Scott Wagstaff is one of many local talents to progress through Charlton Athletic’s youth system and go on to play a big part in the club’s history, but it came close to being a very different story.
“I nearly got released at 16,” the former Addick told Football League World in an exclusive interview.
After joining his local side at the age of eight, Wagstaff found himself representing the side passionately supported by large swathes of his own family. It was a huge source of pride for him.
On the cusp of breaking into the first-team picture, however, his future was cast into doubt. The club demanded that he re-enter a three-week trial period to prove himself. He was surprised, admitting that he expected a deal to come his way on the expiry of his old one.
It was a worrying period, but for Wagstaff there was one coach in particular who helped him make that breakthrough.
“It was Mark Robson,” he revealed.
Robson had been a part of the Charlton coaching set-up in the academy since 2000 and stayed in the role for a further six years, before eventually moving on to his current positions in the Aston Villa and England under-17 set-up.
“He was the one who made sure I got my deal. He played me in the under-18’s and I managed to play really well and then in a couple of more games. Then they gave me a deal.
“You never know if you’re going to make it or not. There’s a lot of players you see that have got a lot of talent and were probably better players technically than me but they didn’t quite make it.
“So that was obviously a big achievement to have done that and for the club I grew up watching as well. It was a massive thing for me.”
From then on, he was touted as one of the next big things for Alan Pardew’s Charlton first-team, signing his first professional deal in January 2008. Within the next 18 months he would make his first-team debut, win the club’s young player of the season award and score his first goal.
It was a rapid rise, but one that Wagstaff remains rather nonchalant about.
“As a young lad you have no fear,” he said.
“As a young lad there’s no pressure on you really. You’re a young kid so just go out there and showcase what you can do, and that’s how I felt as a young player.
“I felt like I could go out there and express myself.”
But it was not to be Pardew who would provide the biggest punctuation mark in his Charlton spell. In fact, it was to be a fellow boyhood Addicks fan – Chris Powell.
Having only ended his second stint as a player at The Valley three years earlier, Powell was back in January 2011, but this time in the South London dug-out – his first full-time management role.
He came in following the sacking of Phil Parkinson and inherited a side struggling badly in the third tier and after six months in which to acclimatise himself, he set about building a team that would go down in history during the following campaign.
“That season was unbelievable,” Wagstaff recalled.
“He [Powell] knew what Charlton was about and I think a lot of the boys took that on from his ethos of being at Charlton as well and the fans loved him. Obviously he had a good side but he took us on to that other level to make sure that we did get promoted.
“Every week we just fancied ourselves to win and even if we went 1-0 down you still fancied us to win two or 3-1. We just had that confidence and that swagger about us to go and win games.”
However, it was not just Powell who came in for individual praise from the 29-year-old for the success of that campaign
“You had Johnnie Jackson as the skipper and he was brilliant,” he said.
“He made sure everyone was as together as they could be and it was just one of the best seasons I’ve had.
“There was a great togetherness of the team. You definitely need that if you want to win promotion, you need to be together, and I felt like we were.”
The season saw them win promotion with a staggering 101 points, a total only bettered in the third-tier by Wolves (103) over the past ten seasons.
However, whilst the memory is one that will undoubtedly live long in the memory of Wagstaff, the fans and his family, it was a spell that was to have a less happy ending.
After appearing 34 times on their way to that ton of points, scoring five goals and assisting four more in the process, the winger was not offered the new deal he was expecting after the opening campaign in the Championship.
“I was disappointed with the way it ended. I thought I’d get a new deal there,” he admitted.
“I felt like I could have carried on [at Charlton] and still improved as a player but obviously the manager didn’t think that and we went our separate ways.
“It would have been nice to have stayed, but it wasn’t to be.”
Now plying his trade in League One, via spells with Bristol City and Gillingham, Wagstaff is looking to etch himself into further folklore with AFC Wimbledon.
But it seems unlikely that the rollercoaster of emotions experienced at The Valley – from nearly being released as a teenager to winning a stunning promotion – will ever be forgotten. By himself, or the fans.