It sounds like a dream. A young man plucked from a building site and now scoring goals freely in the Football League. Scott Anthony recounts the story of Charlie Austin
When Charlie Austin swept in Swindon Town’s opener in their 3-0 victory over Leeds United it marked a truly remarkable ascent through the football pyramid. After arriving at the County Ground from Wessex League Poole Town in the summer, 20-year-old Austin has become a scoring sensation. At the time of writing he had notched 15 goals in 23 games, a ratio that bears comparison with much-hyped peers such as Jermaine Beckford and Jordan Rhodes. Austin is “constantly pinching myself”, League One defences are consistently being shredded. For Swindon promotion is a possibility, for Austin there is talk of an England Under-21 bow.
Austin arrived at Swindon via an unlikely Hardy-esque trudge through the non-League backwaters of Thatcham, Hungerford and Poole Town. At Poole he combined labouring on a building site in Westbourne with scoring an unfeasible number of goals in the Wessex League. It’s fair to say that Poole is the inverse of a footballing hotbed. Professional sport in the area is dominated by the speedway team, while Poole Town (the Dolphins) play on school fields. Welcome to England’s second-biggest town without a Football League side. Even the nod to notoriety sounds a bit naff. Nevertheless, in Berkshire Austin had “found Friday nights and was drifting downhill”. Poole perversely proved the perfect place to rekindle his hunger for the game.
Having notched 48 goals in 43 games for Poole, Austin found himself among a battalion of trialists trying to earn a paltry one-year deal at neighbours AFC Bournemouth. Austin comes from footballing stock. His uncle, Darren Angell, was on the books at Cheltenham, Barnet and Lincoln. Brett Angell, his uncle’s brother, eventually featured in the Premier League for Everton. Austin says impishly that “they’re too old” to have learned anything from. In any case, life as a football journeyman has changed considerably since the introduction of the Bosman rule. Having impressed at Bournemouth, Austin hung around for the summer. However, the Cherries unresolved financial problems meant they were unable to sign him. Months passed and the young striker was left in limbo.
A brace of goals for Poole Town against Basingstoke eventually convinced Swindon boss Danny Wilson to offer Austin a contract and the rest is history. But only just. Austin had been working on a building site until 4.30 and then driven himself to the match just in time for the evening kick-off. Since then his rise from the world of bricks and mortar has been meteoric. After a wretched start to the new century, Danny Wilson’s team are reviving memories of Glenn Hoddle’s slick side. Austin’s partnership with Billy Paynter is central to the Robins’ new-found success. “I have learned so much from Bill,” says Austin. “He’s so much experience, he’s done it all.” The sentiment is genuine but Austin’s endearing praise maybe seems a bit much for a forward for whom until recently “doing it all” meant modest stints at Port Vale, Hull and Southend. Equally, while Austin is reviving Swindon fans’ memories of their totemic striker Duncan Shearer, he more ambitiously models himself on Alan Shearer. There is even talk of England. Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce (who learned his trade at Wealdstone) is reportedly a fan.
With so much masochistic mouthing-off about the dearth of young English talent, it’s refreshing to see a young player so assuredly make such a large step up. “The talent is out there,” says Austin. “But maybe not everyone works hard enough. My dad was always on at me, that was probably the secret.”
When you’ve swung up six rungs of the League ladder, you can’t begrudge Austin when he says his proudest moment so far in football is his new contract. Indeed, it’s almost like he hasn’t left Poole yet. He says he still looks for his parents and grandfather at every match. And after not scoring for four games he beat himself up. He thought he’d failed. In the Wessex League he was used to scoring in every game. Against the excesses of the Premier League, Austin’s swapping his Vauxhall for an Audi suddenly seems a rather homely kind of conspicuous consumption.
Having cleaned his own boots and other cliches on the way up, new contract or not, Austin isn’t going to forget the alternative to hard graft in football is the harder graft of labouring. His dad will probably see to that.
From WSC 279 May 2010