Break-ups are hard. Noel and Liam Gallagher. Megan, Harry, and the Royal Family. Ross and Rachel in Friends. Pick any reference you want but the point is the same: break-ups are hard.
Break-ups are also a lot harder when the time spent together has been emotional.
In March, Charlton Athletic went through their own break-up when Lee Bowyer departed for Birmingham City. And in one word the manager’s reign was, yes, emotional.
Bowyer stepped up initially on an interim basis almost exactly three years to the day of his departure. But the environment was poisoned from the offset, Karl Robinson leaving in part because of “up in the air” takeover talks.
Still, despite a significantly rocky background, the first 18 months of Bowyer’s tenure was emotional in all the best ways.
Charlton went on to win six of their final 10 games in 2018 to finish 6th and scrape into the Play-Offs where they were rather easily swept aside by Shrewsbury.
The following season, strengthened by key signings including Lyle Taylor and Josh Cullen, Bowyer’s side won 10 of their final 13 games to storm into the top six.
They may have gone in as favourites after finishing third, but Play-Off football doesn’t care about your position in the table.
A wild semi-final against Doncaster ended 4-4 and a famous night at The Valley was capped by Tommy Rowe’s missed penalty sending Charlton to Wembley and the sold-out crowd onto the pitch en masse.
Determined not to be outdone by the semi-final, the showpiece climax against Sunderland delivered its own share of dramatics.
Just five minutes in, the 40,000 Charlton fans present were left gasping in horror when Naby Sarr’s back pass rolled away from Dillon Phillips and into the net. Thankfully, this team had long learnt how to fight back against adversity and Ben Purrington’s equaliser 10 minutes from the break quelled any remaining nerves.
When the clock struck 90 minutes the score still hadn’t changed as another Wembley epic between Sunderland and Charlton seemed destined for extra-time, just as it had 21 years earlier.
Then Joe Aribo played the ball to Josh Cullen. The midfielder took a few touches forward before cutting back and chipping a cross in the direction of the far post. As the ball hung in the air, the sea of red behind the goal started to rise and excitedly grip each other’s shoulders. Anticipatory murmurs gave way to a collective inhale of breath as Patrick Bauer’s first headed effort was blocked before he stabbed home the rebound.
The place exploded. The Charlton bench joined those on the pitch, running towards the corner flag, and their supporters simply lost their minds.
It’s the kind of special once-in-a-lifetime moment where fans are pushed into a near out of body experience, everyone melding into one pile of epic ecstasy. Charlton were getting promoted and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
That moment will always be special and Lee Bowyer is the one who made it possible.
Read the full article only in issue #2 of MODmag on sale now at modmag.co.uk