“I was filled with excitement,” says Kyrell Lisbie, as he reflects on the limitless enchantment of the FA Cup. “I told my dad beforehand, ‘Imagine playing against Charlton’ – and it actually happened. I was in disbelief.” For Sunday’s match, it’s a dream come true for the Cray Valley Paper Mills striker for multiple reasons.
The distance between Cray Valley’s stadium in Eltham, London and Charlton’s 27,000-capacity stadium is only a 10-minute drive, making it the closest local derby and potentially the most exciting game for anyone on the non-league team. This match holds special significance for Lisbie, as his father Kevin played for Charlton for 176 games from 1996 to 2007, including 113 games in the Premier League. Kevin will be in attendance at the Valley, where he scored a hat-trick in a 3-2 victory over Liverpool in 2003, to support his son.
The connection between the Lisbie family and the Isthmian League club goes beyond Kyrell. Kevin, who played for the club in the later stages of his career, had a remarkable record of 53 goals in 65 games during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Additionally, Kyrell’s twin brother, Kyreece, also had a brief period with the team. The team’s path to the first round proper has been full of noteworthy events. Led by new manager Steve McKimm, who took charge in the summer, they have won five qualifying matches, three of which required replays.
Kyrell has embraced a crucial role as his final product has progressed. He has successfully achieved 13 objectives this season and contributed two goals in the last qualifying round against Enfield, significantly turning a 2-1 disadvantage into a 5-2 victory. According to Kyrell, “The manager has given me the freedom to showcase my abilities and it has greatly boosted my confidence. When you score one or two goals, you experience an amazing feeling and it motivates you to continue performing. We were confident that we could make it to the first round proper. The manager has been a huge support for us, even though he can be tough on us. He pushes us to give our best, especially myself, and has helped me tremendously.”
Kyrell’s journey highlights the value of persistence in pursuing one’s goals. Despite facing setbacks such as non-league stints at Welling United and Woodford Town, as well as being rejected from Watford’s academy and a trial at West Ham, Kyreece has now found success with Brentford B. He previously spent time with Leyton Orient, Watford, and Cray Valley. Kevin, Kyreece’s father, reflects on the disappointments his sons have faced and wonders if they truly have a passion for football or if they simply enjoy it. However, their positive attitude towards these disappointments has shown their determination to play at a high level despite receiving negative feedback from coaches who didn’t believe they were good enough. This demonstrates their unwavering dedication.
Kevin recalls that nearly two decades ago, he was contacted during a club function for Charlton. It was his spouse, informing him that she was on the verge of giving birth to twins. During that particular season (2003-04), Charlton achieved their best ranking in the Premier League, under the leadership of Alan Curbishley.
Charlton, at the time, benefited from a fruitful youth setup, which Kevin came through. He has never stopped being part of the furniture. “It’s my club,” he says. “People don’t know the history: the two clubs I love the most are Charlton and Cray Valley – it’s been like that for the last six or seven years. So for them both to be playing each other at the Valley is going to be a special day for me, the club, my family and Kyrell.”
Kevin continues to be involved with Charlton through their media presence. The team has struggled to return to the Premier League since being relegated in 2007 due to ongoing instability. Frequent changes in ownership and players have hindered their progress. However, with Michael Appleton taking over as head coach in September, Kevin believes there is finally reason for hope: “After watching and commentating on games this year, I truly believe this is a pivotal moment. I’ve spoken with the manager and he is dedicated to bringing back the passion and spirit to the club.”
There has been discussion about reintroducing former players to engage with the fans once again, in hopes of rekindling positive memories. If everyone remains in good physical condition, we have a strong possibility of achieving promotion. Personally, I am eagerly anticipating the outcome of this season.
Kevin, who played for Cray Valley’s under-23 team with his twin sons as an older player, is currently striving to become a coach. He organizes a summer program for improving finishing skills at Leyton Orient, another team he used to play for, and expresses a strong desire to pursue coaching.
In 2001, the Charlton team in the Premier League, with the presence of Kevin, required a rematch and a last-minute goal to defeat Dagenham & Redbridge, who were in the fifth tier. He cautions that as a larger team, one must be fully focused or risk being penalized. Kevin highlights the danger of counterattacks from players like Denzel Gayle and Freddie Parker on the Cray Valley team.
Kyrell believes that it will require a great effort to win, but given the fortunate opportunity, why not dare to dream once more?