Football is full of peculiarities that run throughout its history; a whole host of coincidences that beggar belief and puzzle even the most logical of minds. Seldom do those minds settle on two consecutive meetings between Charlton Athletic and Plymouth Argyle however, and (usually) with good reason.
In 1960/61, when both were in the Second Division, they were set to meet one another twice over Christmas. The first game would be at the Valley on Boxing Day, while the following day, both sides would hurry over to Home Park for the return fixture. It might not be the easiest of journeys, but there were signs during the early part of the season that it might be worth keeping an eye on.
If we take Argyle first of all. They had made a promising start to the season, winning three of their first four games, the only defeat coming at an already impressive Sheffield Utd. After a blip, including defeats at Norwich and Lincoln, the Pilgrims picked up, most evidently in front of goal. September brought a pair of improbable 5-1 wins, against Portsmouth and at Huddersfield respectively, while later on in the year, a 4-0 defeat by Liverpool (albeit with five changes to the side) was dwarfed by Stoke City’s 9-0 walloping of the West Country side. Plymouth were a side who could score, but would also concede.
The Addicks had been less consistent, but had also shown they were good value; another heavy win against Portsmouth (7-4 this time) was bettered by a 6-6 draw with Middlesbrough, and that came directly after a 3-5 win at Brighton and Hove. In short, by the time Christmas came around, you would likely favour goals in a meeting between Charlton and Plymouth.
At 2.15pm, on Boxing Day 1960, all would be revealed.
By half time, Charlton led 3-2 and unusually after a high-scoring first half, the goals continued to flow in the second period. Plymouth, to add insult to injury, finished the game in the knowledge they would be without forward George Kirby the following day, meaning that Wilf Carter, who had disappointed so far that season, was allowed a stay of execution in the side. While he might not have had much effect on the 6-4 defeat that Charlton inflicted on the Pilgrims at the Valley, his hour to shine was coming.
It came early the following day, in a pulsating battle on a muddy Home Park pitch. Restored to the more usual 3.15pm kick off, by four o’clock, Plymouth led 4-2 and Carter had scored all four. A penalty on the hour mark afforded him the opportunity to make it 5-3 and though Charlton battled gamefully to reduce the deficit to one again, a fine strike from Alex Jackson ensured the scoreline ended the same unlikely 6-4 again.
Neither side was able to push on after their victory, and both ended the season in mid-table. Charlton were 10th, with a ludicrous 188 goals scored (97/91) in their 42 games, while Plymouth were 1 point behind, their season producing a far saner 163 strikes. It was, its fair to be said, a high-scoring time. Division 2 produced 3.48 goals per game, which was out-played by Division 1’s mammoth 3.73; Chelsea’s games saw 198 goals (100/98) that campaign, while Division 3 South Champions Peterborough racked up 85 home goals alone in their debut Football League campaign. A bad year for goalkeepers, then.
Charlton, it has to be said, must have ended up sick of the sight of Carter. Although he was somewhat out of form earlier in the 1960/61 season, he had scored for Plymouth in both games against the Addicks the previous campaign, a 5-2 defeat at the Valley and (believe it or not) grabbed a hat-trick in the 6-4 victory at Home Park. He went on to score another hat-trick in 1961 (a 6-1 win) and got one of the Pilgrims’ three in a 6-3 defeat.
That meant the run of results, when Plymouth were promoted to Division 2 in 1960, between them and Charlton went as follows; 6-4, 5-2, 6-4, 6-4, 2-1, 3-1, 6-1, 6-3 – an average of 7.5 goals per game. Football is full of peculiarities that run throughout its history, and Plymouth and Charlton’s turn of the 60s shootouts were a fine example of just that.