There are several important dates in the recent history of Charlton Athletic Football Club that are nailed in stone, to be remembered forever more.
May 25 1998, the famous play-off final win over Sunderland, April 29 2006, the day Alan Curbishley broke the hearts of Charlton fans by announcing his departure and January 14 2011, the day Chris Powell began the healing process by agreeing to become the Addicks’ new boss, are amongst those dates that have special meaning for Charlton fans.
But what about September 13 2011? A rather inconspicuous date on the surface. The Addicks, fielding a weakened side, fell to a 2-0 defeat to Preston North End in the Carling Cup. Nothing to celebrate, but hardly a day to morn.
However, the date was remarkable for three reasons.
First, Simon Francis played his final game for the club. He bowed out in the only way he knew how to; by having a bit of a shocker. The full-back may have recovered his career elsewhere, but he was the poster boy for a disastrous time in Charlton’s history. The poorest of a very poor bunch.
Secondly, although not announced until the following day, a Frenchman named Yann Kermorgant joined the club. Little was known about Powell’s new recruit, apart from his penalty failure for Leicester City. The reports relayed to Charlton fans by their Leicester counterparts were accordingly less than glowing.
There were very serious concerns as to whether he would be good enough, whether he was needed with Paul Hayes forming a promising partnership with Bradley Wright-Phillips and if a player who had the audacity to chip a crucial penalty was welcome at the club. Alas, most showed faith in Powell’s judgement.
However, that faith was rewarded as the September 13 2011 also marked a substantial turning point in Charlton’s history. Kermorgant was the finishing touch to ‘Chris Powell’s Charlton’ side of grit, determination and players who fell in love with the club and had the fans fall in love with them. A good team became a great team, promotion from League One became inevitable and Charlton’s downward spiral came to an end.
We might not have realised it at the time, but September 13 2011 was the day we got our Charlton back.
Therefore, January 31 2014 must also be considered an equally important date in the history of Charlton Athletic Football Club. The day Yann Kermorgant departed SE7; the day Chris Powell’s Charlton came to an end.
Although new owner Roland Duchatelet offered the forward a new deal, it was seen fit to reward the talismanic figure with reduced terms, forcing Kermorgant to opt for a move to Bournemouth.
Incredibly tough to take for all Addicks; their hero, who supplied them with so many memories, would never wear the Charlton red again.
The first memory most Charlton fans, the best part of 22,000 of them, will have of the Breton will be his brief appearance off the bench in a 3-1 win over Chesterfield at The Valley. The Frenchman was involved in the third goal, showing a lovely touch and sending Scott Wagstaff clear down the right to cross for Bradley Wright-Phillips to finish. The doubts turned to optimism; optimism turned to justified excitement three days later.
In what has been dubbed by many (just myself) as the ‘Kyle Andrews Derby’, my dubiously labelled hometown club, MK Dons, were totally in control against the club I love, with the Addicks well off the pace. Facing the prospect of constant mocking at sixth form for days to come, Powell threw on Danny Green and Kermorgant in an attempt to save me from humiliation. Green’s excellent turn, the winger’s exceptional cross and Kermorgant’s majestic header pulled Charlton level. Scoring a crucial goal against MK Dons in your second game for the club is as good as any way to win me over. I had a new hero to worship.
His header, again after coming off the bench, against Sheffield United to give the away side the lead in a crucial top of the table clash in the following fixture gave every Addick a reason to believe this man was worthy of worship.
A third telling contribution in a row was enough to force Kermorgant into the starting XI at the expense of Hayes. The Frenchman, and Charlton, never looked back.
He may not have been prolific, he didn’t quite reach the prolific qualifying record of a goal every other game, but he didn’t need to be. He offered the side far more than just goals.
League One defences couldn’t deal with Kermorgant’s ability in the air, nor could they cope with his strength and guile when the ball was played into his feet. He always seemed to have ran himself into the ground by the end of every game, taking one knock too many from a burley centre back, but he still had the ability to excel from the first minute until the last. His quality made a good side a great side, but so did his determination, that rubbed off on all his teammates. The man that caused the phrase ‘a Chris Powell player’ to be coined.
However, the goals he did score were almost always crucial. The opener in the 2-0 win over six centuries unbeaten Huddersfield Town, a last minute winner against Bournemouth that sent the Addicks so far clear at the top of the division even Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink could have fitted into the gap and the only goal of the game against Oldham as nine-man Charlton all but sealed their promotion to the second tier.
He also gave a glimpse of his ability with a dead-ball. His free-kick against Yeovil was a thing of beauty and his strike against Wycombe put Charlton ahead in a game they would go onto win to confirm the title that had been theirs in all but name since November. It was over to him to wrap up an incredible season.
“And number 70, is Kermorgant,” sang the Covered End choir as a rendition of ‘We All Dream of a Team of Kermorgants” went on for several minutes in the final game of the campaign against Hartlepool; a tribute the heroic figure deserved. He responded by scoring one of the best goals ever seen in SE7.
Bradley Pritchard’s over hit cross looked to be heading out of play, but Kermorgant stretched every muscle in his body to keep it in. He deserved plaudits for that alone, but to direct the ball over the head of Hartlepool’s keeper and into the far corner of the goal from an impossible angle was something special. A special goal for a special player in a special season.
As the Frenchman, flanked by his wife and child, walked around The Valley pitch wearing a beret during the post-trophy lifting celebrations, it became clear to me how important and treasured Yann Kermorgant was.
It had been hard to love a player during the years of relegations, disappointment and failure, now there was several players Charlton fans had fallen in love with. The loveable character of ‘keeper Ben Hamer, the inspirational leadership qualities of Johnnie Jackson and the goal scoring exploits of Bradley Wight-Phillips.
And yet, one stood out on top. One man was loved more passionately by almost everyone. This was a true connection and a true two way bond that hadn’t been felt by Charlton fans in years. Especially for many of the younger fans, Yann Kermorgant was already a legend.
For me, he was that and everything more. As I have explained before, football is escapism for me. Part of that escapism was having a hero to worship; someone to love when others deserted me. An exceptional footballer whose ability gave me memorable moments in difficult times; a human whose existence made mine more bearable.
I’m sure Kermorgant had similar feelings. His difficult time at Leicester, with fans passionately hating him, was over. He now had fans that had quickly moved away from the initial scepticism and viewed him in indescribably high regard. He was welcomed, wanted and loved.
When his former employers visited The Valley in the first home game of Charlton’s return to the Championship, both sets of fans made their feelings clear about Kermorgant. Much to the delight of the home fans, the Frenchman silenced his critics, volleying home a first half goal to double Charlton’s lead. His raised finger to his lips became an iconic image; an image that will last in the minds of Addicks for decades to come.
Despite being plagued by injury for parts of the season, and being sent off in inexcusable circumstances against Nottingham Forest, the forward carried on from where he left the season before. The jump to the Championship causing few problems.
Despite a higher standard of centre back, few could prevent Kermorgant dominating in the air. Sheffield Wednesday’s Anthony Gardner held the secret to bossing Kermorgant; no others followed suit to such an extent.
Again, Kermorgant provided Charlton fans with some special moments, not least another goal against Leicester in the return fixture.
A sensational display against Watford in a 4-3 victory, a goal off the bench in his comeback from injury when Peterborough visited The Valley and the third goal, made all the sweeter by the fact it was a penalty, in an incredible comeback win over Bolton Wanderers.
But it was his, and Charlton’s form, following the Bolton game that brought untold happiness to Charlton fans. Working in partnership with Ricardo Fuller, the Frenchman flourished in what was almost a free role. Constantly dropping into midfield, Kermorgant worked harder than ever and performed arguably at his highest level during his time at the club. Goals and assists followed, including a fantastic header in the 6-0 rout at Oakwell.
But, once again, he saved his best until the final day of the season.
The game against already relegated Bristol City was a drab and dull affair, right until Kermorgant brought the game alive just after half-time. A vicious first time volley crashed into the back of the net to give the Addicks the lead, before he added his second with his lethal head. An audacious chip almost gave him his hat-trick; the fact he never scored three in one game of the Addicks is quite an injustice.
With the tune of ‘we’ve got our Charlton back ringing around The Valley following a 4-1 win and powerful words from Powell, it seemed like Chris Powell’s Charlton would never be broken up and they’d never stop rising. It seemed like Yann would be an Addick for the rest of his career.
In the summer, Kermorgant was the hope that kept us all going. With Fuller departing, leaving a small dent in one young fan’s heart, alongside Danny Haynes, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Jon Obila retuning to Spurs, the Addicks were left with only the French forward. But it was Yann. He could probably do it all on his own if needs be.
He eventually was given some partners in the form of Simon Church and Marvin Sordell, but it was Kermorgant who carried an alarmingly out of form side in the first few weeks of the season.
A delightful volley in a dire defeat to Bournemouth, the bi-annual goal against Leicester in a 2-1 win and a penalty against Watford showed his powers were far from fading.
However, the Watford game would be his last meaningful appearance for several months as Charlton’s talisman picked up an ankle injury, leaving the Addicks weaker than they already were.
Church stepped up to the plate in brief sparks, Sordell in even briefer moments, but it was obvious the Addicks were suffering without their talisman. A worrying sign for times to come with the striker out of contract and the owners seemingly unwilling to offer new deals.
And when he did return, he was a little off the pace. His performances against Yeovil and Derby were somewhat unpleasing.
The heroic Kermorgant was far from dead, however, and he returned with a bang over the Christmas period. An exceptional performance, and a goal, against Bolton was followed by one of those days that makes you fall even more in love with him.
An outstanding display of fight and determination, emphasised by shorts his mother won’t have been pleased to see, and a sensational free-kick helped Charlton to an unlikely 3-2 to win over Brighton; the last time Kermorgant would score in the league for the Addicks.
He did, however, score three times against Oxford over the course of two FA Cup ties with the League Two club, including a free-kick that was arguably the best of his dead ball show reel. Surely it was enough to persuade the new owners to reward him with a new contract?
It was, and a new deal was offered, but at reduced terms; no way to treat a player that had almost certainly become a club legend. It was apparent he would be departing.
Speculation emerged in the week that Bournemouth had bid. I laughed it off at first, but his tearful farewell in the 3-0 defeat to Doncaster found the Ricardo Fuller shaped dent in my heart and ripped right through it. Yann Kermorgant was leaving Charlton.
It was a horrible way, for both Kermorgant and Chris Powell’s Charlton, to end; a disastrous defeat and a poor performance from Kermorgant himself, only brightened by a piece of trademark trickery. An incredible era did not deserve to end like that.
Despite now being almost certain Kermorgant would depart, I tried to laugh through the moments that made it even more apparent he had played his final game for Charlton. A brief moment of hope on Thursday, with suggestions that the deal wasn’t quite a forgone conclusion, only stood to make the confirmation of his transfer more heart-breaking.
I choose the word heart-breaking very carefully. Upon seeing the official confirmation on my Twitter feed, my heart sank; sank in a way that has only happened once before, when a girlfriend of mine indicated she no longer wanted to be with me, also via the social networking site.
I’m thankful that on both those occasions, I was with the company of friends, who kept me sane; an indication that there was more to life than a girl, and there remains more to life than my worship of Kermorgant, however difficult it is to take.
For so long he has carried this wonderful Charlton side, for so long he has performed miracles and for so long he has been someone I treasured in my life. I never thought I’d find a player I’d fall in love with more than I did Darren Bent, but I did.
Kermorgant is a legend. I will defend his right to have that tag for the rest of my life.
That he will never play for Charlton again hurts. That he will be wearing another club’s shirt hurts. That he will be wearing another club’s shirt at The Valley is a soul destroying thought. My heart will sink for a third time if he scores against us.
However, I wish him well. I would love for him to be a success at Bournemouth, ironically counterbalancing the fact they have Simon Francis on their books. It’s funny how these things work out.
Another man mentioned in this piece, Fuller, had Stoke fans suggesting they would watch him play for Charlton, possibly attending away games to see their hero. Dare I say it, I’d love to turn up at Dean Court in my Charlton shirt and cheer on my hero one last time.
That thought is helped by his send off to the club’s fans. The man who had the cocky arrogance of a 17-year-old who had just passed his driving test throughout his Charlton career became the blubbering wreck of a young driver taking their first lesson.
“I’m a Charlton fan as well. I had a very, very good relationship with the fans and I love them.
“I will always be grateful for what they (the Charlton fans) have done for me.”
We love you too Yann.
We’ll always be grateful for what you’ve done for us.