The Valley Party

26 December 2016 7 years ago

The Valley Party

Written by Steve Sutherland

With December 2017 marking the 25th Anniversary of Charlton Athletic’s historic return to The Valley after seven years in exile at Selhurst Park and then Upton Park; I thought, as we near the end of 2016 – and with the sad backdrop of the disconnect between the supporters, the owner and the management of the Club that exists at present – I would publish here an article I first supplied to the ‘Charlton Life’ website in April 2010 which showed just what can be achieved  when the Club and its fans are united. I hope it brings back some good memories for all those with Charlton in their hearts:

”I had two spells as an employee at Charlton Athletic, the first was when I was invited by Roger Alwen and Arnie Warren to become Commercial Manager of the Club in 1988 when we were ground-sharing with Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. I left in January 1991 to join The Football League as Marketing Executive.

The second spell was in 2000 when I was invited back to the Club by Peter Varney to work alongside him as the Club attempted (successfully) to regain its coveted Premier League status which it had lost the season before. I left Charlton for the second time in May 2009 following the Club’s sad relegation to Division One.

Obviously life at Selhurst Park was extremely tough for everyone connected with the Club and it was well known that our very existence was under threat the longer we stayed away from The Valley, which at this time was a derelict waste-land after years of neglect.

One of my proudest moments in football, if not the proudest moment – especially as a life long Charlton fan – was to be sitting on that top table at Woolwich Town Hall next to Lennie Lawrence when Roger Alwen first announced that we were going back to The Valley. The euphoria that I felt that night was only matched when I attended the first game back at The Valley in December 1992. That night at the Town Hall, life seemed perfect again for all Charlton fans. Little did we know that there was to be yet more twist and turns in the ‘Back to The Valley’ story.

The catalyst for the formation of The Valley Party was that eventful planning meeting at Woolwich Town Hall in January 1990 when it took the planning committee four hours to turn down Charlton’s planning application and thereby throwing Charlton’s very survival into doubt. As an employee, we knew that our long-term livelihoods depended on the Club getting back to The Valley and the importance of that planning committee was reflected in my weekly column in the NewsShopper that week: 

This week, as every Charlton supporter knows, is one of the most important weeks in the Club’s history. On Wednesday January 31st at Woolwich Town Hall, a special planning application meeting is being held to discuss Charlton Athletic’s application to rebuild The Valley. The NewsShopper has aired the views of both sides via its letters page, registering hopes and concerns and now the time has come for a decision to be made. 

The Board of Directors have performed miracles to keep this Club alive and it is vital that this effort is rewarded by the only possible outcome for Charlton Athletic – a return to The Valley. Our plans, should they go ahead, are to build a superb modern stadium, not just for the benefit of the Club but for the community as a whole and it is vital that these plans get given the green light. 

I would like to take this opportunity to add my plea to the supporters who intend to attend the meeting that it is imperative that all our fans behave sensibly as the media spotlight will be on Woolwich. Our supporters have an excellent behaviour record and it is vital that nothing happens on Wednesday which could lead to an adjournment of the proceedings. I am sure that the heartbreak of the last five years will shortly come to an end and that Charlton Athletic will be able, once again, to play football at The Valley.  

Keep your fingers crossed, see you next week.  

The despair and frustration that was felt by everyone connected with the Club when the planning application was refused can be clearly felt in my next NewsShopper column:

Where do we go from here? That is the question every Charlton supporter is asking after the disappointment of last Wednesday’s planning meeting at Woolwich Town Hall. 

A packed meeting heard representations from the Club, the supporters and local residents and I must mention here, my admiration for the people who spoke so passionately and so eloquently on the Club’s behalf.  

What really annoys me is that the Council officers sat on that stage supposedly with open minds to hear the arguments for and against, yet it was obvious that they had made up their minds earlier, after reading the recommendations in the officer’s report. We sat there for some 4 hours and really the decision could have been made at 7.00pm. 

Our proposals were in line with Lord Justice Taylor’s recent recommendations, yet they were thrown out almost out of hand. We heard virtually every councillor speak about how wonderful it would be if Charlton were to return to The Valley, yet only two of the 13 members present voted in favour of our plans. 

I would like to thank our fans for their marvellous support and for the excellent way they restrained themselves last Wednesday. 

It appears that the Council is saying that we can go back to The Valley but that we cannot have any commercial development. Obviously this is unacceptable to the Board as Clubs cannot survive on gate receipts alone. 

There is a Board meeting taking place as I write this column and so hopefully I will be able to provide you with more precise details of our next step, next week. This Club will battle on, we always do and again, I would like to thank our supporters for their patience.  

From this dark place, came the determination from the fans that they should now do all they can to help Roger Alwen and his fellow directors and from this came the idea for The Valley Party. I will admit that inside the Club there was a general feeling of ‘nice idea but what will it ultimately achieve’ but we all agreed that only Charlton fans would have the imagination to try and influence events through the ballot box and influence events they certainly did!

Apart from my regular column in the News Shopper, I also used to edit Charlton magazine and in the August 1990 edition Michael Grade summed up why The Valley Party was so ultimately so successful: ‘the reason why I and so many thousands of Greenwich voters care so passionately about our birthright (The Valley) is the same reason that people revere other historic sites like the Chamber of the House of Commons, or the stage of the London Palladium. These are living arenas. You can go to the actual spot where Churchill made his maiden speech, or where Judy Garland sat on the stage and sang ‘Over the Rainbow’. It is where the great ghosts live on in the memory and they should not be graveyards……I hope that enough of them (fans) turn up to ‘Vote Valley’ on May 3rd so we fans can return to our shrine and keep the ghosts company. They have been watching the weeds grow for too long’. 

As I said, inside the Club we were initially sceptical when the idea was first mooted but it soon became apparent that something special and momentous was being created here. I think that it was fair to say that there was also a little trepidation in the Club as to what The Valley Party might do to the Club’s admittedly strained relationship with the Council but none of us could believe just how things developed. I think that it is also fair to say that the Council initially dismissed The Valley Party as an irrelevance. How wrong would they be!

The thing that struck me was the sheer professionalism of the campaign. Quite honestly it was awesome. I still remember the impact that the huge advertising banners around the Borough made and it is little wonder that the campaign won advertising industry awards.

The staff at the time got on with their jobs of running the Club at Selhurst Park but we believed that it was important to be seen to be supportive of the incredible efforts being expended by the fans. One way that I did this was to enlist the help of my friend Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame and I remember going to her house, which at that time was in Eltham and staging a photograph of Cheryl putting a ‘Vote Valley’ car sticker in ‘her car’. In actual fact it was my car but it was a great shot and was picked up by all the media at the time.

I am immensely proud of being a Charlton fan and I consider myself fortunate that I was the Commercial Manager at the Club at such an historic and momentous time. The Valley Party was a one off, it is unique in football history and it will never ever be repeated – having said that, with Charlton fans you never know!”


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