Todd Cantwell, who grew up in Dareham and came through the Norwich City Academy, is a footballer who has made a positive impact to his boyhood club by helping to get them promoted to the Premier League in 2019.
He is looking to do the same this year, but as OTBC sat down (ahead of last weekend's game against Wycombe) to chat to him about his goals, we learned that he is keen to use his profile, lead by example, and bring about change for good in other areas, beside football.
OTBC: The team showed a lot of fight and spirit to get three points away at Birmingham City. How important do you think that mentality and togetherness is going to be in the final games of the season?
Todd: Yes, I think it is massive. I don’t think we were at our best against Birmingham, but at half-time it was the biggest show of character that we have had, especially recently. Most of the lads looked at each other and said: ‘these are the games we need to win, if we want to win the league or go up’, and credit to everyone. Everyone dug deep in that game and worked together as a team and that fight managed to get us the points. We were 1-1 at half-time and the boys were really disappointed with how we had played in the first half. We were trying to do what we wanted to do but it wasn’t quite working, but in games like that you have to find another gear and we showed that against Birmingham and managed to win the game 3-1.
OTBC: The team is seven points better off this season than they were two years ago when Norwich went up as champions. How much do you compare to two seasons ago and are there any lessons or confidence that you can take from the fact that you have already got promoted out of this division?
Todd: I think there is certainly confidence we can take from it. There are a lot of lads in the changing room who have done it before. It is different in the sense that there are no fans allowed. That feeling has gone but it has been taken over by the pride that we know that they are watching. We know that they are there even if they are not, if that makes sense, and we know how much it will mean to them to get promoted again. Everybody in that changing room wants the exact same thing. Knowing that you have done it before is good to have as confidence in the back of your mind, but every season is different and this season we are showing that togetherness, we are showing that fight, probably a bit earlier than we have needed to in the seasons before and that is definitely not a bad thing, for sure.
OTBC: Do you still feel that connection with the fans through social media and the messages that you get after games?
Todd: Yes, I think it is difficult because I don’t think all our fans are on social media so it is not the same as walking around the stadium after a win and clapping them, but we know that they are either listening on the radio or watching on iFollow and to us that is just as important as them being there. It is not the same, it doesn’t feel the same, but we know that they are there.
OTBC: You have got three goals and three assists so far this campaign, and you are performing very well at the moment. How pleased are you with your own contribution this season?
Todd: I think the most important thing for me is that I am not going to catch (Cristiano) Ronaldo or (Lionel) Messi in terms of goals and assists, but I want to look back on my career and see the achievements that I have made. You can’t make achievements in football by yourself, unless your Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo and I have accepted that I am not going to break any of their goalscoring records. And for me statistics is just a number. I think looking back on what you have achieved, you know what you have contributed to the team and what momentum and drive you can bring and, recently, I have been playing really well and I have been enjoying the fact that the team has been winning and I have been looking forward to the next game as another chance to win really.
OTBC: How much more does what you have already achieved at Norwich mean to you because of the fact that you grew up locally and came through the academy here?
Todd: Yes, the first time around was very much a pinch yourself moment to be part of it; from a ball boy sat watching Norwich in the Premier League to being part of the team that put us back in there. This year feels a bit different to me. I had the opportunity to play in the Premier League last year and held down a spot that was mine to lose and playing this season, and having a bigger role to play, is probably been more enjoyable. It is obviously fantastic to be part of what will, hopefully, be two promotions because you want to be part of history and you want to be part of success and that is how I am going to analyse my career at the end of it.
OTBC: You are one of a number of players who have come through the academy to play for Norwich City first team recently. How good do you feel Norwich City’s Academy is when you consider the recent record it has of producing players along with your experience there?
Todd: Most academies don’t but we had a spell where we managed to produce some of our own players when you look at myself, Max (Aarons) and Aston (Oxborough). Obviously, Ben (Godfrey) and Jamal (Lewis) came a bit later but they were all part of what the academy was and we had a really good spell of churning some of those players out. Looking to now you have obviously got the likes of Josh (Martin) and Andrew (Omobamidele) who are all training with the first team and we can only hope that they are the next wave of players to come through. Speaking about myself and Ben, Jamal and Aston, we had a really good spell in the academy. We all managed to get up into the first team and we all managed to stay there and all managed to kick on. I hope there is another spell of players coming from the academy that can do this, and it will be impressive if there was.
OTBC: Away from football we have seen a number of sports stars and footballers recently, in particular Marcus Rashford, use their profile to raise issues of concern. We see that you are heavily involved in raising issues around the climate emergency. How important is that issue to you and how important do you feel it is that sports stars use their profile to try and bring about positive change in the world around them?
Todd: To be honest, I think it (the climate emergency) is far more important than football. Factually and, morally, it is far more important than football and that doesn’t under value my feeling towards football because, believe me, I absolutely adore the game but globally we are facing a serious changes that if we don’t implement some changes now, it might be too late. That is something that football and a football audience in general aren’t aware of, and that is through no fault of their own, but as footballers, as influencers, I think it is our responsibility to use our platforms that we have to try and inform people. You can’t make anyone interested, and you can’t make anyone take actions but I would like to think if anybody looked up to any sports stars or any actors that they could follow in their footsteps in a good way and then things would start to change and things need to. I think it (the climate emergency) is something that is very important. It is something I feel very strongly about and I think it is something that, with all the power I have and all the platforms that I have, I will use as much as I can to try and implement that into my followers.
OTBC: How impressed have you been with what Marcus Rashford has achieved in the past 12 months? I know it is a separate issue in terms of the free school meals, but he also brought about positive change.
Todd: Yes, he has been incredible. You can’t argue with that. Obviously, it is something that is very close to him and it is amazing that someone with his training load, his game load, has put that much time and effort into something so important and make such a change to the country. It is mind blowing really. It is incredible and he probably doesn’t need to hear it any more but I think the whole country is proud of him for what he has done and how he has stood up for people who, you could argue, don’t have a voice. That is the point I am trying to come to. Marcus (Rashford) is obviously a massive, massive footballer, and a much bigger scale to what I am, but if we can all be on the same boat then, actions like what he has shown he can do, we can come together and make a difference, definitely.
OTBC: It is also important to lead by example on these issues and we have recently seen that you have become a vegetarian, whether that be for sustainability or animal welfare issues, but how easy has that been for you as a professional footballer?
Todd: I’ll be honest, I looked at it as an athlete and thought ‘this is going to be very difficult’ and I did worry that a change in my diet would have a change in my performance and my output but, honestly, I don’t think I have felt as good. I have managed to churn out game after game after game and I have felt brilliant. I am vegetarian, I am not a vegan. That is something that I am interested in trying but I am taking it one step at a time. I am very lucky that the chef, at the club, is very helpful and he does some brilliant dishes for me and that makes it easier, but I have also found, that during lockdown, it has been an opportunity to try something different at home. We have got a lot more time on our hands to go out, get some ingredients and throw some things together really. If a full-time athlete can do it and still throw our 12k two times a week, then I am sure other people can do it and feel fine; if that is a genuine concern for them, because it was for me. I feel brilliant for it, I really do, and I have done some research into it and why I am a vegetarian. It is mainly through climate and overusing animals, and some of the ways the animals are being treated that I didn’t agree with as well, and as hard as I thought it would be it has actually been the opposite. It has been really quite straight forward.
OTBC: Moving on to today’s game against Brentford. When people look at this fixture, they will obviously view it as six pointer between two of the promotion favourites. Is it important not to view it like that considering how many games there are left to go in the season?
Todd: It is definitely a game where you want to win for multiple reasons. You want to win to extend the gap directly to the opponent but also for a morale and confidence point of view. I don’t think it is the be all and end all. I think the games where you are required to bring success are the really important ones. For example, when people look at the game at Birmingham City, they had won the previous weekend and they were in a good place and it was not an easy pitch and it was not an easy place to churn out a 3-1 victory. However, it can’t be undermined how important a head-to-head game like this is. We want to be at the top of the league, and I would imagine they (Brentford) feel exactly the same, but the most important game is always the next game. If you get too distracted about what is happening in the upcoming fixtures, I think that is where it starts to become dangerous because you start to think we can win this one, lose that one, and win this one, and that is not the mentality to have.
OTBC: Finally, we have played Brentford already this season and they look a force going forward. What do you make of them as an opponent?
Todd: They have got some brilliant players and a brilliant manager, and they have got a real obvious outset to try and get promoted to the Premier League, as do we. We have played against them once already this season and we know they have got some fantastic players, but I think it is important that we show that we have got fantastic players in games like this as well and that we are not happy to stand aside and hand out points to anybody. I think it will be a really good game and it is one that I am really looking forward to.