Today, Friday 9th June 2023, marks the 118th birthday of Charlton Athletic FC. It is also the 18th anniversary of the unveiling of the statue of Charlton’s legendary goalkeeper and record appearance holder, Sam Bartram; whose career at the club spanned 3 decades, the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.
I know the adage, ‘time flies…’ gets trotted out a lot when reminiscing, but that said, it does seem incredible to me that 18 years have passed since that momentous day in June 2005 when Charlton supporters got their first glimpse of the statue which now welcomes everyone to The Valley. In fact, since its unveiling on that very hot June day 18 years ago, the statue of Sam Bartram has become the focal point for every news feature on Charlton Athletic and for every major club announcement. It is also the first port of call for every visitor to The Valley – so much so that over the past 18 years ‘Sam’ must have ‘posed’ for thousands of photographs for fans wanting selfies with Charlton Athletic’s most iconic player.
It seems unthinkable now, but Sam’s statue very nearly did not happen.
In early 2004, I was honoured when CEO Peter Varney appointed me to be the chair of the club’s Centenary Committee, which was tasked to develop and co-ordinate a programme of promotions and events to commemorate the club’s 100th season, 2004/5. It was felt by the members of the Committee that Charlton Athletic’s Centenary should be commemorated with a permanent acknowledgement of the Club’s first hundred years, and the erection of a statue of the club’s record appearance holder was the unanimous choice. It would be difficult but if we could unveil this on the Club’s actual 100th birthday then that would be incredible.
The eminent Blackheath-based sculptor, Anthony Hawken was on stand-by to produce the 9ft bronze statue and a programme of fundraising events would be instigated to raise the £50,000 cost of the project. However, if we were to unveil the statue on the club’s 100th birthday, then Anthony had to be given the ‘green light’ to start sculpting 12 months before i.e., by June 2004.
It certainly would not be easy but all of us on the Committee were confident that the required £50,000 was achievable; but that confidence was not shared by the Club’s Board of Directors and on the morning of 24th May 2004 I was informed by Peter Varney that the statue project had ‘gone down’ due to doubts as to whether the money could be raised purely from donations and fundraising.
On being told the news, I went back to my office and composed a memo to Peter, Richard Murray and the Board to rationally but also passionately, explain why I believed that the project should continue.
Here are some key extracts from that Memo:
‘‘The statue will take 12 months to make; that is why this June was agreed as the launch date for the sculptor to start – to ensure that the statue could be unveiled in June 2005, the club’s actual birthday month. However, while it would be nice to complete the statue by next June it is not essential. The sculptor understands the funding situation perfectly and is ready to start when we are.
The committee fully expect to raise the required monies over the next 12 months and a programme of fundraising events and promotions will be arranged. I acknowledge that if we were to have the statue ready by June 2005 then the club would need to guarantee the costs of the project; however, I must stress that it is my belief that we would raise these funds and therefore the statue would ultimately not cost the club a penny.
On the Board’s question as to whether Sam Bartram is the right person to be honoured or not; with respect this is totally missing the point.
When we discussed what we could do as a lasting-legacy of the club’s first one hundred years, the erection of a statue was by far the most popular initiative. When we then discussed who the statue should be of, one name came forward – Sam Bartram. The merits of Sam as a player and whether he was better than Dean Kiely or whether Clive Mendonca was more deserving of such a tribute is not the point. The statue of Sam Bartram will stand for everything that is Charlton Athletic. This monument is to represent a centenary, not the past 10 or 20 years.
Sam’s statue will represent every player that has ever played for Charlton Athletic throughout its first one hundred years, and it will represent every supporter that has followed this club since 1905. It is precisely for this reason that the Centenary Committee, of which I am proud to be Chairman, feel so strongly that the supporters not the club, should raise the funds to build the statue of Sam’’.
After a personal presentation to the Board at their next meeting, the project was given the go-ahead; Anthony Hawken started the sculpture, and the fundraising campaign was officially launched. Twelve months later, on 9th June 2005 Moira Bartram, Sam’s daughter who had kick-started the fundraising with a substantial personal donation, formally unveiled what I firmly believe to be the best statue in football.
Everyone who contributed towards the £50,000 cost – whether that be the young fans who donated their pocket money, the many hundreds of supporters who made donations or the small number of people who made sizable contributions to the fund, such as David Smith, whose significant donation meant that we would be able to unveil Sam’s statue on the club’s 100th birthday – can legitimately say that they built Sam’s statue. That for me, as Chairman of the Centenary Committee, is the perfect legacy of what we all achieved back in 2005.
Happy Anniversary Sam!
Update of an article first published in 2022