It’s easy to scorn at those who fall in love with a football club, and it’s even easier to ridicule those that develop a deep, emotional attachment to a part of that club that will always have an expiry date. Not being able to detach yourself from the goings on of something that is nothing more than a sport team is pathetic, laughable and a sign of weakness.
But they don’t understand; those that don’t care about football, have a passing interest in it or merely see it as theatre-like entertainment can’t ever begin to imagine what those of us who dedicate our lives to it, and let it dictate our emotions, go through.
They can’t understand that the club us Addicks supported was damaged, poisoned and difficult to love and was turned around by one man; a man that gave his all to make this club great again. They can’t understand what that means to us.
I’ve see the phrase ‘no man is bigger than the club’ a thousand times, but upon hearing the news of Chris Powell’s departure this morning, it felt like the club I had fallen in love with was no more.
In three years, Powell transformed Charlton from a club in a state of unstoppable rot to one that had a way forward, players that gave their all for the club and a manager that epitomised everything that was suddenly becoming right.
For years, I felt embarrassed to tell people I supported that football club that was enduring an unbelievable demise, but I couldn’t wait to inform new acquaintances that I supported Chris Powell’s Charlton.
But, in the space of two months, Chris Powell’s Charlton has been ripped apart. Everything that Powell built up over the space of three years has gone, just like that. I’m no longer proud, I no longer have hope and, my god, do I already miss having the great man at my football club.
I’m hurting, I’m distraught, I’m in despair; something many will mock or fail to understand. But Powell has given me not only some of my best footballing moments, but some of the very best moments of my life.
It’s not just as a manager either; his playing days confirmed his legendary status before he even adorned the flat cap and suit.
I started supporting Charlton Athletic too late to see Chris Powell at the peak of his powers on the pitch. In fact, during my first season at The Valley, Powell was plying his trade at West Ham.
But long before I even had any desire to step foot inside SE7, I had been told of this mythical being called ‘Chrissy Powell’; my mother often used to ridicule my father’s love for him.
It was apparent that, even to someone who was a little distant from football at a young age, this man was loved by many and was a special character; an exceptional talent, an England international and already possessing that good bloke image.
I got to witness the good bloke first hand when he returned to The Valley for the 2005/06 season. As mascot for a 1-1 draw with Fulham, I had the pleasure of my hair being ruffled by the great man. If that happened when I was old enough to fully realise what was going on, I would have found a way to surgically remove my hair and have it framed.
It took me no time at all to realise what the fuss was all about, and I was as gutted as anyone when Powell departed for Watford at the end of the season. The reception he received, despite not playing in the fixture at Vicarage Road, both times was powerful. Chrissy Powell, Chrissy Powell, Chrissy Powelllllll.
But he returned following Charlton’s relegation to the Championship. A dreadful season under a manager who saw it fit to play the likes of Ben Thatcher and Grant Basey ahead of him followed, but one very special moment was left right until the final day of the season.
This was before the days of smart phones, iPads and Twitter. It was also before I developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of all the available details about the club and was aware of every rumour typed into the deepest depths of the internet.
I had no idea that Powell would be departing for a third time at the end of the season, but the unforgettable roar that marked his introduction to the game against Coventry with six minutes to go made me realise something wasn’t right.
I had tears in my eyes as I joined in with the chants and applause for him; I struggled to contain myself as he scored two minutes later. It was a special moment, and one that I’ll never forget. I hadn’t felt The Valley rocking like that up to that point, and on only a few occasions have I experienced anything similar since.
And off he went to Leicester City, becoming a legend of almost equal proportion in the midlands, whilst the Addicks suffered embarrassment, relegation and despair in his absence. Alan Curbishley’s Charlton was a distant memory whilst Powell was still at the club, but his third departure coincided with the club sinking to its lowest ebb.
Destined to sink even lower, the Addicks needed saving. It seems strange now to think that Powell wasn’t Michael Slater’s and Tony Jimenez’s first choice, but Eddie Howe’s decision not to join the club was a blessing in disguise. Powell returned once again, this time as manager, tasked with getting the club he loved out of the mire.
It all started so well; four wins on the bounce and confidence was soaring. But a run of 11 games, including that defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge, followed. It was all too much. The Addicks were slipping down the League One table, some were rather exaggerating a threat of relegation, many were suggesting Powell wasn’t good enough.
Powell’s side ended the season in 13th; a dire 0-0 draw with Hartlepool in the final game summing up a disastrous campaign, but the boss remained.
Some weren’t happy that Powell was being kept on, but most were more than willing to give the club legend a chance to get the Addicks out of England’s third tier at the third time of asking in his first full season in charge.
Hope turned to optimism as Powell got to work in the transfer market; Michael Morrison, Dale Stephens and Rhoys Wiggins amongst those arriving at The Valley.
All superb additions, as was his punt on non-league nobody Bradley Pritchard, but his finest piece of work was signing a player bereft of all confidence and at the lowest point in his career.
Hated by fans at his former club, mocked by many around the English game and without a club, Yann Kermorgant’s prospects weren’t looking good. But Powell took a chance on the forward he had worked with at Leicester, reigniting his career and turning a forgotten man into a club legend. Powell’s best achievement as Charlton manager? It’s up there.
Kermorgant epitomised the player’s that Powell had at his disposal; hard workers and players that gave everything for this club. Each and every one of them made you fall back in love with the club that had done so much to hurt its fans over so many years. The results were one thing, but the passion and determination of the players and their boss was another; this was special.
Records were broken, wins came with ease and the Addicks marched into the Championship with a league title and 101 points. Almost every game from the 2011/12 season is a wonderful memory, but my happiest is Powell’s end of season speech being interrupted by a chorus of ‘we’ve got our Charlton back’. We most certainly had, and it felt wonderful.
But that League One stuff was easy; a reasonable budget meant Powell could attract players and improve his squad. No resources available to him in the Championship meant he had to go again with almost the same side that finished the season before; only Ricardo Fuller, Dorian Dervite and Lawrie Wilson adding something to the squad.
Many would have taken survival, few could moan about a 9th place finish in season that provided so many memories. The victories over Leicester, the incredible comebacks over Cardiff City and Bolton Wanderers and the superb end of season form that included the unforgettable 6-0 win over Barnsley.
Once again, all you could feel was pride as ‘we’ve got our Charlton back’ reverberated around The Valley after the final day win over Bristol City. Powell had exceeded all expectations and led the club he loved to an unlikely top half finish with a squad inferior to many of its opponents’. Few, if any, were question Powell’s managerial capabilities.
But if last season was an improbable task, this campaign was impossible from start. A squad even weaker and hit by injuries to crucial players couldn’t be expected to compete in England’s second tier.
However, it did. Powell kept his side’s head above water for much of this season, even if the pitch wasn’t, and, despite the tough circumstances, his players continued to give their all for gaffer and club, whether they were heroes of the previous seasons or teenagers thrusted into the side.
Even after Roland Duchatelet came in and sold Stephens and Kermorgant, leaving an already weak Charlton side in a tragic state, Powell still provided us with some unforgettable memories. The wins over QPR and Sheffield Wednesday were unreal, a day and a night that epitomised Chris Powell’s Charlton, and were masterminded by his tactical intelligence.
After the QPR game, he spoke of building a legacy and reaffirmed his desire to take this club to the very top. After the Wednesday game, he celebrated with such passion and vigour you simply had to feel proud that this man was part of your club.
But, a scripted loss to an unstoppable Leicester side, a flat FA Cup defeat to Sheffield United and a reluctance to play the players fed to him by Duchatelet later, and Chris Powell’s Charlton is no more.
All of that is just a memory. Nothing more can be added. Powell won’t be able to achieve his dream of taking us to the Premier League, and we’ll be back to where we started before he arrived by the end of this season. Those players, the likes of Ben Hamer, Michael Morrison and, most importantly, Johnnie Jackson, who have made supporting this club a pleasure will no doubt be departing. It’s all slipping away.
It hurts so much to see him go. It hurts so much I’ll never feel the pride in a Chris Powell performance of determination and fight ever again.
Forced out of the club he loves, and treated without the respect he deserves by a man who, despite my earlier confidence, now seems intent on destroying the Charlton Athletic I love just as much as Powell does. Our huge loss will be another club’s gain.
My desktop background is an image of Powell being lifted in the air by the players that made us fall in love with the club again on the best day of my life. It will remain for as long as possible.
Thank you, Chris. It’s untraditional love, but it’s love nonetheless.
P.S: My blog will continue to carry Chris Powell’s name. Of course it will.