I recently sat down with my long-time friend Reice Charles-Cook, who, as we saw in part one, has gone from being released by Arsenal and facing the grim reality of rebuilding from the ground up to becoming Coventry’s first-team goalkeeper. After balancing the demands of work and school well, Reice was on Arsenal’s books until the age of 18, but was then released. When you spend so long at such a reputable club, what do you do next? Give up? Look elsewhere? Become a banker? In part two, we went into detail about Reice’s journey since leaving Arsenal.
Did going through that struggle of being released by Arsenal make you a stronger player?
After Arsenal, it was hard for me to find a club. I had to go a training camp with Fred Barber, who’s an unbelievable goalkeeping coach, and has brought through the likes of Ali Al-Habsi, Adam Bogdan and Jussi Jaaskelainen. I went to his training camp because my agent was struggling, because the reports they were getting from Arsenal was not to touch me with a barge pole. Then Fred got a new job at Bury, and brought me along to Bury with him. I then went to Bury, and going from Arsenal to Bury in League 2 is a mad reality check, like a punch in the face almost.
What’s the transition like from going from Arsenal to League 2?
From having everything giving to you on a silver plate to something so different is nuts to deal with. When I was at Bury, we had to train in the park, which was 800 yards from the ground. Some days there was dog mess in the goalmouths and the reality check was mad. Going from hot food from sandwiches and things like that was tough, but Bury were class to me, giving me an apartment and looking after me well. Moving away from family was hardest thing ever, but was a good learning curve.
What was it like at Bury?
I made my debut against Southend and came on for Brian Jensen, who’s played in Premier League with Burnley. He’s a beast. He was unbelievable to learn under. When people say can you do it on a Tuesday night in Stoke, there’s reasons some players don’t make it – you either sink or you swim but that’s how it is. Going from Arsenal, being there 12 years to Bury, it’s like, ‘how did I end up here’? It was like I was black listed, but this stuff happens. That’s football, you live and you learn, and get stronger.
From Bury, how did you end up at Coventry?
Bury offered me a deal but I wasn’t happy with it, so I said I’d find somewhere else. So they let me go, and we parted terms. I went looking for other clubs and my agent got me a trial at Coventry, then got put on a trial and I got signed in the week. After leaving Bury, you wouldn’t think you’ll find your way up after. I thought I’d have to go the Conference and make my name there. I went to Coventry and they sent me on loan to Nuneaton straight away. I played in the Conference Premier for 4-5 months, which was a great experience, then got called back to sit on the bench for the rest of the season in League 1, which was a sick experience for me.
How did you transition from being an unpolished youngster to making the first team?
I’ve played at every level now, and seen how it was to act and now I can be myself. The gaffer we’ve got now [Tony Mowbray] is a natural genius. Playing at Coventry is like what I learnt all them years back at Arsenal. When I made my Coventry debut, it was probably the most nervous game of my life. No game is easy. Every game I’m nervous, even playing a friendly, like when we played Nuneaton in pre-season, you want to make a name for yourself. You don’t want be the one to make a mistake.
How have things gone since making your debut?
It’s been a mad ride. Playing seven games in October is mad. Unbelievable. You just keep your feet on the ground. I always will because of the way I’ve grown up. You can’t just forget where you’ve been and how you’ve got there. Am I going to be able to cope with the comedown if I have a couple bad games? There’s a lot more to come and a lot more experience to go through. Just taking it one step at a time, signing a new three-year deal is like a dream come true. It’s like a safety but motivator too, it’s like if I can do this, what else can I do? I’m one of the lucky ones.
They say only 1% of aspiring football players “make it” – is that accurate, from what you’ve seen?
Exactly. People say there’s so many footballers out there, every young lad wants to be a footballer. To say I’ve done it is amazing achievement but I wouldn’t have done it without the people in my life to support me along the way, and got the help I did from everyone.
Coventry are top of League 1 right now, and are one of the biggest sides outside of the Premier League. I remember when Coventry and Manchester City got relegated in 2000 but now City are in the Chamiponship, and Coventry are in League 1. What does the future hold for you and the team now?
If we don’t get promoted we’ll be disappointed. Promotion is our only goal, we got the talent. The talent here is scary, we got Adam Armstrong, Jacob Murphy, and another young lad called James Maddison. He’s special, and can be whatever he wants. So there’s a lot of talent in this team and we’re hoping for a big year.
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