Charlton rising out of The Valley of gloom
At The Valley
Walking down Floyd Road towards The Valley in Saturday lunchtime's late summer sunshine I heard a dad trying to convince his young son that Charlton had never lost a game in the history of football.
Optimistic, I thought, given the recent history of the south London club. The boy, no more than four or five, must remember virtually nothing of the steady years of Premier League achievement but might have seen plenty of the rapid decline that followed.
The young fella was having none of his dad's bluster and let his old man know it in no uncertain terms. Nonetheless, the nature of the wind-up hinted at a burgeoning sense of belief around SE7 after a start to the campaign that saw Charlton win their opening six League One fixtures to lead the table.
The early-season form must have come as blessed relief to the club's management and supporters alike after the misery of the last campaign, when the team mustered a paltry eight league wins and finished bottom of the Championship.
As manager Phil Parkinson told me earlier in the week: "I always feel that it is important for a club that goes down to start well and our winning form has galvanised the supporters to get behind us."
And there was no question that the fans were fully behind their team as they watched Saturday's match against Southampton. However, this particular fixture was always guaranteed to stir the emotions of the home supporters as it saw the return of Alan Pardew to the club that he managed until he left by mutual consent last November after a 5-2 home defeat by Sheffield United.
Pardew, who took over at Southampton in July, was the subject of abuse from the home fans all afternoon but admitted afterwards that he had not been surprised by the torrid reception given that his time in charge at the club had not been a success.
His Southampton side were the superior team in the opening half and just about held firm as Charlton stormed back into the contest after the break. By and large, Pardew's Saints deserved their point after the 1-1 draw that ended Charlton's 100% start to the season.
Saints remained anchored to the foot of the table after beginning the campaign on minus 10 points but Pardew believes he can see the first green shoots of a team starting to take shape and grow in confidence.
I'll be heading down to Southampton in a couple of weeks to interview both Pardew and executive chairman Nicola Cortese, who was a pivotal figure in the takeover at the club by Swiss billionaire Markus Liebherr. If you're a Saints fan with a question you would like me to ask please post it at the bottom.
Parkinson was Pardew's assistant at Charlton and went on to land the manager's job permanently despite a caretaker period in charge that saw him win just one in eight games. The two men had a cup of tea together before Saturday's feisty contest but with both of them competing in the same division, contact has been at a premium over the summer.
Parkinson was able to start planning for the current campaign as soon as last season ended but he readily admits there was an element of the unknown over the summer. Rumours that financial troubles might lead to Charlton entering administration have surfaced on and off this year.
"All through the summer I was never quite sure of what squad I would be left with when the season started," said Parkinson. "I just prepared the ones that were left the best I could."
Parkinson freely admits that decent players such as Andy Gray and Mark Hudson left because they were earning top-end Championship wages that the club could not afford. What he was able to do was bring in experienced players such as central defender Christian Dailly.
"We managed to bring in some good players but most of all good characters and I think that has been the key," added the Addicks boss. "When you are a club that is developing a lot of younger players it is important you have really good senior pros. Players like Christian are of that ilk."
Seven of Saturday's Charlton team were 25 and under. The youngest of them, 17-year-old Jonjo Shelvey, is extremely highly rated. With his shaved head and sturdy frame, he cuts an imposing figure for one so young. Shelvey took charge of just about all the dead ball situations on Saturday and showed plenty of invention, generally from the left side. It was his cross that led to Deon Burton's equaliser.
The fact that he recently signed a contract extension is a major boost for the club but he is far from alone in providing attacking creation and energy. Lloyd Sam's early season form saw him named League One Player of the Month for August, while skipper Nicky Bailey has been in impressive form and Therry Racon showed a strong competitive spirit against a Saints team not scared to try to ruffle their opponents.
Charlton's equaliser minutes into the second half really lifted the crowd, who in turn seemed to further energise the players. It was a classic example of home advantage and Pardew admitted as much afterwards.
The Addicks were suddenly full of running and it was easy to see why they had won their opening six fixtures. They had the ball in the net twice more - both efforts ruled out for offside - while Kelly Youga struck the post. It was in sharp contrast to a rather stodgy opening half from Parkinson's team. I thought they looked very unsure in defence, particularly Spaniard Manuel Llera, who cuts a very distinctive figure in his rugby-style skull cap. The back line looked nervous and uncertain.
Parkinson told me that he feels the squad is short of numbers in defence and he will be looking to strengthen in January. This could be one area where Charlton will struggle at some point but I guess there is no room for complaint at the moment as the team have conceded just four goals in seven games.
What has been the most remarkable about Charlton's start to the season has been the consistency of selection. Parkinson has named the same XI for all seven games. He has never been able to do that before and attributes it to a combination of luck and hard work in conditioning and preparing the players.
It is perhaps a metaphor for the changing fortunes at the club - so much turmoil and instability finally giving way to some much-needed continuity.
Charlton might not have the money that Southampton now boast but they do have 19 points from their opening seven games - and as Addicks chief executive Steve Waggott suggested in the matchday programme there is nothing like a winning team to keep everyone happy.