It is approaching midnight in Amiens, a sleepy town in northern France, and Andy Carroll is taking aim at a dartboard. ‘I’m going for 180,’ he says, extending his long limbs towards the target. He falls well short. The forfeit? A tray of drinks.
No one bats an eyelid. That’s why he likes it here. He feels at home.
Quite how this barnstorming traditional English centre forward ended up wearing number 99 and playing in the French second division, 75 miles north of Paris, needs some explaining. It’s one of the reasons why we ended up staying overnight at his apartment. There’s lots for him to say.
Moving into Rod Stewart’s house, a Bengal cat costing £1,000 (it lasted two weeks), fake allegations about drug taking, eating full roast pre-match dinners at Newcastle and a transfer that should never have happened – the big, expensive one – to Liverpool, are all part of Carroll’s story. His huge collection of hats, too. ‘I don’t even like hats.’ More of that to come.
Now playing here as a free transfer signing, at the Stade de la Licorne, the ‘Unicorn Stadium’, with its tiny 12,000 capacity, Carroll – still only 34 – feels it is time to open up.
Andy Carroll moved abroad this summer for the first time when he joined French side Amiens
Carroll spoke to Mail Sport about how he is loving life in the sleepy town in northern France
He also explained how a barnstorming traditional English centre forward – who won nine caps for his country – ended up wearing number 99 and playing in the French second division
In that strong Geordie accent, he tells his story. ‘I was at Newcastle from seven years old. I made my debut at 17. I just thought, “You know what, if I don’t go (abroad) now then I’ll never go”. I had another season at Reading. I wasn’t playing and I spoke to the manager. He wanted legs up top which is something I don’t have. I was going to say “anymore” but I don’t think I ever had them!
‘I wanted a challenge. A challenge in a completely different country. A fresh start. I spoke to my agent and said, “Get me a club abroad”. I came here and it was the one. It’s a one and half hour drive to Calais and I can get the shuttle back to Epping (the family home).
‘Here I can take my kids to the zoo here and they’re not saying, “Come on dad” because people are asking for photos or autographs. There’s a little pub around the corner where me and a couple of the boys went to watch Newcastle beat PSG the other week. What a game! No one said a word to me.”
Normality is something he left behind a long time ago. Those days when football was just a hobby – the pure joy that he felt when he practised headers in their council house garden in Gateshead. Over our dinner, a margherita pizza, a smile beams across his face as he reminisces about those early days.
‘There’s a picture at home of me just born, first day in the house, lying there as a one-day old baby with a bottle of Brown Ale on one side and a football on the other. That was my dad. My mam says, “Look at this picture! The idiot done this when you were one day old!”
‘He worked in a steel factory, building parts for ships, and me mam worked as a cook in an old people’s home. Dad came home, about 5 o clock, and straight away, we spent an hour or two in the garden before dinner. Throwing balls up, saying “Both feet – left, right, left right” and I was just like, “Throw it up and let me head it!”.
‘Everywhere I went I had a ball under my arm. My dad can’t drive so me mam took me to all the games. Travelling to Scotland, Manchester, everywhere. There was no sat navs back then. A lot of dead ends, wrong ways and screaming over the map!’
Stopping to re-tie his trademark pony tail that has come loose, he discusses how he would have applied to the army if football had not worked out having completed a week’s trial at the age of 16, though a first contract from Newcastle put an end to that idea. The money followed.
‘It’s hard, really hard. It was just coming in my bank and going straight back out, even though me mam and dad were telling me not to. You’re 17 years old and getting all this money. All your friends haven’t got anything so you take them with you.
Carroll was out-of-favour at Reading and told his agent he wanted a new challenge abroad
Carroll with wife Billi Mucklow at the Notre-Dame Cathedral this month. They married in 2022
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‘I wasted money on stupid things. I’d go to Harrods in London and spend five-grand on rubbish. I’d have nothing to show for it. Just gone. In the dressing room everyone’s walking round with Lamborghinis or designer clothes. I’ve got money and I’m thinking “They’re doing it… I’ll do it as well”. I wanted an exotic cat. Found this Bengal and got it. Like a thousand pound. I had it for two weeks (he gave it to his parents).
‘Thinking back, it’s mad. There are so many things I know now that I wish I knew then. The young kids are getting their money and driving around in a brand-new car. Next minute it’ll be gone and he won’t have a house or anything. There has to be a foundation or a trust where they tell these guys what to do. Something’s got to happen. You get a lump of money at 17 and it just goes.’
Carroll picks out 2010 as the best year of his football life, although there was a big shock coming. He scored 19 goals as Newcastle won promotion and took ownership of the city’s iconic No9 jersey. And then he was sold.
‘I’d just bought my dream house in Newcastle. I was about to sign a new contract and then it gets pulled away from me and you’re gone. To be honest, I didn’t really know what was going on. I didn’t really want to go but you’re being told you have to go.
‘It came up on Sky Sports News saying £30million for Andy Carroll from Tottenham rejected. Then it says Liverpool £35million accepted. I went in to see the manager, he rang the owner and the owner says, “Yeah, you’re gone”. There was loads of media outside the training ground so I jumped in the back of Kevin Nolan’s car, left my car in the training ground and we’re sitting there in his cinema room and all the news was about me.
‘I’m sitting there thinking, “What is going on?” I’m getting loads of calls from my parents, my friends saying, “What’s happening?” I didn’t know what was happening and then I get a phone call off my agent saying, “The helicopter’s there, we need to go”. I had no clothes, no bag, no nothing. That was me. In less than an hour I was gone. I’d just bought a house. Spent a week doing it out. Didn’t even live in it!”
It was a change in more ways than one. ‘I’ll tell you this… now you eat with the team but back then at Newcastle we would just meet at 1.30 for a 3pm kick off. I will never forget, I used to go to this little pub around the corner, The White Swan. It was like a Toby Carvery. Meat, Yorkshire puddings, loads of gravy. I would eat a full roast, full Newcastle tracksuit, and then I would just go to the game and play.
“This one time (team-mate) Kevin Nolan rang me up and said, “Will you pick me up cos my car’s not working… where are you?” I said I’m just having a Sunday roast and he went mental, screamed at me on the phone, “Are you joking?” and I told him I’d done that forever.
‘When I went to Liverpool, everything changed professionally. We went to a hotel before the game, home and away, and had your pasta and your nice fruit. I’d been eating Yorkshire puddings and gravy. Now everyone’s telling you what to eat and when to eat. It was mental. Suited and booted, in a hotel the night before a game, eating right with the lads. On a Friday night in Newcastle I was out with my mam and dad or my friends.
Carroll picks out 2010 as the best year of his football life when he was on fire at Newcastle
However, he admitted he struggled to settle and perform at Liverpool after his £35m move
‘At Liverpool it was a step up, it was elite. That was hard for me, thinking two weeks ago I was sitting in the pub eating food before a game and now I’m doing this in a suit. Obviously it’s easy to get on with it and deal with it but the change and those little details were massive.
‘I could walk down the street in Newcastle and I was fine. Suddenly, I couldn’t walk down the street, had people outside my house, had security outside my house 24 hours a day because people were coming. I couldn’t do anything. Loads of different emotions. The football was different, my lifestyle was different. I was 21, I was a baby. Just me by myself. It was hard.’
The kid became the commodity. The most expensive British transfer in history.
‘When I signed at Liverpool I was injured. My timing was completely different to the lads that were training. For the first six weeks I never got to train with them or socialise with them. For six weeks, I never really bonded with anyone.
‘I’m disappointed that I didn’t really grasp Liverpool. I kind of took it for granted. I came out of school, went into Newcastle reserves, went into the first team, signed for Liverpool, played for England. Everything I touched turned to gold. Maybe it went to my head a little bit. I could do no wrong, that sort of thing. I don’t really know what went wrong. Maybe I wasn’t good enough… I don’t know. I just wish I’d grabbed it a little bit more.’
As the evening pushes on, the drinks begin to flow. Carroll insists on paying his way. Says he dad brought him up to always pay for your round. He is full of anecdotes. Engaging and down-to-earth, shattering any preconceived ideas.
We head back to his apartment in the town centre, overlooking the cathedral, and he offers a bed for the night. The stories continue. Flying to Ibiza on a private jet with Joe Hart, going backstage at the boxing with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Brook v Golovkin) and how he ended up buying Rod Stewart’s mansion after leaving Liverpool for West Ham.
‘The day I bought it, my parents came down and my dad couldn’t believe it was Rod Stewart’s house. He’s sitting there just imagining who’s been in that bar.
‘I watched a documentary and Rod was writing Maggie May in my living room! When I bought it off him he’s got a full-size football pitch with home and away dressing rooms that were signed by players who had played there. Rangers players, Celtic players, Liverpool, Newcastle. There were beer taps down in the bar. He used to have parties there, the lads would play football and he would sing. It’s a mad thing, really.’
Property is one of Carroll’s passions. He talks about his investment company – 3 Property NE – and explains that when he eventually stops playing (although there are no plans to yet) then he would rather spend time with his five kids than go into football management.
Eventually we call it a night and Carroll asks to pick up the interview in the morning. ‘I’ve got a bit more that I’d like to say.’ He cancels his 10am French lesson, throws on a baseball cap at the front door and we head to Starbucks for a coffee and a croissant. The conversation turns to West Ham – a place he called home – and he opens up about the challenges that make him think twice about whether he would encourage his children to go into professional football.
The striker insisted he is embracing being a normal guy where he isn’t approached for photos
He was the hometown hero at Newcastle but revealed he used to have a roast dinner pre-game
‘I was settled at West Ham. I loved my time there, living with my wife and my kids. The last two years maybe got a bit stale because I was injured and nothing really went my way, but at West Ham I was happy.
‘I did my knee. Chris Smalling smashed me, Man United at Old Trafford, and I was gone. I couldn’t walk but we had no more subs. I was hobbling. For 20 minutes I carried on thinking, “I am here for the team and I’m playing on no matter what”. I was jumping up for headers when my knee had gone. I had surgery on my ACL. I was out for months.
‘I’ve had six surgeries on my ankle, kept on re-fracturing. I got a phone call from Sam Allardyce saying, “Come into my office, we need to have a conversation”. I knew I was in trouble but I didn’t know what I’d done. He says, “When was the last time you played table tennis?” Six months ago… I dunno. He says, “Were you not playing on Saturday night? I’ve been told you were drunk, playing table tennis, you won, jumped on the table and rolled your ankle”. He starts laughing.
‘People were making up stories about me and the media were getting hold of it. It was coming on me all the time. This happened, this happened and then it’s, “Andy Carroll’s on drugs” and they’re singing a song about me. The people close to me know that I don’t take drugs and never took drugs.
‘I wasn’t injured because I wanted to be injured! At West Ham I had a moment where I just fell out of love with everything. I was so depressed. I didn’t leave the house, had to wear a hat if I did. Wouldn’t go out for dinner, lunch, anything. I just hated everything and everyone. I was getting abuse for being injured. It all come together and I’d had enough. I had to speak to people. I still speak to them now, if I’m honest. I went through mad times in my head. Thought about quitting, I was done with it all.
‘Everywhere I went I had a hat on. I wouldn’t go anywhere without a hat. I’ve got so many hats in my house and I don’t even like wearing hats! I’ve probably got one for every day of the year. I must have seven or eight in my car, just there.
‘All these doors have opened up for me through football and I’m grateful for that but it has challenges. People see the money but not the sacrifices. Even sitting having a conversation with my friends and family, if there’s someone new there, you’re always wary of where it’s going to go. That’s the biggest thing: trust. My missus has been in the limelight. I’ve been in the limelight. My kids were just born into our life and it’s hard for them. For me, that’s the struggle more than anything.’
At some point, when he has found a suitable house and schooling, his family will join him in France. His life has been one move after another but now, at 34, he feels settled in his mind. Before we go our separate ways, waving us off at the train station, we come back to the opening question: why is he here? This time he has had a night to sleep on it.
‘I say a lot to Billi, my wife, that I wish I could just walk down the street and be me. No one really sees me. I’m always keeping up appearances. The only sanctuary I have is at home. That’s the only place I can be me. You’re always reserved, you’re always working, you’re always wary. It’s not really a way to live, is it?
‘I live in Epping and I walk down the street and I’m fine because everyone’s seen me there. But still, I’ve still been papped walking the dogs, with the kids, having dinner in a restaurant. Someone takes a picture of me and Billi having a glass of wine in one of the restaurants. You’re always worried.
Carroll, 34, admitted he made mistakes in his younger years but is enjoying life in France
At some point, when he has found a suitable house and schooling, his family will join him in France but they did come out to visit him and watch him play for Amiens earlier this month
‘Joe Cole said to me that going to America was the best thing he’s ever done because he’d walk down the beach in his shorts and flip-flops and play volleyball with the locals. He was just “English Joe”. He was relaxed. He loved it. That’s what life should be.
‘I’ve signed two years here and I’ve got no plans of stopping. I just love playing football to be honest. It doesn’t matter what level it is. I left school and have basically been getting paid to do my hobby. If I’d only done it one time at Newcastle and never done it again then I’d have been happy. Unless you’ve stepped foot on a pitch and had that support around you, I can’t even express how it feels. If I was working any other job I’d have been playing football at any chance I got, anyway. I’m lucky that I’m getting paid to do something that I love doing.
’I’m content. For the last few years, I just feel I know who I am and I’m comfortable. No one can put me back where I was. You could throw anything at me now and I feel safe in myself. I’m comfortable. Here I can walk into the bakery and get a pain au chocolate and no one’s saying, “How was the game? Can I get a picture?” Here I feel like I’m normal. I just wanted to get out. Be free. Be me.’
This free transfer is a free man in France. English Andy, blending in with the locals.