It's a personal theory, one shared by many fellow sufferers, that Charlton's heroic failure to secure promotion on the last day of the wildly exciting 1957-58 season broke the club. The Addicks were doomed to struggle in the Second Division for 13 years until further humiliation was heaped on them by relegation to the Third Division in 1971-72. Top flight football, meanwhile, remained a dim memory until Lennie Lawrence's incredible achievement, from exile in Surrey, at the end of the cataclysmic 1985-86 campaign. The depressing interlude included the club's record league defeat (11-1) which was inflicted by Aston Villa at Villa Park on November 14th 1959, though it's worth recording that Charlton had their revenge when the Division Two champions were beaten 2-0 at The Valley in the reverse fixture on April 2nd 1960. Until the highly unlikely superhero Lawrence rode to the rescue, there were few highlights.
The 60s limped along, in Charlton's case, with a stone in their shoe. From their point of view, the decade was anything but swinging, more Old Kent Rd. than Carnaby Street. Following several undistinguished seasons, relegation was avoided by the skin of manager Frank Hill's teeth in the last fixture of the 1962-63 campaign. The scenario at Walsall's Fellows Park on Tuesday May 21st 1963 was starkly simple; in a neat reversal of the 1957-58 situation, Charlton needed victory to survive, with their equally desperate hosts requiring only a draw. The Saddlers' frustration, when referee Roper was forced to call a halt at half-time, with the score 0-0 on a waterlogged pitch, can easily be imagined. During the replay three days later, the roof of their battered stadium figuratively caved in on them.
The teams were locked at 0-0 again when Walsall's goalkeeper Boswell fractured a cheekbone in the 41st minute and was forced to leave the field. With substitution an innovation still some three years in the future, right back Palin took over in goal and the Addicks took ruthless advantage by scoring twice early in the second half. 10-man Walsall gamely reduced their arrears with 18 minutes left but the nervewracked visitors clung on grimly to Second Division survival. They hadn't exactly covered themselves in glory but for 18-year old left winger Keith Peacock, who scored Charlton's opening goal, there was an intriguing glimpse into the future when, less than three years later at Burnden Park, Bolton on August 22nd 1965, he would stake a claim to an important slice of football history as the first-ever substitute in a Football League match. Peacock had made his first team debut at Roker Park on August 22nd 1962 and went on to set a club record of 591 outfield appearances (107 goals) over 17 faithful seasons of service at The Valley. He can safely be described as a club legend and is still a cheerfully important part of Chris Powell's set-up.
Only one other season warrants attention in the 60s. Under the management of former great player Eddie Firmani, a brave tilt at promotion in 1968-69 petered out into a third place finish behind champions Derby County and runners-up Crystal Palace. Two defeats at the hands of mid-table nemesis Millwall were depressing but not fatal because, with a six-point advantage, Palace would have gone up anyway by virtue of a vastly better goal average. Hardly consolation, of course, but comfort is sometimes found in unusual places.
Once again, gallant failure sowed the seeds for disastrous decline. After avoiding relegation by beating Bristol City 2-1 on the last day of 1969-70, the Addicks staggered to safety a year later by finishing third from bottom, ahead of demoted Blackburn Rovers (the irony was umistakeable) by three precarious points. It couldn't continue, of course, and a 21st place finish, under Theo Foley's stewardship, sent them down to the Third Division in 1971-72. Average gates of 10,430 at a steadily decaying Valley told their own story.
By contrast with the dismal 60s, the next decade, after a slow start, was undeniably colourful. No team with the charismatic likes of Colin Powell, Mike Flanagan and Derek Hales could fail to beguile. With Powell's uninhibited wingplay providing the chances for bearded buccaneer Hales, promotion back to Division Two was earned by finishing third in 1974-75, with Hales' 20 league goals leading the way, a total he improved to 28 a season later. Goals also began to flow for Flanagan, his tally of 23 from 42 league games in 1976-77 including the superb Easter Monday hat-trick which helped destroy Chelsea 4-0 on Easter Monday 1977. By then Charlton had cashed in on their prime asset Hales, who departed to Derby County before Christmas with 16 league goals from the same number of games. Needless to say, the last hadn't been heard from the ubiquitous, prolific goal machine .
With Peacock finally calling it a day following a 0-0 draw at West Ham in April 1979, the 1978-79 campaign was infamous for the on-field brawl between a rehabilitated Hales and Flanagan during a Third Round FA Cup clash with non-league Maidstone United. Both players were dismissed by referee Martin and, three days later, Hales was sacked, only to return mere months later to start 1979-80, by which time Flanagan had moved on to QPR.
The latest incarnation of their prolific marksman wasn't enough for Charlton to avoid yet another relegation in the first season of the new decade. A miserable total of 22 points meant a bottom-place finish, which was turned around spectacularly a season later. Hales top-scored with 17 league goals but received stout support from Martin Robinson (10) and sensational new kid Paul Walsh (11), both of whom scored in the 2-1 win at far-flung Carlisle, which guaranteed promotion on 25th April 1981. Average gates of 7,206 at The Valley were, however, a harbinger of hard times ahead.
Becalmed for a while in the Second Division, Charlton made the headlines in November 1982 when the sensational arrival of dimunitive Dane Allen Simonsen was promptly followed by the sacking of manager Ken Craggs and the appointment, initially as caretaker, of his assistant Lennie Lawrence. Simonsen and Lawrence were destined to leave indelible impressions in the club's annals.
A former European Player of the Year, with Borussia Dortmund ( for whom he scored in the 1977 European Cup Final defeat by Liverpool) and Barcelona, the impish Simonsen had fallen out with the Spanish giants and was persuaded by cheeky chairman Mark Hulyer to drop temporary anchor in South East London. In seventeen games for a below average Charlton side, which finished sixth from the bottom of Division Two, the Danish genius scored nine times, including twice in the 5-2 rout of Chelsea on March 5th 1983. His impact on the club was brief but memorable. The same can hardly be said of Lawrence, whose defiant tenure as manager co-incided with the most dramatic, darkest period in the club's chequered history. Charlton's pragmatic survivor deserves to kick off Part V of this potted history of a singular, remarkable football club, as the story continues...