CHARLIE Austin has to stifle a laugh when his QPR team-mates moan about the lesser grounds they visit.
In a week where millions yet again got shuffled from one football account to another, the 24-year-old is already a veteran of how the other half lives.
In fact, he shudders at the memory of the Peter Henry Ground on the Isle of Wight.
Never heard of it? Braydon Town, formerly of the Wessex Premier, play there, and so did young Austin hours after he downed hod and set off on a winter’s night via the ferry.
Having been at work since 7.30am that morning, playing on a windswept open pitch with a stand that looks pushed to house half a dozen bikes, never mind spectators, the player reckons the grounding he got at football’s coal face stood him in good stead.
He said: “I only have to look back at where I came from and know that things could be worse.
“We go away and hear stuff like ‘this is not the best stadium’. I think, you’ve not seen nothing.
“They’ve not seen Braydon on a Tuesday night when you’ve got to catch a ferry straight after work and then back home again.”
Austin left school when he was 15 to work at his dad’s building firm, and had a full-time job as a brickie until he made the breakthrough at Swindon Town.
One of his non-league clubs on the way was Hungerford Town, where he was born and raised – a place sadly associated with the 1987 mass shooting that left 17 of its own dead. Austin reckoned as bad as football banter gets, no one ever mentioned it when he was playing for his hometown club.
He said: “There’s banter, and then there’s stepping over the mark. It was never brought up at school either. My dad owns a building company and they were in Reading at the time, and all trying to get hold of their wives to make sure everybody was safe. Luckily they were.”
His move from Swindon to Burnley should have then seen him move again in the summer to the Premier League and Hull.
However, the deal broke down when Austin failed a medical on an old knee injury. Despair quickly turned to elation when QPR came in for him, and the striker reckons he will soon be in the top flight – he might just have to wait a year or so.
He added: “I had an operation on the knee when I was 15, but never had any trouble with it since at Swindon and Burnley.
“After the Hull setback, I knew I had to do a pre-season, and although the players at Burnley gave me a bit of banter, everybody there was brilliant for me.
“But there is a big difference between Rangers and Burnley from the perspective of the past couple of years.
“QPR have Premier League players and this week’s additions shows the club’s ambitions.
“I’m not saying Burnley haven’t got ambition, but QPR are a more attractive club.
“I was lucky enough QPR came for me and hopefully I can make the Premier League with them instead.”