It fitted. In no way was it a ‘mates’ rates’ thing; he knew what he wanted to achieve and he wanted a bit of experience – which, in me, Yann Kermorgant and Matt Taylor, was pivotal to us getting that promotion.
Wimbledon and Charlton will always play a massive part in my life, so to be back and playing a part was great. Seeing what we did to get promoted – winning the title with 101 points – you think it must be easy, but it really wasn’t. It comes with ups and downs, and working with Chris that year was brilliant.
The coaching journey then started in 2012, when I got the opportunity to come in and work with the Under-16s. I wanted to continue playing but I was 35, so taking the Under-16s job at Charlton – a club back in the Championship and one I know so well – just seemed the right thing to do instead of putting it off to prioritise playing for another two or three years, when the opportunities might not have been around.
I was in almost four times a week, around the first team with Chris, and the boys and the academy with Paul Hart and Steve Avory. Getting to experience both really helps in the earliest stages of a coach’s career.
“The loss was never going to go away, but I just wanted to get back to playing football”
It was more than a decade after my first spell at Charlton. That had started in 2001, after which I’d spent five years at the club as a player in the Premier League, almost entirely under Alan Curbishley. There had been a chance of me going there the year before, when Wimbledon were relegated, but I got injured.
There was interest from elsewhere, but I was going from one family-orientated club to another; it was on my doorstep, being a southeast London boy, and it was the right move to somewhere that had both a pathway of bringing young players through and an understanding of what the fans wanted.
You get the ups, but all of a sudden you’re down so quickly. A few months into my first season at the club, we played West Ham at The Valley on a Monday night; I had invited the scout who first got me to Wimbledon to the game, and I scored two goals in a 4-4 draw. The next afternoon, my now wife went into labour, and, over the course of that evening, our baby daughter Jada India was lost.