Charlton Athletic mark 100 years at The Valley

Valley pitch invasion
Going up: fans invade the pitch after the play-off semi-final win over Doncaster Rovers in May

Today marks 100 years since the first Charlton Athletic match at The Valley. The centenary will be marked at tomorrow’s match against Birmingham City, with Lee Bowyer’s side hoping to continue its excellent start to the Championship season. The first match in what was then known simply as the Charlton Enclosure, a 2-0 win for Charlton’s “A” team against Summerstown, took place in the South Suburban League – league football was still two years away.

The Addicks were founded as a boys’ team at Siemens Meadow, by the present-day Thames Barrier, in 1905. They became a senior team in 1913 – capitalising on Arsenal’s move to north London – and took over a ground at Horn Lane, east Greenwich, roughly where Ikea is now. But the club closed during the First World War, and the Angerstein Athletic Ground was requisitioned as a petrol dump. After the war, a reborn club played friendlies at Charlton Park and the Rectory Field while the club’s board prepared for its future.

The earliest evidence of Charlton at The Valley is a letter found in Greenwich Council’s archives, dated January 18, 1919, asking to borrow a steam roller from the local council as the club was “engaged in laying out a sports ground in Floyd Road, Charlton”. On May 13, 1919, the club’s newly-elected president, the Conservative MP for Greenwich, Sir Ion Hamilton Benn, told a meeting at the Mission Hall in Troughton Road (now Rathmore Youth Club) that Charlton had been invited to join the Kent League and would be playing at the new ground.

Volunteers did the work of converting the Charlton Sand Pits – known locally as The Swamp – into a usable football ground. Sir Ion, whose influence greatly helped the fledgling club, offered to act as guarantor for £700 of the £1,000 needed to do the work – but all the money was raised locally.

Facilities were basic, as Jimmy Seed, the club’s legendary FA Cup-winning manager, was to write in 1958:

“What a dump it was in those days without a stand or dressing rooms. The players changed in a nearby house and took their meals in a local pub. I recall how dreary The Valley was in 1920 when I played there for the first time for the Spurs reserve team against Charlton in a friendly game… After a cold, wet and thoroughly miserable day we were unable to take a bath or a shower, but had to stroll to a nearby hut so that we could change into our dry clothes.”

The club finished fifth in the Kent League in its first season at The Valley, and went professional in 1920, joining the Southern League. The year after that, Charlton became a Football League club, when it elected ten clubs into its new Third Division South.

But the switch to League football – and the punishing cost of getting The Valley up to scratch – proved costly. An FA Cup run in 1922/23 brought in the crowds, with 41,023 squeezing in for a fourth-round match against Bolton – but fencing collapsed, injuring spectators, and the cost of compensation is said to have wiped out the profit. Crowds shrank again, and in December 1923 the directors wrote off any chance of Charlton being able to draw a decent crowd in Charlton itself – and upped sticks to The Mount, in Catford. That move was even bigger disaster, with even smaller crowds of just a thousand, and the club’s directors moved back home for the following season, tails between their legs.

In the decades to come, Charlton would rise to the First Division under Seed, and attract a record 75,031 to a 1938 match against Aston Villa. The club entered a slow decline after relegation from the top flight in the 1950s, with crowds falling away and the stadium starting to crumble – despite occasional initiatives like bringing camels to the ground…

By the 1980s, and the aftermath of the Bradford City and Heysel stadium disasters, the Greater London Council moved to close the ground’s vast East Terrace. That, and a property row, led the club to repeat its mistake of 1924 and move out of Charlton in 1985, this time to Selhurst Park, leaving The Valley derelict and overgrown.

After a lengthy fans’ campaign – first against the club, then Greenwich Council – the Addicks returned in 1992, and the rest is history. Each side of The Valley tells a particular part of the club’s recent history – the Jimmy Seed Stand, the away end, dates from the late 1970s and is the only surviving structure from the pre-1992 ground. The East Stand, completed in 1994, was the first permanent stand to be finished at the rebuilt Valley, the west stand came at the time of Charlton’s first promotion to the Premier League. The huge Covered End, finished in 2001, which faces Floyd Road, is probably the biggest reminder of the club’s spell in the top flight.

Around 2000, the club flirted with the idea of a move to the Millennium Dome site, and in the early 2010s a move to Morden Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula was mooted by the club’s then-owners. But despite the anniversary falling under the shadow of Belgian electronics tycoon Roland Duchatelet’s eccentric ownership, there are no plans for a third move away. 100 years after the first match, it is very hard to imagine Charlton without The Valley.

Come back on Monday morning for KEVIN NOLAN’s report from the Birmingham City match. Acknowledgements: The Jimmy Seed Story by Jimmy Seed (Sportsmans Book Club, 1958); The Story of Charlton Athletic, 1905-1990 by Richard Redden (Breedon, 1990); Home and Away with Charlton Athletic 1920-2004 by Colin Cameron (Voice of The Valley, 2003)


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