Imagine growing up when all your pals want to know about is your dad? Well, welcome to the world of Darnell Furlong, whose dad Paul was a highly-regarded striker in the top two divisions throughout the Nineties and Noughties and a regular subject of playground queries for our flying right-back.
“It was my ‘normal’,” he tells Albion News while discussing his prodigious leap, who he sees as the biggest danger to Albion’s promotion hopes, why he doesn’t watch international football and much, much more besides.
…your first goal for the club?
That was a sweet moment. Very sweet. I really enjoyed it especially because my whole family were here to see it (mum Anna and younger brother Darion and sister Alanah). But it should have been my second goal. I just wish that header at Fulham had gone in. (Darnell grazed the outside of a post in the dying seconds the week previous). I spent the whole of that weekend thinking about that because I knew how much of a buzz it would have been for the boys if we had won that game. It was incredible, really. No-one picked me up. I kept expecting a marker to come over and take me but I was just able to stroll into the space. I got a nice connection and I couldn’t believe it didn’t go in. It bothered me all weekend. I knew how much that would have meant to us, to win at Fulham.
But this leap you have is particularly impressive. Is that why QPR fans reckoned you might be an even better centre-half?
That’s from when I was young, I was always very small. It wasn’t until I was about 17 that I started to get to a decent height. So I had to try to come up with something to make up for the advantages the other lads had over me…like I had to be a bit smarter than the opponents and I really worked on out-jumping them. That’s how I developed my leap. I’ve played quite a bit at centre-half and I understand why they might have said that about me at Rangers. But the way we played at QPR at that time was pretty direct…sometimes the ball was in the air a lot and if they see you winning headers, they may form that opinion of you: ‘Oh, he’s a good central defender’. But I never had any time on the ball, really, in that position because of the way we played.
There was also a lot of talk about how much you have improved as a player when we were at Loftus Road in late September?
It’s nice to be at the top end of the table, playing well, good performances. It was a weird day for me at QPR to be pitted against so many friends and experiencing everything from the opposite side to what I was used to. For the previous 15 years, all I had ever wanted was QPR to win and in one afternoon that all changed.
But I think we’ve played better. I heard a lot of folk raving about that game and saying it was the best we had played up to that point but I think we have played better against Blackburn, Huddersfield, Reading… Rangers were on a good run with a new manager but personally I just think we’ve played better.
But do you agree that your own game has improved?
In terms of how we play, I’m getting on the ball more and involved much more in attacking. I played with some amazing players at Rangers but this squad is probably the strongest I’ve ever been involved with. I haven’t managed to get forward as much in the past because I’ve not been in a team which is all about controlling possession. We’ve simply not had so much of the ball. We take risks and try to create chances and so far the positives outweigh the negatives. The manager wants me to defend and always be mindful of that but of course he wants us to be aggressive, to occupy the opposition’s wide midfield player, to get forward. There’s risks as I say…
…such as that goal against us when we played Huddersfield?
Exactly…when I was caught out too far forward, if you like. That’s the risk, I suppose, but Slaven spoke with me afterwards, very calmly, about why I didn’t need to be quite so far forward and how that could have prevented the goal. He was very calm and of course he doesn’t want us to stop that aggressive way we play. But once he had gone through it I could see how it made sense. That’s how you keep learning.
Your dad must have prepared you for this career?
Don’t forget mum. I would say they were a 50-50 influence on me. She’s been just as big an influence as dad. Dad might know more about football but my mum took me training on all those nights he couldn’t. The amount of times I dragged her up and down the North Circular….!
But having a dad as a footballer was all I ever knew, really. It was my ‘normal’. When something big happened and he scored an important goal it was perfectly normal for my mates to be talking about him. They would come up and ask about him all the time.
A lot of people say I’m just a model of him but I’ve got both of my parents to thank for an upbringing.
And he was eligible to play for Montserrat?
Yeah… I’ve been asked to play for them too. I’ve been to a training camp with them but just at the moment I think it’s important to focus totally on my club career. The Championship is relentless and I think that’s enough for the moment. I’ve got a grandfather out there still. Actually, he lives in Antigua which is the island next door and slightly more developed. I’ve been out there once to see him, which was great.
Dad comes whenever he can although he is coaching the Under-18s at Rangers so he can’t get up as much as he would like. I think he’s proud of me; I hope he is. His message is always the same – that I need to respect this opportunity I have been given and to understand how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing.
What else do you enjoy?
Formula One. Love it. Absolutely love it…I’m a big Lewis Hamilton fan. I’ve always loved fast cars growing up…I’ve had track days, go-karting, that sort of thing. Obviously, if it hadn’t have been for football I would be a world champion by now!! I just love it….
But what is it about Lewis you admire…?
There is this perception of him being a bit arrogant, I guess. But I think that’s unfair. I just think he is absolutely a master of what he does and maybe you need to be confident in your skills and your ability to beat the next man. I don’t think he’s naturally arrogant. That’s just the way some guys are.
(Laughing) Yeah, just like Charlie…!
Are you a confident player?
Well, I don’t think I’m a quiet person… I’m just alright. I play professional football so I can’t be too bad, can I? I must be half decent.
Yeah, definitely. I think I am good enough for that. I would like to think so. It’s where everyone wants to be, isn’t it, and I’m no different. But a player can be affected by so many different factors … playing in a strong team, building up confidence.
Who’s the best team you’ve played against so far this season?
Fulham. I think they have got an excellent group of footballers. They know what they are and how they want to play. I think we’re a bit similar. Leeds? That was a tough one to take. Very frustrating. I felt that we more than held our own that night and not to come away with at least a draw was gutting.
But there is confidence in the dressing room. I think it comes down to us having a good squad of good players. We’ve just got to try to maintain these levels. But the team is not looking further ahead. We’re just going game by game, I can assure you. We are not looking too far into the future.
We’re talking after the international break. How did you spend it?
I went to a spa, in Guildford as it happens, for the weekend with my girlfriend Cassie. It was nice to chill and relax… saunas, steam room, a nice meal. Cassi and I have known each other since our school days. We were actually at school together since we were 12 but we didn’t have a date until we were 16. I took her to the movies to see ‘Anchorman 2’ if I remember right. She will tell you a story that I was too cool to ask her out before then but I was just too busy playing football in the playground with my mates! The future? We’ve spoken about it but nothing to report yet.
She’s a fashion buyer for Debenhams but I’m not sure she’s heavily into football. She came to watch me for the first time which I thought was a good sign but then asked me later how many players were on the pitch. There was also a time when she asked me who we were playing next and I said “Sheffield Wednesday”. Cassi replied: “Yes but who are you playing on Saturday.” Seriously.
So you didn’t watch the England games?
No. To be honest, I like to take a break from it (football) when I get the chance. I can’t really enjoy it the way everyone else can because I get too analytical about the guys in my position and the game generally. I enjoyed the World Cup. I may have been in one of those beer gardens throwing my drink in the air. But it was only coke, I promise! That was special wasn’t it? The weather was brilliant, the team got to the semi-finals and you felt the whole country coming alive to it. It’s crazy when you feel the power of football like that. You take a step back and you’re watching something that you’re not quite involved in but you are also a part of. You could feel that electricity going through the country.
And what do you feel about The Hawthorns at the moment?
You can feel the energy in the stadium, definitely. There’s a great energy…there’s a definite atmosphere, you can feel it coming over the stadium. When you walk out you’ve been locked in the dressing room and away from it but then it’s like ‘wow, okay, we’ve got a job to do today’. You concentrate so much on what you are doing in the game but there will maybe be a break in play when you can become aware of it again.
Who are your favourite Albion players?
That’s a loaded question! But I will say Semi. I love playing alongside Semi. He’s my favourite player at the moment. He’s so calm and assured. He brings the ball out so well that I never need to worry about him. I know everyone is raving about Matheus and I understand why. He does some crazy stuff in training…he’s certainly a very bright footballer. And I’ve got a great understanding with Matty. I made my debut with Matt in front of me and Charlie at centre-forward. Jake was captaining Hull by the way…we lost 2-1. But Matty and I have a natural understanding of things. We both listen to each other and can say something and we know each of us is going to trust one another. You can have that with a player you don’t know quite so well and they may not trust exactly what you are telling them.
And the boys seem to be loving playing under Slaven?
He always wants you to express yourself. You know you can afford to make a mistake without him coming down hard on you. Don’t get me wrong. He’s warned me that I’m a defender first and that I need to be able to defend. But he wants me to get forward and be aggressive too. He’s a very calm guy, very. He has been serious with us when he needs to be and he hasn’t been happy with something. But he’s always very composed and that breeds confidence among the boys.
The Top 12 Premier League father and son combinations
1. Ian Wright (213) and Shaun Wright-Phillips (528)
2. Peter (310) and Kasper Schmeichel (128)
3. Paul (306) and Tom Ince (42)
4. Kevin (325) and Tyrese Campbell (1)
5. Rob (280) and Elliot Lee (2)
6. Ian Wright (213) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (32)
7. Alan (46) and Jack Cork (187)
8. Steve (202) and Dan Potts (2)
9. Steve (147) and Alex Bruce (48)
10. Gus (186) and Diego Poyet (3)
11. Gordon (96) and Gavin Strachan (13)
12. Paul (64) and Darnell Furlong (3)