From quagmire to pot-holes... City ‘pitch in' at Charlton

It is well known that in recent years Charlton Athletic played home games at both Selhurst Park and Upton Park before triumphantly returning to their spiritual home at The Valley. What is less well known is that for a brief period in the 1923/4 season The Addicks moved to The Mount in Catford.

Although only around a dozen League matches were ever played there, Exeter City were involved twice!

The Mount was based in the south west corner of Mountsfield Park and was the home ground of Catford Southend FC. Frustrated by low attendances at their enormous Valley stadium, Charlton tried the undeveloped Mount for a short period. The land there had a serious slope so soil had to be moved from one end to the other and the pitch re-orientated some 80 yards to the north-east. An early example of a ‘Pitch in’ exercise?

Exeter City had already played a memorable role in Charlton’s history by providing the opposition for their first ever League match in August 1921. Charlton won 1-0 at The Valley. Now just two seasons later Exeter were once again part of a headline story in south east London.

On 19 January, 1924 The Grecians travelled to The Mount for a Division Three South encounter. If you think things on the road this season are difficult then just compare to that campaign. By mid January City had not scored one away goal all season!

But the Express and Echo (while also reporting on a foot and mouth outbreak and a rail strike) had hope; their reporter commenting that “Charlton had been engaged only two days before in a hard cup-tie on their very heavy ground”.

City fans know it is never that simple. As the paper put it: “And at Catford - what happened? Charlton got a goal four minutes after the start. The City had been travelling since 7.30 o’clock the same morning and could not settle down for a few minutes”.

But never say die! The report goes on: “But the Grecians soon got to business and attacked almost continuously till at the end of about half an hour they scored. Yes; they scored – their first away Football League goal of this season. And it was Lievesley, the reserve outside-right, who netted the ball, which screwed into goal in rather remarkable fashion”.

What happened next? The Echo revealed all. “Why, after the interval, there was such a storm of thunder and lightning, and rain and wind, and the light was so bad that Referee Tolfree grouped his way through the Catford quagmire to the respective linesmen, found they very much felt as he did about the weather, and whistled off the match.

“So all the play was washed out, including Lievesley’s goal, which although legitimately scored, will never find a place in League statistics. And the City have to score all over again their very first away Football League goal of the season”.

The reporter rued that fate had stepped in with a “colossal atmospheric disturbance” and that this had now “adds yet one more League match to the already unwieldy end-of-season pile”.

A London based ‘critic’ reflected in the same edition of the Echo that “In a long experience of League football I seldom remember a match being started under more depressing conditions… various times during the afternoon we experienced heavy rain – it came down in torrents throughout the first half – sleet, a gale of wind, thunder and lightning, and then almost total darkness”.

He added: “Personally I was surprised that Mr Tolfree delayed his decision so long, for with the blinding rain in the first half it was a matter of impossibility for him to have followed the play. The discomfiture of both players and spectators can be imagined, the latter, who numbered some 5000, standing in the open in the absence of covered accommodation, which has yet to be erected at Charlton’s new ground”.

The rearranged fixture took place on 7 April and once again it was the pitch in the news. This time it had a “cast iron surface as full of pot holes as a badly used road”. The report in the Echo lamented “it would have needed more than average footwork cleverness to have controlled the light ball, but there was hardly a player on either side who possessed that accomplishment”.

Exeter were full of “robust charging, lusty kicking and fearless tackling” but lost to a late goal when appealing for handball. “The City players took it so much for granted that Mr Tolfree would give a free-kick, that no effort was made to arrest the progress of Ayres, the goalscorer”.

The 1923-24 season had been one of the wettest on record and The Mount was a fair way from Charlton. Attendances were very poor and to add to the misery the concrete pylons supporting the stands began to slide into the mud. The Addicks had had enough and moved back to the Valley. City were probably happy with this too!


Martin Weiler



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