It’s been ten years since Charlton graced the Premier League.
It may be hard to fathom these days, but the Addicks were once stalwarts of the English top-flight under the management of Alan Curbishley.
Between 2001 and 2006, Charlton’s average Premier League finish was 11th, and in that time they didn’t once fear the threat of relegation until the ill-fated 2006/07 season.
But instead of concentrating on the bad thing, we want to reminisce about the good times at the Valley.
Good eye for a bargain
Since their return to the top-flight in 2000, the Addicks threatened to upset the league’s hierarchy with consistency and guts of steel.
But behind the scenes, Curbishley proved to be an astute spender, strengthening his side as they pushed their way up the Premier League table.
And by the 2003/04 season, Curbishley’s side was a mixture of decent homegrown talent and quality bargain buys.
Parker, Euell and Kiely
In the summer of 2003, Curbishley signed Matt Holland from Ipswich for £1.5million, Chris Perry for peanuts and youngster Carlton Cole on a season-long loan.
There was even a certain Paolo Di Canio in the ranks, who arrived on a free transfer from West Ham.
All four would become key figures in the coming season.
But there was quality already in the side too, with former trainee Scott Parker an esteemed first-team regular, fan favourite Jason Euell more than capable of a goal or two and goalkeeper Dean Kiely one of the league’s most solid shot-stoppers.
With the side built around Parker, Charlton climed the Premier League table in the run-up to Christmas with a string of fine performances.
Sharing the goals
Perhaps the biggest surprise during Charlton’s successful run was their lack of an out-and-out goalscorer.
Euell finished the season as the side’s top goalscorer with 10, while the likes of Di Canio, Cole, Holland, Jonatan Johansson, Kevin Lisbie, Shaun Bartlett and Claus Jensen chipped in.
Charlton’s campaign was spring-boarded in September with a well-earned 3-2 win over Liverpool, thanks to a hat-trick by Lisbie.
They would go onto achieve the double over Liverpool that season, with an equally impressive win at Anfield in April.
A run of seven consecutive games undefeated followed, but perhaps the biggest shock of the season came on Boxing Day, when Curbishley’s side hosted an expensively assembled Chelsea team managed by a certain Claudio Ranieri.
Despite boasting the likes of Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele and Adrian Mutu in their side, Charlton severely dented Chelsea’s title ambitions with a 4-2 win.
The result further established Charlton’s fourth place in the table, with many at the Valley seriously contemplating European footballer the following season.
But Boxing Day was as good as it got.
The typical slump
Chelsea would exact their revenge only weeks later and bring about Charlton’s end of season decline in the cruellest way possible.
Having controlled the centre of the park against the Blues in Charlton’s festive win, Parker impressed Ranieri so much that the Italian forked out £10million of Roman Abramovich’s money to bring the 23-year-old to Stamford Bridge on transfer deadline day.
The sale was a blow to Curbishley’s side, whose top four challenge eroded in the second-half of the season without their talisman in midfield.
They achieved only one win between January and April, with a win on the final day of the season ensuring a 7th place finish.
Despite finishing in their highest position since the 1950s, there was a distinct feeling around South-East London as to what could’ve been.
The end of an era
In the seasons that followed, Curbishley was frequently linked with higher-profile managerial positions.
He was a heavy favourite to take over at Liverpool before Rafa Benitez was given the gig, and was even touted as England’s next manager in 2006, before the FA opted for the hapless Steve McLaren instead.
Less said about that, the better.
Curbishley eventually left the club at the end of the 2005/06 season after 729 games, with Iain Dowie overseeing the club’s relegation in the season that followed.
With all the problems going on at the club these days, it’ll certainly take a lot to see Charlton return to the top-flight and relive their push for a place in Europe.
But there’s always the memories of that great season, when the Addicks so-nearly rubbed shoulders with footballs elite.