One of Yorkshire’s own is on their way to the top. After signing a new long-term deal with Premier League side Brighton, being scouted by Barcelona and completing his first full season as a starter, it’s fair to say the past year has been kind to Carl Rushworth.
The goalkeeper has already won Brighton’s Young Player of the Year Award and at the age of 20 is making his mark on the Football League with Walsall.
Born in Halifax, Carl came through the ranks with the Shaymen before being picked up by Brighton in 2019. Since then, the shot-stopper has had 12 months on loan with non-league Worthing, a Player of the Year season with Brighton’s U23s and now the young Yorkshireman is plying his trade in League Two amidst a successful season with Walsall.
Seemingly on a trajectory to reach the big time, Carl’s first foray in the Football League has showed him the commitment and mindset necessary for succeeding in the throes of professional football.
“I think it’s been a good start (to my football career). Obviously I feel as if there are still a lot of areas to improve and I still feel like I’ve got a lot more to give but I’ve had a decent start and it’s really great experience for me to be at this level at the moment. League Two is a tough league and it’s the first time I’ve played in front of the fans giving you stick every week, so it’s about thickening the skin.
“Going from ‘23s football to a men’s dressing room you really see a jump in the dedication and how seriously the lads want the three points. That brings more pressure, especially with the fans and that’s something I was looking forward to before the season so luckily I had a good start to the season and I’m doing well so far.”
Carl’s love for football did not come from his parents, whose sporting interests leaned more towards the likes of motorsport and hockey. Instead, the town and people of Halifax catalysed his passion as the future professional explored the local area with friends in hope of finding somewhere to play. The passion grew further in education until one day Carl came home from school insisting on playing Sunday League, thus embarking on a long journey that remains far from over.
“Growing up in Halifax we would always be playing; any patch of grass we could find or between any two trees, there was a park just down the road from mine where we’d always play. We’d be out playing every other day and luckily for me, my mates were living right on my doorstep so we’d always be kicking the ball about, it’s how we grew up really.”
The tribulations of a young goalkeeper at a Premier League club often involve being ferried about around the country in various loan deals, with the parent team hoping this will build resilience and mental fortitude, well as providing valuable game time. The same as been true for Carl, who had to leave his home of Halifax at the age of 18 for his move to Brighton and has since been sent out on loan twice, both times to teams south of the Yorkshire border.
So, how much does Carl still relate to his homeland? Still a proper Yorkshireman, or have the temptations of the south changed his ways?
“Even though I’ve not really lived there for a good few years I’m proud to be a Yorkshire lad. Since moving down to Brighton, I kind of get frustrated when I notice myself losing my accent a little bit and I realised I never noticed how thick my dad’s accent was. It’s been a big change actually but luckily the accent comes back when I’m around my family for a few days!”
Brighton’s management spoke highly of Carl’s work ethic and dedication after the awarding of his new three-year contract at the start of the year. This season at Walsall, Carl has earned the eight-highest WhoScored rating in League Two and the site lists handling amongst his strengths. But what does the man himself believe he brings to his team?
“Shot-stopping is a strength of mine and I would say my distribution, especially with my hands, is a real outstanding factor. I think playing and being exposed from such a young age has helped with my footballing IQ massively; I’m a completely different player to what I was a year ago and this loan in particular has really helped with that.”
Carl is clearly developing quickly, and it would be natural for the youngster to be tempted to dream of bigger things to come in his career. Such temptations must burn deeper when the goalkeeper hears of scouts travelling to watch him from Barcelona, a dream destination for any football fan or player.
“It came up a few years ago when I was on loan with Worthing and also this season but when I hear about it, I just leave it to my agent. I think it’s best to push it away a bit, especially when I’m playing every week. I don’t really want any distractions or unnecessary pressure when I don’t need it. I think it could potentially affect my performance if I’m thinking about anything other than what I need to be thinking about so I try to push it away and let my agent deal with it.”
A thoroughly thought-out, possibly pre-prepared, response that sounds mightily impressive coming from a 20-year-old living out his dream. But we felt slightly unsatisfied with the answer, even if slightly in awe of the young man’s humility and composure. So, we persisted and queried whether he may let the prospect of Barcelona creep into his thoughts while relaxing in the evening.
“I guess, yeah! At the time I was just like ‘What is going on!?’. It was definitely a bit surreal and probably a similar feeling to when I heard Brighton and Arsenal were interested. But that’s football at the end of the day and you just have to get on with it.”
So, understandably Carl doesn’t yet have his eyes set on bigger things to come but it’s hard for those that know of his journey to not assume that’s what is in store for the former Halifax man. The goalkeeper‘s talents are being proven every week out on the pitch but most impressive is his intangibles: his passion, his work rate and a dedication to fulfil his potential. Watch out for him becoming just the latest in a long line of great Yorkshire footballers.