Hoping the Oak stays strong

It’s been a stinker of a weekend for us Charlton fans, with our team getting relegated to the third tier of English football for the first time since 1980. One of my early memories of Charlton was watching Dickie Davies on World of Sport rustle up a third division table showing us second to Rotherham United – hopefully our stay in League One will be as brief as our last stint there.

But salt could be rubbed in the wounds this week as the Royal Oak, the best-known fans’ local, goes up for sale in Lincolnshire. The pub, at the end of a pretty row of cottages on Charlton Lane and just a stone’s throw from The Valley, has a connection with the club going back almost as far as its formation over a century ago, becoming its team’s headquarters in 1908 when it spent a period playing at Pound Park. Ever since then, it has been seen the tears and cheers that all football clubs inspire, helping subsidise its existence as a quiet, but cosy off-the-beaten track local.

The size of the pub was always a problem on matchdays, and when its long-serving owners sold up a couple of years ago, the new proprietor got to work in expanding the building into an adjacent yard to create a bit more space. Unfortunately, the results were underwhelming – the extension feels a bit like drinking in a garage, while work on creating a bigger bar detracted from the cosy atmosphere that could steal whole Saturday nights after a good game. The extension had been botched, most fans agreed.

But worse was to come, as relations between regulars and new landlord deteriorated. Posters appeared a few months into the new regime berating those who’d criticised the changes… never a good sign. With the bar staff replaced by a motley crew of agency staff who had severe difficulties dealing with the work involved in serving thirsty football fans – I remember one who genuinely did not realise that Magners was a drink to be served in a pint glass with ice, and wasn’t to be drunk from a bottle – customers started to vote with their feet. Some organised boycotts online, others just shuffled off elsewhere (the Liberal and Conservative clubs which sit quaintly on Charlton Church Lane have enjoyed a boost), or went home instead. With matches themselves becoming dire performances, there now wasn’t even a place to comiserate afterwards.

It didn’t take long for the landlord to throw in the towel. Earlier this month, an attempt was made to sell it by auction at the pub itself. An astonishingly high reserve price of £85,000 for a 22-year-lease was, unsurprisingly, not reached. Experienced pub trade bidders dropped out at around £50,000.

Charlton fan blog Drinking During The Game, whose author lives close to the pub, reports that “the pub continues to be badly run by an absent landlord who relies on part-time, non-professional bar staff. The pub gets tattier by the week and the locals continue to find that beer has run out or that the pub’s “closed temporarily” due to staff sickness etc”.

The pub’s fate now rests with a sale in Stamford, Lincolnshire, on Thursday. Charlton isn’t exactly a hotspot for quality drinking; the derelict Victoria by the Thames Barrier seems to sum things up, really. Two other pubs, The Valley and the Horse and Groom – both of which attracted healthy football crowds – closed during 2008 and the loss of the Royal Oak would be real a blow to the community.

Hopefully, whoever buys it will want to keep it as a pub – and hopefully there’s enough will in the planning authority to make sure it stays that way. And that Charlton fans can celebrate promotion there in a year’s time. Fingers crossed.

11 comments

  1. Good post (although a thoroughly depressing read). Talking of ‘signs’ the one that summed things up for me was the one that announced ‘GARDEN NOW OPEN’ and underneath had ‘NB: Beware as there may be shards of glass on the lawned area’. I don’t think the sign’s writer has a background in marketing…

  2. I have many happy memories of time spent before and after the game ‘down The Oak’. Remember when it was so crowded that one of the bar staff’s job before the game was almost exclusively patrolling the pavements to make sure that punters were not in the street… or the amazing scrum after the game where you couldn’t make it to the toilets at the back, so crowded was the bar.

    I haven’t been there in a long time, only once since it was sold in fact – but it would be very sad to see it go; like you say, a little piece of Charlton history… and certainly a big part of my personal Charlton history!

  3. I think you have a picture Paul of that?

    Heres hoping someone good buys its and nurtures it back to its former glory. I wont hold my breath tho.

  4. Such a pity that so many pubs are closing down. CAMRA are running an “Axe the beer tax” campaign at present. I think it will not be long before all that is left will be the big chain pubs like Wetherspoons and a few high quality pubs like the Plume of Feathers in Park Vista, Greenwich.

  5. Do love the Plume. But there are a couple of pubs left, The Rose of Denmark and The Anchor. The Anchor is my choice of Charlton pub these days. Lovely little place.

  6. There’s definitely room for the Oak to prosper – I was going to start this post by talking about the pressures on pubs and how only the strongest will survive (partly inspired by a rotten experience in a Blackheath boozer whose name sounds a bit like Grin and Bare It where they can’t be arsed to ring the bell to let customers know when to buy a last drink, and a top night in a pub in Walthamstow which has been carefully taken over and changed into a theatre pub, but still with room for the old locals).

    If I’d started it that way, I’d have remembered to compare the Oak with the Dog and Bell in Deptford – also well off the beaten track, but adored by many punters. With imagination and love, the Oak can rise again.

    I need to visit the Anchor and Hope more often. And the Rose…

    Clare – crikey, I used to work with a Huddersfield fan. They’re everywhere!

  7. There were good times when we were last in the same league as Huddersfield!

    Two words…Clyde Wijnhard.

  8. Darryl – like horse muck or something?

    Stuart – I have a photo of me taken with the mighty Clyde when he was playing for Macc Town.

    Not sure if this html will work:

  9. I know relegation to League One is all doom and gloom. It was for us, and in truth, we’ve struggled down here. It’s not easy to escape and gain promotion as everyone see’s you as their “big game” and up their performance for you visit.

    However, I hope it’s a thoroughly successful season for us both and look forward to seeing you at Elland Road. Just seen the fixtures – http://www.marchingontogether.co.cc/2009/06/17/200910-fixtures-released/ – and you’re definitely one of the stand-out games for 2009/10.

    All the best,
    David

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