So long, Johnnie, and thanks for all the memories.

Reflecting on the sacking of Johnnie Jackson after 12 years at Charlton but just 40 games as manager. Written for

In truth it’s a long time since Johnnie, oh Johnnie Jackson ran down the wing for us. The closest he came in recent years was that ebullient celebration at Wembley 2019. He charged along the touchline to act as the climbing frame for a bunch of highly-excited red-shirted footballers, the elation that Charlton were seconds from a place in the Championship overwhelming us all.

Yet that rather quaint ditty in Jackson’s honour still rang around the Covered End as we clinched a last home victory of the season versus Shrewsbury. While some had been muttering about whether Jackson had the experience or tactical nous to build a squad for a promotion push next year, the general sentiment was to give him the time, the opportunity and the backing to do so, even after the 4-0 trouncing at Ipswich. As such, news of his sacking was the unexpected yin to the well-trailed yang of George Dobson’s coronation as Player of the Year.

Jackson was the Q&A guest at CAST’s AGM last November. He spoke warmly of his connection with Charlton – how he always felt he would end up here. His only top-flight goal was scored for Spurs at The Valley. He may not have come through the Academy ranks at Sparrows Lane but he is certainly ‘one of our own’. He arrived initially on loan from Notts County in February 2010, an emergency replacement for injured Grant Basey. Then he himself succumbed to the treatment table and was packed back to his parent club. Phil Parkinson signed him on for the following season. When novice manager Chris Powell undertook a major squad overhaul in summer 2011, Jackson was the only first team regular to survive. Indeed he thrived, taking on the captaincy and leading us through a record-breaking season. We got a real insight into his character and never-say-die attitude with his free-kick double securing maximum points in consecutive weeks versus Sheffield promotion rivals United and Wednesday.

In future seasons Jackson continued to throw heart and soul and knee slides into leading the Addicks to victory – that last gasp clincher v QPR is seared in our collective memory. He went above and beyond in his dedication – even acting as unpopular CEO Katrien Meire’s human shield at a feisty fans’ meeting, turning up a little late with his cup of tea to lighten the atmosphere.

Personally I’ll always remember the match versus Fulham at home in October 2015. We were 2-0 down but had just won a corner with about 80 minutes gone. Jacko emerged from the bench, running animatedly towards the area, pointing, shouting and screaming at the kick-taker to find his head. In an almost carbon copy of the QPR goal, he planted the ball right in the net. Jordan Cousins followed the skipper’s example with an injury-time addition. One of those draws that felt much more like a win – and a very clear example that when Jacko sets out to achieve, he gets the result.

On the Zoom AGM meeting he also claimed to be a better guitar player than Charlton supremo and would-be rock star Thomas Sandgaard. Maybe the latter didn’t get the joke. The past couple of weeks have been replete with quotes and interviews with both Jackson and Sandgaard on plans for the summer. Reading or listening back now, with the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight, it is obvious that the owner was not being whole-hearted in his backing for the manager, speaking of his own ideas regarding training methods and playing style.

I spoke to Jackson at the sponsors’ dinner briefly last week and the future of club captain Jason Pearce was clearly weighing on his mind. He compared it to the end of his own playing career and talked about the important role his then manager Karl Robinson took on in helping him understand that his legs had gone – OK, he didn’t quite put it like that but I got the gist. We now know that Jacko had to confirm to Pearce that he was not going to be offered another playing contract at CAFC. That was probably one of the last actions he undertook as manager of The Addicks. I don’t know the circumstances of how he conducted that discussion but I imagine there was empathy and gratitude for Pearce’s contribution.

Sandgaard flew back to the States after the Player of the Year do so did not break the news in person to Jackson that he was no longer wanted. That must leave a sour taste for a man who gave the best years of his playing career to this club and set out on the coaching and managerial ladder here. The owner has to make the hard decisions but I’d like to think that Charlton’s values mean we treat loyal club employees with respect, especially when they are being shown the door. Johnnie Jackson has graced our club for more than 12 years. He played over 250 games and scored 50 goals in the Addicks shirt. As manager he was in charge for 40 games, overseeing 19 wins.

I’m a bit of a one for football omens. As soon as the fixture list came out for season 2011/12, I spotted Carlisle away in late April. I had us odds-on for promotion – in my Charlton world, lightning does strike thrice. And it did. After the final match of this season, I was clinging to 13th as a springboard to promotion or at least the play-offs. I also had in mind that Charlton playing legends had the knack of leading us out of the third tier – Lee Bowyer in 2019 and Chris Powell in 2012. For those long in the tooth, we can even follow the lineage back to Mike Bailey in 1980. I liked to think it was written in the stars for JJ too. The owner has decided it’s not to be.

The football is now very firmly at Thomas Sandgaard’s feet. Will he make a third time lucky appointment after Adkins and Jackson? Meanwhile the out of contract senior pros are left in limbo and our summer recruitment plans rely first and foremost on the data analysis skills of the owner’s son. Right now the stability we have long been seeking at this football club feels about as distant as the Premier League.

The Song in my Heart

Charlton’s anthem Valley Floyd Road has special personal meaning for me, given family links to the Mull of Kintyre.

Since the late 1980s, Charlton fans have chosen an adapted version of Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre as their football anthem, Valley Floyd Road. This has special personal meaning for me, as my Dad originally hailed from Campbeltown, the nearest main settlement to the wild headland of the Mull of Kintyre. I was born in South East London with the football gene but it was Dad that ensured I became an Addick. I originally wrote this tale of his 80th birthday celebration for Voice of The Valley fanzine. I am now publishing it here in response to new owner Thomas Sandgaard’s request to share our Charlton family stories.

Many miles did we travel to the West Coast of Scotland on New Year’s Day 2001.  Many hours would we spend in family celebration at Saddell Castle, just a few miles from Dad’s Campbeltown birthplace. Boasting thick stone walls, ghostly legends and roof-top battlements, the 16th century keep towered over the southern end of a sweeping beach; the very beach where Paul McCartney and Wings, superbly accompanied by the Campbeltown Pipe Band, had serenaded the nation in the video of Mull of Kintyre

Now this was Charlton’s tune too, of course.  Dad and I often recalled that night at Highbury in March 1989 when we first heard of the mist rolling in from the Thames.  Not only a portent of the club’s eventual return home to SE7, but a reminder for Dad of his own home – it was as though the faithful Addicks were lauding his personal loyalty.  Surely his only desire would be to celebrate his 80th birthday in a Kintyre castle?

After a tough upbringing in an overcrowded tenement, Dad had headed off to Europe at the age of 18 as a gunner in the 51st Highland Division. Captured in northern France, he completed four and a half years’ hardship at Hitler’s pleasure.  He then washed up in Woolwich in 1945, met a local lass at a local dance and settled for a new life in the South East of England.  Of course he chose Charlton Athletic as his team – after all, they were not only the nearest, but also one of the best in the land.  Consequently he hated the Gunners of Arsenal, considering them Charlton’s real rivals, traitors for abandoning the area he’d now adopted. 

In Dad’s first two Addickted seasons, Charlton reached the FA Cup Final. He failed to get a ticket for either: none to spare for recent incomers.

Also failing to pass on his football passion to his first two offspring, he had all but given up when another girl arrived as a late surprise.  Even I didn’t make it easy for him, initially latching on to the 1970 FA Cup winners, Chelsea, on TV. So as soon as I was old enough, Dad whisked me off to The Valley and confronted me with Charlton Athletic.  Please don’t misconstrue this as a bullying tactic: Dad did also promise to take me to Chelsea, just it was a bit easier to get to Charlton, and he was going anyway.  By now Charlton had dipped into the third division, but Dad was a determined character, who believed that you got the luck that you deserved, so had stuck with his team through thin and thin unflinchingly. 

Forsaking the glamour of the boys in blue, I quickly fell for the more down-to-earth charms of suave Bobby Curtis penalties, crunching Phil Warman tackles and aggressive Derek Hales strikes, whether they resulted in the ball hitting the back of the net or opponents hitting the floor…Dad and I became inseparable in our devotion, with Mum frequently having to referee our tussles over the sports pages of the morning newspaper.

When I booked the castle and lined up this family gathering, Charlton were a mid table Championship side.  By the time the time came, we’d been up to the Premiership, back down and back up again.  When I’d broken the news that we were spiriting Dad away to Scotland for his birthday, he’d glanced at the fixtures: old enemy, but rare opponents, Arsenal at home on New Year’s Day.  “Oh well, there’s more to life than football.” He’d invoked that same phrase on many occasions to try and cheer me up after a defeat.  It sounded just as hollow this time. 

I’d dragged Dad away from the Covered End choir (well, a bit of shouting in the East Stand, actually), so this had to be the perfect event.  I’d gone ahead to make a head start on the catering, only to find that the salmon was too big for the fish kettle, the kitchen tiny, and the castle as bitter cold inside as it was out. Nothing was going to plan. Late December snowfall had frozen hard in treacherous swathes across the twisty country roads and paths.  We’d nearly blown up the old car trying to jump start it.  The delivery of the birthday cake in such conditions was in doubt.  What more could go wrong? 

Then I heard the panicking cry from my husband, “Heather, help, I’ve dropped your Dad!”  Dad was just a month on from a knee replacement operation, still walking with a stick and diligently carrying out physio with a bag of frozen peas several times a day to get his joint back as good as new.  But now, despite holding his son-in-law’s arm, he’d slipped on the icy approach to the castle and gone down with a heavy thud onto his fragile new knee.  This was far from the grand and stylish arrival I’d been hoping for. “Where’s that magic sponge when you need it?” Dad quipped, gingerly raising himself back up again.  He was made of tough stuff, and, fortunately as it turned out, so was his artificial knee.

Siblings, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews were all arriving, commenting on the cold as they shivered their way inside, bemused by Heather’s daft idea.  Suddenly I realised the time, grabbed the radio and escaped to the battlements, braving the frost to find some crackling reception outside the thick stone walls. With the way the day was going and the recent crushing defeat at West Ham, I feared nothing but the worst.  Curbs and co had different ideas.  I rushed back down the spiral stairs, “Dad, we beat Arsenal! We won! 1-0! Kiely saved a penalty too!” 

Dad beamed at the taming of the Gunners and settled into the wingback armchair, lording it over his temporary manor, whisky in hand.  His eyes sparkled as he reminisced to his children and grandchildren about his barefoot childhood just down the road. With the gloomy mood lifted, the fire blazing and Dad’s clan gathering, so the castle became cosy. 

I got things organised in the little kitchen.  My brother-in-law hacked the head off the salmon and it fitted perfectly in its pan.  The beautifully-iced cake survived its icy journey.  Everyone dressed magnificently for dinner. Dad opened his birthday card, large, home-made and lovingly signed by all present and many more beyond.  How he chuckled at his outsize 80 year old head perched atop the wiry, athletic (or rather Athletic) body of captain Mark Kinsella. 

A young piper turned up as a surprise treat.  As he played, Dad and I loudly and proudly sang the wrong words to the local anthem, physically at the Mull of Kintyre, but spiritually at Valley Floyd Road. Many games had we seen (though today’s would only be TV highlights), following Charlton our favourite team: little old Charlton who had just derailed the mighty Arsenal’s title journey. We were ready to party. 

In memory of John McKinlay, 1/1/1921 – 23/12/2005.