BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Chris Solly had 18 years of stability at Charlton Athletic – but life since his departure has been anything but straightforward.
The right-back achieved so much during his time at The Valley – two promotions to the Championship as well as personal playing accolades – but it is nearly 12 months since he last played a competitive match.
Solly was released by the Addicks in the summer and the Covid-19 outbreak helped scupper plans to move abroad.
Last week the 29-year-old, who played 313 matches for the SE7 outfit, started training with Ebbsfleet United. The National League club are just five minutes away from his family home.
Solly has never played below League One level before. Now non-league football could be a way of putting him in the shop window ahead of the January transfer window.
The former Charlton captain does not believe the full facts have come out about his Valley exit. But he also has no appetite to dig up the subject again now.
“I loved my time at the club – I gave everything,” Solly told the South London Press. “Every time I trained and played I gave 100 per cent. I had the discussion with Bows [Lee Bowyer] and Steve Gallen [director of football] at the end of January and it was made clear it was going to be my last year.
“I accepted that and it was fine. I made it clear from that conversation that I still wanted to play, to try and get back in the squad – that didn’t happen in the lead-up to the pandemic.
“From March we had the lockdown and that was that.
“I’d never want to talk bad on the club because I loved my time there. The club was brilliant for me and I did well for the club.
“There are still a lot of people at the club I’ve got a lot of respect for. The likes of Keithy Peacock, Steve Avory and Chris Parkes – some of the best people I know are working at that club. I’m grateful and thankful for people like that, who did so much for me.”
Solly shows no hesitation when asked for the highlight of his time with Charlton – the 2011-12 campaign when Chris Powell’s side motored to the League One title.
He played 48 matches that season, including the 1-0 victory at Carlisle which sealed promotion.
“It will forever be probably the highlight of my career,” said Solly.
“It was my breakthrough season. It was an unbelievable set of lads and also the manner in which we won the title – we kind of cruised there in the end. We had a bit of everything – we could play and we could fight. We had a great group who did a lot together off the pitch.
“I only turned 21 in the January and I probably didn’t appreciate it as much then as I do now.
“There’s still so many in that group I speak to regularly, including the coaching side – Damian Matthew and Chris Powell. Even Erol [Umot], the physio. Every person played their part. It’s hard to ever imagine being involved in a group like that again. But at the time you don’t really think like that.”
Solly picks Powell as the best boss he has played under.
“It was the way he made everyone always feel involved,” he said. “I’m pretty sure we had the same 11 for quite a lot of the games but he managed to keep everyone happy and spirits unbelievably high.
“He was brilliant for me. Being a full-back it was perfect for me to learn off of him.
“I had never played two games in a row before Powelly came in. He believed in me and gave me that chance. I felt like I came on in leaps and bounds at a vital age.
“At 20 I needed to start playing mens’ football. If I hadn’t played that season then I’d probably have had to look elsewhere to kickstart my career. He believed in me and gave me that chance. I’d like to think I repaid that faith.”
Solly has seen the likes of Jonjo Shelvey and Joe Gomez come through and earn high-profile Premier League moves.
But he plumps for talismanic French striker Yann Kermorgant when asked for his top player.
“He would have to be the standout player. I got on so well with him off the pitch.
“The way I played as a full-back, my first thought was always ‘can I put it into the frontman’s feet?’ And he was a dream to play with, because he always made an option for me. The goals he scored and his character – he hated losing at absolutely anything – he was a warrior but so skillful with his feet and unbelievable in the air. He had everything.
“I was so pleased when he got his chance in the Premier League, because he deserved it.”
Only serious knee injuries arguably prevented Solly also getting a shot at top-flight football.
But he has zero regrets about the way his career has mapped out to this point.
“I remember the year after we won the league there were a few rumours and a little bit of talk of me getting a move then,” said Solly. “It genuinely never crossed my mind about leaving. At the time I’d just won Player of the Year, we’d won the title and I’d never played higher than League One.
“Without being disrespectful I was going into the season thinking I’d at least start it as first-choice right-back. I was stepping up a level – all I wanted to do was prove myself against better players and improve.
“That season we were so close to nicking a place in the play-offs. We were probably one or two players short of having a right good go and maybe getting in there – and then it’s a lottery. We had pretty much the same 11 as the season before. The foundation was there – proven by the fact we only just fell short.
“I was always happy at the club. It never really crossed my mind to look elsewhere.
“The lowest points were the injuries, but they are what they are. I couldn’t have done anything about them.
“I’d like to think I got everything that I could out of my time at Charlton and gave everything I possibly could.
“Dealing with the injuries was always tough but I managed it the best way I could. I looked after my body the best I could.
“I loved every minute playing for the club and will always look back with fond memories.”
The side-effects of Covid-19 are still impacting football. There have only been a handful of fans allowed at matches and even that is halting now as case numbers are back on the increase.
It was a double whammy for Solly, who was also forced to postpone his wedding.
“I’d never been out of contract in my whole career,” said Solly. “From February I was exploring the possibility of playing abroad, it was something I’d always wanted to do.
“The pandemic hit in March and changed the landscape completely.
“Then it was about playing it week by week to see what was out there. Going into the summer I had a couple of sniffs abroad but nothing really suited me.
“I’ve been fortunate to stay at Charlton my whole career and live in the same area – my family and my missus’ family are all local. I’m not just going to sign anywhere or move up north if the deal isn’t right.
“I’m still open to the opportunity of playing abroad. But even when we were speaking to clubs the pandemic changed things almost automatically because they weren’t sure on their budgets and certain countries limit the amount of European players. It threw that up in the air.
“The whole world has had to deal with it.
“Then I had a couple of sniffs in England at various levels – another League One team was interested but it kind of didn’t really work out.
“Financially there has been a huge hit at all levels and the cap has come in for League One and League Two and that’s had a massive impact. There are still hundreds of good players out there who are out of contract.
“There isn’t the same money there. I understand that. I’m happy to take the cut, like everyone is going to have to. It’s gone on longer than I liked.
“That’s why I said to my agent that I needed to get back training somewhere, because as much as I’m running four or five times a week it doesn’t replicate the fitness of training every day and playing games.
“Ebbsfleet have been brilliant letting me come in. The facilities, standard and the lads are all good down there.
“The manager [Dennis Kutrieb] has been a top man. We had a chat last Friday that if in a week or two I feel I’m ready to play a game – and they’d like me to – it’s something I’d definitely look at doing.
“That will only work as a positive for me that clubs will see I’m match fit and I’m ready to step straight in and play games.”
Solly last played in the FA Cup loss to West Brom on January 5.
He said: “It wasn’t a great shock to me not playing every week because I hadn’t done it for a little while. I just made the most of being able to spend every day with the kids.
“It’s probably something I won’t be able to do ever again.”
Solly has a picture of him on the pitch with his children up in his dining room from his testimonial game against Aston Villa.
“All my family and friends were there,” he said.
“To have the opportunity to walk out at The Valley with both my little uns was something I was really looking forward to. It brings back unbelievable memories. To play for an incredible club for 10 years as a professional was something I never dreamed of as a kid.”
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