Last Friday CAST hosted an event in The Fans Bar to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the club's return to The Valley in December 1992. Over 200 supporters gathered to salute the achievement and to hear from a distinguished panel of Rick Everitt, Steve Dixon, Martin Simons, Roger Alwen, Simon Webster and Bob Bolder. We were particularly grateful to Steve who generously joined the panel at the last moment when we learned that former Mercury sports editor Peter Cordwell wasn't able to make it.
The event (which was generously sponsored by Heineken and DNEL Ltd) covered the whole saga from the contentious departure to the glorious return.
Rick and Steve described the growing local media and supporter-led campaign which would culminate in the formation of The Valley Party which stood in the local election of May 1990. Rick paid tribute to the many individuals involved - not least to Richard Hunt who was instrumental in the highly imaginative advertising campaign.
Roger stressed that his and Mike Norris's purchase of the Sparrows Lane training ground was crucially important in that it gave the club a foothold in the borough of Greenwich. He described how John Sunley gradually came to understand that his idea of creating a new club - a South London United - would never come to fruition. Martin outlined how the Valley Investment Plan was vital in ensuring that there were (almost) sufficient funds to undertake the refurbishment of the stadium and that the directors at the time covered the shortfall.
Bob and Simon talked about the build up to the Portsmouth game and described the very strong bond that existed between players and directors at the time. All the panellists agreed that, despite the inevitable disagreements, the return could not have been achieved without the underpinning of trust and respect that was maintained between all parties at the time.
Heather Alderson of CAST read an article by Rick which was published on the front page of The Mercury a few days after the Portsmouth game:
"And the ghosts of Sam Bartram, Stuart Leary and Don Welsh stood shoulder to shoulder on the vast, condemned East Terrace with those of the pioneers who built the ground in 1919. The first secretary, Bert “Fatty” Heath was there. Arthur Brandon, the pre-League chairman. And Edwin Radford, who invited the directors to return from their other foolish expedition, to Catford, in 1924. Their successors in the three open stands had not betrayed their memory, after all. And the modern players did not let down their illustrious predecessors, either. The Valley had found its voice again. And the editor of Voice of The Valley lost his. Portsmouth never stood a chance.
And afterwards, as the ground’s first-ever sell-out crowd saluted the club’s first home win for seven years, you wanted to linger among the ghosts. But you knew you could come back to see them again on Monday. And the next week. And the week after that…..”
A cake was cut to celebrate CAST's tenth birthday and a presentation was made to Rick Everitt to salute the contribution of Voice of The Valley over four decades. It will soon be hanging in The Covered End.
One highlight of the evening was when Roger re-enacted the speech he made to delighted Charlton fans in Woolwich Town Hall in March 1989. You can watch it here:
Former Mercury Sports Editor Peter Cordwell was disappointed that he couldn't join us but he sent us his personal memory of those heady days:
"My wife Sandra takes the mickey out of me brilliantly for ‘going round the houses’ when
talking about this and that – instead of getting straight to the point. So please be patient as I
apologise for missing the 30-year Back to The Valley celebration at the ground on Friday,
October 21. I literally went hobbling round the houses – a surgeon will replace my left knee,
hopefully before Christmas – and then I got on the wrong bloody train to Kidbrooke instead
Kidbrooke, as you know, has gone from a lower class ghetto to an upper class one, and, if it’s
a ‘Village’, I’m Ben Gunn. My wonderful sons, Alex and Terry, get me Ubers all the time but
Ubers are incredibly touchy about pick-up points, and there I was in the middle of Dubai,
wondering… (Get on with it! – Sandra).
The Back to The Valley campaign…just wonderful, an incredible achievement by incredible
fans. I think of all the faces from those days and glow inside.
I blub at the best of times (Doc Martin’s romance with Louisa, for example) and I’m Cord
welling up right now. 75 next month, I’d have to check the scorer of that first 1-0 win back at
the hallowed ground 30 years ago, but as far as I remember, it was God’s diving header that
So…the early days of the campaign. You’d have to ask Rick Everitt or read his book for the
succinct details. I just remember going by 75 bus to a Caribo Cup qualifier at Selhurst Park
one Tuesday night in 1986. Gawd knows the opposition or the result. The attendance was
about 28 and on the bus home, I thought this is crazy.
The following morning at the Mercury office in Deptford High Street, I popped in to have a
word with the editor, the late Roger Norman, and suggested a petition. The trouble with
petitions, said Rodge, quite rightly, is that they can more often flop than not. I nodded but
still wanted to go with it.
(With Sandra’s permission, I’d like to digress a little here, only for a moment. Roger Norman
had previously produced one of the greatest editions in the history of local journalism, in my
opinion, when he devoted the entire front page of the Mercury, writing and designing it, to a
savage denunciation of the National Front on local elections day. As well as a full page
picture of their leader giving a Nazi salute in full regalia, Roger also came up with the
sublime headline, ‘You’d better believe us’.)
So on the back page, somewhat nervously, went the petition, Our home is The Valley. I don’t
know how many days later, presumably it must have been more than a week, I was told that
the postman was coming upstairs with the first black sack full of back pages with names and
addresses and passion. One or two (or more?) were from South Africa and America as well as
from Welling and Woolwich. It was an amazing success. 15,000 signatures, give or take a
Smith. It was like an Ealing comedy. The postman could have been Stanley Holloway. I was
stunned and Roger was grinning that grin of his.
Soon afterwards I got the first call from Rick – the main man - and my scatterbrain seem to
merge immediately with his bigger grey cells. Two or three calls out of the hundreds that
followed over the next six or seven years produced wonderful scoops. For example:
Rick: ‘They’re going back but they don’t want the Mercury to announce it. A public meeting
at Woolwich Borough Hall next Friday about launching Valley Gold, but we’re sure it’s a
cover and they’re going back. Take a chance and announce it on Thursday?’ Me: ‘Fantastic!
Front page.’ Rick: ‘We’re forming the Valley Party to fight in the local elections.’ Me:
‘Fantastic! Front page.’
Somewhere in all of this Greenwich Labour Council - crappy centrists to this day - did their
darndest to keep CAFC away from the borough, the club’s borough, most of the fans’
How I’d love the Mercury to still be active on both fronts, the council and the club. The
victory over Portsmouth last week, watched on the telly, looked very promising to me, and
maybe… (That’s enough. Shut it – Sandra)"
If your membership of CAST is due for renewal and you prefer to deal in real money, you can pay your £5 annual subscription at our stall behind the Covered End with a crisp new fiver on Saturday from 2pm to 2.45pm.
If you only have a tenner we may even be able to sort you out some change. Or you could take advantage of our special offer of two years membership for just £10.
If you are not yet a member this is your opportunity to join 2700 other Charlton fans who are members of CAST.
Or just come by to say hello and admire our pristine tablecloth.