Curbishley: 'People don't realise how far this club has come'

Charlton manager has sharp riposte for the 'bigger and better players' with wrong perceptions
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The Independent Football

The trick is to achieve stability, and few clubs appear to be more stable than Charlton Athletic. Yet even their manager of 15 years, Alan Curbishley, is forced to acknowledge: "There's always a demand for an upgrade. This club has changed, probably for ever in some respects. In 15 years we've come from nowhere, attracting different mentalities and different personalities. Sometimes that is a problem. Sometimes the bigger and better players haven't got the same feeling for the club and the same attitude."

The departure of Danny Murphy to today's opponents Tottenham as the transfer window banged shut on Wednesday night, only 18 months into a four-year contract, has left a bad taste. Even the amiable Curbishley was unable to resist a dig about how many film premières Murphy (who is married to the actress Joanna Taylor) would be able to attend now that he had made it on to the north London club's social circuit. "Some people don't realise how far we've come," he added. "Perhaps Danny Murphy has never realised that. He talks about Spurs and their tradition, how they've won loads of competitions and their fan base. We had 4,000 fans nigh- on 15 years ago. In our quest for being bigger and better we've maybe stopped talking about the old days. Perhaps one or two people need to be reminded what sort of club we are."

Essentially, that is a community club who for seven ghastly years were exiled from their community; spending six of them round the South Circular Road at soulless Selhurst Park, when supporters' coaches could leave the derelict Valley two hours before a "home" game and still miss the kick-off. It was there in 1991-92 that Curbishley, in tandem with Steve Gritt, took his first hesitant steps as a joint player-manager. The novice pair lost their opening four games, were bottom of the League and finally won one at home to Barnsley in front of 4,379 people.

So there is understandable pride in what has subsequently been achieved, which is to establish what Curbishley calls "a proper football club" in the Premiership. While mindful of how far both he and that club have come, he is still vexed and amused in turn by perceptions of "little old Charlton" and their "bright young manager". There are currently six Premiership clubs with lower attendances and plenty - including Spurs - who have a lower average position over the past five years. Curbishley, fresh-faced as he remains through treating victory and defeat much the same, will be 49 later this year.

He has been strongly linked at various times with his first club, West Ham, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Liverpool, and would probably have stronger credentials to succeed Sven Goran Eriksson this summer had he taken one of those clubs into Europe and gained some hands-on experience of football outside these shores. Attempting to take Charlton across the water for anything other than a pre-season tour has proved a hugely frustrating experience, as they regularly fall away from a promising position in early spring.

Last season was the worst collapse, and brought Curbishley as close as he has ever been to walking away, following a 4-0 home defeat by an embarrassingly superior Manchester United. "It was the lowest I've felt. It was the predictability of our run-in, when everyone said we'd fall away and we did. It was the first time I'd seen people walk out of the Valley with 20 minutes to go. It was so disappointing: a European place was at stake and we had a chance. That was my lowest point."

Managerial mates Steve Bruce and Sam Allardyce rang to offer encouragement and he stuck around for another season, in which Charlton actually hit the glass ceiling before plunging down faster than ever; second in the table after the fixture computer offered an obliging start to the campaign, they lost eight games out of the next nine.

"The first 10 games, some of the football we played was fantastic. But when it got a bit tough some of the footballers couldn't handle the other side of it and that's where the problem came. Danny played football a certain way, and when we were going great guns with lots of possession it was fine. When it wasn't going so well he had it all to do - not just him but others - and we were found wanting.

"So I had to make a call round about Christmas to try and turn it around. I had to get some more steel in the side. It was the defensive side letting us down. I had five midfielders hell-bent on attacking. We'd been going one-up and playing great football, then when we went one and two down we couldn't get back in the game, so it had to change."

The decision was to leave out Murphy, who believed the team was going to be built around him and had already been showing signs of disenchantment, and the two wingers, Dennis Rommedahl and Jerome Thomas. If the outcome was less flair and adventure, results show one defeat in seven games, a place in the FA Cup fifth round and a slow climb away from relegation trouble.

Now Murphy has gone - he is actually ineligible for today's game - and Curbishley remains. For how long? "There are three scenarios," he says. "Either the fans are going to tell me - and one or two have been booing me lately - the chairman's going to tell me or I'm going to tell myself. But I don't think I've got anywhere near that yet. I've got a year left on my contract after this season finishes. So we'll have to wait and see."

Onward and upward.

Straight talker: How the Valley tide was turned

"Danny played a certain way and when we were going great guns it was fine"

Curbishley on Murphy

"I had to get some more steel in the side. I had five midfielders hell-bent on attacking"

Curbishley on the revival

"I've got a year left on my contract after this season finishes. We'll have to wait and see"

Curbishley on the future