There is an episode of Match of the Day that Andros Townsend remembers with fondness.
December 22, 2018. He returned from Manchester to position his aching body on his sofa just in time. Earlier in the day, Townsend had helped Crystal Palace conjure one of the shock results of last season — condemning Manchester City to only their third home league defeat in two years.
He had scored the goal of his life in an unforgettable 3-2 victory at the Etihad. City were trying to deal with Patrick van Aanholt’s free-kick into the penalty area and Bernardo Silva’s header appeared to have cleared the immediate danger. The rest, at least for Townsend, is a bit of a blur.
Andros Townsend remembers a particular episode of Match of the Day with fondness
‘Match of the Day was particularly good that night,’ quips the 28-year-old. ‘I somehow managed to catch it that sweetly but I still don’t know how. I’m kind of known for my wonder goals. But nothing, nowhere near, that level.’
Silva’s clearance dropped invitingly onto Townsend’s right foot, 30 yards from goal. A split-second later his audacious volley was arrowing past Ederson. The goal was nominated for Fifa’s prestigious Puskas Award, alongside strikes from Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. ‘To see your name next to Messi’s — for a player like myself — is a once in a lifetime thing,’ Townsend admits.
Townsend is speaking at an event organised by Football Beyond Borders — an education charity which uses the game to engage with and support disadvantaged young people — and that resonates with the forward, given his troubles at school from where he was expelled. He was rejected by Tottenham at 15 after joining their academy as a starry-eyed eight-year-old. Fortunately his mum Katerina was not prepared to take no for an answer.
‘There was dialogue between my mum and the academy director for 24 hours,’ he reveals. ‘Then, all I know is my mum told me I was going back to training. I don’t really know how she persuaded him or if I was even allowed to train but that was the case.’
Townsend had scored the goal of his life in an unforgettable 3-2 victory at Manchester City
Fast forward 13 years and Townsend has flown the Tottenham nest but he’s realised his ambition. ‘As a kid you dream of playing for the club you support and I managed to do that,’ he says. ‘I have great memories of that time in my life.’
He made 93 appearances for Spurs, scoring 12 times. Then, of course, there are the 13 England caps. He hasn’t given up hope of adding to that tally and Townsend still finds that perseverance is as important to his career as his cultured right foot.
Having lost his place in Roy Hodgson’s starting XI earlier this season, Townsend clawed his way back for last week’s 2-2 draw at Arsenal and is expected to keep his place for Sunday’s clash with high-flying Leicester — who tried to sign him in 2017.
‘There were times when I was younger and out of the team when I didn’t take it the right way,’ admits Townsend. ‘Maybe I sulked. But, for example, I’ve been out the team this season but now I look at it differently.’
Townsend puts that down to his nomadic upbringing in football. There were nine loan moves but none more vivid than his first at Yeovil when Townsend — 17 at the time — was merely happy not to have burned the house down.
Having lost his place in the starting XI, Townsend clawed his way back for the draw at Arsenal
‘My time at Yeovil was probably the first time I’d spent away from home,’ he explains. ‘It was made a lot easier because I went with one of my team-mates [Jonathan Obika] who was the same age. We were staying underneath a pub. There was no food and if there was food it wasn’t that great so we went to the nearest Argos and bought an electric stove and we were cooking in our hotel room!’
Townsend and Obika were thrust into the starting XI, playing in front of 4,000 people at Huish Park in a game against MK Dons. The surroundings of Tottenham’s Enfield HQ were a world away.
Looking back Townsend is adamant he wouldn’t have had it any other way. ‘I went from everything getting done for me — even to the point where Spurs would arrange taxis to and from training,’ Townsend says. ‘In Yeovil, it was the real world. To get to training you arrange your own transport because I didn’t drive at the time.
‘You’re not playing for fun any more, it’s all about three points. At the time they were in the relegation zone so it was life or death. Guys were on short contracts and if they get relegated then maybe they are out of work. It was a real eye-opener and I was made to grow up at a really young age.
‘But it was 100 per cent the best thing for my career, going out on loan. A lot of players then, and now, only really know Premier League academy football where everything’s nice. But when it’s Tuesday night in Carlisle and on Saturday you’re at the opposite end of the country, that’s the other side that a lot of youngsters don’t experience.’
It wasn’t until a loan spell at QPR in 2013 that Townsend became ready for Spurs’ first team
Eight further loan spells followed but it wasn’t until his temporary switch to Queens Park Rangers in 2013 when he knew he was ready for a sustained crack at Tottenham’s first team. By the time he’d moved to Loftus Road, Townsend had already made 15 senior appearances for Spurs, yet doubts lingered.
‘I had bounced around the lower leagues, League One and the Championship, for a few years but then I didn’t really know if I was good enough for the Premier League,’ he says. ‘Other people maybe didn’t know if I was good enough. But the loan at QPR, I went from a good youngster to a Premier League player.’
Townsend announced himself as a household name with Tottenham at the start of the following season. Eight appearances into the campaign, he had gone from serial loanee to English football’s next great hope at 22.
The 28-year-old had netted on his international debut against Montenegro at Wembley
He scored on his international debut and was named man of the match in a 4-1 victory over Montenegro at Wembley. But his dream of playing at Brazil 2014 was ripped away by an ankle injury.
But after spending the majority of his career wondering if it would ever happen, Townsend had arrived.
‘I look back and think, “How did I not feel any pressure?” I probably had two starts under my belt before I got my England call-up yet I wasn’t nervous at all. I made my debut after five or six League starts for Spurs.
‘Maybe when you’re young you don’t feel the pressure. At the time it was just all natural. Only now do I look back and think it was such an incredible time at such a young age. I don’t know how I managed to deal with it all.’