Remembering the greatest comeback of all time

It is widely regarded as the greatest comebacks of all time and is certainly one of the most magnificent games The Valley has ever seen over the last 101 years.

On December 21st, 1957, Jimmy Trotter’s Charlton side lined up against Bill Shankly’s Huddersfield Town, neither knowing what was about to befall them.

A fairly normal match was played out in the early exchanges until the Addicks’ Derek Ufton suffered a dislocated shoulder – an injury that became a common occurrence for the defender. With the score still goalless and no substitutes allowed in those days, it provided Charlton with a big uphill struggle, playing with a man disadvantage for the majority of the encounter.

“I had to come off after before 20 minutes,” Ufton recalls.

“The silly thing was that I had dislocated my shoulder so many times – 13 times on one shoulder and seven on the other. It always came out in all sorts of different way, but on that particular day, it was so silly. It was their goal-kick and I was just running alongside the Huddersfield centre-forward, Stan Howard. We bumped into each other and my shoulder came out! It wasn’t a tackle, or a fall, it was as simple as that.

“It was always a question of getting it back in within a minute. If I could do that then I would be OK, but any longer than that, it makes things difficult. I couldn’t get it back in on this particular day, so we were reduced to 10 men immediately.

“I played over 250 games, but I probably lost 100 games because the manager was afraid to play me in case we were reduced to 10 men! So, it could be very frustrating at times.”

As Ufton was forced off, the Terriers gained a foothold on the game and, by the time Ufton was on his way to hospital, the visitors were able to enjoy a 2-0 lead at the break with goals from Les Massie and Alex Bain. Indeed, it is said that, with some of the home crowd seeing the way things were likely to turn out, they headed for the exits.

Johnny Summers gave his team a glimmer of hope just two minutes after the restart, but Huddersfield were soon back on the scoring trail. Two goals in two minutes saw Bain grab a second, before Bill McGarry stuck away a penalty. Any hope Summers’ goal may have provided had seemingly been dashed as soon as the 51st minute and it got even worse just after the hour mark when Bob Ledger made it 5-1.

“My dad, who came to every game, had come down to the dressing room when I was injured and said he would come with me in the ambulance,” continued Ufton.

“I told him not to worry as he would miss the game, but he insisted.

“They decided to put me out with full anaesthetic to put the arm back into place. Before I went into the operating theatre, he told me it was 5-1 so I said ‘there you go dad, they can’t do without me!’.

With the Addicks’ captain on the operating table, it was left to his teammates to prove him wrong. The odds were stacked against them and the Terriers would have been feeling very comfortable were it not for a wonderous display from Summers who was not ready to give up the ghost just yet.

Within moments of Charlton’s deficit moving to four goals, they had reduced it to a mere two. John ‘Buck’ Ryan struck in the 63rd minute before Summers scored his second to make it 5-3 in the 64th.

The Addicks had begun throwing everything at the visitors’ defence and, on the treacherous and muddy pitch, anything was now possible. 

In the 73rd minute, Summers completed his hat-trick, again finding the net with another right-foot finish and, suddenly, a result was within touching distance. Five minutes later and the comeback was complete – Summers banging in another to make it 5-5 before waiting just three more minutes to score his fifth and Charlton’s sixth so put his side in front for the first time with nine minutes left on the clock.

However, the drama was nowhere near over. An 86th-minute, heavily deflected strike from Howard, the man who had collided with Ufton to cause his earlier injury, made it 6-6. By that point, it was anyone’s guess what could happen next and, thankfully, there was one more goal to come and it would come the way of the home side.

Summers, with five goals to his name already, turned his hand to an assist in the 89th minute, providing the cross which Ryan put past the Huddersfield goalkeeper Sandy Kennon to spark wild scenes with the final whistle following not long after, prompting what was left of the 12,535 crowd to storm the pitch to carry their players off as heroes.

With all this going on in SE7, Ufton lay in his hospital bed a couple of miles away in the Miller General Hospital in Greenwich, totally unaware of the dramatic turn of events.

“When I came back around, the game had long since been over and I asked my dad what had happened in the rest of the game,” he explained.

“He said ‘I don’t know, I’ll just go and find out’. So, he went away and came back to tell me that we had won 7-6! Nobody would believe him.

“The next day, the photographers all came around to my house with a couple of sports writers to get my story. Poor old Johnny Summers was the hero and had scored five goals in the game and there I was on Monday morning with my photograph in the paper having missed the match!”

The thirteen-goal classic is one that will never be forgotten and is likely to always be regarded as the greatest game The Valley has ever seen. It is just one of the fine chapters that the story of the Addicks’ famous home is able to tell and, as we celebrate its centenary, 91-year-old Ufton will always hold SE7 close to his heart.

“The Valley is a tremendous place,” he said.

“It’s a home from home for me. It’s not just a stadium, it is the whole club and it means everything. It’s part of your life, you grow up with it and it’s always there.

Although I live all the way in Canterbury, I am lucky enough to still come to watch. I don’t know how much longer that will last for, but whatever happens, I will always be Charlton at heart and The Valley will always be my home.”

(This article first appeared in the Valley Centenary special edition of Valley Review on September 14th, 2019)

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