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Tony Carr MBE: Part Three

Filed: Tuesday, 4th May 2010

By: Staff Writer

© Knees up Mother Brown. Please note that this article is not to be reproduced in full elsewhere without prior permission from KUMB.com.

KUMB.com: One of the things many people asked us to say was 'please thank Tony for everything he has done for the club'.

Tony Carr: That's very nice. Very nice.

KUMB: Even though you're technically out of the limelight, many people consider you to be 'Mr. West Ham' - because of your service, the players you've brought through and the money you've earned the club. We've been broke for about as long as I remember and you think how broke would we have been if it wasn't for the players you've brought through?

TC: I feel very flattered that you've said that. I've been quite humbled these last couple of weeks when I've been ringing round all the players, how helpful they've been. They all want to be at my testimonial, they all want to go. I spoke to Joe Cole yesterday and had a few commiserations for him because of the way things are going at Chelsea. 'I'll be there, don't worry about that'. Even John Terry; I spoke to John yesterday. He said 'yeah, I won't ever forget my time at West Ham and thank you for everything you've done and everything you stand for; I've got the utmost respect for you. I'll definitely be there, I will be there'. He said 'even if they don't let me play I will be there'. I was humbled by it all. Frank's the same, I rung Rio on Monday - 'don't worry, I'll be there'.

KUMB: Is he going to play, Rio?

TC: Rio said to me 'I'm playing, aren't I?' and I said 'yeah you are, but what does Fergie think?' He said 'he hasn't said anything. He said a couple of weeks ago, if we beat Bayern Munich, it might be a bit iffy because it's going to be a lot of games in a short space of time'. But he said 'we got beat against Bayern Munich so as far as I'm concerned I can turn out'. So that's good; I think this weekend's results will dictate that.

The good thing is they will all be there. The only one that, even if Alex lets him play, is Michael [Carrick] whose wife Lisa is due at any minute. The baby's due on the 4th. Now whether she goes overdue or Michel's prepared to leave her I don't know, but I understand that.

KUMB: How has it been getting all the players together? A logistical nightmare?

TC: It's been really tough. I'm not dramatising, I've had sleepless nights. I'm not going to have enough players, now I've got too many players, you know. The response had been unbelievable in terms of the ones that wanted to play, everybody wanted to play. Stephen Bywater, he said 'I've just got injured in training, I've done my ribs. I'm gutted'. I said 'why, because of your games [you'll miss]?' and he said 'no, your game, I'm gutted I can't play!' I said if you want to come down there'll be tickets for you, you'll be more than welcome so he said he'd let me know. So yeah, hopefully it'll be a good night.

The idea was that the big headliners would play and their intentions are that they want to play. But failing that, they'll all be there with the little rabbit in the hat being Paolo Di Canio. I persuaded Paolo to play. His only criteria was 'I want to wear the number 10 shirt - the shirt's got to be tight and it's got to be number 10!' So I said whatever you want, you can have! So he's flying in from Rome just for my game, which is great. Again, I'm humbled.

KUMB: Some people have questioned the timing of the game, Tony - it's a little difficult for some being before the end of the season. Can you clear that up?

TC: I was given this testimonial almost two years ago by the Icelandic board and Scott Duxbury. Scott said, 'what we'll do is you can have it last game before the season begins, in pre-season' - fantastic. He said 'we'll organise it, we'll do it and we'll market it as your testimonial - you haven't got to do anything'. Lovely - that for me would be the ideal turnout. So he said 'we'll get a good foreign opposition so the first team get a good workout'. About two months later we came back from pre-season and he said 'you can't have that date'. I said 'why?' I can't remember the reason he used but basically the reason was that they needed the gate money for themselves, so I had to swallow that one.

KUMB: When was this, because it was supposed to be last summer? You had your golf day a year or so ago?

TC: Yeah, it was last May. The game would have been in the August. So they took that away and he [Duxbury] said 'you've got to find another date'. Now I got my football calendar out and there wasnít another date, it was absolutely impossible. Because you had the Champions League, the Europa League, FA Cup replays, Carling Cup weeks then England weeks. Just impossible.

KUMB: Obviously the players you're looking to bring down are going to be involved in all of those?

TC: All of those. And you're not going to get a visiting team at that time because they're all playing in leagues around the world whether it's an Italian team, French... They've all got their own [leagues], you're never going to get a team. If I did get a team it would cost me an absolute fortune to get them there. So I looked at it all, worked it out and there was a couple of blank weeks. There was one in April and there was one in May. I gambled on the fact that we'd be safe, the Championship would be won and even if the teams were in the Champions League final - that's why I didn't do it the week after the [end of the] season, because I guess you've got the FA Cup final and there's a good chance that at least one of our [teams] are going to be in the Champions League final.

It was originally May 4th then the club took it away from me because they wanted the Hammer of the Year dinner, the end of season gala. So I had to go for the 5th. I spoke to Franco and Clarkey and they said 'let's go for it. We're up for it, we're happy to do it - let's go for it because there's never going to be an ideal time'. So I just had to take the gamble and go for it.

KUMB: Ticket sales are picking up now though and you're likely to get thousands [turn up] on the night, don't you think?

TC: I hope so. It'd be nice for the fans to see the achievements of the Academy. There's going to be a walk-on at half time of all the non-playing members like Bobby Barnes, Paul Allen, Allan Dickens, Georgie Parris, Ray Houghton; all those guys are coming on at half time. Then I've got 30 players that want to play in the game. 30! So there's going to be a lot of chopping and changing! But I think that's going to be a good thing because the more players on there the better.

KUMB: You were chatting to a player a few moments ago about insurance. When you go to a testimonial like this you don't think of all the logistical stuff that needs to be done?

TC: Oh, all the bits and bobs. This last month has been really, really hectic. We've got to insure all the players - and that aint cheap. We've got to insure them obviously, and I've got a blanket £3million on every player but what about Rio, or Joe, or Frank?

KUMB: So you'll be telling everyone to take it a little bit easy!

TC: No tackling - not with them players anyway! So it's going to be a celebration and an exhibition rather than anything full-blooded. It's going to be a bit of fun.

KUMB: I was going to refer to Dicksy's testimonial; I think it was Paolo [Di Canio] who got a bit heated in that?

TC: Did he? Oh he'll get heated whatever happens!

KUMB: So tickets are available on the door for people turning up on the night?

TC: Tickets are available on the night, that was a stipulation; I must have that because the club only opened up all the lower tiers all the way round because they didn't want to have pockets of fans if there wasn't the demand. Rather we'd have a better atmosphere if we're all together. But obviously on the night if we do get another youth cup night and there's more than anticipated, more of the ground will be open. I should add a special thank you to my sponsor, Ricoh AltoDigital and James Abrahart who set it up for me.

KUMB: A few more general questions from our readers, Tony. By what sort of age does a player need to be showing significant ability to make it as a pro?

TC: For a late developer, up to 14, 15 - if he's got a given talent.

KUMB: Do you see many at that age?

TC: You do, they come in from time to time and we do take them on, it's not unknown.

KUMB: Anyone in the squad the moment like that?

TC: Well Zavon Hines came in very late to the system, he came at 14. So he was one. I thought he was a breath of fresh air when he went in the first team this year. His enthusiasm, his desire. The Villa game, a fantastic goal - terrific. It's a shame he's had that knee problem.

KUMB: How is it Tony?

TC: It's a serious knee injury and he's going to be lucky if he's fit for pre-season. So beyond 16 I think you're pushing it but up to 15, I think there's a chance.

KUMB: Harry Redknapp was a keen exponent of the loan system during his time here and Jermain [Defoe] went down to Bournemouth and broke that 80-year-old league record. What do you make of loaning out the youngsters? Do you think it benefits them or do you think they are better off working here under you in this environment?

TC: It depends how young but if they're good enough to go out on loan, I think they should. I think it's good for them. I'm not a lover of them going on a season-long loan, I think it should be maximum to Christmas or from Christmas to the end [of the season] - because you tend to lose touch with the player a little bit, and in some respects the player could enjoy it more at the club he's at than the club he's from. That's a danger in terms of maybe losing a player so I've got reservations there. But if they're good enough I think they should be exposed to league football.

KUMB: How about foreign clubs? Would you consider sending players there on loan?

TC: Well Tony Stokes went out to Hungary [Ujpest FC]. He was here the other day; he's playing next Wednesday, he's going to have a little run-out, Stokesy. He's back in the country; I think he's coming back, it hasn't quite worked out for him out there. But you've got to look at the player and look at the club. My personal opinion is that I don't think Freddie Sears should have gone to Palace, I think it was the wrong club for him. I had no choice in the matter, the player has the last decision anyway. And I'd say that to Freddie, I'd say that to him - I think there were other clubs in the queue that would have been better for his football development. But that's neither here nor there.

KUMB: How's Freddie getting on? Obviously he burst onto the scene when he scored that goal against Blackburn having scored what, 30 goals that year in the reserves?

TC: The goals have dried up, I can't put my finger on it. I don't know, I really don't know. Like everything else I think getting into the team is all about having that opportunity and the timing is key. Maybe, just maybe, even though he scored the winner that day the timing could have been too early for him.

KUMB: There was a lot of stuff in the media about him.

TC: Yeah; he was going to be the next Cottee, he was going to do this and so and so. He is a goalscorer but they've just dried up. I just hope he can start again next season and start afresh.

KUMB: Do you think there are going to be more academies like this set up abroad in the near future as clubs look for the next big star? You've obviously been working in the States.

TC: We've been trying to make some inroads there, trying to build some relationships with clubs in the States. But it's as much building up the name and the brand as it is recruitment because of passport and nationality issues. But certainly, most of the big clubs, Barcelona and clubs like that, they've got a tested youth policy. The beauty for them is that they can get the kids out every afternoon of the week. By three o'clock in the afternoon they're out on the training ground because of the way the school system works there - they leave school at two o'clock, half-past-two so they can get to their clubs every day by three o'clock. There's no sport in most of the schools in Europe or a lot of the schools, I believe. Certainly football, so they play their football at their club. I'd like to see that develop in the future here so the boys, especially if they're gifted and talented can get out of school on a regular basis and train every day. We'll certainly make inroads then, big inroads into the myth that we're not as technically gifted as the Europeans.

KUMB: You think that's a myth?

TC: A lot of it is. I think they're developed differently and they're a bit more 'game savvy', they've got a bit more game intelligence. But I would say technically, apart from the Messis and so on I think we stand up to them for the most part.

KUMB: This is something that Trevor Brooking is working on; do you speak much with Trevor?

TC: I speak to Trevor when I bump into him or see him at FA things and various stuff. But we don't go into the game too deeply, that's his role and I get on with my role.

KUMB: It's interesting that you mention schools; Watford had a tie-in with local schools, I don't know if it's still going.

TC: Yeah I think a few clubs tried that. My worry with that is that if you bring all your boys that are at our Academy and put them in St Edwards School, for instance, just on the other side of the training ground, it starts to make them a little bit elitist all in one school and I think it creates issues within the school. It really does. So I think it's better if they all stay at the school they're at and we just get them here earlier every day. They have a special dispensation because they're talented and gifted and we can get them out to try and improve their prospects for the future, to be a player.

KUMB: What sort of age do you them in here from, Tony?

TC: Well we get trialists at six and seven but we start to sign them at eight, for the under nine team. It's a one-season registration and then roll it on if they progress. Up to 12 is one year; 12 to 14 is two years and 14-16 is two years. At 16 it's a two-year scholarship and a pro contract etcetera etcetera if they're good enough.

KUMB: Do you find it's a bit like a meat market?

TC: Well I think all professions are, you know. You've just got to look at the TV now, to give an analogy, the talent shows. They're going to get voted out, there's only one girl going to win the show, there's only one act going to win Britain's Got Talent, there's only one act who's going to win this. So all the others are fodder. I don't mean to put it in those terms but only the best two or three per cent are going to play in the Premier League, or top-level football. But we like to think we filter a lot of the players down into other leagues.

KUMB: You mentioned only two to three per cent are actually going to make it so it's important then that the kids [keep studying]?

TC: What you would do is go into partnership with the school, because we've got a full time education officer so that education of that player doesn't suffer. It's just adjusting and then perhaps training when he's fresher at three o'clock to five o'clock, then from five o'clock to six o'clock we sit them down in here or in a classroom of sorts and say 'right, now letís do your homework'. He does his homework, leaves here at six, six-thirty and he's done his day's training, his done his homework and he's done his school work. I wouldn't even begin to think we ignore the education, it's got to go together with the football because as we said, 95 per cent will be lost to the game later on.

KUMB: Which player, out of those you've released is the one you'd wished you kept? Anyone that sticks out?

TC: When I say we miss I mean the club, Ray Houghton is the obvious one. That was John Lyall's decision, John released him.

KUMB: Did you agree at the time?

TC: I wasn't consulted, I wasn't senior enough then to be consulted. I remember Ernie Gregory trying to stick up for him, saying we should keep him at the time. But John was adamant that a young Alan Dickens was going to come through and be the next best thing. Obviously that didn't materialise and Ray went on to have a glittering career. There's not many we've let go that I've regretted - maybe Freddy Eastwood went a little bit too hastily but that was his choice, he wanted to leave. He was playing very poorly, his attitude was poor at the time and I said to him 'if you want to leave, leave. When do you want to leave?' He said 'today'. That was his words to me, 'I want to leave now'.

KUMB: He ended up at Grays, didn't he?

TC: He didn't do anything for about a year, didn't do a thing. Then Jimmy Hampson saw his dad and said 'what's Freddy doing?', and he said 'nothing'. Jimmy said 'he should be playing, he can score goals, he should be playing' and helped get him to Grays where he scored goals, went to Southend and did very well so good luck to him. He's coming back next week. I'm pleased for him; he was immature, he was frustrating and he didn't want to stay and at that time he didn't look as if he was going to do anything because he'd lost his motivation. So I said 'if you want to go, go' - so off he went. But looking back, maybe I should have been a bit more sympathetic or patient.

KUMB: He's at Coventry now? How's he doing?

TC: He's been a bit indifferent, scored goals, been in the team and out of the team. But he's a good young lad and he can score goals.

KUMB: Of all those players you've mentored which one gives you most satisfaction, in terms of seeing the fruits of your labour come through?

TC: It's a difficult one, that. The Sun asked me the other day 'give me a one, two, three', and I answered probably Rio, Frank and Joe. And then you go Michael Carrick was a top player, Glen Johnson I've got a lot of admiration for as we've nurtured him from nine-years-of-age right through. Jermain Defoe less so because he came here from Charlton but still a great player for us in terms of his goalscoring. Michael; quiet, got on with his work, did his work and developed under the shadow of some of the other big names.

KUMB: How did that come about with Michael?

TC: That was before the Academy system was actually put in place. He came from Newcastle, played for Wallsend Boys Club. We had a scout up there who said 'we've got a good young player here, can you have a look at him'. So he brought him down, liked him and we kept inviting him down every holiday. Eventually he became affiliated to West Ham and signed for us, that was it.

KUMB: Would you be able to do that now?

TC: Can't do that now.

KUMB: You've got to be within an hour or so?

TC: Well you've got to move them. Kieron Richardson, Manchester United moved him to Manchester. It's an AA route system, you put the address in, the two post codes in, go on Route Finder and it tells you the time and distance. That's what the Premier League use.

KUMB: What's happening with Chelsea at the moment, there seems to be a lot of movement in Essex?

TC: Well I think they're just expanding. They've got the money, they've got the staff; they're just trying to paint every area blue. As long as they're within an hour away they can go wherever they want.

KUMB: Yet this is fertile West Ham land?

TC: We can't stop it. Tottenham, Arsenal, they've always worked in this area but we can't stop it, we've got no divine right to say 'those boys who go to that school are ours'. There's every chance that a boy in that school could be training with Chelsea.

KUMB: But the biggest factor in your favour is that you can go to kids and say 'look, come to West Ham and the chances are you could be playing in the first team by 19 if you're good enough'.

TC: Yeah, and there's the evidence.

© Knees up Mother Brown. Please note that this article is not to be reproduced in full elsewhere without prior permission from KUMB.com.

* Tickets for Tony's testimonial match are still available from the West Ham United box office or by contacting the club during office hours on 0871 222 2700.