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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Tom Victor

Premier League reject who downed Man Utd gave up football career to become a builder

Freddy Eastwood will be best known to many football fans for his heroics in a Southend United shirt against Manchester United, but his professional career is well and truly in his past.

The striker, who turns 40 later this year, hasn't played professionally since leaving the Essex side in 2014. He made more than 150 league appearances across multiple spells at Roots Hall, but had to come up the hard way.

Eastwood, a Wales international, was also one of the only members of the Traveller community to play professional football at a high level. These days, though, he is working as a builder as he closes in on 10 years out of the game.

Like a number of other Essex-based youngsters, Eastwood's professional career began at West Ham United. He had spent time on Southend's books as a youngster, but signed his first scholarship deal with the Hammers after impressing then-manager Harry Redknapp during a trial and was taken under the wing of senior pro Paolo di Canio.

“Di Canio was great,” Eastwood told The Athletic. “Because I was a striker, he was always putting his arm around me and having a chat. I remember him saying to me, ‘You’re only a kid, so listen to experience. You’ve got plenty of time for partying, drinking and women, put your career first and worry about those later’.

“Being a youngster, I never really listened but he was a good pro. He looked after his body, trained properly and if there was anyone you’d want advice from it would be him. Looking back now, it was brilliant to look at and grow up around that.”

Share your memories of Freddy Eastwood in the comments section

Freddy Eastwood's most famous moment came against Manchester United (Getty Images)

When West Ham were relegated in 2003, though, they were forced to trim their squad. Senior stars including Di Canio and Lee Bowyer left for nothing, but so did Eastwood and a number of other academy talents.

The striker admits to falling out of love with football at that point, but a spell with non-league Grays gave him the motivation to give the league another shot. Southend's interest meant he wouldn't need to travel too far, and a goal-filled debut season ended with him netting in the play-off semis and final to take the Shrimpers up to League One.

Another promotion followed, with Eastwood hitting a league-leading 23 goals as Southend won the title to climb to the Championship. While he wasn't able to keep them there, he scored a goal which will live long in the memory.

Man Utd were stunned by Southend in 2006 (John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

While the Man Utd team which travelled to Roots Hall in November 2006 wasn't at full-strength, this was still a squad which would finish the season as Premier League champions. Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney started in attack for Sir Alex Ferguson's side, with England internationals Wes Brown and Kieran Richardson also involved, while Gabriel Heinze and Mikael Silvestre featured in a talented back line.

None of them had an answer to Eastwood, though. There was less than half an hour on the clock when Eastwood stepped up to send a 30-yard free-kick beyond goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak, and that proved to be the winner.

"I bet he doesn't score another goal like that in his life," United boss Ferguson said. "If you are going to lose, it might as well be to something special like that."

"It is a great reminder to everyone at the club that football can smack you in the face. I have been here 20 years and I am not impervious to it either."

Eastwood played international football for Wales (PA)

Eastwood's form didn't go unnoticed, with Wales rewarding him with international recognition. He scored on his debut against Bulgaria and ended up with four goals in 11 caps, playing alongside the likes of Euro 2016 heroes Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu.

There was transfer interest, too, with Wolves and Coventry both parting with seven-figure sums. However, he was never as successful with those clubs than he was with Southend.

It was there that he called time on his career at the age of just 30, having struggled with injury towards the end. A new career as a builder followed - he has even built his own family home not far from the Travellers' site where he grew up - and works with his son who was born during Eastwood senior's spell as a teenager with West Ham.

There are things he misses about his old life, but there are plenty of positives to the change too. The ex-pro has spoken of the benefits of his new career - not least working his own hours in stark contrast to the life of a pro athlete.

Wolves paid £1.5m to bring Eastwood to Molineux (Birmingham Post and Mail)

“I miss the training and the banter with the boys — going out after training and getting a coffee,” he told The Athletic.. “But in my new life I get that in a different way. I’ll meet up with the boys in the morning and have breakfast and a cup of tea, we’ll have some banter at work all day and then sometimes a pint after.

“But I do miss the games and the big crowds. I always thought I was a big-game player, like when I scored against Manchester United and in the Millennium Stadium, when we beat Lincoln to get promoted.

“Everybody always asks me what was my favourite goal or favourite memory and they think I’ll say Manchester United. That was great but it wasn’t in a final or anything like that. I look at the Millennium Stadium and that Swansea game [where Southend won promotion to the Championship] as bigger moments, because we actually won something.”

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