In a quiet side street of the charming hamlet of Charlton, (as in ‘Charlton Athletic Nil’), South East London once stood a little pub called The Valley, named after the local football team’s home ground. A pretty unremarkable little boozer, which my brother and I used to go in for “just the one” at lunchtime on match days (we were supporters, you understand, not players. The players were in the boozer across the road). It was suitably scruffy, unknown to traveling opposition supporters, and mercifully free of the formica and stainless steel decor favoured by the Slug and Pianos, the All Bar Funs and the Trout n Tillbox pub chains so popular with the roof of today.
But the feature of this pub which will stay with me forever was an old photograph on the wall. Or to be precise, a photo so large it stretched across two walls, floor-to-ceiling, in the main bar. It showed life as it was 60 years ago, a life sadly no longer with us. The photo at the top of this page , similar to the one in the pub, will give you an idea of what I mean.
Pictured was the old, massive, main terrace at Charlton’s ground, presumably photographed just post-war. Several things struck you when you looked at the picture: That they used to sell-out home games; Some of the supporters were smiling; No-one was kicking seven shades out of anyone else; and everyone in the photo was male. But there was something else: of the nigh-on 20,000 people in the photo everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was wearing a hat. Be it a trilby, a flat cap, or whatever, EVERYONE wore a hat. Question: when the time came to throw your hat in the air in celebration of Charlton scoring a goal (quiet at the back!) how did you get your own hat back? It must have been carnage.
I have a particularly big swede and I suspect I would have often walked home with someone else’s cap, 3 sizes too small perched, at a jaunty angle, on the top of my head, while some other poor little sod wore my one, having to walk four yards before the hat moved.
In 1953 Charlton beat Middlesbrough 8-1 which presumably meant that some of those present changed hats 8 times during the match. I wonder if after twenty minutes you ended up with a real corker of a titfer you just buggered off home and sod the result? Were you refused entry to the ground if you were hatless? What if your chapeau was a birthday present but the bloke standing 7 yards away caught it during the melee after a late equalizer? My mum would have gone Garrity if I returned home without it.
Sad I know, but it’s something that’s always bothered me.
The pub’s not there now. Demolished for yuppie flats, A Costa Coffee bar or somesuch. Gone the same way as epidemic hat-wearing, a thousand proper boozers around the country, and home goals at The Valley.