Pics: David Loveday
WHEN George Carline didn’t get picked for Birmingham University’s football teams, he decided to look elsewhere on his doorstep.
Cadbury Athletic, then in the Midland Combination at Step 7, opened their doors and after impressing for their reserve side, the versatile midfielder was soon in the first team.
Five years later he’s playing for Solihull Moors in the National League and was called up to Paul Fairclough’s most recent England C squad.
“Me and my mate, Callum, didn’t get in the Uni team,” Carline says. “We went down for trials, there were hundreds of people there and you hardly get a touch of the ball. It’s really cliquey as well so we decided to go down to our local club because it was literally one stop down the train line. We were in Selly Oak and could get the train to Bournville.
“We contacted the manager and he said, ‘Come down’. To start with we were in the reserve team – I think we might have one of our players run the line. But halfway through the first season we went into the first team, at Step 7.
“It was ideal, we enjoyed it. It’s a really well run club. I’ve got a lot of time for the people there and I still go down to see them now.”
Playing in the shadow of Cadbury World, Carline didn’t pick up a penny but managed to score 40 goals in his second season as they won the Midland Combination Division One and promotion to Step 6.
But by then he had come to the attention of another local manager, Redditch United’s rookie boss Liam McDonald.
The Chocolate Men played a final at United’s ground with Carline playing well and scoring the winner from the penalty spot in front of a watching McDonald.
McDonald, already growing a reputation for unearthing gems, invited him to pre-season. The next year he played nearly every game and in his second season helped them finish runners-up.
“It was a step up but I try not to do things that aren’t part of my game,” Carline says. “I play to my strengths. Over the years Liam has got to know them too, so I just play to those really.”
When McDonald moved on to Hednesford Town, Carline followed – as he eventually did when the 32-year-old boss took the managerial vacancy at Solihull.
It’s fair to say a call-up to Non-League’s Three Lions wasn’t in his mind when he kicked-off last season at Step 3 with Hednesford.
“Not at all,” Carline says. “It was a change of league from the Southern League to the Northern Premier League so that was exciting. I’d heard things about it being a different style of football, the league being harder or easier. I tried not to listen too much to what people say and the rumours you hear. I just try to play my game.
“You get told about certain players or certain teams – managers go into a lot of detail. But it’s a game of football at the end of the day. It’s a simple game that, a lot of the time, is complicated by people.
“The experience with England C and working with people who have years of experience has been great and you always learn. But you also do it to enjoy playing football.
“Liam knows the style of football he wants to play and the teams he wants to build. I think I fit into that quite well. He wants hardworking teams, for one. We’ll see how we do this coming season but he’s ambitious and always wanting to improve – and not listen to where you should be in the league but just do your own thing.”
Carline, 24, had been teaching PE at a secondary school before recently starting a business with older brother Sam to go into schools and after-school clubs to teach the subject.
Since joining Moors at the back end of November, he’s played 25 times and scored four goals before getting the England C nod for their recent games with Panjab FA and Jersey.
“It’s just enjoyable right now,” Carline says. “We won’t talk about the result Solihull had at Tranmere but it was only a few years ago I was walking out at a local park. Then I was standing in the tunnel at Tranmere and able to hear the crowd. It feels like a proper game – and not walking out on a mud bath of a pitch.
“But I’m just doing it to enjoy it still. Obviously a lot of the England C lads have their stories about going to academies and they’ve had knockbacks, but I’m just trying to look ahead with the business and my football.”
It’s been a fast-moving journey for Carline, who reckons stopping playing football for four years when he was 13 may be why he has developed late. And why a shot at the Football League shouldn’t be ruled out.
“I always thought I could move up the leagues, even when I was at Cadbury because I scored goals at that level and I felt I could step up and contribute to teams,” he says.
“As you get closer to the Football League you do think, ‘Why not be able to step up one or two more leagues?’ Two years ago I was playing six leagues below! I don’t want to say, ‘This is my level’, because you’ve always got to strive to improve.”