Sam Bartram the eternal showman

Samuel "Sam" Bartram was born on January 22nd 1914 in South Shields, England and all of my generation who followed football after WWII had heard of him and marvelled at his performances week after week for Charlton Athletic.  In a recent article on my website about the FA Cup final of 1946 Sam found himself on the losing side but would return to Wembley 12 months later and pick up his well-deserved medal. The 1947 FA Cup Final was contested by Charlton Athletic and Burnley at Wembley, England on 26 April 1947.  Charlton, losing finalists the previous year, won by a single goal, scored in extra time by Chris Duffy. History repeated itself this year as the ball again burst during the game.  Later, the reason for these problems in 1946 and 1947 was put down to the poor quality of leather available after the Second World War.


Don Welsh, the Charlton captain, is carried around the Wembley pitch by his team mates
including goalkeeper Sam Bartram

After school, Sam Bartram became a miner and played as either centre forward or wing-half in north east non-league football.  As a teenager he had an unsuccessful trial with Reading.  When his local village club Boldon Villa were without a goalkeeper for a cup final in 1934 Sam took over in goal.  A scout from Charlton Athletic, Angus Seed, was watching the game and Sam played so well that Angus recommended him to Charlton Athletic. In his first three years with Charlton the club rose from Division Three to runners-up in the top division.  He subsequently played in goal for Charlton for 22 years, and was never dropped from the team until he retired in 1956. He is considered one of Charlton's greatest players, and their finest keeper.   He was, in the words of sportswriter Mike Langley, a “sandy-haired acrobat who never lost his enjoyment for the game or gratitude to it for pulling him out of the mines in County Durham”.  When people of my generation talk about Charlton Athletic, usually one of the first things anyone mentions is Sam Bartram.

Bartram was involved in a well reported incident on Christmas Day 1937 when thick fog closed in on a game he was playing against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. "Soon after the kick-off," he wrote in his autobiography, "fog began to thicken rapidly at the far end, travelling past Vic Woodley in the Chelsea goal and rolling steadily towards me. The referee stopped the game, and then, as visibility became clearer, restarted it. We were on top at this time, and I saw fewer and fewer figures as we attacked steadily."  The game went unusually silent but Sam remained at his post, peering into the thickening fog from the edge of the penalty area. And he wondered why the play was not coming his way.  "After a long time," he wrote, "a figure loomed out of the curtain of fog in front of me. It was a policeman, and he gaped at me incredulously. "What on earth are you doing here?"  he gasped. "The game was stopped a quarter of an hour ago. The field's completely empty".  “And when I groped my way to the dressing-room, the rest of the Charlton team, already out of the bath and in their civvies, were convulsed with laughter."

Sam Bartram, left, and Vic Woodley who played in the fog affected match

Although Bartram toured Australia with an England XI in 1951 and played for the England B team, he was burdened with the unwanted praise of 'the finest goalkeeper never to play for England' as the England national football team had Bert Williams, Frank Swift and Ted Ditchburn jostling for the goalkeeper position. He played in four successive Wembley finals between 1944 and 1947 and was runner-up to the legendary Tom Finney in the 1954 Footballer of the Year vote at the age of 40.

Bartram left Charlton to manage York City, then Luton Town, prior to a career as a football columnist for The People and spent his final years in Harpenden. In 1976-7 an estate was built at the Jimmy Seed end of the ground consisting of a block of flats and seven houses. It was named Sam Bartram Close. In 2005, a nine-foot statue of Sam Bartram was erected outside The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, in order to celebrate the club's centenary.  Fifty years after his retirement, Charlton Athletic named Bartram's bar and restaurant in his honour at their Valley headquarters

He became a legendary figure in a professional career spent entirely with Charlton, with his name frequently finding its way to the top of match reports. He had a knack for finding himself in bizarre situations, and his innate sense of showmanship would see him make regular forays outside his goal, taking his cap off to head clear, and sometimes dribbling the ball as far as the opposition penalty area.   A man of incredible agility, and an incorrigible attention-seeker, he could, as the Daily Mirror wrote ahead of his final appearance, "always make an easy save look good, a good save look great and a great save look miraculous".  Charlton were promoted as champions in Bartram's first season, and the next campaign saw them promoted from Division Two as runners-up to Manchester United.  After a 4-2 win over Newcastle United in February 1936, the Daily Express wrote: "You have to hand it to red-headed Sam Bartram. Many of his saves would make classic Harry Hibbs shudder. Yet he gets there. He invents saves ... Bartram is a keeper with a style of his own. You expect mistakes but get thrills instead."  The following season, he hit the headlines when he opted to hold his wedding on the morning of a home game against Middlesbrough.  Bartram left the ceremony to play in the match and, having only just recovered from blood poisoning, he helped Charlton to a 1-0 victory - or, in the words of the Daily Mirror, "successfully banned, times without number, the joining of the ball and the net in bonds of matrimony". Afterwards, he returned to his wife for the wedding reception.  Bartram remained the team's most prominent figure, and he became a target for the opposing fans in a game at Portsmouth in October 1938. During the match, Bartram had saved a Fred Worrall penalty, and not long afterwards a frustrated Worrall was brawling with Charlton's Jimmy Oakes, leading to the dismissal of both players. The crowd had been riled - Worrall was cheered as he left the field, but the home fans, the Mirror said, "roared like a lynching party" at Oakes. Bartram bore the brunt of the anger, with the Pompey fans setting fire to his goal netting before throwing half a brick at his head and knocking him to the floor as he prepared to take a goal-kick. Charlton won the game 2-0.

World War II robbed many players of the best years of their careers, but Bartram - who would serve his country by joining the War Reserve Police and then the RAF as a physical training instructor - made four unofficial appearances for England during that time and had his fair share of success in the Football League War Cup.  Football was getting back to normal by the 1945-46 season, with the FA Cup resuming alongside the North and South Leagues. In the South League, Charlton missed out on the title by one point to Birmingham City, and Bartram had to take his share of responsibility: installed as the club's new penalty taker, he struck the bar with a late spot-kick in a 1-0 defeat to Blues in February.  In the FA Cup, Bartram was back at Wembley for the third year in succession as Charlton met Derby County in the final but, while The Guardian felt the goalkeeper's performance showed him "at the very peak of his brilliant best", he was unable to avert a 4-1 extra-time defeat.

Sam’s sports shop in Floyd Road, Charlton with the team taking some exercise

He played his last game in March 1956, a 2-0 victory over Arsenal, after deciding to move into management with Third Division side York, leaving long-serving manager Jimmy Seed to search for a successor. "I shall feel a big wrench when I pin up the team for next week's match without Sam's name at the top," Seed said. "You don't find another Sam Bartram without a long, long search." The following season, Charlton finished bottom of the table, and they would not return to the top-flight for another 30 years.  Bartram - linked with the Charlton job after Seed's retirement in September 1956 - spent only six years in management before becoming a reporter with the Sunday People. In 1981, while making his way home from the office, he died at the age of 67.

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