Sunday, 21 March 2021

When Charlton beat Liverpool 6-0

Continuing last week's feature on the 1953/4 season I look at the time Charlton beat Liverpool 6-0

Looking back at my first season following Charlton in 1953-4 there are certain matches that remain in the memory.   One of them was the 6-0 defeat of Liverpool on 26th September 1953 in front of a crowd of 31,258.  This was Liverpool’s biggest defeat since 1934.  They were then managed by former Addick Don Welsh and were relegated as bottom club.

It is interesting to look at this match from the perspective of a report in a Liverpool paper.  ‘A foul against Liverpool at the fifth minute proved fatal to their cause, for Evans calmly headed Fenton’s free kick into the net while the Liverpool defence appeared to stand still.  This was indeed a blow for the Anfielders had opened promisingly.   For the next few minutes Charlton bothered the Liverpool defence quite a lot and Leary made a good shot which Crossley saved on the line.  The ball went out to Kiernan who raced into the centre and shot when most expected him to pass.  Evans who is particularly good with his head made another effort from Hurst’s centre.’

‘Whenever Liverpool threatened danger, the Charlton defence packed well and these tactics often checked the Liverpool advantage.  A Liddell corner went straight into Bartram’s hands.   Liverpool were testing the Athletic, and after a Liddell shot was dropped, Baron seized on the ball and shot, but a slight deflection ruined it and saved Bartram from anxiety.   Liverpool for the last 15 minutes had as much play as Charlton, but could not get a real shot at goal.’  (Memory can play tricks, but I have a vision of Charlton clearing well on their left in front of the East Terrace).  Spicer made a determined tackle to prevent Leary’s shot from becoming dangerous.  Bimpson gave Ufton the dummy but it got him nowhere for the Charlton defence stepped in to do their stuff.’

‘Leary was a little slow at making a shot from a good position, giving a Liverpool man a chance to nip in and block his effort.  Jackson made a jab into the goalmouth but Bartram had no difficulty in saving.  Liddell was here there and everywhere, but Charlton left few openings.  Crossley had to save a low shot from Hurst and Leary was not far off the target with a header.   Charlton went further ahead, Leary picking up a pass from O’Linn to give Crossley no chance from 15 yards’ range at the 43rd minute.’

Charlton thus went in 2-0 ahead at half time.  Having been refreshed by a cup of tea and an orange, ‘Charlton undoubtedly looked the more dangerous side and Evans was unlucky to have a hefty shot blocked by Paisley.  Evans offered O’Linn a chance which he took quickly, but not accurately, the ball passing wide.  Charlton were in trouble a moment later but Hammond dropped back and kicked clear.  Charlton were well on top at this stage and Crossley had to turn a Kiernan angular shot over the bar.  Later, O’Linn came along with a header which was off the mark.’

‘There was a groan when Fenton offered the chance “on a plate” slewed his shot well wide of the far post.  There was a big shout for a foul for hands against Hughes who did perhaps handle, but quite unintentionally, the referee thought so too.’  An absence of intent wouldn’t have helped him today.  In 1953 my mother was always alert for evidence for what she thought was systematic referee bias against Charlton and would have made her views clear.

‘A Baron header was cleared off the line by Ufton.  Charlton missed a third goal when a free kick taken by Fenton was helped on by O’Linn.  He headed wide with most of the goal open to him.  Charlton had been bang on top for the last 20 minutes and Leary scored a third goal at 20 minutes when Crossley failed to hold a Leary shot which passed over his line.  Leary obtained his hat-trick and Charlton’s fourth goal when he ran through and took the ball close in before he smashed it beyond Crossley at 72 minutes.  After Crossley had got to his feet to save from Hurst, the referee awarded a penalty and Leary scored a fifth goal in the 74th minute.  Evans scored a sixth goal for Charlton after 83 minutes.’  If Charlton had taken all their chances, they might have won by an even bigger margin.

The match against Cardiff City in March 1954 was memorable for me because Bartram was not in goal.  Apparently he had been injured in training.  For the outfield team training was focused on running round the pitch and up and down the East Terrace, supervised by Jimmy Trotter in his white coat which made him look as if he had just wandered in from the pharmacy counter at Boots.  The keeper was, however, allowed to see the ball during the week.  Bartram was also out the next week when Charlton 4-1 away at Huddersfield.   Eddie Marsh deputised on both occasions and one of my memories was of him fumbling a save with a frown on his face which left me worried for the rest of the match.   Fortunately, the Cardiff keeper also had a bit of a mare.

What I do not remember is that there was clearly quite a lot of tension between the two teams. ‘Play was over vigorous at times and at one period in the second half hustling and bumping were taken to such extremes that the referee had to issue words of advice to both teams.’  In what was a foul strewn match and both O’Linn and Leary were injured.   The Cardiff president was left with a bloody nose after a no nonsense Campbell clearance hit the roof of the stand and then bounced directly on to his nose.

A report from Wales blamed defensive blunders for at least two of the goals scored by Charlton. ‘Although there was plenty of honest endeavour in the City forward line it was never a smooth working unit mainly because of the tendency of the inside forwards to hang back.  The usually sound Graham Vearncombe [in goal] was not too sure of himself.  He did not position himself well for the first two Charlton goals, and he was not confident when running out of goal.’

‘Charlton made most of the running in the early stages, and after only a quarter of an hour Leary easily rounded Gale to cut in and put the ball across the City goalmouth for Hurst to apply the finishing touches.  When Firmani scored Charlton’s second in the 23rd minute the City looked a well beaten side.  They staged a grand rally, however.  In the last 15 seconds of the first half Grant scored with a 20-yard shot and immediately the second half started Ford headed home a corner kick in his best style.’

‘For some time then Charlton were hard pressed to keep the City going into the lead.  This hectic spell gradually faded.’  For the winning goal Ayre surprised the defenders by challenging for a loose ball, and the ball was put to Leary’s feet in front of an unguarded net, leaving Charlton 3-2 winners. Cardiff finished one place behind Charlton who were 9th and on the same number of points as Chelsea.

There were more disappointing results during the season, but I was left hooked for life.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Remembering the 1953-4 season

Unlike many Charlton fans I cannot remember my first game, but I can remember my first season in 1953-4.

In Voice of the Valley No.155 Rick Everitt looked back at 50 years of supporting Charlton. Everitt's experience at primary school in Welling seems to be somewhat different from mine a few miles away in Plumstead Common, admittedly fifteen years earlier. The only Charlton fan the VOTV editor knew at school was a teacher. As I recall, Charlton fans were thick on the ground at St. Margaret's, not least the late Tom Morris, later to be the club's official photographer.

I also do not recall the game being 'more marginal to everyday life.' Late every Sunday morning Charlton fans would call in at my uncle's newsagents in Lakedale Road to buy their smokes and Sunday papers and discuss Saturday's game.  Another frequent subject was the tensions between manager Jimmy Seed and trainer Jimmy Trotter.

Unlike many Charlton fans, I can’t recall my first game at The Valley.  The first game I can remember is the 6-0 defeat of Liverpool in September 1953.   I think that the first game I must have seen was the 3-1 defeat of Burnley in August 1953.  That was the first Saturday game of the season, Charlton having defeated Sunderland 5-3 the preceding Wednesday.   Sunderland were then known as the ‘Bank of England’ club, having gone on a summer spending spree of £61,000 (£1.6m at today’s prices, showing that transfer fees have outpaced inflation).   Perhaps that is why there was an attendance of just below 50,000, the second highest crowd of the day.  The match was played in the evening so it was possible to go after work.

However, there is something of a mystery about this game.  As I was preparing this article, a programme for this match dropped out of the back of a reference book, a well-worn programme I never remember seeing before.  It noted, ‘It is a new experience to start the season with an evening match in mid-week.’  The fixture was originally scheduled for May 1st, but both clubs agreed it should be moved ‘to reduce the clash with the televised FA Cup final on that date.’   The coronation earlier in the year had led to a substantial growth in the number of televisions in homes, even if many of them had ten inch or twelve inch screens and were, of course, black and white.  The picture quality was not sharp.

Among the items in the programme were an announcement of an association with Bexleyheath and Welling, reviving an arrangement that had existed before the Second World War.  This was intended to give young players match experience.

It was noted that ‘Last season was one of the poorest on record for attendances at Charlton.  The main reason for it, and we are firmly convinced on this point, was the clash of our home fixtures with Arsenal.  This season, we are happy to report, our home fixtures alternate with those of Arsenal.  With this handicap removed, a more satisfactory state of affairs in regard to attendances at The Valley is confidently expected.’  The ‘Woolwich Rejects’ continued to have a local following and often were a stronger draw.

Average attendances did go up from 25,298 to 28,803, ranging from 13,441 (Newcastle United) to 56,664 (Blackpool and Stanley Matthews).   One reason for the increase may have been what were promised to be ‘greatly improved transport facilities’.  In a forerunner of Valley Express, London Transport put on special bus services.   One ran from Bexleyheath trolleybus depot and another from Grove Park bus station via Lee Green.  For fans further afield, services were being arranged from Dartford and Gravesend.  For the following week’s away fixture at Chelsea special cheap day return tickets to Fulham Broadway were being made available from all stations on the lines from Dartford and also from Catford Bridge and Grove Park.

Information about the full playing squad was included.   Most of them were less than 6 feet tall, exceptions including Sam Bartram who was six feet.  Players’ birthplaces were also listed and seven were from Charlton, Woolwich or the immediate area, but only three from elsewhere in London.  Six were from South Africa and five from elsewhere in South-East England.   Three were from Scotland, plus one from Berwick-on-Tweed.

Finding this programme was a pleasant surprise, but where did it come from?   Did my father make it to the match from his job in Stratford?  That certainly would have been possible.  Did my mother, a regular fan, take me?  It would have been way past my bedtime, although it was in the school holidays.  I think I would have remembered if my first game had beenan evening match, so the source of the programme must remain a mystery.

The attendance was more than halved for the Saturday fixture against Burnley.  Attendances at that time tended to fluctuate considerably.   If I was at the match, it was certainly a footballing treat for a Charlton fan, if one is to believe an effusive report that appeared in the Daily Herald.  ‘If you want to get tipsy for 1s 9d (8p), see Charlton Athletic.  Champagne Soccer for 35 minutes swept them to a home victory by 3-1 over dour, dangerous Burnley.’

‘Let Charlton produce this heady stuff – fast, exhilarating, unstoppable, seven-forward attacks (was the reporter seeing double?) – for the full 90 minutes and they’ll blow the top off all scoring methods.  They did not pull the cork out until Burnley’s grand Irish inside-right, McIlroy, beat Bartram with an under-the-bar smash.  “Wake up!” yelled the fans.  To their delight, Charlton frothed over with three wonder-bar goals by Kiernan (57 minutes), Firmani (69) and Leary (83).’

Fortunately, the reporter had by now exhausted his stock of alcohol analogies.  ‘How can future opponents stop them?  Burnley, a fine side, their defeat no disgrace, have solid defence in depth superior to most League sides and a strong attack.   This is what other clubs are in for if Charlton keep this form:- High-speed short passing raids with defenders made to look as if they were posts for zig-zag passing movements carried out on the training ground.  Sharp-shooting, distance no object; not only by forwards but also by Fenton and backs Hewie and Lock; sound defence; craft and cunning.’

‘Sighed Jimmy Seed: “Great stuff, but why do my lads only play it when they are down?  I’ll have to discover how to make them play like that from the kick offs.”  If he does, Charlton could be the best attacking team in years.’   The reporter forecast that ‘Chelsea won’t stop Charlton next Saturday.’  They lost 3-1 and over the season won fourteen games at home and lost fourteen away.

The next home game on a Saturday was against Middlesbrough and Charlton won 8-1, their biggest league victory.   Unfortunately, we did not go for some reason and I remember discussing the game at school, peeved that I had not been there (just as I was later to miss the 7-6 win).   However, Charlton won their next Saturday home match 6-0 against Liverpool and I will recall that game in a subsequent article.

Sunday, 7 March 2021

War clouds over The Valley

We have recently seen the suspension of matches for the first time since the Second World War and they still are suspended below Tier 2 of the non-league.   What happened at Charlton when the Second World War broke out?

Despite the looming war clouds, there was an optimistic mood at Charlton in the summer of 1939.  The late 1930s had been a great time for the club under the guidance of manager Jimmy Seed.  In their first season in the first division in 1936/7 they finished second behind Manchester City and were the fifth best supported club in the division.  They were fourth in 1937/8 and made a profit of just under £400,000 at today’s prices.  Unfortunately this was not invested in much needed additional seating which would have boosted income even further.  In 1938/39 Charlton finished third and qualified for £165 ‘talent money’ for distribution to the players (just under £11,000 at today’s prices).   The total wage bill was £17,286 or £1.14m at today’s prices.

There was every hope that the elusive title might be finally secured in 1939/40. The season started on Sunday August 20th with a Jubilee Fund game against Millwall which ended in a 1-1 draw.  The view in the press was that ‘Millwall gave a dashing display and deserved to win by a good margin.   At times they had Charlton groggy and only desperate work by the home defence kept them out.’ Charlton were not at full strength, however, and fielded several reserves.    Left back Mordey retired just before half time with a leg injury and as this was not a league or cup game, Charlton were allowed to bring on a substitute for the last half hour.  However, Tann caused some confusion by wearing the same number – 4 – as the player who had moved to right back.

When Charlton travelled to Stoke for the first game of the season on 26th August the home side had to make seven changes to their squad because players had been called up for military service.  The former Wrexham keeper had to be brought in to replace Wilkinson in goal.   Nevertheless, Stoke won 4-0.  A contemporary newspaper report stated: ‘The score might well have been greatly increased, so completely did the Stoke attackers take command of the game.  After fifteen minutes’ play, however, Charlton lost the services of Welsh, the inside-left, whose injury proved such that he was unable to resume.  This disorganised the visiting team and little was seen of the attackers, with the exception of occasional wing raids by Wilkinson and Hobbis.’

Even so, ‘It is doubtful whether Charlton’s misfortune seriously affected the run of the game, for Stoke were always on top.   Stoke took the lead in twelve minutes when Soo scored with a great drive from twenty-five yards’ range.’   This is an interesting story in itself.  Frank Soo was a player and later manager of mixed Chinese and English parentage. He was the first player of Chinese origin to play in the English Football League, and the first non-white player to represent England. 

‘Smith shot the second goal after half an hour.  Midway through the second half came the best goal of the game, when Sale headed through from a perfect pass by [Stanley] Matthews.  The fourth goal was scored by Smith six minutes before the end after Bartram had saved from Sale.  James Oakes, the Charlton captain, tried desperately to stave off defeat and resorted to offside tactics in the second half, but the City attackers remained menacing to the end.  Sale was a fine leader and Matthews flustered the Charlton defence by his clever wing play.’

On the following Thursday Charlton went to Elland Road and beat Leeds United 1-0.  Press reports reckoned that Leeds lost because of the ineptitude of their forwards who missed four golden chances.   ‘Dawson and Robinson, Charlton’s new right wing, were often dangerous, and it was Robinson’s centre ten minutes from the end which led to Tadman scoring with a first-time shot.’ Robinson made 238 appearances for Charlton with his interrupted career finishing in May 1947. George Tadman’s record was better than one goal every two matches over the three preceding full seasons. He was in his prime when war broke out but the transitional season of 1945/46 saw his career come to an end at the age of 32.  His brother Maurice’s career was also interrupted by the war and he made just three appearances for Charlton before stepping down a division to Plymouth Argyle where he was a great success.

There were only 8,608 spectators at The Valley for the match against Manchester United on Saturday September 2nd, the day before war with Germany broke out.   A report stated: ‘The visitors had the better of the opening play and Wassell had one good shot.   Charlton attacked without being really dangerous.   Both teams played good open football.    Two quick goals came to Charlton.  Tadman scored from a centre by Hobbis after 24 minutes, and Dawson added a second after good play by Tadman and Robinson.’  In the second half ‘Asquith, Bryant and Pearson all made scoring attempts, but found Bartram very safe for Charlton whose attacks were more disjointed than in the first half.’

After the outbreak of war, the Government initially closed all football grounds and places of entertainment to prevent large numbers of people gathering in one place, but this order was rescinded after a few days.   However, clubs would still have to obtain permission from the police to open their grounds. The secretary of the Football League took the view that the league competition must be regarded as finished because of the loss of fixtures in this hold up.

While wartime arrangements were sorted out, clubs played friendly games and Charlton were commended in the press as ‘pioneers’ for organising fixtures on Saturday 23rd and Saturday 30th September.   They even managed to send a reserve side to play at Chelmsford City.   They were away at Luton Town on the 23rd, but I have not been able to find a record of the result.   For the game against Fulham on September 30th Charlton printed tickets numbered one to eight thousand.   These were evenly distributed among the turnstiles and spectators were given half a torn ticket on payment for admission.  Once the figure of eight thousand was reached, the turnstiles were closed. Charlton lost the match 0-1.

Following the outbreak of war, the players were let go, although their registrations were retained. Jimmy Seed was retained as secretary-manager but on a salary halved from £1,560 a year to £780, down from just over £100,000 a year to just over £50,000 at today’s prices.  Trainer Jimmy Trotter was kept on at £5 a week, essentially a decent skilled worker’s wage, £330 at today’s prices.

A meeting of London clubs gave impetus to the establishment of regional competitions on the lines of those instigated in the First World War after the first season had been played on the usual competitive basis.  Travelling to away matches would be restricted to approximately 50 miles.   Professionals would not receive more than 30 shillings per match (£66 at today’s prices) and this sum would be paid to no more than 12 players.  No bonus would be paid for match result and there would be no trophies.   The minimum charge for admission would be one shilling (just over £2 at today’s prices) and members of the forces, women and boys would not have to pay anything.

Charlton started playing in the South Regional League on October 21st when they lost 8-4 to Arsenal at White Hart Lane, having three penalties awarded against them.   Their first home match at The Valley saw them beat Southend United 8-1 in front of a crowd of just 1,291.   The maximum crowd allowed was 16,000 and the gate fell just short of this for the home match against Arsenal in March 1940.  During the war Charlton reached two Wembley finals and went on to win the FA Cup in 1947. However, some of the pre-war momentum seemed to be lost in the league.   Adolf Hitler didn’t do Charlton any favours.

Revisiting the 7-6 win

Charlton's 7-6 victory over Huddersfield Town is well travelled ground, but an article on the game in the latest  Four Four Two  contain...