I’ve now only got three London Football League grounds left to tick-off. Charlton Athletic was by far the easiest of the three to get to. The mid-2000s Premier League regulars had a couple of Tuesday evening games coming up. One was against struggling Rochdale, and the other was a tough encounter with Peterborough the following week. It seemed that a home game against a lower side would produce more goals, so I opted for the Rochdale game.
Competition: League One
Refreshments: £2.70 (tea and Mars bar)
Star man: Jake Forster-Caskey
Who are ya, Charlton Athletic?
Charlton Athletic was formed in 1905 by a group of teenagers from the East Street (now known as Eastmoor) area, which is close to where the Thames Barrier now is. The club turned professional in 1920 and were elected into the Football League a year later. The club’s highest ever finish was second in the First Division in 1937. They lost out to Manchester City by just three points. Charlton have been champions of the second and third tiers of the Football League and have never dropped as low as the fourth tier.
The Addicks, as they are known, had a successful period just after the WWII and contested successive FA Cup Finals. They lost on the first occasion to Derby in 1946 but beat Burnley 1-0 at Wembley in 1947. Financial trouble hit the South Londoners in the 80s and they were saved from bankruptcy with just 25 minutes to spare in 1984. They were then forced to leave their home at The Valley in 1985 and didn’t return until 1992.
Charlton have a fantastic online timeline of their history on their website, which is well worth a look.
- The Addicks nickname comes from an association with local fish and chip shop owner, Arthur Bryan, who supplied haddock and chips to players after games. Local accents described this as ‘addick and chips’, and the name was born.
- In 1989 the club announced its intention to return to The Valley. This prompted floods of supporters to head down to the ground to help clean it up after years of neglect.
- The Valley Party, a single-issue political party, contested the 1990 Greenwich Council elections in an attempt to help the club move back to their traditional home. They received 11% of the vote.
- Rodney from Only Fools and Horses had the middle name ‘Charlton’ in honour of the club.
Charlton, who had won three and drawn two of their last five games, were sitting in the play-off positions prior to kick-off. Rochdale, on the other hand, were just above the relegation places, despite improvement in their recent form. They’d only lost once in their last five games but had drawn on three occasions.
Charlton had played well in their last game, at home to MK Dons, but had been pegged back by the visitors and eventually drew the game 2-2. Rochdale lost 3-1 away to Oldham in their last outing.
The Charlton Athletic experience
Train: The Valley is close to Charlton Station, and it’s an easy walk. Charlton can be reached from Charing Cross, London Bridge and Waterloo East Stations.
Car: The Valley is just off the A206 and down Charlton Church Lane. Streets directly around the Stadium have limited access for cars, but plenty of people seemed to be parking in the roads nearby.
The Valley, as the name suggests, is situated within the sloping streets of residential South East London. For that reason I didn’t catch sight of the ground until I was right outside of the entrance, but the stadium lights acted as an enticing beacon to help me find my way.
The Addicks’ home is quite impressive with three large, steep stands that give it great gravitas. I took some time to take a few photos before heading towards the entrance to the East Stand, where I was sitting for the evening. The stadium is quite tightly packed in amongst the residential streets and there are various hidden entrances and footways. Eventually I found my way into the East Stand, zapping my print at home ticket as I went.
I made my way along the exposed concourse behind the stand, occasionally stopping to peer through a couple of the small entrances to get an early look at the inner part of the ground. I grabbed a cheap hot drink and snack, and made my way inside for real. The stadium as a whole was very impressive and the red seating made it look a little like a mini Old Trafford.
There are three large stands at The Valley, connected by rounded corner areas. The most fervent Addicks fans place themselves in the Covered Stand which is at the Northern end of the ground. At the Southern end there is the stand-alone Jimmy Seed Stand that houses the away fans. This layout makes for an intimidating experience for visiting fans as they seem isolated in the face of the other three larger, connected sections of the stadium.
The first thing to strike me was the proportion of empty seats. Charlton have been playing in front of crowds of around 10,000 at The Valley recently. This is pretty respectable in League One, but in a large 27,000+ capacity stadium it feels like less. As I took my seat a couple of locals were debating the empty seats and the position of the dugouts. The away one is closer to the linesman and allows the visiting team greater opportunity ‘to get in the lino’s ear’.
The home fans still made plenty of noise despite the many empty seats. A drummer at the top of the Covered End kept everyone in time, and they sang for the majority of the game. An exciting, and at times, tense game helped keep the atmosphere going. I was sat towards the Southern end of the East Stand and it was a little quieter, and occasionally I could make out the echoing shouts of the players in the night air.
Charlton fightback for nervy win
Rochdale started the game well, and contrary to the opinion of many around me showed no evidence of parking the bus. The Addicks, on the other hand, looked a little sluggish. The home side’s passes were going astray and Rochdale’s direct style was proving to be more effective.
It was the visitors who took the lead with the first clear-cut chance of the game. A cross from the left found Gillam who calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner. Charlton still struggled to get going, despite going behind so early. Rochdale nearly made it 2-0 minutes later when Done’s excellent shot from the edge of the area cannoned back off the post.
It was this second warning that finally got the home side going. They began to play with more intensity and started to create a few more chances. Marshall looked the most likely player to create a chance with some direct and powerful runs down the right-hand side.
The Addicks equalised just as the home fans were beginning to despair. Dasilva’s cross found Forster-Caskey in the box and he poked the ball home to make the game all-square at half-time. Charlton were level despite an underwhelming first half performance.
The home side looked much sharper in the second half and continued where they had left off before the break. Marshall was still looking dangerous, and Reeves and Forster-Caskey were seeing a lot more of the ball. Kashi nearly gave them an instant reward, but his shot hit the post.
Charlton scored the winning goal on the hour, however, and Forster-Caskey was the man in the right place at the right time again. Marshall’s shot was spilled by the Rochdale keeper and the midfielder got to the rebound, turned and wedged the ball over the keeper for the winner.
The Addicks began to surge forward for the winning goal but the visitors still had aspirations for a point. They looked to hit their number nine, Andrew, early and he held up the ball well to create a couple of chances. Both sides had opportunities late on, and there were a few signs of nerves in the home crowd. Fortunately for Addicks fans they managed to hold on for the three points.
Final thoughts and ratings
The empty seats at The Valley were very noticeable, but it was still an enjoyable visit. The crowd that was there made plenty of noise and encouraged their team throughout. Everything is also very well organised and there were some clear attempts to keep prices down.
Ticket availability – plenty of tickets available and they were easy to get online with postal, collection and print options. 9/10
Website/social media – the Charlton website is different and one of the best club sites i’ve seen. They’ve thought about the user journey and the history timeline is excellent. 10/10
Travel – the ground is easy to get to by train and there is some parking available in the local area. 8/10
Ground – The Valley is a ground fit for a higher level and has a spectacular feel to it. There are also some more traditional touches that show its history 8/10
Food and drink – a good selection of food and drink available and it was all suitably priced. 7/10
Programme – the programme was OK and had all the information you’d want to see. Slightly less stats than I’ve seen in others though. 6/10
Atmosphere – it was OK considering the amount of empty seats there were. I couldn’t help but wonder if they’ve considered concentrating the crowd in certain areas and closing specific sections. 7/10
Football quality – a good contest with both sides looking to score and get something out of the game. It did, however, lack a little bit of quality in the final third. 7/10
Cost – £23 for my ticket but some sections were £17, which is OK for a League One club and good for a team in London . 8/10
Matchday experience extras – not much extra on offer at the game but there was a cross-bar challenge at half-time. 7/10