‘I remember looking up and I saw tears coming from everyone’ - Todd Cantwell on life in the big league
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Todd Cantwell’s Norwich City adventure has been about displaying resilience. For those who hold him dearest, scoring against Manchester City proved too much. Connor Southwell spoke to the 21-year old
Todd Cantwell used to be at the front of the queue to get autographs, now he is the one with the pen in his hands.
Prior to our conversation, Cantwell stands outside, kicking a ball with a youngster whose face glows with every word of encouragement uttered by the City star.
Underpinning this 21-year-old from Dereham is his connection to the local area and understanding the power of the role he occupies, something his family ensure he maintains despite playing Premier League football.
Cantwell has seen it all during his time at Carrow Road, from playing in the youth ranks to thinking his time was over prior to a career-making loan spell at Fortuna Sittard.
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Now, he wears the number 14 shirt, the digits that were emblazoned on the back of Wes Hoolahan, a bona fide City legend. Cantwell thrives under the expectation and is now showing his talents on the biggest stage of all.
For a player with humble beginnings, scoring against Manchester City in the 3-2 victory over Pep Guardiola's Premier League champions proved all too much for those who raised him.
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"They have to pinch themselves on Saturdays when they're watching, especially during that Manchester City game." Cantwell recalls. "I remember looking up and I saw tears coming from everyone. I know exactly what it means to play for this club. I've worked a long time and put in a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get here.
"I'm thankful to say that I play here but nobody gave it to me. I had to work very hard and I'm lapping it up at the moment.
"I don't get too carried away, but I don't get too down either. My family are very quick to pin me to the floor and let me know that I'm no one yet."
Last season, that expectation weighed heavy on his shoulders with criticism thrown at him from a variety of angles.
City were gunning for promotion. He was attempting to take an opportunity whilst wrestling with his first dose of what City's sporting director Stuart Webber would describe as 'noise'.
This season, the transformation on the pitch has been stark. Cantwell has adapted seamlessly to life in the top flight.
Once a upon a time, he was pretending to be his Canaries heroes on the playing fields in Dereham, now he is the one budding footballers want to replicate.
That Manchester City goal would have been re-enacted in playgrounds across the county, and beyond. It was proof underdogs can reign supreme, that dreams can be fulfilled.
Speaking after an autograph session that overran the clock, some wouldn't have bothered to exchange passes with an excitable young City fan, but Cantwell explains why being a role model is something he relishes.
"I love it. I would have been exactly the same as a kid - I loved watching Norwich so if I would have been able to come and someone prioritised me or made me feel a little bit special with a comment then I think I'd have held on to it.
"It's a brilliant opportunity to give back and let the kids believe that they can do whatever it is they want to do."
Often, supporters expect more of local talent, sometimes envy prevents talent from shining in some people's eyes, but Cantwell knows criticism is something he has to adjust to in order to continue his development.
"It's something I have to take in my stride; there's a part of me that really enjoys the pressure of being a role model. Being from this area, I understand what it means to supporters on a weekend and kids on a weekday. Obviously, that comes with pressure and responsibility, but I think I can take it."
Being a footballer can be lonely. The structure of every day can intoxicate young players to the extent they lose touch with reality.
Cantwell adopts a more considered approach. His face lights up when he discusses his friends from school, one of whom supports City and the other has deep-rooted allegiances with Manchester United.
"It's brilliant to have such great friends that want you to do well because they guide you to do the right things, which I really appreciate". Cantwell said.
As the midfielder gears up to play United on Sunday, those in the stands will be watching a young man fulfilling his dreams. This season has been about ticking off various achievements that he could only dream of as a young boy living in Dereham.
Despite it all, those who love him most will be watching in the stands and he'll be hoping to look up at his tearful family after another historic Norwich City win.