‘Lennie Lawrence and his squad produced miracles…’

By 29th June 2024 No Comments

I was so pleased to see a post this morning on X (I still can’t get used to it not being called Twitter!) by a Charlton Athletic fan, of images from a match against Manchester United during the Club’s ‘exile’ at Selhurst Park during the mid-80s and early 90’s. This was a game that Charlton won 1-0 with a goal from our left back, Mark Reid.

The images of that match against Manchester United brought back great memories for me as I started my football career in Charlton Athletic’s portacabin at Selhurst Park and the period the Club spent ground-sharing with Crystal Palace was obviously extremely difficult. However it was also a time that saw some of the most significant Charlton figures come to the fore such as owners Roger Alwen and Mike Norris, manager Lennie Lawrence, General Manager Arnie Warren, Club Secretary Anne Bradshaw (née Payne), Junior Reds Secretary Jackie Monahan, Chris Parkes and iconic players like the aforementioned Mark Reid, Bob Bolder, Alan Curbishley, John Humphrey, Peter Shirtliff, Paul Williams, Paul Mortimer, Colin Walsh, Paul Miller and Scott Minto.

It was also a time that saw, amongst 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!)       

I joined Charlton Athletic on 17th January 1988. I was one of just 8 employees operating out of a Portakabin at the end of the main stand 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 throughout most of my first three years at the Club we retained our place in the old First Division of The Football League (EFL). 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 amongst the ‘big boys’.

The contrast between the Charlton Athletic then and the Charlton Athletic that I re-joined in 2000 after 10 years working at The Football League and Swindon Town, was amazing. 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 our 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 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 lounge members and advertisers, some of whom are still supporting 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 show 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.

I’m now back at Charlton Athletic for the 3rd time and I’m looking forward to what we all hope will be a successful 2024/25 season for the club; but it does sometimes feel to me that Charlton Athletic FC must have only started in 1992 when we went back to play at The Valley as I believe very strongly that the period Charlton spent at Selhurst Park is marginalised to the point where it’s almost air-brushed out of the Club’s history.

Social media posts like the one I saw this morning stir my firm belief that, the period based at Selhurst Park when Lennie Lawrence and his squad produced miracles to keep us in the top division, gets nowhere near enough recognition, as I passionately believe we wouldn’t be the club we are today if we had all failed back then.

We have a statue of Sam Bartram welcoming visitors to The Valley, our South Stand is called the Jimmy Seed Stand, our East Stand is called the Alan Curbishley Stand and our matchday boardroom is called the Keith Peacock Suite. I’m biased but I think it’s about time Lennie Lawrence’s achievements for the club are formally recognised – The Lennie Lawrence ‘Fans Bar’ perhaps?