If Macauley Bonne had any doubts whether he had been accepted back at Charlton Athletic, the answer came when he left the dugout to warm up for the first time in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Barnsley.
“Macauley Bonne, Bonne, Bonne,” chanted the Covered End – a variation on the 1982 song by Arrow which became a disco hit.
The reception meant a lot to the 27-year-old striker, who could be forgiven for experiencing at least an element of trepidation on his Valley return.
Bonne became Charlton’s first signing of the January window on January 12 and also the maiden addition made by new manager Dean Holden.
The forward had swiftly moved to address comments from when he left Charlton in October 2020 in which he said his “head had been instantly turned” when QPR started bidding for him.
Bonne says that those comments were not meant in the context that made some of the Addicks fanbase bristle, and were more a reflection of his fairly meteoric rise.
When he was signed by Charlton following their League One play-off win he was viewed as a long-term project – a £200,000 punt from Leyton Orient that, even if it didn’t work out, wouldn’t be hard to recoup the fee. Instead 16 months later the R’s thrashed out a deal potentially worth £2million.
“It was a flying comment – I didn’t mean I was looking away from Charlton straight away,” Bonne told the South London Press. “I was playing in the Conference not long before that, so it was a buzz for me that someone wanted to buy me for a lot of money.
“It wasn’t me saying: ‘Sod Charlton’. The interest went on for a while and there were a lot of bids going in, talks with the club. I still got on with my football. I didn’t sack off anything.
“The way the club had been going, for it to get £2m in their back pocket in the space of a few months after being relegated helped everything – whether that be work on the training ground and stadium, or getting players in.
“They bought me for £200,000 and they flipped me a little bit later for over £2million. In any aspect of life that is a good profit margin – whether you’re selling a house, a car or a footballer.
“From a business perspective that was probably one of the best deals done here for a long time.”
Bonne’s second spell in a Charlton career started as a second-half substitute against the Tykes.
“I was very sceptical at first, thinking what am I going to get here?,” he said. “I didn’t mean to disrespect the club or the fans.
“The second I heard them chanting my name, I gave them a clap and it kind of sorted out the elephant in the room.
“It was more about getting on the pitch and showing that I’m committed to being here and not focused on the past. I want to put my wrongs right.
“Hopefully I showed on Saturday that I’m willing to do that and fight for the shirt.”
Charlton were looking to take Bonne on loan on the final day of the summer transfer window.
But there was deadline pain for both parties as it collapsed shortly before the deadline.
“That was just a frustrating night,” said Bonne. “The deal fell through and it was gone 10.30pm. I’d been in here (Charlton’s Sparrows Lane training ground) from 2pm.
“I was driving home and it was one of those where I wanted to say: ‘Just let me go and play my football. Let me go. They didn’t give me that opportunity’.
“QPR changed my life in certain aspects, financially they did help me out. I went from not being on a lot of money to getting a good contract for a few years.
“I respect the club, because they bought me and put me in the position I am today. I trained well and hard but I didn’t get enough of an opportunity on the pitch to prove to that club, and their fans, that I could go and score goals.
“They bought me off the back of scoring 11 or 12 goals in the Championship and I went there and scored three in two-and-a-half years because I was not really playing.”
Bonne’s contract was due to be up at the end of June but the west London club terminated his stay earlier this month.
Charlton’s desire to bring him back to SE7 never waned.
“Steve Gallen (director of recruitment) was very consistent, keeping me up to date and speaking to my agency all the way through, from window to window,” said Bonne. “I kind of knew Charlton were going to be there.
“I got a gist of things moving towards the middle of December when my agent said: ‘Charlton are really interested, they’re going to do this and do that’. It was a very, very good option to have.
“I did want to test the waters, see what was out there. I had a few other Championship options and a few others in League One but I just felt it (Charlton) was somewhere I’d been before. I know the club, players and people here.
“It was the best fit for me at this point in my career, to come back and hopefully make something happen.
“I’ve settled a lot quicker than I thought I would. Things have changed around here. Not massively drastically, but for the better.
“In terms of how the club was before, it needed a bit of an uplift. It’s certainly got that with a new manager coming in as well.”
Bonne will look to take his chance, just like he did in 2019.
Lee Bowyer thrust him into the starting line-up at home to Leeds United. Lyle Taylor picked up a knee injury on international duty with Montserrat and then Tomer Hemed went down injured in training just days before.
Bonne scored in a 1-0 win, the ball rebounding off his back after Tom Lockyer’s volley was pushed out by goalkeeper Kiko Casilla and on to the frontman’s back.
“One of the reporters at the game said: ‘Let’s go back to last season, where you were playing. Today you played against Leeds United, scored the winner and there was 21,000 here. This time last year you were playing in front of 800 people against Maidenhead away’.
“It was a massive eye-opener how quickly my career can change.
“Bow sat me in his office when I first came in and said they were going to ease me in over the next few years. I think I signed a three-year contract with an option. They wanted to get me up to speed.
“The first month I didn’t feature at all and I was possibly going to go on loan – someone in League One or League Two. I was talking about going back to Orient or maybe it was even Pompey or Shrewsbury.
“What helped me is that I’m quite a robust player, I can deal with being thrown in the deep end.”
Bonne went on to score at Fulham, Bristol City, West Brom, Birmingham and Brentford.
“The Hawthorns, that’s a Premier League ground. Ashton Gate – massive stadium. Craven Cottage – that was my first goal on Sky Sports.
“I went from playing on some pitches that are worse than what we’re training on today.
“Boys are moaning about that, but I told them that was me for a good couple of seasons. I had to deal with dog mess on the pitch or dogs running across the pitch. I’d play at places with one stand, it was like being back in my youth team days.”
Bowyer was never afraid to castigate his players in public. And Bonne, despite a jump of three divisions, was anything but immune from criticism.
“There were times I’d never been spoken to like that by a manager in my life,” he said.
“I was thinking all sorts. But if he gave me a grilling at half-time for not doing this or that, I’d go out second half thinking ‘I’m not going to let him do that again – ever’.
“I’d go out and prove him wrong. Me and him was a love-hate relationship. I think I really frustrated him at times. That’s my fault – whether it be a baggy touch or not finishing a chance. I always make sure I right my wrongs. I gained his trust.
“I know we had a lot of injuries but even when they were back I was still in his starting 11. He was always putting his trust in me to play.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Lee Bowyer. He brought me here and in the end he trusted me enough to play in the Championship.”
Bonne has no issue with directness, and touches on that when discussing his early experience of working under Holden.
“He is a very good talker and he doesn’t hide anything,” said Bonne, who spent last season on loan at his boyhood club Ipswich Town. “He’ll tell you straight. He was very open in my first conversation with him – what he wants and where he sees me going with him and the team.
“You need someone to be blunt and straight, the same as Bow. That’s the way you get the best out of me.
“I’d rather be told – this is right and this is wrong- rather than someone just hiding away from me. He explained what he wanted from me and I took a liking to him straight away.
“He was easy to talk to on the phone and his office door is always open. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. I can see him really doing wonders for me.”
Bonne went close to marking his return with a goal. Instead his shot came off the upright and was tapped in by Jesurun Rak-Sakyi.
Scoring would surely have made it the perfect day?
“It would’ve been nice but just being back out there playing football was enough for me, putting the Charlton shirt back on,” said Bonne. “It hasn’t been a good few months for me – on the pitch and off the pitch – so having that matchday feeling at 10 to three, or coming off the bench, was enough for me at the weekend.”
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