Frank Burton

It’s never been easy to park near The Valley on Charlton’s matchdays. So before the club generously offered me a spot in Valley Grove behind the away end, I tried my luck up on the heights around Charlton House, which made it a piece of cake cruising down Charlton Church Lane, but not so pleasant toiling uphill later on, especially when we lost.

Anyway, me and the kids shlepped up and down for years until some all-about bright spark tipped me off about a new cul-de-sac, cut into Victoria Way, called Frank Burton Close. Talk about your Eureka moment! This little diamond serves straight into Delamere Road, leads up to the Valley cafe and a few minutes later you’re among your own. There were signs warning that it was resident parking only but nobody seemed to mind and the busies never turned up to make life unpleasant. Every one a winner, so to speak.

At some point or other, I made desultory enquiries as to the identity of our benefactor and the consensus was that Frank Burton was probably some councillor in search of immortality. These were the days before the peerless Colin Cameron put things in order for us and certainly before the likes of Google and Wikipedia revealed all. To be honest, I was always a lazy so-and-so and quickly lost interest in him.

And that’s how it stayed until I woke up to the fact that Frank “Bronco” Burton was among the most interesting men who ever played for Charlton. Interesting – and indisputably brave.

Born in Mexico in 1890, Frank was pursuing a non-league football career with West Ham when World War 1 began. Enlisting in December 1914 in the Sportsman’s Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers before joining the regiment’s 1st Battalion, he spent the entire war on the Western Front, taking part in the battles of Ypres, the Somme and Cambrai. Sgt. Burton was wounded six times and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and Medaille Militaire by the French Government. Details of his individual heroism have proved elusive but a visit to the Royal Fusiliers’ museum might be worth the effort.

Not demobbed until 1920, Frank returned to West Ham while still a soldier and scored his only goal for the East Enders in their first ever League victory at Lincoln City on September 6th 1919. Signed for Charlton by manager Walter Rayner in May 1921, the 6’1″ 12 st defender made 25 appearances during the club’s historic 1921-22 campaign, added 38 more the following season and was ever-present throughout the fledglings’ amazing progress, as a Third Division (South) side, to the 4th round (quarter-finals) of the FA Cup.

After knocking out Northampton Town and Darlington in qualifying rounds, Charlton polished off First Division giants in Manchester City (2-1), Preston North End (2-0) and West Bromwich Albion (1-0) before eventual Cup winners Bolton Wanderers got the better of them (1-0) at The Valley on March 10th 1923. Legend has it that Frank’s colourful teammate Abraham “Kosha” Goodman was poised to equalise when the collapse of a low wall behind the covered goal distracted him. Whatever the truth of that, seasoned war veteran Bronco Burton was ideally equipped to assist the many casualties.

Fifteen more league games during 1924-25 brought to an end Frank’s war-interrupted football career and he turned out for Charlton for the last time in a 2-2 draw with Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic on November 8th 1924. Following a stint as player-trainer with Grays-Thurrock, the swashbuckling Spanish-speaking adventurer briefly became the second manager of Real Oviedo in the Asturias region of Northern Spain, a relatively new club which escaped almost certain extinction just three years ago.

Frank “Bronco” Burton’s subsequent obscurity might be explained by the fact that he died in Auckland, New Zealand in 1967. After what he had been through, no doubt a quieter life had its appeal. But from Mexico to New Zealand, with desperate experiences on the Western Front and more pleasant memories of a career in professional football in between, this was clearly a bloke who gave life all he had to give.

I very rarely park in Frank Burton Close these days and I’m hoping against hope that I haven’t ruined it for those that still do. Thanks are due to Greenwich Council for their imagination in commemorating this remarkable man. They wouldn’t go and spoil it by climbing all over the Charlton fans “in the know” about this parking loophole, would they? God bless his memory, Frank would take a dim view of that.

Veteran reporter Kevin Nolan has been covering Charlton games for over 26 years, for a variety of local publications. During that time, he has been hired, fired, laid off, discarded, re-employed, sidelined, subbed, praised and insulted. Nothing surprises him any more.

Comments

  1. Mary says

    Frank Burton was a decent and hard working councillor for Trafalgar Ward who also raised money for local charities at fairs and fetes.
    And you should be ashamed of yourself for your disgraceful comments.

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  2. Kevin Nolan says

    My “disgraceful comments” amounted to no more than a vague swipe at councillors who end up with roads and suchlike named after them. I’ll accept that Cllr. Frank Burton, who seems to have been flesh and blood after all, was probably a good joe but politicians, as a whole, don’t exactly warm my cockles. Too many of them emerge from pit villages, shout the odds for a while, then disappear into the House of Lords. It’s best not to get too close to them because, one after another, they seem determined to let you down.

    I might even have gone so far as a mild apology to “Mary” but the modern practice of sniping from the cover of pseudonyms rules that out. “She” could be anyone. So with a nod to the good councillor, I’ll cling to the illusion that Greenwich Council displayed amazing insight in honouring, not one of their own, but one of the bravest of the brave, who just happened to play football for my favourite team. Good on you, Bronco.

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  3. Rob Powell says

    When I get a chance, I’ll pop to the Heritage Centre to look up the entry for Frank Burton Close in Barbara Ludlow’s “What’s In A Name” (guide to buildings and streets named after councillors) and put up the info here so we can make sure the other Frank’s achievements are recorded here, too.

    Kev – Mary is a much-respected historian, author and former local councillor – and also a contributor to the new blogs section!

    http://blogs.greenwich.co.uk/mary-mills/

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  4. says

    Hi Kev – I’ve been to the Greenwich Heritage Centre and checked it out and it does in fact seem that Frank Burton Close was named after the Labour councillor not the CAFC player.

    Your Frank sounds like an exceptional chap but it’s worth recording some info about the other Mr Burton here too. (It should be possible to click on these pictures to see the bigger versions)

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  5. says

    Greenwich Council were absolutely right to recognise the contribution to local life made by Frank No. 2 when they named the little cul-de-sac cut into Victoria Way after him. Not so sure about his roundabout, though. I wouldn’t have risked any of my kids on it from what you tell me. It seems to have required a Catcher in the Rye on duty.
    In a country which still goes sycophantically out of its way to give credit to an indolent family which adds nothing but takes away much from our life, it’s something of an appropriate retort. Calling pubs, for instance, after twerps who wouldn’t be seen dead – and certainly not alive – in them, seems the last word in cap-doffing. So hats off to the council for honouring good old Frank, who seems to have been a good sort. And you can tell Mary I said so. Now what about my Frank? Kev.

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