Mark Marshall had a lot of offers after he ended his time at Bradford City, following their defeat in the 2017 League One play-offs by Millwall.
Several clubs expressed an interest in him – he was the Bantams’ best player that day.
But Charlton was the obvious place to go for the 31-year-old, who has lived in Deptford all his life despite plying his trade as far away as Port Vale and Bradford.
“Even when I had a place in Leeds I would always come back – this is my home,” he said. “I had to take a hard route to make a career in football – I had to dedicate myself to the game. But I love football so it was worth it.”
As a boy, Marshall spent hour after hour in Deptford Park, very near the family home. “When my parents wanted to know where I was, that was the first place they would try,” he said. “I always sort of knew I would make it – it was a feeling inside me – because I wanted it so much.
“People say if you haven’t made it by the age of 16, you never will. But you have to dream. You might not get what you want, but you will achieve something, even if it is to learn by your mistakes.
“Where I grew up, it was always Charlton and Millwall – and I did used to go to the Millwall Community Scheme. The guy who was in charge there is now a coach at Charlton.
“Then one day, these two blokes said to me ‘You’re short, but you’ve got ability’. That was the start.”
Later he played for an academy, Crown & Manor, in Hoxton, which enabled him to carry on his schooling.
He won a place to study sports science at London South Bank University, but continued to try and find a club to play and eventually put his degree on hold to join Carshalton Athletic.
“I had been paying play in youth teams and suddenly people wanted to pay me – which was ‘wow!” he said. “It was not much but it certainly helped me decide to stay committed.”
Charlton’s new striker Lyle Taylor is from nearby New Cross, but the two never met each other.
“We’ve lived in the same area practically all our lives so it’s funny we’d never seen each other,” said Marshall. “But I keep myself to myself a bit.”
He welcomed the inclusion of several young academy products in the current group.
“I was young once and looking for opportunity – though it seems like only yesterday,” he joked.
“Charlton have a great academy and I hope the youngsters coming through can take their opportunity. If there is no competition then life stands still and people won’t get their chance.
“We have a young team with the likes of George Lapslie, Taylor Maloney and the others coming through. They are good – they have the right ingredients to become good professionals.
“But they will have to stay dedicated to succeed – and not get carried away if things do not go so well. Hopefully, they can get this club back to where it belongs, in the Championship and pushing for the top flight. I want to help this club get back there too.
“Consistency comes with how you deal with the highs and the lows. Some are unbelievable, then get an injury and fade out. Others stay in for years and years. Football can be a roller-coaster.
“Charlton is a sleeping giant – a massive club in the wrong league.”