Pompey on the pitch after the game. They also gave him a silver tankard while Charlton gave him a silver tea service.  On the way home we bought at least one of the then three London evening papers which brought out a late football edition and I cut out and the photograph of Bartram and Dickinson and pasted it on cardboard.   It was a treasured memento for many years.   Looking back at the photographs that some papers printed, Bartram’s principal look is one of embarrassment and he is referred to in one report as a ‘modest’ individual.

For me, Sam Bartram was a childhood hero and led to a lifelong fascination with the role of goalkeepers in the game (more of that in a subsequent post).   In the 21st century heroes and heroines are regarded with a justified scepticism and I will come back to Bartram’s flaws later.

In addition to the Sunday papers, I would collect some comics.  A favourite was the Eagle in which Dan Dare regularly battled against the Venusian evil genius, the Mekon, who appeared to bathe in green pea soup.   However, I would also collect a new comic which started publication in 1954, the Tiger, and which featured Roy of the Rovers, the rovers being Melchester Rovers. 

Football-themed stories were a staple of British comics for boys from the 1950s onwards, and Roy of the Rovers was the most popular.  The strip usually saw Rovers competing for honours at the top of the English and European game, although in some years the storylines would see the club struggle for form, including relegation from the top flight in the early 1980s.  Roy’s playing career came to an end in 1993 when he lost his left foot in a helicopter crash.

The Tiger pioneered one innovation in the form of football ‘league ladders’.  You had to press out pieces of card for each team which contained some basic information on a tab such as the name of the ground and the team colours.  You then placed these in slots on a cardboard sheet for all four divisions (I can’t remember for sure how Scotland was treated, but I think just the top division was at the bottom of the sheet).    They have a retro appeal and reproduction versions can be bought online, the marketing blurb stating: ‘When I was a lad, there were only three channels on the telly, and when you weren't outside playing with your Raleigh Chopper bike or your Wembley Trophy football, you were indoors doing your League Ladders.’ The idea was that you could make adjustments after each week’s matches, but for me it provided the basis for a game which was a crude early form of Football Manager using a dice or playing cards in which Charlton somehow won the first division title.

Bartram, of course, never received significant international honours, other than three wartime internationals, touring Australia with an England XI in 1951 and played for the England B team (the international equivalent of the reserves). Why was that?  In part it was because Frank Swift (Manchester City) and Ted Ditchburn (Tottenham Hotspur) were also available.  Even then Spurs and City were seen as ‘big’ clubs.    Bartram did play for the Possibles versus the Probables in a pre-war trial and at one time was seen as a more likely selection than Swift, but the war intervened.  Hence he got the unwanted title of the ‘the finest goalkeeper never to play for England.’

A friend in later life who was a Portsmouth fan argued that Bartram was a ‘showman’. In Peter Chapman’s book The Goalkeeper’s History of Britain he states that Bartram was condemned as ‘playing for the gallery’ and called ‘a danger to football.’ Admittedly, Swift was also seen as something of a showman for throwing the ball out, something then seen as unorthodox (Swift had learnt it from water polo).  ‘To have sanctioned a second showman would have risked established tradition.  Protective of the nation’s sterner values, Bartram was where [the selectors] drew the line.’

From a 21st century viewpoint, it is possible to argue for a more positive perspective on his style of play.  He did take risks and ventured out of his goal area more than was common in those days when the keeper was usually seen as a shot stopper on the line and one who was given less protection from referees than is the case today.   These days Sam might be called a sweeper keeper, a popular formula with some managers who consider that having a player standing about for most of the match represents an under-utilised asset.   Hence, a sweeper keeper is a goalkeeper who pushes himself up the pitch and stays close to the last line of defence. Johan Cruyff once said: ‘In my team, the goalkeeper is the first attacker and the striker is the first defender’.

Over sixty years later, I had an insight into Bartram’s role watching my non-league team Leamington.   For some years the keeper was one Tony Breeden, a somewhat volatile individual who had to leave after what was reported to be a vigorous exchange of views with the team captain.   Known to some opposing teams as the ‘barmy binman’, his chant at Leamington was ‘Tony Breeden, on the wing, on the wing.’

Breeden had a fierce and accurate shot and was often the penalty taker, indeed I saw him score against Wolves at Molineux in a penalty shoot out to win the Birmingham Senior Cup.   (He had less luck with his current team, Nuneaton Borough, where a video of him taking out the stadium lights from a penalty went viral).  However, on occasion he would burst out of his goal and race up the wing with the ball, completely confounding the opposition, before delivering an assist to a player near the goal.   I also saw him score from a free kick in his own half.  Admittedly, he did not ever score in open play, although I did see him hit the crossbar from the halfway line.

It has to be said that his conduct alarmed some fans, and it was something one could only get away with in non-league football.   Bartram did not do anything anywhere near as reckless.   However, the insight I gained was that part of Bartram’s play book was to unsettle the opposition by playing in a way that was then unconventional for a keeper at that time.

Bartram left Charlton to join York City as manager in 1956.   This meant that he had to sell off his sports business round the corner from The Valley. This was a shrewd investment, promoted through photos of excited young fans with Bartram.   My father thought that it was a clever but misleading ploy.  Fans would go round there expecting to meet Bartram and instead see the manager he had put in to run the shop.   My father also took the view that the goods on sale were over-priced.  He bought me some excellent football boots when I was seven, not realising that I had not inherited any of his talent as a non-league footballer.   They didn’t come from Sam Bartram & Co.

Bartram was released by York City in 1960 with two years to run on his contract so that he could join Luton Town.   He was let go by them in the summer of 1962 ‘by mutual agreement’ which no doubt meant that he was sacked with some kind of pay off.

Monday, 31 May 2021

The departure of Jimmy Seed

We are all familiar with the concept of ‘spin’ in the media, but it is not a new development.  Back in the 1950s the narrative given to the media was often an attempt to divert attention from the real story.   This was certainly the case when Jimmy Seed was removed as Charlton manager in September 1956.

 The standard story, as reproduced in the Birmingham Daily Gazette of 4 September ran as follows: ‘Mr Jimmy Seed, faithful guardian of Charlton Athletic affairs for almost a quarter of a century, is no longer Master of the Valley.  After 23 years as manager, the longest of any First Division chief, Mr Seed has retired.’

The club statement referred to the retirement of Mr J. Seed.  The paper commented, ‘Sad, so sad. It was “Good Old Jimmy” when he led them from the Third Division to the First in the course of two seasons in the 1930s; when he piloted the club to Wembley; and when he sold Eddie Firmani for £35,000.  Now with Charlton beaten by Sunderland on Saturday, bottom of the First Division, having lost all five games and conceded 19 goals, it is “Mr J. Seed”’.

In other words, the paper was far from convinced by the club’s account.   However, a director speaking on behalf of the board said: ‘We are parting on very friendly terms, and I think that Mr. Seed has been wanting to get out of football for some time.  We have absolutely no one in mind as a successor [untrue], but obviously we will have to consider it.’

 ‘After saying farewell to the directors, Mr Seed said “I am a very tired man.  I have had 25 years of football, and the responsibility has become too great.  It had got to the stage where I could not sleep at night.  I am 61, heading for 62, and I decided it was time to quit.  There has been no row of any description at Charlton.  I took the decision on the spur of the moment.”’   Well, it is true that it was a shock.  He had just been expecting a pep talk.

“I have some wonderful friends at The Valley and that will always be my home.  Although I am quitting football altogether, I will always be ready to help Charlton in any way I can.  Charlton’s bad start this season has influenced the decision.  When a club’s playing fortunes are at a low ebb, the responsibility is even greater.”   In other words, he was hinting that he had been edged out.  A lesson my uncle taught me in his Lakedale Road newsagents was always to ‘read between the lines’ of any story, what today we might call the subtext.

The report continued, ‘Running Charlton has been just about the most difficult job in First Division football.  Money has never been plentiful and, despite any amount of bright, attractive football, Charlton have never had the stars to lure the people away from Arsenal, Tottenham, and Chelsea.’ As I have argued in an earlier article for VOTB, there was a missed opportunity after the Second World War to make Charlton the South London equivalent of Arsenal.

The article concluded, ‘The Seed policy has been simple.  “Give me a good fellow with a fair amount of skill and we will make him happy at The Valley, he once told me.”  [The writer was Alan Willliams].  Now all that is past and with Sam Bartram also departed, The Valley will never be the same.  The only survivor of the great Charlton trio is trainer Jimmy Trotter,’ the article noted significantly.

Journalists immediately started to look round for a successor and the DailyMirror confidently declared, ‘The man to whom Charlton will almost certainly offer the job as Jimmy Seed’s successor is Sam Bartram.  Sam, goalkeeper almost throughout the whole of Jimmy Seed’s career, retired last season after a record number of games to take over the managership of Third Division North Yotk City.  His entire playing life of twenty-two years was spent at The Valley, where he was probably the most popular personality the club ever had.’

‘If he had not been offered the York job, he would still be playing and the Charlton directors told him that when he decided to retire they would find a job for him.  [Yes, but in a more junior role than manager]. With that in mind Sam studied managership under Jimmy Seed and knows Charlton, the club, the players and the staff better than anyone else.’

‘When I rang him at York last night after his team had beaten Carlisle 2-0 and told him that Jimmy Seed had retired he said: “Oh, I’m sorry, but I’m not surprised.  I think that it is a great pity that Jimmy Seed, the man to whom I owe so much, should go out of the game but I know he has had ever increasing worries.  There will never be another Jimmy Seed, and everything I learned as a player and of the duties of a manager, I owe to him.”’

‘I asked Sam whether he would be interested in taking over at The Valley, where he spent so many happy years, and where he has literally thousands of friends.  “No comment,” he replied.  But he added: “Naturally when has spent so long in one place, a large part of one’s heart is always there.”’ In other words, I am a candidate and you know where you can find me.

In what appears in retrospect to be a deliberate diversionary tactic, a subsequent report stated, ‘A quiet group of players stood round the billiard table in the Charlton team room when director David Clark walked in for a pep talk.  “Listen, chaps, he said [adopting an appropriate mode of address for the worthy artisans], “Mr Seed’s retirement come as a shock to all of us” as pigs flew past the window.  “But I want you to know that the directors have complete faith in you.  We are convinced that you can find your true form and take us away from the bottom of the table.”’   This no doubt gave a great boost to morale.

Mr Clark told the Mirror ‘”We are in no rush to find a successor to Jimmy Seed.  A stranger might be a good idea.  After all, that’s what Jimmy Seed was.”’  This was one way of saying ‘We’re not having Bartram’, but it was also a way of deflecting attention from the planned appointment of Jimmy Trotter, immortalised through the name of Del Boy in Only Fools and Horses.   However, it took nine days to confirm Trotter’s appointment. The Sunday morning gatherings of Charlton fans in my uncle’s newsagents were the 1950s equivalent of a message board and a recurrent theme was the ill feeling between Seed and Trotter.

The first chapter of The Jimmy Seed Story, published in 1958, is entitled ‘Sacked!’  After the 8-1 defeat at Sunderland, Jimmy Seed was summoned to the offices of chairman Sammy Gliksten in Hanover Square.  He was told, ‘we think the time has come for us to part … you are getting old.  You aren’t well, and we think in your interests, as well as those of the club, we should get a younger man to take your place.’  Trotter was three years younger.  A press statement was prepared to record Seed’s ‘retirement’ with fourteen months left on his contract.  His pay off was £6,000 (£142,000 in today’s prices).  His salary after the war was £2,000 (around £75,000 today) plus a car.

Jimmy Trotter then arrived.  ‘I never gave it a thought that Jimmy would take my place.’  Jimmy Trotter didn’t say much as the bus crawled through the rush hour to Charing Cross.  Seed drove him home from the ground.  He then spent three hours reflecting in his office before his wife summoned him home to their detached house opposite a golf course in Bromley to deal with the reporters.

Charlton were relegated at the end of the season with just 22 points, seven behind Cardiff City.  In January 1958 Jimmy Seed became manager of Millwall until July 1959.  He was a director from 1960 until his death in 1966 at the age of 71. Trotter, was a good trainer and a decent individual, but he was not cut out for the manager’s job.  He was dismissed in October 1961, receiving a £5,000 pay off (just over £100,000 in today’s prices).  He died in 1985, aged 86.

In his book, The Football Manager: a History Neil Carter argues that ‘Under Jimmy Seed, Charlton were criticised for playing negative football.’  His tactical plan involved an inside forward dropping back into defence.   He also saw centre halves as purely defensive.  Carter does, however, credit Seed with being one of the first of a breed of modern managers who established decision-making autonomy from the board and created sophisticated scouting systems.

Jimmy Seed’s contribution to the club is recognised in his name on the away stand.  The momentum evident in the club immediately before and after the Second World War could have been maintained if the owners hadn’t tightened the purse strings.

 

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