Belfast Telegraph

Footballers' lives: 'Family is much more important than football and that hit home to me at a wedding after the loss of my aunt Edwina'

Dungannon Swifts' Michael Carvill on dejection after Charlton release, glory days at Linfield and the Crues, and sad loss of big influences

Family guy: Michael Carvill with wife JulieAnn, son Leo and new baby daughter Ria
Family guy: Michael Carvill with wife JulieAnn, son Leo and new baby daughter Ria
Michael Carvill hailing Linfield’s 2012 Irish Cup final win with Mark McAllister and Jamie Mulgrew
In flow: Michael Carvill at Swifts
Michael and his aunt Edwina

By Graham Luney

Q. You went to Charlton when you were very young. What are your memories of that time?

A. I started playing for my local team in Saintfield before moving to Kilmore Rec's youth system where I first played with Andy Waterworth.

St Andrews' Joe Kincaid invited me to join them and I linked up with players like Chris Casement, Trevor Carson, Robert Garrett, Craig Cathcart, Johnny Black and Grant Gardiner.

We dominated for about three years and attracted a lot of cross-channel interest. The scouts lined up to watch our matches. Looking back, I don't think we learned a huge amount by winning every game!

One time myself and Robert Garrett were supposed to go on trial with Manchester United but we were blocked from going as St Andrews had a cup quarter-final against Rosario.

We ended up winning 13-0 and myself and Ribs (Garrett) ended up playing at centre-half to keep the score down. We could have been training at United!

We were like jet-setters, going off to different places from the age of 13. My first club was Arsenal and I got on a plane for the first time on my own at the age of 13 to meet a scout at Heathrow Airport.

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I've got kids now and it's hard to understand how I was able to do that. I can remember playing against Tottenham and my late aunt Edwina had given me a necklace for good luck. I gave it to the academy director on the sideline while we won 9-0 and I scored a hat-trick.

The man came back and said, 'I'm sorry, I've lost your necklace'. I was gutted and told my dad, Declan. Later on I found out the man was Liam Brady. I didn't know who he was. Nothing fazed me, but he was my dad's hero. I never got the necklace back.

Q. How did the Charlton move come about?

A. I was lucky as I had trials with Leeds United and Liverpool as well as League One and Two clubs. There was plenty of interest and we didn't really know how to deal with it.

Manchester United brought my parents over but Charlton did as well and whenever I went there I always played well. I played in the Milk Cup for them but I fancied going to Leeds.

At that time they went into administration so I moved to London. I joke with Ian Stewart now that I was never a London boy, I didn't enjoy it. The travelling frustrated me and it affected my happiness. It was hard to come home and then go back.

When we came together with Northern Ireland the other lads were telling me it was great up north. I had signed a four-year contract and Iain Dowie brought me away in pre-season for a game against Hibernian and we also played Valencia at the Mestalla.

They had David Villa and David Silva and that was some experience in a full house. Iain was always very encouraging but after he left, Alan Pardew came in and he didn't give me a chance. He brought a few of us into his office, said we weren't in his plans and, 'There's a cheque next door you'll like, take it'.

I naively said, 'Do we come in tomorrow?' but we were gone. After three years I was told to leave and that took my breath away. That was my first introduction to the fact you can just be a piece of meat.

I was embarrassed to call my dad and Seamus Heath called me, who has links with Wrexham. I went there and met Joey Jones, the great Liverpool player. After one trial I moved there where myself and Robbie Garrett linked up again. Wrexham were destined to fail with so many changes. David Jeffrey and Bryan McLoughlin then got in touch.

Q. How did you feel about returning home?

A. I was very down for a while, more disappointed in myself as I felt I had let my family and friends down. From 13 to 19 I had a real golden period and was playing for Northern Ireland teams.

My biggest weakness was that I never had self-belief. I never thought everything I wanted was achievable. I was self-critical after watching brilliant young players.

Jonny Evans was the same age as me and he realised he was good enough to play for Manchester United. He was a class above.

Q. With the benefit of wisdom gained over the years, would you have done anything differently as you chased the professional dream?

A. It was the only option I had and I couldn't turn it down. Now I'm a big advocate of the Stuart Dallas, Gavin Whyte and Paul Smyth route to success. It's important to play games and develop as a player.

From 16 to 18 they can learn a lot in the Irish League. A lot of boys come back from England and their head goes, it can be a big shock and a lot of people forget that Gavin Whyte had a disappointing season at Crusaders.

Stephen (Baxter) was ruthless with him and hard on Gavin when he wasn't doing the business. That was great management. You've got to perform or you'll be out the door.

I've said to young players going across the water, 'Well done, you deserve it, but the hard work starts now and a lot of you will come home but you are coming home to a league which is improving and there is a chance you can go across again'.

In my first year at Linfield, Dean Saunders wanted me to go back to Wrexham and Michael O'Neill tried to bring me to Shamrock Rovers. But David Jeffrey looked after me well at Linfield where I was full-time. I won three titles at Linfield and two at Crusaders, and two Irish Cups with Linfield. To leave the Blues and still win something was a big target and I achieved that.

Q. Was it hard to leave Linfield?

A. Really tough. I played under Warren Feeney but a number of my friends left such as Billy Joe Burns, Michael Gault and Mark McAllister.

The ground was getting built and we were using portacabins. I never wanted to leave but it didn't feel right. It was time for a new challenge and Crusaders gave me a new lease of life.

Q. What was your best moment in football?

A. Two highlights stand out. Linfield beating Crusaders 4-1 in the 2012 Irish Cup final when I scored a free-kick. Also, scoring for Crusaders in a 1-1 draw against Levadia Tallinn in Estonia.

It was an unbelievable feeling for the club to progress through a round of the Champions League. It was a special bit of history for the club. Everyone was emotional about it, including the fans who had seen the club rise up from its knees.

At Linfield it was relentless and we never really celebrated our success enough, we took it for granted. Success is expected at the Blues but even the side that won doubles was in the shadow of the clean sweep team.

Q. And your worst moment?

A. I've lost a few County Antrim Shield finals and was sent off against Crusaders. Losing the league title with the Crues at Ballymena on the final day hit me harder than a lot of things. We let it slip and I couldn't get it out of my head over the summer.

I was groomsman at Andy Waterworth's wedding and he brought the trophies along. It was a low moment for the club, so to win it back was the biggest test of character for everyone.

People talk about the Ballymena game but the one that sticks out for me was a draw at Portadown on a Saturday night. After that game I think we were mentally not right.

It's nice for me now at Dungannon Swifts because while there's a desire to win every game the expectation isn't there. I've been at clubs with a must-win mentality in every game but we don't expect to win a title at the Swifts.

Q. How long do you want to play on for?

A. I feel great and it's the lightest I have felt. We had a baby girl at the end of June but I trained on my own. The Irish League can take over your life and I've always been playing in Europe.

I've a young family now and I'm excited about my new challenge. Jim Magilton has said to me, 'Play as long as you can, you will regret it if you stop early. You can't simply return to the game. Coaching can wait'.

Q. Was it disappointing to leave Crusaders?

A. No, the training, travelling and work commitments were too much. I started to feel burnt out. I wanted to play games but had a nightmare on loan at Dungannon with an injury.

I was always honest with Stephen (Baxter) and I appreciated his honesty too. I would always fight for my place but I didn't want that at this stage of my career. At the age of 31 I felt the time was right to try something different. I couldn't say a bad word about anyone at Crusaders but did I miss it when they walked out against Wolves? Of course!

Q. Best player you played with and toughest opponent?

A. I was at the Manchester United School of Excellence with Jonny Evans when we were 12 and even then I didn't want a player like him marking me again. I was happy to find out not all players were as good.

When I was at Charlton I trained with great players like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Matt Holland and Darren Bent. Andy Reid never gave the ball away.

I was also fortunate to play with great players like William Murphy, Glenn Ferguson and Noel Bailie, big characters, leaders and friends you could trust. Toughest opponent could be one of the young French players at the Under-17 Championships.

Samir Nasri, Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa were in that team. I can also remember playing against Manchester United when their back three was Ryan Shawcross, Jonny Evans and Gerard Pique. They were light years above us.

In the Irish League I always had ding-dong battles with Jason Hill, while Ronan Scannell and Colin Coates are quality. We were rivals when I was at Linfield but I could appreciate Colin as a proper leader at Crusaders.

Q. Do you have a major regret?

A. Missing out on a full-time career. You ask yourself, 'Could I have done more?' But you try not to focus on that too much.

The Shamrock Rovers one is interesting too as I didn't realise what was happening. They even played Real Madrid in a friendly with Cristiano Ronaldo coming over and they went on an amazing European journey. But I was lucky to be part of great Linfield teams and I made great friends.

Q. What does your work involve at the Irish FA?

A. We are launching a new 'People in Clubs' programme looking at how we can help develop grassroots clubs and volunteers throughout Northern Ireland. Coach education is key and we'd like to see all clubs grow. I've done my coaching badges apart from my Pro Licence. I'd like to go into management or become a head coach.

Coaches are underestimated with respect to the influence they can have on people. Mental health is a big concern for all clubs because football can be a dark place. You can make a positive difference in someone's life.

When the Crusaders documentary went out and Matthew Snoddy talked about his gambling issues, it hit me hard. No one knew and it's hard to believe I'd no idea he was considering taking his own life at his lowest.

You just think one wrong word could have tragic consequences. I think the top managers are now realising it's important to find out what is wrong with a player.

Q. Tell us about your family.

A. I've two kids, Leo is three this month and Ria is the new arrival. Having kids changed my outlook on life. Family life has altered my focus. I'm married to JulieAnn, she's very good at listening to me!

When I was leaving Linfield it was difficult because clubs were trying to get in touch with me. We were on holiday in Florida and my phone died.

I went on Facebook to tell people and I was wondering where my next move would be. I should have been having a great time on holiday and JulieAnn rightly said, 'Whatever happens, never go back to the person you were then'.

My parents, Eileen and Declan, brother Gavin and sister Kathryn have always been very supportive. We are very close and my mum is the boss.

My parents are still keen to go to the matches. I'd love Leo to watch me play so he can have those memories. I can remember Glenn Ferguson's son Matthew playing around in the Linfield dressing room and now he's just signed for Glenavon!

Q. Have you encountered hard times?

A. I lost two grandmothers, Annie and Margaret, as I was growing up and they were big influences in my life.

While at Charlton I had glandular fever and couldn't train as I put on weight. It was a bit of homesickness and second season syndrome, leaving me deflated.

I was 17, in digs with other players and missed my family. I couldn't train properly and it was mentally tough.

The other difficult time was when my aunt Edwina passed away during last season. I was close with her family and we visited her in hospital as she fought cancer. She was always very supportive and her passing in her late 50s rocked my family.

Her son, my cousin Christopher, was getting married in Lurgan a month later and that was going to be the most difficult wedding I have attended.

Crusaders were playing a big game and I would normally always be there. This wasn't a normal wedding to me after everything.

I explained to Stephen (Baxter) I wanted to be there for my mum and aunt and he said, 'Michael, family is the most important thing, go the wedding and clear your head'.

On the day he texted me and said, 'Hope you had a good day at the wedding, pass on our thoughts'. I thought it was a touch of class because a player will be nervous about asking for time off.

My uncle Raymond wrote a letter to Stephen thanking him for allowing me to go and I liked that as well because this was family which was more important than anything.

It was a tough time but I had a manager who understood what I was going through. Edwina fought hard to try and make the wedding but her condition just got worse. Christopher has had a baby now so that's brought joy to the family.

Snapshot

Date of birth: April 3, 1988

Place of birth: Belfast

Current club: Dungannon Swifts

Previous clubs: Charlton, Wrexham, Linfield, Crusaders.

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