Scott Carson tried to give Chris Kirkland his Champions League medal
Scott Carson: ‘I tried to give my Champions League medal to Chris Kirkland, but he said no’
Thu 26 Jan 2017 13.38 GMT
Scott Carson has been delving into the memory bank as he pieces together his colourful life story. There is the Champions League winners’ medal that he tried to give away as a teenager, the Swiss army knife that Carson found on the edge of his penalty area one afternoon in Turkey and that miserable evening under the floodlights at Wembley in November 2007.
Life has rarely been dull for a goalkeeper who has racked up more than 350 appearances for 21 managers across nine different clubs during a nomadic career. Perhaps the most surprising statistic of all is that the man who was in goal for Leeds United’s last Premier League game, which was way back in 2004 and on the day Claudio Ranieri waved goodbye to the Chelsea supporters, is still only 31 years old.
Thrust into the spotlight as a teenager and exposed to so many highs and lows from such a young age, Carson is one of those footballers who seems to have been around for ever. Carson smiles at that suggestion before explaining how longevity holds the key to his renaissance at Derby County. “I’m playing the best football of my career here and a lot of that is down to experience,” says the former England international before Friday night’s FA Cup tie at home against Leicester City.
“I know now that I don’t have to go on to the field and make an unbelievable save for people to think I’ve played well, or come out for a cross on the edge of the box because I haven’t had a lot to do. I just need to do my job and that doesn’t have to be spectacular.
“When you’re younger – and this doesn’t just apply to football – you’re always trying to impress people and probably doing that little more than you need to. I think back to some mistakes that I might have made in games and you’re sometimes thinking at the time: ‘I haven’t done anything for 60 minutes, I need to get involved,’ and that’s sometimes when mistakes happen. Now, if I don’t have anything to do in 90 minutes, then I’m happy with that as long as we’re winning.”
Winning is something that Derby have been doing far more often than not since Steve McClaren returned as manager in October. It was a surprise appointment that reunited two men who had last worked together the best part of a decade ago, when England’s hopes of qualifying for Euro 2008 were laid to rest on a ruinous night at Wembley. Croatia triumphed 3-2, McClaren was sacked as manager the following morning and Carson, who was 22 at the time and had made his England debut just five days earlier, came in for heavy criticism following his error for Niko Kranjcar’s opening goal.
Carson could be forgiven for rolling his eyes when that match is brought up, especially as it was so long ago and evokes memories that he would clearly rather forget, yet there is no trace of any annoyance when he is asked to revisit the scene. “Goalkeepers make mistakes and I made one that night,” Carson says matter-of-factly. “It was a difficult time. People don’t let you forget it. Every ground I went to after that I got a bit of stick. But I always thought to myself: ‘No one has died’. Even thinking about it now, I couldn’t tell you how I got through it or what I did.
“It was just a case of trying to put on a brave face and keep my head down. And it definitely made me stronger because I felt afterwards that nothing I did was going to be worse than that. If I made mistakes, I always felt: ‘I dealt with [Croatia], so I can deal with this.’”
Carson made two further England appearances, the last of which came in a 1-0 win over Sweden in November 2011, when Fabio Capello was in charge. “I’ve got four caps, and I was 26 when I got my last one. But I know deep down that I’m 10-20 times better now than I was when I got those caps,” he says. “My all round game, and how much more comfortable I am at controlling different situations, is a lot better.”
Those England caps will always be a source of great pride to Carson, yet there is nothing like the same sense of personal achievement when he looks at the Champions League medal he picked up after Liverpool beat Milan on penalties in Istanbul in 2005. Carson joined Liverpool from Leeds at the turn of that year and was named on the bench in the final because Chris Kirkland was injured.
“When we got the medals, I tried to give mine to Chris. He played more games in the group stages than me. So I felt that he deserved it more,” Carson explains. “But Chris, as anyone who knows him will say, is a really nice lad and he said: ‘No. You were on the bench, you played your part as well.’ I’m delighted I’ve got it, but a medal is a lot more valuable to you if you played. For me, Just to witness that night was good enough.”
Carson did feature for Liverpool in the Champions League that season. Aged 19, he started at Anfield in the first leg of their quarter-final against Juventus. Liverpool won 2-1 against a Juventus team that reads like a who’s who of European football. “Buffon was in goal for them. I remember I was in awe of him when I was standing next to him in the tunnel,” Carson says. “I got his shirt – that had pride of place. He was one of my heroes growing up. Ibrahimovic played, Del Piero, Nedved … it was like playing one of the old‑style computer games, then all of a sudden you’re up against them, it was just surreal.”
Early experiences of first-team action, initially at Leeds and then Liverpool, had Carson craving more opportunities and coloured the way he has approached his career throughout. Never content with sitting on the bench, he remembers constantly knocking on Rafael Benítez’s door, asking the Liverpool manager if he could go out on loan. Carson joined Sheffield Wednesday for a few months in 2006 and then spent season-long loans with Charlton Athletic and Aston Villa before signing for West Bromwich Albion for £3.25m in July 2008.
He spent three years at the Hawthorns as Albion’s first-choice keeper, yet got the feeling that he was not Roy Hodgson’s cup of tea and suspected he would start the 2011-12 campaign as the club’s No2. The only other option at that time was a step into the unknown with Bursaspor, who had won the Turkish League 12 months earlier. Carson decided to take a leap of faith that he has never regretted, even if moving overseas with Amy, his wife, and their young children was tricky.
“If someone asks what Turkey is like, the first thing I say is that the atmosphere is the best I’ve ever played in – and probably ever will,” Carson says. “Here, you have certain parts of grounds that are loud, whereas it’s the whole stadium in Turkey. We played in one game where, because there had been trouble previously, only women and children were allowed in. And it was still sold out.”
He also discovered that it is not only insults that are hurled during matches in Turkey. “I looked down in one game and there was a big Swiss army knife on the edge of the box,” Carson says, shaking his head. “I thought: ‘Oh my God, if that had hit me …’ It wasn’t open but, given how heavy they are, it would probably have knocked me out.
“I picked it up and gave it to one of the opposition coaching staff at half-time. At the end of the game a few of their staff were saying to me: ‘Thank you so much. You’re such a nice guy.’ I was thinking: ‘What have I done here?’ I asked the translator why they were being so nice to me. He asked if I’d given them anything and so I told him about the Swiss army knife. He said: ‘That’s why then, because if you’d have given it to the referee, their fans would have been banned for a couple of games.’ I said if I’d known that I would have given it to the ref straight away!”
After accepting a route back into English football via Wigan Athletic in 2013, Carson joined Derby two years later. Beaten in the play-offs last year, Derby got off to an awful start this season under the management of Nigel Pearson but are rejuvenated with McClaren in charge. Only two points outside the top six and buoyed by an impressive FA Cup win at West Brom in the previous round, the Championship club will fancy their chances of beating an out-of-form Leicester. “You’ve still got to say we’re the underdogs,” says Carson.
Either way, it is the sort of occasion that Carson will cherish as he sets about writing the next chapter in a career that has long benefitted from the wise advice that a mother gave her son before he became famous. “I was quite a sore loser as a child and mum always used to say to me: ‘You’ve got to take the good with the bad,’” says Carson, smiling at the memory. “It’s something I’ve always remembered and even now I still think like that.”
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