Chris Powell

Former Player Remembers: Chris Powell

In a wide-ranging interview with Club Historian John Hutchinson, Chris Powell, who is currently a member of England manager Gareth Southgate’s coaching team, spoke about his time at Leicester City and how he was influenced by Nigel Pearson.
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He also discussed playing for Crystal Palace, Aldershot, Southend, Derby County, Charlton Athletic, West Ham United, Watford, and England, serving as Chairman of the PFA and his time as manger at Charlton Athletic, a post he held before embarking on a varied coaching and managerial career. 

Chris began by explaining how, after playing alongside Matt Elliott at Epsom and Ewell, he joined Crystal Palace as an apprentice.

“I left school with a few O-Levels and signed a two-year contract as an apprentice under Steve Coppell,” Chris recalled. “I made my debut when I was 18. Ian Wright, Mark Bright and John Salako were there. Gareth Southgate was a scholar with me. I played a few first team games and then went on loan to Aldershot, where I learnt about first team football. At the end of my contract, Palace wanted me to stay but I decided to take a step back and go to Southend.

“We were promoted to the old Second Division in my first season under manager (ex-Leicester defender) Dave Webb, a hard task master. It was the start of my career really, getting experience and learning the hard way. We had an unbelievable team spirit. Our crowds were good because we played on Friday nights and a lot of West Ham fans came to watch us.

“We had some good young players like Stan Collymore and Spencer Prior. I was Player of the Year and voted their all-time cult hero! That was something special. At Southend, I had six managers in five years like Barry Fry, Steve Thompson, Peter Taylor and Ronnie Whelan, who eventually sold me.

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Chris Powell
Chris Powell

Chris played a key role in helping Charlton reach the Premier League and then consolidate in the top tier.

“I nearly went to Alan Ball’s Manchester City, but it fell through. Derby, under manager Jim Smith and coach Steve McClaren were top of the SecondDivision, and they paid about £800,000 for me. We got promoted to the Premier League in my first season. The first Premier League season was the last one at the old Baseball Ground. I was Player of the Year.

“I had two years in the Premier League at Derby. Then, out of the blue, I got a phone call and I went to Charlton, who had just got to the Premier League. I knew their manager, Alan Curbishley, and he felt my experience would work. Sadly, we were relegated after one season but we bounced straight back and became an established Premier League side. We nearly qualified for Europe, and, when I was 31, I was called into Sven-Göran Eriksson’s England squad.

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Sven-Göran Eriksson & Chris Powell
Sven-Göran Eriksson & Chris Powell

In his 30s, Chris was called up by future Leicester manager Sven-Göran Eriksson into the England squad in 2001.

“Playing for your country is the pinnacle. It was also good for Charlton, an unfashionable club who hadn’t had an England international for over 30 years. I remember every minute: the hotel, the build-up, the journey to the ground, the training. The game went well and we beat Spain 3-0. There’s a great picture of me nutmegging Pep Guardiola!

“In 2004, I went to West Ham on loan. I knew their manager, Alan Pardew, from Crystal Palace. My dad had been a West Ham fan, but sadly he never saw me play for them. I was experienced enough to help the younger players like Mark Noble, Elliott Ward and Anton Ferdinand.

“At one point, it looked as though we would miss the play-offs but we went on a run when we lost only one game in 13 and that was to the eventual champions Sunderland. We drew our home semi-final 2-2 to Ipswich having been 2-0 up, but we were really well marshalled by Alan and his staff. The players stepped up and we won 2-0 at Ipswich. Then, we beat Preston at the Millennium Stadium. It’s a shame it wasn’t at Wembley because I never played there.

“Sadly, we couldn’t agree on a contract,” Chris continued. “I went back to Charlton. It was a really good season and I won Player of the Year. Then Alan Curbishley left. There was uncertainty and I went to Watford for a season. Then, I went back to Charlton as Alan Pardew, now their manager, thought that I could have some input into coaching.

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Chris Powell
Chris Powell

Powell was an established Premier League player by the time he joined West Ham United in 2004.

“I played a few games. My final game for Charlton was a fairy-tale ending. I came on as sub for 10 minutes in the last game of the season and scored!

“I was PFA Chairman and I had to decide whether to go down the PFA route, the coaching route, or carry on playing. After the season started, I got a phone call from Leicester. Their left-backs Joe Mattock and Bruno Berner were injured and they asked me to come up to train for a week to see how it went.

“Leicester were a good club with a new manager, Nigel Pearson. I didn’t know him or Craig Shakespeare. I knew they would want to get out of League 1 at the first attempt. I was 37. I’d been training all summer.

“I trained on the Monday. On the Tuesday, they set up a squad running test. I knew it was for me! I did the test and, on the Wednesday, I was offered a six-month contract. I jumped at the chance. It was a good opportunity. The squad was good with players like Matt Oakley, Steve Howard, Lloyd Dyer and good young players like Andy King, Jack Hobbs, Michael Morrison and Max Gradel, a great character.

“I knew I wouldn’t play if Joe or Bruno were fit, but Nigel is very clever like that. He brings in senior players to share their experience in the dressing rom. He did this with Kevin Phillips.

“I soon realised that, as a big club, everyone would try to beat us in League 1. Nigel handled us brilliantly as a group. I started to help the group with my experience and I really enjoyed it. I also really enjoyed watching the way that Nigel, Craig and Steve Walsh worked.  

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Chris Powell & Nigel Pearson
Chris Powell & Nigel Pearson

The former Foxes left-back credits Nigel Pearson with playing a notable role in his development as a coach and manager.

“That season, I broke the Club record for being the oldest outfield player (since broken by Kevin Phillips). I liked that title!

“I thought that winning the title was a great way to end my career. I thanked Nigel for the experience.

“That summer, he called me to say that he wanted me to register as a player but also to join the staff. He said he had seen me working with players like Joe Mattock, Kerrea Gilbert and other young players and that this was coaching.

“He said he needed my experience in the group, and that he wanted me as a conduit between the staff and the players.

“That season, we reached the Championship play-offs. Nigel added some really good players to the group. We played some great football. We lost to Cardiff in the semi-finals, and sadly Nigel then left. I stayed and worked with Paulo Sousa. He was a good man but sadly it didn’t work for him.

“Then who should walk through the door but Sven, who had capped me for England! That was a great experience but it didn’t last long because Charlton appointed me as their manager.”

In his first season as manager, Chris won the League 1 title with Charlton and was voted the division's Manager of the Year.

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Gareth Southgate & Chris Powell
Gareth Southgate & Chris Powell

Powell now works with Gareth Southgate, coaching the senior England team, who were beaten UEFA EURO 2020 finalists this summer.

“When I won League 1 with Charlton, I used what I’d learnt at Leicester. I used Nigel’s blueprint. He allowed me to see how a manager should work with his staff, and how he dealt with player issues, coaching issues, preparing for matches and dealing with the external issues people don’t know about.

“I saw it at firsthand. It was just a dream. He was, and is, a big influence on how, as a manager, I deal with people and players.”

After leaving Charlton, Chris managed Huddersfield Town until 2015. He then became assistant manager at Derby County to both Pearson and McClaren before managing Southend United until March 2019.

Later that year, he was appointed as a coach for the England men’s football team. He also became assistant coach to Pardew at Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag in the Netherlands, a post he left in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In April 2020, Chris joined the coaching staff at Tottenham Hotspur. Meanwhile, he continues to be part of Southgate’s England coaching team, who of course reached the final of the UEFA European Championships earlier this summer.

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