Charlie Austin: horse whisperer



Ben Welch

You returned to QPR in January after five years away, and helped the club climb from 20th to ninth in the table. What did that mean to you?

I had my head down at West Brom and tried to get back into Big Sam’s plans [ Sam Allardyce]. I was on my way to training one Thursday when my agent called me to say QPR were interested. I just said, “If we can get a deal sorted, let’s go.” By that night the deal was all but done. It was the one club I wanted to join, and they gave me the perfect platform to get my love back for the game. I needed it more than anything. The world was going through a strange time and I didn’t want to keep going down a black hole.

How do you look back on last season?

The team was 20th when I signed, as they hadn’t been getting the rewards they deserved. Football is a punishing game if you don’t put the ball in the back of the net. I was delighted to be given the opportunit­y to go back, score eight goals and contribute to a decent second half of the campaign. I’d like to have scored 10, but I wouldn’t have said I could have got many more than I did. I worked well alongside Lyndon Dykes, who managed double figures in his first season in the Championsh­ip. We formed a partnershi­p that scared a few people in the league. [ FFT: You’ve both been bleach blond in the past – is there a risk of you awkwardly rocking up one day with the same ’ do?] No… we’d look like a pair of wallies, wouldn’t we? If one does it you’re already a bit of a wally; two, and we’d be complete ones. I bleached it once and my hair started to fall out, so I’m half regretting it. I see myself in the mirror and think, ‘ Jesus, Charles…’

After joining QPR permanentl­y this summer, you talked about a period where you weren’t enjoying football. What went wrong at West Brom?

I went there to help the club get back to the Premier League, and scored 10 goals as we won promotion in 2020, but once we got there the manager [ Slaven Bilic] chose to go in a different direction. Karlan Grant came in from Huddersfie­ld that October [ 2020] and it spoke volumes about how the club felt about me. I was still living down south and driving up two hours a day, which probably didn’t help, but I was sat on the bench and not enjoying my football. People will say, ‘ Oh, but you get paid so much money’ – but come Saturday afternoon, every footballer just wants to get across the white line.

What are your and QPR’S targets for this campaign?

I don’t really set myself goal targets, but I’d definitely like to reach double figures and help the club improve on last season’s performanc­e. We want to continue where we left off last year. It’s pretty much the same squad with a couple of additions, and I don’t think we’re going to be too far off the top. But the Championsh­ip is looking very strong this season, so it’ll be tough.

You netted 18 goals in 2014- 15, your debut Premier League season, and earned an England call- up. Can you reach that level again?

That seems so long ago, and of course I want to do it again. Not many strikers have come up from the Championsh­ip and scored that many goals in their first season. I also managed it playing for a side that finished bottom of the table. I loved that period in my career and still feel I have the fire in my belly, plus the movement and the finishing. It’s such a long way off now, and the Championsh­ip is impossible to predict, but I’m determined to show everyone what I can do.

QPR’S goal machine tells FFT about his successful return to west London, a new adventure in horse racing... and life as a hit viral sensation. Parklife! “AT QPR THEY GAVE ME THE PERFECT PLATFORM TO REGAIN MY LOVE FOR THE GAME. I NEEDED IT”

You didn’t quite win an England cap, though. Why do you think you never got another chance? Would it have been a different story had you played for a club higher up the table?

Maybe, but then again I may not have scored 18 goals for another club. That QPR side played for me and constantly looked for me in the final third. There were also a lot of injuries at the time – maybe I wouldn’t have been called up had those players been fit. Listen, I’m still disappoint­ed that I didn’t get a cap, but if you don’t get one after scoring that many goals, there’s not much else you can do, right? I’ve parked that one.

Outside of football, horse racing is your passion. How did you get into it?

When I was about 15 or 16, I used to watch it with my grandad and it got to the stage where I was going down to Newbury. I’d always thought that I’d love to own a horse if it ever became possible, and fortunatel­y it did. Then the sport grasped me. I love meeting new people, and have huge admiration for the jockeys and their dedication to the sport. It’s phenomenal. More than anything else, I love chasing the win.

And now you lead a team – what’s your involvemen­t with Goat Racing?

I’m the manager of a team that picks which horses run where, and dictate what the team do going forward. We have a strong squad and I’m pleased to be involved in the competitio­n, as I think it’s what the sport really needs. [ FFT: Ever chatted with Michael Owen about the nags?] Yeah, a few years ago – but he’s all in. I’ve been to his setup and it’s incredible; he’s done very well over the years, and rightly so with the money he’s put into the game.

Striker, racing manager and even an accidental lyricist. Do you ever watch the Parklife mashup that went viral while you were at Southampto­n?

[ Laughs] Yeah. My reaction during that interview was just spur of the moment! It got so much traction as the timing is bang on. I was speaking passionate­ly because I felt we’d been done out of a goal, especially as I was struggling to score at the time. I think the guy who made it is a musician; he messaged me the next day saying, “I hope you don’t mind, Parklife just rang in my mind.” He came up with it within a couple of hours and bosh: three million views. It was mental. Now, if it’s my birthday or something significan­t happens, I get tagged in that video on social media. [ FFT: So, who did it better: you or Scott Parker?] Me! He’d just won promotion to the Premier League with Fulham and he’s speaking like that [ starts reciting lyrics to The Streets’ Dry Your Eyes in a downbeat tone]. I’d just had a goal disallowed – I was ready to windmill...

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