Have you ever had what has become known as a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment in your life? A pivotal moment in which a new ‘you’ is born, where the decision you make alters the direction and destiny your life takes forever?
The term originated from the 1998 film ‘Sliding Doors’, in which a character’s life changes forever based on whether or not she gets on a train. The film was written and directed by Peter Howitt (who I first met in the late 80’s and who played several times for my Football League Celebrity Team at Wembley in the 1990’s) and starred Gwyneth Paltrow.
Without a doubt the most pivotal ‘Sliding Door’ moment in my life took place in December 1987 in the Executive Club lounge at Selhurst Park, before a Charlton Athletic ‘home’ game and involved one of my Dad Fred’s best friends, Brian Wilson, who very sadly died recently.
Let me explain.
Earlier that year in June, I was absolutely delighted to have been appointed as the Regional Sales Training Officer for the Midland Bank, London South Region. After 12 years working in branch banking and 3 years co-ordinating the marketing activities of the Bank’s Sidcup Group of branches, I had been chosen to launch an important new sales training initiative for the Bank’s clerical staff.
I was happy in my new role; writing, producing and presenting sales training seminars throughout the Bank’s London South region, but in late-November that year my settled life changed when I received an early-evening telephone call from Anne Payne (nee Bradshaw), Charlton’s Club Secretary.
I had got to know Anne (who very sadly died a few years ago) quite well. My Dad Fred and I were Charlton Athletic Executive Club members, having made the emotional decision two years previously to continue to support the Club after the move to groundshare Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace. Anne knew I was ‘in marketing’ as I had enlisted her help to arrange appearances by Charlton manager Lennie Lawrence and some of the players at Midland Bank promotions – Lennie helped me to open the new Thomas Cook branch in Bexleyheath Broadway (Midland owned Thomas Cook in those days) and Robert Lee, Paul Curtis, Mark Reid and George Shipley had supported the Bank’s sponsorship of the Bexley Disabled Sports Day at Erith Stadium.
Anne had called me to tell me that the Club needed a new Commercial Manager and, in her own inimitable style, she had told soon-to-be Chairman Roger Alwen and General Manager Arnie Warren that they should appoint me!
As you can imagine, as a life-long Charlton Athletic supporter being offered the chance to meet Roger Alwen and Arnie Warren and to become the Club’s new Commercial Manager was the stuff of dreams; but the reality of the situation was Charlton were based in a portacabin and playing their ‘home’ matches on somebody else’s stadium near Croydon and I’d just been promoted to an important new position with the Midland Bank based in plush offices in Upper Thames Street. My heart wanted me to take the role, but my head kept saying ‘hold on a moment, are you sure this is a good idea’?
I promised Anne that I would meet Arnie and Roger and so a few days later I found myself at the Club’s new Training Ground at Sparrows Lane, New Eltham, standing with Arnie watching the youth team play. This I learnt later had been my ‘interview’! A few days later I met Roger and Arnie at Roger’s Gracechurch Street offices where we promptly went to discuss ‘my role’ over lunch!
The turmoil I was going through in my mind was incredible. The chance for me – a Plumstead boy who grew up supporting the Club on the vast East Terrace – to play a part in helping to provide the platform for the Club to make a return to The Valley, was compelling. I believed in Roger Alwen’s vision for Charlton Athletic and he could not have been nicer to me. I really liked Arnie too and, although I knew he would be ‘challenging’ to work for, there was something about him that told me that he would be good for me.
Despite all this and after sleepless nights and many hours discussing the opportunity with my wife Helen; I reluctantly told myself that this was a romantic notion and my career at the Midland Bank, who had shown so much faith in me with my new appointment as Sales Training Officer, was too important to give up. I then wrote a letter to Arnie Warren, declining his very kind offer, which I handed in at the Selhurst Park portacabin reception that Saturday, 5th December. I then went to the Executive Lounge to meet up with my Dad and his friends, John and Brian Jones and Brian Wilson for my usual pre-match drink and a chat; but I was far from my usual self, I just could not stop thinking I had made a terrible mistake in turning the job down.
I could tell that my Dad was disappointed. He would never interfere in my career, but I know how excited he was that his son had been offered the chance to work for the Club he had supported all his life. This is when my ‘Sliding Doors’ moment happened and why I have a lot to thank Brian Wilson for.
Brian knew that I was hurting inside about the ‘decision’ I had made and was hating myself for handing in the letter to Arnie. Unbeknown to me, and to my Dad and the others, Brian slipped out of the busy Executive Club lounge and went to the Club’s portacabin reception. Brian spoke to Anne Payne, told her the turmoil I was in and asked for the letter that I’d handed in earlier addressed to Arnie Warren – which Anne confirmed hadn’t been seen by Arnie yet – to be given to him to return to me in the lounge. He explained to Anne that he felt that I hadn’t really wanted to turn the job down and after another night discussing it with my wife, he was sure I would accept the role.
Brian then came back to the lounge, handed back to me my unopened letter and told me to ‘relax, enjoy the game, then go home and talk it through properly with your wife and then make your decision on Monday.’ I was so relieved when Brian gave me my letter and can still remember the ‘pleased as Punch’ look on my Dad’s face that his friend had done this for me.
I took Brian’s advice and on Monday 7th December 1987 I called Arnie to accept his offer to become the new Commercial Manager of Charlton Athletic FC. It is a call I have never, ever, regretted making.
I arrived at Selhurst Park for my first day at Charlton Athletic FC on Monday 18th January 1988.
Unlike the film, where we got to see how Gwyneth Paltrow’s parallel lives panned out; I’ll never know how my life would have gone if Brian, who went on to become the Landlord at The Star Inn on Plumstead Common for many years, had not gone back and retrieved my letter to Arnie – which I still have to this day – but I’m so glad he did.
Thanks Brian; Rest in Peace.
My Dad Fred and Brian (right) are pictured presenting Charlton’s Andy Peake with a ‘Man of the Match’ award after a game at Selhurst Park.