True Rivals

Charlton Museum trustee and war historian Clive Harris, takes a look at the clubs very first rivals who came in the form of their military neighbours.

First published in Valley Review on August 11th 2018

Long before supporters looked forward to (and dreaded in equal measures), fixtures against Millwall or Crystal Palace, the boys of SE7 had a thriving rivalry with their military neighbours, the Army Service Corps and the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. A series of high profile games, several which ended controversially, created a genuine rivalry now lost in the museums archives.

A sports rivalry is intense competition between athletic teams or athletes, but not directly related to the formal sport and the practice thereof. This pressure of competition is felt by players, coaches, and management, but is perhaps felt strongest by the fans.

The earliest recorded meeting was supposedly 23rd February 1907 at our early Siemen’s Meadow ground, ‘a patch of rough ground by the River Thames near to the present-day site of the Thames Barrier’ , notorious for its uneven surface and piles of refuge dumped on or around the pitch, the Addicks were due to play 14th Coy, Army Service Corps. Bizarrely we have no trace of the match being played, instead a friendly against St. Mary’s Rectory was played with the record books telling us that Charlton won 3-0 with Pirie, Marsh and club stalwart Mosky Mills scoring. It was not uncommon for teams during this time to cancel at short notice due to lack of players.

The December the following year, Charlton found themselves again without a game after the Royal Army Ordnance Corps cancelled on them, undeterred, the first team turned out as reserves to play the Ordnance College Reserve side, winning comfortably 4-1 the military college complained that they ‘were rather shabbily treated, the men were just too fast for the boys’.

Though five times league winners by 1909, our first ever cup trophy came via the Woolwich Cup Final in front of 2000 spectators having paid 3d each. A spectacular 3-0 win for the Addicks (Calcutt 2, Gritton), saw the Army Service Corps, then the prestigious Army Cup holders, soundly beaten. Recorded as being an ill-tempered game involving a Charlton player being cautioned, ‘Mr Alf C Myers, chairman of the competition, presented the cup to the winners amid loud applause’

So started a run of high profile matches against the A.S.C. including an 8-0 victory, described as a ‘cakewalk’ and during which ‘the Army players were toyed with and Athletic scored whenever they thought fit.’ A 5-0 win soon followed December, played in front of a lower than average crowd, before a 2-1 win for the Addicks in October 1911, Charlton’s home was now Pound Park and the game was played in ‘Shocking weather’ with the Army reporting that ‘their defeat was entirely due to the fact that they allowed the home backs a free kick every time and made no attempt at combining.’

By January 1912, a friendly rivalry had emerged with the Addicks remaining on top of the results, a 2-0 victory reported that, ‘Charlton met and defeated Army Service Corps Reserves after a most sporting game, in which each side did their best under the most miserable conditions. It should be said that the game was played keenly but without any sign of rough or dirty tactics, and should strengthen the good feeling which has always existed between these two clubs.’

The same good feeling cannot be said for our matches against the Army Ordnance Corps, in February 1910 the behaviour of our travelling supporters was called in question following a 2-1 defeat on Woolwich Common, both the referee and the home club lodging ‘very bad’ reports. ‘In fact, if it had not been for the protection afforded by the soldiers, the referee would have been very badly assaulted, violence being attempted all the way from the ground to the dressing room. In addition, the referee was subjected to bad language by the supporters all through the game, and the conduct was generally nothing short of hooliganism.’ Charlton for their part complained about eligibility of a number of the Army players. This appeal by Charlton was upheld (the complaint against its supporters not so), and 3,000 people turned up for the replayed game in which Charlton won 2-0.

Over the next five years the rivalry between Charlton and the two army sides continued, a club notice in December 1913 declaring that ‘Tomorrow should be a real red-letter day at Angerstein Lane, for the club will entertain dear friends and rivals the Army Service Corps.’

Despite a 2-1 defeat in the Southern Suburban League, football was soon a distant memory as many Addicks were to join their rivals in khaki for the duration of the Great War.

When we reach our 125th Anniversary in 2030, would it not be fitting to play a commemorative game against the Royal Logistics Corps, our true rivals?

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