It was never a simple ride for Coventry City goalkeeper Reice Charles-Cook....
Following his fantastic start to life in Coventry City's net, Reice Charles-Cook was the cover star of PUSB for the Blackpool.
Due to Charles-Cook achieving another clean sheet on Tuesday night against Rochdale, we've decided our exclusive interview should be here for all to enjoy.
As the great politician, writer and Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said, “There is no education like adversity.”
Growing up as a kid, Reice was immediately restricted in his ambitions to become a footballer. Doctors found he suffered from a heart murmur which meant he could no longer play football outfield, a difficult condition to acknowledge as a child.
However, the restriction placed upon him proved not to be a barrier, but a gateway, as he takes up the story of how he became a goalkeeper.
“It all started off as a kid. Obviously, I’d used to play all the time with my brothers in the garden, there is seven of us,” Reice began.
“Unfortunately, Doctors found out I had a heart murmur when I was young. I didn’t want to stop playing football and my parents didn’t want me to stop either so they decided to put me in goal. So, my brothers would just shoot at me all day long in a really small garden and it went on from there.
“I used to just dive on the concrete and try and make everything look special. I do have to thank my brothers a lot and my dad because everyone had a love for football. My Dad could have been a footballer as well but he didn’t have the attitude so he always taught me how important it was to have the right attitude.”
Reice grew up in Forest Hill in London. In 2008, the Metropolitan Police branded Forest Hill as having the highest crime rate in the capital city and continues to have a high crime rate in 2015.
As Reice admits, there were so many distractions a young male growing up in London could have been involved in but never discount the value of a solid family base which Reice was not only lucky to have, but he had it in abundance.
He continued: “I’ve got to thank my family a lot as it was tough growing up but that made us ready to work hard for what we wanted to do in life.
“If you consider where we’ve grown up in Forest Hill in South London, my Mum and Dad have done an unbelievable job for all my brothers. I think about it quite a lot because we’ve all grown up and turned into men.
“It was difficult. It was a small back garden and they’d be five of us in there at one time trying to play. It wasn’t the best but we made the best of it. I look back on it sometimes and think, how have I got here?
“We’ve all got really good jobs with one of my brothers, Jesse, is now a Lawyer, Jonathan is currently studying architecture, Regan is at Charlton and Anthony has played in the leagues. I’m very proud of the family.
“The area we grew up in, it could have been so much easier to go the other way. There was opportunity all around us growing up to get involved in things which you shouldn’t be involved in.
“My Dad kept us focused though and kept us all away from that which I can’t thank him enough for as if it wasn’t for that, I probably wouldn’t be at Coventry City today.”
The Charles-Cook family is blessed with footballing talent. Reice’s brother Regan is currently playing for Charlton Athletic in the Championship and one of his other brothers Anthony has played for Dagenham and Redbridge, and currently plies his trade at National League side Bromley.
When there is so much talent in one family, it must be difficult to shine the brightest but it’s a title they all seem determined to take. When Reice made his debut for Coventry City, his brother Regan also made his professional debut for Charlton. Maybe they called it a dead heat.
However, through family comes the determination to succeed and Reice admits the basis for his drive in life comes from the rivalry within his family.
“Sibling competition has always been and always will be massive in our family. Anthony was on Football Icon 2 but got injured when he was in the final four and he was favourite to win it. Me and Regan had a lot of competition when we were both at Arsenal,” Charles-Cook remembered.
“It’d always be like, who’d make it first and get the first squad number. When Anthony made his first appearance for Dagenham and Redbridge, he became the first out of the family to do it so he set out a marker and you always want to better that.
“Me and Regan have now made our debuts and now we want to surpass each other, and it’s great when we’ve played each other in the Under-21s. It’s all friendly, but great competition to have.”
Having grown up in such a competitive environment, where your older brothers are slamming footballs at you from close-range in a concrete garden, it wasn’t going to take too long before Reice would develop his talent for the position.
Usually, children try everything to stay out ‘of net’ but Reice embraced it and it wasn’t long before scouts started to take notice. Not just any old scouts, but scouts for one of the world’s biggest clubs, Arsenal as Reice takes up the remarkable story once again.
Composing himself, he continued: “I remember it well. I had no gloves! Nothing. I was playing for Chipstead and I was just diving about with no gloves. I did well in goal and didn’t concede. It was strange though as after the game my mum was talking to this guy and she kept pushing me away.
“I was like ‘Mum, I want to go, it’s freezing’ but she continued to speak to this guy. When we got home, my Mum and Dad spoke to me and was like ‘you know what you did today, you just got scouted for Arsenal.’ I was ‘what…’ It was incredible.
“I was on trial there for years but my Dad didn’t want to stop me playing with my friends. But one day, I was in school and I got pulled out of school to go to a tournament in Spain. I was like ‘what’s going on?’ because I hadn’t signed for them but they wanted me to go. That’s how it all started.”
Now, officially playing in Arsenal’s Academy, Reice began to make further shockwaves when he put on the gloves as a 14-year old, for the Under-21s side.
“It was a great education. I made my Under-21s debut at like 14-years old for Arsenal. It was a pre-season friendly and I wasn’t even meant to play but because of injuries, I had to step up,” the City stopper said.
“I played really well for them but then, the next game, I went back down to my age and had an absolute nightmare. I was awful so that brought me back to reality.”
Reice left his beloved Arsenal in 2013, where he’d also spent time on loan with Chelmsford City, making three appearances.
Leaving the glitz and the glamour of the Emirates can often prove a difficult step for young professionals to take. Despite being a Premier League club, Arsenal have a surprising drop-off rate when players are released. They can very often fall out of the game completely.
Luckily, Reice found a club at Bury and was able to continue his playing career where others have struggled. With Gigg Lane a polar opposite environment to the one he’d left, Reice explains why it can be so easy for former Arsenal youngsters to drop out of the game.
“There’s loads of different aspects to it. I think players can leave Arsenal thinking they can walk into any other team in the country but it’s not like that,” Reice acknowledges.
“You’ve got to adapt to different styles of football and different types of clubs. When I left Arsenal, I went to Bury and they’re two completely different worlds. It catches people out.
“You could say that players at Arsenal are mollycoddled. At the age of 14, you’ve got a kitman carrying your boots for you and you don’t get that at most first-teams in the country.
“If you grow up in that environment, everything is a massive shock. Luckily, that upbringing I had mentally prepared me for the next challenge so when I left Arsenal, I was ready.”
Following his release from Bury, Charles-Cook was picked up by Coventry City, and after an initial trial period where he impressed City legend and goalkeeping coach Steve Ogrizovic with his athleticism, he was promptly signed up.
An impressive loan spell at Nuneaton Town saw him offered a two-year deal with the Sky Blues as his potential was beginning to be realised. Following illness to another young talent, Lee Burge, Charles-Cook was finally given his moment to make his league debut for the Sky Blues against Shrewsbury Town in a 3-0 win just a couple of weeks ago.
“Obviously, we were told before the end of last season that it’s Lee’s position for the time being and that should keep him on his toes,” Reice remarked.
“There was talk of getting a loan spell in the summer but I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to be able to be in the gaffer’s eye and impress.
“I played quite a lot during pre-season and I’ve worked hard to improve. I feel like a different person this season. What’s happened to Burgey is really unlucky because he was ill and that’s why he missed out.
“But, when you get a chance, you’ve got to take it.” A sentiment which could be said for Coventry City this season.
After an impressive start to the 2015/16 campaign, which has seen the Sky Blues grace the play-off positions, and with the club just three points off the top of the table, there has rarely been a greater chance for success.
At a club which hasn’t experienced a top-six finish for 45 years (yes, that’s actually true), City’s start to the season has not only revitalised hopes for the club but it has also revitalised the city of Coventry.
Rather than sit on the fence like the modern day professional footballer tends to do when asked a direct question, Reice is adamant about his ambitions for the season.
“I want to go up. Plain and simple. We can do it,” Reice states.
“This season, the team is fantastic and we’re all together in that dressing room. Everyone supports everyone which wasn’t like last season as there were a lot of riffs which came out onto the pitch.
“We all want the same thing this time around. Every player is aware of what the fans have had to go through and they deserve success.
“We need to deliver to a filled-out Ricoh Arena. Let’s finally give this City something to shout about.”
Like Reice, the club has had to conquer a lot of adversity over the years, but maybe, both Reice and the club are about to taste the success which will be richly deserved when delivered.