Lee Bowyer’s surprise departure brings an end to an era of ups and downs during his time at the helm, but when the dust settles the happy memories will far outweigh the bad.
Not many Charlton fans would have predicted that Bowyer would leave the club of his own accord earlier today. When he still had his job a few days after the disastrous 3-0 home loss to Blackpool, it was widely assumed that Thomas Sandgaard was backing Bowyer to lead Charlton back to The Championship – if not this season then next. But just over two weeks later and after a run of four games unbeaten Bowyer’s near-three-year stint at his boyhood club is over, reportedly in favour of a new challenge at another of his former clubs, Birmingham City.
Sandgaard has revealed that at no point this season has Bowyer’s job been under threat, and any pressure he felt would have been self-imposed. There’s been a section of Charlton’s support who have been calling for the owner to relieve Bowyer of his duties in recent weeks following a poor run of form and a season that seems to be going nowhere. Whether this contributed to his departure or he just felt the time was right to move on, we’ll probably never know for sure.
Bowyer experienced immediate success after taking over from Karl Robinson, who had offered him his first major post-playing role as his assistant manager. Under Bowyer’s management, Charlton won six of their last 10 games in League One in 2018 to sneak into the play-offs courtesy of a sixth-place finish. Despite never threatening Shrewsbury in either leg of the semi-final, there were promising signs and it just felt right having an ex-Charlton man back in charge. He seemed to immediately understand what Charlton and, more importantly, the fans are all about.
In ten years time when Charlton supporters look back and remember Bowyer’s time in charge, the 2018/19 season will be the obvious highlight. The team he and Steve Gallen assembled that summer was full of talent and fun to watch. It comes as no surprise that the likes of Patrick Bauer, Krystian Bielik, Josh Cullen and Joe Aribo are all thriving at their new clubs since leaving The Valley. Much like this season, it took a little while for Bowyer to work it all out that year, but when it clicked into place his side looked like an unstoppable force.
No two weeks provided happier memories during Bowyer’s reign (or, indeed, in Charlton’s recent history) than that glorious fortnight in May 2019. Any play-off run is special, but not many can boast as much of drama as that one – a penalty shoot-out victory followed by a 94th-minute winner at Wembley is hard to beat. Charlton fans had to wait 21 long years for a trip to the Home of Football but, thanks to Bowyer, boy was it worth the wait.
Perhaps even more revealing of the type of man and manager that Bowyer is, is how he stuck by the club during the tumultuous season that followed that Wembley triumph. Less than a month after guiding Charlton back to the second tier, then-owner Roland Duchatelet posted an extraordinary statement on the official website stating that Bowyer would be leaving the club as a new deal could not be agreed. Despite this, Bowyer wanted to stay and the very next day a new contract was in place.
Charlton’s now ex-manager continued to stick around throughout the farce that followed in the boardroom for the next year and a bit, despite strong interest from a string of significantly more stable Championship clubs. That season ultimately ended in disappointment, but with the troubles behind the scene, an interrupted season due to COVID-19 and his star player refusing to play after the resumption, there isn’t a single Charlton fan who would blame Bowyer for the club’s relegation back to League One last term.
To the disappointment of everyone involved, for one reason or another, this season hasn’t gone to plan. Perhaps this is the right time for a change for both parties. Charlton still have an outside chance of reaching the play-offs this season and who knows what might happen with a new man in charge. For Bowyer, he now has the opportunity to further his managerial credentials and become an instant hero at Birmingham by keeping them in the Championship this season.
The Bowyer era has come to an end, and it’s time now for someone new to help Sandgaard reach his lofty ambitions. It’s not often a manager leaves and receives so many well wishes from fans – it’s clear there’s no bad blood here. Who knows if there might be another chapter for Bowyer at this football club one day, but for now there’s only one thing left to say – thanks for the memories, Bow.