Charlton AthleticSport

Voice of The Valley editor Rick Everitt on calling time on print edition of fanzine that was a catalyst for taking Charlton Athletic home

Rick Everitt’s T-shirt told the story. One-hundred-and-seventy-six editions, 6,860 pages, three different grounds, 18 managers and nine chairmen. The Voice of The Valley fanzine has been there to cover and run a critical eye over it all.

But not anymore. At least, not in print format. This month’s edition is the final issue.

The Voice of The Valley has been a publication with a major punch. It first went on sale in January 1988 and was launched to help campaign for a return to Charlton Athletic’s home in SE7. At that time the Addicks were tenants at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park.

The fanzine was a crucial and effective tool in that battle as Charlton ended a seven-year exile in 1992 .

“I’d just turned 25 when we started selling it,” said Everitt. “Funnily enough the first home game it went on sale at was against Liverpool – an attendance of 28,095 – at Selhurst Park. Sold out. Charlton have never played in front of a bigger crowd since, not including Wembley. It’s more than the capacity of The Valley now.
“The original print run for the first edition was 500 and we sold 1,100. The biggest seller of all time was issue 11 in 1989 – when they agreed to go back to The Valley – that sold 3,600. We were getting gates around 6,000 at Selhurst Park, so that shows you the penetration.

“People would buy The Voice because there was a lot more hard information in there than the programme. That’s been true for most of its life. It depends what you’re looking for, doesn’t it? Some people are only interested in the football. I don’t think it’s any secret that my specialism is the politics rather than the football.

“I’ve always been very honest, at least with myself. I know I’m not particularly good at writing about the football. But I do know a great deal about the running of the club – its finances and planning matters. That’s always been the strength of The Voice.”

Everitt, 59, was the Charlton reporter and then sports editor at The Mercury. He had a spell as secretary of the supporters’ club as well as working at Charlton, first taking charge of their communications department in 1998 before becoming head of club development between 2003 and 2012.

“The Mercury petition in October 1986 was really the kick-off for the campaign, which I was peripherally involved in,” said Everitt. “That’s how I got to know Pete [Cordwell], who was the sports editor.

“I wrote to him and said: ‘You need to present that at the supporters’ AGM. He jumped on that. I had been writing letters to the local paper from 1985, complaining about us being at Selhurst Park.

“In the autumn of 1987 the supporters’ club were publishing a newsletter – it was very basic. But Steve Dixon started writing critical articles about Selhurst Park and needing to go back to The Valley. The club responded to that by seeking to censor the supporters’ club newsletter.

“They didn’t actually do any censorship – they had no jurisdiction over it whatsoever. It was only because of the kind of people who were on the supporters’ club committee at the time, they were going to do what the directors asked them to do. It wasn’t affiliated to the football club.

“That was the trigger [for Voice of The Valley] – but you can almost say that was the excuse. Because if you look at what was happening in the 1980s there was an explosion of fanzines which was driven by two things – cheaper printing technology and by the launch of IBM clone computers, the Amstrad one in particular. Everybody could have a relatively powerful computer at home and do your own desktop publishing. You also had stuff going on politically – [Margaret] Thatcher was trying to bring in football ID cards, particularly triggered by the Luton-Millwall stuff [crowd disorder]. There was a real rise in consciousness by supporters.

“But, if I’m totally honest, I was probably always going to produce a football fanzine. It just happened that the issue was so salient at Charlton. I was absolutely passionate about Charlton not playing at Selhurst Park – as, indeed, were a lot of supporters. We used to sit in that traffic on the South Circular road on a Saturday and it was just madness.

“It wasn’t necessary when you looked at what the detail of the situation at The Valley was. It just got me so angry that it tipped me over the edge.

“The most difficult thing to do at the start, because producing it was always easy, was selling it. If you’ve never stood on a street corner and sold stuff, particularly when people have got no idea what you’re selling, it’s quite daunting. I very soon realised it wasn’t very difficult to do at all. We did have massive publicity from The Mercury. That gave us, in effect, a huge launch.

“The club wasn’t going to publicise it.

“We put it on sale on an away trip at Nottingham Forest, I sold it on the train and Steve Dixon sold it on the coach. Absolutely everybody, apart from one person, bought it on the train. It was only about 150 people, not massive numbers, but it showed its potential reach.

“There was so much pent-up frustration over the Selhurst Park thing. They had said they would go back [to The Valley] but nothing had occurred. There were talks with Greenwich Council, but nothing had come out. Very quickly after we did launch it, before our second edition was sold, it was announced that Mike Norris, along with Laing Homes, had bought The Valley.

“From then on it was like the road home. It wasn’t until a year later that they agreed they would go back to The Valley and it was another two-and-a-half years after that they actually got to The Valley.”

Twenty-eight issues were sold when Charlton played at Selhurst Park and a further nine issues during 15 months groundsharing at West Ham’s Upton Park.

“Steve Dixon was heavily involved in editions from two to 28 and then he went to work for the football club in 1991,” said Everitt. “Mike Norris thought by employing Dicko it would be the end of the Voice of The Valley – he hadn’t quite understood the process.”
So how big was the fanzine in supporters accomplishing their mission?

“Some people say to me it was a catalyst – and I think that’s a good word,” said Everitt, one of the main organisers of the Valley Party in the 1990 local elections

“I don’t subscribe to the view that if Voice of The Valley hadn’t existed that Charlton wouldn’t have gone back to The Valley. That would be arrogant and over the top.

“Bringing the supporters together and articulating the case was helpful in bringing in the people who eventually made the key decisions and put the money on the table. I’m not saying that couldn’t have happened in another way.

“It became the basis of a campaign. Supporters raised a lot of money to get back to The Valley, but Charlton wouldn’t have got back there without Martin Simons and Richard Murray.

Charlton Athletic v Oxford United SkyBet League One, The Valley, 01 October 2022
Picture : Keith Gillard

“Although I had quite a difficult relationship with Roger Alwen and Mike Norris, I had a very good relationship with Martin Simons and Richard Murray in the 90s. One of the things that people said from the beginning is that it was going to destroy the club – that we shouldn’t be criticising the directors and that you’re on an ego trip. But actually we had a very constructive relationship, although not at the beginning, in the 1990s.

“The fact I went to work there showed the relationship was good.

“I had a massive advantage in that I was reporting on Charlton for The Mercury and I was also the secretary of the supporters’ club for nine years. That meant I had really good connections into the club, it was a bit of a balancing act to balance those three roles. Sometimes I got that wrong. But overall it meant you had a fanzine that probably had better access than any fanzine editor in the country but was still independent.

“I don’t think anyone has ever accused Voice of The Valley of being too close to the club or soft on it. When we had to have rows, we had rows. I was banned three times, but two of them were to do with The Mercury.”

Everitt produced 104 issues before the fanzine stopped in November 2001 – three of those years while he worked for Charlton and the club published it.

“That got a bit of stick and I don’t know, with hindsight, if that was wise,” he said. “But I just felt we had something really good here and I didn’t want to let it go.

“We used to get pages and pages of letters. Messageboards hadn’t really taken off and the local press had never really run those letters with that amount of space. If you’re clever with the editing of the letters than that was a real sounding board and really valuable.”
Those contributions had dried up when Everitt relaunched the title in February 2013, with people then posting on forums.

“It was less diverse because of that,” said Everitt. “When we brought it back I had no idea how it would be perceived and whether it would still work, but the warmth of the reception for it coming back was fantastic.

“Even though it hadn’t been produced in 11-and-a-half years it showed it had a real place in peoples’ hearts.”

Part of that appeal was the dogged way that Everitt would analyse the inner machinations of the club.

“We just reported it how we saw it,” he said. “I’m not going to say we got every judgement right over the years. There are things I would go back and say and do differently. But we were able to go into a level of depth that newspapers can’t – because we had the space and time.

“One of the things I was focused on was creating a record. Prior to 1989 the South London Press was the best about reporting news about the club. I saw it [the fanzine] as the journal of record, put it that way, alongside The Mercury.

“I carried that on through this iteration of it. In the final issue I’ve gone through all the new signings, I’ve written a piece about Ben Garner and a piece on Johnnie Jackson. It is structured by current events although there is plenty of nostalgia and quirky articles.

“Somebody needs to pull out of all the noise on social media and the internet and, at least, put together a set of information so that it is there for reference and that people can see the bigger picture. Fantastic though the internet is, the fact it is unstructured means that facts and information get lost.

“It worries me that no-one is going to be in the position to do that in the future.

“I haven’t given up on that, but clearly it’s not going to be in the way it’s been done in the past. You can’t trust the club in terms of recording information and the history because it has no interest in it. I don’t mean that in a destructive way, I just mean it’s not part of its mission to record its own history objectively – or even at all.

“You see that now with clubs dropping their matchday programmes, which I think is feeble. The Charlton programme is good now, Kyle [Andrews, programme editor] is doing a good job.

“It disturbs me that if we lose the bigger picture we become much more passive consumers of football and it just becomes an argument about whether Jayden Stockley should be on his own up front. It’s obviously pretty central to watching the match, but it doesn’t explain to you why the club hasn’t got a strong enough squad, what the motivations behind the people involved are and what might be done about that.”

Charlton Athletic v Oxford United SkyBet League One, The Valley, 01 October 2022
Picture : Keith Gillard

Everitt is the author of Battle for The Valley, first released in 1991, and co-author of Keith Peacock’s autobiography No Substitute.

Freeing up the time it took him to do a 40-page issue, which he gauges at around three weeks of work, will allow him to focus on other things.

“I needed to make the space to do some other things,” said Everitt. “As far as the future is concerned, I wanted to stand back and think about that.

“The website will continue and I think the Airman Brown diary column [Everitt writing under an alias which is also his Twitter handle] has the potential to continue online. There is a question then whether it is a monthly column? Or is it more of a blog?

“I’m certainly interested in still writing about the politics of the club and the finances of the club. I think that behind-the-scenes stuff will continue. It just gives me the opportunity to produce some other publications.

“I intend to carry on doing what I’m doing but in slightly different ways and without that print production cycle. I think it will help me write better.

“But it was an incredibly difficult thing to do, to stop it. I’m fed up with dealing with the same issues, on a cycle, under different ownerships. The fanbase, as a whole, is weary of this endless cycle of disappointment. The affects me as much as anybody.

“Although there are still plenty of battles to be fought and plenty of issues to be reported under the current ownership, I’m not sure I’ve got the energy left to do that through the monthly cycle of magazines.”

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