The excellent feature-length article in the Daily Mail last week on Charlton Athletic legend and former England International, Derek Ufton, reminded me of the time in September 1989 when I asked Derek, who was now one of the Club’s Directors and the President of the newly launched ‘Valley Gold’; if he would pick his ‘Best ever Charlton team’ as a competition for ‘Reds Review’, my weekly column on all things Charlton Athletic in the ‘News Shopper’.
As a prize, I offered two complimentary tickets to the forthcoming ‘home‘ First Division game with Tottenham Hotspur at Selhurst Park on 14th October, for the Charlton supporter who got closest to matching Derek’s choice of Charlton XI. In fact, two people – ‘Mr T. Adams from Welling and Mr L. Lilley from Plumstead’ – both successfully matched seven players who Derek had selected in his ‘Best ever Charlton team’.
For the announcement I ‘handed over’ my ‘News Shopper’ column to Derek and now, 31 years on, it is fascinating to see his team selection and to get Derek’s insight as to his rationale for each player’s inclusion.
So, let me take you back to September 1989 and let Derek Ufton introduce you to his ‘Best ever Charlton’ team:
Best X1 1936 – 1988
Selecting a best team from the players who have represented Charlton Athletic FC through the above years is no easy task.
I was a supporter from 1936 – 1948, a player from 1948 – 1960, a supporter from 1960 – 1964 and an observer in the same Division 2 when coach and manager of Plymouth Argyle from 1964 – 1968, and a supporter again from 1968 until the present day. A great many players have represented the club in that time.
The team I have selected is in the main, from those who have played in Charlton’s First Division years; there is no doubt that some of you will criticise the absence of Keith Peacock, Colin Powell, Derek Hales, Mike Kenning, Len Glover, Brian Kinsey, Charlie Wright, Marvin Hinton, Brian Tocknell, Phil Warman, Gordon Jago, Jimmy Giles and many others who were favourites through the years, but the majority of players that I have selected have proved themselves in the hardest League in the world – the English 1st Division.
Sam Bartram has to be in goal. Nicky Johns and Bob Bolder are in my opinion exceptional goalkeepers but Sammy was, and is, a legend. He joined the club in 1934, helped them from the 3rd Division to the 1st in successive seasons, played 1st Division from 1936 – 1956 and when he retired Charlton were immediately relegated. A great, great goalkeeper, he has to be our No. 1.
The full-back positions gave me great difficulty – there were many great contenders. Bert Turner was a regular in the Welsh team from 1936 – 1939 and scored for both sides in the 1946 Cup Final v Derby County. Frank Lock was a classic Left-Back in the early fifties and on the fringe of the England side, as was James Oakes, Captain of the side promoted from the 3rd to the 1st just before the war. John Hewie played Right-Back for us and won nineteen caps for Scotland at Left-Back and our present pair, John Humphrey and Mark Reid are as good as any of their predecessors.
However, John Hewie, as our most capped player, must be in the team and only for this reason do I split our present-day full backs.
In selecting my side, I have had to accommodate and adjust so that my best players are in the team. It is only in the last twenty years or so that there have been two recognised central defenders in English football, so Don Welsh is pulled back a little from the old Left-Half position to play alongside Peter Shirtliff.
There is no doubt in my mind that Peter Shirtliff compares favourably with any Centre-Half who has worn our colours and I include John Oakes, Harold Phipps, myself, Ken Chamberlain, and many others through the years including Steve Thompson, who could rightly consider himself unlucky to be left out, but Peter is an inspiring captain who is quick and courageous and his attacking attributes, e.g. in last season’s Play-Offs, wins us games.
Alongside him and in his old position of Left-Half must be Don Welsh. He was a big strong, attacking defender who feared nothing and scored many vital goals. He played for England and would have been a regular but unfortunately the war years were his best years, He, without a doubt, would have got into any Charlton side.
When I was finishing my career there was a young player in the reserves who I thought should have made his debut long before he did. His name was Mike Bailey and when he eventually got in the side, he was an instant success, becoming an England International before moving up to the First Division.
There are others who have come through the Youth policy and moved on; Billy Bonds and Paul Walsh spring to mind but Mike was outstanding in his position and I have no hesitation in naming him above Benny Fenton, George Green (regular for Wales 1934-1939) and even Steve McKenzie who, if he keeps his present form would be in the running.
Wide on the right is, to me, a vital position, especially so these days when the wide men need defensive skills as well as being able to kick a few goals.
Monty Wilkinson was a flier before the war and Les Fell was as quick as anyone and was in the first Cup Final, but Gordon Hurst had power as well as pace and, although I always admired Mike Kenning, and Colin Powell I could have watched forever, and Robert Lee improves match by match; Gordon Hurst had that extra something and so my choice must be Gordon.
On the left there are many contenders, not least Colin Walsh who we hope will soon be fit again. Harold Hobbis was the star before the war, Chris Duffy had his moment of glory in the Cup Final, Billy Kiernan was quick and brave, scored goals with both feet and with some superb headers and one we can never forget is Johnny Summers who scored five goals in a match, twice, including the epic 7-6 against Huddersfield but I personally think Mike Flanagan just had the edge. I do not think we would have got promotion to the First Division without him and for that alone I must have him in my team. His first touch, his crosses and his goals all had a touch of class.
Stuart Leary, along with Derek Hales, our top goal scorer. A good percentage of Stuart’s goals were in the First Division and although Derek Hales excited and had a devasting left foot, Stuart really was a complete footballer.
They called Stuart’s style of play the ‘Revie’ plan because they saw Don Revie play in a Cup Final, but Stuart Leary had been playing the deep Centre-Forward role two years before Revie or Hidegkuti of Hungary. Stuart would undoubtedly have played for England if he had the right qualifications. However, it wasn’t to be, but he gave much pleasure to many thousands of Charlton supporters.
My choice for the two striking positions were both prolific goal scorers. Eddie Firmani had the knack of hitting the ball early with great accuracy and great power; very strong on the ball he was the complete footballer as his success in Italy for many years verified. He returned later to give additional service to Charlton as a player and Manager.
My last selection will no doubt come as a surprise and may create controversy, but my choice has to be Hans Jeppson. He only played around twenty games for Charlton in season 1949-1950. He came as an amateur from Sweden and his fifteen goals took us from the bottom of the First Division to safety and gave us six extra seasons in the top grade.It was a great shame that the Italians made him a record offer to turn professional and he was lost to Charlton and to English football.
My Charlton XI is:
John Humphrey John Hewie
Mike Bailey Peter Shirtliff Don Welsh
Gordon Hurst Stuart Leary Eddie Firmani Hans Jeppson Mike Flanagan
If I am asked to name a Captain, it would be Peter Shirtliff as I think that his best is yet to come, and we hope he will remain in the First Division and that he will be collecting some trophies on behalf of Charlton Athletic FC.
In the featured photograph, Derek Ufton shakes hands with sculptor Anthony Hawken at the formal launch of the Sam Bartram statue project for the Club’s Centenary in 2005