#8 – Bradley Pritchard
To attempt to make this selection universally justifiable would be pointless. It’s not. There is not a chance that Bradley Pritchard did anywhere near enough in his 89 appearance for Charlton to be considered one of the best eleven players since 2004.
Nor is he one of the best three centre-midfielders. The tireless Radostin Kishishev, the not universally appreciated Jose Semedo and the brilliant when on-song Dale Stephens more deserving of a place.
But my admiration of Pritchard goes beyond taking a detached analysis of his footballing ability. Because purely taking a detached analysis of any footballer is
actually quite sensible really bloody boring.
For Pritchard was something of an accidental professional footballer. His story is well known, snapped up from non-league Hayes and Yeading after combining his semi-pro career with an analyst role at Charlton.
It seemingly meant that the Zimbabwean appreciated every single second he spent wearing a Charlton shirt. A smile was rarely absent from his face, and his unrelenting energy and effort meant that you could never accuse him of not giving his absolute all.
A player whose attitude epitomises the way I feel about the club, whose effort matches the support I pour in and who behaves in the same way I probably would if I got a Charlton shirt chucked my way and was told to deliver some crosses to Yann Kermorgant, is a player who covers up any flaws in his natural ability and allows me to completely adore them.
And it’s for those reasons that, while I’ve been frustrated with the departures of several players over the past 18 months, I wasn’t particularly upset when it was announced Pritchard had been released.
Instead, my sadness had seeped out gradually while his performances became very un-Pritchard-like over the course of his final season as an Addick. There was little confidence, drive or energy; without those factors it became painful to watch, especially in the home FA Cup tie against Oxford United.
In fact, I accepted during that cup tie that Pritchard days as an Addick were done. For his own good, he needed to go somewhere else, to rediscover those qualities that made him one of my most-liked Charlton players.
And having seen him play during Leyton Orient’s live-on-Sky games against Preston a week or so ago, I think it can be said something like the Pritchard of old was visible. He did the simple things well, there was unrelenting energy and a sort demeanour about him that suggested that, despite Orient’s current plight, he had moved on from what were evidently a difficult final few months in SE7.
But to dwell on his final period as an Addick would be unfair, and take away not only from those fighting qualities that won me over, but also the genuine footballing ability he offered for two-and-a-bit seasons.
First of all, there was his role in the most important games of Charlton’s League One title winning campaign. There was always a danger he would be lost in the melee of midfielders Chris Powell brought to the club in 2011, but he proved is worth some typically diligent displays, especially seen in three consecutive weeks against Fulham, Sheffield Wednesday and Sheffield United.
Oh, and he provided the
over-hit genius ball for *that* Yann Kermorgant volley.
Then there was his first season as a Championship footballer, where he mustered eleven assists in 42 appearances. Only Tom Ince, Robbie Brady and Chris Eagles created more goals.
Deployed largely on the right, Pritchard was incredibly consistent, and supplemented his hard-working and gritty performances with a handful of simply outstanding displays. Against Cardiff City, Leicester City and Barnsley, he performed unbelievably well.
There were even three goals, including his emotionally celebrated first Football League goal against Brighton. They just about made up for his not infrequent horrors inside the box.
And it was a horror performance that seemingly killed off Pritchard’s confidence, effectively signalling the end of his Charlton career at the start of last season. Bullied in midfield against Millwall, the Zimbabwean was largely at fault for the goal conceded and suffered accordingly.
He simply wasn’t the same again, which proved doubly frustrating given that he had put in an outstanding shift in the win over Leicester a few weeks previously. It was performances like that one against Leicester that epitomised why I loved Pritchard; fight, energy and the ability to go with it.
But maybe the thing that summed my admiration for Pritchard up best was when I briefly met him following a pre-season game for Leyton Orient at Northampton.
He responded like a kid opening a Christmas present when I gave him my ‘Pritchard 14’ Charlton shirt to sign: an excited “ah wicked” before questioning why I hadn’t binned the shirt yet. He was probably more excited to see it than I was to see him.
He wasn’t the best, but he bloody loved playing for Charlton, and it made him so easy to adore.