Tales from the crypt: The greatest comeback
One of the basic lessons coaches all around the world and of every sport teach youngsters is to not give up till the end, to fight till the last moment – till the proverbial fat lady sings.
The same fighting ‘never say die’ spirit is what creates some of the most exciting matches. To see a team snatch victory from the jaws of defeat is perhaps the most exhilarating, the most pure form of sporting satisfaction. Although the fans of the losing team are sure to feel the exact opposite.
Such extreme contrasting feelings are associated with every ‘comeback’. But, what sets apart an English second division clash between Charlton Athletic and Huddersfield Town from long back in 1957 is the enormity of the fight-back, the odds the winning team overcame, the mini fight-back by the losing team only to enter the books with a record loss and the winner with the last kick of the game.
Charlton Athletic with an FA Cup win in 1947 had established themselves as a first division team in the 1940s and the first half of 50s only to be relegated to the second division in the 1956-57 season after conceding a massive 120 goals.
Huddersfield, no longer the team from their glory days of the 1920s, had been relegated to the second division a season before Charlton. And after Andy Beattie resigned in November of 1956, Bill Shankly, the then-assistant manager was promoted as the manager of Huddersfield.
The fateful day:
With it being a fixture just before the Christmas with more than half of the league fixtures remaining and with Charlton just on the fringes of promotion-challenging places, the game was just another league fixture with not much riding on its outcome.
Thus, there was little in the visit of mid table Huddersfield Town to inspire the locals on the Saturday before Christmas. As a result a below average crowd of 12,535 were in attendance.
How it transpired:
The match started slowly with the visitors having a slight upper hand in the opening exchanges. There was no highlight moment till the 17th minute when Charlton’s skipper Derek Ufton went for a tackle and landed badly on the heavy ground resulting with him being carted off to the hospital, where it was diagnosed that he had dislocated his shoulder.
With no substitutions allowed during those days meant that the home side had to play more than 70 minutes with only 10 men without their centre-half captain.
The Charlton defense did their best to hold the fort but 10 minutes later, the inevitable happened and Huddersfield took the lead when Les Massie fired home from point blank range. After eight more minutes, Alex Bain found space in the Charlton defense left due to Ufton’s injury and slotted home a second for the away side. The score line remained the same till half time.
Being two goals and a man down, Charlton manager Jimmy Troter had to make some tactical change to save the day and he pushed their most influential player, left winger Johnny Summers to centre forward.
There is an interesting story about Summers that he was uncomfortable with his shoes as they had worn out so much that he was more concerned about them coming apart which slightly hampered his performance. Finally, in the half time break, he replaced them with new ones. The change of boots did the trick as he pulled one back for Charlton barely two minutes after the restart.
A popular football cliché says a team is most vulnerable just after scoring. And that was the case with Charlton. Huddersfield took complete control by scoring twice in the next four minutes. With their team 1-4 down, some of the fans had enough and started trickling out of the stadium.