BY GARY THACKER
Whenever you start writing an article about a fairly timeless issue, there’s always a chance of a little added piquancy if something brings what would otherwise be a bit of a retrospective, into the current arena. The Jimmy Seed Stand at Charlton’s The Valley ground had always struck me as a bit of a strange name. Who was – or is - Jimmy Seed? Despite having a passion about football for over fifty years now, I have to confess that I knew nothing of the eponymous Mr. Seed. To be honest, that alone was enough to tweak my interest, so I set to work on a bit of research.
It was whilst combing through the internet and a number of reference books that I found out that the Jimmy Seed Stand was currently making the news around the SE7 area just south of the Thames in London. When researching clubs, fan blogs are often a useful source of information and, when looking at the popular and passionate ‘Voice of The Valley’ site, I noticed an article dated 24th January saying that the stand in question was under threat from a proposed redevelopment.
The article related that the site had “…discovered that Charlton are in preliminary discussions about redeveloping the south end of the stadium (the Jimmy Seed Stand) to include residential use.” It went on to relate how the stand was constructed in 1979, costing some £120,000, and was the only stand to remain largely “…unchanged from when the club left the ground in 1985.” Now however, apparently under threat due to a proposal by the club’s controversial ownership regime, plans are afoot “that would see The Valley’s oldest stand replaced by a more modern and redesigned facility that would also accommodate leasehold flats.” In short, the Jimmy Seed Stand may soon end up going the way of all flesh. The story had now gone from interesting across the border into the realm of the intriguing. I had to find out more about Mr. Seed and why there was a stand named after him – at least for the time being – at The Valley.
James Marshall "Jimmy" Seed was born in Blackhill, Consett on 25th March 1895, a full decade before the club who would later honour his memory by naming a stand after him had even been formed. It’s a little difficult not to lapse into the caricature of a lad born in the north-east who was bound for a life working in the dark and dangerous world of coal mining until his ability with a football rescued him from those underground depths.
His introduction to mining came after leaving school and beginning work at Whitburn Colliery. Paradoxically, however, it also led to the launching of his career in football, turning out for Whitburn FC in the Wearside League, alongside his brother Angus. Seed’s abilities as a natural goal scorer were quickly to the fore and after netting 80 odd goals for Whitburn, both South Shields and Sunderland offered the young Seed a trial.
Such opportunities were often a lottery, however, with any number of aspirants vying to take the eye of the watching coaches, and at both clubs, Seed’s endeavours failed to enrapture the talent scouts. Both clubs passed up on the opportunity to secure his services, and it seemed the hooter at the mines was calling Jimmy Seed back home to a backbreaking lifetime of dust and grime.
Seed wasn’t to know it at the time he was sent home from Roker Park, but his efforts to impress had not totally been without success. Sunderland’s manager at the time was Bob Kyle. The wily Belfast-born Kyle was an astute judge of a player, and to this day, remains the club’s longest serving manager. Despite Seed playing in his Roker trial as a centre forward, Kyle had seen glimpses of increased worth if the role was changed to what was then termed as an ‘inside right.’ In modern parlance, that would be akin to playing behind the main striker, in a supporting role, linking play and creating chances, as well as seeking to score himself.
Kyle called Seed back to Sunderland and played his hunch with Seed at inside forward in a Northern League game against Wallsend. The move paid off handsomely, as Seed netted a hat-trick. In 1914, he signed professional terms at Roker Park and waved a surely less than fond farewell to the mines.
The following season offered great promise for the blossoming talents of Jimmy Seed. Playing in Sunderland’s reserves, he was a regular goal scorer as the Roker second-string team won the Durham Senior Cup. At the end of the season, it seemed promotion to the first team was on the cards, but a cataclysmic event was about to drop a large barbed wire barrier across the footballing career-path of Jimmy Seed.
At the end of the 1914-15 season, all League football was suspended as the Great War consumed huge tranches of Europe’s youth. Like so many other brave souls – many doomed never to return – Jimmy Seed entered the war. At just 20 years old, he joined the West Yorkshire Regiment, eventually finding his way across to France and the murderous fields of the Western Front. Unlike many others, Seed survived the horrors of the conflict until, towards the last months of the war, he was gassed, and returned to England for convalescence.
In 1918, after the Armistice, Sunderland played a Victory League game against Durham, and Seed returned to the colours of his club, rather than those of his country. It must have been a strange experience for any that had been caught up in the conflict to try and return to any semblance of normality after surviving years of the horrors and trials of the trenches. For many, the leap required may have been too far to cross, and Jimmy Seed’s performance in that game, may well have been one of the symptoms of that chasm. His play was well under par. Unfit and perhaps still suffering from the after effects of the gas poisoning, it was hardly surprising. Mercilessly, however, it seemed that the club hierarchy deemed Seed’s wartime exploits had drained away his talent, commitment, or perhaps both. The directors of the club decided to give him a free transfer. It was hardly the welcome home anyone in Seed’s position would have been hoping for. He was never to officially wear Sunderland’s red and white stripes again.
Salvation for Seed was to come from the unlikely source of Tonypandy, South Wales. Hayden Price was manager of Mid Rhondda. A journeyman player, he had travelled around a number of clubs in England and Wales, without really hitting the heights, but gaining a knowledge of the game and a sound perspective of potential talent. Upon hearing that Jimmy Seed was available on a free transfer, Price swiftly moved to bring the young forward to Wales. Seed joined the club in 1919, and stayed for seven months, proving the wisdom of Price and the folly of Sunderland’s hierarchy.
Such was the success of Jimmy Seed in the industrial valleys of South Wales, that news of his exploits spread to London and Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs’ manager Peter McWilliam resolved that the time spent in Wales was sufficient to prove that Seed’s talent had not been permanently damaged by his wartime troubles, and took him to north London, giving Mid Rhondda the princely sum of £250 in exchange. Fans of the Welsh club had by now become fully aware of the talent they had in their team and were reluctant to see Seed leave. It was just too good an opportunity for the player to pass up and the money was a worthwhile sum at the time. In 1920, Seed moved to White Hart Lane.
After arriving in North London, Seed played a mere handful of games for Spurs’ second string, before being given his first team debut. It was the shape of things to come. Pitched in at inside right, he scored twice in the five remaining games of the season, and Spurs ended up as Division Two Champions.
The wisdom of the switch to the bright lights of London from the Welsh valleys was self-evident over the next half-a-dozen seasons or so as Seed’s playing career hit the heights. He became a regular component of the Spurs first eleven as McWilliam’s club prospered. In 1921, they lifted the FA Cup with Seed playing every game of the cup run, and scoring five goals. Spurs then finished as runners-up to Liverpool in the race for the title, with Seed scoring 10 goals in 36 games.
In 1927, however, Peter McWilliam resigned and was replaced by Billy Minter. Adopting a ‘new broom’ approach Minter decided that at 32 years of age, the club had seen the best days of Jimmy Seed, and sought to replace him in the team with the young Taffy O’Callaghan. It seemed clear that Minter wanted Seed out of the club, and in order to hasten the process, cut his wages from £8 to £7 per week. Whether it was the desired outcome or not for Minter, Seed decided that it was a slight, and asked to be released by the club at the end of the 1926-27 season.
Initially, it seemed there was a strong interest in moving into management via the Player/Manager vacancy at Aldershot. In the end, he was transferred to Sheffield Wednesday, as a makeweight in the deal that took Arthur Lowdell to Spurs. If Minter thought he had seen the back of Jimmy Seed, he was to be mistaken.
Seed debuted for Wednesday in August 1927, but it was a less than happy time initially. Manager Bob Brown seemed unsure how to best benefit form Seed’s talents, and he was a shuffled around various positions as the team struggled. They won only half-a-dozen of their first 32 matches, and by March were seven points adrift at the foot of the table. Minter’s decision to move Seed on appeared sound, even if Spurs were hardly excelling in the league themselves.
At this point, however, Brown made a major decision, and promoted Seed to captaincy after former skipper, Ellis Dimmer, was dropped. From the next ten games, Wednesday picked up 17 points, astoundingly managing to avoid relegation by a point. It’s hard to know whether the success of Wednesday’s great escape was made any sweeter to Jimmy Seed by seeing his old club, Spurs, relegated on the last day of the season, but it would be understandable if it was. Minter’s decision may not have been so wise, after all.
By this time, Seed was reaching the veteran stage and although still possessed of skill, his time as a player was ebbing away and it may well have been his capacity to cajole and inspire a less than confident Wednesday side to safety via his role as captain, rather than playing abilities that produced the best reward for his club. Now as the elder statesman of the team, Seed led Wednesday to successive Division One titles in the next two years. It was a glorious swan song.
Just past the turn of the decade, now 35 and struggling with a persistent knee injury that often saw him limping towards the end of games, the fates seemed to be telling him that time was up. In a game against Newcastle United during Christmas 1931, Seed suffered a bad injury, with damage to the ligaments in his knee. By April of of 1932, he had decided to retire from playing. With the success he had enjoyed as leader of the Wednesday team it was clear that a new career path beckoned for Jimmy Seed. The door to management was open.
Many people think that financial muscle ruling football is a modern phenomenon. Not so much, really. After Seed’s retirement, he was persuaded to take the manager’s job at Clapton Orient by none other than the legendary Arsenal manager, Herbert Chapman, The Gunners’ legend persuaded Seed that moves were afoot for the Highbury club to take over Orient, turning them into a nursery club for their upmarket city neighbours, and Seed would have a big part to play in shaping Arsenal’s future stars. Convinced by the persuasive Chapman, he took the job.
Despite Chapman’s blustering confidence, the Football League vetoed Arsenal’s plan and the scheme foundered, leaving Orient with little financial backing, and Seed as the captain of a small band denuded of its artillery section. A first season finish in 16th place, and a second one that only avoided an application for re-election on goal average, illustrated that progress would be a mammoth task in east London. It was, therefore, little surprise when Seed took the role as manager at Charlton Athletic in 1933, despite the blandishments of former club Sheffield Wednesday approaching him to take over from Bob Brown. It’s from this point that Jimmy Seed’s legendary status with Charlton took shape.
When he joined, Charlton were in Division Three, but successive promotions in 1934 and 1935 took them on a meteoric rise through the English football pyramid. If some thought that arriving in the top flight was the zenith of Charlton’s aspirations, Seed was to confound such expectations as he guided the club to runners-up spot in the 1936-37 season finishing a mere three points behind Manchester City. Meanwhile, Sheffield Wednesday, the club Seed had spurned to move to The Valley, ended up bottom of the table and were relegated.
In the following two seasons The Addicks again offered sustained challenges for the title. In the 1937-38 season, champions Manchester City disintegrated to the position of relegation, whilst Charlton finished in fourth place, six points adrift of Arsenal. The next season, the last before war again cast a shadow of Europe and Jimmy Seed’s football career, Charlton finished in third place, although a full nine points adrift of champions, Everton.
For anyone of Seed’s generation, who had fought in World War One, a return to global conflict must have been the epitome of a recurring nightmare. This time, however, he was to watch the youth of the country march off to war, rather than join them himself. Whilst carnage across the globe burnt the flower of humanIty’s youth, Seed was left at home to lead a depleted Charlton team into a series of regional competitions designed to keep up morale on the Home Front, but probably failing to do so.
At the end of the war, there seemed every reason to expect that a renewed Charlton under the prompting of Jimmy Seed would pick up their challenges and again be contenders for the championship. In 1946, they lost a bizarre FA Cup Final to Derby County. Not only did the ball burst during the game, but with less than five minutes remaining on the clock, the game remained goalless. Then, Charlton defender Bert Turner diverted the ball into his own net as he tried to clear. The error seemed to be sending the cup back to the East Midlands, but just over a minute later, the same player fired in a free-kick form just outside the Derby penalty area to equalise, and become the first player in FA Cup Final history to score for both sides. It was to be only a brief respite, however. A goal by Doherty, and a brace by Stamps in extra-time sent Charlton on the short journey home with only losers’ medals to console them. The following year they returned to the Twin Towers, intent on avoiding a similar fate.
On this occasion, they were pitted against Burnley. Although a Second Division club at the time, the Clarets had finished as runners-up and were to be promoted to the top flight, whilst Charlton had endured a poor season in the league, finishing just above the relegation zone. It was, therefore, no foregone conclusion. If Charlton nerves were not already on edge, a reprise of the previous final was brought to mind when once again the ball burst during the match. If some put such an event down to a clarion call of coincidence, a more pragmatic approach may apportion responsibility to the poor quality of leather in a post-war austerity Britain. The game itself was a tight encounter and remained goalless past the ninety minute mark and into extra-time. With a mere six minutes remaining, Scotland’s Chris Duffy, the only non-English player in the Addicks’ line-up netted the winner. It was Charlton’s first, and so far only major honour.
At the time it seemed to be the prelude to a glorious period for the club. With the first trophy now safely ensconced in their cabinet, the club could go on to even greater triumphs. Gates at The Valley were growing to proportions deemed very large even by post-war standards. Seed was looking to invest to keep the team progressing, but the hierarchy at the club had other ideas.
Around this time, Jimmy Seed unearthed a gem of a tricky winger. He wanted to secure his services for the club, but wasn’t allowed to sign him. Stanley Matthews went on to play at a different club and, as they say, the rest is history. With such a blinkered attitude by the powers that be, Charlton’s progress stalled, and then slipped into reverse. In the next half-dozen seasons, their best finishing position in the league was an uninspiring ninth, narrowly escaping relegation in 1950. The 1952-53 season hinted at a renaissance with a fifth place in the final league table, but it was a false dawn. After a couple of lower half finishes, in 1956, Charlton lost their first five matches and were marooned at the bottom of the table by September. Any possible thoughts that the downturn in fortunes was probably more the result of lack of financial support than any failings of Jimmy Seed himself, were probably brushed under the carpet by the board, as they asked for his resignation. Jimmy Seed left club with their only major honour, and a lamentable tale of what might have – perhaps, should have – been.
Although Seed’s exit from The Valley wasn’t the end of his career in the game, each of his successive steps were only pale shadows of the potential he had created at Charlton. After a short period as an advisor to the club, he took over as manager of Bristol City in January 1958., before moving on to the same position at Millwall later the same year. It was a move that served neither party well. Losing their first nine games of the season was a bell weather warning of what was to come, as the club finished in 23rd position, and had to seek re-election to the league. The following year, Millwall found themselves in the newly constructed Fourth Division, finishing in ninth position. Seed resigned as manager at the end of the season.
There may be some kind of bitter irony that Jimmy Seed died in July 1966. The month that England became World Champions for the first and only time. It was a Wembley triumph without a burst ball. Despite the fact that the club fumbled the ball that Jimmy Seed had passed to them, when the opportunity to raise Charlton Athletic into the aristocracy of English football clubs, there will be many at The Valley, fans particularly, who will remember the name of Jimmy Seed with quiet reverence, and perhaps considering how close they came to be a major force in the game. For someone who took a club through the league and delivered them the FA Cup, naming a stand for him is a fitting tribute. Bulldozing it for the sake of a few quid and some luxury flats, however, would be a sin worthy of comparison with the time when the club failed to build on his success 70 years ago.