December 5th, 1992 – 3.07pm. It’s a date and time that will be forever etched in the memory of every Charlton fan.
With a crisp left-footed shot, Colin Walsh fired past Portsmouth goalkeeper Alan Knight to score the first goal following the Addicks’ emotional return to The Valley.
They had spent seven years away from their home in SE7, struggling to survive as a club and playing at other grounds whilst their own fell into disrepair.
“There have been some great days in Charlton’s history, but that Portsmouth match is the biggest game,” says former Addicks full-back Scott Minto.
“I’ve played in some big matches, played in front of 80,000 people more than once, but the atmosphere on that day was something different, it was just fantastic – we wanted to win.
‘’We were relieved to win, because we wanted to do it for the fans; it was a reward for them. If we had lost it wouldn’t have been a disaster because it was the first game back at The Valley, but we were delighted to win. We had a great night that evening – a few sore heads – it was a great feeling.’’
Minto, 46, now working as a pundit for Sky Sports, arrived at Charlton as a trainee in 1988 – but had to play with his side away from their spiritual home.
Despite having England’s biggest stand in the shape of the old East Terrace, which held up to 30,000 in the 1960s, by 1977 the stadium was in a forlorn state and, due to the Safety at Sports Grounds Act, The Valley’s capacity was reduced to 20,000.
Four years later it was reduced again to 13,000 and in 1985, in wake of the Heysel disaster, Charlton could not afford repairs that were required by the Greater London Council, with the East Terrace declared unsafe and closed.
Rob Lee scored Charlton’s last goal at The Valley as they beat Stoke 2-0 before the Addicks moved to Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park to play their home matches.
‘’I was just a young 14 or 15 year old when Charlton moved away, so I was used not to playing at The Valley. I was used to playing at Selhurst Park,’’ says Minto. ‘’I was just a professional playing – I would have played in a mud park. I always gave 100% no matter what.
‘’There wasn’t the greatest of terms between Charlton and Crystal Palace.
‘’There was always talk of The Valley and us going back. It was only on the day of going back that I really understood the identity of The Valley and what it meant to everyone connected with the club.’’
With the club struggling at Selhurst Park, The Valley Party was formed in 1990. Fans contested seats in the local elections with the aim of getting the support they needed to move back to SE7.
No seats were won, but with around a 15,000-strong backing, the council had to take notice. The chairman of the council’s planning committee was deposed, and planning permission for redevelopment was granted.
Thousands of fans turned up to The Valley to help clear the derelict ground as they made it clear they wanted to return home.
“The fans are everything – we must never forget that,” says Minto, who played over 200 times for the Addicks before leaving for Chelsea in 1994.
“Clubs, owners, even players sometimes forget the supporters. There was 8,000 on the day – full capacity – and they generated an amazing atmosphere. It was all for the fans and we must never forget the role they played. I am very proud to have been a part of the match.’’
In August 1991, Charlton moved to West Ham’s Upton Park. “We were just concentrating on playing football. We knew behind the scenes something was happening, but the manager [Alan Curbishley] kept us focused,’’ said Minto. “I was still young, but we all wanted to get back to The Valley.’’
Charlton went into that first game back at The Valley in poor form, slumped in mid-table in Division One. Their aim was three points and while Minto says they were concentrating on the football, they knew it wasn’t just another game as 750 fans marched from Woolwich Town Hall to mark the occasion.
“We were concentrating on playing, we knew we had to win. The atmosphere was just something incredible. We had trained there a few days before and the cameras were turning up to training – it was something I’d never seen before.
‘We were home and it was so important and special’ – Scott Minto
“We were still in portacabins and although the pitch was fantastic we weren’t sure if everything else was going to be okay.
“It was almost like an away game in terms of having never played there before. I didn’t feel much of it up until the warm-up. But as I was doing up my shin pads and getting ready I could hear this heavy music – almost like a fairground. There was so much razzmatazz, with balloons going off – and it was then I realised the enormity.
‘’We really wanted to win it and it wasn’t the greatest of games, but we did it. We were home and it was so important and special.’’
25 years on
Coincidentally, Charlton’s opponents for Saturday’s anniversary fixture is Portsmouth. The Valley is now a 27,00 capacity stadium, and Minto is looking forward to going back.
‘’I’m really excited,’’ says Minto. ‘’I was going to West Ham v Chelsea, but I’ve cancelled that to be in SE7.
‘’I think Charlton are doing really well and Robbo [manager Karl Robinson] knows the division inside out and has brought in much-needed stability. He’s a good guy and I’m really pleased for him.
“I’d love to see Charlton in the top two [automatic promotion spots], but there’s some great teams, and top six would be a success.
“The club has made some mistakes in the last few years, there’s been chaos and it hasn’t been Charlton. So we need to pull together as one and I think this season could be a great one.’’