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Lee Bowyer has unified what looked like a broken family at Charlton

Considering Charlton supporters held a funeral for their club back in 2016, their resurrection back up to the Championship has been nothing short of biblical.

The animosity from the Addicks’ faithful towards their totalitarian owner Roland Duchatelet had left the Valley half-empty and with many fans fearing for the future of their club.

But since Charlton’s ‘messiah’ Lee Bowyer became their permanent manager at the beginning of last season, their troubles with the owner have been marginalised and fans are falling back in love with their football team.

The South London Pep

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The South London Pep

Lewis Catt, who’s a match pundit for the hugely popular Charlton Live podcast, is certainly enjoying things at the moment.

Although, like most fans, he’s taking every day as it comes, telling us: “You never know with Roland; you never know what he’s going to do as he’s quite unpredictable.”

We caught up with him ahead of the Addicks’ clash with Leeds last weekend to see for ourselves the club’s revival, and we were impressed with the positive energy outside the Valley before the match.

Obviously on the pitch things have improved massively.

“We had an unforgettable season last year in League One; that play-off win felt like we had the old Charlton back,” he told us. 

The Red Robbin’s League One play-off final win over Sunderland was everything you’d want from a Wembley showpiece; with nail-biting drama, a last minute winner, and the underdog side achieving the seemingly unfathomable.

Going up again?

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Going up again?

Not so long ago, disgruntled fans had held multiple protests, each more elaborate than the next; with everything from crisp packets to teddy bears being thrown onto the pitch.

The fan’s demonstrations directed at the owner were as ridiculous as they were justified.

Duchatelet once failed to provide bottled water for the youth teams in a bid to cut costs, which led fans to delivering water to the training ground for the younger players.

The crisp packets were launched in protest because staff at the club weren’t allowed to eat their lunch at their desks, in a bid to keep the offices clean and reduce the hours of cleaning staff. Yep, really.

Supporters wanted their frustration to be heard loud and clear by their villainous owner, and they’ve since formed groups such as ‘CARD’ – Coalition against Roland Duchatelet – and ‘WAR’ – Women Against the Regime.

The fans have made their voices heard

Getty Images - Getty
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The fans have made their voices heard

In December 2017 – some four years into his turbulent stint running the club – Duchatelet gave fans the news they had prayed and campaigned for so vigorously; he announced he was willing to sell the club, following what he described as ‘damaging and sometimes criminal protests.’

The fans had got what they wanted… or so they thought.

Nearly two years down the line and the club is still owned by the same pantomime villain, with his asking price of a rumoured £60million simply too steep for any interested investor.

With the disinterested owner wanting out of the club, he has left them with by-far the smallest budget in the Championship.

Not a popular man at The Valley

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Not a popular man at The Valley

Not that the fans are too bothered, it seems.

Lewis told us: “At the moment, he seems to be keeping quiet and letting us get on with things; that’s probably the best way to be if he’s going to stick around for a bit.

“Ideally, the end game is that he sells the club and I know that he wants to do that, but he needs to be a little bit more realistic with what he’s asking for the club.

“At the moment, nobody will touch it.”

Bowyer’s getting on with things as well; getting the very best out of the club despite working with next-to-no budget to improve his squad, which is all the more commendable considering his position as manager isn’t particularly secure, either.

Lewis, as well as other fans we speak to, seem exasperated by this: “Roland will only give him a one-year deal because he thinks anything longer will damage the sale of the club.

“The way we look at it as supporters is; there is no sale of the club, so surely you want to secure your key asset.

“That key asset is Lee Bowyer.”

The former Charlton youth player has turned the club’s fortunes around

News Group Newspapers Ltd
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The former Charlton youth player has turned the club’s fortunes around

Bowyer is not just a manager; he’s a Charlton man through and through.

Brad Anderson – a longtime Charlton fan – described the play-off final win back in May as the ‘best day of his life’, and believes the club should be doing everything it can to hold onto Bowyer.

“Things have got better, we’ve come up and had a good start to the season and some of that animosity towards the owner has gone quiet, but like every team some fans are still bitter, while some have forgotten about it.

“I’d love to see Roland offer him [Bowyer] a three-year contract because he’s amazing, the fans love him and he’s got us to where we are at the moment.

“I think it’d be the right thing to do, but we’ll see what happens.”

Some of the supporters remain keen to get their point across

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Some of the supporters remain keen to get their point across

Perhaps it took a dramatic promotion campaign and a good day out at Wembley for the fans to remember that there is still a lot of good at the club – even with Duchatelet still in charge.

Average attendance at the Valley has nearly doubled since the start of last season and while the ownership hasn’t been forgotten, for the first time in a while, the fans can start to focus on what’s happening on the pitch.

Lewis has seen the club’s up-rise firsthand, and he puts it all down to Bowyer.

“A year ago, you’d be lucky if we had 12,000 people here, whereas today we’re looking at 24,000 and above. It’s a massive progression on the pitch and the fans have started coming back, despite the ownership. It’s a real testament to Lee Bowyer,” he said. 

Above anything else, Bowyer will be looking to provide stability at the club to match the legacy of Alan Curbishley’s 14 year reign through the 90s and 00s.

The former manager led the club to two straight promotions and, like Bowyer, was once a Charlton player.

Bowyer would do well to leave a legacy half as impressive as Curbshley’s, but considering the seemingly eternal issues off the pitch, he and his squad are currently punching well above their weight.

The best manager in the Championship… and Marcelo Bielsa

PA:Empics Sport
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The best manager in the Championship… and Marcelo Bielsa

The team is in good shape too, with Lyle Taylor netting five goals in six appearances before his recent injury, while the crafty Conor Gallagher – on loan from Chelsea – and Jonny Williams are the creative forces taking the Championship by storm.

Charlton are blessed to have a good relationship with a number of London-based Premier League clubs, including Chelsea and Arsenal, who seem happy to blood their youngsters under Bowyer.

Lewis even tells us that his club has ‘the most creative midfield in the division’, which we’re inclined to agree with.

We even stuck around for their game against Leeds to see some of Bowyer’s good work first-hand – with his side overcoming Marcelo Bielsa’s promotion favourites in a feverish 1-0 win, leaving them within touching distance of the top end of the Championship.

They held firm after the first half goal

PA:Empics Sport
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They held firm after the first half goal

But despite the Addicks’ lightning start to life in the Championship, the fans we spoke to were quick to write off any chances of a second-straight promotion.

Lewis explained: “Anything above 21st [in the table] is overachieving and anything above that would be a massive testament to this football club and in five years time, if we can still be in this division, challenging with Lee Bowyer at the helm, that’s what any Charlton fan would want.”

There’s a natural insecurity amongst the fan base that – despite sitting in sixth – the club are never far away from a calamity.

That insecurity may well remain until the day Duchatelet packs his bags and leaves.

A day that can’t come soon enough for the passionate Charlton following.

Williams has become a real fan favourite

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Williams has become a real fan favourite

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