Darren Pitcher’s name on a Charlton or Crystal Palace teamsheet told the opposition players they were in for a tough and uncomfortable afternoon.
That is the verdict of Scott Minto and Keith Peacock on the 49-year-old, who passed away over the weekend.
Pitcher joined the Addicks at 13 and was part of their side which reached the FA Youth Cup final in 1997. He was also Charlton’s Young Player of the Year in 1988.
Pitcher went on to play 204 senior games for the club – famously scoring the winner in a 1994 FA Cup fourth round victory over Blackburn Rovers, who would go on to win the Premier League title the following campaign.
He also got the assist for Colin Walsh’s goal against Portsmouth on December 5 1992 – when Charlton finally returned to The Valley after groundsharing at Upton Park and Selhurst Park.
Pitcher joined Palace in 1994 and he made 83 appearances before a knee injury forced his retirement.
Minto, now presenting Sky Sports’ EFL coverage, was a year younger than Pitcher but the pair played together in that FA Youth Cup run.
He said: “It’s 31 years since we got to the final and Pete Evans, one of the members of the team, tried to get us all together. We managed to do that at Charlton’s training ground literally two weeks ago and Pitch was one of the few who wasn’t there – but he was the captain of that side.
“He was a centre-half and I was a left-back. I was a schoolboy and not training with them on a daily basis. We then played reserves and in the first-team together.
“He was just totally uncompromising. You wanted Pitch on your side – not against you. He was under-rated in terms of his touch and passing. He was very versatile. I think he preferred centre-half but he also played right-back and centre midfield.
“As a person he was quite a quiet and serious character, that was Pitch.
I remember his goal at Blackburn. We had drawn 0-0 at home and when they got us back to their place they thought they had done the job. He catapulted himself onto the back pages.
“I didn’t realise he got the assist in the Back To The Valley game until I read it the other day. I can’t even picture the goal that Walshy scored. But the nice thing is that if you can’t get the winner in that match, then the next best thing is to have the assist – Pitch has got that.”
Charlton legend Peacock was on the coaching staff of the SE7 outfit when Pitcher first broke on to the first-team scene.
“He was always what I’d call the Mr Reliable,” said Peacock. “Because you’d always know with him that he would give you a good, strong and steady game – no matter what position he played.
“He was a manager’s dream. Curbs [Alan Curbishley] and Gritty [Steve Gritt] were co-managers at the time, I was there doing the reserves and around the players in general. He was probably one of the first names on the team sheet, because of knowing what he would do. There were probably more exciting players, but he was very, very reliable.
“He had an excellent attitude. He just got on with the games and training. He did everything asked of him.
“Bob Bolder always claimed he was the most important in that goal [against Portsmouth] because he rolled the ball out! Not the six passes later where it ended up in the back of the net!
All eyes were on Walshy scoring that goal but Darren played a very valuable part in setting it up. The opposition wouldn’t want to play against him because he was tough tackling and marked his man.
“He did the right things on the field and that’s why he played so many games once he got in the team.
“I’m sure had he not got injured then he would probably would have played 500 or 600 games in total in his career.”
Pitcher produced another memorable strike in the FA Cup for Palace – his long-ranger knocking out Wolves at the quarter-final stage in 1995.
A serious knee problem suffered against Huddersfield Town in August 1996 ended his career. He retired the following year.
Former Eagles goalkeeper Nigel Martyn tweeted: “Sad to hear about Darren Pitcher. Tough tackler on the pitch, nice guy off it RIP.”
Rob Lee, the ex-Charlton midfielder, also took to Twitter. He said: “Terrible news about Darren Pitcher…far too young! Used to travel in with Pitch in our early days @CAFCofficial, good player, loved a tackle and a great lad. RIP Pitch.”