Tuesday 23 October 2007

Five For Fun

As we are all still depressed after the weekend and in light of the injuries, and can't agree on whether Basey should be given a start, maybe it’s time for another of those annoying (and probably already done elsewhere many times over) ‘my favourite …’ items. This one is the funniest five moments I can recall during a Charlton game that I watched. Some of what follows is lifted from previous posts, but it’s the beauty of the prose that counts (and if we can’t plagiarise ourselves who can we?).

1. Peter Hunt, Charlton v Oldham October 1972

This proved to be a very disappointing season, with early hopes of a quick rebound to the Second Division on the back of goals from new signing ‘King’ Arthur Horsfield (he was to score 25 in the league) and a young Mike Flanagan (12) fading and the campaign ending in some disarray as only one of the last nine games were won, leaving us in 11th place at the finish. And the next time we look around at the stadium that The Valley has become and laugh about attendances at Selhurst Park, remember that on a cold, windswept March evening, in a vast open arena, we had a crowd of 3,015 for a league game (against Halifax). It was one of the few occasions when I questioned the wisdom of supporting Charlton.

However, it contained a real gem, at a time when the sun was still on our backs. At home we scored goals for fun at that stage, having seen off Swansea 6-0 and Notts County 6-1 – and shipped them just as easily. So 2-2 at half-time was no great surprise, with Horsfield levelling the scores just before the break. A Flanagan goal gave us the lead and just when a nervy finale seemed on the cards the ball ran through to Peter Hunt, another player brought in by then manager Theo Foley (Colin Powell being the third) - and one whose claim to fame as the best beard at Charlton would be topped the following season with the arrival of a certain Derek Hales.

Hunt shot, the ball hit the side-netting, and both teams lined up for a goal-kick. Meanwhile, the referee was running back to the centre-circle and it slowly dawned on all concerned that he had given a goal. What was impressive was the unanimity shown by the team and the bulk of the 7,348 in attendance. The players ran to congratulate Hunt and the fans picked up with applause. Nobody said a word. The Oldham players did, of course, while the crowd started to express their (mock) displeasure at the delay in restarting the game. But after consultations with the linesman the goal stood.

There was no video replay, no photo evidence (that I know of), no admission of guilt in the next programme (let’s face it, in those days they contained next to nothing, being a few sheets either side of a Football League Review). I kept a scrapbook then (yes, sad is the word – I still have them, alongside my Valley grass cuttings) and the match reports refer to a ‘controversial’ goal (one also suggested that Hunt was in an offside position when he got the ball). The Mercury’s Andrew Gardiner reported that “I must say from my vantage I had to agree with the Oldham players”. Fact is everyone in the ground knew exactly what had happened – except the two that mattered.

2. Colin Powell, Palace v Charlton November 1974

OK, the fun came the following day watching The Big Match. The game was actually lost 2-1, although there was a happy end to the season as we secured promotion back to the Second Division (on that glorious night at home to Preston), with Killer and King Arthur netting 30 league goals between them. In doing so we had edged out Palace, which was some payback for them having pipped us for promotion to the top flight back in 1968/69. But in truth there was no rivalry; we knew they were there, we knew what sort of a place Selhurst/Norwood was, but our paths seldom crossed.

Paddy had equalised, getting the ball wide right and cutting in across a couple of defenders before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top corner (it's on all the collection videos). The fun came when Malcolm Allison came clean to Brian Moore on TV. He said that he had instructed his defenders to force Powell to go inside, ‘because he’s got no left foot’. To be fair he had the style and good grace to see the funny side; he only turned into a whining cry-baby later on when we were promoted and they weren’t, accusing us of having watered the pitch following the return match at The Valley - when we slaughtered them 1-0.

3. Derek Hales, Chelsea v Charlton 1975

This was Killer’s season, when he almost scooped the £10k for 30 league goals, ending with 28 from 40 games (Flanagan was our next highest scorer with six) and prompting a campaign for him to be picked for England. He scored almost half of our goals in the league that season – and in the following one netted 16 in 16 before being sold. In two-and-a-half seasons he scored 64 goals in 100 league starts.

Why is there no biography of Killer yet? Had he gone to a club that played to his strengths I have no doubt he would have made it in the top flight. Instead he found himself alongside Charlie George and other individuals in a team in decline. You just didn’t ask Hales to make smart runs, come deep to get the ball, or play one-twos. You just unleashed him in the penalty area.

He might have scooped the money that year had he not been sent off in the game at home against Sunderland (who went on to be champions). As I remember it, having scored (we lost 2-1 in a nasty encounter, on and off the pitch) he delivered the most blatant and premeditated sending off I have ever seen. From a Sunderland throw-in he launched himself into the back of the defender, got up first and kicked the prostrate player. He was well on the way to the dressing room before the ref had the chance to formally send him off.

The game in question was just after Christmas. My father and I, sensibly wearing nothing to give away our identity, decided to stand a little away from the cluster of Charlton fans in the away end, to avoid any trouble. But five minutes before the kick-off a swarm of Chelsea fans descended on our contingent, only to be beaten back by the police. We found ourselves in amongst a packed group of Neanderthals. I remember them talking about one of their mates who was being sent down for shooting someone at Orient.The game went well, Charlton taking a 2-0 lead. We tried to look glum while feeling warm inside. But Chelsea came back to level it up. Then quite late on (I think) there was a ball hoofed upfield. Bonnetti and Harris set off to collect, giving one of those wonderful occasions when you can see it coming almost in slow-motion, both shouting ‘mine’. They collided and the ball ran loose to Killer, who duly passed it into an empty net.I couldn’t help it. I burst out laughing. There followed a stunned silence during which you could sense the wheels slowly turning in the minds of those around us. My father and I decided to make a tactical withdrawal, quietly and calmly.

4. Jim Tolmie – Carlisle v Charlton 1986

Despite leaving The Valley, we needed just a point from our penultimate game to secure promotion to the top-flight for the first time in my life. The reality of this was slowly dawning; I can’t say through the season I expected us to go up; I didn’t really want to think this was possible, especially after the shock of the move. But after losing at Shrewsbury (still one of the most enjoyable away trips I can recall, especially with our car having wedged itself between the team bus and the police escort) we won four and drew two of our next six games, including beating Fulham twice, while rivals were falling away (‘Alan Ball has f***ed it up again’).

The train journey there was long and boring, and outside even Michael Fish might have been moved to describe the conditions as blustery. Carlisle desperately needed to win to try to avoid relegation and came out fighting. Of course, before long we were 2-0 down and struggling. Then just as half-time was approaching, with an urgent need for us to regroup, Tolmie gets the ball and plays a back-pass from at least 30 yards (or so I remember it). It was going out for a corner before a providential gust of wind caressed it into the bottom corner of the net.

We come out for the second half rejuvenated, equalised, and went on to score what proved to be a totally unnecessary winner. So it was the top flight for us – and Division Three for Carlisle, followed by near-extinction. I still feel a little guilty - and sometimes find myself wondering if those who jumped off the train half-way home (to try to find an offie) ever made it back to London.

5. Paul Miller – Chelsea v Charlton 1988

This one didn’t seem funny at the time, but makes me laugh when I watch the video, being one of the two best fouls by a Charlton player (the other being Peter Shirtliffe’s knee in the back of the head during the play-off final). In our second season back in the top flight we would continue our steady progress – survival by the play-offs in year one, avoid the play-offs in the last game in year two, stay up with a game to spare year three (who can forget the joy and relief throughout that totally meaningless 4-0 defeat at Notts Forest?).

The game itself had long degenerated into a series of individual and collective feuds, which towards the end undoubtedly favoured us as football went by the board. A Chelsea team containing Dixon, Durie and Nevin (as well as McLaughlin and Pates, who both went on to better things) was reduced to launching long balls and indulging in off-the-ball incidents (no, I didn’t actually see Carl Leaburn being laid out).

The goals were a reflection of the football: a Chelsea penalty for a Humphrey foul - it was a good foul, straight red these days, but was well outside the box; then that Maxie’s hook/shot that seemed to take a deflection off everyone on the pitch before going in. We seemed to have made it through, Bob Bolder keeping them at bay. Then, as Durie tried to break through Miller either stood his ground or poleaxed him with a chop across the throat, depending on your interpretation. I remember a sharp intake of breath by all the Charlton fans. With just a few minutes left surely Miller hadn’t handed them a lifeline? The ref, bless his cotton socks, saw nothing (or more likely found it impossible to separate this foul from many others).

Miller was to make only a few more appearances for Charlton before covering himself in disgrace and a Newcastle (I think) player in spittle. But it’s hard to think badly of him. You can still see him at his best in one of the season highlights videos. He was bundled into the boardings by an attacker and everyone held their breath and watched for a reaction. Maxie did nothing and ran back alongside the player. As soon as the ref turned away he kicked him.

For me there has to be a number six – Don Givens, Sheff Utd v Walsall 1980 (I think). Nothing much to do with Charlton but a match I attended and which might get my award for the best moment.

The previous season had seen Charlton survive in the second flight by a single point (for the second successive season), not so much because we ended on a roll (we were dire) but because the Blades blew it. I went to Bramall Lane to see us in our penultimate game (I was at university in Sheffield at the time). We lost 2-1 and looked gone. United only needed three points from their last three games (two at home) to be sure of staying up. But they blew it and we somehow survived, winning our last game – only to go down with a whimper the following season.

In the (old) Third Division Sheff Utd had a torrid time and ended up facing the unthinkable of being relegated to Division Four for the first time in their history. But they went into the last game with their fate in their own hands. They were up against Walsall, at home. The Blades needed a point to stay up and (almost certainly) send Walsall down; Walsall had to win.

An understandably fraught 30,000-plus crowd sat through 80-odd minutes of pure tension (yup, it does happen to others). Then Walsall were given a penalty. Player-manager Alan Buckley stepped up and scored. Suddenly it was bedlam as the crowd urged the home team forward. And with seconds left United were awarded a penalty of their own. They had veteran forward Don Givens on loan at the time and he took on the responsibility – and missed.

At the final whistle those in the stands not crying or tearing their hair out poured onto the pitch (at the time the ground was pretty open) and started to set about the Walsall players (it was that era and they had started to celebrate instead of legging it for the safety of the dressing rooms). A few minutes of mayhem followed before the stadium announcer blared out that due to an unexpected combination of results elsewhere United had in fact stayed up, together with Walsall! Despair turned to joy on the pitch and the Walsall players were able to make their way off the pitch.

It was only on the way back home that we learnt the truth. The announcer had made it all up in order to try to get the pitch cleared without further incident. United were indeed relegated. Oh, how we laughed (in private). For me it doesn’t erase the painful memory of Bramall Lane last season; but every now and then it helps.


charlton north-downs said...

Excellent- I was there for the Oldham, Palace and Chelsea games. Peter Hunt never stopped running, not always to great effect I might add. The Oldham Incident- I can see it now, Hunt should have buried the ball but somehow hit the side netting and in the confusion the ball slipped under the net into the goal. Hunts celebration sealed it, whilst the Oldham players went ballistic. We eventually won 4-2 if my memory serves me well.
King Arthur a Legend and would definitely be on my Round table of all time great Charlton strikers. (For Christ's sake shoot me for such twaddle). Chelsea away, what an intimidating horrible atmosphere.

ChicagoAddick said...

That's a great post. Cheered me up no end. I was at 4 & 5 and the Hales Sunderland game was my own personal debut.

Does us all good to reflect on past events once and a while.