By Thomas Williams (@TomWilliamsPol)
“Luck,” said Charlie Austin before he held his breath and paused.
You could see the gears churning inside the head of the former Southampton and Queens Park Rangers centre-forward as he carefully considered how he managed to carve out a successful career in the English Premier League.
“Listen you need a lot of luck, there’s no getting away from that. The opportunities and the doors opened for me, you need a lot of luck in football, you need to be in the right place at the right time and fortunately I was,” elaborated Austin in an interview with Kick360 at the A-Leagues’ season launch on Tuesday.
The fact that Austin’s first instinct when posed this question was to downplay his achievement is a testament to his character. Authentic and honest, Austin does not shy away from giving an opinion and he certainly does not mince his words. In many ways, he is the antithesis of the modern footballer.
Unlike many Englishmen plying their trade in the country’s top tier, Austin never managed to catch the eye of national team scouts at a young age and he failed to feature in any professional academy system save for a solitary year in Reading’s academy at the age of 16. He was released for being too small.
After his release from Reading, Austin spent several years battling in non-league for sides at the very bottom of the English footballing pyramid. It was during this time that Austin’s goal of becoming a professional footballer seemed like a pipe dream.
“I was a builder! My dad owns a building firm so I was a brickies labourer for three years and then I just started learning the trowel really but then the football came up and boom, it just took off from there,” Austin added.
Took off it did.
After being given an opportunity to trial at Swindon Town, Austin scored a hat trick in his first reserve game and was almost immediately signed to the club afterwards. Over the course of his first season in England’s third tier, Austin scored 20 goals as he led the Robins to a promotion play-off final where the side suffered a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Millwall in front of over 73,000 people at Wembley.
Regardless, within a mere matter of months the centre-forward had progressed from smacking in goals for Poole Town in the ninth tier of English football, to leading a professional outfit’s charge towards promotion to the EFL Championship. It was at this stage that the centre-forward’s dream was starting to become a reality.
A flurry of goals the next season helped him garner interest from Championship club Burnley – a side for whom Austin signed a three and a half year contract. His improvement continued to follow a linear trend as he merely replicated his League One performances in the more physical, lucrative and demanding EFL Championship.
In the 2012/13 season, he scored 28 goals for Burnley en route to becoming the third top-scorer in the Championship. His subsequent move to relegated Queens Park Rangers was the one that ensured his Premier League dream was within reach. Austin played a seminal role in QPR being promoted back to the Premier League as he scored two goals including the winner in the side’s promotion semi-final against Wigan Athletic.
His name was instantly written into QPR folklore.
He concedes that, while luck played a role in this eight year journey from non-league to Premier League, a determination to succeed and confidence in his ability was at the forefront.
“It took a lot of hard work and determination…I just took the opportunity when it come and I kind of ran with it,” said Austin.
“Sometimes you fit into the mould and sometimes you don’t but I’m very good at doing the hardest thing in the world and that’s putting the ball in the back of the net.”
Austin equally explains that his ability to shake off criticism held him in good stead as he maintained faith in his ability to perform at any level.
“I was quite small until I was around 15 and then I kinda grew and the other lads that I played against were bigger. So in my head I was like ‘small it’s not gonna work’, this, that and the other,” he added.
“But like I say, I was always a confident boy and I was always confident through the ages so even when I played in non-league, because I could score that was always my strength and again, I repeat it but it’s the hardest thing to do in football.”
When he finally gained the chance to play in England’s top tier, he was not a mere passenger, nor was he willing to sit back and let his team suffer.
Despite QPR being relegated in his first Premier League season, Austin scored 18 top flight goals and finished fourth in the Golden Boot race behind Sergio Agüero, Harry Kane and Diego Costa. His goalscoring exploits placed him in contention for the English national team as the Three Lions searched for quality centre-forwards.
Austin was called up to the England squad in 2015 but failed to make an appearance.
After four more seasons in the Premier League at Southampton and a solid return to QPR over 2021 and 2022, the 33-year-old sought a new direction in his career as he was not offered a new contract with the London-club that remains so close to his heart.
Austin holds no bad blood towards QPR but admits that he would have preferred to stay with the club after scoring seven goals in 38 matches last season while mainly being used from the bench.
“Yeah listen I love the football club, the football club was great for me but it was also great for my wife and my children and they really took us in. I love the football club,” he explained.
“Did I want to leave? No. Did I, not expect but did I think they was gonna offer me a new deal? Yes I did, and if they did then of course I would have taken it. Whether it would have been on less financial package of course but was I too bothered about that? No.
“I have a great affiliation with the football club, I feel like it’s my football club and look it’s just football moves so fast, football waits for nobody and maybe it was time to turn the page as such and, listen, I wouldn’t be playing for Brisbane Roar if I had agreed with QPR but for now, that’s parked and I’ve got a job to do here.”
Having signed a multi-year deal with the A-League outfit, Austin’s personality and quality is set to catch many eyes in Australia. The talisman will play a key role in leading the line for Brisbane this season as the side toiled with dysfunctionality in attack despite asserting control in midfield during many matches in the last campaign.
Perhaps most pertinently however, Austin’s expertise and aura should play a key role for not only Brisbane’s developing youth, but young players across the league. Austin’s journey should serve as an example that players are capable of taking their football to a high level by grafting and taking opportunities when they are presented.
When talking to Austin, you immediately get the sense that he has a genuine vested interest in seeing football develop in Australia. He is laidback and enjoying the Brisbane sun, but you can sense that he still has a burning desire inside of him to continue scoring goals. He has thrived at proving his doubters wrong throughout his career and it seems that he draws genuine joy from doing so. This is unlikely to change in the A-League.
According to the marquee signing, young Australians must attempt to overcome the difficulties posed by the limited amount of professional football opportunities by ensuring that they do not place too much pressure on themselves.
“It’s hard work, like you say there’s only 12 teams but [youth players] have got to strive to be better and when the opportunity comes you’ve got to take it. I signed for Swindon and six weeks after signing, I scored on my first-team debut and never looked back and grabbed the opportunity and moved forward,” Austin explained.
“The problem you have here is because it’s only 12 teams which is a small field to pick from, the opportunities don’t come for a lot of players and then they get downhearted and don’t think it’s gonna happen for them so then when the opportunity comes, they’re not ready. You’ve got to be ready all the time and when the opportunity comes they’ve gotta seize it.”
Austin’s words should serve as motivation for young Australians that the cards will fall into place if they manage to seize upon opportunities given to them by A-League clubs. These opportunities are only set to increase as A-League clubs recognise the value and importance in producing youth and profiting from their eventual sales overseas.
There is no better time to be a young player at an A-League club. By heeding Austin’s words, replicating his confidence and performing at the professional level, then there’s no reason why we can’t see an A-League-developed player in the Premier League in the coming years.
As long as they have luck on their side of course.