Andy Cole is a former professional footballer—playing for Newcastle, Arsenal and Manchester United during his 19-year career. Now retired from the sport, he’s recently opened a restaurant in London.

…my father was a coal miner and my mother was a caretaker at a private school

Andy Cole
Image via Sports Mole 

My father was very quiet. He came here from the Caribbean in the 1950s. He was hard-working, trying to raise his family to the best of his capabilities. He was always working Monday to Friday and I was surprised if I saw him at the weekend, to be honest.

He’d go out and enjoy himself and then we’d see him again on Monday morning when he was on his way to work. That was that.

 

…my mother was the backbone of the family

Her role was to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible. The Caribbean way of growing up is totally different to the British way.

Mum is expected to raise the kids—do everything possible for them—and dad is expected to come in and provide the financial resources every Friday.

They were the first generation from the Caribbean—that’s the way they grew up, that’s the way they knew. They instilled it in their children to do exactly the same thing.

Coming to Britain, you can instil your values to a certain extent—but then you can go no further than that, because Britain is totally different to the Caribbean. 

 

…my family was very sporty

sporty family
Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke and Gary Neville celebrate Manchester United's victory in the FA Cup final, 1999

My sisters were all great at athletics, my brother could play cricket and football, and I could play the majority of sports without a problem.

I remember playing a lot of cricket when I was young and, if I’m brutally honest, I’d have played cricket [professionally] if it were up to me. 

 

…leaving school aged 14

and going to a place called Lilleshall [a centre of excellence for sports], where the focus was really on trying to become a professional footballer. I signed for Arsenal when I was 14 and joined when I was 16.

At the time I got the placement, I wasn’t really fussed. I hadn’t left home before and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But it was the best thing I could have done—it kept me out of a lot of trouble and strife when I was younger. It gave me the opportunity to play at the highest level.

It was a great grounding for me and I grew into a young man very early. It was a big responsibility, but one that I needed. I could have stayed at home  and done what my mates did and got myself in a lot of trouble.   

 

…when I was 16, I had to do a lot of things by myself

with beckham
With David Beckham, David James, Sol Campbell and Mikaël Silvestre

Then, when I got to 18, a lot of the Arsenal players took me under their wing—people like Paul Davis, Michael Thomas and David Rocastle. They told me I had talent and would succeed if I got my head down and worked hard.

So I looked up to those guys as key figures to help me get where I needed to go. To this day, Michael and I are very good friends. David Rocastle passed away, but Paul Davis is also a good friend.

It was very generous of them and I appreciated what they did. I knew that when I became a senior professional, I wanted to do the same and be exactly what they were to me. I’d help any young player in any way I could to help move them forward.

 

…walking out of Arsenal when I was 16 and saying I wasn’t going to go back 

I remember sitting down with my sister, talking about it and then going back. My mind at that age, well… I’d had enough. I just became a bit disillusioned about the way I was treated by the coach.

I made the decision to go back and work as hard as I could—that was my big break. It was a matter of swallowing pride. When I was that age, I made all the decisions.

It was never the case that I could turn around and say, “I blame you.” The only person I could blame was myself. Even now, I never look to blame anybody but myself. 

 

…realising I knew where my dad was coming from as I got older

Andy cole

My dad coming to Britain and appreciating what Britain was all about and [dealing with] the racism and all of that… it was tough.

There’s a lot of stigma attached to black footballers—when it’s cold they don’t play, they can’t be trusted or whatever. It’s a lot easier for the young black generation to come through now in professional football. But society is what it is—it changes to a certain extent and then it goes back to the dark ages. That’s the way of the world.

People say it’s a lot better, then six months later something else happens. You have to take the rough with the smooth. At any stage there could be a comment made and you know at the back of your mind there’s always something that could happen. 

 

…accepting that racism is still there

Racism can’t stop because people say, “Ahh, let’s stop it now.” You have plans in place like Kick Racism Out of Football [now Kick It Out], but just because you’ve put up these initiatives and people say, “Fantastic, let’s stop racism,” it doesn’t work like that.

At the end of the day, everyone’s stuck in their way—I’m not just talking racism from the 2000s, I’m talking racism from slavery days. It’s become better, but it’s still there. It’s water off a duck’s back for me. My kids understand it—it’s easier for them because it’s a lot more covert now.

When I was growing up, it was in your face and you had to deal with it. 

 

…opening my first restaurant, early last year

andy cole

I always wanted to try my hand at investing in a restaurant. A friend of mine, Martin Williams, used to head up Gaucho and wanted to strike out by himself, so we set up M near Threadneedle Street [in London]. 

Fingers crossed it’ll continue to grow the way it has done. The restaurant business is certainly tough but I’m enjoying it, and I often pop down and have a look. I can cook but I don’t—my wife is an extremely good and I’m fortunate that I don’t have to do a lot.

 

Read the full article in the February edition of Reader's Digest 

 

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