Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Valley; A Story of Destiny and Desire...

Recently the Charlton Athletic Supporters Trust began a campaign to have the Valley listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Last week they announced that The Royal Borough of Greenwich Council had approved the plans, which means that infamous "Message To Our Supporters" can NEVER happen again! For a full explanation on what the AVC mean, visit here. 
Back in late August I wrote the piece below for the new Charlton fanzine created by Joe from ValleyTalkBlog. It tells the story of how, over a long period of time, I fell deeper and deeper in love with the Valley and how that ultimately lead me to be an Addick. I was blown away seeing it in print on those pages, but it was always my intention to post it on this blog at some point and what better time than this week, when Charlton celebrate the 21st Anniversary of the glorious against-all-odds return to the Valley. 
For most Charlton fans, supporting this great club is hereditary: for others it is simply a case of geography or the location of where you spent your formative years. The story of how I became an Addick is a little different and having never lived in South London the person I have to thank was not family (my grandad gave me my love of football), it was a British historian and writer by the name of Simon Inglis.

In 1983 Inglis wrote 'Football Grounds of England and Wales'. At the time, it was easily the most comprehensive book on football stadia that had ever been written. I had already adopted a huge fascination with football stadiums following the World Cup in '82 and I had received a copy of the book on my 9th birthday. For reasons that I simply cannot explain, there was one particular stadium that stood out; The Valley.
Towards the end of the section on Charlton Inglis wrote (with the help of the late, great Colin Cameron, I may add) "The inaction of several decades, when the ground threatened to become a huge white elephant and nothing but a burden to an average club side has at last been ended, and whoever controls the club, at least The Valley now has a future. It will never stage a Cup Final , nor an international match, but it wears a slightly more optimistic face nowadays, one which Jimmy Seed might appreciate if he were alive to sit in the stand named after him"

How wrong he was. As we all know, reluctantly, Charlton were forced to leave The Valley soon after the start of the '85 / '86 season. So much for the 'optimism' Inglis wrote about. Jimmy Seed was turning in his grave.

I would be lying if I said I was a Charlton supporter at that stage. I couldn't even claimed to have been a follower. My team was my local non-league side, Bishop's Stortford, and my heroes were the part-timers who represented them. But I remember being gutted when I heard Charlton had vacated The Valley under a cloud. Once again, I can't really explain why. I just did.

In '87 (I was 13 now) Inglis released the second edition of his book (now called 'Football Grounds of Great Britain'). This time around, however, Inglis spoke of a far darker picture of The Valley...

"This is one of the sadder chapters in the book; sad not only because Charlton have had to leave The Valley but because, as the story shows, they left in an atmosphere of bitterness, recrimination and concealment". Worst still, he lamented "There was an argument, but no one seemed to speak. There were questions aplenty, but no one prepared to answer".  The closing lines of the section were arguably the hardest to accept for obvious reasons. Under a sub heading of 'Selhurst Park' Inglis wrote "Take the number 75 bus, some sandwiches for the journey, turn to the following section on Crystal Palace and put on a brave face".

Thankfully, that was something Charlton fans were not prepared to do and the battle began...

At this point you have to remember all this pre-dates the internet let alone social media or satellite TV football coverage. My exposure to Charlton Athletic was rare, and so Inglis' books undoubtably led to my fascination of The Valley and Charlton. Whatever the reasons (perhaps it was simply fate), I suppose it was at this point I found myself quietly willing Charlton on, checking results and hoping for better times (something I would get very used to doing). Perhaps you could say I had become a distant follower.

Years would pass and The Valley fell further into disrepair. In 1992 I was driving for an electrical wholesaler and would occasionally pass by Woolwich Road, catching a glimps of the neglected stadium through Ransom Walk, heart heavy with the disappointment of never having seen a game there. Occasionally I'd go to Highbury to watch the Arsenal with my mates if Bishop's Stortford never had a game, but as much as I enjoyed those days out (I will always have a soft spot for Arsenal as a result), I never truly felt at home on the North Bank. By now, Charlton was the result I looked out for after watching my local side.

I'd love to say I was there when Charlton finally came home in '92, although I remember it well. I cannot tell you how much I envy those that were. I was so pleased for the club. Even so, it would be another 2 years before I finally watched my first game at The Valley. I travelled to the game alone, just as I still do. (watching Charlton would not have been an easy day out to sell to my mates). It was autumn '94 and I think it was against Barnsley. Whatever the opposition, we played terribly and lost 1-2 on a cold, grey, rainy afternoon. The game itself was irrelevant. I was inside The Valley and sat on the site of the mighty East Terrace that I'd so much admired in that picture in Inglis' book. I instantly felt at home.

Jump forward to now, nearly 2 decades later, and in all that time I've only missed around a half dozen games Charlton have played at The Valley since...and all of them reluctantly! The heartbreak of 3 relegations, joy of 3 promotions, a glorious Wembley final, those unforgettable Premiership years, the pain of dropping to the 3rd tier. Occasional tears of joy but far, far more tears of despair. Along the way I've met some great people supporting this club and over the years even my dear old mum has become well and truly Addickted!

Perhaps best of all, my son is well on the way to being a 2nd generation Addick!

If you've taken the time to read this you'll know only too well what a magical place The Valley is.

Every time I emerge from under the railway lines on Ransom Walk and set eyes on The Valley, even now, all those years later, my heart beats a little faster and I fill with a bursting pride and sense of anticipation.

As the song says, "My desire can always be found at The Valley, Floyd Road"...


  1. Good article especially for those that have little knowledge of the past (and endorsed by me on CAFCPICKS).
    My only comment is that whilst it s true that many fans were not prepared to countenance the move to Selhurst to and make the trip to support the side, they missed some good football and without those who were prepared to eat hiumble pie at the time and support the side, the club would have certainly disappeared into oblivion (like it would have if we had previously lost the play off final to Leeds some years before, and might still go to the wall of current takepver negotiations fail).
    MikeB (CAFCPICKS contributor)

  2. Thanks for the comment Mike – much appreciated.

    You make a very good point and I've often thought about whether I'd have gone to Selhurst or not if I was around in them days. In all honesty, I'm pretty sure I would have and I agree that those fans who did were essential in the club surviving even if they are not recognised in the same way as those responsible for bringing the club home. I guess we’re seeing the same thing at the moment with Coventry City.

    That said, I recall that when my local non-league side (of whom I was a regular supporter at the time) left their home and went into exile for a number of years I never watched them once. That’s something I still feel guilty about to this day. I was heartbroken when they lost the stadium I grew up watching football in, but actually, it was because of that turn of events that became the main reason I ended up finally going to the Valley in ’94. And the rest, as they say, is history!

    Funny how things work out…