Valley Gold celebrates 30 years

‘I never thought that 30 years later it would still be playing such a massive role…’ Steve Sutherland, Founder of Valley Gold looks back at how the scheme, which launched on 20th August 1989 has provided vital support to Charlton Athletic and continues to remain as relevant today as it did 30 years ago.

‘Valley Gold’ – a name that is synonymous with Charlton Athletic FC. In fact, Tuesday, August 20th marks exactly 30 years since we launched the new fundraising scheme at our then, third annual Open-Day at the Club’s Training Ground in Sparrows Lane, New Eltham.

Back then I was the Club’s Commercial Manager and this is how I described the occasion a week later in ‘Reds Review’, my weekly article in the News Shopper: ‘Blessed by glorious sunshine, the day was a great success….. Stars of stage, screen and sport took part in our exhibition football and cricket matches, including such names as Karl Howman, Frazer Hines, Norman Pace, Willie Rushton, Colin Cowdrey, Derek Underwood, John Snow, Josh Gifford and Alan Knott.’

‘The Open Day was also the launch of the new fundraising scheme ‘Valley Gold’. Over 650 people joined the scheme on the day, which was excellent’.

‘The membership has since risen to over 1,100 which is great, but we still need more members. Valley Gold is vital to the future of Charlton Athletic, so if it’s possible, please come and join us.’

Although I was confident that the scheme – which I originally called the ‘Valley Gold Card Club’ – would be a success when I made my original presentation to the Board early in 1989, I never thought that 30 years later it would still be playing such a massive role at the Club.

Now back in the Championship after the fantastic success of Lee Bowyer and the team last season, which culminated in that incredibly uplifting occasion at Wembley last May; over the past 30 years Charlton Athletic FC has probably undergone some of the most dramatic changes in fortunes that any football club has ever experienced and the Club, apart from its totally unique community and family ethos, is now unrecognisable from the one that was in existence when Valley Gold was first launched.

In 1989 Charlton Athletic FC was ground-sharing with Crystal Palace FC and my colleagues and I were based in a portacabin at Selhurst Park. Incredibly, I was one of just eight members of staff who were running the administration and commercial operations of the football club and for us, the dream was to one day be back working for the Club at The Valley.

Although it was officially launched in August 1989, Valley Gold was first announced to the world by myself at that momentous, emotion charged meeting at Woolwich Town Hall earlier that year in March when then Chairman Roger Alwen made that very famous statement to a packed gathering of Charlton fans – ‘which will enable Charlton Athletic Football Club to once again play football at The Valley’ – as you can imagine, it was and still is one of the proudest moments of my life.

Back then there was no bigger cause for Charlton fans than the return to The Valley. Valley Gold was seen as a vital way in which the club could raise important extra funding to assist with the costs of returning to The Valley but it was also devised as a method to bond the Club with the fans and as a vehicle for the supporters to play a hands-on role in assisting the directors to re-build Charlton Athletic. Valley Gold was a great success on both counts. In fact, Valley Gold funding paid for the renovation of the old house in Harvey Gardens that became the Club’s new offices and Club Shop and this was the first real signal that Charlton Athletic FC were, indeed, returning to The Valley.

At this point, I would like to recognise the fantastic job that Andy Bryant did when Derek Ufton, who was Valley Gold’s then President, Arnie Warren, the Club’s then General Manager and myself appointed him in to be our first Valley Gold manager. Andy, who had been running Crystal Palace’s successful ‘Lifeline’ scheme, was instrumental in the success of Valley Gold in its first few years and his enthusiasm and organisational skills played a huge part in establishing Valley Gold as a vital source of income for the club.

After the return to The Valley in 1992, Valley Gold played less and less of a direct role in the ground renovations yet it still maintained its hard-core membership of around 1,500 members. Whilst Valley Gold continued to play an important part in the club, in truth, it took something of a back-seat to other, vital initiatives such as the VIP scheme and the launch of the Club as a plc.

In the mid-nineties the Club re-positioned Valley Gold as a fundraising initiative to support the excellent work being undertaken with the development of young players and, again, Valley Gold never let anyone down. Players such as Shaun Newton, Richard Rufus and current boss Lee Bowyer, all came through the ranks at this time and Valley Gold’s funding played a major part in establishing such an effective youth-development programme at the Club.

There have obviously been many great initiatives at Charlton Athletic over the years but Valley Gold has been there, done it and bought the T-shirt! It has proved its worth to Charlton so many times and, like a good friend, it is always there when the Club needs it.

Valley Gold has had several ‘wash and brush-ups’ since its launch in 1989 and it is now operated on a day-to-day basis by Charlton Club, an independent committee which is made up of representatives from the Club and from the supporters. The committee is excellently chaired by Club Chaplain, Matt Baker.

As we approach such a landmark anniversary, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of Valley Gold’s past and present members for their support over the years. Valley Gold has been a great servant of the club and by linking it directly to the Academy it continues to play a vital role in helping Steve Avory and his staff develop talented young players through to the first team.

Charlton Athletic is a truly great football club with massive potential and an unrivalled track record of developing outstanding young players that is envied throughout football.

When in February 1989 I first presented the concept of the ‘Valley Gold Card Club’ to the owners Roger Alwen and Mike Norris, I obviously hoped but never expected it to be such a fantastic success story.

The fortunes of Charlton Athletic have ebbed and flowed somewhat over the past 30 years but Valley Gold is as relevant now as it was that sunny day at the Training Ground in August 1989.

Happy Birthday, Valley Gold, here’s to the next 30 years!