I have always thought that West Ham and Charlton fans have a lot in common at least judging by the many West Ham fans I count as my friends. We both want our teams to play attractive football and be successful, but we are largely doom merchants who over the years have expected little in terms of silverware and have generally seen none. None of that matters really though because although we moan, West Ham and Charlton are in our blood and we won’t have outsiders belittling our team and despite what we say our dreams will never fade and die.
It is easy to always blame those in charge of our clubs for a lack of success but we all must be careful what we wish for as events in recent times at Charlton has shown. Charlton’s very existence as a league club is now under threat and it is not a nice feeling – #savecharlton.
I saw my first Charlton match at The Valley in February 1960 and so celebrated 60 years of unbroken support earlier this year. In that time West Ham have been something of a fixture in the Premier League and Charlton was more regarded as a steady Championship Club. For a player at Charlton in the early 1960s a move from Charlton to West Ham would have been a step up and that happened in 1967 when a young promising right back at Charlton called Billy Bonds made the short journey across the Thames for a paltry sum of £50,000. Looking back that must surely be the best bit of transfer business West Ham have ever done because Billy went on to break all records at Upton Park playing for the team unit the ripe old age of 42 and then going on to manage the club.
In those days West Ham fans wouldn’t accept anything other than passing football and even when that when out of fashion they tried to only appoint managers who followed that philosophy. Don’t forget that Moore, Peters and Hurst were national heroes of the 1966 World Cup and sort of made West Ham a team to be admired even if they were the opposition.
Charlton had to leave The Valley in the 1980s which was a bitter pill to swallow but when the club managed to resolve all the issues with the old ground it was West Ham who came to their rescue in their hour of need and allowed them to ground share Upton Park. Charlton fans will be forever grateful for that neighbourliness as everyone hated Selhurst Park. As a West Ham fan imagine if you had to groundshare White Hart Lane!
I went on to become CEO of Charlton in 1997 which is something I can never imagined back in 1960 as a six-year old watching his first match at The Valley. One of my early tasks was to manage the fall-out from the Jermaine Defoe episode. Charlton did ultimately win their case and receive £1.6m in compensation but somehow having witnessed the player Defoe became I somehow think that looking back that turned out to be nothing for the player he turned out to be and he went on to have a hugely successful career although not all at Upton Park.
In the early years of supporting Charlton I would have had low expectations if we drew West Ham in a cup competition but things changed somewhat in 1998 when Charlton became a Premier League club and Charlton were more often than not getting the better of the Hammers results wise as the table below demonstrates. Of course, the two clubs swapped managers in Alan Curbishley and Alan Pardew. Curbs is a close friend of mine and I never felt he got the credit he deserved for saving West Ham from relegation against near on impossible odds and suffering a 4-0 defeat at The Valley in 2006/7 and at that time West Ham looked doom.
In more recent times West Ham kindly helped Charlton out with the loan of Josh Cullen who was a key player in the club regaining its Championship status in 2019. I did see 3 West Ham home games last season from the comfort of the directors’ box and all 3 were home wins including a convincing win over Manchester United.
The two clubs have a lot in common and whilst Hammers fans will have their own issues around the new stadium and the relegation battle of last season I know they will spare a thought for a neighbouring club that has become the victim of a series of owners with no interest in the team on the pitch or the fans and a good club whose very existence is threatened. As the saying goes – be careful what you wish for!
By Peter Varney