I wrote a piece for a sister site on the under 23s and this got me thinking about the world of reserve football as it used to be, before the nonsenses of the Carabao Cup and development squads: The world of the under 23s
If we go back to the 1950s, reserve games as The Valley attracted around 1,500 spectators, if that. Some fans went to see Millwall if they were at home, others Arsenal. Most only went to the ground when there was a first team game, and they were selective about those, as the fluctuations in attendance figures show.
I can remember my father taking me just once to a reserve game and that was a Combination Cup fixture against Aldershot. I remember it because we encountered some Aldershot fans. But why did we go to this game? It was on September 5th 1953 and I now think this was my first game at The Valley (I was six years old). I think my father decided to take me to a reserve game to get me used to The Valley before we went to a first team fixture.
Over the years I have been to a few reserve fixtures when it fitted in with commitments in London, at The Valley, at the training ground and at Park View Road. I remember one game against Norwich City when I went with a friend. It was an afternoon game with a sparse attendance. The referee looked as if he should be drawing his pension and when my friend bellowed 'Get a grip, ref!' he seemed to be very startled.
Games could be held in unpredictable places. Once when Rick Everitt was away in Australia I was writing the match reports for the club site and I had to cover a reserve game between Oxford United and Charlton. I went to their then ground at Headington, only to find they were playing at Witney. It was a freezing night, but at least I saw the unique sight of referee Wendy Toms booking legend John Barnes.
In those days reserve games had a few fringe players or players coming back from injury, but mostly young hopefuls with Keith Peacock saying after a failed corner: 'We went through all that at the training ground.'
Four Four Two published an article in 2007 on reserve football which had quite a lot of Charlton content. Charlton had won the Premiership League South title twice and were hoping for a third success, but reserve team boss Glyn Snodin went to Southampton as assistant manager and Charlton finished fourth.
Reserve team captain Barry Fuller was interviewed and said 'For us it's like the first team playing in the Premier League. All the boys take it seriously. We want to win every game.'
Fuller was released by the Addicks and signed by Stevenage. He is now with AFC Wimbledon. Michael Turner was the reserve captain before him and signed for Brentford in 2004, realising that there were two or three players in front of him. He was one that got away as Hull then snapped him up for £350,000. He then went to Sunderland for what was thought to be £6m. Now 34, he plays for Chris Powell's Southend United.
It is actually quite difficult to tell who is going to make the grade in first team football.
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