'I can't help having demons in me': the Richie Towell interview

By Paul Davis | 04/12/2018

'I can't help having demons in me': the Richie Towell interview
Richie Towell with the Advertiser's Paul Davis

RICHIE Towell watched the two-year-old light of his life kick the family pet and knew he was partly to blame.

The Rotherham United player has such a will to succeed that it changes his personality. Daughter Meadow, it seems, has inherited her doting dad's genes.

“I don't know what it is that's in me,” says the Dublin-born Millers midfielder. “My little girl is a little bit like that as well. If we're racing up the stairs and I beat her, she throws a strop, she does.

“She kicked our dog the other day because the dog took the ball off her. She went after him and kicked him. I had to have this full-on, sit-her-down talk with her and say: ‘Listen, you can't do that.’ It's that little thing she has — she has to win at everything she's doing.”

Rotherham fans love him. They snigger at the snarl, delight at the desire, appreciate the endeavour and clap the class. Towell joined on loan from Brighton & Hove Albion last year, won promotion from League One and returned by popular demand for this term's Championship campaign.

He's done so well that he's now on the brink of a Republic of Ireland call-up.

Driven competitor

“It was an unbelievable season,” he says. “My debut was at Portsmouth and it was the first time we'd won away in close to 30 games.

“The following week, I came on against Bury after 40 minutes for my first home game and scored an 89th-minute winner.

“Straightaway, the fans had a connection with me and I had a connection with the fans. They saw how I played — blood and thunder, giving everything for the team, working hard, putting tackles in, trying my best — and it was just a good fit.”

The man sat in front of me at Rotherham's training complex minutes after he's finished training in the Roundwood rain is nothing like the fuming figure opponents encounter on the pitch.

The mop of dark hair, big biceps and leg tattoos are the same, but there the similarity ends. There's an easy, twinkling charm about him and his accent has an appealing lilt befitting of someone brought up in Inchicore who started out, aged five, at Crumlin United, the club where his dad was a manager and which spawned Robbie Keane.

He also has that lovely Irish of way of adding needless words at the end of sentences, so he does.

Family is important to Towell and long-time partner Kelly, and congratulations will be in order because of a major event during the last international break when his mum, Valerie, dad Tony, older sister Tanya and young nephew and godson Charlie next travel across the Irish Sea.

“They're hoping to come to the Preston North End game on New Year's Day,” he says. “They'll have Christmas Day in Dublin and then fly over to me on Boxing Day.

“Kelly and I have just got engaged. I got down on one knee and asked her. We did it up the London Eye. When we got to the top of the Eye, I've done the deed, I did. She had no idea. She said to me: ‘I've been waiting for it probably the last five years and when you did it I wasn't expecting it!’ She said ‘yes’. She cried for about an hour first!”

Meadow turns three in December: “She's my everything. I would stop playing football tomorrow for her. Kelly and I want more kids, like now!

With Kelly and daughter Meadow

“A lot of the Rotherham lads play golf on Wednesdays and Sundays but they're my days with my little girl. Every Sunday, we go to the farm or the zoo.”

A fortnight before our meeting, I'd been at Roundwood on other business and had stopped to watch a defence-v-attack practice session.

Everyone was in good spirits until an offside call stopped Towell's team in their tracks.

I laughed out loud as the 27-year-old vociferously questioned the decision, berated the player who'd made the pass, railed against the teammate who'd strayed too far forward and then fell out with himself because of the injustice of it all.

“I do have my demons on the field,” he grins.

“My missus says I'm a bit of an embarrassment when she comes to watch me play because she can hear me from the stand cursing, screaming and telling people off.

“Then, when I come off the pitch, I'm totally different. I don't like arguments. I just like having a laugh. When I go on the pitch, there's a trigger that goes off. I'm a winner. I want to win. I hate losing.

“Meadow kicking the dog, I'm sure my partner thinks it down to me!”

It took Towell 12 years to propose to Kelly, but within hours of Rotherham's play-off final victory against Shrewsbury Town last May he was popping the question to Paul Warne.

He knew his game-time would be limited at the Amex Stadium because of Brighton's Premier League status so he said to the Millers manager: ‘Can I come back on loan again?’

“It was at the party back at the Hilton Hotel,” he remembers. “I said to him straightaway: ‘Gaffer, I want to be a part of it.’ He said he would try to make it happen. He wanted me back here, I wanted to be back here.

“That was the way it was through the whole summer. There was a lot of talk about me going elsewhere but, deep down, I didn't want to go anywhere else. It was just finances really. That's all it was.

“Brighton had given me a new contract on good money and they wanted to get as much of that back as they could.

We're all Millers aren't we

“Obviously, Rotherham have a budget that they have to stick to and they couldn't do it. It ended up going down to the wire.

“I had three or four offers to move permanently but I didn't want to do that. I always wanted to come here. It was the people above us who had to sort it out.

“My partner was as relieved as me. She'd enjoyed it up here. She'd started to get to know the players and their girlfriends and our little girl was starting nursery and stuff like that.”

The trio and English bulldog Buster are happily settled in Leeds and, six years after Towell was devastated to be freed at 21 by Celtic, life is adding up for the boy who excelled at school and might have gone into accountancy had he not realised his childhood ambition.

“I always had one goal and that was to play football professionally,” he says. “My family speak to me now and ask what I'm going to do after football. I've never even thought about it. I've always wanted to focus 100 per cent on playing and not have distractions like coaching badges and stuff like that.

“At the end of my career, I want to be able to look myself in the eye and say I gave it everything. I fully understand there are a million footballers out there who are better than me technically, but they don't have what I have, which is a drive and a will to be the best I can be.

“Being released by Celtic was probably the best thing that ever happened to me. At the time, I was very upset, but it's definitely made me the person I am today. I don't take things for granted the way that some players do.”

Roundwood is heaving while we chat. The reserves are about to play and beat Port Vale so players, officials and banter are flying around the communal area where many of the first-team squad have gathered for lunch.

“Newelly,” Towell shouts across to winger Joe as I conduct a quickfire Q&A. “Best-dressed teammate. Do you want it?”

“Yeah, I'll have it,” responds Newelly from a plateful of lasagne. “Also best-looking and funniest.”

After Celtic, Towell moved back to Ireland, worked with his father as a bricklayer and came close to giving up on his dream.

“I was maybe two or three weeks away from quitting football,” the player recalls. “My dad sat me down and we had a heart-to-heart. He said: ‘Listen, you need to get as fit as you can, start going to the gym every day and do everything you can to be the best you can be.’

“That's what I did. Even now, I'm in the gym every single day. I watch what I eat. I'm probably a bit obsessed with it. My dad's words have stuck with me.”

He signed for Dundalk and did well. Then Kelly informed him she was expecting and he did even better.

Always willing to shoot

“We'd been trying for a baby, so it wasn't a shock,” he says. “From the day she told me, I just started hitting new levels. I wasn't just playing for me anymore. I was playing for my family. I wanted the best life for my partner and little girl. I scored 20-odd goals in that last season and got my move to Brighton.”

The reserves kick off and Towell is loud and relaxed, very much part of the gang, laughing and joking as he leans against a wall and watches through the window. Then a decision goes against the Millers and suddenly he is cross; I mean, properly cross.

Just like in games, just like in training, he can't help himself. “I'm a winner. I want to win. I hate losing.”

He still looks peeved when I leave a few minutes later. I drive away pleased that Buster is safe at home.

 

HOPING FOR THE IRISH CALL

HIS country are starting to take notice yet that's not enough for a competitor as motivated as Richie Towell.

The Rotherham United midfielder has been named in the provisional Republic of Ireland squad in the last two international breaks.

But the 27-year-old won't be satisfied until he's received a full call and has broken into the team.

“Am I pleased to have been in the provisional squad? Not really,” he admits. “Don't get me wrong, it's nice to be recognised, but I'm not one of these people who's going to be happy going through my career being patted on the back for nearly doing something.

“I don't even want to just make the full squad, I want to play in the team. I watched the games in the last break and I think I can add something to the team. I just need to keep doing the best job I can for Rotherham and, hopefully, it will come.”

Towell has featured for the Republic at under-17, U-19 and U-21 level and would love to take the final step.

“If I do get to play for my country, it will definitely be the biggest honour I have in my career,” he adds.

“My mum, dad, partner and the rest of my family ... they were more excited than me when I made the provisional squad. They were over the moon. It's something I'd like to be able to tell my kids as they grow up, that I played for Ireland. My little girl now would be able to come and see me play ... that would be something else.”

 

Q&A

Best player played with: Anthony Knockaert at Brighton. He's unbelievable technically. To watch him play is such a joy. Every time he gets the ball people are up on their feet. I watched him play against Manchester United a few weeks ago and he tore them apart.

Best opponent: Eden Hazard. I played against him when I was in the Republic of Ireland under-21 side and he was with Belgium U-21s. He was in incredible. He got his move to Chelsea soon after. He was playing for Lille at the time, then Chelsea paid more than £30 million for him. I was 18 and so was he. We were both young to be playing U-21 football. He was head and shoulders above anybody.

Best trainer: Me.

Best friend in football: Andy Boyle. He's at Preston North End now. He's on loan at Dundee. He actually got my engagement ring for me when he was out in Dubai. He brought it back for me and we met up. I'm lucky that Kelly loved the ring. That wouldn't have been as easy thing to take back! We played for Crumlin together and we were also at Dundalk at the same time. We went on holiday last year to Las Vegas together, we went away the year before and we're going away next year as well.

Best moment in football: Being promoted with Rotherham to the Championship. My partner, my little girl, my mum and dad, all my family and friends were all there watching at Wembley. Being promoted to the Premier League with Brighton was incredible but I didn't participate as much as I'd have liked so I don't really count that, to be honest.

Worst moment: Probably when I got released by Celtic when I was 21. That was horrible. I just felt really down and thought I'd never play again.

Funniest teammate: Tayls (Jon Taylor). He's hilarious. I don't think he means to be funny, but that makes him even funnier. He's just stupid.

Best-dressed teammate: Newelly (Joe Newell).

Worst-dresssed teammate: Put Will Vaulks. It will annoy him.

Roommate: Fordey (Anthony Forde). They just stick the two 'Pikeys' together. It's always been us two

These articles first appeared in last week's Advertiser


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