The Leeds and Charlton connection

Local author and CAST member Paul Breen considers his personal memories of past Charlton v Leeds encounters...

WHEN I hear of Leeds coming to Charlton, I think of the passionate battles we have had down through recent years and how these have been so evenly matched. I think of Lee Bowyer’s time there and his heart surely torn between the two clubs and how we brought the best out of him while they and Woodgate…Mmm I suppose that is all best left in the distant past. If Lee had reached a point earlier that he is at now, he could have achieved so much more in his career without any of the controversy – but we are grateful for him being such a great late developer. He has proven himself to be the greatest of many great Charlton stories in my opinion and there is still a long way to go before the story’s done. Bowyer’s story is a classic of redemption and triumph.

Going back to the past though we do have a fairly recent history with Leeds and this season is shaping up to be another. Having spent time there as recently as earlier this year, it is a city that will always have a special place in my heart. But it is also the place that has seen a few battles with Charlton in its day. As much as I might love some of my days in Leeds, there is no love lost between the football club from that city and from where I live now. We’ve been in too many battles in the past to think that come Saturday 28th September the game is going to be a friendly affair. It won’t and that’s why I am expecting echoes of the past from it.

The earliest memories I have of Charlton involve Leeds United. Peter Shirtliff scored twice in five minutes in the 1987 play off final to give Charlton a 2-1 win over Leeds. That night Charlton kept their top flight status and the Yorkshire side stayed in the lower division which I think was simply called Division Two in those days. It was a bit before the corporate market-speak of Championships, Premier League lites and What-would-be-super-division-if-it-wasn’t-for-the-super-super-division-above. Things were so much simpler in those days when Peter Shirtliff appeared shirtless in a copy of Shoot magazine a week later playing the hero before he headed off for a week’s holidays to Margate or somewhere.

For me, the next memory of Charlton and Leeds is less distant, less black and white. I had come to The Valley as a convert and joined the pilgrims in Saturday worship only a couple of years before. When I started having an interest in Charlton they were in the Premier League, the old Division One that Peter Shirtliff buttoned us into with those classic goals. Three years after joining the faithful, I found myself amongst the flock in the kindly-named League One masking over the harsh reality of Division Three. Let no man call me a jinx but if @CAFCofficial on Twitter reads this story, there goes my chance of ever being club mascot. Mind you, as the Charlton girls would surely agree, I would look nowhere as good in short trousers as Lyle Taylor and his new pink hairdo.

So back to the first time I faced Leeds as a Charlton supporter – the first Saturday afternoon of October 2009 up in the freezing North where it wasn’t just that Winter Was Coming. It was there in all its bloody night walker, army of the dead, Game of Thrones glory. Five years before that Saturday these teams played each other at the Valley on the last day of the Premier League season, 2003-2004, the season of Arsenal’s Invincibles. That day the match finished 3-3 with Jason Euell scoring a brace for Charlton and giving them a seventh placed finish in the Premier League; their highest since the old Division One had changed its name.

Leeds, who finished 19th, six points clear of safety, had Jermaine Pennant, Frazier Richardson, and Alan Smith in their team. Charlton had Matt Holland, Chris Powell, and Paolo Di Canio in the team. This time round there was none of the flair that characterised that day, and Frazier Richardson was on the opposing side, in an away jersey. This was a Leeds team that had set out its stall to muscle its way methodically through the challenge of promotion, after missing out in the play offs in the two seasons before. As the first fingernails of a northern winter settled on the edges of Elland Road and the winds swirled all over the place, the team in white bolted the doors firmly on Charlton’s efforts to play open, attacking football. Two years of playing the game at this level had left them battle hardened and cautious but confident they knew what was needed. Watched by over thirty thousand supporters, they were clearly the biggest team in this division and punching well below their weight but history means nothing when it comes to picking up the points. Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles weren’t out on that pitch. This was a Leeds team full of lesser names but one that held out well and bored spectators to death as they whacked their way to a 0-0 draw.

Through that whole season, dirty Leeds stayed near the top of the division but ended up second to Norwich and almost missed out on promotion with a 1-0 defeat to the Addicks on the 1st of May 2010. Nearly ten years ago now? That went by as quick as a Nicky Bailey free kick into outer space in the play offs at the end of this season when we got pipped by Leeds in the end. But not to despair – good things come to those who wait – they may have gone up that season but a few years on Chris Powell led Charlton back to the promised land in a story that I have written of in The Charlton Men. A season later we faced them in a major battle against a relegation that would have been brutally cruel.

We were just too good for that and Tottenham loanee Jon Obika proved it with a perfect header that won us a 2-1 game versus Leeds at the start of April 2013. We would beat them again a year later on the 1st of April in the aftermath of the great joke with no punchline attached of Roland Duchâtelet taking charge of the club. By then the silver fox José Riga was on the touchline and so began the managerial circus that has characterised everything until the return of Lee Bowyer who has brought a touch of sanity to the club’s affairs. That is why I expect that this game against Leeds could well be a season defining one. Sadly though, if we do win, so long as Roland remains in charge, this could be a great advert for our manager’s own career. If I were at Leeds and looking at a new manager in the advent of Marcelo Bielsa leaving I would be looking at Lee Bowyer. I am sure they are. No wonder they are nicknamed Dirty Leeds.

This weekend I think that if we beat them we will send out a real statement of intent. To date we haven’t been good against hard and streetwise teams. Forest troubled us at times. Birmingham pulled every trick in the book, frustrating Bowyer who got sent off. Leeds will do the same but our boys have to rise above it. We have to soak up the pressure and hit them hard on the break, the classic punch below the belt. In essence we have to toughen up and Lee Bowyer is the man to lead us towards that toughening up. Expect a hard game. One point will be an achievement but such are the standards we set ourselves we will take all three, thank you very much and see you in the reckoning for promotion #LUFC.