“The Lucky Beard” – Joe Cardle’s story

This Interview was published in the Official DAFC Match-Day Programme during the 2017/18 campaign. Thanks go to Dunfermline Athletic Football Club for allowing me to post my article on to my website.

Joe Cardle has had eight seasons with Dunfermline Athletic, over two separate spells. The 31-year-old winger feels he still has more to give as the Pars push for Premiership promotion this season.

Cardle was never into any other sports as a kid, even though his brother Scott is a professional boxer.

“Football was basically everything to me as a kid, it is all I ever wanted to do. I didn’t really play with any toys as a youngster, it was mainly just a ball by my feet. I think it is just the love of the game: if I had any time after school, I would be out in the car park and I wouldn’t dream of doing anything bar playing football.

It was always football: there were no other sports I was interested in. Obviously I had my school work to do like everyone else, but, my life revolved then and still does now around football; it is something I enjoy doing and I have such a passion for. I mean, I did start doing a little bit of boxing once I turned 12 or 13, but, the main sport since I have been able to walk has always been football. I loved kicking a ball and I still have that love, to this day.”

Joe began his career with Burnley before he moved to Port Vale when he was 16.

“I signed professional terms with Burnley when I was 7 and I was there for 9 years. It was a long time – it was also a long way to travel. It was around an hour from where I lived. We used to train all day on a Wednesday and then play on a Sunday. There was a lot of coming and goings and a lot of time spent travelling around the country with my dad. It was an incredible time, coming through Burnley’s School of Excellence. I will always have fond memories. Even back then, I was always an attacking player: I sometimes played centre midfield as well as out-wide. I also played striker as well as off-the-front in the number 10 role. To be honest, as long as I was creating goals or scoring goals, I was happy. I have never really played anywhere behind the midfield, as the way I play, I like to be in the opposition’s half where I can try produce skills or score goals and create goals, and, even as a kid, that was how I played.

[Playing on the left] has only really progressed since I came up to Scotland, to be fair. Don’t get me wrong, when I was playing for Port Vale I occasionally played on the left as well as the right and in the middle, but, it was Jim McIntyre who really cemented down that outside-left position for me. He felt I had so much success cutting in on my right-hand side, in terms of getting crosses in or shots on target, so, over the last 7 or 8 years that has mainly been my position. I like to play one-two’s, especially when – like the beginning of the season – I am given a free role, which I enjoy even more, as, I can roam about and I felt that allowed me to get on the ball a lot more. Getting into the holes and into the pockets is where I feel I am most influential, in terms of feeding the strikers or scoring goals myself.”

After moving to Vale Park but had to wait two season’s to make his breakthrough into the first-team.

“I was still enjoying my football, but, Burnley couldn’t find a position for me, because I was so small: at this period in time, I was playing as a striker and I was only a wee guy. I was coming up against big guys who were throwing me about the place and I was out of my depth when it came to strength and height; I was being tossed about every Sunday. All my team-mates were about double the size of me, but, it was a difficult time for me – they brought in a whole new management staff and they chose the boys to take through to the YTS set-up and it just didn’t happen for me…about a week later, I was training with Port Vale.

The youth manager at that time, was Martin Foyle and he had saw me in a few games, so, had asked me to go down and train with them. I really enjoyed it – on my first day, I was training with the Under-19’s despite only being 16 at that time. To be in and around those lads, in a youth set-up that was fantastic at the time, was great. As soon as I trained with them for a couple of days, I knew I wanted to go there. They offered me a 3-year YTS and at that point, it was a dream come true for me – I was a young boy who only wanted to play football, so, to do that at a full-time job at 16 with a League One club at that time. I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and ended up having a fantastic time.

I was in my third year of my YTS and I was training with the first-team, and, I felt I was doing enough with the youth and reserve teams to be at that stage. I think two weeks prior to my debut, I was also in the squad which meant I had to get my own squad number and things like that…back then, those things were surreal as it showed me it was a step-up. Myself and another guy from the youth didn’t make the 18-man squad that day, but, the following week we both made the bench. Then, the week after that, I came on as a substitute to make my senior debut, against Scunthorpe away from home. We lost 2-0 and I came on with around 15 minutes to go if I remember correctly. The nerves were unbelievable that day: I didn’t think I was going to get on until I got the heads up to warm up. I ended up coming on that day alongside Chris Birchall who has played for Trinidad and Tobago at the World Cup, so, memories like that stick with me. I came on wide left and I done pretty good. I got a lot of the ball despite it being late on; I hit the crossbar with a shot, unfortunately I didn’t score and then after the game, the players were praising me and I left the stadium with my confidence being sky high. I was just a young boy with no fear, I just wanted to play. The first-team guys were terrific with me at the time and I can’t thank them enough for the way they dealt with me in that situation.”

Cardle only made 7 appearances for Vale that term, but, was satisfied with his first season in senior football.

“I think I was on the bench the majority of that season. Obviously, I was still young and still learning. I was training with the first-team every day. I was still doing the odd jobs around the club, being a youngster, but I was travelling around the country with them every second weekend too and that gave me a happy-medium. Even though I think I done very well when I got the opportunity. The manager didn’t want to throw me in overly much as I was still learning my trade, but, I made a few goals that season. I made two assists on the last day of the season – I was enjoying my football, playing in front of thousands of fans, which I had always wanted to do, so, I was really happy.

If you look at some of the big stadiums I got to play at, at such a young age – clubs like Huddersfield and Swansea, who are now both in the Premiership. That shows the teams I was teaming up against and the experiences I was gaining so early on in my development. It is something you can’t buy; it was fantastic, even though it was only League One. I sponged it all in, it was amazing. However, the following pre-season I felt – at the age of 19 – that, despite enjoying every minute of it, I wanted to gain more experience and play more often. I needed minutes in the bank. I started pre-season really well but the manager had brought in a few players and I started to see experienced guys come in who had played in that league before, while, I needed to be playing week-in, week-out. I knew myself, to become a better player, I needed to move away on loan and Colin Hendry, who is a family friend, was manger at Clyde at that time. He had saw me play loads of times and he called me up straight away and said if there was any chance of me getting a move, he would take me up to Scotland. Clyde were in Division One at the time and I felt it was a good opportunity for me to come up and try things out, as well as getting a lot more games under my belt. Thankfully I managed to do that and I really benefitted from going out on loan for 6 months.”

After returning south of the border, Cardle regained his place within the Port Vale side but decided to leave that summer.

“Scottish football is something I have always been brought up on, even though I was raised in England. My mum and dad are both from Glasgow and I they have always been Celtic supporters. Any game on the TV, I would watch, and, we also had season tickets for Parkhead – even though we lived down in Lytham. We would come up every second week, so, I knew what I was coming up to, however, it wasn’t just a case of “getting to Scotland”, it was a case of getting the experience and getting the games in, in a good division at the time. It was really good for me as it took time for me to fully understand the kind of player I was. I got what I needed from it; the six months went quick and I certainly appreciated what I had at home after that move. The standard was certainly different: in English League One, it is more physical whereas, up here, I thought it benefitted my game as it was more about getting on the ball and making things happen. I felt I got a lot more time on the ball and I honestly think that if the move to Clyde didn’t happen, I don’t know where I would be, today.

Colin Hendry wanted to keep me, but, I felt I had done enough to go back down and play in Port Vale’s first-team, regularly. Circumstances changed though, as, while I was away, they sacked the manager who I had at youth level, who had came through the ranks with me and I had a great relationship with, for someone else who brought in their own players and had their own ideas. They were big lads who would get the job done, so, unfortunately that spelled the end for me at the end of the season. These things happen. With me having not played too many games in England, I was looking about for a new club, then, Airdrie and Ross County became interested in me. Kenny Black got on to the phone to me in the first week of the summer and told me to come up, see the stadium, train with the boys to see if I like it and then take things from there. After I met Kenny Black and Jimmy Boyle, we got on straight away and I feel that is important: when you sign for a new manager, as, if you have a good relationship with them, you are likely to play better. They then offered me a contract and I was at the stage where I didn’t have anything else on the table so I decided to go for it.”

Cardle spent 6 months at the Excelsior Stadium before signing a pre-contract with Dunfermline.

“At the time, it was a bit scary as I was in my comfort zone at Port Vale. I was living at home at the time and I was so comfortable, but, I got to the point where I had to try prove a point to other people who weren’t willing to take a chance on me. I was in with a great bunch of boys, the manager was brilliant with me and we ended up winning the Challenge Cup Final that season. I ended up signing a pre-contract with Dunfermline in the January, which was another step-up for me. I remember my first goal in senior football; it was a cross which came in and I cut inside after it got deflected then I just tucked it away. I think I might have got a cup goal before that but my first league goal was always something I will remember.

We played Dunfermline on the Saturday and I remember it was myself and Steven McDougall – who also ended up signing – had good games that afternoon. We run a mock, to be fair, and then on the Monday I got a call from my agent to say Jim McIntyre had been on the phone enquiring about me and asked if I fancied meeting him. I was overwhelmed and happy because that was my first time playing at East End Park and it made me realise how big a club it was. It was a good feeling that the manager even knew who I was, to be honest! I met the manager and we ended up agreeing a deal, which was great, but it was all hush hush as Jim didn’t want me telling anyone what was gojng on that time. Looking back at it now, I wish I never done it like that. At the time, you just want to get the contract signed and better your career, so, you do what you are told. I didn’t tell Airdrie what was happening, but, they found out a couple of months later. One thing led to another and they eventually paid me up and I got let go. I ended up training with Dunfermline for the final two months of that season before I officially signed for them. It was a funny situation – I think I was young and naïve. If I was to go back, I would probably have told my manager I had been offered a contract, but, like I said, at that time, you don’t think about that. I think it was the right thing for me to do in the end, even though we had won the Challenge Cup that season, which I played a massive part in, putting in a Man of the Match performance in the final. It is a great memory for me as that was the first silverware of my career. I was only there for a few months, but, I only have fond memories of my time there.”

Joe feels McIntyre was the manager who had managed to get the most out of him, at that stage of his career.

“Kenny Black was brilliant with me as he gave me a free role and told me to just go out and enjoy myself. I didn’t really need to track back and defend, I was there to just create and score goals and that is what I did for him. However, McIntyre was good as he coached me; I was still young at the time when I joined Dunfermline, I was only 22. He taught me things I didn’t know – because he was a striker, he told me where they would be wanting the ball to go and when they would want it delivered. As a manager, being able to coach someone and work with them every day to make them a better player, that is what I was needing then at that stage of my career and I felt that helped my football on the pitch.”

After moving to Fife, Cardle began to find the net more regularly than he had previously in his senior career.

“I don’t think I had scored enough in the games I had played, considering the type of player I am. I think confidence is massive in things like taking chances and when you get your first run of goals, you feel as if you can kick on and get more, which I have been able to do as has been seen by the amount I have scored over the last few years. I moved through to the area myself and I felt like a grown man. I felt I was ready to now knuckle down and become a consistent player. I think I done that in my first season at the club. For it being my debut season, the amount of goals I scored and assisted was fantastic. I scored a hat-trick that season if I remember rightly against Partick Thistle, which was the first of my career. I also remember my first goal for the Pars came against Morton and I think that was my league debut, too. I came on for Willie Gibson and scored one of my usual ones: I cut in from the left and shot across goal, firing it into the top bin. I have a lot of good memories of that season; it was a fantastic changing room and the manager was great with me as I got a lot of football, which was what I needed.

I was surrounded by good players, guys such as Nicky Phinn and Steven Bell in the centre of midfield, Callum Woods at rightp-back, Ozzy [Austin] McCann as well. It was definitely a step-up for me as I was playing with a lot of good player. The aim that season was obviously to go up. Sadly it didn’t happen that term but thankfully we done it the campaign after. I remember the day we had the meeting at pre-season in terms of our league challenge the following year. McIntyre likes to go through things on a quarterly basis, so he would set out a target of points for each 9 games. We knew how many points to get to win the league and thankfully we done it. It was a long season as we had our biggest rivals, Raith, alongside us all the way to the end. it was a successful season for myself, too, personally. The final 5 or 6 games were crucial, it was nervy but we came through it in the end and I would say, from my career so far, that season was the pinnacle for me. The match against Raith at home will always stand out as to have a full house and the way the game finished, alongside the following week with Morton, has provided me with memories nobody can ever take away from me.”

Towards the end of that season, however, Cardle decided to grow a beard in the hope that it would help the Pars win promotion to the Premiership.

“I had played Raith in previous matches, but, the emphasis on a win in that game was like never before. They were a strong team, a hard team to beat, who all fought for each other. We were more tactically and technically better, we had guys who can change games. Even warming up that day and looking round at the crowd entering East End Park, as well as the way the game panned out, it is something I couldn’t write. I think the more fans I play in front of, I thrive on, and, that day was special. I had played at the stadium many times before, but, the day was just surreal – I felt I had a really good game. We had practised the corner I swung in for the equaliser for weeks and weeks. Big [Martin[ Hardie was at the front post before spinning round the back and I would whip it with perfect timing. Thankfully we got the equaliser and we knew once we got that goal, we would go on to win the match. The big man stepped up again and scored a cracking free-kick which will go down in Dunfermline history.”

Despite being 1-0 down at the break, the players always felt positive heading into the second half in front of a 11,000 plus crowd.

“I was more than positive we would go on and win the game. I think the way we started the game was incredible. Our tempo was great and we had so many chances, I couldn’t believe we hadn’t scored. I had whipped in a few balls which had went past the post and then against the run of play, Raith go up the park and score a goal. I was more than confident that my team-mates and I would turn this game around. We needed the win that day to know that a win against Morton would seal us the title. It was such a balanced changing room that year; a lot of experienced pro’s alongside guys like myself, who were just starting out in the game. To win the league title the way we did, it was pretty special.

I was more nervous against Morton, to be honest, as I knew we just had to get the win. We got the goal early doors and I think that settled the nerves. It was another corner by myself and we seemed to score a lot of goals that season from set-pieces. Winning the match, for the fans to come on at the end of the game to celebrate with us, it was unbelievable scenes and something I won’t forget! I think around two months prior to that match, I had a little bit stubble and one of the reporters said to me about it and I told him “I am not going to shave my beard off until we next lose” – it was a bit of arrogance I had speaking right after a game as we were on a good run and it must have been 7,8 or 9 weeks of us winning that saw me grow this horrendous beard! It was so patchy, a horrible ginger, ugly looking thing! Having won the league title that day, the first thing I done when I got home was shave it off before carrying on with the party. It was the “lucky beard” that got us over the line, I think, in the end!”

Promotion saw Joe participate in a disappointing season for the Fifers in the Premiership, which saw Jim McIntyre lose his job, being replaced by Jim Jefferies.

“There was so much talent in that squad, that gained promotion. When you look at guys like my good pal Callum Woods, who was solid for us at the back, as well as having so much ability going forward. He was fit, strong and fast. We had so much camaraderie within the squad and the team-bonding sessions we had helped that, too. It was great to play with these types of players and the quality shone through in the end, I would say. Then, in the following season I would say, personally, it was good as I was still getting the chance to come up and test myself against teams like Celtic and Rangers, while, on the pitch I felt I done pretty well for making the step-up. However, we lost far too many silly goals and it was costing us week-in, week-out. It was so frustrating as we were doing so well going forward but conceding daft goals which contributed to us losing games. In the end, I don’t think we deserved to stay up, due to the slackness we had, but, it was unfortunate too because the squad was more than good enough, but, that happens sometimes.”

The following season and Cardle was made redundant due to financial difficulties as the Fife side entered administration.

“For me, it really hit home when I got told on the Friday I had until the Sunday to find a new club. That was one of the worst weekends of my life, and the thought of it even now makes me feel sick! I had basically 24 hours to find a team and I know it was only a couple of months but Lucy was pregnant at the time, so, I spoke to a few local teams. I felt at that time Raith were the right team; they were just along the road, I would be remaining in the same league and I knew some of their boys, too. Even though I had a massive Dunfermline connection, and I know some supporters weren’t happy in the end, but, I had to have a job at the end of the day. I had gone 4 months without wages before that, so, I had to pay the wages somehow!”

Joe remained at Stark’s Park the following term as he went on to lift the Ramsden’s Cup with victory over Rangers at Easter Road.

“In one of my first matches for the club, I ended up playing Dunfermline at East End Park in the Challenge Cup. It was so weird! Even just walking into the away changing room, it just didn’t feel right and to do it so soon after leaving the club, it was quite scary. Obviously a few fans didn’t like the idea that I was playing at East End Park with a Raith jersey on and they would have preferred me in a Dunfermline one, but, it was an experience that I took away with me; some supporters boo’d me off, some supporters clapped me at the end, but, that is what you expect as a rival player, especially when you are formerly of the other team. We got the job done that night, though. I was up against Geggsy [Andy Geggan] at right-back that night and I tormented him, which I still remember him about until this day!

To play against Rangers in a cup final, any cup final, is an exceptional experience. The Rangers fans came out in their numbers that day, they filled three-quarters of the stadium that day while Raith only had the one stand and they made it difficult for us as they had a lot of good players. Wee Airdy [Fraser Aird] was involved that day, I am sure, and so was Dean Shiels: Rangers were expected to win, even though they were the league below us that season and it was a tight, tight game but thankfully come extra-time Wee Bairdy [John Baird] popped up with the winner. To score the goal in that fashion, so late in the game, as well as being a Celtic man to beat Rangers, it was a day I will never forget and another brilliant experience. I cramped up as I put in a big shift that day and came off in extra-time. I was on the bench, hoping we got through to penalties, but, then we go the goal and I even managed to run half the length of the pitch to celebrate with the players in front of the Raith fans, that was just magnificent!”

Cardle moved back into the Premiership with Ross County but he was only in Dingwall for a short stint before returning to East End Park.

“It was a very frustrating spell for me. I just fancied a change – and the lure of going back into the top-tier too. I felt I had a good season with Raith and had proven myself in the Championship. I started the season and it was good, but, then I started to be in and out of the team and that made it more frustrating. I was so far away from home and we never settled there as a family: you feel a million miles away when you are up there, especially when you aren’t playing. I just had to look forward to the next season and make sure when I made my next move, I was going to be playing. It was almost like a calling, for me, to move back to Dunfermline. Even though it was a couple of leagues lower down, I needed to get back to enjoying my football again.

I thrived on the fact that we had to win the league; I knew how poor it had been the previous two or three seasons. I think, since I left, the club had been getting worse and worse and I wanted to help – it wasn’t due to the fans or anyone else involved with the club what happened to me and I felt I had unfinished business. I felt like I needed to come back and achieve what I wanted to do with Dunfermline in the first place. I had to take a big hit with wages but I felt it was the right move. i am so glad I done it. To go down to a league I had never played in, I knew it was now or never and it was another great season.”

Cardle had his best scoring season to date that term as the Pars won the League One title in style.

“I wouldn’t say I was in my prime, but, I was confident. I felt I was doing it on the training pitch at Ross County but not playing regularly whereas I was getting that at Dunfermline. I was managing to do that on the pitch; I was scoring hat-tricks, setting goals up…thinking back now, it was such an enjoyable time because we were winning most weeks. To be honest, we cruised the league – we knew by the first couple of matches into the season that if we played to our best, we would win the division and we did it with class. Living in Dunfermline, I knew how much it meant to the locals. The pressure was on; I knew if we didn’t do it, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I am a big personality at the club and in the changing room so it would have fallen at my feet and that in itself is a lot of pressure to take but I wanted to take on that challenge. Thankfully we are now back in the Championship, but, I don’t think we are back where we belong yet. Dunfermline are a Premiership side, but, we need to earn it and we need to build it up year by year to get there. Hopefully we can do it this season but if not, I am more than positive we can do it next campaign.”

Since the Englishman returned to the club, he has seen massive strides on and off the field.

“The club are in a great way, right now. The people in charge, such as Ross [McArthur] are a breath of fresh air. He brings so much positivity to the club and even the people who work, volunteer and support the club have been fantastic since I came back to the club, and I think we will continue to go from strength to strength, now. The whole club and the town want the same goal and I am positive we will achieve that in the coming months and years ahead. The best way we can look at the remaining games are that they are all cup finals. We should be up there, when you look at our squad. We should be cruising like we were at the start of the season, but, we haven’t picked up enough results: hopefully we have turned that around now and hopefully we have enough experience and quality to turn it around and finish up in the top four, where I feel we should be.

I can’t look back on my career and say “what if?”. Everything happens for a reason and I am happy where I am just now. I love Dunfermline, I love playing for the club. It is the most special club I have played for in my career, and I think everyone associated with the Pars knows what it means to me to pull on the famous black and white stripes. I give my all for the club and I hope I am here next season. In the meantime, I will continue to try hard and play to my best to ensure the club reaches the top four, then to win the play-offs. That is the aim; I know we have left it late, but, I feel there is still so much more for me to give. I want to be here for the foreseeable future – my family are settled area and we love it here, so, hopefully, staying on is the case. I think there is a lot more to come from me, to be fair; I am a tee developer who is incredibly fit. For the third year running, I have blown the bleep test out of the water. I look after myself, I eat well, I do extra training myself, so, I just need to get back into the starting eleven now. I have had a few wee niggles recently, but, hopefully I can finish the season on a high to get us back to where I feel we belong. I hope the fans can stick by us, I know we have had a hard couple of months. We are all working as hard as we can on and off the pitch and with a bit of luck we can turn it around and reach the top four, kick on and finish the season on a high.”

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