BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Jason Pearce’s career as a Charlton player produced the best moment of his career. And he knows, even if he decides not to hang up his boots, that it is unlikely to ever be topped.
The 34-year-old centre-back has clocked up 561 first-team matches and a hat-trick of promotions at AFC Bournemouth, Wigan Athletic and the Addicks.
But Pearce, who was told before the end of the season that he would not be offered a new playing deal by the South Londoners, is in no doubt that the Addicks’ 2019 League One play-off final win over Sunderland is his favourite footballing memory.
“I’ve loved every promotion and we also stayed up at Bournemouth with minus-17 points,” said Pearce.
“That was like a promotion in itself.
“But the Charlton one stands out because as a youngster growing up I watched the FA Cup finals and other finals played at Wembley and it’s every boy’s dream to play there. Not only that, I was fortunate enough to lift the trophy in front of all the fans.
“That was the highlight of my career and something I’ll never forget. I was a little bit older, I’d been through promotions before, so you try and take those special moments in and realise where you are and what you’ve achieved. Looking back at my career, it feels like it has gone by so quickly.
“A lot of people don’t have a career in football but even the ones who do don’t get to achieve something like that [at Wembley]. I feel very privileged.
“I started on the bench and, being the team captain at the time, it was about trying to gee the lads up. It felt like it was going to be a different day for me – just watching the boys and hoping we win. But I came on at half-time and helped get the job done. To get over the line was amazing, and to be able to make a difference.”
Only one of Pearce’s six seasons with Charlton was spent in the Championship.
The Addicks went down on the final day of the 2019-20 campaign, losing 4-0 at Leeds United. Barnsley climbed above them after Clarke Oduor scored a stoppage time winner at Brentford.
But Charlton’s players and management were also combating a disastrous and imploding takeover by East Street Investments as well as the fact talismanic striker Lyle Taylor refused to play after the nation’s Covid-19 lockdown, not prepared to jeopardise a lucrative free transfer that summer.
Relegation saw the departure of Taylor, Dillon Phillips, Alfie Doughty and Macauley Bonne.
“It was a really up and down season,” said Pearce. “We started it off unbelievably well. We’d kept a lot of the boys together and Conor Gallagher came in and did amazing.
“Lyle was a massive player for us. We had some great players. We felt like we were on the up.
“Then it started going wrong in terms of the ownership. I don’t like to moan about that but little things started to change and there was talk we weren’t going to get paid – that psychologically can affect players.
“Lyle was a huge player for us and we needed him, really. It’s a difficult one for him, he’s got to make a decision for him and his family. He made that decision.
“He would’ve made a difference but I can’t blame him because he probably looks back at that now and thinks he made the right decision.
“It was a season that was very frustrating because it felt like we could’ve achieved more.”
Charlton will kick off a third straight campaign in League One at the end of July.
After only missing the top six on goal difference under Nigel Adkins, the last season was hugely disappointing.
Johnnie Jackson produced an upturn in results after a dreadful start which cost Adkins his job. But a 4-0 loss at Ipswich on the final day dropped Charlton to 13th in the standings.
“There is always a transition period after relegation,” said Pearce. “You’ve got to be quite lucky to keep your squad together. Ultimately when you get relegated players move on. You have got to rebuild. It’s what happened at Charlton.
“In the years I’ve been there we’ve had Ademola Lookman, Ezri Konsa, Karlan Grant, Joe Aribo – there are plenty more I could reel off. These are all top talented players who moved on to other clubs.
“Yeah it’s part of football, but it still affects the club that it has happened to.”
There is change again this summer – in the dugout – with owner Thomas Sandgaard sacking Jackson at the start of last week.
“We finished the previous season off really well and there was a lot of optimism that we could achieve something this season,” said Pearce. “It just hasn’t been that way.
“Nigel Adkins was a top person but it just didn’t seem to click with him. Johnnie Jackson took over and it galvanised the group. We were on a good run but then we had some injuries and lost a bit of form.
“I was surprised Jacko went with the end of the season [results].
“He will be a very good manager in the future and I want to thank him for what he’s done for me. I don’t take it personally that he didn’t want me as a player [next season]. It’s just football. I was gutted he wanted to go in a different direction but I wish him all the best.
“Football is a small world and I’m sure we’ll cross paths again.
“It’s been a really disappointing season. I just hope the club can get some good players in this summer – we’ve got the nucleus of a good team – and they can have a really good push next year.
“From my point of view the fans have been unbelievable. Even this season – one that hasn’t been the best – they have stuck with us.
“I hope we can achieve something over the next couple of years, for them.
“You need experienced players to help around the place and I was disappointed to be told I was not going to get a contract.
“With me going, potentially there is going to be a bit of an overhaul. I don’t know what direction the club are going in, and what they want to do. You’ve got to get the balance right – you can’t go too old or too young. The teams I’ve been in that have been successful have had a really good mix.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD, PAUL EDWARDS AND PA
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