As 1914 season came to a close, Charlton celebrated a decade of football with more silverware (Sothern Suburban League East Winners), and a new home at Angerstein Lane. This first experience of ‘ground sharing’ with Deptford Invicta offered a 4,000 capacity, testament to the growing fortunes on the pitch with no less than 20 trophies in nine seasons.
This growth in gates however hit an untimely slump as the country found itself within the grips of a global war, the consequences of which are still felt a century on.
Being so closely located to industries key to the war effort and military camps, Charlton have always shared close links with our armed forces. It’s fascinating to remember that long before a rivalry with Millwall or Crystal Palace existed numerous local derbies were hotly contested with army teams, the most infamous being the 1910 Charlton Charity Cup Quarter Final against the Royal Army Ordnance Corps Reserves. Losing 2-1 the away supporters vented their frustration on the officials with the local Kentish Independent reporting,
‘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.’
By January 1915 a good many of those ‘hooligans’ found themselves in Khaki as war raged in France and Flanders. This combined with extended hours at both the Seimens works and the Woolwich Arsenal meant on occasions Charlton struggled to field a full side. January saw a 5-0 home reverse to Finchley, few first timers appeared on the team sheet that contained only 10 names. The Kentish Independent highlighted this ‘It is very evident that the Charlton Athletic players are feeling the extra pressure of work being caused by the war, for they played last Saturday as though they had been working all night’.
It was around this time that the FA raised a specific footballer’s battalion. Whilst men from many London clubs found their way into its ranks there are no clear links with Charlton players, the battalion was quickly over-subscribed however as supporters flocked to serve alongside their heroes in both the 17th & 23rd Middlesex Regiment. It is intriguing that a sister battalion the 13th Middlesex contained a William Budden and Fred Chick, both had London addresses within tram journeys of the stadium, sadly neither would survive the war. Our last team group taken before the war shows a W. Budden stood next to F. Chick, it is believed these are two wartime Addicks who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Attendances hit an all-time low as more men enlisted for extra shifts or joined the colours, when Catford Southend were defeated 6-2 they were forced to play their goalkeeper and trainer up front, it was clear that regular football would not be possible given the current world crisis.
Both Scotty Kingsley & Albert ‘Mosky’ Mills got on the score sheet that day, both would serve on the Western Front and return to make the transition with the club to professional status in 1920. They offer a continuous link between the East Street boys of 1905 and our beloved Valley today, both local lads having been schooled at Fossdene Road and Maryon Park respectively they are rightly remembered as key individuals in our clubs history.
The final nail in the clubs coffin came with the news in April that Angerstein Lane was to be commandeered by the military as a petrol dump. This alongside the desperate need for munitions and artillery pieces having a huge impact on those men employed at Woolwich and Seimens, also major employer for players and supporters being ‘acquired’ by the authorities under the ‘owned by the enemy act’ meant the lives of all connected to the club underwent massive change in the spring of 1915.
By April the Kentish Independent reporter emotionally wrote ‘I feel sure that all classes of football players in Woolwich and the surrounding districts will learn with deep regret that Charlton Athletic have had to throw up the sponge and discontinue operations for this season. A large percentage of the players work in Government ‘shops’ and keen pressure applied to every man to work as long as he could, permission to be absent has often been refused. I am very sorry for the club, for at one time they had every appearance of winning the London League.
As our club war memorial states in stone ‘the majority of the boys left to take part in the Greater Game overseas…’
Whilst 1915 was largely spent in training camps and drill halls for many newly enlisted Addicks, a few men were already overseas, the largest battle in France to involve the British was fought at Loos in September, the 47th London Division had a largely successful action capturing their objectives led by the London Irish kicking a football across no-mans-land.
Playing a less glamourous role that day the men of the 21st (Camberwell) London’s held the extreme right of the line, using theatre mannequins to draw the German fire from the assaulting troops, their ruse worked extremely well. Among the puppeteers that day was Albert Purdy, eventually wounded on the Somme he played 99 times between 1921/25 including our famous cup run of 1923. He later proved a talented rat catcher and groundsman at the Valley, a skill no doubt acquired during his time in the trenches.
Last word should go to the Gallipoli campaign that by August involved over 420,000 allied soldiers (of which surprisingly less than 5% were Australian), among the British contingent serving with the 2/2 London’s was life-long supporter Billy Cotton who’s ‘Red Red Robin’ still rings around the Valley before kick-off and one hopes will continue to for many generations to come.