Saturday, 27 February 2021

'Team Lisbie'

The best part of watching Valley Pass these days is the interviews with players from the Curbishley era before the day is spoilt by the performance of the current players.  On Tuesday at Wigan it will be Steve Brown.   Mind you apparently Curbs said off camera yesterday that he wondered if he was jinxing things.

Yesterday it was Super Kevin Lisbie and we saw a montage of his goals.   His third goal when he scored his hat trick against Liverpool was just superb, Deano threw the ball out to him and he went all the way up the pitch to score, evading the opposition.

I remember his first Premier League goal when he came on at Ipswich as a substitute and scored a superb goal to give us a 1-0 victory.   What I did not know was that he had to borrow Jon Fortune's boots.  Fortune was a size 11 and Lisbie was a size 9, a case of being too small for his boots.  Then there was his winning goal at Stamford Bridge.

Lisbie did say that he found it strange at first as an East London lad playing for a South London team.  Curbs made a remark about coming through the tunnel in the traffic.

He is still playing football alongside his four sons so it really is Team Lisbie.  He played for Cray Valley Paper Mills in the 2019 FA Vase final.    He is a coach at Leyton Orient.

Apparently players used to get a tap on the shoulder from Big Merv (Mervyn Day) before Curbs told them were on the bench on Saturday.

The downside to Lisbie was that he could miss tap ins, hence references to him as 'Missbie'.   I had taken a Canadian visitor to The Valley and he did just that.  I wasn't in my usual seat and the Bloke Beside Me said 'How much do I pay that guy?' to the amusement of the Canadian,

Friday, 26 February 2021

Deal author's memories of Charlton

Today on Charlton Retro we feature Charlton fan and author, broadcaster and podcaster Charlie Connelly.  Charlie, who recently turned 50, now lives in Deal and swims in the English Channel every day regardless of the weather.  His latest book is on The Channel

His breakthrough book and one I particularly enjoyed was Stamping Grounds about the Liechtenstein international football team.  He also wrote a book on London football, London Fields.   His book on radio Last Train to Hilversum is at the home of my daughter who lives in Spain (she was a university contemporary of Charlie's).

One of his early books was about relegation and narrow escapes entitled I Just Can't Help Believing.  One of the longest chapters was about 'The Demise and Rise of Charlton Athletic'.

I believe that Charlie occasionally goes to Deal Town matches, but I do not think he has yet met leading Bowyer critic Desmond from Deal.

In the December 1999/January 2000 'bumper festive issue' of Voice of the Valley I interviewed Charlie and here are some extracts.   One topic we talked about was his collection of Charlton mugs.  He said, 'My favourite is the one that lists all our honours, right down to being promoted from the Third Division in 1981.  Only trouble is they forgot about us winning the FA Cup.'

Charlie first came to a match at the valley when he was eight.  'The first game was I think against Oldham in 1978.  It was freezing, that was about all I can remember.  Everyone at school supported Liverpool and Forest who were the big clubs then, so I got used to people pointing and laughing at me from an early age.'

'My mum took me to Charlton once, when we played the People's Republic of China in a friendly in about 1982.   When Steve White scored after about ten minutes, she stood up and started to walk out.  She thought that once a goal was scored that was the end of the game.  "Come on then, darling, let's go" she called from the end of the row in the heart of the Covered End.  I was 12 and nearly died of embarrassment.'

'Asked for his favourite all-time Charlton player, Charlie said: "I'll have to be obvious and go for Derek Hales, even though I only saw him towards the end of his career.  Allan Simonsen had me starstruck though.  I met him in the Faroe Islands during the summer and he was a thoroughly nice bloke.  Incredibly small, though."'

He said that his best Charlton memory after Wembley was when we came back from 3-0 to win 5-3 against Barnsley in 1984/85.  'It was a tiny crowd.   Ron Futcher scored a hat-trick for them and then got sent off.  Three-one down at half time, we murdered them in the second half, even with Steve Dowman in the side.'

'One of my fondest memories is after the play off semi-final at The Valley.  Shaun Newton had won the game with a belting goal and I looked around the redeveloped ground where everyone was on their feet singing and dancing and Steve Dixon read out the Wembley ticket details over the tannoy.'

'I nearly cried.   All those years of watching us on an empty ground and  on other people's pitches.  I couldn't believe what was happening at our club.  I got so caught up in it I even bought that terrible Squeeze record.'

For the return to The Valley Charlie ending up standing on Charlton Heights with a few other people: 'We saw the balloons go up and heard the Red Red Robin and I cried a bit like a girl.  Saw Walshie's goal, too.  It was the only part of the pitch we could see up from up there.'

Charlie did train with Bromley a few times when Colin Powell was coach, but then broke his arm quite badly in a charity match for a bloke who had broken his leg!

A small quiz question: name the author who was written about Charlton in his novels and his autobiography.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The Blame Game

In this VOTV article I looked at the causes of Charlton's decline after what was arguably their most successful period, before and after the Second World War.   Opportunities to build the club were missed. Alan Curbishley got us back to the top flight, but the board appeared to have done no succession planning and Iain Dowie was appointed as manager.   We were told it was rocket science, but the rocket soon crashed to the ground.

In the first season that I watched Charlton in 1953-4, they finished ninth in the top flight.  The previous season they had finished 5th.  With the FA Cup victory a recent memory, they could credibly claim to be a major force in English football.   Although attendances fluctuated much more than they do today, the opening game of the season attracted just fewer than 50,000 to The Valley.

The next season, however, saw a slump to lower mid-table mediocrity.   The 1955-6 season saw a marginal improvement to 14th, but still only five points off relegation.   In 1956/7 the club lost 29 matches and finished bottom of the First Division.   Next season they failed to get the one point they needed in the last game of the season to secure an immediate return to the top flight, losing 3-4 at home to Blackburn Rovers.

So who or what can be blamed?   There are at least three possible candidates.   Step forward, Adolf Hitler.   I am not implying that Charlton’s fans or players were intimidated by the German führer       Consider, however, Charlton’s record before the Second World War.  In their first season in the first division they finished three points behind title winners Manchester City.   Next season, once again the sixth best supported club in Division 1, they finished fourth.   In the final pre-war season of 1938-39, they finished third.    In other words, this was a team seriously in contention for title honours.

During the war, players were not getting really competitive matches on a sustained basis.   Even so, some players clearly hit their peak during the war.         In 1945/46 they finished third in the Football League South and lost to Derby County in the FA Cup final.   In 1946/47, they won the FA Cup, but finished 19th in the league.   They did respectably well in the next two seasons, but came perilously close to relegation in 1949/50.  

It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the momentum of the pre-war years had been lost and that if the war had not intervened, they might have won the title.   However, despite online videos spoofing Hitler’s frustration at being unable to get tickets for Charlton v. Millwall, it is doubtful whether doing Charlton down constituted one of his war aims.

The next candidates are the owners of the day, the Glikstens.   To be fair, they rescued the club in 1932 when it was at a low ebb.   They made an initial cash injection of £100,000 spent on ground improvements and the team (just under £6m at today’s prices).  They turned the sandbank opposite the main stand into the East Terrace at a cost of £5,000 (£310,000 in today’s prices).  They appointed Jimmy Seed as manager andhe  oversaw the rise of the club from the third division to the first division, the first time this had happened in football history.   There is much to their credit.

However, there were limits to how far they were prepared to invest in the club.   In his autobiography, Jimmy Seed recalls that when Charlton were promoted to the first division, he tried to get the Glikstens to build a new stand at the club.   In return they wanted a guarantee that Charlton would stay up for three seasons which Seed felt unable to give.   

Seed argued with some justification, ‘I’m sure we lost many potential season ticket holders through lack of covered and seated accommodation.’   Even well after the war the stand regularly sold out, although the far from comfortable seats were three-and-a-half times the cost of the most expensive place on the terraces.

The Glikstens were also cautious about investing in players.   Seed had the possibility of signing Stanley Matthews for £13,000 (just over three quarters of a million at today’s prices).   The deal didn’t go through, but Albert Gliksten insisted that it would have been money down the drain.   As Seed points out, Matthews would have boosted gates and made Charlton a more glamorous team. 

A third culprit was changing demography.  In the 1930s the area was developing, but by the 1950s people were moving out into area, particularly into Kent.   A related factor was the decline of industries along the bank of the Thames.   Up until the late 1950s, most people used to work on Saturday mornings.   There was nothing more natural or convenient than to have a pint or two after work and then go to the game.   But Saturday morning working came to an end and the factories started to shed workers or close.

Jimmy Seed thought that Charlton’s poor transport links were also a factor with Chelsea and Arsenal benefitting from the proximity of tube stations.  He thought that the end of the trams in 1952 hit Charlton because they provided a convenient and efficient shuttle service to get fans to and from the games.   However, that may have been a coincidence rather than a cause of decline.

Whatever the reasons the club continued to decline both in terms of attendances and playing performance.   In 1984 they went into administration and nearly disappeared altogether.   Early in the 1984/85 season with The Valley becoming dilapidated to the point of being unsafe they moved to play home games at Crystal Palace’s ground.    The intention of the owners at the time was to merge the club into Crystal Palace which would have meant its disappearance.   Despite playing at Selhust Park, Charlton returned to the then first division.

However fans were determined to get back to The Valley despite opposition from the local council and nearby residents.   They formed their own political party, the Valley Party, and contested the local elections, securing the defeat of the chairman of the Planning Committee.   The council capitulated and with new owners the club returned to The Valley in December 1992.

A lot of work had to be done to rebuild the ground but in 1998 they were promoted to the Premier League through a dramatic play off final against Sunderland.   They were relegated the following season, but returned as Football League champions.   They were relegated in 2007 and then had a succession of below par owners.The first ones were interested in developing The Valley for housing, moving the club to a new and smaller stadium in North Greenwich.  

Belgian multi-millionaire Roland Duchâtelet then made a series of eccentric decisions that saw the club relegated to League One.  Promoted in 2019 through another play off final win against Sunderland, the club was sold to interests from Abu Dhabi but a civil war then broke out among the new directors which ended with the police removing the chairman from The Valley.  He was found to have spent money on a luxury flat and cars.  In the present crisis the future is very uncertain with administration a real possibility.   The fans may have to mobilise again.

Since this article was written Thomas Sandgaard has taken over and there is the prospect of a brighter future - in the longer run, if fans are patient.


Welcome to Charlton Retro

At this gloomy time for the club this blog looks back at some of our happier days, making use of stories published on our other Charlton blogs and articles I have written for Voice of the Valley, reproduced by kind permission of the editor, Rick Everitt.

A friend of mine who is a Manchester United supporter once asked me why I supported a down market club like Charlton instead of a proper, i.e., top six, club.  I explained that it was to do with my father's support of the club and an identification with South-East London.  'Hopelessly retro,' she replied.

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