Sam Bartram is synonymous with Charlton Athletic. The legendary goalkeeper, a member of the 1947 FA Cup winning side, played a record 623 times for the club in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. I had the honour of being Chairman of the Club’s Centenary Committee in 2005 and I’m extremely proud of the fact that Charlton supporters raised £50,000 in 11 months to build the 9ft bronze statue of Sam – brilliantly sculpted by the eminent local sculptor and Charlton fan Anthony Hawken – which now proudly welcomes all visitors to The Valley. 

During the Centenary Season I had the pleasure of getting to know Sam’s daughter Moira very well and we still keep in touch. Moira, who lives in Canada, played a huge role that year and she kick-started the fundraising for the statue with a very generous donation. The insight on Sam that Moira was able to give me and to Anthony Hawken was invaluable and I particularly enjoyed reading Sam’s autobiography which was first published in 1956, the year I was born!

I think it’s fair to say that professional football today is unrecognisable from the industry that I first entered in 1988 – back then the combined TV rights deal for all four divisions of The Football League (the Premier League didn’t start until 1992) was just £11m, the latest rights deal for the Premier League alone was £5.136bn!

So if professional football is unrecognisable from my day, imagine what someone like Sam Bartram would make of it! This extract from Sam’s autobiography might go some way in highlighting just what life was like for an aspiring footballer back in the 1930’s. I hope you enjoy it:

”I played regularly (for Boldon Villa in County Durham) at left half – until one day our goalkeeper, Alec Knowles, was injured in a local cup final and had to retire. Since I had always enjoyed playing in goal whilst training, I volunteered to take his place; and at that point my career was decisively changed. 

The Final was played at South Shields, and among the spectators was Mr Anthony Seed, brother of Charlton’s manager. The result was a goalless draw, and I apparently shone as deputy ‘keeper. At any rate Mr Seed, unknown to me, was greatly impressed. 

I enjoyed myself immensely in that Cup Final and I decided there and then that goalkeeping was to become my life. After the game I told an exasperated committee that I would not play the following season unless I could keep goal. They argued and pleaded with me, but I was adamant. ‘I’ll be a goalkeeper or nothing at all,’ I told them flatly. In the end I won. 

When the final replay was staged, however, the club was so hard hit by injuries that I was asked to play at left-half. I agreed, and we won 2-1. Afterwards I heard that Anthony Seed was present at that game also – but he had obviously been more impressed by Bartram the goalkeeper than by Bartram the wing-half. 

Not long afterwards, when Charlton’s goalkeeper, Alec Wright, died so tragically whilst swimming in shallow water at Torquay, Anthony Seed sought me out and asked if I would like to go to Charlton for a trial. ‘As a goalkeeper of course’, he added, with a twinkle in his eye. 

Would I like to go to Charlton for a trial! There had been no work at the pits for a fortnight, and I would probably have agreed to go as a programme-seller if I’d been asked! 

Nevertheless, having had one disappointment at an earlier trial at Reading, and being out of work, I decided that it would be unwise to expect too much from this new development. 

I borrowed half a crown from my mother for fares, and then set off for Newcastle; and in the County Hotel there I met Jimmy Seed for the first time. I found myself talking to a stocky, quietly spoken man in his early forties, with slightly greying hair and a shrewd glint in his eye. And I knew instinctively that here was someone I could trust completely – a man, quite clearly, for whom it would be a pleasure and a privilege to work. 

He described the excellent conditions prevailing at Charlton, and then spoke about the happy life led by the club’s players. ‘We believe in a contented playing staff at The Valley’, he went on, ‘and we realise that the only way to get such a staff is to treat players not only fairly but well. We like them to feel that Charlton is one of the best clubs they could possibly play for.’ He ran his hand over his straight, greying hair, ‘as indeed it is’ he added with a smile. 

There was a pause for a moment or so. Then he leaned towards me. ‘I value my brother’s judgment very highly,’ he said slowly, ‘and he’s given me an excellent report of you. On the strength of that report I’m prepared to offer you a two-month trial – and if you make the grade, I’ll sign you as a professional at £5 per week.’ 

I swallowed hard. If I’d been offered thirty shillings a week I would have gone. But £5! Compared with the seventeen and sixpence a week I earned in the pit – when I was working – this was the wealth of the Indies. Mr Seed was watching me with a kindly, encouraging glint in his eye. I held out my hand. 

‘I’ll come,’ I said, ‘just as soon as you want me.’ 

The date, for the record, was Wednesday, September 12th, 1934 – a red-letter day for me and the start of a long and wonderfully happy relationship with Charlton and Mr Seed. 

Back home I said nothing of my plans until the following Friday morning. Then Mother found me packing my bag. ‘Where are you off to now?’ she asked. 

‘I’m – I’m going away for a while,’ I mumbled, keeping my head down over the bag.

‘I can see that Sam. But where are you going?’ 

‘I’ve got another trial – this time for Charlton.’ 

‘Charlton? I’ve never heard of the place. Where is it?’ 

‘I don’t know, except that it’s in London somewhere,’ I replied. ‘They’re giving me a two-month trial.’ 

‘Are you sure you are doing the right thing, Sam?’ She asked then; and when I told her that it was to be now or never, she smiled and wished me luck. ‘This time you’ll do better,’ she murmured. ‘I feel sure you will. Now let me finish packing that bag for you.’ 

And so I travelled south once more. Next day, when normally I would have been playing for Boldon Villa, I made my debut for Charlton Athletic reserves at Luton. 

We lost 6-0!’ 

The rest, as they say, is history!