Troy Townsend: Father tries to help his son, Andros, plot path through the game
He gave up managing to guide the Spurs and England winger and to help the fight against racism
Troy Townsend's overwhelming concern is the one which belongs to any father or mother when they begin to watch a child forge a path in the world: when to speak up and advise, and when just to let them find their way. And so it is that the text messages providing the odd morsel of paternal advice for his 22-year-old son, Andros, tend to come before, and not after, his matches. "You can always talk and talk and talk – and after the game he'll be hearing plenty of messages," Townsend snr says. "So if there's a left back or a right back I know about I will always drop him a line – a text – about that before the game."
His appreciation of the fateful punt Roy Hodgson took in naming his son in the team to face Montenegro last month runs deep for him. He lists it alongside Harry Redknapp's decision to take him on loan to Queen's Park Rangers last winter, plunging him into the Premier League, as the significant moments.
And a father's best football memory of his son's career so far? The first Premier League goal, for QPR at home to Sunderland – a dipping volley from outside the penalty area in the 3–1 win last March. "It nailed it on the head for me that everything he had worked for had been worth it. All in that one moment," he says.
Yet there were some very difficult times during which it seemed that fate might deal the young man the same type of disappointment that it did his father – who was a triallist at Crystal Palace at the same time as Vince Hilaire but whose hopes of a professional playing career were dashed by Millwall. He was 17 at the time and had arrived there at the same moment as Teddy Sheringham.
The road to recognition was a terribly long one for Townsend jnr. He was sent on loan by Tottenham to no fewer than nine clubs in four years and it was ironically Millwall, a place of such difficult memories for his father, which steadied him and perhaps ironed out most of the rough spots. The young Townsend became a "wonderful, aggressive winger" there, "getting balls into the box", the father remembers. Millwall fans will tell you how they adored the young winger. There are some at that club who say that Redknapp, as Tottenham manager, was willing to sell Townsend to them for £500,000, as recently as 2011.
Townsend snr speaks with particular reverence about the one-time Yeovil Town manager Terry Skiverton, who offered his son the first of those loan spells, which was critical to his development. "Terry watched [David] Bentley, [Tom] Huddlestone, [Gareth] Bale, [Jamie] O'Hara [among the Tottenham prospects] but he opted for this skinny little 17-year-old who he was willing to take into League One," the father reflects.
When Townsend snr's playing days came to nothing, he began developing an understanding of coaching. He became manager of Chesham United in Buckinghamshire, where many remember him for arriving one year, just before Christmas, when the club had only nine points on the board, and seeing them escape the relegation zone – only to drop down a league because of financial irregularities way beyond his own control. He went on to manage Slough and Boreham Wood, taking the latter on an FA Cup run which put them up against Steve McMahon's Blackpool. It was when his son began working his way through the game that he decided he would have to leave all that management behind to spend more time helping guide him.
It cannot have been easy for a black manager, building such a reputation in leagues like that. The magazine When Saturday Comes recently reported that AFC Wembley – one of the few black-owned clubs in England – has suffered a number of racial incidents involving young players. The club's chairman, Trevor Hutton, expressed concerns about the local county FA's response to them. The governing body acknowledged problems exist for players.
All of which confirms Townsend snr's contention that the fight against prejudice is on-going – and not over. He joined Kick it Out as a volunteer three years ago and when his predecessor, Earl Barrett, left for a post at Stoke City he took on the role of managing the organisation's substantial mentoring programme.
He is "excited and nervous" when he watches his boy, he says. "Every time he steps onto the pitch he is such a positive individual." And though not every son welcomes text messages from the old man, Townsend's are accepted.
"The reason why he is what he is, is that there are no airs and graces with him," he says. "He is just Andros Townsend. He appreciates what the game does for him and what it can do."
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