Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League

Charlton have endured 13 long years outside the Premier League, more time than they actually spent in it.

The club has yo-yoed between the second and third tiers of English football since their relegation from the top-flight in 2007.

Questionable owners, an array of second-rate managers and some mind-boggling transfers contributed to their fall from grace as one of the most respected top-flight clubs.

GettyImages 1026775 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Promotion, battling for Europe and taking on the big guns… Charlton fans enjoyed some wonderful moments at the turn of the century
Getty

It’s easy to forget the Addicks were a staple in the Premier League following their promotion at the turn of the millennium.

They built a model that clubs up and down the country hoped to emulate. Well-run, a meticulous manager in Alan Curbishley, shrewd in the transfer market and engaged with the local community.

Their route to the Premier League – or the Premiership as it was known back then – did not happen overnight. It was a period of sustained growth from when Curbishley and Steve Gritt took over as joint managers in 1991 that led to that famous Division One play-off final against Sunderland in 1998.

Even though they were relegated the next year, the foundations had been set.

Charlton were back in the Premier League at the first time of asking, finishing top of the 1999/2000 First Division table with 91 points.

GettyImages 1026765 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Charlton celebrate winning promotion back to the top-flight in 2000
GETTY

That’s where they stayed for the next seven years, mixing it with the very best and bringing supporters some of the most memorable moments in the club’s history.

Charlton legend Chris Powell joined the club in 1998 and had three spells as a player before later managing them.

He told talkSPORT: “We were a club that people looked upon as steady, very clever with their money, and a good fan base.

“Everything was right about the club, looking back now, including what we were doing off the field with our community schemes and anti-racism stuff.

“The ground was sold out regardless of the opposition. Every home game. It was great to be a Charlton player and Charlton fan at that time.”

Curbishley was the man who who masterminded Charlton’s success on the pitch. After initially working alongside Gritt, he took sole charge in 1995 and remained in the job until 2006.

GettyImages 57550606 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Curbishley was much respected in the game and oversaw one of the greatest periods in Charlton’s history
Getty

“It was planned and everybody was singing from the same hymn sheet,” he recalled to talkSPORT this week.

“We went up in the play-offs and the plan in the summer was that a third of the income coming in would go on the stadium, as we were still redeveloping that, a third would go on players and a third would be saved for a rainy day – and that’s how we proceeded.

“We set our expectation level right – that was to stay up. Unfortunately we didn’t and got done on the last day of the season and went back down.

“But because we had planned well, I didn’t have to sell most of my squad like other teams had to do. Danny Mills left for Leeds – we didn’t have to sell him but it was a good price and he wanted to go. The rest stayed, I managed to bring in some players and we went straight back up.”

NINTCHDBPICT000582959608 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
How The Valley looked in 1999 before they rebuilt the Covered End
Getty Images – Getty
GettyImages 1193144947 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
How Charlton’s 27,000 capacity home looks today, having used the riches of reaching the Premier League to rebuild the stadium

Charlton didn’t only survive on their return to the Premier League, they thrived – finishing ninth in their first season back.

Few could begrudge them their success. Having nearly gone out of business in the 1980s, they had spent seven years away from The Valley and had to ground share with West Ham and Crystal Palace.

They only returned home thanks to the remarkable efforts from their fans, who formed a political party and forced the local council into action.

In 2000/01 their home form was remarkable, with just three defeats in 19 and memorable wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham – as well as a dramatic 3-3 draw with eventual champions Manchester United in one of the standout games of the season.

“That season we really announced ourselves,” Powell said.

“The players upped their game we all felt we wanted to show people we could play at the level. The crowd could sense it.

“I remember a lot of players saying they hated coming to The Valley – these were established players. I remember reading about us and Sir Alex Ferguson saying to the players ‘you are going to be in for a game’. We had some famous games against Man United at The Valley, especially the 3-3 one.

“We just knew that we had to get points at home. If you make your home a bit of a fortress, you eventually pick up points away from home but if you have got any ambition of staying in the Premier League you have to do your business at home and we certainly did.”

GettyImages 2934711 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Scott Parker battles Roy Keane for the ball as Charlton show Manchester United they are no push overs
Getty

Charlton were savvy in the transfer market back then, picking up players like Matt Holland, Dean Kiely, Danny Murphy, Graham Stuart and Claus Jensen for bargain prices.

“Curbs was always very diligent in the players he signed,” Powell added.

“If you look at his recruitment over the years, it was very, very good. Almost underrated in the players he brought to Charlton.”

Explaining his method in the transfer market, Curbishley said: “I wanted a hungry player. Perhaps a little bit angry. Going back to Danny Mills, he was in the reserves at Norwich and I had seen him a few times and was a little bit angry about his situation and wanted to do better and was hungry.

“I liked to bring in players that could play in a couple of positions.

“If I went for a foreign player in those early years it was someone who was already in the league or in the Championship and already acclimatised.”

NINTCHDBPICT000582959789 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Steve Brown scores at Highbury during Charlton’s 4-2 win over Arsenal
Getty Images – Getty

Charlton’s academy was also much revered, producing the likes of Scott Parker, Paul Konchesky and Richard Rufus for the first-team, as well as Jermain Defoe, who moved on to West Ham before making a senior appearance.

Even in darker times, that’s continued – with Joe Gomez, Ezri Konsa and Jonjo Shelvey just a few of the most recent success stories.

“It was a good club to send your child to go and play at the academy,” explained Glynn Snodin, the reserve team manager and first team coach at Charlton under Curbishley.

“There were great people involved. Curbs gave them youngsters a chance. If they were good enough, he would put them in at the right time.

“Curbs was 24/7 and that’s all he wanted to do. He loved the club and wanted it to be successful. We were all working as one for the first team. Everybody has to work for the first team and everybody has to work for the manager.

“These players that came in from the first team were magnificent and were great for the kids to learn from.”

The 2003/04 season is where things really peaked for Charlton.

With Matt Holland and Paolo Di Canio having signed during the summer to bolster an already strong squad, the Addicks were keeping some of England’s top clubs out of the Champions League places.

GettyImages 2651889 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Di Canio scores an audacious ‘panenka’ penalty against Arsenal in 2003
Getty

They were in the top four at the midway point of the campaign with supporters dreaming of European football for the first time in the club’s history.

But the loss of Parker – their outstanding player – to their newly-rich London rivals Chelsea in January badly rocked them. They eventually finished seventh. It remains Charlton’s highest ever finish in the Premier League but Curbishley still wonders what might have been.

“We were fourth and we were a top six side,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any secrets about what happened. 

“We brought Jerome Thomas in for £100,000, sold Scott for £12million and got Carlton Cole in. It derailed us a bit because we couldn’t replace him. Everybody knew we had £12million to spend and we decided to leave it and finished seventh.

“We were good enough to finish in the top five, I’m not saying top four but I think the side we had was good enough to finish in a European spot. It was a bit disappointing in the end.”

GettyImages 2914373 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Parker left Charlton for Chelsea in a £12million deal in 2004, not long after Roman Abramovich had bought the Blues
Getty

Jason Euell, who joined Charlton in 2001 and is their all-time leading goalscorer in the Premier League, agrees that Parker’s exit had a big effect on the team.

Just weeks before Parker moved on, Charlton had beaten Chelsea – the Premier League leaders at the time – 4-2 in one the best performances seen by any side that season.

He said: “A lot of people mention as soon as Scott Parker left it went downhill, and it did a bit because he was a big part of what we were doing from when I signed. It was always going to be difficult to replace Scotty.

“It’s always a disappointment we didn’t do better that season.”

By this time, though, Charlton had built a reputation. It was no longer ‘little old Charlton’ just there to make up the numbers. 

The big sides really took them seriously, while the newly promoted teams would see them as a scalp.

GettyImages 2832256 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Euell scores for Charlton in a 4-2 victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day 2013
Getty

Ask any supporter about their favourite memory or game from that era and you will get a dozen different answers.

Beating Arsenal 4-2 at Highbury, Kevin Lisbie’s hat-trick at home to Liverpool, the draw with Man United, sending Crystal Palace down on the final day of the 2004/05 season. There were so many highlights.

When asked for his favourite memories at Charlton, Euell said: “It was always the London derbies. We always came out on top. Our record was really good.

“I don’t know if it was because it was a London derby or we were seen as ‘little Charlton’ against bigger teams but we always tended to do well.

“London derbies had that London feel about it. Being a south London boy myself it was always about the bragging rights after the game.”

Charlton finishes in the Premier League era

  • 1998/99 – 18th (36pts) – Relegated
  • 2000/01 – 9th (52pts)
  • 2001/02 – 14th (44pts)
  • 2002/03 – 12th (49pts)
  • 2003/04 – 7th (53pts)
  • 2004/05 – 11th (46pts)
  • 2005/06 – 13th (47pts)
  • 2006/07 – 19th (34pts) – Relegated

Powell added: “I’m a Spurs fan and we beat them 1-0 away from home and I scored the goal. It came off my knee but it’s a big memory for me because it’s personal.

“It helped Charlton win but also for me scoring against a team I had stood on the terraces and watched – great, great memories.

“We had some special games that will go down in history for any Charlton fan.”

NINTCHDBPICT000582959568 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Powell only scored twice for Charlton, and one of the goals came against the club he supports
Getty Images – Getty

The Addicks were preparing to be a Premier League club for the long haul. Plans had been drawn up to further redevelop the stadium to take the capacity up to 40,000.

But Curbishley, who held talks with the Football Association over replacing Sven-Goran Eriksson as England manager, left in 2006 and that proved to be the beginning of the end for Charlton.

“I had been linked with a few teams and there was all the England stuff happening,” he said. “There was no secrets. I had a year left and I said to the chairman I wanted to sign a couple of players.

“Around the time the season was ending we got interested in some players, and tried to get something done early and I was interested.

“Quite rightly, he said if we start talking to players and they know you have a year left and you want them to sign for three or four is that going to be a difficulty? I understood where he was coming from.

“He wanted me to sign a three year contract but I didn’t want to. I perhaps wanted to let my contract run out after 16-odd years and have a think about things.

“In the discussions it came round to the fact, why not leave now? That was on the Friday and it got announced on the Saturday against Blackburn. I hadn’t even told my staff what was going on. We played Blackburn and then went to Old Trafford for my last game where everyone knew I was leaving.

“I had no problem doing another year but I just didn’t think signing for another three years, even if it was a better contract and more money, etc, was the right thing to do.”

NINTCHDBPICT000582959275 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Curbishley addresses the Charlton crowd after his departure was announced on the eve of their final home game of the 2005/06 season
Getty Images – Getty
NINTCHDBPICT000582959277 - Charlton Athletic in the Premier League: Thrashing Arsenal, feared by Manchester United and chasing the Champions League
Charlton fans paid tribute to Curbishley in his final match in charge, against Manchester United at Old Trafford
Getty Images – Getty

Curbishley was replaced by Iain Dowie, who lasted just a few months. Les Reed lasted even less – 41 days to be precise – while Alan Pardew proved to not be the saviour everyone hoped for.

Charlton were relegated in 2007 and have not been back since.

Those Premier League days are a far cry from where the club finds itself now. The club’s majority shareholder and former chief executive are embroiled in a very public spat.

Off the field things are a mess and on the pitch things aren’t looking much better. The Addicks slipped into the bottom three in the final game before the Championship season was suspended.

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything up in the air and the club’s future is far from secure.

Whatever happens, Charlton fans who were lucky enough to witness their Premier League adventure won’t ever forget it. There are so many great memories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *