'I vividly remember the extremely difficult phone call I had with Lennie the next day!'

1 September 2022 1 year ago

'I vividly remember the extremely difficult phone call I had with Lennie the next day!'

Written by Steve Sutherland

Last Sunday I attended the ‘Evening with Alan Curbishley’ Dinner at The Valley and during the evening I caught up again with Lennie Lawrence, who was Manager when I first joined Charlton Athletic as Commercial Manager in 1988.

I was delighted that Lennie was at The Valley for Alan’s special night. In fact, during Alan’s Q&A with Scott Minto, Alan mentioned that he owed a lot to Lennie for his subsequent success as manager of Charlton Athletic…as Lennie and I had earlier discussed, I also, inadvertently played a part in this and, in a way, so did Scott!

I actually wrote about this incident earlier this year in a Facebook article. This is what happened:

31 years ago in August 1990, Charlton’s First Team Coach and former striker Mike Flanagan appeared on my then Sunday night radio show on RTM Radio called ‘Charlton Chat’….and was promptly sacked the next day by Lennie Lawrence! I didn’t know it then but this incident turned out to be something of a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment for someone who has become synonymous with Charlton Athletic.

At that time the team was struggling and unbeknown to me, Mike had decided to use my show, which was hugely popular with Charlton Supporters; to completely distance himself from Lennie. Of all the ‘Charlton Chat’ radio shows I presented, this was by far the most controversial.

It all started when I asked Mike why Scott Minto hadn’t played in the defeat ‘yesterday’ against Swindon. I knew that Scott had picked up a slight injury in the week so I was expecting Mike to explain this to the listeners. To my ‘discomfort’ Mike’s answer to me was ‘well I don’t pick the team Steve, do I’. Mike then went on to criticise the formation Lennie was playing and try as I could, I could not divert him from his strategy of distancing himself from Lennie’s decision making.

I vividly remember my off-air ‘what are you doing?’ remonstrations with Mike and the ‘raised voice’ and extremely difficult phone call I had with Lennie the next day!

As you can imagine, over the years I’ve discussed that infamous night on ‘Charlton Chat’ many times with both Lennie and also Mike and we’re all friends again now but, as Lennie outlined in his autobiography ‘Lennie’; this incident on my radio show directly paved the way for the return of the man whose later exploits for Charlton Athletic resulted in him having a stand named after him – Alan Curbishley.

”There was a departure on the coaching front at the end of August when Mike Flanagan left the Club. I had brought Flan back almost three years earlier when Brian Eastick left to become manager of Newport. Mike had done well for me with the first team, but at the start of the new season after we’d lost our first game 2-1 at Selhurst to Swindon, he went on a local radio station the next evening and was openly critical of the way I wanted the team to play. I’d opted for a 4-3-3 formation which had worked well in pre-season, but we had looked well off the pace in the Swindon game. Once I’d heard what Flan had said I felt I had to take some action. There’s no point having a First Team coach who clearly didn’t agree with what the manager of the Club was doing, so I called him in and let him know exactly how I felt. The end result was that he was first suspended and then left the Club.

Although Alan Curbishley had been a bit sceptical about my parting comments to him three years earlier when he’d joined Brighton, I was actually as good as my word and during the summer of 1990 I brought him back to Charlton as a player-coach with responsibility for looking after the reserves. When Flan left I did the coaching myself for a while, but then decided it would be the right thing to move Curbs up from looking after the reserves, to coach the first team. At the same time, Steve Gritt, who was still playing, took on the coaching role with the reserves.”

As Jimmy Greaves famously said…‘it’s a funny old game’!


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