Tag Archives: The Valley

Checkatrade Trophy: The graveyard of English football

The short walk from Charlton train station to The Valley is usually marked by the familiar, life-affirming buzz of match-going fans.

Normally, chants of support are carried from the station platform all the way to the turnstiles. Children yap excitedly about the forthcoming to their parents. Scents of pie and beer are borne by the breeze, along with the shouts of programme sellers and charity collectors.

But ahead of Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy match against the might of Swansea City U21s,  there is none of that. The footsteps of the few diehard supporters puncture the silence in the approach to the stadium, which stands illuminated against the November night. The masses which usually surround it are nowhere to be seen. Tonight, The Valley is a mecca to no-one.

Of course, none of this is remotely surprising. The Checkatrade Trophy, formerly the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, has been the bane of clubs’ and supporters’ lives since its change in format in 2016.

That restructuring allowed Premier League and Championship clubs to enter age-group teams in a tournament that used to be strictly the preserve of those in the third and fourth tier of English football. The addition of a group stage to what was once a purely knockout competition has eradicated the appeal of a straight forward cup tie.

Braving the cold

The empty concourses at The Valley spoke volumes

That said, the competition had, until this clash, thrown up some interesting occurrences for the Addicks. A club-record 8-0 win was notched up against Stevenage, while bizarrely, a supporter proposed to his girlfriend at half-time of the 2-2 draw with AFC Wimbledon.

But whatever interest or excitement in the competition that had been generated in those two matches is undone by the arrival of the U21s of Swansea, a club just one division above Charlton.

With just 740 supporters (28 of whom are dedicated Swans fans) descending upon the 27,000-capacity Valley, this match feels more like a pre-season friendly than a key, group-deciding EFL Trophy match.

Only a limited portion of the west stand is open. The rest of the stadium stands bare as the shouts of players, coaches, and referee rebound across the ground’s emptiness and reverberate. Occasional cries of ‘come on you Reds’ from the more eager home supporters float hopelessly into the cold, dark sky.

The players do little to spark the small crowd into life. Swansea dominate the early exchanges, displaying the kind of crisp passing football the club has become famed for, but without ever applying the finishing touch.

Charlton, who have named a team far from their strongest, hustle and bustle but produce little in the way of quality.

Addicks anonymous

At half-time, the sense of boredom among the spectators is notable. In theory, this is a competition that should excite. The chance to win silverware is one that doesn’t come around all that often. Why, then, can the club barely attract 700 to a match with much at stake? Charlton need to avoid defeat in order to progress, so why can the Addicks’ faithful not be bothered to leave the house and cheer on their side, despite the low ticket prices offered by the club? 

The EFL have devalued and debased a trophy that was once coveted

The answer lies in the fact that the EFL, in their bid to increase the competition’s appeal by adding U21 teams from the big, shiny, attractive Premier League clubs, have only served to devalue and debase a trophy that was once coveted.

It’s frankly perverse that the young talent of Chelsea or Southampton should be able to deny lower-league clubs the chance to compete in a cup final at Wembley.

Having said that, the appeal of playing at the national stadium is one that seems to diminish season upon season.

The overuse of Wembley — for cup finals, cup semi-finals, play-off finals, not to mention the fact that Tottenham have used it as their home stadium, and welcomed a number of lower league sides in various cup ties — has stripped the home of English football of its mystique.

In reality, an appearance on the Wembley turf is a far cry from the footballing holy grail the FA seeks to present it as. The chance to play there, for many clubs, will not be worth the ordeal of having to negotiate the various stages of the Checkatrade Trophy.

At The Valley, a 20-yard strike from Swansea’s Adnan Maric ultimately condemns Charlton to defeat, knocking them out of the tournament at the group stage.

It’s a match defined by indifference. Indifference from the players, indifference from Addicks’ manager Lee Bowyer and his staff, and indifference from the few supporters who have braved the cold. The simple and sad truth is that no-one cares about the Checkatrade Trophy.

Photo of The Valley concourse by Ben Sutherland via flickr , and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Valley return ‘biggest game in Charlton’s history’ – Scott Minto

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.’’

Selhurst exile

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.

The Valley became derelict while Charlton played in exile from SE7

‘’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.’’

Valley party

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.’’

Going home

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

The Valley is now a 27,000 capacity stadium

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.’’