FOR one of the few times in his football career, Andy Carroll expects to be nervous at St James’ Park on Sunday.
The Gateshead-born striker (pictured left) has not played there since his £35m move to Liverpool. He is desperate for the chance when the sides meet in the Premier League this week. “I don’t usually get nervous but this might be a bit different,” he said.
“All of my family and friends will be there but they’re so big on football I’m not sure who they’ll be supporting.”
Carroll was mercilessly barracked by the away fans in his two previous appearances against Newcastle, both at Anfield. He failed to score in either, but did strike the crossbar in December’s game.
While Carroll’s January 2011 transfer has not endeared him to Newcastle’s supporters, he still considers himself one of them.
“It’s great to see Newcastle doing so well,” he said. “I support them, was brought up there and was lucky enough to have played for them. They will always mean something.”
Carroll scored 33 goals in 91 Magpies appearances. His form during the Championship-winning season of 2009-10 earned him the fabled No.9 shirt.
He wore it for only five months, scoring a hat-trick in his first home game wearing it, before joining Liverpool. Carroll is yet to convince at Anfield and more than a year later has just eight goals in red.
He briefly worked under his idol Alan Shearer during an ill-fated spell as Newcastle’s caretaker manager. At Anfield he is playing alongside Craig Bellamy, another he watched admiringly as a season-ticket holder and occasional ball-boy.
“I always liked him,” he told Liverpool’s official club magazine. “It was his attitude, that will to do his very best. He was like that at Newcastle and he’s the same now. It’s a bit crazy to think I was singing his name and now we’re here, with him helping me out as he always does.
“I speak to him a lot – after training and after games. Even at half-time (against Stoke earlier this month), he was offering advice. He’s brilliant like that. It helps.
“When you see the work he does to keep himself at peak condition, it encourages everybody. He’s in the gym before training, after training and even on his days off, working hard.”
Carroll remains the youngest player to represent Newcastle in Europe. He was 17 years and 300 days old when he played in the 2007 Uefa Cup win Palermo. “It was quite a place to go to,” he recalled.
“The fans were nuts and the atmosphere was brilliant. But we held out and won 1-0. Tim Krul played for the first team for the first time that night too and was outstanding.
“It feels so long ago now, though. I feel like I’ve been around for ages.”
Carroll’s under-achievement at Anfield mirrors that of the team.
The Reds will be under huge pressure on Sunday to reduce the eight-point gap to Newcastle and justify the heavy spending of the last three transfer windows with more than this season’s League Cup. “We need to be higher in the Premier League and I think everyone knows that,” Carroll admitted. “We know we must win more games at home. But we have done very well in the cups so far, winning the Carling Cup and reaching the semis of the FA Cup. So there has been progress.
“If we were to win a double in the cups, it would give everyone a massive lift going into next season. As a player, the confidence winning trophies brings is huge. It gives you a lot of pride to say you were a part of Liverpool’s history.
“I came here to win trophies and medals – but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”