KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY THIS XMAS, WITH CHARLTON BOOKS – Trust member Paul Breen (@CharltonMen) offers some suggestions for Christmas gifts for fans of all ages.
THE festive season is almost upon us yet again, coming around faster every year. Seems like only yesterday since we were trotting off the Xmas dinner with a trip to MK Dons on Boxing Day, and here we are almost one year on, further up the table, and getting ready to fill our stockings once more. This time round hopefully we’ll all get gifts that have more than just a novelty value, and hope the Addicks can give us a festive season to remember too.
Though supermarket shelves are stacked high with gift packs and gimmicky items most of us will never actually use, there’s one Christmas gift that offers great value for the long term. Yep, I know that as an author I have a vested interest in saying so, but books are the ideal Xmas present for people of all ages. They are simple to purchase, easy to wrap, and have a shelf life far longer than Belgian chocolates, exotic cheese boards, or even your average Premier League manager these days (especially at Palace).
So here are a few book suggestions for Charlton fans and non-fans alike, male, female, young, old, fiction lovers or fact seekers. And in the interests of keeping this article shortish, I have chosen to focus only on those books with a direct connection to Charlton, and not those written by authors with a Charlton connection. That’s not to say such books wouldn’t make equally good gifts, but if I highlighted all of them, we’d be here until well after Christmas, and maybe even into the January sales, within which all Addicks fans will surely be hoping that Ezri Konsa doesn’t play any part.
To kick us off then, I will begin with my own books The Charlton Men and The Bones of a Season, published in June 2014 and October 2016 respectively. Like many of the books mentioned in this article, these two works of fiction are set at a particular point in the history of the club, but have a timeless quality as well. As far as I know, these are also the only works of fiction that have a strong Charlton theme, though several other authors with a Charlton connection have penned fiction not related to the club.
The Charlton Men starts out at the time of the London riots and tells the story of three characters’ lives in the season that follows. One of those characters is an Irishman coming to London after getting out of prison following a joyriding incident, and another is an army veteran returning from Afghanistan where he suffered an injury that has left him disabled. Over time these two guys, Lance and Fergus, form an unlikely friendship and Lance, a lifelong Charlton fan, converts the Irishman to Addick-tion.
All those who were there for the 2011/12 season will enjoy the book as it covers a lot of games and grounds in that short period, and at nearly 250 pages there’s plenty of action to keep readers entertained. It’s also a must for anyone who’s a fan of Chris Powell and the team built over one glorious summer of his stewardship. Chris Powell, Johnnie Jackson and others again feature in The Bones of a Season, which is a sequel to The Charlton Men. Originally, the publishers had intended for this to be part of a fictional trilogy, and to date two out of three books have been written. The Bones of a Season is more of a crime novel than the first, but again features the same set of characters in a time period that crosses from the 1998 play-off final up to 2013, and includes a sometimes amusing analysis of our unrequited rivalry with Palace.
Following on from my own works, perhaps the most seminal book from the period of our not so loving affair at Selhurst Park, is the very timely Battle For the Valley. First published in 1991, this Charlton classic got updated in 2014 and even expanded to a Nabby-Sarr-sized 320 pages. Personally I didn’t read Battle for the Valley until after the publication of The Charlton Men and have often told author Rick Everitt I’m glad I didn’t or I might never have attempted to condense the tale into a couple of pages of fiction.
In Rick’s story, past and present at his time of writing the book are threaded together in such intricate detail this is not only a fascinating social account of history in the late 80s/early 90s, but the club’s history as a whole. Probably the greatest compliment I can give to Rick’s work is that people will be reading it generations from now. This is a timely year in which to get a copy too, because we are just over a week away from 25th anniversary celebrations of the return to the hallowed ground, and it’s the perfect time to read this story. And there’s no pun intended there because anyone who has read the book knows that it features a couple of Perfect characters – not something that too many writers, myself included, can ever claim to have done!
Of course there are other Charlton histories out there too and some fascinating accounts of particular time periods in the club’s history or biographies of the characters who featured in them. David Ramzan’s work is characterised by its strong visual element and he has long been associated with the club as an artist in various capacities, with samples of his work on display at The Charlton Athletic Museum, amongst other places. However, for this Christmas, I would recommend David’s very popular 2013 publication Charlton Athletic: A Pictorial History because this book features a range of images that span the history of the club from its formation in 1905 right up to the present day.
Other histories of the club have been captured in different ways as well, some more textual than visual, but an artist who shares much in common with David is Steve Bridge. This Addicks fan and top-class photographer has produced a work entitled Charlton Athletic in Pictures: 1975-2015. Again, this is an excellent visual resource for Charlton supporters, providing a powerful and highly personalised history of the club over a forty year time span. And just as in the work of Rick, David and myself, The Valley lies at the heart of Steve’s book, which again makes it a timely gift.
Similarly visual works include two amongst my own collection of Charlton related books. The first of these Sam Bartram: The Story of a Goalkeeping Legend was produced by Mike Blake in 2008/2009 and has been described as one of the best sporting picture books available not just to Addicks’ fans, but football fans in general, such was the legendary Geordie goalkeeper’s status in the game. Another work of a slightly different but equally visual flavour is the 2003 publication from Richard Redden – Addicks cartoons: an affectionate look into the early history of Charlton Athletic. This small but punchy book is one that will amuse the Addicks’ family across the generations, and another must-read.
Not all histories, of course, have been visual and one that I have in my personal collection is Paul Clayton’s 2001 hardcover publication The Essential History of Charlton Athletic, which includes a foreword by Derek Hales. One historical publication that I would like to get at some stage soon is Home and Away with Charlton Athletic: 1920-2004 by former club historian Colin Cameron, which weighs in at a whopping 520 pages. This statistical reference work is one that I have heard described as a must-have for all Charlton fans, so maybe those of us still waiting on it should get our skates on while copies remain on the market. As far as I am aware, Rick Everitt may be able to help with getting a copy for anybody who is interested in one, if contacted through the Voice of The Valley site.
Then there are other works such as those of Matthew Eastley and Michael Walsh, which are more contemporary and always do well in the Christmas book selling charts. Again, as with Richard Redden’s work, Matthew Eastley’s literary compendium of facts and figures is something that can amuse the whole family over the festive period and might even provide the substance of a pub quiz across the dinner table if we get bored with rocking around the tree to 70s and 80s rock classics. Steve Tongue’s Turf Wars: A History of London football also features stories of Charlton on the margins but is worth a read, especially as Steve’s also a local author. Then, another book that takes a step back in time is the 2003 publication The Rise and Rise of Charlton Athletic: From Portakabins to Porto Captains by football writer Mick Collins whose other works include the unauthorised biography of a certain Roy of the Rovers. That one in particular is an education for me because I didn’t even know he was real, until I learned Mick had written his biography!
On a more serious note, other forms of history too have been captured by various authors associated with The Addicks and none more so than the very challenging art of autobiography. Although the most famous of these is undoubtably Keith Peacock’s 2004 publication No Substitute, co-written with Rick Everitt, closely followed by even Alan Curbishley’s 2009 Valley of Dreams I would recommend a story that precedes these by several decades.
This book is one by the only manager in the club’s history who holds even more legendary status than Curbishley, and that of course is Jimmy Seed. I had the great fortune to get a copy of his autobiography from my father-in-law a few years back, and found it to be one of the most inspirational books I have read on the subject of management. The Jimmy Seed Story was published in 2008 and offers the kind of insight into the 30s and 40s that Battle for the Valley offers into the late 80s and early 90s. Unlike Rick Everitt’s book I read Jimmy Seed’s in advance of writing The Charlton Men and would cite him as one of my strongest literary influences in the parts about Chris Powell building a team in his own image. Jimmy Seed’s descriptions of the way he built his team is a fascinating account of the time period that culminated in the club’s FA Cup win of 1947, and I loved his theories on management so much that I even referred to the book in my PhD. Looking forward as well to the future work of Jimmy Seed’s grandson Jim Dutton who, to the best of my knowledge, is working on a fresh historical account of the great manager’s life, and that sounds well worth waiting for.
But to close this listing of grown-up books for now, I am going to suggest a work by one of the most famous authors associated with Charlton. That is Charlie Connelly, author of ten books including Attention All Shipping, which is an account of his travels around places mentioned in the shipping forecast. That though is not related to Charlton and in the spirit of this article the work I am suggesting is Many Miles – a season in the life of Charlton Athletic.
Published in 2004, just like my own Charlton Men in some ways, this is a social history of a particular season, which was at a higher level than the one that I describe. This was the 2000/2001 Premiership campaign and the book features a number of stories, events and interviews from that time, including Chris Powell’s take on that infamous call-up to the England senior squad. The book now has limited availability, as many books in a niche market tend to have eventually, but well worth getting your hands on if you can.
And if you are looking for a stocking filler for the smaller Addicks’ fans, here’s one I came across for a friend of mine – Gemma Carey’s When I Grow Up I want to play for Charlton Athletic. Although part of a generic series that covers all football teams and just changes the names, it could be a nice little stocking filler though one drawback might be that even if the team name and club colours change, the child’s name in the story stays the same.
But, as in my case, if the child’s name is Jack and you are trying to capture a fan before the age of seven, this book is perfect. Aside from that, it’s the only Charlton book I have found so far written by a female in this collection. However, many of our friends on Charlton Life are still anticipating our resident female blogger Charlton Aesthetic’s Greatest Hits at some time soon! And I am also sure there will be autobiographies from ex-Charlton players on the England women’s team coming our way in the future.
And male or female, I am sure there are some of us well past the age of seven who still haven’t given up hope of playing for Charlton. As I have said, many of these books including mine will appeal to fans of all ages and even those who don’t follow football. Happy Xmas then to everyone and I hope this makes the shopping easier! In summary, my personal recommendation would be a CAFC mix and match, a couple of books with something in common, or even a family pack. It’s not many clubs after all that have so many writers in the family.
Paul Breen is on Twitter @CharltonMen and author of two Charlton-related books found here.