Charlton AthleticSport

The debt Charlton fans owe to Alan Curbishley


Charlton manager Alan Curbishley must have been one of the few men who had the complete football formula in his head.

The former West Ham midfield star supervised everything at the club from 1991 through to when he left in 2006 – more than 600 games.

And it is a sign of how successfully he spun all the plates at the club who were relegated from Premier League within a year of his leaving- and have not made it back since.

Curbishley had tried to persuade then-manager Lennie Lawrence to bring in winger Gary Nelson on loan months before he was finally signed.

He did arrive eventually in August 1991 – within days of Curbishley and Steve Gritt being appointed joint managers.

Nelson said: “It is a massive surprise to me that he never had success elsewhere. There are plenty of times he wanted to move on – but his passion for the club and for the players kept him there.

“He might have felt he stayed a year or two too long. He had the world at his feet because of his success at The Valley – then he had a bad experience at West Ham and perhaps he might have had some regrets.

“Charlton made every decision correctly for years. The management, the people they got to join the board, the community engagement and reaching into Kent and driving season ticket sales. It had such a great feel at the club. The one thing they got wrong was when Alan left.

“He understood the game really well – he was polished and a good communicator. He was a class act on the pitch and off it too.

“He is a detail person. He wanted to put as much information about the opposition as possible in front of the players – their strengths and weaknesses.

“Him and Steve Gritt dovetailed really well. Alan took more of a lead. Was it a surprise when he was created sole manager? Probably not. He did a fantastic job and did not finish outside the top half of the second tier all the time I was there. Given the financial plight we were in as a selling club and the heavy constraint of what he could and could not do – that was amazing.

“Steve would deliver the sort of elements that at would normally fall to the role of an assistant manager and coach. Alan did the ra-ra speeches and spoke to whoever was not playing.

“He had a very good eye for a player – he was good at signing personalities who didn’t disrupt the harmony of the squad. Each was complementary to the camaraderie on and off the pitch.

“It was a surprise to a certain extent how successful he became in the Premier League after I left.

“Management is a notoriously hard job to hold down for a sustained period. But Charlton were good to Alan Curbishley and he was good to them. They didn’t panic when they went down in 1999 – only on the last game of the season, which is not bad for a team that had come up via the playoffs.

“Alan knew he had the basis of a side that can bounce back.

“The length of time he was there and the consistency did surprise me – especially at a time when clubs were looking overseas for managers.

“He prepared players as well and bought in very good signings – it was the same recipe all the time.”

Among those Nelson highlights are: Mark Kinsella, Steve Brown, John Robinson, Shaun Newton, Richard Rufus, Lee Bowyer, Jason Euell and Scott Parker.

But he might just easily have cited Dean Kiely, defender Michael Turner, and England players Chris Powell and Paul Konchesky.

When Gritt left, Curbishley appointed Les Reed as his assistant.

Nelson said: “That was a very wise move. There is usually animosity between pros and coaches – but Les was technically fantastic and didn’t get involved in any of the post-match arguments or dressing downs. He was a quiet character in the corner.

“There are plenty of people that have tried and failed at no end of clubs and spent an awful lot more money than him. He has made a major contribution at a very significant period of their history and he’s still very much a Charlton man. I’m more than thrilled to be last to be part of his vanguard of honour on Saturday.”

Curbishley had spent three years at Brighton before coming to Charlton. Nelson eventually became one of five players recruited from the South Coast club during that crucial period. Also among them was Steve Gatting, John Robinson, Kim Grant, and Steve Brown.

They met at the bottom of the M23 and got what they dubbed “the Gatwick Express” to Charlton’s Sparrows Lane training ground.

Nelson said: “I joined Charlton at the age of 30 and thought I might not be around too long. But I managed to make 200 appearances. It was probably the best team I have played in. I had five wonderful years and it is a club that’s very special to me

“By the time I was 35, Curbishley had to bring in new blood. I felt I had played an important part – and there is no animosity. Glyn Hodges was possibly going to get the job at Torquay and offered me a contract as player coach.

“I left The Valley with absolutely no animosity.”

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