Cult Classic: Darius Charles

By Pete H

In Boro’s Football League years, Darius Charles – the original defensive centre-forward – is very much a cult classic candidate. The only question we have is of ourselves; trying to work out how we hadn’t got to this celebration of Big D before. The modern game has an idea of the best ballers being be “versatile”. Look at goalkeepers, for instance. Hugo Lloris, Ederson, Allisson; all play for top Premier League clubs (and Spurs). And all are part of a tactical approach that involves playing out from the back with their feet. This is despite the fact they can’t actually do it reliably and will be good for a cock-up every so often.

That last bit’s by the by, to be honest. It wrecks our argument – if anything.

Darius Charles certainly fits into the versatile mould. In some ways, how Graham Westley chose to deploy him in attack on occasion saw things come full circle. After all, centre backs being pushed up top is nothing new – not least in the lower divisions. But more often than not, however, those players stuck out like a sore thumb. When Charles went up top, he looked just as at home as he did in his native left back role. But we’ll come to all that in a minute. We don’t want to give the whole game away before we’ve even started; this being a journey that starts back in summer 2010 – when Boro’ were into unchartered territory.

Darius Charles: Why Is He A Cult Classic?

So, anyone coming in that summer had a tough gig. The squad that won the 2009-10 Blue Square Premier title was a close-knit unit. Many had been in the Boro’ ranks for two years and new arrivals had to be well-judged. Charles came to us from Ebbsfleet United; a path familiar to some others – such as Michael Bostwick, for example. We paid for him too. But “undisclosed” is the amount quoted and that’s all we can say.

In his first season, Charles featured 33 times (24 starts and nine sub entrances). He scored four times too; a decent haul for an advertised left-back and – funnily enough – the same number that Scott Laird managed. For a squad that shared the goals around, that was just enough to end up as joint sixth in the top scorer list. In context, there were two lads level-pegging on eight goals and another duo with six goals apiece.

Not so endearing was a red card at home to Northampton Town in December 2010; coming on at half time and receiving his marching orders 10 minutes later.

Embed from Getty Images

Now, let’s be honest – Lairdy scored a penalty or two if memory serves us correct. What we can’t remember, nor be bothered to look-up, is how many of Big D’s goals came from being deployed in attack. No doubt there were some, none, or all. Meh. But it’s 100% true that he would be found in an advanced role when the League Two playoff final rolled around. John Mousinho grabbed the decisive goal, but Charles was the man with the assist.

There were ups… and there were downs

Fair play, then; Charles coming into a title-winning team and immediately being an integral part of our promotion-winning side that would debut in League One in 2011. There was the reward of a new two-year deal just a few games into the campaign too.

This time, he’d make 34 appearances (28 starts and six sub outings). Five goals was his return – including a decisive, deflective effort away to Reading in FA Cup Round Three. Again, we’re struggling to rely on our memory to back us up. But we’re certain it was this season that GW referred to him in an England context? Or is that simply now an urban legend?

Embed from Getty Images

Anyway, GW left shortly after that Reading win. Incoming boss Gary Smith kept his services firmly at our disposal; the 2012-3 season returning 41 Boro’ appearances (37 and four) – the most he’d made in a single campaign at that point. It was also a sign of his growing stature at the Lamex, while ensuring continuity at a time when we were going through a fairly hard transition. The class of 2012-3 saw many new faces to replace some familiar ones that left.

Oh, there was another two-year deal signed too.

Injuries and farewells

The 2013-4 campaign was a dismal one for Boro’ as a collective. But it wasn’t much fun on a personal level for Charles. Due to injury, he’d be sidelined for far too long; restricted to just 26 appearances (20 + 6). Is it any coincidence that we were relegated in a season where that talent wasn’t available to us? Mmm, probably. But it’s not like he could have an impact from the treatment table – is it?

Embed from Getty Images

Did we mention that he signed another contract extension too? What can we say? Boro’ just couldn’t bear the idea of being without him.

Injury would start to become a recurring theme – even if he did manage 33 outings to boost our 2014-5 playoff push. With Graham Westley back in charge, it was only going to be injury or suspension that kept Charles out of the team. Alas, the former cropped up on more than one occasion – and would effectively end his Boro’ career. A leg fracture meant that a home match against Bury on 10 February 2015 would be his last appearance for us.

So, what happened to Darius Charles next?

Darius Charles left Boro’ in summer 2015. So too did GW. And with Jon Ashton now gone too, that was pretty much it from the team that took us into League One. For the defender-cum-forward, the next move was two leagues up; signing for Championship outfit Burton Albion. But that time spent out with injury meant that Nigel Clough was reluctant to play him. That was hardly helpful. But it was also to AFC Wimbledon’s benefit, where Charles went next.

Leave a comment