Tomorrow evening (Thursday 30th January) I will have the pleasure of hosting the latest event organised as part of Charlton Athletic’s ‘Valley Centenary’ celebrations – ‘An evening Through the Decades: the 80’s and 90’s’. It promises to be a great evening and I’ll be joined by Charlton legends Bob Bolder, Colin Walsh, John Humphrey, Robert Lee, Garry Nelson and Keith Peacock.
I’m really looking forward to tomorrow night’s event as the 1980’s and the 1990’s were two extremely momentous decades for the Club, but for totally different reasons.
I grew up supporting Charlton Athletic and each home match my Dad and I would take up our positions on the East Terrace at The Valley to cheer on the stars of the 60’s and 70’s such as Eddie Firmani, Mike Bailey, Charlie Wright, Ray Treacy, Derek Hales, Colin Powell, Mike Flanagan and of course, Keith Peacock. For me The Valley was and still is a magical place.
However, my own professional football career started in the 1980’s, not at The Valley but in the Club’s then portacabin offices at Selhurst Park. Without wishing to sound like the start of a Dickens’ novel, times were hard for Charlton Athletic at Selhurst Park. It was obvious that we were the poor relation to our landlords yet for most of our time as lodgers we were the senior team, as we retained our place in the old First Division of The Football League. This included the dramatic Play-Off Final in 1987 at St Andrews, when we beat Leeds United 2-1 with both goals being scored by Peter Shirtliff. It was during this period of course that our then manager, Lennie Lawrence, obtained the nickname ‘Houdini’ as against all the odds we survived for a total of four seasons among the ‘big boys’.
I joined Charlton Athletic on 17th January 1988 and I was one of just 8 employees operating out of a portacabin at the end of the main stand at Selhurst Park. As I said, the period Charlton spent ground-sharing with Crystal Palace was obviously extremely difficult, but it was also a time that saw some of the most significant Charlton figures really come to the fore such as owners Roger Alwen and Mike Norris, manager Lennie Lawrence, General Manager Arnie Warren, iconic players like Robert Lee, Bob Bolder, John Humphrey, Peter Shirtliff, Paul Williams, Steve Gritt, Paul Mortimer, Colin Walsh, Steve Thompson, Mark Reid, Stuart Balmer, Carl Leaburn, Mickie Bennett and Scott Minto, Club Secretary Anne Bradshaw (née Payne) and loyal staff such as Jackie Monahan, Ged Clout and Chris Parkes.
It was also a time that saw, among other things, the opening of the Club’s training ground at New Eltham, the launch of ‘Valley Gold’ and the start of ‘Charlton Chat’, the first ever one-Club dedicated radio show (OK, the last two I had something to do with!)
Back in 1988 our commercial operation boasted just 2 people – a lottery administrator and me. A year later this grew by one member of staff when we appointed Andy Bryant to run my newly created membership scheme, ‘Valley Gold’ and what a great job Andy did.
We didn’t have a shop of our own, we had no say in who hired Selhurst Park on non-matchdays and getting companies to sponsor Charlton or hire an executive box at Crystal Palace’s ground was difficult, to say the least! The saving grace for me was that I was selling the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool and Crystal Palace weren’t. it was the pull of glamour clubs such as these that enabled me to attract match sponsors to our games. If Palace had been in the same division or if the roles had been reversed, I dread to think what commercial support we would have got. As for advertising at Selhurst, all our deal with Crystal Palace enabled us to utilise were the pitch perimeter boards and not all of these either! I even had to help the stadium manager carry any new boards I’d sold, out to the pitch and help him to put them up – it was all glamour!
I had a small group of loyal Executive Box holders and advertisers, some of whom are still sponsoring the club to this day, but in the main our players had to play against a back-drop of boards advertising the Croydon Advertiser or a car dealership in Penge!
Our Club sponsors during our time at Selhurst Park were The Woolwich and they were always very supportive. So much so in fact that Roger Ham, The Woolwich’s marketing manager in those days and myself used to undertake a regular programme of joint school visits to discuss with students how business and sport can work successfully together. The Woolwich also supported my successful Bexley Show promotions at Danson Park. In effect, this was the forerunner to the highly successful community education programme and summer roadshow promotions put on today by the Charlton Athletic Community Trust and it was a highly effective way for the Club to re-engage with schoolchildren and local people, back in its real catchment area.
Whilst I was working at The Football League and Swindon Town in the 90’s, I watched with pride as Charlton coped with playing its matches at West Ham’s Upton Park and how it gradually got itself back on its feet again and finally returned to The Valley on that emotional day in December 1992.
I’m looking forward to chatting to my friends and former Charlton colleagues tomorrow night and getting them to share just some of their fantastic memories from the 1980’s and 1990’s. It should be fun. Hopefully I’ll see you there.
Book your tickets here.