Interview with defender Andre Blackman
Defender Andre Blackman admits he’s made mistakes but is keen to repay Dermot Drummy’s faith in him
For Andre Blackman, life is a journey. “I really think that,” he says. At times in his career, the 26-year-old admits that journey has led him down some paths he regrets taking. He admits he has made mistakes. In 2015, he was convicted of shoplifting from Harrods and had to do 40 hours’ community service. “A moment of madness,” he told the judge. What is refreshing is his willingness to talk openly and honestly about the incident today. “I regret it, of course I do,” he says. “It was a stupid thing to do but I think I’ve learned from it.”
Last summer Andre’s journey came to another fork in the road. He admits that Dermot Drummy took a chance on him. Our Head Coach had first encountered Andre when he worked with the youngsters at Arsenal. He knew Andre had technical ability and athleticism, but could he settle down and build a career? His track record suggested otherwise. Seven years as a professional had included spells at eight different clubs, but apart from 15 games for AFC Wimbledon between 2010-11 he had never made double-figure appearances for any of them and that included a spell with Scottish giants Celtic where he is better known for a sliding tackle during one of his three appearances which accidentally took out his manager Neil Lennon, was a massive hit on YouTube and was voted ‘Tackle of the Year’ by the Celtic fans.
The gamble Dermot took has paid off. Andre hasn’t always been the first name on the team-sheet this season but he’s made nearly 30 appearances and says he has learned to live with the disappointment of not being able to do something he clearly loves – play football. “In the past I took not playing badly and it was usually ‘Goodbye Andre,’” he said. “Look, I don’t like it when I am not picked but now it just makes me even more determined. I want to improve as a player, I want to keep learning. I channel any disappointment into doing that so when I am playing I feel as if I’ve improved.”
Andre was with the Gunners at the age of 12. Brixton born and bred, he learned the game and some valuable life lessons with the Afewee club. Set up in 1997 by Steadman Scott and Tony Goldring, it offered local disadvantaged youngsters in Brixton the opportunity to play football and use competitive sport to change lives. Even now, Andre refers to one of the co-founders simply as Steadman. Seven years later they set up an Academy and were soon attracting scouts from the big London clubs. Andre was spotted but he wasn’t the only one. Afewee have nurtured more than 30 players who have gone on to play professionally or in the top level of non-league including England and Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne and Sean Scannell, of Championship club Huddersfield Town. He’s never forgotten his roots and will often watch a game at Ryman League level to remind him just how fortunate he has been to earn a good living from the game. “Before I went to Arsenal I played on the parks and put the nets up. I know what that’s like. I’ll go and watch Kingstonian, Carshalton – teams at that level. It reminds me how fortunate I am to do what I do for a living.”
These days he admits that Brixton is starting to get a bit gentrified. “It’s getting like Shoreditch now – all trendy,” he laughs. “But I don’t think I’ll ever leave the place. I’ve got a few mates I socialise with from the area, my girlfriend is an estate agent from there and of course my Mum Marcia is not far away from where I live.” She comes to every home game and is clearly a massive influence on Andre. “100% - I owe her everything. She keeps me grounded. When you get to know me you’ll see I try and always be respectful to people. That comes from my Mum and the way she brought me up.”
Settled and happy off the field, it comes as little surprise to hear how much he has enjoyed his first season at Crawley. “Every day I come here I feel blessed to be part of the club and to be doing something I love. It’s the happiest I have been in my career 100% - I think we’ve got a great squad here,” he says. “I’ve been in dressing rooms in the past where players with big egos think they can rule the roost because they are getting paid more but it’s not at all like that here. I knew a few of the guys like Jason Banton, Conor Henderson and Rhys Murphy from Arsenal but I like getting to know the others too, to find out what makes them tick.”
When I ask him what he’d like to do when he stops playing I’m surprised by the response. “I like sitting down with people one to one and finding out what their journey is. I’d like to one day to do some psychology or mentoring, with people who have gone down the wrong path, taken drugs or done bad things, and try to find out why they made those bad choices and perhaps stop them from doing that in the future.
“I don’t mean speaking to rich people who’ve had a good life, I mean kids who haven’t always made the right choices. It’s something that really interests me. I’d sit down with a mass murderer one-to-one if I could, to find out what makes them make bad decisions.”
For Andre, it seems, his journey still has some interesting detours to take.
This interview appeared in Saturday's edition of Reds.