In an interview originally published in Everton’s matchday programme for last month's meeting with Norwich City, Andros Townsend talks about a career-defining awakening at Crystal Palace, his mum’s ‘wonder-goal’ compilation, a restless night after stunning Goodison Park, the ongoing process of recovery from addiction, big ambitions and falling in love with his new club and city.
It was only in the futile pursuit of sleep that Andros Townsend began to appreciate the scale of what he’d accomplished a few hours earlier.
The distance and accuracy of a crackerjack strike that left Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope pawing at thin air were lost on Townsend in the moment.
His overriding emotion, as he sped off searching out his children in an executive box in a corner of Goodison Park, was one of relief.
Everton encountered problems against Burnley a fortnight ago and it was Townsend who supplied the solutions.
He dropped a cross on the head of Michael Keane for Everton’s equaliser and unleashed his 30-yard howitzer to turn the game on its head.
“The feeling was more relief we got the second goal than how good it was… that didn’t set in until I watched it afterwards and saw how far out I was,” says Townsend.
“It was one of my best, for sure.
“I normally sleep for three or four hours after a night match because of the caffeine I take and the adrenaline.
“But after Burnley, I got about an hour. I tried to settle down, get in bed and watch TV, but the adrenaline was pumping. I was thinking about the game and goal and couldn’t switch off.”
Townsend adopting the role of puzzle solver was appropriate for a man who has been asked an awful lot of tricky questions on and off the field and, without exception, found the right answers.
The tale of the forward’s nomadic early career – nine loans from parent club Tottenham Hotspur by the age of 21 – is well told.
His circuitous route appeared to have reached its destination in October 2013. Handed a first England cap by Roy Hodgson, the 22-year-old lit up Wembley with a sparkling performance and wonderful, swerving debut goal.
Two months after that international high came the hurtful blow of a hamstring injury that stripped Townsend of the turn of foot that was formerly a prime commodity.
“I struggled so much after that,” says Townsend, after a long pause to consider precisely how he altered his game to accommodate the issue.
“My mind wanted to do things my body wasn’t capable of anymore.
“Previously, I’d knock it and run and use my speed to get past people.
“Over time, I had to learn to do a skill, drop a stepover, be a bit cuter to lose my man, as opposed to having a one-v-one race to get to the byline.
“I don’t know if that was a mental side-effect or a physical one or both.
“It took me four-to-five years to adapt.
“It was only in 2017 under [then Crystal Palace manager] Sam Allardyce, I had an awakening and realised I couldn’t be this luxury player, who’s only judged on what he does in the final third.
“Because for the previous three or four years, I’d not been able to do it in the final third like I used to.
“I had to think. ’How do I have a career in the Premier League without that explosive pace?’
“I started doing the other side of it, running back and playing as more of a box-to-box midfielder, as opposed to somebody only doing damage in the final third.”
Townsend’s disclosure following his Burnley strike that his mum had accompanied a compilation video of her son’s most spectacular goals with the message, “Believe in yourself again”, prompted a few raised eyebrows.
Confidence appeared one of the hallmarks of the player’s early-season performances, as he demonstrated an enduring capacity to wreak havoc from attacking positions.
Townsend swept in a winning goal at Huddersfield Town, provided a couple of assists and was a regular source of premium service for his strikers.
Sitting today in an airy office at the Club’s USM Finch Farm headquarters, dressed in white Everton training top and shorts, Townsend adds flesh to the bones of that video story.
“I am known for my wonder goals and my last was in May 2019, against Cardiff City – that is too long for someone of my quality,” says Townsend.
“My mum knew I was playing well but said, ‘Watch all your goals and remember that feeling’.
“I didn’t believe her [that the montage would inspire him] but watched anyway because the video was 15 minutes.
“And then I’m there, shooting from 30 yards without even thinking about it. It was instinct to come inside and look to shoot.
“That was my mindset when I was younger.”
Townsend’s mum Katerina owns a sixth sense for when to apply a gentle nudge.
The Londoner with 13 England caps joined Crystal Palace in the summer of 2016 following a dalliance with Newcastle United.
He was thrashing about for form and self-belief at Selhurst Park, so mum spent time studying sports psychology – “She is always looking at ways to improve me and goes on courses, mainly the mental side of the game” – and eventually recommended a professional for Andros.
“Seeing someone was a massive help,” says Townsend.
“I don’t think there’s a special formula, it’s just speaking about your problems.
“If I have a bad game on Saturday, I think it’s 10 times worse than it is.
“The psychologist can see the bigger picture. He has seen other players and people who’ve felt the same things.
“It is rationalising things and working through them and setting targets, rather than anything groundbreaking.
“But I’ve not seen anyone since COVID.
“I am at an age where I can work through everything myself, I take time to set those goals and analyse what went right and wrong and where I need to improve.”
Townsend grew up a Spurs fanatic and was on the club’s books for roughly 16 years, joining at eight and leaving permanently for Newcastle as a 24-year-old in January 2016.
He turned himself into a two-footed player with Tottenham and stuck to his guns over retaining elevated professional standards when a green 17-year-old on his first loan with Yeovil Town in League One.
There is an admission, however, that he didn’t exclusively get it right.
“When you are younger, you don’t always listen,” says Townsend.
“I was working with Mauricio Pochettino, one of the best managers in the world, and he was telling me things I am learning to do now: run-in behind, don’t stay wide.
“But I didn’t want to take it on board. I thought I knew better than him.
“As you grow older and more mature, you start listening to people and realise they can help you improve.”
Townsend was “16 or 17” when it dawned that he could do himself a favour by working overtime.
Spurs youth-team colleague Yaser Kasim – who would play for Swindon Town and the Iraq national team – “went straight from the training ground to a local park to work on both feet”.
“He really opened my eyes to training and improving yourself and the value of being able to use both feet,” continues Townsend.
“My right foot was for standing on. It [mastering weaker foot] is a process and doesn’t happen overnight.
“Since that time, I have taken every opportunity to try to improve, whether it’s on the training pitch, in the gym, at home or during the off-season.”
Sharing accommodation in Yeovil with fellow Spurs loanee Jonathan Obika, Townsend would arrange ice baths in his hotel room. He bought an electric stove to prepare pasta and chicken, eschewing the pub-food option next door.
“The biggest thing I took from that time was to always make sure you do the right things, rather than giving in and following what the others are doing,” says Townsend.
Eventually, however, the four hotel-bedroom walls in unfamiliar towns and cities night after night closed in on Townsend.
He had “begun to realise I had an addictive personality as I left school”.
“For that reason,” says Townsend, “I didn’t drink or gamble and stayed away from parties.”
Townsend wrote a formidable, soul-baring article, titled This Is Not A Golden Boy Story, for The Players’ Tribune website in December 2019.
In the piece, he described how downloading a betting app for the first time during one of his loan spells was the trigger for a gambling addiction.
Townsend breached FA betting regulations by gambling on matches in competitions in which he was involved and in the summer of 2013 was banned for four months – three of them suspended.
He sought help but acknowledges today, “The only reason I stopped was I knew if I did it again my career was pretty much over”.
“It was much later,” relates Townsend, “I realised how much of a problem I had.
“You speak to a gambler or alcoholic and they think they have control.
“‘I have a system, I can get out at any time’.
“That is obviously not the case.
“If you have an addiction, you are never completely over it.
“I am 90-per-cent clean and have not had a bet since it was bad.
“But, maybe, you see odds flash up on a screen, or for one reason or another it is in the back of your mind.
“It is not a problem – but it is an ongoing battle to not slip back into it.”
Townsend’s solution is to feed the obsessive element of his character with healthier pursuits.
He learned Greek – his mother’s native tongue – and five years ago had “six or seven months” consumed by the game Pokemon Go.
“I was spending hours driving to parks in London trying to look for Pokemon,” says Townsend.
“It was insane but kept me away from worse stuff.
“I make sure my mind is occupied to prevent me from thinking about gambling.
“It is much easier with two children taking most of my time. But I make sure there is never 30-45 minutes when I am twiddling my thumbs.
“When the kids are in bed and my wife is doing something else, I will play F1 on the PlayStation.”
Talking publicly and so eruditely about the subject, as Townsend has over the past two years, represents a double-edged sword.
“The more you speak about it, the more you’re thinking about gambling,” says Townsend.
“But it has been great to help other people in their own battles, with gambling or alcohol.
“At the height of the problem I thought it was just me going through it.
“So many people messaged me saying they thought they were the only ones – it’s valuable when they hear someone supposedly doing so well went through the same things.”
Rafa Benitez, discloses Townsend, provided a footballing “kick-start” when taking the player to Newcastle.
“Previous managers gave me information and it was take it or leave it,” says Townsend.
“But this manager is full-on.
“He really loves his training and coaching and improving players.
“He was the first one who tried to change my game and get me doing things I either wasn’t or didn’t want to.
“Roy Hodgson [at Palace] did an incredible job of making me a dependable footballer, rather than the luxury player I’d been.
“I am an accomplished defensive-minded winger, if needs be – but, here, I have the opportunity to be judged in the final third.
“I am really loving playing for an attacking side – and, hopefully, I can contribute with goals and assists, like I should every season.”
Townsend studied for his UEFA B Licence during the summer, when he also worked as a pundit on the European Championship for ITV.
The motivation for both assignments was twofold.
“I want as many coaching badges as possible and some media experience, so when I retire there’s not a period when I’m trying to figure out what to do and slip into those pitfalls, the addictions and gambling,” says Townsend.
“I’ve really enjoyed speaking about football and going to the Euros.
“Analysing the formations and the way teams like to play and why.
“I am not watching thinking about a media career.
“I am thinking, ‘When I go back next season, I will have a better understanding of the tactical side of football’.”
Townsend’s first punditry gig represents an unhappy memory.
He was a shoo-in for England’s 2014 World Cup squad until injury intervened. To fill the void, the young attacker agreed to work for ITV at the tournament.
“It was one of my worst experiences,” says Townsend.
“I thought it would be great to go to a World Cup in Brazil and talk about it.
“But standing pitchside at a tournament where you were tipped to star was much tougher than I expected.
“It only really hit me at the Italy game [England’s opening group fixture].
“I was in a suit with a microphone in my hand and should have had my boots on playing.”
Townsend’s broadcasting experience provides a fresh standpoint on the topics of racial equality and discrimination.
The player’s father, Troy, is head of development at Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, and a powerful and instructive voice on the issue of race.
“It [racism and discrimination] is something I have always been aware of but five or 10 years ago, the attitude was, ‘It is there, get on with it, kick a ball and play’,” says Townsend.
“Raheem Sterling spoke out and now you see players have a voice and a platform.
“The more we speak and make a noise, people will take notice.
“When you are trying to enforce change, there will always be people wanting to drag you back. For all the good we’ve seen, there are some, especially on social media, who want to object and cause trouble.
“Since the George Floyd incident, broadcasters are doing more, growing more diverse, employing more women and people of colour.
“We have made great strides over the past year, or so, and I am sure that will continue.”
Townsend and his family are “loving” their new home city.
A 10-minute drive to training is a revelation after the three-hour round-trip at Palace and Formby beach was a golden surprise.
“I didn’t know there was a beach in England that nice,” says Townsend.
“My kids thought they were in Dubai or the Greek islands.
“I hardly saw the children with the travelling at Palace, now I can take them to soft play or bouncy castle, whatever they are into.”
Townsend was self-aware enough to understand the acquisition of a 30-year-old free agent, fresh from five years with Crystal Palace, would be queried in some quarters.
Evertonians instantly warmed to the player’s industry and attacking quality and evident glee at playing for their club.
“The fans have been amazing, they sang a song about me for the first time after I scored at Huddersfield and that was an incredible feeling,” says Townsend.
“I am thrilled to be playing for Everton and there is no way this chance is going to pass me by, or I am going to fail because of lack of effort.
“You can keep improving until you retire and I will work hard every day to, hopefully, take my game to another level into my thirties.”
If Townsend manages to reach new heights, it begs the question over a potential second coming with England.
There is a loud, almost disbelieving, laugh and a facial expression to match the reply.
“That is not anywhere near my mind,” says Townsend.
“I was 24-48 hours from having to accept an offer overseas a few months ago. Clubs in England were interested but didn’t want to make the first move.
“Everton came at the last minute and I realise how fortunate I am to represent such a massive club, fighting for big things.
“I try not to think beyond the day-to-day – but I don’t want to retire without winning anything.
“When you play in the playground, or go to bed at night, you dream about lifting a trophy.”
Should that day come, sleep would be hard to come by. But Andros Townsend would nod off eventually. He always finds a solution.