This feature first appeared in the Crystal Palace v Wolverhampton Wanderers matchday programme – 6th October 2018
After lighting up the Black Country with two netbusters against West Bromwich Albion last week, Andros Townsend is back amongst the goals and is hungry for more. Here he talks to Jonathon Rogers about his quest to add to his tally, and truly become Palace’s Starman.
Despite having just added two more glorious goals to his ever-expending showreel, Andros Townsend is annoyed. “I never score scruffy goals!” he exclaims with a laugh. “I try and get into the box more, but the ball always seems to evade me!”
The winger sat down for this interview fresh off his first ever career brace against West Bromwich Albion – a stat even more stunning than his two strikes. The first saw him embark on a 50-yard dribble from inside his own half before chopping inside, and with a blur of his boot whacking the ball into the top corner from range, and then for his next trick he effortlessly slalomed into the area before casually leaving a defender on the deck, allowing him to rocket the ball in off the post with a satisfying thud.
Add that to his 80-yard solo strike against the same opponents last year, opening his account with an excellent curler against Stoke City and another goal from range against Manchester United and he has quite the Palace portfolio, but perhaps it is the two close-range finishes against Arsenal that complete his collection of seven Eagles strikes that give him just as much satisfaction, and not because he is a Tottenham Hotspur fan at heart.
Reflecting upon his uncanny ability to score blockbusters, Townsend reveals: “It is annoying. You only score three or four screamers a season, and the players who score 10 goals a season score six or so scruffy ones. If you look at Wilf last season, he did that and got nine so I’ve always been looking to add them to my game.
“One of my biggest frustrations is that I haven’t scored as frequently as I would have liked, but it was good to get my first brace and hopefully I can go on a little run now. Not having scored twice in a game before was always in the back of my mind so I was a little bit surprised to do it. I’ve come close with a few strikes this season and hit the bar against Liverpool, so it was nice to see one dip in from that range. Hopefully that gives me the belief that I can score some more.”
Belief is a massive factor in any winger’s game. Tasked with regularly beating opponents, finding players with inch-perfect crosses and having to shoot from distance can quickly see a wide man’s shoulders slump whenever a defender has their number or a miscued cross or shot finds row Z.
Despite adding his name to the scoresheet just once in 2018 before bagging two at the Baggies’ expense, Townsend never stopped trying but he agrees with the psychological strains of the role. “I like to shoot from outside the box, but if you haven’t scored for three or four months you can’t really justify shot after shot, and my teammates would tell you the same when they’re screaming at me to pass!
“Hopefully now I’ve got the belief I can pop one or two off doubt free and add to my tally. As a winger your focus is on providing assists and getting crosses in the box and you don’t really look at having a certain amount of shots, so when the opportunity does arise you have to take it because it could be another 60-70 minutes before you get another chance at goal.
“I want to get on the scoresheet more and create more chances. It’s well reported that when Wilf doesn’t play we don’t score or win games, so I think we all have to chip in with some goals. Luka and Macca did that last season so hopefully I can help do that now.”
Another factor boosting the 27-year-old’s confidence is the backing he’s received from the stands. After two seasons with the Eagles, the jet-heeled winger finally has his own terrace chant to the tune of David Bowie’s ‘Starman’, and Townsend is impressed. “It’s a good one! I heard it for the first time against Fulham and it’s nice to hear that from the terraces because it spurs you on. I’d seen on Twitter that the fans were trying to create a chant for me, and I saw the lyrics and I didn’t quite know what the song was! Then when I heard it I was like: ‘oh yeah, of course!’ It was a good feeling and hopefully I can give the fans reason to keep singing it.”
Being serenaded by Selhurst masses brings Townsend’s Palace career full-circle, having endured a difficult start which after six months led to some small sections of the Eagles support booing him as he was substituted against Swansea City. Fast-forward two years and his name is ringing all around the famous old ground; a place that he states he finally feels settled at after a nomadic career.
“This is the first time since Spurs that I feel like I have a home,” he admitted. “I’ve been on loan nine times and I was only at Newcastle for a short amount of time, so at the age that I was coming here I needed to find a place and play consistently in the Premier League which I hadn’t done previously, and now I’m reaping the rewards of that. I’m definitely happy and this is a place I call home.
“I feel as though I’ve been accepted here for a couple of years now. That first six months where I struggled is long in the past, and the fans have really taken to me since the Sam Allardyce era. They have been great to me for the last few years, and if I keep working hard and give 100% they’ll keep appreciating that.”
Adding to Townsend’s comfort in his south London surroundings was Roy Hodgson’s appointment just over 12 months ago, who handed him his first 10 England caps during his Three Lions tenure. Townsend has revealed to this programme before about how Hodgson’s faith in his abilities was crucial in his early development between the sporadic international get-togethers, so what’s the dynamic between the two like now they see each other on a daily basis?
“It’s slightly different as when I was younger I needed him selecting me in the squads as I wasn’t getting enough gametime,” Townsend acknowledged. “That gave me a lot of confidence when I did join up with England, and I would tend to repay the faith when I got onto the pitch.
“Now it’s similar because I went through a difficult period last season when I wasn’t playing as well as I would have liked, but he put his faith in me, continued to play me and in the end I got out of the slump. Throughout my whole career the confidence he has in me has had a positive effect.
“He’s the same coach now as he was then. Someone like Roy firmly believes in what he does and he sets about implementing his style wherever he goes, on any player he comes across. He has the same good traits as Sam Allardyce – they know exactly how they want to play football and it’s their way or the highway. It’s good when you get a coach who’s been around and knows what works, so you put your trust in him because you know he’ll get good results, which he has done.”
Hodgson may have been the man that gave Townsend his first opportunity on the international stage, but unfortunately for Andros he missed out on being a part of history in the summer as England reached only their third World Cup semi-final, meaning he had to watch the fortunes of many of his friends and former teammates from afar.
Despite having been capped by Gareth Southgate twice in the build-up to the tournament, Townsend graciously confesses there were no hard feelings as he got swept up in the mania along with the rest of the country, but does admit that summer’s outpouring of national pride has only whetted his appetite to strive to be a part of a tournament squad; perhaps none better than Euro 2020 when football will definitely come home as England host the latter stages of an international finals for the first time since Euro 96.
“I don’t think that I was anywhere near the squad so there were no regrets watching it,” he said on the World Cup. “I was delighted for them because I knew they had the squad capable with players coming into the prime of their careers, so I thought it was time for them to step up for their country and it was to everyone’s delight that they did.
“In my lifetime I’ve never seen the nation get behind footballers like that. You’ve seen it with the Olympians, the boxers and athletes and even the rugby team, but never football so it was incredible to see how much they took to them. It gives you an extra boost and incentive to step up your game and get to that level, or if you’re a youngster to raise your game to get into that squad.
“For anyone on the outside now, it’s going to be difficult. The manager has his squad that he took to the World Cup which did incredibly for him, so if you want to break into that you’ll have to do something special to turn his head.”
Townsend’s Hawthorns heroics proved he can do just that, and should he find a few of those elusive scruffy goals then the ex-Eagle Southgate could become a regular face in SE25 once again.