Charlie Oatway: ‘I had to be open when I signed my contracts – look, I can’t write’ | Soccer

‘I I get sworn less by kids than before by Gus [Poyet]especially if I gave the ball back to the opposition too quickly, ”says Charlie Oatway, laughing as he compares life on the sidelines with working to support young people struggling with education as an officer. liaison with families Russell Martin Foundation (RMF). Oatway first worked alongside Poyet as a coach at Brighton, where he also played, and followed him to Sunderland, Spain and Shanghai, but these days his aim is to change lives in Sussex, returning to her roots and using her difficult childhood as a powerful tool for others to relate to.

He remembers his parents, Doreen and Tony, being thrown to the ground by the police and their house, on the White City estate in London’s Shepherd’s Bush, ransacked. Her father relied on the Kray twins when he was on the run from a robbery and hid in a flat above a tailor in east London before being sent to prison. His uncles and cousins ​​also spent years behind bars and Oatway served two months in Pentonville Prison for GBH while he was on the books in Cardiff City.

“I had just started getting to know Terry Yorath, who had just replaced Eddie May as manager. One Saturday, a few hours before kick-off, I said to him, “I have to go to court on Monday.” He said: “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, come back as soon as possible for practice on Tuesday.” Bang, I’m going to jail.

Sitting next to Oatway is Alan Sanders, the chief executive of RMF. Oatway asked Sanders for advice when he was 30, when he was captain of Brighton, to enroll in an adult literacy course to help with reading and writing. Oatway, who is dyslexic and says his spelling is non-existent, did not attend school from the age of 14 and given his interest in the Extra Time project, to which young people aged 11 to 14 are referred in the purpose of enabling them to return to school. , sometimes it’s like looking in the mirror. “A lot of these kids are going through what I went through,” he says. “I have a nephew who is 25 – he’s been 18 so far – for gang felony… ‘Don’t talk to me about gang felony… I know, I have a member of the family I’m going to see in prison that’s been in gangs and look at where their life is at. And damn it.’ I am able to tell these children that this is not the right way.

Charlie Oatway (right) in action for Brighton against Bristol City in the 2004 playoff final which won his club promotion to the Championship.
Charlie Oatway (right) in action for Brighton against Bristol City in the 2004 playoff final which won his club promotion to the Championship. Photography: Stu Forster/Getty Images

Oatway’s full name is Anthony Philip David Terry Frank Donald Stanley Gerry Gordon Stephen James Oatway, after starting line-up Queens Park Rangers in 1973, because his father was a strong supporter. His name is spelled out on his birth certificate but is abbreviated to Anthony Philip Oatway on his passport. The story goes that his aunt said “he would look like a real Charlie”, and the name stuck. The RMF provided him with a computer that reads his emails to simplify his work. “I can press two buttons and say what I want to say, and then I can send an email, very short, very specific,” he says. “I would bend, even now at 48, under pressure. I try to make sure I don’t end up in a situation where I need help with reading and writing. My life has always been like this. »

During his playing days, teammates in a car convoy would sometimes drop him en route to a reserve game, knowing he wouldn’t be able to read traffic signs, but he learned tricks to navigate the club’s open days. “I would find someone to attach myself to. For example, in Brighton, I sat next to Richard Carpenter who was my roommate for nine years. If it was ‘Best wishes to Joe Bloggs’, he would put ‘Best wishes to Joe Bloggs, by Richard Carpenter’ and I would sign ‘Charlie Oatway’. I had to be open with the secretaries when I signed my contracts. ‘Look, I can’t write.’

Sanders’ relationship with Martin dates back to when the current Swansea manager was 11 and playing for his district side, Brighton Boys.

Charlie Oatway on the touchline at Aston Villa during his time as manager at Sunderland.
Charlie Oatway on the touchline at Aston Villa during his time as manager at Sunderland. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

He set up the foundation while playing for Norwich and has three centers in Sussex, working with 30 schools across the county, including all 10 secondary schools in Brighton and Hove, to build youngsters’ confidence and skills at taken with ordinary education.

Oatway is one of five former professional footballers working at the foundation, including former Peterborough midfielder Chris Whelpdale. Oatway hopes the RMF can work with the Association of Professional Footballers, whose president, Maheta Molango, is a former teammate. “One of the questions he asked me was, ‘What worried you the most when you were a player?’ I said, ‘What I’m going to do when I’m done.’ »

Oatway has a stack of fond memories in the game, from trying to coax Carlos Tevez, on exorbitant salaries at Shanghai Shenhua with an entourage that stretched to a golf pro and personal chef, to running; avoid relegation from the Premier League with Sunderland in 2014; and visiting Camp Nou in his first game as Real Betis first-team coach. He is still in contact with the Betis kit men, who send shirts for his son, Teddy, every two months. “We were in pre-season in Germany and it turned out that our first game was away to Barcelona. I think: ‘A boy from the bush who goes to Barcelona as part of a coaching staff and who look at Messi?” I rubbed my neck after doing that,” he said, wringing his head, “not to mention how it must have been for the players.

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He can return to the touchline but is reluctant to walk away from the work he does to help reshape the lives of young people. Some schools have reported a drastic increase in attendance thanks to the Extra Time program. “It’s not all about me – it’s about us as an organization – but when you have parents telling you via email, phone calls, texts, sometimes crying at the phone saying, ‘Thank you for bringing my daughter back’… I got a text this morning and I hadn’t seen this child in weeks, but the mother says they took her to his grandmother and that she was lovely and helpful and kind and it all depends on the RMF project You can’t buy that.

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