The 1957-8 season for Charlton saw the 7-6 defeat of Huddersfield, but the season ended in disappointment. In a crucial match at West Ham, captain Derek Ufton led protests against a sending off.
In the 1957/8 season, Charlton fans were hoping for a quick return to the top flight after relegation the season before. It was a remarkable season, Charlton scoring 107 goals, including the 7-6 defeat of Huddersfield on December 21st (unfortunately, my family was Christmas shopping in Woolwich). Under the current system of three points for a win, they would have been promoted in second place behind West Ham United.
As it was they finished third. One can only speculate what might have happened if they had been promoted. They might have struggled in the top flight. But they might also have attracted much needed investment in The Valley and the move to Selhurst might not have happened, yet in many ways that was the making of the club. Alternative histories are problematic but fascinating.
Two matches with promotion rivals were crucial in deciding the final outcome. On April 5th they drew 0-0 with West Ham United at Upton Park.
A contemporary press report by Peter Lorenzo reads: 'The Quiet Man became a Very Angry Young Man for 90 seconds at Upton Park … and it ended with Charlton inside right John "Buck" Ryan, described by his team mates as "the quietest bloke in the club" being ordered off in the 68th minute of the top-of-the-table clash with West Ham.' He later received a seven day suspension.
'But I must back Bolton referee Tom Cooper to the hilt. Said dapper Tom afterwards: "Ryan was ordered off for striking an opponent … there was no doubt about that." [Interesting that the referee felt able to explain his decision to the media which they won't do today]. Agreed. I saw tall, dark-haired Ryan aim blows at West Ham left back and skipper Noel Cantwell after they had clashed in the Charlton penalty area.'
'In the corridor outside his team's dressing room, Ryan, a 25-year-old softly-spoken Scot told me: "As Cantwell got up he grabbed a handful of mud and threw it in my face. [The pitch was almost waterlogged with clinging mud]. He was mad and that made me mad. I went to retaliate and the referee saw me. He came over, asked my name [no red cards] and said Off"'.
'Provocation there may have been for the unfortunate Ryan - "I've never even been spoken to before." But the referee had no option, despite the fierce and repeated protests of a pack of Charlton players, led by angry skipper Derek Ufton.'
'Said Ufton: "John never touched anyone. He couldn't. I was holding him all the time. In fact, it was Ryan who was punched."'
'Certainly West Ham's 6 ft. right back John Bond could count his lucky stars he was not accompanying Ryan on that lonely trek to the dressing room. Bond, for once losing his icy-cool, almost contemptuous composure, ran 15 yards to join the scramble which developed while Ryan was being restrained by Ufton. This was a completely unnecessary intervention by Bond who, in turn, had to be dragged away by team mate Andy Malcolm.'
'If the Ryan sending off was unfortunate for Charlton, it certainly gave West Ham no advantage. The depleted Charlton side seemed to find new strength.'
On 26th April Charlton played Blackburn Rovers at The Valley in the last match of the season. They needed just one point to win promotion, Blackburn needed a win. The game was watched by 56,435 - a Second Division record for the ground.
Ronnie Clayton was Rovers' captain that day and skippered England on many occasions, representing the national side 35 times between 1956 and 1960. He well understood the test of nerve in store for Rovers' return. ‘It was sheer agony for both teams,’ he admitted. ‘The mental torture became so bad during the match we began to feel anything would be better - even a Charlton win. It was just horrendous.’
An incredible match see-sawed crazily with Fred Lucas putting Charlton ahead on four minutes and Stuart Leary wasting a clear opportunity in to secure a 2-0 lead on ten minutes. Then it was Blackburn's turn. Peter Dobing scored twice, Roy Vernon added another and a Bryan Douglas penalty established a seemingly impregnable 4-1 Blackburn lead. Manager Jimmy Trotter blamed keeper Willie Duff for two of the goals.
Charlton, though, launched an inspired revival. Peter Firmani's goal on 76 minutes and a John Hewie penalty on 83 minutes, awarded after a foul on Leary, made life uncomfortable for Rovers at 4-3.
‘”Leary missed a gift goal that might have settled it," Clayton said. "When we led 4-1 we were on a cast-iron certainty until Charlton came back. Then suddenly, the torture was all over and Blackburn were back in the First Division. Amazing scenes followed as we tried to get off the pitch. ‘
‘A woman supporter emptied a bucket of water over our trainer and Bryan Douglas was so ashen-faced I thought he was going to faint. That game was one of the biggest occasions of my club career.’
The implications of that single result were huge for both clubs. Blackburn had eight years at the top before being relegated. The Addicks would wait another 28 years for top-flight football.
A clear out of players at The Valley followed, although 31 were retained. Jock Campbell, the uncompromising Scottish right back who had made 276 appearances for the club since 1945, but had played only once during the season, was given a free transfer. A master of the slide tackle, he joined Cambridge United and died in the city in 1983.
Woolwich born ‘Squib’ Hammond had made 208 appearances for the club since 1950. A quietly efficient member of what we would now call the midfield, Cyril joined Colchester United in the summer of 1958, and stayed with them until the end of the 1961/62 season. He then worked in the town, passing away in Buckinghamshire in 2016 at the age of 88.
Robert Ayre played 115 games for the Addicks and scored 54 goals, played twice for the England Under 23s and toured South Africa with a FA team. He joined Charlton from Western League side Chippenham United in the summer of 1952. He was signed by Reading in the summer of 1958 for what for them was a record fee of £7,000 (£155,000 at today’s prices). However, he was always injury prone and had to retire from football in 1961 at the age of just 28. He died in July at the age of 86.
Charlton secured another third place finish in the second division in 1968/69 but were well behind the promoted teams, Derby County and Crystal Palace.