In part one of a two part article, Charlton Museum Trustee Paul Baker takes a look at some of the mistruths about the clubs early years.
First published in Valley Review on 8th September 2018
There are two areas of the early history of story of Charlton Athletic which are frequently reported incorrectly – the Formation of the Club, and the Club’s earliest matches. I hope to clear up some confusion and provide clarity on these topics in this article.
In a previous article I mentioned that Charlton Athletic were founded on June 9th 1905 by a group of 15 and 16 year-old youngsters. There is a persistent, alternative report of the origins of Charlton Athletic which was first documented in a 32-page booklet entitled, “History of Charlton Athletic 1903-1937” by ‘Charltonian’. The relevant paragraph states, “Like most of the leading professional clubs, Charlton Athletic started in a very small way. The first name adopted was East Street Mission, which was soon changed to Blundell Mission F.C. In 1903-04 the name was again changed to Charlton Reds, and the club became affiliated to the London Football Association. The following year the name which has made such fame in the football world, Charlton Athletic F.C., was adopted, but in those days it was just a friendly side.”
Unfortunately this report has been reproduced numerous times over the years, including Anthony Bristowe’s book, “Charlton Athletic Football Club” plublished in 1951, J G Smith’s, “Charlton a compilation of the Parish and its people”, and, amazingly, several Charlton handbooks in the 1950s. Morley Farror set the record straight in the Supporters’ Club handbook of 1955/56, where he wrote, “lt should be mentioned that the Club was formed as Charlton Athletic and did not, as has often been stated, spring from a team called Charlton Reds. Local newspapers show conclusively that Charlton Reds were still in existence after the formation of the Athletic”. Astonishingly the 1971-1972 Golden Jubilee handbook included a garbled early history by Harold Palmer, “This, half century cannot, however, be celebrated without a thought for the enthusiastic bunch of teenagers who were the forerunners of the club that gained election to the Third Division, Southern Section, in 1921. They had formed a club under the title of East Street Mission in 1905, later to be known as the Blundell Mission and after that as the Charlton Reds.
Richard Redden’s book, The History of Charlton Athletic” addressed this issue and took the view that this alternate history is almost certainly an error both because Charlton Reds and Charlton Athletic continued as separate teams, and direct testimony from original players in the 1955 Jubilee handbook.
Since the publication of Richard Redden’s book, a variant of this history has appeared on the internet, “On June 9, 1905, a number of youth clubs in the south-east London area, including both East Street Mission and Blundell Mission, combined to form Charlton Athletic Football Club.” The source of this variant is unclear, but it is repeated in numerous web-sites and is currently on Wikipedia.
In fact none of the earliest club handbooks from the 1920s, nor the club history in Siemen’s magazine (1937), nor club history in the Kentish Independent (1950 or 1955) make any mention of Charlton Reds, Blundell Mission or East Street Mission. There seems to be no trace of any football team from either Mission in the local press. The KI history (10th February 1950) contains the explicit sentence. ‘Finally, “We were always Charlton Athletic,” states Mr. Harry Hughes, one of the founders, “and we were never connected with any other club.”’
Unless any contemporary evidence is found to support the alternate history it must be discounted.
In those days, teams advertised for fixtures in the local press, and the first mention of Charlton Athletic (yet found) appeared in the Woolwich Pioneer of 6th October, 1905, “Charlton Athletic (15½, medium). All dates open: home or away – Apply J Mackenzie, 5 York Street, Charlton. A further request, this time in the Kentish Independent (KI) at the end of October, said that Charlton had a few dates open, so clearly Charlton did not have a full fixture list at this time. Interestingly, immediately below this request was one for Charlton Reds who were obviously still in existence.
There was another team called Charlton Athletic at this time, which adds to the challenge of identifying “our” matches. The other team were described in the KI dated 13th October 1905 as aged 13, average, with all dates available after November 11th (home or away). Secretary was G. W. Lynn, 51, Sundorne Road, Charlton. Fortunately for us, they decided to change their name to Grove Athletic, which was announced in the KI on November 24th – otherwise we could be supporting Grove Athletic!
The first candidate for Charlton’s earliest match was played on 4th November, 1905 against Heathfield Athletic and resulted in a 2-0 victory with Charlton scoring in the final five minutes. No other details about this match have yet been traced, but it is likely to have been ‘our’ Charlton as Heathfield Athletic were described as average age 16, strong in the KI, and would have been unlikely to have played the younger Charlton Athletic. The first match that can definitively be claimed to be a Charlton match was played on November 11th at North Woolwich:
Victoria United 0 (0)
Charlton Athletic 8 (3) (Gregory Mitchell Booth (4) Avis Bonner)
Crawford Giffin Sudds Silcox Marshall Avis Mitchell Bonner Gregory Booth and Ellis
Teams were to meet at north side of free ferry at 2:30 sharp
Booth therefore has the distinction of scoring Charlton’s first hat-trick. It is believed that the first match report of Charlton Athletic was published in the Borough of Woolwich Pioneer of 17th November 1905 as follows:
On the following Saturday, 18th November 1905, Charlton met Woolwich Thistle at Woolwich Common, K.O 2:30 pm
Woolwich Thistle 0 (0)
Charlton Athletic 5 (2) (Booth 2,Bonner 3) Ellis Giffin Silcox Crawford Marshall Avis Bonner Bamber Gregory Booth and Sudds
The Woolwich Pioneer also covered this match, “These teams met on the Thistle’s ground on Woolwich Common. The Athletic won the toss and decided to kick with the wind. Play was even for the first quarter of an hour, when Booth scored the first goal for the Athletic. Shortly after, he scored another. Thistle tried hard to score, but nothing resulted before half-time, when Athletic led by 2-0.In the second half, Bassett played a good game for the Thistle, but his efforts were of no avail. Bonner, at outside right scored three more goals for the Athletic before time, the full score being Charlton Athletic 5 Woolwich Thistle 0.”
As can be seen by comparing the line-ups for these two matches, Charlton’s team was very much under development. For example, Crawford played in goal in the first match and at right half in the next.
Charlton’s next known match was played on 16th December 1905 at Charlton, against Silvertown Wesley. The score for the match is not reported in the KI, but, “Silvertown Wesley met with yet another reverse on Saturday last being defeated by Charlton Athletic at Charlton. Wesley were out-classed in every department, with the exception of Kersley, the goal-keeper, who played a magnificent game throughout.”
This fixture has been widely confused with the first match the following season where Charlton beat Wesley United by 6-1 on 1st September 1906. The source of the confusion is the club handbook of 1920/1 where, immediately following a mention of the club’s first officials elected in 1905, it goes on to state, “ The season was opened in great style by beating Wesley United 6-1 on Siemens’ Meadow.” This has been misinterpreted as being Charlton’s first-ever match, rather than the first match of 1906/7. The line-up provided for the match includes Mills (see below). The very next sentence in the handbook confirms this as being 1906/7 as it reports, “The club had a most successful season, winning the Third Division of the Lewisham league”. The official club website currently has the incorrect interpretation and will hopefully now be updated.
Further victories were achieved in 1906 against Plumstead Celtic (5-0), Holy Trinity (3-2), Ferndale (7-1 and 8-0) with no other information provided, except the KI reported that, “this smart junior team has yet to taste their first defeat”.
A significant match was played on 17th March, 1906 when Charlton defeated Crescent United by 3-1 with Thomas, Key and Wilcox scoring. The importance of this match was that Albert “Mosky” Mills played such an impressive match for Crescent United that Jim Mackenzie afterwards persuaded him to join Charlton. Mills was a brilliant winger and was a regular in the first team for the rest of the pre-league era (but obviously did not play in the very first matches). He actually made three appearances for the first team in 1921/2.
Charlton played Plumstead Orient the following week, wining 5-0 and Mills scored his first goal for the club. The other goals were scored by “Porky” Bonner (2) and Keys (2). Charlton’s last match of the season was a return fixture against Plumstead Orient on 13th April at Martin’s Meadow. The result was a defeat by 3-1 and is likely to be the first time the club had been beaten.
During the opening season of 1905/6 Charlton did not have a settled team, it gradually developed as the season progressed. The players who were pictured in the team photo at the end of the season were: Arthur Ellis (goal keeper), William Silcox (full-back), Robert “China” Smith (right-half), Eddie Marshall (centre-half), Jack Sudds (left-half), William “Porky” Bonner (outside-right), Arthur Thomas (inside right), Albert Crawford (centre forward), Albert “Mosky” Mills (outside-left), Alfred Booth and Jim Keys. Others who played include: Walls, Avis, Mitchell, Bamber, Giffin [Gritton?], Gregory and A. Townsend. Only seven players who started in the first two matches were still involved when the official photo was taken at the end of 1905/6.
First Hon. Secretary of the club was Jim McKenzie, and committee men included Harry Hughes (later secretary), William “Chum” Higgs, and J. Probert. Jim Mackenzie later joined the merchant navy and tragically lost his life at sea in 1917.
These pioneers provided a fine foundation for our great club which went on to reach the first division in 1936, only 30 years later.
The only link the Museum has with this season is a copy of the iconic team photo: