Just as Jason Euell's car was nudging towards the red-and-black gates of Charlton Athletic's training ground last Thursday he received a call from the club telling him to turn around. But, unlike Scott Parker, this was not on the manager's orders. The whole squad was being sent home because of the snow.
"And I was just at the bottom of the road," says Euell with a laugh, having negotiated his way from his home in Kingston-upon-Thames, on the capital's south-west fringes, to near where he had grown up and later returned as Charlton's record signing at £4.75m in 2001.
Another icy blast was felt through south-east London a couple of hours later - but that was Alan Curbishley venting his feelings over Parker's terminally acrimonious transfer to Chelsea. Euell knows about being on the wrong side of the Charlton manager - having had a minor disagreement last year over his dismissal against Manchester United - and is reflective about the departure of his one-time midfield partner. "I can see the arguments for and against," says the former Wimbledon striker. "The club would want to hold on to one of their strongest assets and go to that next level. But it's also a situation where his head is probably not there any more because a big club has come in.
"And as a manager what do you do? Do you make him stay and play for a club he doesn't want to play for or do you let him move on? But it would've been nice to see him stay and achieve something that none of us have done before."
And that, no longer, is just Premiership survival. This side of the season is usually a dangerous time for Charlton. In the last two years they have fallen away dramatically - usually once they are free from the threat of relegation. "It happens about now," Euell says. "People are saying 'Charlton will blow up'. We don't know why it's happened in the past. I don't know if it's complacency and we've got our 40-odd points and so on but we do tend to veer off the wrong way."
The steering has been recalibrated this season, however. The bar has been raised dramatically. Charlton already have 37 points "with more or less half the season to go" so it's no longer a case of 'one more win and we're safe'. "From the position we are now we can go the other way and say 'forget about the last two years, let's just go on from here'," argues Euell who has been instrumental in the outstanding run of results. "Far from having to go out and need points we're saying 'right, let's carry on and stay up here'."
It is persuasive. As is the growing belief that Charlton might - just might - consolidate the fourth position they have held for almost two months... and find themselves in the Champions' League. "There are a lot of us who have not been in this position before," says Euell, who is 27 next week, looking at the four-point lead over Liverpool.
"OK, we've been in sixth or eighth or whatever. But fourth and everyone is talking about Champions' League and it's a good thing for us to think about too." Maintaining the position has "fuelled belief". "It does help us believe we can get more points," he says. "And if we are going to get beaten then make it hard. Too many times in the past, maybe, people have taken games away from us without a proper fight."
Still the Parker transfer has raised fresh questions. Questions of ambition. The reaction of the fans at today's home game against Bolton Wanderers will be crucial. Euell says it was probably "a good thing" that the match "Scottie" was excluded from two weeks ago was away from The Valley at Everton. Charlton, of course, won.
Born in Lambeth, Euell trained with Millwall before eventually joining Wimbledon. He is acutely aware of the community that exists in this expanse of London - an appreciation he shares with the Peckham-born Rio Ferdinand. Indeed, despite a two-year age gap, the two were schoolboy rivals - playing for opposing teams - and often kicked a ball around near the Walworth Road. He knows how much the game means to Charlton's passionate fans although he admits to irritation at some of the "patronising" opinions which have been passed by commentators. "Our achievements have been downgraded because we've not received the credit we should be getting," he says. "Everyone says the race for fourth place is on and thinks of Newcastle and Liverpool. It hasn't been talked about much that Charlton can go on again." There is, sometimes, a benefit in being ignored. "The fact that everyone is forgetting about us can be a good thing," Euell says.
His own contribution has been outstanding - although he describes his season as "on-and-off". Part of the difficulty has been playing in midfield - a role he adapted to superbly, and has grown to enjoy, but not, he readily claims, one that comes naturally. "Some people say I look better in midfield but for me I'm a front man, it's what I am," Euell says, who boasts a healthy ratio of a goal every three games. "But I do enjoy it [midfield] because it means I'm always in the game." Then he adds, with admirable candour, of his six goals this season: "It's about scoring and I've not been scoring as many as I would like to. In terms of performance I've been a bit indifferent but it's difficult when you're out of the team and then come back in again. But since I've been back in, things have picked up. I've been getting chances and that means I'll start scoring."
Indeed, after a lean goalscoring spell, he came back with a bang - in the exhilarating 4-2 victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day, a result which probably sealed the determination of the losers to capture Parker. Euell will be sad to see him go - having forged a vibrant partnership. "Last week we were all in but I've not really seen him since then," Euell says. "I know Scottie loves being around. He's a character."
As, clearly, is Euell, whose footballing hero is another, the former Arsenal striker, Ian Wright (Euell grew up as an Arsenal fan in south London, an allegiance strengthened by Wright's Highbury career). And neither does he lack ambition - although he maintains it can be achieved where he is right now. England honours have been mooted for two years. "While we are sitting in fourth, who knows what's around the corner," he says. "Even when we were not doing so well Chris Powell got his call-up. Now we are being looked at a bit more and scouts will come down."
It may be that he does get to renew his partnership with Parker after all. In the England squad.Reuse content