Blackburn – Sixty years on

It was sixty years ago today.

On 26th April 1958 Charlton welcomed Blackburn Rovers to The Valley for a game which, in many peoples’ opinion, was to define the club’s future for the next thirty years.

Charlton had been ignominiously relegated from the First Division the previous season and had sacked Jimmy Seed after an 8-1 defeat at Sunderland in September had left them bottom of the table with five defeats in five games and a goal difference of 4-19. Seed’s successor Jimmy Trotter was unable to turn things round and the club were duly relegated the following May.

The 1957/58 season started well with seven wins, two draws and just one defeat (and 27 goals scored) by the end of September. The team dropped back in October and November but a revival in fortunes in December (including beating Huddersfield by the odd goal in thirteen) meant that for the second half of the season the club were firmly in second place to West Ham.

The tradition in those days was to play three games over Easter, and Charlton beat Rotherham 4-0 on Good Friday and 5-1 on Easter Monday. In between, they managed a creditable 0-0 draw at West Ham on the Saturday. They followed up by beating Notts County 4-1 at The Valley (thus registering their one hundredth goal of the season) and Ipswich 4-1 at Portman Road to ensure that they went into the final game of the season one point ahead of rivals Blackburn who had been on an equally impressive run.

A crowd of 56,435 attended the game in which Fred Lucas gave Charlton the lead after four minutes with what Richard Redden (The Story of Charlton Athletic 1905-1990) describes as “a brilliant header”. Stuart Leary then “missed a sitter” and Blackburn, “inspired by their England international forward Bryan Douglas hit back to go into a 4-1 lead”. With fourteen minutes left to play a rare goal from Peter Firmani reduced the deficit and, in the 83rd minute, Stuart Leary was fouled in the box and John Hewie made it 3-4 from the penalty spot. One more goal would have returned the club to the top table but it was not to be. The team had won more games than any other team in the division but, as Redden notes, “their failure to win vital points against promotion rivals West Ham, Blackburn, Liverpool and Fulham cost them dear”.

Charlton were to spend the next twenty eight years playing at the second and third level. Redden comments that “the club under Stanley Gliksten’s leadership was lacking foresight and inspiration” and, as the club “pursued short-sighted financial cost-cutting policies”, attendances  were to plummet in a stadium decaying through lack of investment.

Does this Saturday’s game carry the same significance? Winning would not guarantee promotion but recent form has suggested that Charlton would have little to fear in the play-offs if they can reach them. But Blackburn, since losing at Oldham in mid October, have lost only once (at Plymouth in February) in 32 league games. Charlton have yet to score in three games against Wigan and Blackburn and the visitors will be keen to catch Wigan and be hailed Champions. In normal circumstances a draw would be a creditable result but one point may not be enough to keep Plymouth and Scunthorpe at bay.