This time last year, the prospect of facing up to a room full of committed fans in deep South London would have been met with understandable trepidation by a Charlton manager.
Yet the convivial atmosphere that greeted Karl Robinson and assistant Lee Bowyer at a supporters’ meeting in Bromley last month demonstrated the mood change that the 37-year-old has presided over at the Valley.
Two weeks before Robinson took charge in November 2016 some Addicks fans travelled to Belgium to protest the club’s still widely unpopular Belgian owner Roland Duchatelet. Charlton were on a downward trajectory that showed little sign of turning. The club’s exposure outside the Valley came almost exclusively through the fans’ imaginative and impassioned protests.
But the laughs between Robinson and supporters in a two-hour meeting at a Royal British Legion hall in Petts Wood portrayed a fanbase that had begun to enjoy following their team again.
And there’s been plenty to enjoy this season: Charlton are third in League One with games in hand after Robinson was given licence to dictate pre-season preparations.
“It needed a big shake-up,” he told City A.M. “Cosmetically to the building; staff needed changing; demands on the players; scheduling for the players. And from an organisation point of view objective and goal-setting.”
The scorched earth approach extended to the squad. Out went footballers sourced through Duchatelet’s network of minor European clubs and in came those Robinson describes as “honest players”.
“Players with energy,” he continues. “Who could cope with the physical demands of League One, who understood the travelling involved, the venues we’re going to.”
For a typically meticulous modern manager — drone technology, statistics and a wealth of video analysis are all valued tools — it’s the amorphous concept of “honesty” that Robinson often refers to when discussing Charlton.
Robinson closed the supporters’ meeting by recounting a phone call he made before accepting the job to former Addicks boss Lennie Lawrence who told him it was a “great club” because “its people were honest”.
That explains why, rather than counter his own relative youth with an experienced assistant, he chose former England midfielder and Charlton trainee Lee Bowyer, 40, and long-standing captain Johnnie Jackson, 35, as his No2 and coach respectively.
“You need people who have lived it, loved it,” says Robinson.
“Lee did from a very young age. Johnnie Jackson’s been through the mire with this club, from the successful era under Chris Powell to the disconnection to hopefully now the reconnection, or the rebirth, or the resurrection.
“One thing Jacko said to me which stuck was: ‘Be honest with them’. The first time I met Bow [Bowyer] he said: ‘It’s real, this club’. Those things resonated very quickly.”
Robinson remains one of the youngest bosses working in English football, yet has seven years’ experience, one promotion with MK Dons and a reputation for passing football. But he does not expect to attract the eye of Premier League clubs whose attitude towards English managers he questions.
"People talk about [Marco] Silva at Watford," he says.
"What's he done that Eddie Howe's not done? He got relegated [with Hull]. It's amazing how he's this big top manager now he's got Watford into the top 10. Didn't Eddie do that?"
Instead, he has his sights set on managing abroad in the future.
“I’ve visited Barcelona, Real Madrid, Malaga, Marseille, Bilbao — which I loved," says Robinson.
“What fascinated me with Bilbao was the historically Basque ethos. What you find when you went to watch them work was a team that had identified a DNA. Clubs should have their own DNA. From an eight-year-old to a 35-year-old, they should all look the same.
“Why are Bilbao successful? They work in cycles. This constant revolving wheel that allows them to compete."
South east London might not quite possess the same fierce sense of regional identity as the Basque Country but Robinson would have struggled to find more fertile ground to put his ideas into practice.
Catford-born Charlton academy graduate Joe Gomez, now at Liverpool, starred for England against Brazil this week while fellow Three Lions newcomers Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham both hail from nearby areas of the capital.
Charlton’s academy was ranked the fourth most productive in the country last year and now counts England Under-20 World Cup winner Ezri Konsa as a key member of Robinson’s rejuvenated side.
“Hopefully, I’ve brought the culture back to what we are,” says Robinson.
“I’ve brought the culture closer to the academy. When you watch the academy, they play with energy, with high ball pressing, through the thirds quickly and aggressively.
“That should be the way the first team looks. What you’re doing then is opening the pathways for these young players and, in doing so, associating with the fans who come and watch.”
Robinson’s discussion with fans last month suggests that connection is growing. And if the trajectory continues, protests may be replaced by something more positive in the wider world’s association with Charlton too.