From brickie to big league? Charlie Austin on his journey from building sites to QPR

Charlie Austin had learnt to live with long days on cold building sites, followed by 90 minutes in football’s ninth tier, but, he tells Jack Pitt-Brooke, now he’s scoring goals for QPR, he’s desperate to take his chance of playing in the Premier League

On a Wednesday afternoon in December 2008, Charlie Austin left the building site, after a hard day of bricklaying, drove to Lymington on the South Coast and boarded the ferry across to the Isle of Wight.

From there, the Poole Town players took a coach across the island to face Brading Town. Under struggling floodlights, Austin scored a hat-trick and Poole won 4-2, to stay top of the Wessex Premier Division. Then it was back on the bus, the 11.30pm ferry and then the drive back to his parents’ in Bournemouth. Austin got in just before 1am, and was up at 5.30am for another day of bricklaying.

“That was the way it was back then,” reflects Austin, 24, who is well aware of how far he has come. “When I think about those days, I think about what could have happened.” What has happened, is one of the more remarkable stories of modern English football. Five years on from his ninth tier days, Austin is on the brink of the Premier League, his broad shoulders carrying the weight of a promotion campaign, and all that that means to Queen’s Park Rangers.

In crude terms, an extra £120m, should Rangers be playing Premier League football in 2014-15. Currently in second place, they can close the gap on Leicester City if they beat Bolton Wanderers this evening.

It is a different world from where Austin was five years ago, where his football wages – roughly £100 per week – supplemented what he earned working for his father’s firm, Austin Brickworks, first in Shinfield and then in Basingstoke. “I earned decent money on the yard,” Austin says, but it was difficult work, from 7.30 in the morning to 4.30 in the afternoon. “It’s not nice getting up at 6am, when it’s pitch black and you have to get in a van with 10 other lads, to go and work in a muddy building site in the winter, and not get home until 5.30 or 6. That was the reality of it.”

But Austin was settled in Bournemouth and enjoyed his life, not very different from many semi-professional sportsmen of his age. “I was happy to go to work every day, get paid on Friday, play football with my mates on a Saturday, get my football money, go out Saturday night, and watch the football on Sunday, then go to work on Monday.”

His first experience with top-level football, at the Reading academy, had not been particularly happy. He joined at 10 but was released at 15 for being too small. “I’d rather have just played with my mates,” he remembers.

Charlie Austin celebrating another goal Charlie Austin celebrating another goal (Getty Images)
Of course, all players look upwards, but Austin loved his time at Poole and does not give the impression that he was ever desperately keen to leave. When asked which particular ambitions he had back then, Austin laughs: “I didn’t have any!” That might be self-deprecation but Austin admits the chances of being spotted at that level are fairly slim.

“I was not really worried about what ambitions I had...  just to play for Poole Town. Who’s going to spot me? They might as well have stuck us out there,” Austin says, pointing out of the window at the pitch where QPR have just finished their morning session. “It was pretty much like playing on our first-team training pitch. Some people used to come and watch, but that was it. Who was going to come?”

News travels fast, though, and 46 goals in 46 games – winning Poole the title – was enough to alert local teams.  It was Steve Cuss, from AFC Bournemouth, who first tried to sign Austin, only to be stopped by his team’s transfer embargo. “It didn’t go through and I went back to work thinking, ‘It’s not going to happen.’ Luckily enough, Danny Wilson [then Swindon Town manager] came calling and the rest is history.”

Austin left Poole, and non-league football, with very happy memories. He is still in close touch with manager Tom Killick and still goes to games. Those at Poole speak very warmly of him, especially when it comes to donations for fund-raisers. Poole have a material, as well as an emotional, interest in Austin: a group of fans bet £150 at 50-1 that he would one day score for England, lining up a £7,500 windfall should it happen.

“Luckily enough, it all panned out,” Austin says, which is a modest way of describing 13 goals in his first 15 starts in professional football. From playing in front of crowds of 200 for Poole – nearer 700 for a derby against Wimborne Town – Austin was suddenly in front of gates pushing 10,000. His 20 league goals helped Swindon into the play-offs and into the final, against Millwall, in front of 73,000 at Wembley. Millwall were 1-0 up but Austin had a chance to equalise with 18 minutes left. He was through on goal, but the ball bobbled off the grass and he shot wide.

Undeterred, Austin continued to score – with 17 in 26 in the first half of the next season – before leaving Swindon for Championship side Burnley, a move which he freely admits he could have handled better, having demanded a transfer. “It was [done] in the wrong way, that may have been immaturity.” But Austin lives to score goals and continued to do so in the north and in the Championship, a change of scene which demanded that he grow up. “It made me a better person.” The second tier proved just as vulnerable to Austin’s goal-plundering as the third, the ninth and the 10th. He scored 17 in his first full season, 28 in the next and he was being talked of as a Premier League striker.

Hull City tried to sign him, but the move fell through and so Harry Redknapp pounced. This is a QPR team full of players with different backgrounds. When Austin was starting out at Kintbury Rangers, Niko Kranjcar was playing at the World Cup.

But Austin has found himself, once again, carrying the goal-scoring weight of the side. He has become the indispensable man at Loftus Road, top-scoring with 13 in the league. Matt Phillips is next with three. Rangers’ last two home wins – against Doncaster Rovers and Huddersfield Town – are owed to late Austin winners. In the last away win, 3-1 at Ipswich Town, he did not score and does not mind admitting frustration.

“I’m a centre-forward I want to score as many times as I can,” Austin explains with a smile, “every time I go across that white line I want to score. We scored three goals against Ipswich, all right we won 3-1, but I didn’t score and I wanted to. I want to score as many goals as I can and get us promoted.”

Other strikers have climbed from the lower leagues to the top-flight recently – Grant Holt started at Workington and Barrow, Rickie Lambert at Blackpool and Macclesfield in the old Third Division. Austin is younger and sharper than them, and has travelled further, faster. “What they’ve done is brilliant, so why can’t I? That’s my determination. Hopefully, in May, my dream will come true.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas