Former Charlton striker Kevin Lisbie on his amazing chances of a dream Wembley return – at the age of 40

BY YANN TEAR
yann@slpmedia.co.uk

If there are any Charlton Athletic fans at a loose end on May 19, they might care to circle the date in the diary.

There are never any guarantees in football and just because high-flying Eltham side Cray Valley Paper Mills are favourites to overcome mid-table Canterbury City in a two-legged semi-final does not mean it will happen.

But there is every chance the Southern Counties East Football League Premier Division side will be at Wembley for the FA Vase on that day, with a certain former Addicks hero leading the line.

It will be a remarkable fairytale for the club if it happens, and for Kevin Lisbie – one of the stars from the golden era of Premier League football under Alan Curbishley.

Amazingly Lisbie is still banging them in at the age of 40.

The former Charlton star was virtually retired two years ago after ending a great career with happy spells at Colchester United and Leyton Orient.

Kevin Lisbie, Charlton Athletic

But then he took a pleading call from new Crays boss Kevin Watson – an old pal from his Charlton youth days in the late 90s. Watson, new in the job, had lost eight games in a row and was desperate for Lisbie’s experience.

It proved a master stroke. Umpteen goals later and the lure of fun in his twilight years as a player got the better of him. The goals have flowed at a crazy goal-a-game rate and two more in a 3-1 quarter-final win away to Devon side Willand Rovers leaves Lisbie on the cusp of glory he could hardly have imagined.

Cray have a two-legged semi-final against Canterbury City. The first match is on their home turf of Middle Park Avenue on March 17 before the decisive return on March 23.

“It is amazing,” Lisbie told the South London Press. “I never thought it might lead to this but here we are, so close to getting to Wembley.

Pic by Dave Budden

“I’ve only played there once before and that was four or five years ago with Orient in a play-off final against Rotherham, which we lost on penalties. I would have taken one that day but was taken off after 75 minutes. I was 36 and my legs had gone. I could hardly have expected there might be another chance to play there.

“It would be even better in a cup final too. More enjoyable because there’s less pressure.

“And if we do make it, I’m really hoping a few familiar faces will be down to cheer us on. Funnily enough, Orient are in the FA Trophy semi-final and could also make the final of their match.

“Both finals take place on the same day at Wembley and some of their supporters have said they will come down early on finals day to watch me if we make it, because of my connection with the club.”

Lisbie continued: “I really had decided to finally call it a day at the beginning of last season. Kevin felt he was close to being sacked and pleaded for me to get involved, so I went along, did really well, and got the bug again.

“Now we are a really good squad, riding high in the league and it’s been great sharing my experience and helping the younger players out, giving advice.

“I don’t play midweek games because I couldn’t handle that at my age, but I’m still the fifth-highest scorer in the division and really proud of that.”

Although he looks back fondly at the end of his professional career, and enjoyed loan spells at a glut of clubs, including, briefly, Millwall, there is little doubt that Charlton is the club which tugs on the heartstrings most.

He enjoyed nine years in the Premier League and turned out in 176 matches between 1996-2007. He also earned 10 caps for Jamaica during that time, scoring twice.

They were happy times, with one of the highlights being a hat-trick he scored against Liverpool in 2003. He freely admits it might have been even better, had he not had the slightly laid-back approach that, he happily acknowledges, is possibly a nod to his Caribbean heritage.

“I was maybe not as committed as I should have been at times,” he said. “Maybe I could have achieved even more. Curbs [Alan Curbishley] was always trying to get me to be more focused. I didn’t really get it until a bit later. But I don’t have any regrets. It was a great team to play for.

“We were a great unit and it was easily the best time in my career.

“It’s a club I always go back to and I have so many friends there. I’m running the vets team there with Jon Fortune and there will always be that connection. It’s home away from home.

“It was always going to be a little bit sad leaving the Valley but I loved playing very much and wanted to prolong my playing career. I was getting a few niggling injuries so dropping down to the Championship with Colchester when I did achieved that. People have no idea how intense the Premier League is.”

And it may be less intense now, but it is just as addictive as before and he has never lost the goalscoring instinct. A recall to the Jamaica side at 40?

“I couldn’t handle all the long flights,” he said when we joked about the possibility.”

Whether or not Lisbie makes it to the Wembley showpiece, he is unlikely to be tempted into coaching when he calls time on his playing for good. He works as a personal trainer and takes PE classes.

Lisbie is too much of a free spirit to be tied to a club where he feels the coaching is too regimented, with “too many set rules about how to coach.”

But whether we lose him to the game entirely or not, this golden swansong promises to be very special – providing the footballing script you can never take for granted agrees to play ball.

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