Club History

The Foundation of England’s Football League Clubs

With Charlton Athletic celebrating it’s 110th birthday this week.  We thought it would be worthwhile looking at how Charlton’s origins compare to the other 91 clubs in English league football.

The first thing to say is that the foundation of our club is quite unique.  It is the only league club to be founded by local youths with no previous organisation to help them.  There are seven other clubs whose foundation was based around schools, though the setting up of these clubs was based around old boys, school masters or organised games.  The boys of Charlton are different in that they took the initiative to get themselves organised.  We can’t claim self-sufficiency to be solely located in South London though; Hull City were set up by a group of local men, whilst several other clubs were formed as a result of locally held public meetings.  Though often these were led by single pioneers or entrepreneurs.  Of these, Port Vale is notable because rather unusually it took its name not from the town that it represented, but form the venue name of its inaugural meeting “Port Vale House”.

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A surprisingly large number of clubs were formed from earlier football teams.  Few can boast a number of teams in their lineage like Dagenham & Redbridge (Ilford, Leytonstone, Walthamstow Avenue, Redbridge Forest, Dagenham), though several (Luton, QPR, Walsall) were the result of mergers and amalgamations of earlier clubs.  Gillingam and Hartlepool seem to have been inspired by other neighbourhood clubs, whilst Brighton and AFC Wimbledon were directly set up by the supporters of other clubs.  Several clubs seem to have taken advantage of other teams in their district failing, including Leeds who benefitted from the FA’s winding up of Leeds City in 1919.  Perhaps the die was cast here for the Leeds-Charlton court cases of the 1980s.

Many clubs have uncertain origins, but of those where their formation is known, cricket is the next biggest source.  These range from Sheffield United and Derby County that were official spin-offs of their respective County Cricket Clubs to Aston Villa and Birmingham who were set up by cricket playing members of local church congregations.  This brings us on to another largish category; church related teams.  Not including the willow loving Brummies above, the foundations of six teams were church related.  Bolton and Everton though sunday schools, Fulham, Barnsley, Southampton and Mansfield through church parishioners.  Two clubs Accrington and Oldham really can claim to be pub sides.

Many clubs have their origins in industry.  Arsenal of course had their origins in the Woolwich Arsenal, taking on that name after a brief period as Dial Square (a place near the Royal Artillery Museum) and a further 5 years as Royal Arsenal.   West Ham were famously known as Thames Ironworks.  Coventry represented the Singer factory and were known for fifteen years as Singers F.C.  Wycombe Wanderers were founded by furniture manufactures whilst Stoke City and Man Utd. had their origins in the railways.  Millwall started life as a team representing a jam factory, which if it doesn’t explain how jammy they have been over the years, it at least tempers all that dockers nonsense they like to spout [Edit: the jam factory origins are disputed by Millwall, please see post from Lewis Moody below].

Five clubs were set up with the specific aim of forming professional teams.  Three of them, Liverpool, Chelsea and Crystal Palace, were set up by entrepreneurs looking to make money from sports grounds that they already owned.  Two of them Portsmouth and Southend didn’t have the grounds (though both were quick to acquire them) but still wanted to make money.  Looking at how much they’ve lost over the years it makes you wonder how those starting them would rate their ventures if they could look back now.

The final word on clubs foundations needs to go to Doncaster Rovers who were formed in 1879 to play a one-off match against the Yorkshire Institution for the Deaf.  136 years on and this temporary club are still going.

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Charlton are still a relatively new club.  They were the 72nd of the current league teams to be formed so there are only 20 that are younger.  The first clubs, Notts County, Nottingham Forest, Chesterfield, Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke were formed in the 1860s.  The heyday for club formation was the 1880s with 26 clubs founded. In one year alone, 1881, five of the current league teams were formed: Leyton Orient, Newcastle, Preston, Swindon and Watford. The 1900s was the last decade to see the formation of a lot of league clubs.  Charlton, three months younger than Chelsea and a similar time older than Palace, were formed right in the middle of that decade.  The following decade saw very few new clubs as war swept the continent.  Even in the peace time that followed there weren’t many new emergers.  For whatever clubs have been formed since then, breaking into the league has been a very difficult thing to do.  So, hats off to those lads from East Street that through their own spirit and determination, and not inconsiderable footballing skills, got our club off the ground.  If they hadn’t done it when they did, there might never have been league football in Charlton.

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Charlton’s FA Cup Ties Over The Last 10 Years

No offence to Blackburn, but this year’s 3rd round draw is hardly very inspiring.  It means that we’ll have played them 7 times in 3 seasons.  But then, it’s Charlton so we shouldn’t expect anything really interesting.  To put it into context, below are the 23 FA Cup ties we’ve played in the last ten seasons.  In those 23 ties, we’ve been drawn against Championship opposition eight times (35%), we’ve been drawn against opposition from the same division eight times (35%), but we’ve only faced Premiership opposition 3 times.  If the (completely unfounded) rumours are true that The FA heats the balls to get the ties it wants, then Charlton’s balls are well overdue a good baking!

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*Asterisks denote ties that went to a replay.

CHARLTON ATHLETIC HISTORICAL TIMELINE (1993-2006 To The Premiership)

Following the return to The Valley carful stewardship and management saw Charlton rise to The Premiership and remain there for several years.

Club History Timeline 1993 2006

Please click twice to enlarge

Charlton Athletic Historical Timeline (1975-1992 Decline and Exile)

From promotion in 1975 to financial worries and then exile in 1985 and finally return home in 1992

Charlton returned to the Second division in 1975 at the third time of asking.  Underfunding and a lack of development continued to be problems though.  Following a change of ownership in 1982 the club was left financially overstretched leading to a string of debts and court appearances.  A rescue package saved the club with minutes to spare in 1984, but within a year the new board turned from heroes to villains as the club was forced to leave The Valley.   Only the joint actions of a new board and the fans would see the club return home.

Club History Timeline 1974 1992

Please click twice to enlarge.

Charlton Athletic: Historical Timeline (1958 to 1974 – In The Doldrums)

From failing to get re-promoted in 1958 to dropping down to the Third Division

In 1958 the club failed in their bid to get re-promoted.  Defeat to Blackburn Rovers on the last day of the season kept them in the Second Division where they would stay for the next 15 seasons.  Years without any significant development and a pattern of selling-off the best players finally saw Charlton leave the Second Division in 1973 when they dropped down into the Third.

Club History Timeline 1958 1974

Please click twice to enlarge.

Charlton Athletic: Historical Timeline (1939 to 1957 – Top Flight Football)

From the start of WWII in 1939 to Charlton’s Relegation from Top Flight in 1957 Charlton’s meteoric rise to the top of the Football League was halted due to the outbreak of war in 1939.  The club (like every other club) were forced to play in Wartime leagues, though there was some success on the War Cups.  Charlton’s cup successes continued after the war with two FA Cup final appearances including a win in 1947.  Over the next ten years though the club steadily declined resulting in relegation in 1957. Please click twice to enlarge.

Club History Timeline 1939 1957