The men in charge - part two
Part two of the Charlton managers I have witnessed manage the famous red and white army.November 1982 - July 1991 Lennie Lawrence
A complete unkonwn and former school teacher who used to drink in the Catford Cricket Club occasionally was thrust into the manager's chair, intially as caretaker. Lennie steadied the ship, got the best out of Simonsen to chants of 'Simmmmmo' from the Covered End although the Dane eventually left when it became clear we couldn't and never really could afford him.
Despite allsorts going on behind the scenes Lawrence kept us up by beating Bolton on the last day of the 82/83 season in front of 8,700 fans.
The next two season's were ones of stability on the pitch, whilst off the pitch all hell was breaking lose with writs and imposed transfer embargo's. I even owned part of Ronnie Moore's left arm! I was going to a lot of away games now and the small but passionate merry band that followed us were pretty oblivious to what was going on behind the scenes, that was until The Valley's gates were locked by the official receivers, but Lawrence held the team together well, even uniting Hales and Flanagan.
March 8th, 1984 is a day I and around 7,000 or so others will never forget. It was my first year of working and there was a newspaper seller outside our building on London Bridge. I left work at 5, bought a newspaper and in the stop press section down the side of the back page, words simply said "Charlton saved."
I ran to meet another lifelong Addick and we hugged on platform 4 of London Bridge like long lost brothers.
Lennie was aready earning himself the name of Houdini and of course, a direct result of clubs' new ownership was our enforced move away from The Valley but by then Lennie was putting together quite a team. Robert Lee (as only Addicks call him) was now a regular and defenders Mark Reid, John Pender and John Humphrey, who for me is head and shoulders above Luke Young, were off a quality we had never seen before. George Shipley was an inspired signing as was John Pearson.
Despite the gut wrenching pain off leaving The Valley, the team made up of a lot of new players, continued their marvellous season ending with promotion at Carlisle with 2,000 of us there to see Lennie carried shoulder high. At the age of 19 I had witnessed one of the best days of my life.
There is no doubt that promotion in 1985/86 saved the club. Despite many fans refusing to travel to Selhurst, neutrals were attracted by 1st Division football and I know many Addicks who became fans at this time. Lawrence has a jolly good argument to be called our greatest ever manager when I look back at his achievements.
Charlton legend's Colin Walsh, Bob Bolder and Peter Shirtliff were all signed by Lawrence after promotion as was Paul Mortimer and Paul Williams. What we would give for one of those now. I also remember fondly (not at the time because my brother and I were in the Cold Blow Lane end) Jim Melrose scoring on his debut at The Den the promotion season.
The play-off replay against Leeds, the draw at Stamford Bridge were all minor miracles performed by Lawrence but the magic started to wear off and some of his purchases were less astute, once he had 'real money' to spend. Andy Jones and Kenny Achampong anyone? The high life had already ended before the fancy dress party at Old Trafford in May 1990 but life under Lennie the next season was to become a low point.
Moves were afoot behind the scenes to get this great club back to where it belonged but on the field, the better players understandably left and crowds dwindled as we struggled to make any impact on the 2nd Division and with finances a big issue better players were moved on. In fact I could only see us going one way as Lennie got stale and was clearly tempted to move on and one could hardly blame him after what he had given the club over 9 years. He did leave us with a couple of gifts though. During that first season down Lawrence signed little known centre half's Stuart Balmer and Simon Webster and also persuaded ex-Addick Alan Curbishley to come back as reserve team coach. An inspiring move as it turned out.July 1991 - July 1995 Alan Curbishley & Steve Gritt
This annoucement caught us all by surprise and even though it smelt of a cheap option, it was something new and both had been players, albeit different types of ones, who one could see may make good managers.
Curbs and Gritty off course kicked off the new season at Upton Park and with the move back to The Valley still a real one fans rallied behind the novice managers. Some old pals were signed like Gary Nelson and Steve Gatting to add experience and I enjoyed that first season as there was a real sense of belonging amongst the players and boardroom never seen before.
Alan Pardew was signed on a free to replace Andy Peakey's rocket, who left to join Lennie Lawrence's Middlesbrough, who were to win promotion with us coming tantalising close to a play-off spot.
The next season started well and included an away win at landlords West Ham but any thoughts that Curbishley and Gritt had on promotion were to play second fiddle to getting ourselves back to The Valley and both Rob Lee and Anthony Barness were sacrificed for a combined fee of over a £1m to get the final funds in place for a emotional homecoming. The rest of the season passed off reasonably quietly after all the hullabaloo of December 5th, 1992. One point of interest amongst many in the Portsmouth match was that Steve Gritt picked himself over a certain Alan Pardew.
Stability, a familiar Charlton noun, was the keyword again in those first couple of season's back at The Valley. The joint managers bought in John Robinson to replace Lee, probably their best signing, and Phil Chapple, better known as Bambi on ice, as well as Mark Robson. 1993/94 was best known for the Cup quarter final at Old Trafford, when fans proved that there was a real desire to follow the club in numbers, although if you were at Bolton like me the day they put the tickets on sale, then you had to queue overnight on the Monday to get one of the 10,500 allocated tickets.
Season 1994/95 kicked off Target 10,000 and despite nothing really spectacular happening on the pitch markedly the opening day stuffing at Oldham, there was recognition of better things around the corner particularly the emergence of Richard Rufus, Lee Bowyer and Shaun Newton.
Another good thing to happen was Richard Murray taking over as Chairman and as he's gone on to prove, he's not frightened of making a tough decision. Hence, to my surprise Steve Gritt was fired as joint manager during the summer of 1995 leaving Curbishley solely in charge.
Part one is here
. Part three to follow.