#7 – Johnnie Jackson (c)
As the full-time whistle blew at Vicarage Road, and a chorus of boos emerged from the away end, there was at least a crumb of comfort for the hurting Charlton supporters.
It was, in the grand scheme of things, just a crumb. But the smallest sign of hope mattered so much after a five goal defeat and a week that had left many Addicks downbeat.
For Johnnie Jackson did not have to be there. The injured skipper had no responsibility to be at the ground; no one would have batted an eyelid if Jackson had been spending his time resting and recuperating.
Instead, while supporters were busy venting their frustration, Charlton’s captain had crept onto the pitch and led as many devastated players towards the away end as he could. While there was anger, there had also been support for most of the 90 minutes; Jackson aware of the appreciation the visiting fans deserved and what impact it would have if his players shied away.
And while some were sheepish, keeping their distance and seemingly not trying to make eye contact as they half-heartedly applauded the away end, there was an aurora of defiance about Jackson. Standing firm, facing those supporters straight on and clapping in a manner that suggested respect.
In a week where Charlton fans had been treated with contempt and a desirable level of leadership had been lacking, the simplest of acts from a man who arguably feels as strongly about the club as they do restored some faith.
In fact, it was an indication that Jackson might well be the most important figure at the club in the coming weeks and months. One of few Charlton men disconnected supporters can still connect with, arguably the only man capable of instilling self-belief, passion and determination into a deflated group and, while not quite the player he once was on the ball, his off-the-ball work will provide structure and shape to an ill-disciplined side.
Jackson’s flawless leadership and outstanding efforts have already cemented the skippers name in the history books as a Charlton legend, but should his quite substantial role in reuniting supporters with their club pay dividends, he will surely be one of the all-time greats.
That, of course, will be the case if he isn’t already. Not just an outstanding footballer that has experienced the best and worst of times at Charlton, but someone who just gets what this club means to its fans.
A part of that probably comes from seeing this club at one of its lowest points. Having originally signed on loan from Notts County to fill a hole at left-back during the ultimately traumatic 2009/10 season, Jackson wasn’t deterred enough by the state of the club in its League One years to be put off joining permanently in the following summer.
At a time when Phil Parkinson was seriously struggling to put a squad together, signing a player of Jackson’s quality proved massive. And that quality, with the midfielder deployed both out wide and his natural position, was immediately shown – six goals in a run of five consecutive wins allowed arguably the worst Charlton side of the modern era briefly flirt with promotion.
But Jackson’s goals were never going to be enough to sustain a top six challenge while Pawel Abbott, Simon Francis and Gary Doherty struggled. In fact, his goals were not even enough to save Parkinson’s job; the tie and pull-over combo removed from the dugout after an abysmal defeat to Swindon.
In came the flat cap, with a combination of Chris Powell and new ownership seemingly providing hope and stability. And while it started brightly, a goal from Jackson in the 3-2 win over Peterborough a part of that, Charlton supporters would soon realise their suffering was not yet over.
As Powell’s Charlton began to slip, Jackson picked up what would be a season-ending injury. It was probably there and then that Powell realised how important his future captain would be; just two wins in 16 were picked up without Jackson, and the Addicks slumped to a depressing 13th. Charlton Athletic at their lowest point for quite some time.
But so too has Jackson seen, and almost always played a central part in, some of the better times at this club in recent years. In fact, it was his appointment as captain by Powell for 2011/12 season that played a huge part in changing the fortunes, attitude and mood at Charlton.
Even his first proper act as captain at The Valley, rather sarcastically celebrating as he lifted the People’s Cup after Powell’s new look Charlton had looked efficient in their victory over FC Den Bosch, was a sign of the fresh and positive mood around SE7. Jackson was going to make sure the side he now led understood the ethos of the club and gave downbeat supporters something to cheer about again.
That he, and they, did. His consistently superb performances out on the left side and his fantastic leadership playing a huge role as the Addicks picked up 101 points on their way to the League One title.
And during that campaign, Jackson’s ability to provide a special moment was first seen. His goal from the penalty spot to wrap up a 3-0 win over Bournemouth on the opening day an early sign of that, but there were greater moments to come.
The best of which was scoring two successive free-kicks against the Sheffield clubs to cement Charlton’s place at the top of the division. Two outstanding goals that effectively confirmed promotion in January.
Two special goals were also scored in the following season; a pair that are just as memorable. With the Addicks struggling and Jackson, now playing centrally, coming under some criticism, a captain’s performance against Cardiff was the catalyst for that famous comeback at The Valley. His strikes before half-time drawing Charlton level in a game that they would win 5-4.
So often it was the case that, in a side arguably a touch too weak for the Championship, Jackson’s influence gave them a boost.
At the very least, Cardiff was not the only game where he played a huge part in ending poor runs; his knee slide having scored the winner against Watford iconic, the seemingly never ending chants of his name after he drew the Addicks level at Peterborough special, and his clinical finish against Bolton proving to be the start of an outstanding end of season run that would take Powell’s side to ninth.
It’s therefore probably in Jackson’s nature to thrive in adversity. His leadership and inspiration when it mattered most last season never lacking.
With doubts again creeping in about his usefulness in the side, his last minute equaliser at Portman Road again had the doubters questioning their judgement. The unforgettable winner against QPR one of the best Charlton moments for some years. His performance against Huddersfield following Powell’s sacking a reminder that there were still people at the club who cared and had the fans’ best interests at heart.
So it was fitting that, although Callum Harriott’s goal would seal a 3-1 win, it was his goal that put Charlton ahead against Watford in the game that confirmed Championship survival. A campaign where Jackson’s battling qualities were vital – he got my vote for POTY.
And his role in the performances of the man who eventually won POTY can’t be ignored. Not a minute passed without Jackson directing Diego Poyet or one of the other youngsters involved in the first-team; a the perfect leader to allow younger players to settle into the side seamlessly.
It therefore meant his role seemed just as important at the start of this season. The central figure in a new side, tasked with blending it together.
That he did. His individual performances steady without being spectacular, but his presence in the XI crucial to Charlton’s early season success.
But this, after all, is Johnnie Jackson. He was never going to be out of the limelight for long. An absolutely incredible performance of determination, desire and off-the-ball work at Carrow Road was capped off with a last minute winner just as good as any of the other moments he has provided in a Charlton shirt.
And while there remain grumbles that he is past it, they are frequently proved to be wide of the mark. At the very least, he has been one of very few continuing to give his all during Charlton’s recent run. Composed against Cardiff, outstanding despite the result at Ipswich and still plugging away despite being forced to do all the midfield work against Blackburn.
It meant that there was widespread disappointment when he was not available for the Watford game. That disappointment only increasing following the performance; Jackson would have fought, and would have made sure those around him had done similar.
As things stand, Jackson is nine appearances away from 200 and three goals away from 50; two statistics that he will surely reach.
And while achieving those would be fitting, the character of Jackson will mean they are not in his mind. His role now to motivate a dispirited team, to be the driving force that keeps Charlton out of relegation trouble and bring back that Charlton spirit that has been on show in recent years.
It’s a lot for a man of 32, certainly not past it but coming towards the end of his career, to achieve. But there’s no better man for the job. My favourite Addick, and a man who I’d trust to solve any situation.