One man went to mow . . .

Groundsman and former winger Colin Powell has left the club after more than 30 years service over two spells. This is how STEVE DIXON paid deserved tribute to him in VOTV last August.


They say you should never meet your heroes. Apparently, it’s something to do with being disappointed and having your illusions shattered.

I guess I’ve been lucky. Through my involvement with Charlton, I consider myself very fortunate to have met and in many cases played alongside most of my favourite players, and we’ll come back to that.  

And I once played against Bobby Moore; yes, the Bobby Moore, in a game at the training ground and that was truly something.  

I know it wasn’t a serious match, but everything he did reeked of class. At the end of the match, so in awe was I of the great man that I dare not even approach him for a post-match handshake. So the bar has been raised fairly high, wouldn’t you think?

But quite frankly that is not what this particular story is about, because I did all that as an adult. No, this particular tale is of a small boy who met his favourite footballer, many years ago.  

It was 1973 and football was very different.  There were no 24-hour sports news channels reporting groin strains and transfer speculation with breathless excitement. Ordinary players on pre-season tours of Malaysia were not greeted like the Beatles on tour. So having a football hero was a much more personal emotion, a real experience. You actually had to go to the games, instead of watching on TV.

Thirty years ago, Charlton were scratching around in the Third Division. The promotion game against Preston was still 18 months away and this was a very mundane fixture at home at a near-deserted Valley with Christmas fast approaching.

Now, just writing this makes me feel old, but Charlton were at home to Southport. Yes, that isn’t a typo, Southport used to be a League club. 
Younger readers will be frantically googling Wikipedia on their iPhones at this point (whatever that means!), but I remember that Southport were the visitors, and of course I had no idea that they would disappear from the fixture list that season, never to return.

I can’t remember much about the game or even the score, but this was a notable occasion, because after the match a very nervous little boy was invited into the Charlton dressing-room to meet his favourite player.

You see, my dad was very friendly with Valley groundsman Maurice Banham, and so it was that I got to meet Colin Powell.  

I don’t know why he was my favourite. After all, my dad and I had been Valley regulars for about a year at this point and it had been fairly unremarkable, but I was hooked and the number seven was the player who caught my eye.

Maybe it was because we sat right on the touchline at the front of the main stand, where we would have seen him for at least 45 minutes up close every Saturday. Maybe it was because, in those days, a winger was an exciting, charismatic member of the team, instead of the more functional right-midfield players of the modern age. Maybe it was the buzz of excitement around the crowd and the shouts of “roast ‘im, Paddy” when he got the ball. 

Whatever the reason, a terrified seven-year-old was led into the home dressing-room to meet his hero.

I don’t remember much about the encounter. I recall the steam from the huge sunken bath, and for whatever reason (don’t judge me), I was rather startled by the sight of Dick Tydeman naked. 

But I do remember meeting Paddy, shaking his hand and being given two signed photographs – black and white, of course – before being ushered back out into the body of the stand.  

I enjoyed the 70s more than any other decade of following Charlton, with Paddy as a permanent feature of a hugely entertaining side. I’ve already referred to how young I was, and I know my memory is being generous, but it seemed to me that every match at The Valley was played on a Friday night and finished 4-3, generally with Paddy among the scorers. 

There were goals aplenty at The Valley in those days, thanks to that wonderful quartet of Hales, Flanagan, Powell and Peacock. If only we’d been able to defend!

Derek Hales and Mike Flanagan moved on, of course, and Keith Peacock retired, but Paddy remained throughout the decade. 
Oh, how we marvelled as decent full-backs were taken to the cleaners week after week. 

Oh, how we laughed as he climbed on to defenders’ backs if he couldn’t get past and won a free-kick for obstruction.  

Oh, how we sniggered in duplicitous guilt when he skipped into the penalty area and hung a leg out for an unsuspecting defender to tackle and concede a penalty.

I never forgave Alan Mullery for letting him go to Gillingham. Charlton had just won promotion and Colin had played in every single one of the 57 games throughout that memorable season.  

But he left in 1981 and in normal circumstances that would be the end of the story. 

However, fast-forward a few years and I came up against the great man – by now the Sparrows Lane groundsman – playing for the Charlton staff XI.  

In those days I was playing for the CASC team, and we were not too bad. Charlton didn’t have many permanent staff and CASC won the game comfortably, but the highlight was a 30-yard strike from the groundsman into the top corner of the net.

Shortly after that we became colleagues as I went to work for the club at The Valley and got to play in a few of the staff games, which was when I realised just how good these guys have to be.  

My first staff game for Charlton featured Gritt, Curbishley, Peacock and Powell, and it was an education to watch former players at close quarters and all of a sudden understand just how enormous the gulf is between Sunday park players and seasoned professionals.

But I am getting off the point, which is that Colin Powell the colleague was just as charming and affable as Colin Powell the player from 20 years previously. 

The pre-season friendly against Inverness CT recently was a benefit match for Paddy’s many decades of service to the club, and I can imagine younger readers being a bit puzzled as to why there was a testimonial match for the groundman, because, let’s be honest, anyone under the age of 40 is unlikely to have seen him play.  
But trust me, if you didn’t it’s your loss.  Check out the DVDs – well worth a watch.

And while we’re on the subject, it was a shame that the opposition could not have been a bit more “box-office” because we’re talking about someone who had retired long before the lottery-win salaries earned by much less talented players today.

I still see Paddy regularly, because after we became friends he invited me to join him in playing vets football at Metrogas, in New Eltham. It is a friendship that endures to this day.  

He no longer plays, of course – even legends have to hang up their boots at some point – but he now referees our home fixtures and is a compelling argument that former players could make decent refs. 

At away games, he patrols the touchline with John Bumstead, the two of them handing out caustic advice while the rest of us toil.
If you didn’t know, you’d never tell that he was a former player of some repute.  

The dressing-room banter is fast and furious (and I will get destroyed for this, by the way), but every time we have a game I still get a kick out of the fact that our mate crossed it for Derek Hales to score the 1976/77 goal of the season and lashed one into the top corner at Palace in 1974. 

I can even put up with the regular description of a rare headed goal against Bristol Rovers; a story we get to hear approximately once a week . . .

It’s all good fun and it reminds me of the day in 1973 that a terrified seven-year-old got to meet his favourite player. 

I moved house recently and came across those photos, a bit creased and dog-eared perhaps, but a treasured memory nonetheless.
They say you should never meet your heroes. They are wrong.


To order issues published between April 2013 and April 2022, please see the back issues pages. VOTV124, VOTV127 and 176 are sold out.

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