• Rewind to 1957

Summers gifts Charlton a Christmas miracle

Jon Carter
December 22, 2011
Charlton pulled off a memorable comeback at The Valley © PA Photos

The Saturday before Christmas in 1957 saw one of the greatest comebacks in football history as ten-man Charlton beat Bill Shankly's Huddersfield 7-6 at The Valley, having been 5-1 down with only 30 minutes to go. The hero of the (half) hour was Charlton winger Johnny Summers, who scored five and set up the other two in the game. This is the story of that amazing match.

The pressure of the pre-Christmas shopping rush had obviously taken its toll on the Charlton faithful as, on December 21 in 1957, only 12,500 turned up at The Valley to watch the Addicks take on Huddersfield in the Second Division. With a stadium that could hold 70,000 looking decidedly empty, the cold and wet weather played its part, but those who were there would remember their day.

One of English football's earliest great sides, Huddersfield's success in the 1920s could not be maintained and they were relegated from the top flight in 1951-52. It was a demotion that would not last long as they bounced straight back up again, but they went down once more in 1955-56 and the resignation of manager Andy Beattie brought a middle-aged Bill Shankly to only his fourth job in November 1956.

Shankly would go on to create history in his next position at Liverpool, but one of his lowest points for the Terriers came against a Charlton side who had conceded 120 goals to finish at the bottom of the First Division at the end of 1956-57. The Addicks were also in the midst of transition as Jimmy Seed ended 23 years at Valley when he resigned as manager the previous September to be replaced by Jimmy Trotter and, with the new boss unable to inspire his side, relegation was unavoidable.

The first test of their Second Division campaign came against Huddersfield on the opening day of the 1957-58 season and it was a precursor of things to come (albeit the other way around). The Addicks were 3-0 up at half-time, but capitulated in the second-half and goals from Alex Bain, Ron Simpson and Yorkshire cricketer Ken Taylor levelled the scores to give the Terriers an unlikely draw.

The Daily Express's Norman Wynne wrote under a headline of 'Charlton Panic' that "manager Jimmy Trotter must lecture his players of the folly of their 'what we have we hold' policy". It was not long before they would have a chance to make him eat his words.

Indeed, with both clubs embarking on a decent run that suggested promotion was a possibility at the end of the season, they met again just before Christmas and the result was incredible. The first-half saw Huddersfield take advantage of some sloppy defending to go 2-0 ahead before the break with goals from Les Massie and Bain. The turning point, however, had come after just 17 minutes when Charlton's centre-half and captain Derek Ufton was carried off to hospital with a dislocated shoulder after landing awkwardly. No substitutes were allowed in these dark days of football and the Addicks would have to play on with ten men.

With Christmas on their minds and no desire to see a thumping, some of the 12,500 left early, but they missed the comeback of the century. A small tactical change from Trotter seemed to make all the difference as Johnny Summers - a journeyman after spells with Fulham, Norwich and Millwall - was switched from inside-left back to centre-forward and within two minutes, he had scored with his unfavoured right foot to make it 2-1.

Charlton's five-goal hero Johnny Summers © PA Photos

It was a short-lived change though as Huddersfield raced further into the lead with two quick goals from Bain and England's wing-half Bill McGarry, and they then added a fifth from Bob Ledger. Andrew Ward in 'Football's Strangest Matches' wrote: "The visitors, who included future England full-back Ray Wilson, looked certainties for two Second Division points [in those days it was two points for a win], even when John 'Buck' Ryan scored a consolation goal."

So, at 5-2, Charlton looked done and dusted and more fans were heading for the exits. Then came the events that led Summers to label it his "greatest day in soccer". The centre-forward had struggled in recent games and had even been forced to change his boots at half-time as they were falling apart. Although he later said to "forget all the stories about the lucky new boots I used in the second half", something changed and the notoriously left-footed Summers smashed in four goals with his right after admitting: "We've nothing to lose, so every time I get a chance I'll have a crack."

It was a tactic that worked well; the ten men of Charlton netted five goals in 18 minutes - the last three by Summers within the space of eight minutes - and were walking on air. Possibly too much so, as the Addicks continued to plough forward, urged on by a baying crowd.

With just nine minutes remaining, the scoring was not done and Huddersfield equalised through Stan Howard (only playing because 17-year-old future Manchester United legend Denis Law was rested) with a shot that flew in off Charlton defender John Hewie. 6-6. But, with emotions running high, there was always going to be a final twist and it came with the last kick of the game. Summers fed Ryan and the big attacker slammed home the 11th goal of the second-half to give the home side an improbable 7-6 victory.

As the whistle went, the cries of 'We want Summers' could be heard across The Valley and the centre-forward rightly took in the praise. Incredibly, he had been just one game away from being dropped into the reserves. Trotter told the Daily Mirror after the match: "I had decided three weeks ago that Johnny was out of love with football and was getting stale. So I switched him from centre forward to outside left as a last resort. He had failed there until the Huddersfield game on Saturday. This was his last chance. Now I can't possibly drop him of course."

Summers himself revealed: "I knew I had lost my touch. I thought I would be dropped as, even after being switched, I still had two bad games. On Saturday I had a nightmare first-half and then everything suddenly started to go right. I am a great one for singing a song and after I had said thanks to all the fans, they asked me for a tune. But I was so choked I couldn't even give them my favourite 'I'm Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter.'"

Summers' wife Betty added: "What a weekend this has been. And right on top of Christmas too" and, under a headline of 'Charlton turn the tables', The Guardian wrote: "The history of Association Football has few more remarkable stories to offer than Charlton Athletic's great fightback... The rest of the Football League programme seems pedestrian by comparison." One report simply stated: "Amazing... incredible... fantastic."

What happened next?
Following the defeat, Huddersfield slipped down the table and ended the season in ninth place, while Charlton finished third and missed out on promotion to Blackburn by a single point after losing their final match of the season 4-3 to Rovers. The two teams met again in the FA Cup a few weeks later and drew 2-2, before Charlton won the replay 1-0 back in London. Huddersfield are still the only side in England to have scored six goals and lose, although 1960 saw Charlton (again) net six in a 6-6 draw with Middlesbrough. That same year, Summers hit the goal trail again as he scored five against Portsmouth, but sadly died from leukaemia two years later aged just 34.

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