BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Dillon Phillips has not ruled out a return to Charlton Athletic in the future – but is adamant the time was right for a fresh challenge this season.
The 25-year-old goalkeeper had been on the Addicks’ books since the age of eight. But he had been dropped out of the first-team picture this season after he did not sign a new deal.
It is thought that Cardiff paid in the region of £300,000 for the Addicks’ reigning Player of the Year, who would have been a free agent at the end of June.
Phillips was an ever-present in the Championship last season and kept 14 clean sheets in 26 league outings when Charlton won promotion to English football’s second tier in 2019.
“Their game will be the first result I look for,” he said. “You never know in football, our paths may cross again. I’d never say never about going back to Charlton.
“If the circumstances were right then I’d go back in a heartbeat. Charlton has been a big part of my life and I owe them a lot. They taught me how to play football. My whole family thank them as well.
“People don’t understand – 17 years at a club is well over two-thirds of my life. It wasn’t easy to leave at all. It was quite emotional leaving but I’m also really excited. I feel I’ve got to grow up, go and live somewhere else and be a man.
“I massively enjoyed my time at Charlton. It’s been home for me. It will always feel like that. It will take some times to adjust to my new surroundings at Cardiff.”
Phillips’ career with the Addicks took off in the 2018-19 season. Before that he had been loaned out to Cheltenham Town – excelling for them in the National League – and played understudy to the likes of Declan Rudd, Jed Steer and Ben Amos, the latter now back in Lee Bowyer’s side.
“I felt like it wasn’t going to happen at Charlton, I felt like I was too far away and there were always obstacles put in the way,” said Phillips. “Goalkeepers were brought in on loan – you always doubt yourself – and there was a new challenge there.
“It’s never easy being one of the club’s own to come through. They will always look elsewhere for bigger and better. I had to work doubly hard to knock down them hurdles. But I enjoyed the challenge
“Jed came in and then he went in January [recalled by Aston Villa in 2019]. Chris Maxwell was brought in [on loan from Preston]. The coaching staff at the club helped me beat those hurdles down and stay in the side.
“A lot of thanks goes to Marshy [Andy Marshall, goalkeeping coach] in the last couple of years. In recent times he has really helped me. He’s believed in me and stuck with me through good and bad. Luckily enough the last 18 months have been 90 per cent good – apart from the relegation, which was tough to take.
“I felt I left it all out there and gave everything for the club. I can walk away with my head held high. I hope the fans feel the same about it as me.
“I’ve met some great people at the club along the way – past and present – who I’ll stay in contact with. They have become lifelong friends.”
Phillips admits he would probably have extended his stay if Charlton’s ownership situation had been in better shape eight months ago.
He was offered a new contract in February but at the time the club was under a transfer embargo – East Street Investments taking over the running of the SE7 outfit without EFL approval.
And by the time Danish businessman Thomas Sandgaard was able to take control at the end of September the Addicks were back in League One and had to work under the salary cap voted in earlier in the summer.
Promotion at Wembley – Patrick Bauer’s goal just seconds before the end of normal time against Sunderland – is the highlight for Phillips.
“We went on a ridiculous run and only lost two games after January,” said Phillips. “It was a pleasure to play in that side. I had some real quality in front of me who have all gone on to play at a higher level and do really well elsewhere.
“If we had kept that quality I have no doubt we’d still be in the Championship. But I come back to circumstances higher up the club – that probably didn’t help us when we got relegated.
“Things could’ve been a lot different. I know a lot of fans were frustrated with that. That was no fault of the coaching staff or players. What happened upstairs has been and gone, it looks like a brighter future now they’ve got Thomas in charge.”
We’ll never know what Charlton could have done if Bowyer had been backed with significant funds after promotion to the Championship.
But there was a nucleus of a squad to build on at that time. Instead the likes of Joe Aribo and Patrick Bauer left for Rangers and Preston respectively.
Still, no-one can take away the scenes of joy in north London on May 26, 2019. Memories to last a lifetime. It didn’t start brilliantly as Phillips misjudged Naby Sarr’s backpass to hand Sunderland an early lead.
“My biggest memory was letting the ball under my foot in the first four minutes,” said Phillips. “All jokes aside, it was a special day.
“I know it took until the last minute with Pat but I always felt there was only going to be one winner. The celebrations are all a blur. I didn’t even know who put the ball in the back of the net.
“I remember running to Pearcey [Jason Pearce] as soon as the whistle went and asking who scored. I thought it was him.
“What a moment. It’s the best way to get promoted.
“It was just something the club needed, a massive boost. It rolled over into the next season and Charlton started on fire, we were right near the top of the table after five or six games.
“It shows you how tough the Championship is that we ended up going down. A lot of things didn’t help us along the way. That might come across as excuses but injuries, big players leaving us in January and what went on with Covid – it was tough to swallow.”
Please support your local paper by making a donation
Please make cheques payable to “MSI Media Limited” and send by post to South London Press, Unit 112, 160 Bromley Road, Catford, London SE6 2NZ
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has encouraged everyone in the country who can afford to do so to buy a newspaper, and told the Downing Street press briefing recently: “A free country needs a free press, and the newspapers of our country are under significant financial pressure”.
So if you have enjoyed reading this story, and if you can afford to do so, we would be so grateful if you can buy our newspaper or make a donation, which will allow us to continue to bring stories like this one to you both in print and online.