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.