Part Five of our series of articles celebrating the twenty-year anniversary of the Valley Party looks at the role The Mercury contributed in supporting the return campaign.
Peter Cordwell, then Sports Editor of The Mercury but now writing in a personal capacity, shares his memories of that period, and his thoughts on the years that have followed in his own, wonderfully unique way
It’s great to look back on good times, especially when, if it’s to do with football, you get a result.
It’s probably true to say that getting back to The Valley was quite a result. Certainly, standing there at the first match back in 1992 - without being able to look at the tears in the eyes of the fans to left or right of me - was quite something.
It’s always been held against me that I’m “not Charlton”
or that “he’s West Ham”
(I played with Frank Lampard*). Well, I’m afraid my brain can’t get tiny enough for that sort of thinking. What I do know is that through The Mercury
, I was with Charlton fans 100 per cent every single day of the campaign to get back to The Valley.
I also know that the South London Press
didn’t raise a finger. Nor, God bless ‘em, did the bloodless, brainless Happy Shopper
. The Evening Standard
? Nothing. Fleet Street? Silent. Television? You must be kidding.
I was lucky in having the late Roger Norman as editor at the Merc in Deptford High Street. He’d gone out on a brave and dangerous limb some time earlier with a front page denunciation of the National Front on local election day. Great headline: ‘You’d better believe us!’
So it was in the Merc’s blood when I went in to see Rodge the morning after a miserable midweek Daffodil Trucks Trophy match – or whatever it was bloody called – at Crystal Palace. He agreed to a back page petition under:
‘Our HOME is The Valley’.
As with all petitions, the danger is that you get two replies from one household, the second one from the dog. Or you say you’ve had a great response if you receive between a dozen or 20 replies. We got thousands, many from all over the world, including America and South Africa.
Blimey, it was like something out of Ealing, postmen bringing sackfuls upstairs to editorial. If Stanley Holloway had walked in singing “Consider Yourself My Mate”
it couldn’t have been more surreal.
From there, of course, there was no turning back. I remember thinking, as I looked through all the letters: “We’ll win this, however long it takes. You can’t stop something like this.”
Soon afterwards I got a phone call from Rick Everitt. I don’t know if he’d started the ‘Voice of The Valley’ fanzine by then with Steve Dixon, the other fans’ “voice” in those early days. What I do know is that I couldn’t have found a better “contact”. Sharp, bright and biased, Rick got the point perfectly and, although we’ve since gone our separate ways, I hope he also feels that our partnership in those unprecedented times couldn’t have been bettered.
Certainly the follow-up stories in the Merc – now on the front page – were great fun. I looked into the £250,000 Greenwich Council gave to the club annually for “community initiatives”
What community initiatives?
said the council press office, “mainly coaching in schools”.
“Er, I’ll get back to you.”
The press officer came back with six or seven schools. I phoned them all. Six said, yes, they’d heard about the idea but hadn’t actually seen anyone from the club yet. The seventh – the ultra-posh Christ’s College on Blackheath – said: “Oh, yes, wonderful bunch of chaps. We’re playing their staff at cricket on the green next month.”
Front page again – ‘£250,000 for what?
’ – and the dosh was stopped at the next full council meeting.
Inevitably, the campaign ebbed, flowed and ebbed again, and the years went by. But the passion never died and one day I got the call from Rick:
“Pete, we’re thinking of forming the Valley Party. What do you reckon?”
“Rick, bloody brilliant!”
Next Mercury front page: ‘Vote Valley!’
And the rest, as you know…
Of course you must analyse and learn from these things. I got involved because I’m from Catford; I’m working class; I was born in a prefab; I’m a natural rebel; I live for the underdog; I’m a proper socialist, not a Blairite; I also believe that the power Bob Dylan calls ‘Chief’ had a job for me.
There has to be a core of integrity in everything you do. For me it was the army of predominantly decent dads, uncles and sons who support this club. I still see some of them sitting quietly on the 202 bus after games. Most of them were supporting Charlton long before Jimmy Floyd got his first piggybank.
For me it is also camaraderie in the press room among the likes of incomparable reporter Kevin Nolan
, his lovely wife Hazel, son Adam, life-saving steward-son Steve and various other aunts, uncles and second cousins.
I despair of future generations of journalists, mostly middle class, half-arsed careerist graduates who’ve never stepped on an estate, whose “rebellion” began and ended with punk and who are too ready to write what the bosses want, including the endless local diet of ‘Granny rapes hooded mugger’
I also fear for the jobs of people who work tirelessly for Charlton and must be wondering if they’ll still be here next season. I would question Charlton about the core of integrity at the club. My own wonderful son Terry was made redundant when Charlton were relegated from the Premier League. He was asked in that diabolically corporate way to convince the club why he should be kept on. Piss off.
My old Sunday league midfield partner Steve Waggott
– a terrific player, by the way – once described Charlton’s financial position to me as “looking down the other end of the telescope”. Well, my view is that you should put the telescope down and see the people nearest to you.
I fervently hope that Charlton go up, not to get nearer to Andy Gray or the other bloke whose name I can never remember, but for the red-and-white scarves on the 202 bus and - to pluck just one employee’s name out of the air - press officer Gary Haines’s job.
(*It was Frank Lampard senior, of course]
For a link to other articles in this Valley Party series, CLICK HERE