Charlton AthleticSport

Retirement? It’s not in Darren Pratley’s thoughts – as Charlton Athletic midfielder reveals he spends extra money to aid his longevity


Darren Pratley will be 36 when his Charlton Athletic contract expires – but retirement is not even remotely in his thinking.

The veteran midfielder, who turns 35 on April 22, signed a new deal in August which runs until the end of the 2020-21 season.

Pratley has played in 14 of the Addicks’ opening 16 Championship matches – and was an unused substitute in the other two.

Charlton manager Lee Bowyer rotates his side in busy fixture periods and also wants to manage the minutes of the former Fulham, Bolton Wanderers and Swansea City man.

Pratley – who has played 493 first-team games – is suspended for tomorrow’s visit of Cardiff City after picking up a fifth caution of the campaign in the derby loss at Millwall last time out.

“I don’t see myself as 34 – I’m still one of the fittest at the club,” he exclusively told the South London Press. “I’m in the top group for all the running tests, so I don’t see why I should get to 35 or 36 and just stop.

“You are talking more than a year away, anything can happen between now and then, but the way I feel right now means I want to carry on as long as I can.

“I have no intention of just retiring once my contract finishes. I’ll see how my body feels. It’s when I’m no longer in the top group for running that I’ll probably have to sit down and think about it.

“I train hard every day and I look after myself. I do quite a lot of recovery – ice baths, cryotherapy, stretches at night and yoga. I make sure I eat right.

“I’ve spent quite a lot of time and my own money on my recovery – whether that be acupuncture or massage.

“When I was younger I would go out to a club but for the last 10 or 12 years I don’t really do that.

“I feel good and I feel happy. I always wanted to come back down to London in the last four or five years, back in my own house. It’s good to live at home. It’s what I wanted to do when I left Bolton and I’m grateful to the manager and Steve [Gallen, head of recruitment] for giving me that opportunity.”

Pratley was signed by Charlton in mid-July 2018 following his release by Wanderers.

His goal in extra-time in the League One play-off semi-final second leg at The Valley against Doncaster Rovers was huge – without it the South Londoners would have been missed out on even reaching Wembley in May.

“The start of last season was the only time I haven’t had a proper pre season,” said Pratley. “I came in two weeks before the season started.

“I’d been training by myself. I’m naturally quite fit anyway but sometimes that can work against me. I was thrown in quite early. I don’t think I was meant to be anywhere near the first game at Sunderland but we had an injury to Jake [Forster-Caskey] and I got put in. I was playing catch up.

“So to do a pre-season this time was massive because before that it was the first time in 17 or 18 years I hadn’t had one.

“The Championship is more enjoyable than League One. You are playing against better players.”

There wasn’t much enjoyment to be gleaned from Charlton’s latest result.

Hopes were high that the Addicks could end a 23-year wait for victory against Millwall.

But Matt Smith’s header in the first minute of stoppage time left Bowyer’s side pointless at The Den.

To make matters worse, Pratley collected a caution for what referee Robert Jones deemed as a high challenge on Murray Wallace.

Conor Gallagher and Tom Lockyer are also just one booking away from a suspension.

“The manager told me to be careful before the Preston match,” said Pratley. “He wasn’t telling me not to go into my tackles, more not to get one for something silly – like booting the ball away or answering back to the ref.

“I was a bit unfortunate [at Millwall]. The ball was in the air and I’ve gone to clear it and the boy has put his head down. I didn’t touch him. I thought it was quite harsh.

“It might have looked quite bad but I only had eyes for the ball. The ref said he had to do it [issue a caution].

“I’ve got to take it on the chin. It is disappointing to miss the Cardiff game because it is a chance to bounce back, it’s a Sky game and I normally do well when I play against them.

“I’m sure whoever comes in will do a good job.

“It is tough when you lose any game and then have two weeks off. It makes it that little bit harder. A lot had been said in the build up to the Millwall game about it being 23 years since we had beaten them.

“It would’ve been nice to win the game so the fans had bragging rights, but it wasn’t to be.

“We ended up losing to a set-piece in the last minute, which is disappointing but that is the Championship. Every teams loses games and you have to move on.

“A point would probably have been a fair result but we got done – they brought on big Matt Smith and he is good at what he does.

“We knew what they’d do – pump it in the box. With the corner we have to do better. We know he is their main threat and we have to be better, closer marking. It was a bit naive by us.”

Charlton have taken five points in the last 10 matches – putting them 18th in a form table for that period.

The Addicks were among the pacesetters in the first couple of months but have been decimated by injuries.

Bowyer had mixed up the defensive midfield role between Pratley and Sam Field but the West Brom loanee suffered a knee injury last month at Bristol City.

“If someone had told us we could be 12th at this stage then we’d probably have snapped their hand off,” said Pratley. “Expectations get raised when you have a good start but our aim is to get to safety. The manager has said if and when we get to that we can reassess. The team has just been promoted and with our budget the main aim is to stay in the league – not get carried away.

“We can compete with all the teams. We haven’t looked out of place against any of them. Brentford were probably the best team and we managed to beat them.

“Once we have a few of the injured lads back like Lyle [Taylor] and Jonny Williams then we’ll have a strong squad going into the second half of the season.”

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