Centenary joy as Curbs steps up player-search

Alan Curbishley revealed Charlton were closing in on “three or four” players today as he reflected on centenary celebrations even the manager thought might never happen.

Alan Curbishley revealed Charlton were closing in on “three or four” players today as he reflected on centenary celebrations even the manager thought might never happen.

A statue of legendary Addicks goalkeeper Sam Bartram was unveiled outside The Valley this afternoon, with his daughter Moira, flown specially from Canada, attending the ceremony.

A host of former players also made it to the ceremony, some from as far a field as South Africa and the United States.

Charlton also today formally launched their tie-up with New Zealand Knights, who are set to take part in the forthcoming inaugural season of the Hyundai A-League and will present the south-east London outfit with a chance to tap into the wealth of talent from the Australasian market.

Such plans are a long way from the club which Curbishley returned to as a coach some 16 years ago.

Charlton finally returned to The Valley in 1992, following seven years in exile, as they were forced to ground-share first with Crystal Palace and then West Ham with their traditional home left in decay.

And following five consecutive seasons back among the elite clubs of English football, it is a scenario not lost on the Addicks boss.

“Coming here today, and sitting in the dugout in an empty stadium, taking it all in, you realise how much it has all changed around here. It is incredible, the turnaround,” said Curbishley, who also played for the Addicks during the mid-1980s.

“I felt that over the last 10 years, certainly when we got back here, I think the team on the pitch were out-performing the team off the pitch, and it was obviously that needed to change and we needed more help to get money in, get the capacity up and we have managed to do that in stages.

“The board have put their money in, but we have not had the likes of an Al Fayed or an Abramovich or a Jack Walker come along and give us a big leg up – we have had to do it slowly.

“Certainly the next step now is to get the attendances up, because although we are averaging mid-table in the Premiership, our crowd are around third or second from bottom.

“That has got to change and we must do that to become bigger, to build the new stand and get the capacity up to 35,000.”

Charlton finished 11th last season, but they had looked genuine contenders for a UEFA Cup place before a run of just one victory from their final 14 Barclays Premiership games.

Curbishley struggled to get some of his key targets on board ahead of pre-season training in 2004, but he does not intend to make the same mistake twice.

England U21 striker Darren Bent has already arrived in a £3m (€4.5m) deal from Ipswich and more new faces are expected to follow, perhaps within the next 48 hours.

“We have got our fingers in about three or four different pies at the moment, and I am hopeful with all of them, to be honest,” Curbishley said.

“We are not too far off of bringing in the four or five people I want to bring in before we start pre-season.”

The likes of Norwich midfielder Damien Francis, Liverpool’s Champions League winner Vladimir Smicer, Paris St Germain striker Pedro Pauleta and Valencia forward Bernardo Corradi are said to be men Curbishley has been keeping tabs on.

The Charlton manager maintained he did not have to sell before he could bring new people in.

“At the end of last season, we had only 18 senior players, and that is not strong enough,” said Curbishley.

“I am looking to get another two or three in as soon as possible, and then we will worry about if anyone goes out.

“If someone comes in with a bid and we think it is an acceptable situation, then we may do it, but I am under no pressure to let anyone leave.”

As well as looking to the future, the Charlton boss was also quick to pay tribute to the role Bartram played in the club’s history, making 623 appearance for the Addicks, both sides of the Second World War. He died in 1981.

“I have lots of fans who write to me to remind me about when they used to come here and watch Sam play in front of 60,000 and 70,000 crowds,” said Curbishley.

“The affection with which Sam Bartram is held within the club is phenomenal.

“To be remembered in this way is a great testament to what the Charlton fans think about him, and without doubt he will never be forgotten.”

Director Derek Ufton played alongside Bartram, who won the FA Cup with Charlton in 1947, and added his own emotional tribute, saying: “I had the tremendous privilege of being a friend of his, and I still miss him greatly.

“Sammie personifies all that is good in Charlton – if we are supposed to be the nicest, friendliest club in the country, then he was the nicest, friendliest man in the world.”

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