As the 1980’s began with promotion to the second tier of English football, so did the most turbulent period in the history of our club.
As the decade progressed SE7 witnessed, falling attendances, crumbling terraces, increased hooliganism, unpaid bills, eventual padlocked gates, the threat of extinction and the short lived novelty of an African Prince appointed to the board. Yet, bizarrely, on the field the club also saw the return of club legend Derek ‘Killer’ Hales, the emergence of Paul Walsh and Paul Elliot, the arrival of former European Footballer of the Year Alan Simonsen from Barcelona and the appointment of Lennie Lawrence, an unlikely yet key figure in the clubs history.
It was under Lennie’s reign that the club survived a high court winding up order, though they were to eventually loose the fight to stay at the Valley. The Battle for the Valley is well told in Rick Everitt’s excellent book and in the museum, yet the clubs tenure at Selhurst Park less so. Despite everything being against them Lennie’s nomadic side were to gain promotion to the First Division in the 1985/86 season.
Many supporters chose not to attend Selhurst Park, and had good reason to, however the efforts of the small band of club staff working from a portacabin, buoyed on by a group of committed players sweating for the badge alongside a loyal band of addicks fans who did make the tedious journey every other week should not be overlooked in enabling the continued existence of Charlton during those unpopular times in SE25 and to a lesser extent Upton Park.
Supporters were even treated to a rare Wembley outing in the 1987 Full Members Cup Final, albeit one that ended in a timid defeat to Blackburn Rovers. The play off saga (under the old system) with Leeds United was a more memorable affair with Peter Shirtliff’s brace at St Andrews securing, what many fans rightfully claim to be the most important win in the clubs history. Top flight survival was key to the clubs existence.
Elsewhere, despite a resounded ‘the Valley will not witness football again’ claim from those in charge, the most amazing display of fan power, synonymous with Charlton supporters throughout the clubs history was taking shape through the Valley Party. Many items and memories from this time are on display in the museum, it is a period that every Charlton fan can be justly proud of culminating with that Colin Walsh goal on the 5 December 1992 and a return to our rightful home, The Valley.
With a new board of directors, a presence back in the local community and the brave appointment of Steve Gritt & Alan Curbishley, the club were about to enter arguably the most stable period of their history, new stands were opened and an emerging side first flirted with, then won the play offs to the recently created Premier League. Few who witnessed the events at Wembley on the 25 May 1998 will ever forget Clive Mendonca’s sublime hatrick against his boyhood hero’s Sunderland, the dramatic penalty shoot-out, Sasa Ilic’s save from Michael Gray and the realisation that once again Charlton Athletic would take their place among the countries elite. Though relegation was to follow, the club were well placed for a swift return and the 1999/2000 season was for many supporters one of the finest they have witnessed (along with club legend Chris Powell’s side winning the League One title 2011/2012), inspired by Clive Mendonca and Andy Hunt fellow stars Steve Brown, Richard Rufus, Chris Powell and John Robinson will live long in the memory of addicks fans who were also treated to an FA Cup run to the QF, the highlight of which a 3-2 win away at Coventry despite going 2-0 down.
Seven successive seasons in the Premier League were to follow with memorable wins over all of the top clubs in front of capacity Valley crowds (plus an incredible 3-3 come back against Manchester United not to be forgotten by those who witnessed it). It was only when the stability of Alan Curbishley’s tenure came to an end in 2006 that the club fell back to the second tier, then the third before an all too brief revival under Chris Powell, a true Charlton man whose tenure came to an untimely end in 2014.