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.

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