BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Dean Kiely can reel off the major stats of his career – like keeping 19 clean sheets when Charlton won the Championship title in 2000.
The former shotstopper, now 48, played a huge role in the Addicks stabilising and prospering in the top flight.
Two Player of the Year awards during his time in SE7 underline the fact that he has been the club’s best goalkeeper since at least the turn of the millennium.
Kiely’s numbers underline exactly what he contributed during his spell with the Addicks – the peak years – along with spells at York, Bury, Portsmouth, West Brom and a brief loan spell with Luton Town.
Asked about his instant recollection of his shutout record in his first season in SE7, Kiely told the South London Press: “I played 759 games and kept 246 clean sheets in my career. It’s a little bit like a striker, really.
“People talk about opinions down the pub, whereas I would say it is my profession, and I would take it very, very seriously to be consistent, reliable and dependable – making a contribution.
“Playing in someone’s team every week was massively important. When I look back at my journey through football, I chose to go to football clubs that wanted me to play in their first-team, rather than go to what people would term bigger football clubs and be second or third goalkeeper.
“When I tell you about my stats it’s because I’m massively proud of that achievement. It’s what I set out to do. I didn’t want to be a journeyman professional – pitching up somewhere, training Monday to Friday and not being in the team.
“Charlton, for me, the stars were aligned. It probably became the club’s golden era in terms of getting in the Premier League – and staying there for a while – and also my best period as a professional.”
Kiely, now goalkeeping coach at Crystal Palace, had also kept 19 clean sheets for Bury in the Championship before his £1million move to Charlton.
The Addicks had been relegated but Danny Mills was the only significant outgoing – Leeds United spending big to get the full-back.
The likes of Mark Kinsella, Richard Rufus, Clive Mendonca and Andy Hunt all stayed.
Kiely was a missing piece of the jigsaw, with Sasa Ilic failing to build on his Wembley play-off final penalty-saving heroics.
“It tells you everything about Charlton at that time that nobody wanted to jump ship or had one eye on the fact that they wanted to go somewhere else,” said Kiely, who played 45 of the 46 league matches in that 2000 promotion campaign.
“Everybody felt a connection, that those players had contributed to the club getting relegated and felt a necessity to try and get back. Which is pretty unique.
“Peter Varney, who was chief executive at the time, made a great point that as a new player, what was important to him and the football club, was the first touch and the last touch.
“The first touch was that they couldn’t do enough for me. They really helped me settle into the area, little steers about where to live and schools. They were really supportive and that meant it was turning up with your boots and gloves and cracking on – get in the team.
“You play your best football when you’re at your most comfortable, and by that I mean when everything is taken care of and all you need to focus on is why you’re there – the football.”
Charlton pipped Manchester City for top spot by two points.
“The promotion-winning straight away was job done, because that was the sell for me to go there,” said Kiely.
“To be part of that was excellent. I was really indebted that they gave me the platform to play in the Premier League. So often teams come up and the goalie, forward or central midfielder who has helped them get up is replaced.
“It’s almost like they say: ‘Thanks for what you’ve done, but now you can become a squad player’.
“I must have made an impression that they were happy for me to stay in the team.
“The highlights are going to Arsenal, when they were at Highbury, and winning. We went to Chelsea and Tottenham – huge clubs – and turned them over at Stamford Bridge and White Hart Lane.
“I remember playing against Arsenal at The Valley and making a penalty save [from Nelson Vivas] in the closing minutes to protect a 1-0 lead.
“All those kind of things send you home with a big grin on your face. You’ve done it against heavyweights.”
The danger, and it has perhaps surfaced at Kiely’s current club Crystal Palace, came with wanting more than a succession of comfortable top-flight finishes.
Alan Curbishley left in 2006 and the Addicks were relegated the following year.
But Kiely felt that the long-serving manager did not help the situation.
“As an insider at the time, I thought the reason we were successful is that we were underdogs,” said Kiely. “We played our best when everyone wrote us off. That tag fitted the football club perfectly and it also fitted the individual players perfectly.
“It’s not proving people wrong, it’s proving Charlton and your team-mates right. It was like a secret.
“The uncomfortable bit, and I don’t mean it to any detriment of the players, was as an existing player when Curbs had his arms around Danny Murphy, Franny Jeffers and Dennis Rommedahl. I think the quote was: ‘With these signings we can go to the next level’.
“That was probably to appease fans and be a good soundbite.
“But what I would say in hindsight is that I was never in a relegation battle as a Charlton player. I think the lowest finish was 14th and the highest was seventh. That was my range, in the Premier League there.
“I don’t see a next level. I just see a fantastic level being achieved every year by that Charlton team.
“I also think it was a little unfair on Danny, Franny and Dennis coming in, you know. It didn’t transpire that way, really.”
Kiely was gone before Curbishley, joining Portsmouth in January 2006. The manner of his exit still clearly rankles.
The Republic of Ireland international had suffered a serious finger dislocation.
“The injury was horrific and I since know now that people were telling Curbs that was me gone,” said Kiely. “But I said to Curbs: ‘I want to get back from this’. He said all the right things as a manager – you just crack on and get fit.
“I don’t think he really thought I was going to, but I did get back fit. I played in a couple of reserve games and said I was ready to go. He sort of parked me out of the way a little bit. After six years there – Player of the Year twice and I was in the top three for it in four of the years – I felt a little bit discarded. Not by the football club, but by Curbs.
“I said to him, walking out that day from his office, that I felt really disappointed because the only way I get in your football team is when it’s doing s***. And that’s a real dilemma for me, because I don’t want the football club to be doing poorly. I want to be in the team and us doing well.
“I got back in and I was man of the match against Sunderland, we lost at home to Man City and got beat 3-0 up at Wigan 3-0. Those three were my last ones, he brought me out of the team and put Thomas Myhre in.
“I still had quite a while on a fantastic contract but I said to my wife: ‘I think that’s me done, I’ll be looking to move on’.
“In fairness, I could have sat in behind whoever, but it’s not really me. I didn’t want my status to change. I felt aggrieved that it had changed – that it was really unfair.
“If my form had been dreadful then I’d get it. But I was still in my prime.
“Without being too unfair, we all knew as players that Alan Curbishley had said that would be his last year. He was leaving at the end of the season.
“In hindsight, the decision he made over my own future was quite flippant.
“Portsmouth were down in the mire and they signed me, Sean Davis, Pedro Mendes and Noe Pamarot and people were absolutely amazed I chose to go there – because they thought it was career suicide.
“But I said to me wife: ‘I want to go somewhere where people want me to play’. Unfortunately, Alan Curbishley didn’t want me to play.
“That shook me. As a coach now, I get what goes into picking a team.
“Did I get it at the time? No. And I don’t see it now. I have to say that what could have been a real messy, crappy time for everyone, could have left me with a sour taste in my mouth, it didn’t.
“Peter Varney was excellent in my exit from the football club.
“I’m not saying it was all roses. But he did it with a bit of class, a way that made me feel thanked. That was a nice positive to the end of it.”
So did Kiely patch things up with Curbishley?
“I haven’t really seen him. I didn’t storm out the room, turn a table over and tell him he was a p**** – nothing like that.
“I was just really disappointed at the way it came about.
“Now I’m massively involved in my role, I really do feel I have a duty of care to all my goalkeepers. I don’t just put my blinkers on and focus on the one in the first team.
“I have to make all those goalkeepers feel valued.
“That’s what I want to do as a coach. Did I feel it was done that way at Charlton? Probably not, towards the end. Did they need to? No. I totally get I was a piece of meat – a commodity which would be used and disused at their whim.
“I’m a big boy. It is what it is.”