Danny Hall column: Charlie Austin’s rise from bricklayer to Premier League goalscorer is a real-life Roy of the Rovers tale - and we should treasure those like him who can connect to working-class people

editorial image
0
Have your say

From humble beginnings in Hungerford, Charlie Austin now plies his trade in the bright lights of the Premier League just over 90 minutes down the M4, at Queens Park Rangers.

But in metaphorical terms, the 25-year-old is a million miles away from his days as a bricklayer and part-time footballer.

After all, it was only six years ago that Austin was plying his trade on building sites in Bournemouth, rather than plush pitches in the Premier League.

Austin - who scored the fifth goal of a promising debut top-flight season against Chelsea on Saturday, a backheel from Leroy Fer’s cross in a 2-1 defeat - often tells the story going back to the winter of 2008, when he was still with Poole Town.

It was a midweek, Austin remembers, and he had enjoyed another day on the building site. At clock-off time he drove to the coast to catch a ferry, to the Isle of Wight. He and his team-mates then boarded a coach to take on Brading Town, Austin scored a hat-trick and Poole stayed top of the Wessex Premier Division with a 4-2 win.

They celebrated on the bus, then the ferry, before Austin drove back to Bournemouth, arriving at one in the morning - less than five hours before his alarm call, for another day on the site.

In a 2010 interview with the Guardian, Austin remembers a time, aged 17, when he was “was working in a place called Overton”.

“By 2pm,” he recalled, “we were drenched through and it felt like I had a glass back.

“I couldn’t bend it and I was covered in mud. If I ever get fed up for one minute with football, I’ll think back to that day and remember I’ve got the best life in the world now.”

Austin remains one of football’s most personable characters - and he has good reason to.

“You get used to life as a professional but it’s hard not to look back five years ago when I was training for Poole Town on a Tuesday and Thursday, so I have to pinch myself,” he added.

“But I’ve got good family around who keep my feet on the ground and who remind me of what I was like beforehand.”

A haul of 46 goals in as many games for Poole led to interest from AFC Bournemouth, but their transfer embargo scuppered any deal and Swindon Town, then managed by ex-Owl and Blade Danny Wilson, jumped in.

Netting 32 in 51 starts earned him a move to Burnley, where 41 in 69 persuaded QPR to pay a bargain £4m for his services.

Before the Chelsea clash his mother, Karen, posted on Twitter a picture of Austin with John Terry as a young fan. On Saturday, they were sharing a pitch as equals.

His last game for Poole, away at Portsmouth side Moneyfields, was in front of 88 fans; 41,486, plus millions more worldwide, watched him score at the Bridge.

Austin’s story isn’t quite Roy of the Rovers... it’s better, and it’s true.

And, at a time when football is slipping away from working-class folk quicker than ever - we should treasure the precious few footballers who remind us why we fell in love with the game in the first place.