Aust In Translation

Chris Austins has combined a love of football with a passion for policing, that’s took him from Sovereignville to Scotland.

The next door neighbours are watching. It’s like Rear Window but with more jogging bottoms. An elderly woman stops mowing her lawn to gaze through the brittle, superannuated fence. The panels are weary, just like the woman. But what’s catching their attention? Is it a dune bug, jumping on the blades of grass? Is it a summer-beaten dog, staggering around wearily looking for a place to die?

The short answer is no (incidentally, the long answer is also no). It’s Chris Austins. Topless, his figure glistens in the sun, his sideburns long brown beacons soaking up the rays. He thrusts his body and squats up and down like a randy caveman, as ‘OMG’ by Usher blares out his ghetto blaster. As workouts go, Austins takes it to the next level.

Austins, 30, has always been big on fitness. He needed to be. As one of Sovereign’s prized back-four, he had the ability (though never the motive) to run up and down the flanks, helping chip in with goals and sheath Matt Palmer like a lanky condom.

When Sovereign went their separate ways, many expected ‘Bostin Austins’ to stay local. But Austins has always thrived on being unpredictable.

“Before I became full-time with the Sov, I was matchday security,” he recalls now, sitting down to rest. “I’d watch the Sov games and be desperately trying not to intervene. I’d even bring my boots just in case they needed me. One day, at half-time, a boy threw a brick onto the pitch. I went on to retrieve it, as well as throw it back at him, and saw Chris Caddick had left a football idling on the turf. I did a slew of football moves and the gaffer saw it. He told me to take off my epaulets and put on a jersey.”

Austins shone for Sovereign, and loved his role as a full-back, although he preferred being full than to being back. “My mentality is to never look back. The problem was, I applied that to my football, too!” His hero was former Wolves right-back Ronald Zubar, who had a fondness for galloping up the wing and staying there. “Liam Dixon and the gaffer’s face were beetroot red. Neil would be screaming at me to get back. He even started playing ‘Get Back’ on the stereo as a hint. I ignored it. I knew what I was doing.”

Whilst at Sovereign, Austins was known for loving three things – football, policing and sex. “All three are close to my heart,” he said. “Sometimes one of the three things would land me in trouble. Sexy trouble.”

Austins co-founded the ‘love’ app, Plenty Of Fish, and spent hours tracking down potential suitors. “We’d have long coach journeys to away games,” Austins says. “And whilst Derrie would do his card tricks and Ash would learn Swahili, I’d be nose-down looking for girls in the area. We’d get there and whilst the lads were checking out the stadium, I’d be in a hotel busting my ‘burns.”

It was one of these encounters that led to Austins landing in hot water (although a cold shower would have been more apposite). Whilst making sweet love to a Russian woman, Olga, he was unaware he was being filmed by a teammate. “I told the lads I was going to watch Goldenballs as I was a sucker for Jasper,” he says. “So we put it on and as his bald head filled the screen, I was getting goofy with a Russian graphic designer.

“We like getting dirty, so I was telling her to ‘shut up’ and to ‘crunch my nuts’. She took the last one literally, though – what a waste of cashews.”

A few days later, the video, titled ‘One Night in Austins’, became an internet sensation on YouTube. He was reviled by the fans and admired by the lonely. “No one knows who filmed it, but it was a dark time in my life. The worst thing was they had to dub Olga’s voice to avoid her suing us. In the video she tells me to ‘poo on her’ in the voice of Christopher Walken.”

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Things have long changed now, though. Austins has spent the last two seasons in Scotland, playing for Inverness Caledonian Thistle. He’s also married to long-term partner Keeley Hazell, a former Page 3 model who he met whilst promoting PoF at a gala dinner. “We clicked right away,” he says today. “The move to Scotland was tough, but it’s going good and it’s proved to me I can thrive in any environment.”

An infamous Sovereign game saw Austins clash with midfielder Mat Hodson. “I love a grumble, even more than Ash Wiley,” he says. “If I’m not on duty or on the job, I’m on my high horse. And I like being on my high horse. It makes me look like a knight.

“Our team had a lot of personalities. Liam was the captain and he did a good job of keeping us grounded. But sometimes things would get out of hand – Mat was chucking a Frisbee about and it hit Ash square on the jaw. They began pinching one another, so I had to intervene.”

Now, with his Scottish tenure over, he’s heading back to England, where he’s reportedly joining new phoenix team Hereford FC. “I’ve enjoyed my time in Scotland it’s garnered me some vital experience, but it’s time to come home,” he says. “I’m going to combine my football with my policing, so I’m just hoping I don’t leave my truncheon on the pitch.”

An Honest Jon

Jon Giddings wasn’t content to stay in Sovereign. Or England, for that matter. After a prolific period in Poland, the striker once hailed ‘Sov’s Shearer’ recalls the highs, lows and creamy middles of his Sovereign tenure.

Remember when The Beatles landed in Hamburg? Or when One Direction landed, well, anywhere? That’s nothing compared to the scenes witnessed today at a Krakow school. The students are fighting with teachers to get to the limousine that’s just pulled up; journalists have abandoned stories on Polish sausage to be here. Everyone agrees it’s a pretty exciting afternoon all round.

Out steps Jonathon Giddings. British by heart, but Polish by temperature. The Krakow locals adore him (at least three of the nursery children are named either ‘Jon’, ‘Giddo’ or ‘Gidovski’). As he steps out in comfortable jeans, ‘Buck Fuddy’ t-shirt and pleasant plimsolls, he is nigh on torn apart by the Polish faithful. He signs so many autographs the Bic manufacturers are outsourcing to Calcutta. He has so many selfies Instagram is on life support. “Another day in paradise,” he tells me as he gives his lecture to Year 6 students.

Giddings was Sovereign’s Joey Barton. Whilst there was swagger and strutting on the pitch, there was anger and destruction off it. “You get a 20-year-old boy in the Premiership, give him a raise and a weekend in Blackpool,” he remembers now. “And lives are gonna get ruined.”

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He could afford to go off the rails, though, for his goals were keeping Sov on them. He scored 27 goals in their Championship-winning season, and it seemed he could play in any formation; whether he be leading the line on his own, accompanied by wing-backs or partnered with the battering ram Neil Jackson, he made Harry Kane look like an impotent pimp.

The 2009-10 season was the Sovereign’s first in the Premiership. Forget Bournemouth; the size of Sovereignville was so small they had to demolish Stroud Avenue to build a new stand. “It was an amazing experience for us nippers,” Giddings recalls. “We were playing in front of eight people in Cannock, then two years later walking out to thousands at Anfield. The good thing was, though, we kept our confidence and our self-belief. We didn’t care where we played. We just played.”

Giddings continued his fine form in the top flight, and scored 14 goals. However, he could not save the Sov from an instant return to the second-tier. It was here that the problems began.

“There was talk of Premiership and foreign clubs wanting me, but I was under contract,” Giddings says, stroking his beard. “Me and the gaffer, Neil, had some words about it. I said that I wanted a fresh start with a bigger club, and he sent me a text. It just had a question mark.”

The two fought it out and eventually Giddings got his wish, moving on a season-long loan to French team Marseille. Sovereign, meanwhile, went straight back up, and this time Giddings realised it was time to make amends.

“I wish I had been there for that season, because the lads’ confidence never faltered,” he says forlornly. “So, when I came back and Neil was preparing for the Prem again, I made it clear I was going nowhere.”

Jackson was always fond of Giddings’ volatility. When he was offered a contract way back in 2007, Giddings knew straight away he wanted to sign…but he didn’t let his feelings show.

“I let the contract gather dust,” he recalls now. “He was texting me every day, following me in Tesco Express, buying me curries. He wanted me badly, and I thrived off it. Eventually, I walked round his house, strutted in and said, ‘I fancy it.’ He immediately rang the press and got them round his billiard table.”

Every team needs a frontman, and Giddings was the Sov’s Mick Jagger. The ladies loved him, little lads tried to grow goatees to be like him and his Panini player card was sought after in every swap session. “Everyone wants to be Gascoigne, without the problems,” Giddings confirms today. “Everyone wants that striker or attacker, the one who’s a bit daft and doesn’t care. The one with the talent.”

Giddings had grown close to holding midfielder Ash Wiley and defender Derrie Catton over the years, forming the debate team ‘Deep Convo Clan’.

“It started when we had nowhere to live when we joined,” Giddings recalls. “The three of us bought a semi-detached and lived there for a while, and we always had deep conversations, where we held nothing back. It was like a pact. We sat on the team coach together, shared a dressing room peg and even went to the dentist together.”

In Blackpool, Wiley spent £8,000 on strippers and other women. Giddings got drunk and punched a woman in the handbag. Catton didn’t get into any trouble, but did steal a cushion from the bed and breakfast. Jackson wasn’t happy.

“It took some smoothing over,” he recalls now. “But by then the season was over and I was ready to settle down.”

He settled down with Polish super fan Magda. “She was watching Match of the Day in Poland and she tweeted me. I still have it today – ‘@giddoscoresgoals is one fine striker, wish I could meet him lol’. Once I’d translated it and saw her picture, I sent her tickets to watch us play Pussy Pounders. We got chatting and before I knew it we were moving Ash out the house.”

To be closer to Magda’s next of kin, he made a high-profile move to Wisla Krakow, where he’s scored 65 goals in 102 games. Now, two years on, his contract is up and he’s missing Blighty. “My biological clock is ticking,” he says. “I’m happy with a Polish wife, but I want British kids. I’m hoping to secure a move to England and show I can produce great goals and great children.” With Burnley lodging an interest, it could be an interesting summer for Giddings. The seven years he spent with Sovereign are forever etched in his memory, though.

“We were kings amongst men,” he says. “We lived in each other’s pockets and we wouldn’t have had it any other way. We’ll never see a team like that again.”

Captain’s Log – Liam Dixon on Love, Louie and Leadership

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As Captain for Sovereign FC, Liam Dixon saw heartache, happiness and O’Hagan. Now settled in Cardiff, the erstwhile Sov stalwart bares all (not literally), puts his balls on the line (not literally) and writes it all down (literally).

There’s a scene in Saving Private Ryan where the elder Tom Hanks falls to his knees at the sight of the endless rows of white crosses. This then leads into that scene, where the shrapnel flies, limbs cascade and prayers are left unanswered. When we ask footballer Liam Dixon of his Sovereign memories, a similar passage entails (although, admittedly, with less bloodshed).

As Captain for Sovereign FC, Dixon felt what the team and fans felt tenfold – the crushing losses, the giddy promotions and the pleasant middles – and garnered an enviable amount of silverware. He had been part of the Sovereign set-up since he was eight-years-old when he joined Sovereign’s youth team, ‘Sovereign Ponies’ (“I was too old for the Fowl division,” he says today).

Today, sitting in his luxury Cardiff apartment with partner Summer Pepper-Dixon, he remembers the leviathan task of keeping his teammates content. “Being a captain is more than just doing a bit of pointing on the pitch,” he recalls today, sipping the first of many Carlings (it’s 10am). “I was organising tactics mid-game, discussing who should go off – usually Lambeth – and I was also port-of-call for any issues the team faced on a pastoral level.

“Try and imagine that dressing room. On one side you’ve got Ash Wiley, doubled over with hunger pains but still demanding he play the full 90 minutes. On the other, you’ve got Chris Austins, demonstrating his own tactical methods and checking our headlights worked. Then you’ve got Neil Jackson, Jonathon Giddings, Mathew Hodson. These people were hard to please, but it was my job to do it. I should have gotten a Nobel peace prize!”

It was the pressure of this that led to Dixon turning to Dutch courage (although the beer was usually British). For three games in a row, Dixon played in a state of complete rat-buttocked-ness. With his eyes mere pink, mottled slivers, a breath reeking of beer and pretzeled bread and a gait wobblingly inconsistent, he somehow held it together and played some of his best football.

“Police say you’re legally entitled to 1.5 pints of alcohol if you’re driving, although I need to check this with Aust. They say the same about playing football – I think. But anyone who knows me understands that six pints is when I hit my ‘sweet spot’ for performing. In fact, I think it intimidated the opposition into losing – the sight of me lumbering towards them definitely got them worried!”

As club captain, Dixon knew all about the rivalry with Mandem FC. The games were never very friendly, and the press lapped up the tension that was growing between Dixon and Mandem’s captain, Louie Biglad. “The Sun got us together before a derby for a ‘head to head’, where we answered a quick-fire quiz to see who was the better captain,” Dixon grouses. “It was a nightmare. Although I edged it as Louie forgot the Calvin Harris lines from ‘Dance Wiv Me’.”

This anger was translated onto Twitter, as Louie and Mandem launched a particularly repugnant smear campaign against the Sov. Surely, Liam, that MUST rankle?

“I won’t lie, it hurt,” he says, shuddering at the mere mention. “They put a picture of Reg Varney from On the Buses up and said it was me. That’s all they had – we parked the bus, allegedly. They called us ‘the 559’. I couldn’t stand it for much longer so I let rip, I sent a tirade of four-letter insults (one of them was six letters, I think) to them and said we’d do our talking on the pitch rather than at a keyboard (the computer kind; I wasn’t going to write a piano ballad).”

But the good times outweighed the bad. As captain, Dixon got a group of contrasting specimens close together – the Chizels of the world were breaking bread with the Giddings’ssss, Frazer Evans and San Lam put their cultural conflicts aside to play Scrabble, even the curmudgeonly Derrie Catton was chuckling as Sam Lambeth went through his ‘left my wallet at home’ routine.

“My Sovereign tenure was filled with laugher, medals and money,” Dixon remembers fondly today. “I was proud to lead that team out every Monday. We all liked a laugh and a joke when it came to the curry house or Neil’s snooker table, but as soon as we hit the pitch, we were focused beyond belief. But I made sure once we’d done our post-match talk on that uncomfortable grass divert, we went to the Spread joking about Ash’s latest haircut.”

The only thing missing from Dixon’s life was an international call-up. The Premiership years had fuelled rumours an England nod was in the offing, but Fabio Capello instead plumped for Danny Guthrie. That’s when Dixon realised there was only one place he needed to go – Cardiff.

“I qualified to play for Wales thanks to a love of Stereophonics,” he says. “But somehow I knew that wouldn’t be enough. I could quote Nessa all day long to Chris Coleman, but he still wouldn’t listen (although he did chip in with some amusing Bryn remarks). Eventually, I realised playing for Cardiff City would embellish my hopes.”

It’s been two seasons now, one in the Prem and one in the Championship, and Dixon is loving life playing for Vincent Tan. “He’s no more wacky and unpredictable than Mitch,” Dixon says, fondly. “He doesn’t tell Romanians to piss off, though!”

His love life has also settled. In Sovereignville, Dixon ploughed through a succession of fillies, and Neil Jackson’s sofa has never recovered. Now, though, he’s firmly in love with Summer, whom he met at a Colin Charvis gala party.

“It was freezing cold and I remember saying to her, ‘if only Summer would come sooner’,” he recalls. “She said, ‘summer’s right round the corner’. Once I realised she was referring to herself and not the season (it was still only October), I was smitten.”