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What I did during Lockdown - or a Valley Mystery for our times (Part 2)

In Part 1 we heard the story of the blurred photos found in the bottom of a box some 45 or so years after they were deposited there. I was intrigued by the mystery photos and with Lockdown time on my hands why not indulge in a little exercise to track down the game in question and the players involved? If solved, it was hardly going to rival the answer to Fermat’s last theorem or the discovery of underground water on Mars but it was nevertheless going to be diverting.

Well, the photos aren’t the work of the late Tom Morris that’s for sure. One of them shows the unmistakable figure of Mike Flanagan just about to pop the ball into the net past the on-rushing goalkeeper (or is he?). The other shows the same opposition keeper back-tracking with the ball apparently high over the West Stand but on a trajectory which the goalie clearly believes presents a threat. 

First piece of luck in the quest came from the Mike Flanagan shot though. Some on-line delving at the Historical Football Kits website showed that the white stripe down the side of the shirt in the photo evidently made a first appearance in 1972-73 with Charlton playing in the old Third Division under Theo Foley.  By the way I dare you to take a look at the kit for 1923-24 without wincing! Anyway, so far so good, this was going to be easy. Next port of call Colin Cameron’s Home and Away with Charlton Athletic. Sure enough, there it is on page 254, Arthur Horsfield and Bob Curtis modelling the shirt with its distinctive white-stripe in a goal celebration tailor-made for our investigation, 72-73 it is then (although for reasons later explained and discounted the 'stripe' survived into the following season) and thus only 23 home games plus Valley cup ties to choose from!

Now what? Time to call in not Ghostbusters but our very own Sherlock Holmes, the irrepressible Glass Half Full of Charlton Life fame (aka Alan Dryland). The last time I had seen Alan was at the museum for a pre-lockdown game (probably Luton) and he looked so at home there I wasn’t really quite sure whether he hadn’t been added to the exhibits. Within hours I had received from him a mini-breakdown of every home league game for the season in question applying what he termed ‘filters’ in order to reduce the number of possible games to be investigated. This was no mean feat given the paucity of information with which he had been provided (no more than the photos themselves) It turned out that none of the cup ties of 72-73 would fit the photo evidence. Six of them were night games whereas the photos were clearly taken in daylight, whilst the seventh, although an afternoon kick-off, was the 3rd round FA cup tie v Bolton; in goal for the Wanderers that day was Charlie Wright our former stopper and that is certainly not him in the photos.

The application of the Dryland methodology to the remaining 23 league games allowed one match to be ruled out immediately- Flanagan didn’t play in the home game v Blackburn – one down, 22 to go. Night games could account for a further 6, we are down to 16.  Pitch looks worn so probably not an early season game. If Flanagan scored from the chance he is about to take in the photo we are in business with only Plymouth, Oldham, Port Vale and Bolton fitting the bill for Flanagan day-time goals scored at The Valley that season but Charlie Wright was in goal for Bolton for the league as well as the cup game and we know it’s not him – already we are down to 3. This is where Alan took the research to a new level by close study of the kit of the opposition player seen just to the left of the goalie in the Flanagan photo. Obviously, he can’t be wearing a red shirt so it’s a plain dark shirt of another colour worn with white shorts and socks. Back to the Historical Shirts site and although home rather than away shirts are depicted the site can still provide good indicators for socks and shorts. Now we are cooking. Allied with photos of home games from the relevant season it was possible to eliminate Port Vale and Oldham (both wearing dark shorts in their games at The Valley).  That left Plymouth.

No programme photos of the game in subsequent home progs so not quite there but worth a punt. According to Colin Cameron, Peta Balac (actually Bala’c) was the Argyle keeper when Charlton beat Plymouth 3-0 at The Valley on the 7th October 1972. With a name like Balac an internet search takes only minutes to come up with a date of birth, 1953, place Exeter, current location Chester. Wikipedia even gives the name of his local cricket club and via its chairman I was talking direct to Peta Balac within hours. Coincidence piles upon coincidence when Peta reveals that his mother still lives in Exeter (which has been my home town since having been exiled from Charlton (well Sherwood Park Avenue, Sidcup) since 1969. A 45minute phone conversation ensues and not surprisingly he doesn’t remember a thing about the game at The Valley but what a stellar career the guy had after leaving Argyle, taking in Sacramento and Sporting Lisbon before 170 games for Kaiser Chiefs in South Africa and picking up 13 trophies into the bargain. We have our first major suspect and all the guy needs to do is look at the photos sent though to him by e-mail and maybe the quest is over – or is it?

Days later and I have no reply. Meanwhile, Alan Dryland has somehow inveigled a Plymouth librarian and Argyle fan into spending time searching out and scanning the report of the game from the Western Evening Herald. Initially, the headline looks good, at least from our perspective. Bala’c blunders give Charlton easy goals it thunders; no wonder Peta will admit no recollection of it! 

One of these blunders must refer to the skyward ball looping up and drooping behind him into the net but on closer inspection all three goals are described as having been scored from close range, two of them headers. 

Then the killer blow arrives, Peta Balac says it isn’t him in the photos – doh!

Well, I hesitate to cast Alan and myself in the role of Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming for obvious reasons but we were sent back to the suspects' board to do some old-fashioned detective work if we were going to reveal the identity of Goalkeeper B. 

 Find out how it went in Part 3 tomorrow. 

DI Coyote John (aka The Lone Gunman) and DI Alan Dryland (aka Glass Half Full)




  • My own detection work has been left floundering. 

    By shrewd analysis of the part 2 document it seems that part 3 should have been posted on May 16th.   The thing is I can't find it.  That's not to say its not there of course, as I possess the special skill of easily missing what's right in front of me.  I have tried cut and pasting the title to google search (whilst sneakily editing the 2 to a 3) to no avail.

    Can someone bump part 3 to the front page please so that I might find it?  

  • Please refer to  the new thread currently on page 2  - Who was B . Your Line of Duty substitute.

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