My career as a Charlton supporter was heading towards the end of its second season when I first experienced a major reunion at The Valley. The vigorous booing, and constant accusations of greediness born out of his money-motivated move to Chelsea, sent the way of Newcastle’s Scott Parker in March 2006, before he silenced his former fans in the Covered End with a 30-yard thunderbolt.
The last laugh belonging to the Addicks, as Lee Bowyer, another one-time member of Charlton’s academy, contributed to his former club’s 3-1 victory with a rather unfortunate own goal. But the hostility and friction sparked by Parker’s return, especially for a rather innocent and nerdy child a month short of his 11th birthday, was uncomfortable.
A necessity for some to express their anger towards a player who departed in a fashion that left supporters feeling betrayed and somewhat insulted, but not necessarily an enjoyable experience.
An experience, however, that has not set the tone for future reunions with former occupiers of The Valley. So much so, in fact, that the return of several players and coaches with their new clubs in recent times have provided unforgettable and emotional moments, while additional anticipation prior to a trip to SE7 is created when it is known that a one-time Addick will be renewing acquaintances.
The latest moment of emotional reunion coming as Lawrie Wilson, a substitute for Bolton Wanderers, appeared on the touchline midway through the first half of Saturday’s draw in order to warm up. It far eclipsing the pre-match applause for former Charlton boss Phil Parkinson, respected by supporters but unable to develop any sort of bond with them during a mixed time in charge.
Wilson, however, had certainly managed to create one during his time in SE7. Players of higher quality have undoubtedly represented the Addicks in recent times, but few whose determination, effort and character meant they were able to win the respect of supporters in the same way the curly-haired right-sided player did.
The bellowing of the “he used to be shite, but now he’s alright” chant from the Covered End as he jogged down the touchline on Saturday the most obvious sign of that. Always a little harsh to suggest he was ever shite, but Wilson’s efforts after an indifferent start in red meant he went from scapegoat to almost universally adored fan favourite.
The applause, sent Wilson’s way and returned with a smile, and ‘not worthy’ bow that followed a true reflection of this wonderful, and rather uplifting, relationship.
All this while the game continued, temporarily losing its importance. The mutual expressing of respect between supporters and former player a moment to be briefly enjoyed above the on-the-pitch contest.
In fact, these sort of moments provide a nice reminder that part of the beauty of football, and sport in general, is that there is much more to it than an emotionless gaining of points. Special and meaningful relationships so often created between supporters and players or coaches, and many to the extent that they remain intact regardless of what colours they wear.
Certainly for myself, these connections with those who have provided wonderful moments of joy or represented the club I support with distinction are treasured. A genuine joy in being able to offer my appreciation.
And it undoubtedly the case that these emotional moments of renewed connection have become more important and meaningful in a time where many have felt a loss of connection with the club.
The positive emotion expressed as Chris Powell and Yann Kermorgant returned simply unforgettable.
I feel no shame in admitting that the third minute applause for Powell upon his first return to SE7 since falling victim to Roland Duchatelet is among my favourite moments inside a football ground, as The Valley stood to appreciate their former player and boss, and he showed obvious emotion as he acknowledged it. The nature of the connection with the flat-capped hero reaffirmed by the grand mutual applause as he headed down The Valley’s tunnel both after the defeat he suffered with Huddersfield on his first return, and the victory he gained on the second.
While for Kermorgant, the emotion appears to grow with each return. Plenty of mutual respect and expressing of a connection in his first two returns with Bournemouth, but the applause as he headed Reading into the lead last season reaffirming that these connections can, in certain situations, be as strong as the feeling of winning and losing. Despite the fact that a Charlton side I had all but completely lost connection with were losing once again, the response to the Frenchman’s first goal against his former club from his former supporters rivals that Powell reception.
But, among all of the positivity in those displays of emotion, was a sense of opposition and protest. That more meaningful connection exits with the joy and respect such characters provided to supporters, rather than with a regime that have delivered insults and left many disillusioned with current notion of what represents their club. In the case of Kermorgant particularly, whose goal would not have been appreciated without rejection of Charlton’s regime.
Maybe that even seen to a certain extent on Saturday, though more of a reflection of the contrasting attitude of individuals rather than a contrasting connection with the club. The rightfully despised Roger Johnson was strongly booed and informed by the Covered End that he’s a cunt while he warmed up in the same spot that Wilson did.
It very hard to imagine Wilson telling supporters to not bother turning up if they don’t fucking like it. He’d probably buy them a cuppa, tell them it will all be okay, and give them a cuddle. It very hard to imagine Johnson getting a welcoming back like Wilson’s should he ever return to The Valley in a different club’s colours.
As, of course, there are other returnees who have received the Parker treatment. Jermain Defoe, seen as something of a traitor for departing Charlton’s academy as a youngster, Danny Murphy, not helped by his wife’s comments as he left for Tottenham, and Nicky Bailey, whose return to SE7 in a Millwall shirt reaffirmed the fact the only thing he ever did in Charlton colours was miss a penalty against Swindon Town, among the targets.
But those moments where a former player is booed upon their return are, at least comparatively, completely forgettable. It those positive reunions that spark the real emotion.
Michael Morrison always having time to applaud Charlton supporters at St Andrew’s, and Charlton supporters having plenty of time to sing his name upon his first return to The Valley last season, Dale Stephens showing appreciation to the Covered End following the protest-filled game against Brighton, and a bond between supporters and Darren Bent not dying despite nine years apart.
In fact, it’s almost disappointing that the only other properly notable return this season will be when Gillingham travel to The Valley and bring Scott Wagstaff with them.
A real Charlton lad, with obvious admiration for the Addicks expressed when he appeared in SE7 with Bristol City in the previous campaign. I’m not convinced Kyel Reid, Jerome Thomas and Jonathan Obika will get similar receptions, even if they find themselves a black and white scarf to wear.
Nonetheless, whether it be Wagstaff or Wilson, there is a real pleasure in welcoming back those who have maintained their connection with club and supporters longer after their departures.
A real pleasure in creating moments of mutual appreciation, in spite of the fact they no longer represent Charlton.