It is that time of summer when pre-season is in full swing, though with the usual excitement and anticipation of a new campaign, the current hope of everyone is simply for a season again at all levels that can run to its conclusion. That is a sentiment shared by Southport's Marcus Carver, but as a promotion winner from the National League North two years ago with Chorley, capping ambitions at just being happy to take part doesn't factor into his plans for 2021/22.
The same certainly goes for Sandgrounders boss Liam Watson, a three-time title-winning manager at this level and keen to plot another challenge at the club he is by now synonymous with. It is a squad not short on youth and promise, making frontman Carver something of a wise, old campaigner at 27!
As well as lending his know-how, the one-time Accrington Stanley prospect has his own targets to reach for. In this conversation, he reflects on his footballing path to date, and shares too how the Port are heading into the new season equipped with something off the pitch that Wimbledon's Crazy Gang would have been proud of. Pump up the volume...
Firstly Marcus, how are you feeling as we speak now? Does it add even more fuel to make a proper go of it this season, after all the disruption and the mess of last year, for everyone at this level?
Yeah, feeling good. I’ve had two seasons hit with COVID now; one with Chorley, relegated (from the National League), and then my first season with Southport. Getting started with a new team, then hit with a couple of injuries, and obviously a COVID finish, so looking forward to this season starting.
Working with the manager, has he told you to just keep working on the things you do best, or has he looked to add or tweak anything in your game, especially as a pretty decent striker himself back in the day?
He just wanted me to continue the way I play. He knows I’m based on my work rate, ratting, and I can get a few goals. He’s brought me in as one of the most experienced lads in that team now. We’ve got a very young Southport team this season, so he’s brought me in to give some experience to the younger lads in the team.
Last season, how much could you enjoy it, when as players, you honestly don’t know if your next game or next few games will be taken away at the drop of a hat? How was that to deal with, motivation-wise?
Yeah, you’re right, you never knew what was going to happen. You were building up all week – especially when COVID hit during the beginning of the season, where we missed a couple of weeks – you’d be training, to find out you’ve got two weeks off because someone’s tested positive. It was always a frustrating thing, because as a footballer, you go to training to think ‘we’re building up for something at the weekend’. When the weekend comes and there’s nothing to come from it, it’s like a waste of time. For players in the team and players that I know, they’ve kind of lost a year of football, and when you’re coming to the end of your career, or you’re starting your career, it’s a year’s worth of experience or actual game time you’re losing.
🟡⚫️ Looking good, @Marcus_carver9! pic.twitter.com/AiCQA1GtZq
— Southport Football Club (@southport_fc) May 27, 2020
Going back a fair bit further, which team did you grow up supporting? Is it Blackburn you're from?
I’m from Blackburn. My grandad’s from Liverpool, so I’ve grown up being a Liverpool fan. Don’t get me wrong, I went to Blackburn games and Accrington Stanley games, because they were my local teams, but I had a season ticket at Liverpool for a bit. Obviously, when you’re a footballer, you don’t get much chance to go to games, because you’re forever busy on weekends.
What kind of approach from a manager have you found gets the best from you? Which manager(s) has seemed to understand you best in that sense?
The older I’ve got, I work better off a bit of fire in the belly. Not a telling-off but constructive criticism; I’ve been able to take that well as I’m starting to get older. As a youngster when I was breaking through, 17/18, it was definitely an arm around the shoulder. As time’s gone on and I’ve got more experience, over 200 games in non-league, I think you’ve got to grow as a player, and it kind of changes you.
James Beattie at Accrington came in and he put his arm around me straight away. He’s obviously a Blackburn lad, so he could relate to me, as a striker himself as well. He put his arm around me, told me what he knew, passing on a few things. Then the same again when I first went to Chorley – Matt Jansen. Not a Blackburn lad but played for Blackburn, and another centre-forward. At the start, put his arm around me, and then started to realise if he worked me up a bit, I played better with a bit of anger, a bit of fire in the belly. That’s probably when I started realising ‘this is how I perform my best’.
Are there any teammates in particular that you've felt an extra level of understanding with on the pitch?
Yeah, Josh O’Keefe at Chorley. He's played lots of games in non-league, and quite a few in the League as well, and from the word go, we had a great relationship on and off the pitch. He knew the way to get me ticking over, and because he was five or six years older than me, he was also like ‘this is how you’re gonna improve your game, this is what’s gonna make you better’.
Joining new clubs, have you ever had to sing for your teammates, and if so, which song(s) have you gone for?
I’ve been at Southport a year already, but due to COVID, we weren’t allowed to stand up at the front of the coach, so I’ve got to do it this year! I’ve had quite a lot of loan spells, and I’ve always gone for a nice, simple ‘Wonderwall’ (Oasis). As I’ve got older, though, a lot of clubs don’t appreciate ‘Wonderwall’ now! So I’ve gone for a little more laid-back, Jason Mraz ‘I’m Yours’.
Have you ever been team DJ?
Well, this season, I’ve not been put in charge, but we’ve just bought a new boom box, and it’s massive! It’s about four foot tall this boom box, so whilst we’re travelling to games in our cars, the kitman said ‘I’ve only got a small car, I can’t take it’, so I’ve got to take it. I’m always there first in the changing room anyway, so I have to start off playing the music. I keep it nice and simple until the lads start coming in. It’s just all house music now. I’m into my Arctic Monkeys, Oasis, all my band stuff, but especially in our team now, we’ve got a very young team, so they’re all into their house music. Anything’s that got a beat, the lads love it.
Which characters you've been around in the game instantly come to mind as the standout examples - for whatever reasons?!
There’s been a few! Biggest character I’ve probably met is Stephen Jordan. Such a big career he’s had, playing in the Premier League, for City, for Burnley, and when he came to us at Chorley, we knew he was coming to the end of his time, but still did a great job for the club. Some of the stuff that you’d see him do, though, if someone said this was a Premier League footballer, and this is what he was doing in training, you’d have been like ‘nah, no chance’!
Have there been any individual opponents you've been up against that stick in your mind, for the battle you had?
I always look back and think as a centre-forward, ‘who’s been that centre-half that you don’t want to come up against?’ Looking back, I don’t think I’ve come across one where I thought ‘he’s absolutely unbelievable’. Raheem Sterling was the best player I’ve played against; I played against him in a reserve game when he was at Liverpool, when I was at Accy. Going into our league, Glen Taylor (at Spennymoor Town), he scores goals for fun and he’s a great lad, on and off the pitch.
Is there a spell in football up to now that you'd pick out as your happiest time overall, on and off the pitch? If it’s Chorley, maybe a specific period within that time?
The season getting promoted with Chorley was a great feeling for me. I had my firstborn, my son, that season as well, so it was a great season all round, with a lot of highs for me. Topped off with promotion, I couldn’t quite write it really. We were always knocking on the door at Chorley when I was there, play-offs every season, but it made it more special being a settled person; having my child, got my house, everything just fell into place that season. That’s probably the time I was happiest, on and off the pitch.
— Marcus Carver (@Marcus_carver9) January 29, 2020
Away from playing, what else are you involved in or do you enjoy, in terms of interests/ventures?
I enjoy doing bits of coaching; I do the odd one-on-one with kids, giving back to the community where I come from, Blackburn/Accrington way. I do bits of IT work as well, and engineering for a couple of companies whilst helping out friends. That’s about it really at the moment.
As a player/personality, have there ever been any misconceptions about you during your time in the game, or generally a fair impression?
I think I’ve always had the reputation of being just a hard worker, a grafter, not just on the football pitch but generally; anything I do, I give 100 per cent, and everyone around me knows that. If I was to be criticised, probably never really scored enough goals. At Chorley, I scored just short of 50 goals in 200 games as a striker, but being there for four-and-a-half seasons, finishing top goalscorer for three seasons tells me a lot about the team. We were obviously going for promotion every season I was there, but we were based on ‘let’s defend, we’ll nick a 1 or 2-0 lead’, and I was always involved in either creating a goal or scoring it. My reputation’s probably I’m a grafter but haven’t scored as many goals as you’d have thought.
How have you changed since that young lad at Accrington, or how are you still the same?
I think I’m still the same in working hard no matter what. I’ve changed in that I’ve matured; I’d have to have done, ten years on from then. I’ve got a bit of bite towards my game now. I know how to control myself a bit better, I’m not that angry person where I bite straight away at something. I can take the constructive criticism and I know how to get myself going now, and I’m probably more consistent now than I’ve ever been.
Finally, at this point, what are you looking at with your football from the next few seasons? Is getting back to the League a thought that you really strongly carry with you, or is it more about just being happy with your football and anything else is a bonus?
I think in anything in life, you’ve got to have goals, and if your goal’s not to be playing in the Football League, you’re not doing it right. Yes, the main aim is to be happy, but especially now I’ve got children, for them to see me play in the League would be fantastic. All they’ll know at the moment is me showing them things, memories. My eldest will be two/three come the end of my contract at Southport, so they won’t remember the time when I was playing in the League, but if they actually came and saw it, that’s a different thing. My main aim at this moment in time is: do as well as I can for Southport, help the team as best I can, score as many goals as I can, and hopefully sneak a move back into the League.
Interview by @chris_brookes