When I call Andy Couzens at his Yorkshire home it takes him a little time to settle in before the interview begins in earnest. His life today is a far cry from that of a young footballer working two hour days and spending the afternoon in bed or on the Playstation. We’d agreed to speak at 8 in the evening to give him time to get home from working but I still got to him before the key was in the front door. Nowadays Couzens runs his own personal training and fitness business, AC Personal Training, from a spa hotel between Bradford and his native Leeds – it’s not, he says, a vocation born of his famous stints on the Brunton Park treatment table. ‘Inspired to move into this by Dolly (Cumbrians physio Neil Dalton)? Was I heck!’
Couzens opened by explaining how a young player who’d shown outstanding potential at Premier League Leeds United ended up in Carlisle. It is, he reckons, the fault of one man.
‘I was part of the Leeds youth team that won the FA Youth Cup in 1993 against Man United. Quite of a few of us graduated to the first team – Jamie Forrester, Noel Whelan and Mark Ford who I played in midfield with alongside a young Lee Bowyer. We were Howard Wilkinson’s legacy to the club I guess, he’d won the Championship in 1991 and we were his next project. But the team was very much in transition – perhaps Howard showed a little too much faith in us. I remember one game against Everton where we all played and we got tanked, so maybe it was too much too soon.’
Sgt. Wilko’s decision to blood the youngsters cost him his job at the start of the 1996/7 season. Looking back on the careers of his young proteges after that date, it’s easy to wonder whether it cost a few of them a career at the top too. Of that cup winning side only Noel Whelan prospered at the top level in England – and then merely briefly, though brightly. Couzens, of course, moved on to Carlisle and then to Blackpool. He feels that Wilkinson’s replacement George Graham ‘never took to him’ but suggests ‘he wanted battle hardened characters and I think he saw that I wasn’t one.’
A particular instant lingers with Couzens as to why Graham cut him free – ‘It was definitely that day at Highbury. We were 3-0 down at half-time and I had been completely given the run around by the then totally unknown Patrick Vieira. I went into the dressing room and I was hooked in favour of Brian Deane. I remember John Lukic consoling me on the way home – he told me that I’d get another chance – I didn’t. I probably wasn’t the only person whose career Vieira ended in his time at Arsenal but I must have been the first and one of the quickest!’
The 1997 off season saw Couzens arrive at Brunton Park in a £100,000 deal to add a little Premier League sparkle to Mervyn Day’s newly promoted, youthful and energetic squad. It was a move that had fans licking their lips as to how the young midfielder would gel with their own talented progeny – Matt Jansen and Rory Delap.
‘It wasn’t an easy decision to make, joining Carlisle. I had an offer from Blackpool too and Nigel Worthington was desperate to get me. But Mervyn Day sold it to me. He told me how he was building a side around youth, how he wanted me, along with Rory (Delap) and Janny (Jansen) to be a big part of that. They were newly promoted that summer but they were a good side and bought well that summer with players like Ian Stevens coming in. Blackpool were the bigger club but I felt from Mervyn that Carlisle were going places.’
I thought I might have to push Andy on what happened next, what went wrong. Why didn’t the Andy Couzens we all thought we’d signed perform as we were all sure he could? He answered before I even had time to ask…
‘Then Mervyn got sacked for absolutely nothing and the wheels just came off. I didn’t blame Mervyn at all – he even called me to apologise just after getting the bullet’.
Why then, I wondered, did it all go wrong? I received a single word answer – ‘Knighton’.
Was he not just a convenient scapegoat, though? Couzens thinks not.
‘Look at that team – Jansen, Delap, Ian Stevens, Stephane Pounewatchy, Sumo (Warren Aspinall), Owen Archdeacon. That’s got to be one of the most talented squads that Carlisle has ever had, there’s no way it should have been relegated and no way it would if there had been leadership and guidance.’ Knighton, of course, promoted himself to the manager’s chair after sacking Day. It was, claims Couzens, just another publicity ruse – ‘John (Halpin) and David (Wilkes) were taking training. They’re lovely blokes but they were just puppets at the time. The Chairman may have claimed he was taking training, but he wasn’t – he only ever showed up when there was press about – he was desperate to be in the public eye. We all thought he was a complete idiot but some were wise enough to keep our mouths shut.’
Not Couzens though.
‘It may have been youthful exuberance, or my Premier League background, but I just felt it was unprofessional and that someone needed to make a stand.’ Couzens stand came in a two and a half hour, face to face meeting with the errant owner. ’I initially went in to ask why I’d been dropped. I’d been the sponsors man of the match the week before and then found myself on the bench. I didn’t like his answer, so I let rip.’
‘I expected more of you, with your background.’ That’s what he said to me. This man who knew nothing about football, who was a national joke was making me a scapegoat for the team’s lack of preparedness and poor performance. I knew what some fans were saying about me but the truth was different – yes, I was unfit, but I couldn’t not be. We were under-conditioned, under-trained and under-prepared and it was all down to him. That spell, where I lost form and confidence, led to me to keep picking up niggling injuries and pretty much ended my football career.’
What did Knighton say to Couzens? ‘He agreed with me! But the truth is it was too late to turn round. I sat out in the cold for a while as punishment for having the guts to stand up to him, though. With the fee he’d paid for me and the wages I was on I guess I was easy to blame.’
I wondered if Couzens regretted the choice to move to Cumbria. ‘It’s not really in my nature to think like that,’ he suggested. Was there no schadenfreude as Knighton took them to the bottom rung?
‘No. Not at all. I still care about the club and the fans up there who were good to me. When Jimmy Glass scored that goal no one, absolutely no one, was happier than I was.’
‘But I knew it was all going to happen. That was the worst thing. Knighton took that club back 5 or 6 years and it’s only now getting back to where it should be; where it deserves to be. And why? So he could show off, be on TV. It’s funny when you look back at it though – everything about that man has failed. I don’t take pleasure from that, but I’ve been proved right.’
In bringing the interview to a close I asked Couzens to dwell on a favourite moment from his time in Blue. Despite all the ill-will towards the club’s owner he clearly still maintains affection for the club, the place and the friends he made there. His delight at the efforts of Abbott’s Cumbrians seemed utterly genuine.
‘I think the highlight was scoring against Tottenham in the League Cup at White Hart Lane,’ he states immediately, before pausing to add through a stifled chuckle, ‘mind you, I was even dropped for the next game after that! Bloody Knighton!’
You can follow Andy on Twitter @andycuz23 where he’s happy to chew the fat with Carlisle fans.
Most Popular Posts
- 2012/13 – A Season in Stats 66 view(s)
- ‘If the Next Man I See is W… 11 view(s)
- ‘My Biggest Mistake? You’ll… 10 view(s)
- New Signings Profile – The … 6 view(s)
- It’s Not You, It’s Him 4 view(s)
- Contact Us 3 view(s)
- Our Friends 3 view(s)
- My Favourite Blue – Paul Pr… 3 view(s)
- The Goalkeeping Circle of L… 3 view(s)
- ‘I Just Wanted to Go Home’ … 3 view(s)
Tag CloudAdam Collin Andy Welsh Ben Parker Blue In Exile Bournemouth Brentford Bury Carlisle United Chris Balderstone Chris Chantler Coventry City Doncaster Rovers Francois Zoko General Football Greg Abbott Huddersfield Town Interviews Jimmy Glass Joe Garner Jordan Cook JP McGovern Karl Hawley League One Lee Hughes Lee Miller Liam Noble Loan Signing Profile Match Day Match Preview Mathieu Manset Matt Tubbs Michael Knighton Mike Grella MK Dons My Favourite Blue Notts County Opinion Paddy Madden Paul Simpson Peter Murphy Plymouth Argyle Preston North End Roddy Collins Ryan Lowe Sheffield United Stephane Pounewatchy Swindon Town Things We Learnt Tranmere Rovers Walsall