'Cheekiest thing I've ever heard' - Andros Townsend loan move stunned Harry Redknapp and left team-mate threatening to 'rip his head off'
The hard graft Andros Townsend put in as a teenager on loan at Yeovil Town helped make him the player he is today for Everton but the move only happened by chance because of a request Harry Redknapp described as “the cheekiest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Townsend continued his dream start for Everton with a magnificently-taken equalising goal against Manchester United at Old Trafford, silencing the majority of the 75,000 crowd but racing over the enjoy the moment with the travelling Blues fans while enacting his own faux Cristiano Ronaldo -style celebration.
Insisting that the copycat gesture (leaping in the air with his arms pointed behind his back) was a “mark of respect towards his idol” rather a taunt, Townsend – who had sprinted 95 yards to get on the end of Abdoulaye Doucoure’s pass to score – still had enough energy left at the full-time whistle to chase the Portuguese legend for his shirt.
But if you think mimicking Ronaldo’s iconic moves when scoring against his team followed by pestering him for his jersey displays something of a brass neck, perhaps Townsend gets it from his old mentor and fellow London East Ender, Terry Skiverton, the man who handed him his Football League debut at 17.
Despite Mile End-born Skiverton’s roots in the capital, he became a legend in the West Country, spending over a decade at Yeovil Town as a centre-back before two spells as manager.
Now Academy manager at Huish Park, the 46-year-old still recalls vividly how he took a punt on bringing Townsend to Yeovil with a bold move that would open up what for a number of seasons became a well-trodden path.
Skiverton told the ECHO: “I’d taken over as player-manager of Yeovil Town and we were struggling at the time.
“I knew Harry Redknapp, who was Tottenham manager, as his father used to come and watch myself and Muzzy Izzet play for Chelsea as youngsters.
“We knew there was a young striker at Tottenham Jon Obika who we had our eye on.
“I went down to watch him with a guy who was working as chief scout for me at the time, David Lee, who is now an agent at Stellar.
“I remember we went to watch Tottenham reserves playing at Leyton Orient. Obika wasn’t on but Andros was playing on the left wing with Gareth Bale at left-back and there was just something about him that I really liked.
“He was really positive. Every time he got the ball he was in a one versus one situation and trying to take people on, whether he gave the ball away or not.
“He was a really infectious character and he seemed to have an arrogance about him and was very demanding of his team-mates.”
As Skiverton spotted Tottenham first team manager Redknapp heading for the exit door, he decided to chance his arm with a bold proposition for the future ‘King of the Jungle.’
He said: “Without about 10 minutes to go, Harry was about to leave. Dave said to me: ‘Why don’t you ask for both of them?’ (Obika and Townsend)
“I went up to Harry and told him: ‘We’re definitely interested in taking Jon Obika’ and he replied: ‘Yeah, yeah, no problem, it was all set up for you to take him.’
“I added: ‘I think it would be really great if he came down with a mate to keep him company so he doesn’t feel too lonely down in Somerset as it’s a far cry from London. So I’ll take the boy Townsend as well!’
“Harry just laughed and told me: ‘That’s the cheekiest thing I’ve ever heard. I tell you what, you can have both of them, take them down.’”
Still four months shy of his 18th birthday, Townsend made his senior debut by playing the full 90 minutes of a goalless draw for Yeovil at home to MK Dons on March 21, 2009.
His first goal came in a 3-2 defeat to Hartlepool on April 18, the same weekend that Everton reached their only cup final of David Moyes’ tenure, defeating Manchester United on penalties in an FA Cup semi at Wembley, and both on and off the pitch, the youngster was showing his determination to succeed.
Skiverton said: “The place that I put them in was like a hotel but underneath it was quite a lively bar so it was a bit of an eye-opener for them but they were really professional in terms of how they looked after themselves.
“You thought they might have been the typical sort of London lads giving it the ‘un’ but they weren’t.
“Andros was really humble and hard-working. He was ultra-professional in his attitude, he was one of the first in and last to leave.
“The thing that you’d get from him was a really good output. That would be crosses into the box, one v ones, get shots off and take free-kicks and corners.
“We were in League One at the time and he helped us out on what became a ‘Great Escape’ as we avoided relegation.
“Ultimately we got ourselves safe with two or three games to go and Andros was a vital part of that.”
While Skiverton was able to see that Townsend was benefitting from the guidance of his father Troy – now head of development at Kick It Out (a campaign to try and rid football of racism) – he still had to learn some of the stark differences in attitude between the game at Academy level and the rough and tumble of the lower divisions.
He said: “I got to know his father Troy very well, I think it was costing him £150 a week in petrol to keep coming down to Yeovil.
“He came to watch every game and he was a really good, positive influence behind the scenes with him as well.
“His father was always there – home and away – and ready to give him an honest appraisal.
“He was really good because he never really interfered with team matters when speaking to me because some parents are like ‘my son should be doing this or that.’
“Troy has been a football coach himself so he always knew how to conduct himself around me.
“However, someone, who was an experienced player, said something to Andros on the pitch, and he sort of half dismissed him.
“When we came into the dressing room, he said to Andros: ‘If you ever do that to me again, I’ll rip your head off.’
“Andros turned to me as if to say ‘help’ and I just told him: ‘No, this what adults’ football is. We’re all fighting for our mortgage here, it’s not development football now.’”
Following the initial spells for Townsend and Obika, Tottenham sent more of their youngsters out on loan to Yeovil, and Skiverton, who fears prolonged exposure to Premier League Under-23s football can leave players “under-cooked” when it comes to being ready for the senior game, saw it as a canny and mutually beneficial arrangement, although even his persuasive powers couldn’t quite lure a youthful Harry Kane to the club.
He said: “We were playing against clubs such as Leicester City, Leeds United, Southampton, Norwich City, Millwall and Charlton Athletic – League One was really strong around that time – and it was a good breeding ground for Andros.
“I was quite lucky because I didn’t just have Andros and Jon Obika. I had Steven Caulker on loan the following season and took Ryan Mason as well.
“I was trying to get Harry Kane, but there was a transition with Alex Inglethorpe having left and Tim Sherwood came in with Chris Ramsey and Les Ferdinand moving up and Harry went to Leyton Orient instead.
“This is where I think Tottenham were clever because rather than rely on the Academy system, Andros and Harry Kane both had several different loan spells.
“Andros came to us when we were struggling. It wasn’t going to be a possession-based game where we’d be dominating the ball, creating loads of chances and putting a load of crosses in.
“A lot of the stuff that we had to do was out of possession, getting back behind the ball, making sure you doubled up with your full-back, so he got to experience what it was like being at a smaller club in a big league.
“That would be a test of his character and determination. It isn’t merely about the experience of going and playing but going and being in a team where people are fighting for their lives.
“Andros really grasped that early. If we as Yeovil were going away to someone like Southampton or Leicester then we were going to have to sit in behind the ball, try and make it tough for them and counter-attack with power and pace before getting behind the ball again.
“At Tottenham he may have not been used to that because he’d have probably had matches where his side had 60-70% of the possession and it was behind closed doors.”
Skiverton explains that taking young footballers outside of the sanitised protective bubble of Academy and reserve team systems and putting them into a first team environment where individual livelihoods are on the line, can make or break them but Townsend came through the experience as a more-rounded player.
He said: “Because of our finances at Yeovil, we had to go under the radar. I had to get the players that weren’t quite ready for the bigger clubs but I liken it to a situation where you get young pilots in for training but for us there’s no simulator so every now and again, they crash and burn in front of you.
“You’ve got to pick them up, get them ready and then throw them back out again.
“That’s where the syllabus in an Under-23s football regime might not cover those sort of angles.
“If you don’t play well in that set-up it might be ‘never mind, you’re back in next week’ but at our level, if you don’t play too well then someone else is there to take your place and you’re out and sat on the bench and have got to deal with that.
“I think Andros experiencing that at an early age really did jump him ahead of the queue.
“He had several other similar loan spells after that but then he was ready for the first team in the Premier League and able to make an impact.”
Fast forward to the 2021/22 season and while he might now be officially termed a ‘veteran’ in footballing parlance, Townsend is showing no signs of slowing down.
Picked up on a Bosman-style free transfer after his contract with Crystal Palace expired over the summer, Townsend’s goal against Manchester United was his fifth in nine games so far for Everton.
The 13-capped England international might have faced an uncertain future when deal at Selhurst Park was up but Skiverton insists Townsend’s proactive approach provides managers with a tangible end product.
He said: “Now that Andros is 30 and a senior player, it makes me feel really old as I gave him his debut.
“His dad, Troy says: ‘I always remember where it started’ and has mentioned a few times: ‘I’m eternally grateful to Terry for taking a chance on a young lad and giving him his wings to start his life in professional football.
“I’m not in touch regularly with Andros but when I see him there’s a wink and a nod because we both knew what happened in that little period in which he came to us.
“No matter what you say, Andros always comes up with stats at the end of the season.
“Because he’s a corner-kick and free-kick taker, he’ll always have assists. He’s always heavily involved in influencing a game.
“We have it with the manager here. He says: ‘Do they stop one, make one or score one?’
“Andros over the years has been a consistent player in assisting and scoring goals and that’s always marketable.
“He’s also very low maintenance as a human being and high performance.
“When you’ve got those two attributes, it’s a no-brainer for someone like Rafa Benitez to take him because he knows what he brings to the party for Everton.”