Newcastle’s Nile Ranger returns to his north London roots to face Spurs
TOTTENHAM fans who turn out for Tuesday’s home clash against Newcastle will see a genuine home-grown north London talent at White Hart Lane – but he won’t be playing for Spurs.
United striker Nile Ranger grew up in Wood Green and attended Alexandra Park School in Muswell Hill, and in four days time the 19-year-old will return to his childhood stomping ground as a Premier League star – intent on gunning down the Lilywhites.
There will be no conflict of interests for Ranger, who supported Arsenal as a boy, but his return to N17 with Newcastle is sure to hold some sentimental value as he pauses to ponder his rocky path to the top of the English game – a journey that started in the streets around White Hart Lane.
Ranger took his first steps as a footballer at Broadwater Farm academy under the watchful eye of legendary community worker and coach Clasford Stirling, who was awarded an MBE in 2007 for his services to sport in north London.
Ranger graduated to Crystal Palace’s academy and development centre before being scouted by Southampton.
However, his career was almost finished before it had even started. As a 15-year-old he got into trouble running with gangs in north London, and was sentenced to 11 weeks in a Young Offender’s Institute for his part in an armed robbery in Muswell Hill.
Southampton took a chance on him anyway, but Ranger blew it when he was caught, in his own words, “with a load of first-team kit. I only wanted to give it to my mates.”
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Despite his reputation, the north Londoner had a successful trial with Swindon Town and was offered terms in July 2008 – before Dennis Wise, then director of football at St James’ Park, snapped him up.
It proved to be a pivotal moment for Ranger, and he admits that his life has taken a turn in the right direction since he cut his ties with his past.
“Coming up here [to Newcastle] completely changed my life. I grew up in north London, in Wood Green, and I got into trouble,” said Ranger.
“It all starts with just messing around with friends and jokes that go too far. I started running with a gang in the area. We were convicted of street robbery in Muswell Hill. There was a weapon, but we didn’t use it.
“They were cracking down on street crime, so I got sent down. I wasn’t with a professional club at the time, and I didn’t really realise what I was risking. Jail was pretty rough, but it taught me a lot. The most important thing is that I never want to go back.
“At Southampton I got two written warnings about my behaviour – stupid things like going out or messing around in the lodge. Then I was caught at the end of the season with kit that I’d taken. I gave them no choice and they kicked me out.
“The change of atmosphere at Newcastle did me loads of good. I was away from the old faces, the old problems.”
Ranger won the ‘Wor Jackie Milburn Trophy’ in his first year on Tyneside after his performances for the Under-18s and the reserves – earning an improved contract while Alan Shearer was in charge.
He made his first-team debut in August 2009 as Newcastle started life in the Championship, and won the man of the match award in his first start against Leicester later that month.
Ironically Ranger was given his big chance by manager Chris Hughton, who has a long association with north London himself, having made over 300 appearances for Spurs between 1977 and 1990 before going on to be assistant manager at White Hart Lane.
Ranger went on to make 30 appearnaces last season as United bounced straight back up to the Premier League, and he has now played eight top-flight games as he bids to earn a regular place alongside another young Englishman, Andy Carroll.
“We hope Nile is showing how football can change lives,” said Hughton, who was recently and controversially replaced by Alan Pardew. “He’s also got to take a lot of the credit for that. Football’s very much helping him get his life back on track.
“It’s very much a learning process for him. The other players take him aside and help in that process. He’s a London lad and it’s been good for him to come up here, and what’s also helped is coming into a good squad with some big personalities and experienced players who’ve very much looked after him.”