Charlton’s Valley: a history
August 1, 2017
Charlton Athletic were formed in June 1905 when a number of youth clubs in South-East London combined to form the club. They had a nomadic existence in their early years, using several different grounds between its formation and the beginning of the first World War in 1914.
Their present day home, The Valley, dates from 1919 at a time when Charlton were moderately successful and looking for a permanent home. The club found an abandoned sand and chalk pit in Charlton, but did not have sufficient funds to fully develop the site. An army of volunteer Charlton supporters dug out a flat area for the pitch at the bottom of the chalk pit and used the excavated material to build up makeshift stands. The ground’s name comes from its original valley-like appearance. Charlton played their first game at the ground before any seats, or even terraces, were installed; there was simply a roped-off pitch with the crowd standing or sitting on the adjoining earthworks. The unique circumstances of the ground’s initial construction led to an unusually intense bond between the club’s supporters and the site that exists to this day.
There was a proposed merger with Catford South End and in the 1923–24 season Charlton moved to the Mount Stadium in Catford, in a much more highly populated area. The merger eventually fell through and Charlton moved back to the Valley.
In 1967 Len Silver the promoter at Hackney made an application to open Charlton as a British League speedway club, and plans were put forward to construct a track around the perimeter of the football pitch. The application to include speedway at the Valley was enthusiastically supported initially, but was eventually ruled out on the grounds of noise nuisance.
For many years, the Valley was one of the largest Football League grounds in England with a maximum capacity of 75,000 but Charlton’s long absence from the top level of English football prevented much-needed renovation. Eventually, the club’s debts led to bankruptcy administration. A consortium of supporters successfully acquired the club in 1984, but the Valley remained under the ownership of the club’s former owner and the club was unable to finance the improvements needed to make the Valley meet new safety requirements. Shortly after the start of the 1985-86 season, Charlton left the Valley, entering into an agreement with Crystal Palace to share their Selhurst Park facilities, the first official ground-sharing arrangement in the Football League in 36 years.
In 1988, the ownership of the club and the Valley was again united, and in a “grass roots” effort that harkened back to the ground’s initial construction, thousands of supporters volunteered to clean the Valley, eventually burning the debris in a huge bonfire on the pitch. By this time, however, the large terraces were no longer seen as desirable or safe. Charlton Athletic supporters then proposed a brand-new stadium to surround the original pitch but the Greenwich Borough Council overwhelmingly turned down plans to renovate the ground. Charlton supporters formed their own local political party, the Valley Party, in response to the council’s decision. The party ran candidates for all but two Greenwich Council seats, sparing the two councillors who had approved the new stadium plans. The party won almost 15,000 votes in the 1990 elections, successfully pressuring the council to approve the plans for the new stadium.
In 1991, construction began on the new Valley, and the club moved from Selhurst Park to West Ham’s Upton Park while the work went on.. The new modern Valley opened in December 1992 and since their return the ground has undergone some remarkable changes. The north, east and west sides of the ground have almost been completely rebuilt, giving the ground a capacity of over 27,000. The club have ambitions to extend the ground’s capacity to over 40,000 by expanding the east side and completely rebuilding the south side, but it remains uncertain if or when the plans will be implemented after the club’s relegation from the Premier League in 2007 and from the Championship two years later.