Our turf investment adviser MERCURY MAN salutes one of his colleagues from SE London’s old local newspaper – Kevin Nolan, who has reported on Charlton Athletic’s ups and downs for 36 years.
You might know that Decathlon, the sports chain, calls the store in Charlton its “Greenwich” branch. Snob value, I suppose. Doesn’t affect me, of course; I wouldn’t dream of entering the place. But the slur to Charlton remains, I think, and it got me wondering about another Charlton, Charlton Athletic Football Club.
And my wondering took me back to 1985 when CAFC left Charlton – not Greenwich! – to share the “delights” of Crystal Palace’s ground at Sellout Park in Croydon. Croydon! No doubt there were commercial reasons for leaving The Valley but it suddenly strikes me that maybe, just maybe, the powers that were – as with Decathlon – never really liked being in SE7 in the first place.
Not as posh as Greenwich, is it?
More conjecture. The Labour council in Greenwich did next to nothing to keep the club in Charlton. And after fans had convinced the club’s directors to return home a good few years later, the council didn’t want them! You could Google this website’s history to write a damning essay on Greenwich’s Labour council and its leaders… while I wander off on a tangent or two (It had to happen – Ed).
My two tangents are two people, Rick Everitt and Kevin Nolan. Rick has recently produced his last incomparable Voice of The Valley fanzine, but no doubt Kevin will carry on writing his inimitable Charlton Athletic match reports for 853‘s sister site, The Charlton Champion, and others.
Rick was the Doc Martin of the campaign to get back to The Valley, and only Martin Clunes could play him in the film.
I used to see both of them at the Mercury in Deptford High Street in the old days, whenever I left the room in the loft to pop down to Ladbrokes. Rick now leads the Labour group on a seaside council. Westminster had better look out, so this one is chiefly about Kevin.
We met as usual in the Euro Café at Lee Green, and rather than me going on a bit, I’ll let Kevin get on with it (thank goodness – Ed).
Kevin recalls: “My mum and dad were from rural, midland Ireland, a largely overlooked county called Westmeath. They followed the well-trodden path of Irish immigrants and arrived in London sometime in the late 192Os, I think. They were not wildly political but held republican views they kept to themselves, except when among their own. Their generation were still recovering from the Famine of 1846 and 1847 and were born into an Ireland still under British rule.
“I never questioned them about their memories of Easter 1916 but I burned with the injustice of it all. Time worked its magic and I came to love England. These days I’m a dual national. I was mad about football since I can remember but I accepted, I think, that I was never good enough to make anything of it. Never dreamed of a trial. But a world and life without football? Unthinkable!’”
Like Mr Jones, Kevin was obviously very well read, so which profession beckoned? “I started a teacher training course at Rachel McMillan College in Deptford after I was injured on a building site. Halfway through I realised that I was not cut out to teach but pressed on and qualified anyway.
“I was then offered the gig at Marvels Lane Boys’ Club and my teaching diploma at least earned me the top pay scale. I was leader-in-charge there. By then, I was writing in the Mercury so I kept busy. Some of the boys I helped bring along are now in their fifties and we run into each other here and there. Without fail, I receive an affectionate welcome so I was doing something right for those 24 years. I was far too disorganised to succeed as a teacher. The more informal atmosphere of a boys club was more my style.”
Kevin contributed bits and pieces for this column and eventually wrote a weekly column about boxing, which was named Neutral Corner. “Then, significantly, a slot appeared to do Charlton reports and I was off and running. The Mercury changed my life and I never forgot that. Thanks. And thanks again.”
His best ever Charlton player? “Tough to say but I’ll go for Charlie Vaughan from the immediate post-war years. He was different quality, I even loved his hooked nose and bandy legs. Charlie was incapable of striking a football anything but cleanly.”
Authors who inspired his writing? “I loved Damon Runyon, marvelled at JD Salinger but the walkaway inspiration was far nearer home. I was 12 or 13 or thereabouts when a minor misunderstanding landed me at Tower Bridge juvenile court, where the legendary magistrate ‘Mother’ Campbell placed me and my brother on a year’s probation, which involved our weekly attendance at a probation office in Ladywell.
“Our kindly probation lady lent us books to read, among which were included the chronicles of one William Brown, written by the peerless Richmal Crompton, and all bets were off. She was a genius and introduced me to words which explained themselves by their context. She was funny, affectionate, timeless. And criminally underrated.”
And William? “A million miles from the ‘lovable scamp’ they turned him into. William was never intentionally funny – he took himself too seriously for that.
“To get the essence of William Brown, check the wonderful illustrations of Thomas Henry. Richmal and Thomas met only twice and how the latter captured William so unerringly is one of those mysteries which are best unexplained. Sometimes we are in the presence of genius. Who else could make the word ‘indignant’ funny. Only Richmal.”
Anyone who’s read Kevin’s Charlton match reports – the first was in 1986, Rick tells me – knows that he’s had a stab. It was there in his assessment of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, who flopped so badly when Charlton were relegated from the Premier League 15 years ago: “Took the money but didn’t run.”
And his last piece in VOTV about not seeing the bright of a Charlton defeat: “I need time to process the loss, to be royally cheesed off about it. Enough already with the relentless quest for a bright side.
“There isn’t one and it’s a football fan’s right to be grumpy on the sullen, silent trudge homeward. If that’s not already guaranteed by Magna Carta, it should be.”
Kevin Nolan’s match reports can be found on The Charlton Champion – including his thoughts on yesterday’s FA Cup match – and greenwich.co.uk.
Mercury Man talks to SE Londoners with interesting tales to tell. Read his past stories.
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