Tales from yesteryear: Charlton sign a great

By Stephen Brandt – @StephenCBrandt

Sometimes players show up at clubs no one expected to see. In the 1980s Charlton brought in one of the greatest strikers in the game, Allan Simonsen. If he popped up at any other club, it wouldn’t have been noteworthy. Charlton on the other hand wasn’t as well known as the Charlton Brothers. The club was also helped by the fact that European sides had a quota system, each club could only have three foreign players in the team. In Spain it was two foreign players in the starting eleven. Boy times have changed.

In 1982 Barcelona was trying to keep up with their El Classcio compatriots Real Madrid, and signed Argentine wonderkind Diego Maradona. That set in motion as was mentioned above, one of the world’s deadliest strikers Allan Simonsen to leave Barcelona for English Division Two club Charlton Athletic. Transfer rumors weren’t a thing back in Simonsen’s era but the presence of Charlton as a suitor was very far from anything anyone could imagine. The Danish striker, who won the Footballer of the Year in 1977 over Kevin Keegan and Johan Cruyff. Allan’s three years in Catalonia was very fruitful, finishing as the clubs top scorer, and scoring the winning goal in the 1982 Cup Winners’ Cup final.

Simonsen tried as he might to stay at the Camp Nou he was deemed surplus. Prior to the arrival of Maradona from Boca Juniors for 5 million, Simonsen and Bernd Schuster were Barcelona’s foreign allotment in the starting lineup. As soon as it was clear to Simonsen that Schuster wouldn’t be dropped, Simonsen chose to find a starting job instead of sitting on the bench. Ironically, Maradona ended up having an average career with Barcelona eventually leaving for Italy. Interest from clubs in Europe began to come in, namely Italy, Germany, and England. It looked like originally that Tottenham and Real Madrid were the forerunners to sign the striker. However, a wrench was thrown into the proceedings as Charlton Athletic put in a bid for 324,000 pounds, which was above and beyond anything Spurs or Real were going to offer. It was also twice as much as Barcelona had paid for Simonsen three years before.

People mostly took the bid seriously until Simonsen said he reveled in the idea of playing for a less stressful level of football. A contract worth 82 thousand pounds per year didn’t hurt, so Simonsen became an Addick. The transfer was key to Mark Huyler’s vision for his favorite club. Huyler was the new club chairman of Charlton, and saw his club having trouble attracting 7,000 fans to the stadium that held 75,000.

Credit: Wiki Commons

The previous season in Division Two Charlton had finished 13th and had seen their lowest ever gate receipts in the clubs history. The last time the club had attracted 40,000 fans into the stadium was in the 1948-49 season. Huyler was hoping for a big change in fortune and Barcelona was well aware. Because of the Catalan club knowing this they accepted the bid on one condition that it was paid all up front. This was nearly the death nail for the deal because a bank couldn’t guarantee the funds. The 1983 total income for Charlton was roughly 270,000 pounds, so Charlton eventually paid Barcelona half of the fee upfront and the rest later. When the gate fees for Charlton improved. That was a slippery slope to go down just ask Leeds fans.

​Simonsen’s first appearance for the club was a reserve match against Swansea where 4,000 Charlton fans came out to cheer the new signing. Four days later 10,000 fans came out to see Simonsen play in the league, a 3-2 loss to Middlesbrough. If we go by the number of fans coming out for the first two appearances, it did look like so far the club was off to a sorting start in the change of fortune.  

​Not all was bad, in the first 16 matches with the club he hit on nine goals while routinely being the best player on the pitch. That wouldn’t be such a big surprise since the heights he had reached in the sport. Simonsen’s best moment came against fellow Division Two strugglers Chelsea, who had just been humiliated 7-1 against Burnley. The Great Dane came alive in the second half of the contest notching two goals in the 5-2 win.  But as good as Simonsen was, the players around him were several levels below him. 

Simonsen had done his job in improving the quality of the Charlton side, but he hadn’t improved the finances. He only bumped up the attendance to 13,000 at its top. Just selling Simonsen wouldn’t help Huyler because Simonsen’s agent had fought for a release clause in the contract. The agent was rightfully suspicious of Charlton’s ability to afford the man. When Huyler notified Simonsen that they couldn’t afford to pay him anymore, Simonsen enacted the release clause and went back home to his boyhood club WB in Denmark.

Charlton became a mess, both on the pitch and in the accounting department. Hulyer was hit with a £145,000 tax bill from Inland Revenue, a fee that Charlton couldn’t afford. On the pitch they finished five places lower at 18th while facing bankruptcy. Eventually the debts got up to £400,000 leaving the club no option but to enter administration, leaving the Valley for a groundshare with Crystal Palace.

Published by Stephen Brandt

Stephen Brandt is the host of the Subs Bench on Anchor.fm He has written many articles on the sport over the last 15 years. His first book Boca Juniors A History and Appreciation of Buenos Aires's Most Succesful Futbol Team is out in the fall. He currently lives in Buffalo New York, USA.

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