Charlton were relegated to the third tier of English football in spring 2009, and amidst the shame of such a plummet, lack of cash flow and at one point the looming threat of administration, a large number of the club’s fan base were driven away from attending regular games.
Now that the Addicks have finally secured a return to the Championship in grand fashion, the easy thing for most of us to do is shut the last three years out of our memories – at the very least, the first two – and start afresh, able to stand proud at the office water cooler once again.
But I’ve never done anything the easy way.
That is why I’ve spent the last few days looking at the past while everybody glances optimistically at the future – and rightfully so. The upshot is that I have compiled a list of the best moments of three years in the third division, through thick and thin, from Parkinson through Peacock to Powell.
Before we get to it, some guidelines. Firstly, these choices are mine and mine alone, and not all of them will be consensus. There may also be omissions due to games I was unable to make.
Lastly, this has been compiled in an entirely non-linear manner. Some of the entries will be games, some will be goals, others will be impressive runs for team, manager or even just one player.
Regardless of the nature of each choice, these are, to me, the fondest memories of League One life as a Charlton writer and a Charlton fan.
Right. Let’s get foraging…
2009/10: season one. Final league position: 4th
Landing on our feet… On the one hand, Phil Parkinson was a dummy manager. An assistant put into the hot seat because no better candidates were available (or affordable) following Alan Pardew’s sacking.
But with little more than a League One promotion with Colchester and a reported improvement on dressing room morale post-Pards to his name, next to nothing to spend and a horde of disgruntled supporters demanding a quick return to the second tier, Parky got off to an impressive start.
Wins against Wycombe, Hartlepool, Leyton Orient, Walsall and Brentford – as well as a 4-0 thumping of Tranmere on their own turf – saw the Reds match Leeds United move for move with form they were unfortunately unable to sustain.
Drubbing the Dons… indeed, defeats and stutters would eventually come through the autumn, culminating in the infamous FA Cup exit at Northwich Victoria. The non-league club’s name was even sung by the Valley’s next visitors, Milton Keynes Dons, as they took an early lead through Aaron Wilbraham.
The gloating wouldn’t last.
Dave Mooney, Nicky Bailey, Lloyd Sam, Sam Sodje and Deon Burton soon sent the Franchise outfit packing, before mediocre manager Paul Ince would throw his toys out of the pram at the subsequent press conference.
Claiming the Dons were denied two ‘clear penalties’ (both of which were disproven by highlights) and that his battered side actually dominated an hour of the match, Ince only served to enhance the enjoyment on the day for Charlton fans.
Now THAT is a local derby… On December 19, 2009, Millwall made their first competitive visit to SE7 in a long time and though the home fans would have loved nothing more than to conquer their neighbours, the end result was far from miserable.
After a Deon Burton brace cancelled out Steve Morison’s own and saw Jimmy Abdou sent off in the process, Nicky Bailey put the hosts in front with a belting volley on the second ball.
There can be no denying the great fight shown by the Lions as they equalised through David Martin and then at the death courtesy of Danny Schofield after Morison had put through his own net, but the game was an absolute treat for all in attendance.
We’ve only got nine men… Another score draw makes the elite list – but lord almighty, did the Boxing Day visit of Swindon not feel like a massive win?
Sam Sodje’s early dismissal couldn’t stop Charlton taking the lead via Jonjo Shelvey, but when Burton rather foolishly earned himself a second yellow card before half-time, the odds of keeping that lead were slim. And through the super strike partnership of Billy Paynter and Charlie Austin, the numbers game put the Robins ahead… until Miguel Llera stepped up to the plate.
Dramatic and unlikely, his stoppage-time equaliser was a superb lobbed finish in a crowded box by a central defender, and truly one of the best-feeling finales to a game at The Valley in a while.
Nicky Bailey: League One’s Stevie G… Between the influence the ginger-haired midfielder would have on games during his time as a Charlton player from left to right and box to box, and his disturbing knack for making opposition fanbases absolutely despise him, Bailey for me really was at times a lower league equivalent of Liverpool’s own captain and talisman.
And in early 2010 when the former Southend man scored a crucial winner at Wycombe before celebrating in the rain in front of a jubilant away end, his tenure as a key Addick in my mind reached an absolute peak – though his stoppage time equaliser a few weeks later at Swindon to frustrate the Robins late on yet again was up there, too.
Introducing Kyel Reid… ‘Signed on loan from…’ was looked upon as profanity at one point in Charlton circles, and rightfully so: between Pardew’s harebrained short-term deals and successor Parkinson’s desperate attempts to band-aid said squad before relegation was confirmed, non-permanent additions seldom equated to joy for long-suffering supporters.
Parky would get it right a few times after the drop, however, and although West Ham graduate Reid would not show the consistency and application required as a future permanent Addick, his initial loan spell was memorable.
Beginning with a cracker at home to Yeovil, the effort was matched by his equaliser at Huddersfield but surpassed by the dramatic late winner at Roots Hall which almost tore the roof off the away end.
An old hand… And speaking of successful loanees, Parkinson pulled off another one towards the end of the campaign with Charlton’s promotion bid at risk of full capitulation when he secured the short-term services of 36-year-old Nicky Forster from Brighton, who themselves were undergoing what would be a successful transformation under Gus Poyet.
With Deon Burton’s form from the first half of the season M.I.A, the soft-spoken stand-in striker would impress in his cameo spell, scoring the only goal at stadium:mk on Easter Saturday before repeating the feat at home to Colchester and single-handedly adding six points to the promotion charge.
We only need one goal… That was the chant coming from 3,000 Leeds fans in the Jimmy Seed stand on the penultimate match-day of the season, when with the score at 0-0 a late winner for the visitors would have clinched promotion at the third attempt (sound familiar?)
They got that goal, all right – but it wasn’t at the end they’d hoped.
Akpo Sodje, who joined brother Sam at the club and would win over the fan base with sporadic yet meaningful contributions, made the biggest one of his time at The Valley with the winning goal to force Leeds to wait a further week and give Charlton hope that second could be theirs, after all…
Pipped at the post… Well, it didn’t happen in the end. But what a ride we experienced at Boundary Park in the process.
No less than five different teams had a mathematical chance of finishing second on the final day, where the Addicks were hosted by Oldham. And though Charlton and Huddersfield had a slim chance in comparison to Swindon, Milwall and Leeds, Parkinson’s men took an efficient 2-0 lead to take care of their end of the bargain.
From there, it got really exciting, as everybody took their turn occupying that final automatic spot behind champions Norwich throughout 90 captivating minutes, and when Leeds found themselves down to ten men and losing, and Millwall and Swindon were level in their clash, for around a quarter of an hour the Reds were going up.
Though Leeds would come from behind to re-claim second after all, every possible combination of promotion winner and play-off pairing was teased in the space of one episode of Gilette Soccer Saturday.
2010/11: season two. Final league position: 13th
Fighting spirit… The play-off defeat – in the most agonising way conceivable – to Swindon was followed by a worrying summer where the squad was further depleted with Parky only able to bring in what were seen as and ultimately turned out to be inferior players on a shoestring. Hopes for the second season in League One looked bleak.
Nonetheless, the workmanlike attitude was still apparent, and it led to a promising start as Charlton won their first two games, despite spending a fair chunk of time in each a player short. And victory in the second of those – at Leyton Orient – was capped by the only Charlton goal to date for Chris Solly.
Doing it the hard way… I was in Philadelphia the day of the infamous 4-0 defeat at home to eventual champions Brighton, and the text message confirming the full-time result inevitably put a dampener on my weekend.
I was still there the following Saturday when the Reds headed to Brunton Park, and the ensuing sequence of score updates from friends while sat in the downtown Dark Horse bar were an absolute strain on the emotions.
Though Johnnie Jackson, Joe Anyinsah and Paul Benson appeared to be making amends for the Albion humiliation by putting the away side three clear, Carlisle would manage to pull back to level terms only for Benson to win it at the death with his second of the game.
Academy Day… I was back attending live games by the time Sheffield Wednesday came into town at the end of that month, and in a match against promotion rivals (who would also go on to MASSIVEly disappoint) on what the club christened Academy Day, one of our own would begin what will hopefully become a permanent tradition in style.
Not only did Academy graduate Scott Wagstaff’s goal win the game for Charlton, but the U18s earlier that day claimed a big scalp with an away win at Arsenal, fielding the early nexus of the side that would raise serious eyebrows at youth level the following season.
Posh get pummelled… The previous campaign had ultimately seen Phil Parkinson fail in his sole objective of getting the Addicks back into the Championship, and when a dip in form in 10/11 coincided with the arrival of Michael Slater and company, he never would get a chance to try again.
But while replacing Parky with Chris Powell has turned out as an absolute masterstroke, the 5-1 win away at eventual play-off winners Peterborough was the pinnacle of a season of transition. It also marked the finest performance of loanee Lee Martin, who helped himself to two of the goals.
Peacock completes the sticker collection… Though the general consensus amongst the fanbase was that replacing Parkinson was the way forward, there was a lot of initial concern over who could possibly come in and secure promotion with such a low budget squad.
However, the appointment of Keith Peacock as caretaker for the trips to Tottenham and Sheffield Wednesday was not only a shrewd feel-good move to alleviate the bitter taste of links to Dennis Wise and a failure to bring Eddie Howe on board, but added an umpteenth role the club icon had fulfilled for the Reds.
Join us here on charltonlive.co.uk tomorrow for part two of the three-year retrospect, as Chris Powell returns home to put things right.