The real story of how Carroll became the ultimate No 9
Peter Kirkley is 68 years old and president of the renowned Wallsend Boys Club. He is, quite simply, a man who changes lives. Not too long ago, he changed Andy Carroll's life, even though the most expensive English centre forward of all time may not know it. In his previous job as Newcastle's head of youth recruitment, Kirkley had a big call to make in 2004. Carroll had been on the books at St James' Park for three years and the word around the club's inner corridors was that the gangly left winger with a gait like Chris Waddle was simply not good enough.
'A lot of people didn't want him to stay,' recalls Kirkley. 'It got to the stage in his Under 14 year when the coaches still wanted him out. He looked ungainly and untidy. I think that is what it was. For two or three years that was going on, the coaches didn't fancy him. The day his mam and dad went in with him to find out his future, he was expecting to be released. He was 14 and he thought it would be bad news, they all did.'
Back then, Carroll was just one of many young players at Newcastle. There, just as at any big club, more young hearts get broken than don't. At the time, though, word of Carroll's struggles had made it back to junior football circles, too.
Alan Millward, manager of the South Tyneside Football Trust, recalls: 'I used to follow his progress when he went up there to Newcastle and used to ask his parents how he was doing. Andy was struggling. The feedback was that everyone had their doubts. It really didn't look as though it was going to happen for him.'
Stories of what happened next differ from person to person. Some say Carroll was switched from left wing to centre forward and turned into a different player. Others talk of a stand-out performance in a particular match.
Kirkley, the man who should know, tells it more simply 'Against all this negativity about Andy, one of my most reliable coaches, Vince Hutton, simply told me he was worth keeping on,' says Kirkley. 'All along, Vince had kept his belief and kept telling me to keep him. When tall players lose that ungainliness of their youth, then their talent often comes through. You have to wait for it. You can't dismiss them just because they are ungainly. 'So I made my decision. Andy stayed.
'People started to see things as he got older. The coaches soon changed their mind and started to say that they always knew he had something special. But that's not true. 'Personally, I am just glad the club kept him and what he achieves now is up to him. I can't say that Andy Carroll will go on to be a great player. Nobody can. But if it's just down to what he can do on the pitch then Andy won't have a problem. As long as he listens to the right people then he will be OK. He is a phenomenal header of the ball. There is nobody in the Premier League who is better. His left foot is deadly and he has a great touch. He actually reminds me of Nat Lofthouse, but with a better touch. He has that same power.'
Kirkley was told he was no longer wanted by Newcastle two years ago. 'Dennis Wise (the club's former executive director) told me I was too old,' he says with a smile.
Needless to say, one of North East football's most selfless and respected figures is still waiting for his share of Newcastle United's £35million.
YOU cannot see St James' Park from the street where Andy Carroll grew up. At his old school, where he once turned up with blue hair, the rugby posts dominate the playing field that is bordered by a railway track on one side and allotments on the other. A far cry from Anfield: portable cabins overlook the sodden pitch of Low Fell Juniors, where Carroll played as a boy.
In truth, Tyne and Wear's Team Valley is not a particularly inspiring place. A three-bedroom flat on Carroll's old road is currently on the market for £69,950. Round the corner, the main road has a tanning salon, a bookmakers and a social club. This is not a deprived area but sometimes you need a bit of help to get on. Carroll found that help from parents Tommy and Susan and from the network of dedicated football folk that run and drive the unique tangle of boys clubs and youth set-ups that straddle the North East.
'It's great to see the players from here do well,' says Millward. 'Having a little bit of money in the family helps. The majority of kids from deprived backgrounds struggle to make it. They don't have the support. One of the best young players I have ever recommended to Newcastle is now on heroin. If he had good family like Andy he would have been a star. You have to do a lot of driving the kids around. Andy's parents did that. They'd stand in the background and quietly watch him play. There was never any fuss.'
Carroll perhaps inherited his build and physical prowess from his mother, a runner. It wasn't immediately apparent, however. As a young boy, Carroll was a good footballer rather than an outstanding one. 'I took about five or six kids to Newcastle and recommended them to the coach John Carver,' adds Millward. 'Andy was one of them but he didn't stand out. He wasn't like Lee Clark or Chris Waddle or even Jordan Henderson, another one of ours. I mean, Jordan stuck out like a sore thumb, he was that good. Some kids are so good it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Andy wasn't one of those. There was a bunch here good enough to get a trial. Andy was one of them.'
If Carroll looks a little awkward on the field as a professional, with his long hair and loping stride, he was similarly lumbering when he was young. After starting senior school he was selected to play for Inter-Monkton Juniors, a representative side from the area, in tournaments at Hackney Marshes in London and at Whitley Bay on the North East coast.
'When he was younger he reminded me of how Chris Waddle was in his prime,' recalls Jimmy Chandler, the coach of that team. 'He had this gangling, loping gait. He was skinny, one sock up and one down, shirt hanging out. He never really looked the part but when he got the ball it took some getting it back. He wouldn't track back and tackle and retrieve the ball. He always wanted the ball in front of him. But when he got it he was quick and he had a hell of a shot on him. Of the 18 kids in the team photo, 12 went to academies. The clubs scoffed them up. Only two went on to make it, though, so that just shows how hard it is. One was my son Jamie, who is now at Darlington. The other was Andy. I wouldn't have bet money on it being those two who made it back at the time.'
Inter-Monkton were to win the Whitley Bay tournament, watched by scouts from West Ham who had been impressed by the boys in Hackney. Had things been different, Carroll could have ended up at Upton Park.
Chandler adds: 'The scout from West Ham liked him so much he brought the director of youth up to the Whitley Bay tournament. It was played over a week and we won it. That guy stood next to me for every game. He tried to get Michael Carrick's parents to sell West Ham to me. He begged me not to take any of the lads to our local clubs. He said half the clubs in London would have queued up to take the boys. But we knew where we wanted them to go.'
During his formative years playing for local clubs like Low Fell Juniors and Monkton Juniors, Carroll briefly flirted with Manchester United's centre of excellence in Durham. Strict FA rules now mean that a club like United would not be able to poach a player from the North East, but it was different back then.
Former Low Fell Juniors manager Brian Waites recalls: 'A lot of people don't know that Andy was at the Manchester United school of excellence when he was younger. He went there once a week but Man United closed down their Durham operation. There is a myth that he played in defence for us but he never did.'
Carroll's reputation as a footballer is still being established, despite the £35m Liverpool spent on taking him from Newcastle at the end of January. He has, it must be said, an equally mixed record as a person. Already at the age of 22, he has a number of controversies behind him. 'It will do him good to be out of Newcastle,' says Millward. 'I think Andy has always had that streak in him. He has always been slightly rebellious, but never anything serious. I think he has gone to a good place now. He has a great person in Kenny Dalglish to guide him. He had a similar one in Glenn Roeder when Glenn was at Newcastle - and Glenn did take him down a peg or two on a couple of occasions. He was invited to train with the seniors one week and it wasn't long before he was sent straight back.There were a couple of incidents with John Carver, too. He put Andy on the straight and narrow a couple of times.'
Perhaps Carroll and authority just don't mix. A couple of years ago, he shared a room i London with his old friend Jamie Chandler on an England Under 19 trip. Jamie had been selected to play the next day but Andy hadn't. He and Scott Sinclair from Chelsea escaped from the hotel,' laughs Chandler's father, Jimmy. 'They hung their tracksuits on the back of the emergency exit and headed off into London for pizza. But the alarms went off at the hotel and even though Jamie texted him to warn him, he ignored him. He was in trouble when he got back! But that was Andy through and through. He always was a cheeky, snotty-nosed, little b****r.'
A crowded pub near the Newcastle suburb of Heaton on the first weekend in February. An argument breaks out beneath the TV screen. A man is shoved in the chest and called a traitor. He is Liverpool's scout for the North East. Another hero has left the Geordie nation, another No 9 has gone to make his mark elsewhere. They will not forget for a while.
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