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Features

Dwight Gayle programme interview - in full

NUFC Logo Newcastle United FC

As a youngster, Dwight Gayle was on Arsenal’s books. On Sunday afternoon, he helped Newcastle United come back from a goal down to beat the Gunners 2-1 at St. James’ Park. There has been plenty of good news – both on and off the pitch – for the Magpies’ number nine, a key part of Rafa Benítez’s upwardly-mobile side, in the last fortnight. He sat down with UNITED, the official matchday programme, ahead of Sunday’s game – and you can now read the feature-length interview in full…

The past few weeks have been a familiar kind of busy for Dwight Gayle. His fiancé Stefanie gave birth to their second child – a boy, Denver – a couple of days after Newcastle United’s win over Huddersfield Town at St. James’ Park. “It’s been a bit hectic,” smiles Gayle, perhaps a little wearily. “We’ve had a little boy, and they’re both doing well. It’s just nice to have him here. I’ve got both of them now – a full family.”

There is a pleasing circularity about the timing of Gayle’s latest interview, which takes place just three days after Denver’s arrival. The last time the forward sat down with UNITED was almost exactly a year ago. He had just become a father for the first time and he spoke about how, since the birth of his daughter Indie, his priorities had been redefined by parenthood.

There was also a discussion about the three years he spent as a carpenter in London and the path he took from non-league to the top of the professional game; a tale now well-worn but nonetheless uplifting. That journey comes back into mind with this afternoon’s visit of Arsenal, a game which brings Gayle back to his childhood.

He joined the Gunners’ academy at the age of seven, where he was coached by Steve Bould – now Arsène Wenger’s assistant – and, looking back, appreciates the technical grounding it gave him. “When I was there, I thought ‘this is going to be the norm’,” he admits, taking a seat in the strategy room after training at the Magpies’ Benton base. “I’d just continue all the way through and hopefully make it as a professional.”

Now 27, Gayle remembers the privileges he was afforded. The pitches were immaculate and, at the end of the season, there would be a run-out at Highbury, Stamford Bridge or Craven Cottage to look forward to. But at 12, he was released. “At the time, I don’t feel like it affected me,” he says. “In the last year, I wasn’t enjoying it as much and it almost felt like a job. Having to go several evenings a week and playing at the weekend, I felt like I was missing out when my friends would talk about stuff they were doing. They would come in and talk about the games they’d played in at the weekend and they were all in the same teams. I felt a bit jealous of it, almost.”

Gayle shunned interest from other academies and went in search of the pleasure that had gone missing, without giving the knock-back too much thought. “But, ultimately, it would have affected me subconsciously,” he adds, “and I think it would have given me a bit of drive. But I don’t think it gave me that for the first couple of years. When I started to get older, I started to realise then what I needed to do.”

Among Gayle’s contemporaries at Highbury were Henri Lansbury, Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Mark Randall, Kieran Agard and Sanchez Watt. “I’d see the players that I’d played with start to do well and get their opportunities to play in the FA Youth Cup, the reserves, first teams, and I wasn’t doing that,” he says. “I wasn’t playing football where I perhaps should have been, or at my best potential.

“When they start to play in the Carling Cups, and FA Youth Cups, you start to idolise them and you start to regret a bit. They were playing in similar teams and at the time I felt I was as good as them. Obviously I wasn’t when I was watching them, but it’s just thinking ‘that could have been me’, and that I needed to get my backside in gear, really.”

Perhaps that period proved a catalyst for Gayle, who now plays at a higher level than those old teammates. There is a measure of modesty in his own assessment of his rise. “I’m so proud of where I’ve got to and I know it’s been a lot of hard work, but at the same time, there’s been a lot of luck. I know there are a lot of people with the ability who could have done the same, but luckily it’s just sort of fallen for me.

“There’s so much luck involved in football. Things have to drop for you in terms of a manager taking a liking to you, giving you the opportunity… I think a lot of things have dropped nicely for me.” He cites the circumstances which led to him joining Peterborough, who had a few injuries at the time of his transfer in 2012, as an example. “I think ultimately, it’s not destiny, but things worked in the right path for me for it to happen.”

A decade-and-a-half after departing Arsenal, Gayle finds himself presented with a second shot at Premier League line-leading. His top flight introduction came when he left Posh for Crystal Palace in 2013 but there is some satisfaction in the knowledge that this time, his goals helped return United to this stage. “I felt like I was coming in after the boys had put in all the graft. They’d done all the work,” he says of his first taste of the division at Selhurst Park. “So definitely this season I feel like we all as a team, myself included, have earned the right to play in the Premier League. It feels a bit nicer doing it that way.

“Going into the Premier League last time was a very different experience for me. I was very immature to the game, and I think the last four years have given me a lot more know-how and understanding. I think I go into this season with a bit more…,” he pauses, finding the words. “Thankfulness, more easy-going – just happy to be there. Last time, I was just the young kid. It’s just a bit different – I don’t know how to describe it.”

Does he have a greater appreciation of where he is, or enjoy it more, now? “That’s what I wanted to say – just to enjoy it and get the most I can out of it. It’s not going to be here forever, so just enjoy the time. I feel like it was a bit of a rush when I was there last time, it all happened so quickly and I didn’t really get time to take an outside look on it and just enjoy it.”

Some have questioned Gayle’s ability to lead the line with the same ruthlessness and guile he displayed in the Championship. “I knew there were going to be a lot of doubters and people who wouldn’t perhaps think I could do it in the Premier League. Ultimately, I haven’t scored as many goals as I would have liked, so I’ve still got a lot to prove.

“At Crystal Palace, I felt that I scored goals when I played, but I perhaps wasn’t giving a lot to the team so I didn’t start as many games as I would have liked. This season, after the first ten or 15 games, I’ve played a lot more and I think that was the thing I was looking to do this season. If I can mix that with goals, that would be perfect.

“I try not to think about it, really. I just try and focus on myself. It’s all there for everyone to see really. I haven’t ever had a sensational season in the Premier League so even for myself, I know that I need to perform better and do better. But that’s something I need to concentrate on myself, and it just adds to the drive.”

The former Stansted frontman readily admits he is now one of the more senior figures, in weight of voice rather than age, in the Magpies dressing room. He has a role to play within it – one not completely tailored to his character, but one he is happy to perform. “It’s a nice place to be around. I think I’m there to annoy people,” he laughs, describing the scene. “Before the games, there are people trying to gear people up, and people concentrating on their own jobs. There are a few of us that try and get people going and pick each other up – Jamaal (Lascelles) being one of them, and a couple of the older boys. It’s just trying to get everyone really focussed, and just giving people the belief and reminding people what we have to do.

“I wouldn’t say it’s totally the perfect role for me, but I do enjoy it. I know we all need to be on it, and sometimes an extra word or an extra person getting involved just helps people stay focussed and concentrate, I suppose.”

Their input in the place he feels harbours a welcoming culture seems to have been particularly valuable in recent weeks, when Newcastle have lifted themselves clear of trouble. “We’ve been in a similar position a lot of times this season, when we’ve thought ‘we’ve got out of it’ or ‘win this game and we’ll get out of it’. But it keeps pulling you back in,” he warns. “Everyone’s at a similar level. It only takes one weekend and then you’re in a totally different position. We need to stay focussed. We know what we need to do.”

The interview draws to a close, as Gayle explains he is due to pick up his newborn son from the hospital and bring him home. There is just enough time left for him to reflect on the emotions of a restless fortnight before he leaves. “For me, I’m so happy I’ve got a little boy,” he says. “When you get to a professional level, you start to think about how nice it would be for your little boy to be at an age where he can experience you playing football at a high level, and how proud it would make you feel. Hopefully I’m still playing at a decent level when he starts to realise what’s actually going on.”

It has been a long, testing campaign but maybe, when it all comes to an end in four weeks’ time, maybe there will be a chance for Gayle to put his feet up. “Well, I’ve been told at the end of the season I’ve then got to take over full parenting duties and be up through the night and things like that, so I’d rather the season continued,” he adds, with a laugh. “Nah, I’m just joking.”

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