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Features

Dwight Gayle programme interview - in full

Written by Tom Easterby

It’s been a memorable season for Dwight Gayle, both on and off the pitch. He sat down with the official matchday programme for an exclusive interview ahead of Friday’s visit of Leeds United – and now you can read the interview in its entirety here…

Having stepped off a train in the city he grew up in, Dwight Gayle didn’t know he was in for a reminder of days gone by as he waited for a taxi outside King’s Cross Station.

“It was weird – it just shows how small the world is. I got off the train at King’s Cross, and I got in the line for a taxi,” he begins to explain. A cab driven by Gayle’s former Stansted teammate Scott Honeyball was waiting somewhere in the middle of the queue; fate was ready to reunite the pair.

“Each person in front had got into the next cab, then the next cab, then the next cab, and I got into the fourth or fifth one. It was my mate Scott who I used to play with. It was a laugh – it was good to see him.

“Sometimes things like that just trip your mind, and remind you how far you’ve come and just how much my life has changed, really. I’m just thankful for all the opportunities I’ve been given to express my ability, and I’m just glad I could do it. Hopefully it continues.”

Gayle may only be 26, but the Londoner is a man with a deeper understanding of life’s realities than most other footballers of his ilk.

His is a tale of real, honest graft, encompassing a journey from the depths of non-league to the top flight. A raw talent in his formative years in the Essex Senior League, Gayle found time for his Saturday afternoon exploits at the end of the working week.

“I worked as a carpenter for three years in the city. I loved it,” he says.

“I’d do all different kinds of stuff. My dad’s firm used to specialise in office refurbishments, so we’d be doing whole floors and big buildings. We did the TalkTalk building, things like that, doing skirtings, door frames, doors, partitions, all different kinds of things.

“I used to get in for about seven in the morning and be off for three or four, which wasn’t too bad. I used to like getting in earlier. I’d try and get in for about six so I’d get off for two – on Saturdays I made sure I got in early so I could get off for a football game.

“I was at Stansted then. My old man was very flexible with me at the time, so he’d let me do my hours early morning on the Saturday and then I’d shoot off to the game. I used to get a lift from my manager at the time, in his black taxi.”

It is a period of Gayle’s life he recalls with great fondness.

“For me, I think it was the perfect thing for me, knowing the other side of working. I think anyone would benefit from it,” reflects the frontman, who joined Stansted back in 2009.

“It helped me. Even then, my parents brought me up to understand the meaning of money, so I was always good at looking after it, saving it and not splashing it. But I think that gave me an understanding of that even more as well.

“At the time, I was playing with my mates as well, so I had the best of both, really. Obviously you don’t want to be up early and some mornings would be tough, but it was a good laugh. Being in that environment, there was a lot of banter.

“It was alright until I’d try and banter my dad. Occasionally I’d push it too far with him, and he’d send me home!”

Goals by the bucketload accelerated Gayle’s progression from those early days at Hargrave Park to Dagenham and Redbridge in 2011, stopping off at Bishop’s Stortford and Peterborough United before reaching the top tier, with Crystal Palace in 2013.

The time he spent away outside of the professional game, he says, “helped to make me the player I am” – a player who was named in this season’s EFL team of the season last weekend, and one who’d already been selected in the Championship’s finest 11 back in March.

“This season’s probably my best ever in terms of enjoyment and performance as well,” says the 22-goal frontman. “For me, I think I’ve settled in really well, the area is nice, I think the people are lovely, polite, welcoming. It’s a lovely city and a great club to be around at the moment.

“The fans, as well as all the coaching staff, were really welcoming. With the fact there were so many new signings, you felt like everyone was settling in together – it wasn’t like you were coming into a settled changing room.

“Everyone has got on so well and it’s a great testament to the fact the gaffer brought in some good characters as well as players. We’ve settled in together and there’s a good team spirit.”

Alongside that spirit, there is a certain steel about the current Magpies team. It appears a genuine, visible one; the players, led by the likes of Gayle, Matt Ritchie and Ciaran Clark, are showing the kind of driven, committed, almost aggressive edge that some supporters feel may have been lacking during the previous campaign.

“I don’t like losing. I suppose everyone’s like that, but I think I’m even worse,” admits United’s leading marksman. “Even in training games, little games we play on the coach or things like that, I don’t like losing and I get quite upset. For me, it’s just important to try and not lose.

“It bodes well. Sometimes it’s not good because you perhaps don’t take losses or not being in the team as well as I should, but I suppose it works both ways.”

That desire, a trait Gayle developed during his childhood, has been part of the former Crystal Palace man’s makeup for as long as he can remember.

“Even when I was at school, I’d be doing every sport, trying to win everything. It’s been since I was a kid really – everything I tried, I’d try and perfect, and try and work hard at everything,” he says.

“My parents didn’t push me, but they helped me to want to become the best I can, so that’s one thing. And having a little girl now is a big motivation for me to perform and try and get the best for her. It’s a new motivation, and one that I’m enjoying at the moment.”

Gayle’s life has changed off the pitch in the last few months. The arrival of little Indie, born in the Royal Victoria Infirmary in February, means this year has been even more memorable. He knows, too, that his city-born daughter is “always going to be a Geordie”.

“It refocuses you and just gives you an understanding of what life’s about, really. You’ve got an extra person to look after. You know you can’t lose your cool and you’ve got to focus on performing your best, not just for you but for your little family now,” says Gayle, who is adjusting to the pressures of parenting alongside his partner, Stefanie.

“The other day I’d been saying we’d cracked it, or just about got to a point where we understand it now. But then last night, she was up all night again, non-stop. You just start to get a cycle going and then you’re reminded that no, you’ve not sorted it yet!

“You start to realise that there’s probably more important things or you’ve got other stuff to sort out, so there are things you stop doing as much and you start not caring about as much. It becomes the most important thing for you, and everything just revolves around your kids.

“You’ve got someone’s life that you have to look after now, so you’ve got to show them the right way in terms of behaving and look after them financially to make them have a nice life.

“I’m loving it. I thoroughly enjoy it. It has been difficult sleep-wise, but it’s the best thing in the world. Waking up to her is the best thing in the world.”

Though the sleepless nights may have taken a bit of getting used to, Gayle’s influence on the pitch has been keenly felt all season long.

His minutes per goal average stands at 97, a hugely impressive figure when compared to Chris Wood, of tonight’s visitors Leeds United, whose average stands at 132 (at the time of publication). Wood is the only man in the league to have outscored Gayle this term, though the Kiwi has played over 1,000 more Championship minutes than the Newcastle frontman.

Being handed the task of spearheading United’s promotion charge back in the summer was a task Gayle wanted and relished. Doing so with the number nine shirt on his back, he says, was not so much a burden as an honour.

“My missus’ dad’s a Geordie, a Newcastle fan, so he was telling me everything about it,” he says. “To be fair, I already knew previously about all the legends who have worn the shirt, but he was just banging on to me about it trying to make me get it and telling me how good it would be. I knew the number nine was a legendary shirt, so to get it was fantastic.

“But I just try to get on with it. The largest pressure I was going to have was from myself and from my teammates, who’ll demand that I perform for them. I just try to do that every time I go out.

“With the manager coming in and the club size, I knew that they’d be pushing to get back up, and even if we go up we should do well. I think it was important for me to do this at the time. I’ve come to a great club, and I’m in a position now where we can push on.”

It is yet to be determined how long the hamstring injury Gayle suffered in last week’s defeat at Sheffield Wednesday will keep him on the sidelines for.

Whether it’s with or without him leading the line, Gayle knows the need for the Magpies to retain their focus as the campaign reaches its crescendo. A first trophy, and a first would cap a year that’s already been an unforgettable one for Newcastle’s newest goalscoring hero.

“It’s a good laugh at the club at the moment, and the atmosphere’s a good one to be around. I’m loving it. Scoring goals helps – each time I score it’s a great buzz,” he says.

“At the start of the season, we all had hopes of getting promoted. We’re in a good position now. We can’t get overconfident, I think the most important thing is to stay focussed, keep working hard and hopefully we’ll get there.

“Everyone wants to win things. Loads of quality players will go through their careers without winning anything, so it would be really nice to cap off the season with a title winners’ medal.”

"This season's probably my best ever in terms of enjoyment and performance as well... I've settled in really well, the area is nice, I think the people are lovely, polite, welcoming. It's a lovely city and a great club to be around at the moment."

Dwight Gayle

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