Football: Pringle's perspective suits Charlton

Glenn Moore meets a forward with an unusual upbringing who is a key player in his club's fight against relegation
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The Independent Online
THE PLACE was London, at the tail-end of the Sixties. He was Jamaican and had travelled to the centre of the old empire to pursue his studies; she was a Swedish au pair and, says her son, had come to city of Carnaby Street and the Rolling Stones "to have fun". They met, married and went to live in Sweden.

This classic love story, embodying an era in which young people began to choose their own destiny, has now spawned a sequel.

Thirty years on another romantic tale is brewing in the capital, one of triumph against the odds, of a battling underdog and an unlikely saviour.

The putative hero is the son of that cross-cultural Sixties union, Martin Pringle, a dark-skinned Swede with an English name signed from Portugal.

When Martin Ulf Pringle - his full name reveals his Scandinavian heritage - arrived at Charlton Athletic they had lost eight matches in succession and were sliding back into the First Division. They lost again, at Southampton, where he came on as substitute, but he then marked his first start with the last-minute goal that secured a draw against Newcastle.

Since then Charlton have taken 10 points from six matches and hauled themselves out of the relegation area if not out of danger. Pringle, who has scored two further goals, this month had his loan signing converted to a permanent move at the bargain price, for a 28-year-old Swedish international striker, of pounds 800,000.

Today he leads the Charlton attack at Leicester City hoping to put the club's unexpected revival back on track after last week's loss at Coventry.

Having been leading 1-0 against 10 men, the defeat struck hard but Pringle hopes it could prove beneficial. "Sometimes a defeat helps to get the concentration back," he said when we met at Charlton's neat training ground in south-east London. "We can use the loss as a wake-up call. We should not have lost but have to accept it and dig in."

This is customary fighting talk from a footballer in his position but, in Pringle, Charlton have got a player with a broader sense of perspective than most.

This is not so much the consequence of growing up as a Scandinavian-West Indian in such a homogenous society as Sweden - he says he had no problems - as the self-reliance developed from the death of his father while he was a teenager and his wide experiences outside football.

He opted to do his military service in one of the most demanding branches of the Swedish Army then did a wide variety of jobs while making his name in the game as a part-time footballer with Stenungsund and Helsingborg. "I was a mailman, a bartender, a waiter, a teaching assistant and, for four years, worked in the construction industry.

"It makes you appreciate being a full-time footballer. You get a different view of life, more down to earth. It means you do not feel above anyone else even if you are a top footballer. Some players may feel they make a lot of money and want to gloat but I know I've been lucky to be a professional footballer, especially coming from Sweden where there are not many professional players."

This view is reflected on the pitch where Pringle, like most Scandinavian imports, displays a healthy work-rate. "He doesn't give up," notes his team-mate John Robinson. "He has presence and he frightens defenders."

Not that this was always appreciated. "In Portugal they always said `stay in the box, you are supposed to be in there scoring goals', but that is not what I do. I work hard for my team-mates. It wasn't really appreciated there until Graeme Souness came in."

It was Souness who eventually sold Pringle, but the player remains a fan.

"He is a demanding coach. He is used to very high standards and wants so much from his players. He knows what it takes to get up there having been there as a player and he wanted us to push ourselves to win the championship, cup, whatever we could win. I never had problems with him but some of the Portuguese lads did. They were used to their lifestyle and he shook everything up, but once they got into it they got along as well. I think he is doing well."

Pringle, however, increasingly found himself either on the bench or on the wing and was ready to move when approached by Curbishley. He had previously been alerted to Pringle's potential by the former Charlton player Scott Minto, now at West Ham but then at Benfica with Pringle.

"He came into the club unaffected by the run we were having. He was obviously a lot fresher and gave us a lift," said Curbishley.

The Charlton manager, who only made the signing permanent after Souness, anxious for cash to finance this week's signing of Steve Harkness, cut the asking price, added: "Having gained a permanent move I hope he is still hungry. I was quite happy with him having to fight for everything but I've had a word with him and don't think he is going to rest on what he has gained."

Pringle seems eager enough. The deal means he can start looking for permanent accommodation. He and his wife Nina are currently in a nearby hotel which, with the arrival of six-week-old son Hugo, is getting cramped. It could also lead to his gaining a higher profile in Sweden and, perhaps, an international recall especially as, unlike compatriots Frederik Ljungberg, Andreas Andersson and Jesper Blomqvist, he is playing regularly.

Pringle, whose accent is a curious hybrid of Jamaican, south London - he still has relatives in Tooting - and Scandinavian, might have been lost to the game entirely. As a youngster he not only played ice hockey, but was better at it than football. "I played for eight years but swapped because it was easier to get attention as a footballer. In ice hockey there is very little time to show your skills because you are in and out all the time. In football you are always on the pitch."

Football, I venture, is presumably also less dangerous. "No, ice hockey is safer because we wear all that padding."

Ice hockey's loss is Charlton's gain and, though Curbishley emphasises that Pringle still needs to work on his finishing - he missed two good chances against Coventry, there is relief that they now have a forward who looks like scoring. With 10 matches to go that could make the difference.