"Lee Bowyer stepped out of Karl Robinson’s shadow to take over as caretaker manager ten games from the end of the last regular season when the Addicks were in very poor form. We were not in a good place as a football club – there was a lot of negativity, we’d only won one in eight or nine, he said."
Thus began Heather McKinlay's interview with Lee Bowyer a week before the Wembley play-off final in May 2019.
Although the football club itself is in a much better place than it was when Lee was appointed there is little doubt that, on the football side, some of that negativity has been back in evidence recently. His departure today - presumably to Birmingham - is perhaps the best outcome for all parties.
There will be plenty of time for in-depth analysis of his reign and the nature of his departure. At this stage, we would just like to extend our sincere thanks to him for everything he gave to the club in his three years at the helm and to celebrate (once again) some of the wonderful moments.
After a 0-0 draw at home to Fleetwood on 17th March 2018 in front of just under ten thousand fans we were in ninth place in League One, five points adrift of the play-offs. Lee took charge for the game against rivals Plymouth a week later. There were an extra four thousand at The Valley to witness Lewis Page's memorable strike from twenty yards to put us in front after three minutes. It was thrilling and it spoke volumes.
The energy and optimism that Lee had engendered propelled us towards a play-off spot. Who can forget the atmosphere at Portsmouth in late April? When we beat Blackburn to secure our place there were seventeen thousand in the ground and it was buzzing.
Yes, of course, in the end we weren't quite good enough and we fell at the last hurdle. But Lee had somehow manufactured a gripping two month finale which had almost allowed us to forget the shadow of Duchatelet in Belgium.
In truth, the 2018/19 season was a bit average at times. There were some high moments but February - with Karlan Grant gone and Lyle Taylor suspended - saw us stumbling and at risk of losing our top six place. But Igor Vetokele's last minute winner at Wimbledon was the signal for a run of ten wins in the last thirteen games which catapulted us to third place with less than ten minutes of the season to go. The play-off semi final second leg against Doncaster attracted over twenty five thousand to The Valley for an enthralling and exhausting night. The celebrations on the pitch afterwards were what devoting yourself to a football club is all about. Manager, players and supporters united in joy. It genuinely felt like we had got our Charlton back.
And then there was Wembley. Lee brought us that. Allez, allez, allez.........
The Championship season went off like a train. On 21st August 2019 we played Nottingham Forest and produced a first half performance which was simply breathtaking. Slick, fast, imaginative football which combined industry and flair. Ironically, we didn't win the game but what a privilege it was to be there to witness the astonishing performance. There followed 1-0 wins against Brentford and Leeds when the opposition was frighteningly good but we seemed to prevail through sheer will power. Lee gave us that while all the time warning us not to get carried away and, sure enough, throughout the shenanigans of 2020 the wheels gradually came loose. Even so, the post-lockdown mini season still offered us hope and desire, despite the main striker and the club captain turning their backs on the club. But for a last ditch goal by Barnsley at Brentford it would have been judged a great success moulded from Lee's true grit and determination.
And let's not forget that along the way he and his staff had coaxed the best performances of his career from Lyle Taylor; resurrected Naby Sarr; nurtured Karlan Grant and Joe Aribo, and turned McCauley Bonne into a £2m player.
Lee stuck with the Addicks despite the ownership uncertainty and transfer embargo. Even once Thomas Sandgaard took over he was hampered by the salary cap and was unable to plan and build for this season in the way that Chris Powell had done a decade ago. Nevertheless he was able to keep us in realistic contention until a month ago. If he does go to Birmingham he could be taking on a job which will require many of the dogged qualities he brought to our club with plenty of off-field drama to contend with.
It is possible that Lee will be bringing his new team to The Valley next season. We have no doubt that he will receive a loud and warm ovation when he returns.
So long, Lee. Above all, thanks for that Wembley moment and for instilling the pride back into our club.
The club statement can be read here: