In Brentford's match day programme over the course of the 2010/11 season, Nick Bruzon has been finding out what has happened to some former Brentford stars.
Today and tomorrow, www.brentfordfc.co.uk reproduces Nick's article on Carl Hutchings.
Today's "Where Are They Now" interviewee is one who epitomises the Brentford spirit, having come up through the youth ranks to represent the Club for five full seasons from 1993-98. Indeed, he very generously took time out from a break abroad to make direct contact with myself. As I sat shivering in West London, a text message came through, saying:
"Hi there. Gus Hurdle has passed on your number. I'm currently sitting on the beach in Barbados but please feel free to contact me on my return."
No further prompting was required! Not only did our guest come back on loan for a further loan spell, he is the man about whom, as we played our 2002 promotion decider against Reading, Paul Evans recently admitted: "One of the things that always sticks in my mind about that game is that when we scored, this player was actually running on the pitch. I'm sure he must have said he was injured at the team he was then playing with, because he was a massive Brentford fan. He'd been on loan with us the year before and I was like, 'What are you doing here??' He shouted,'Come on!!!! We're going to get promoted'."
Having twice suffered Griffin Park play-off disappointment himself, you can understand this exuberance at seeing his team finally in with a chance of going up. A Bees fan and a Bees player, would you please welcome…Carl Hutchings.
Before we get onto the football, I am intrigued to find about what he is up to these days. Of all the players we have been fortunate enough to catch up with, Carl certainly sounds like one of the busiest. Indeed, if half the information you can find on the Internet were to be believed, he would seem to have his fingers in an awful lot of pies at present. It is a sentiment he agrees with.
"Yes, most certainly. You could say that!"
In fact, amongst other things he has set up a firm called 'Elite Investments' about whom, he explains, "From businesses to properties. From land to stocks and shares. We run a fund that invests in all different markets. That's my company. It's been a long process but it's just kind of grown and grown from property, which is something I have always had an interest in. I think I bought my first property when I got my first pro-contract at Brentford, very young. When I moved to Bristol City I actually set up a company, buying and selling lots of different properties. Even then."
Carl admits that things are going well, despite the economic hardships being felt by some. "I know it's tough times out there but, surprisingly, this year is probably the best year that we have had since we started. Our umbrella company has come into effect in the last two and half years and we've diversified into different areas. It's a small company but we're growing."
It's not just investments, though. Other sources in cyberspace reveal that he has become involved in sport's management, motivational speaking and had even written a book. Is this all true?
"Yes. With regards to the sport's management side of things I work closely with a good friend and colleague of mine, Mel Eves, who used to play for England and now runs a football agency. I manage a number of young, up and coming footballers down in the South for him as he is based up in Birmingham. I run the South division for him and take care of the players down here. I just try to give them as much advice as possible and mentorship that I can, from where I've been and knowing the football world."
Perhaps the first thing you would associate with sports management is the role of an agent, but this is something that Carl is happy to clarify.
"Obviously, they are signed to the agency (which is Eleven Sports Management) but my role is more of a mentoring role. Telling them what they can expect, pitfalls and things to look out for - on and off the pitch! We've a number of players from 16 who are signed at different London clubs and then my role goes up to around 21 and 22, being my oldest player at Reading.
"For me, I really enjoy it. It keeps me in the game, I go down to watch them play and just have general talk about football and how they can improve - off the pitch more than on, where they are getting all the training anyway."
So what can somebody in his role offer to someone like that? Is it literally just a case of passing on experience and helping them get through tough times or something else? Carl elaborates. "The reason Mel brought me on is because I have a good knowledge and live down in the South, where I was doing a lot of mentoring with school children and younger teenagers, and so he thought it was a great marriage up for the younger players. A lot of younger players get big contracts, a lot of money and then, before you know it, they are in trouble with the police. They don't know, expect or realise what comes with the role of being a professional footballer so I suppose, for my role, it's a case of being there from an early meeting point to let them know what to expect. I always say that when they know, then they won't be disappointed when it happens and they can try to avoid the pitfalls in advance."
Mentor. Speaker. Investor. Author. Is it possible to pigeonhole what Carl Hutchings does these days? What is the one thing he would say people associate him with, or is he just that diverse? "My main role is definitely the investments. That is my day-to-day role and the one I really enjoy. I fly all over the world, I look at different types of investments and in the last few months I've been in Dubai, Barbados and St. Lucia. So my main role is out there looking for, and carrying out due diligence on, investments that the company can possibly get involved with. That's the main thing.
"Secondly, I would say that it is as a mentor for both younger teenagers and up and coming youngsters. Whether it be professional footballers or just talented young guys. In my spare time, I've got a few schools that I work with (on a voluntary basis, it later transpires, for a charity called 'Young Enterprise') where I just go in and talk about where I've been and some of the things I have experienced. That's not the football side of things but it's just to try and give some youngsters, especially if they are going off the path, a little bit of belief in themselves.'
This mention of football gives the ideal opportunity to take it back a touch. Carl has already mentioned that he started investing in property whilst a player at Bristol City but what some Bees fans may not realise is that he retired from football at the, relatively, young age of 29. He had always been popular at Brentford and at one point had even seemed poised for an emotional return but then, all of a sudden, he was out of the game.
"Brentford was fantastic; it was my first club. I grew up there, had lots of friends and was there for a very long time. We had a really tight knit group of players. I think that going down to Bristol was totally different, a kind of culture shock for me being a London boy. Even though Bristol's only a couple of hours down the road, it's a completely different city to London. I think I started off well down there then picked up a really bad groin injury. It was supposed to keep me out for about six weeks but kept me out for about six months. Off the back of that, I never really got playing again.
"It probably took me the best part of eighteen months to get over that. Even a year later I was still feeling pain and I think that from there, I couldn't get back to playing my best football. In that time whilst I was off, I was trying to keep occupied doing other things i.e. the property side of things and I think that then my goal and dream of reaching the top, of becoming a top flight player, took quite a dent and a knock back. Coming back from that, I just wanted to get back to London as one of my main goals rather than actually focussing on staying at Bristol and trying to continue my career there, to establish myself. It was more a case of just wanting to get back to London where I had friends and family around me."
Eventually he got his chance, although it wasn't in London, at first. "When I came back it was to Southend, with David Webb, who had been my first manager which was fantastic. For me it was a great release because I was back in the familiarity. A couple of the old boys were down at Southend whilst I knew Webby so knew exactly what to expect. I found myself and got going again. Southend were in a bit of a financial position and so I was only on a month-to-month contract but I found myself playing probably the best football I'd ever done up until the point I had left Brentford, where I'd been player of the season, in a relegation year.
"At Southend, I found myself really enjoying it again and got back to what I felt was my best. In doing that, Leyton Orient came in for me and offered me a two-year contract. With that, I didn't know what to expect as it was a new manager."
It would seem, in retrospect, that Carl was wise to be unsure. He describes himself as somebody who had been hard working as a player, who'd got on with his previous managers and who always had a good attitude, no matter the situation. At Leyton Orient, things would be different as he explains.
"I found myself clashing with the manager for whatever reason. In the end, I looked at it and thought that I'd never been in the situation where I've not agreed with the manger whilst, at the same time, I was earning more money through my investments and other areas than I was being paid to play, even though they were very good wages. So it was just a case of weighing everything up and saying, realistically, am I going to achieve my goal of playing in the Premiership or do I continue my business career and make a completely new move, which is what I decided to do."
This comes across now as a quite logical approach to doing things but it must have been a tough decision, certainly emotionally, for someone who had been playing football all his life? "Do you know what? At the time, subconsciously I was probably thinking about it for a number of months but it wasn't something I had at the forefront of my mind - thinking I'm going to give up this week or next week. It was a case of, I remember, having a really big disagreement with the manager at the time that had been carrying on for a number of months. After one game we really disagreed, the next day I walked in, we got into an argument and so I said, 'I'm out. Forget it. Do what you want with the contract. Rip it up, I'm going home'.
Part two of Nick Bruzon's interview with Carl Hutchings will be on the Official Site tomorrow