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Into The Valley

These are troubled times for Charlton Athletic under the ownership of Roland Duchatelet, with supporters far from impressed with the Belgian's general mismanagement of their club.

The average attendance for League One fixtures at The Valley this season is 10,993. That's not bad for the division, but it's a hefty drop from Charlton's Championship average of 15,632 last season.

It's perhaps not surprising given the turmoil off the pitch that the Addicks have performed below expectations this season. They've only lost four of 19 league games, but no fewer than nine matches have ended as draws. Were you to have backed the draw in every Charlton match this season, a betting calculator would confirm that you'd have made a decent profit.

Maintaining the trend of drawn games and low crowds, the latest incumbent of the managerial hot-seat, Karl Robinson, began his tenure on Saturday with a 0-0 draw against his former club MK Dons in the FA Cup 2nd round. The attendance was a paltry 4,982.

Duchatelet unquestionably has a lot to answer for, but The Valley has seen crowds far lower than today's average in the not too distant past.

The Valley became Charlton's home in August 1919, with volunteers digging a pitch into shape from what was a derelict sand and chalk pit. The club's heyday was either side of WWII, finishing as runners-up in the old First Division in 1936/37, followed immediately thereafter by two top-four finishes.

When competitive football resumed after the war, Charlton reached consecutive FA Cup finals, losing to Derby County in 1946 before beating Burnley 1-0 in extra-time the following year. Like many clubs in the post-war years, Charlton's support was also booming, with a record average of 40,216 at The Valley in 1948/49.

The crowds and Charlton's fortunes soon began to dwindle though and by the mid-70s the Addicks were playing before average crowds below 6,000 in the Third Division. The club was struggling badly financially and with football's reputation tarnished as a result of hooliganism, the numbers coming through The Valley turnstiles reached an all-time low average of just 5,104 for the 1984/85 season.

The period between the late 1970s and early 1980s were some of the most difficult in Charlton's history, but it was also the time in which I, a young boy and teenager, was one of the relatively few regulars at The Valley. I well recollect a drab Friday night game against Carlisle United in November 1984 where the crowd barely registered 4,000, with the away terrace populated by 11 Carlisle fans. Football wasn't so much coming home, as staying home.

The Valley's vast East Terrace at that time reportedly held 30,000, although it was usually so empty that you could easily find a spot and sit on the concrete watching the entire 90-minutes without fear of having your view obstructed. The biggest problem was in finding a spot clear of discarded peanut-shells (bags of peanuts were sold on the terraces if memory serves).

There was also the half-time ritual whereby the scores from other games were laboriously put on a board on the opposite stand, with each score placed under a letter that corresponded with a handy-to-use grid in the match programme. Cutting-edge technology it was not.

The finances were such that Charlton re-located to Selhurst Park in 1985 and also had a year at Upton Park before finally moving back to The Valley, some 2,632 days later, in 1992. It's a very different stadium today, but The Valley of my younger days still holds some fond memories.

Written by Rob. First published on December 5th, 2016.