Former Nottingham Forest and Notts County forward Craig Westcarr on his roller-coaster career
FOR Craig Westcarr, the former Nottingham Forest and Notts County forward, his football career has certainly been a roller-coaster ride.
The 28-year-old, from Sherwood, went from becoming Nottingham Forest's youngest ever player at just 16, to playing on month-to-month contracts in non-league football.
He then grasped the chance given to him by Ian McParland at Notts County, only to be forced through the exit door by Martin Allen two seasons later.
After making the move to nearby Chesterfield, Westcarr tasted the glory of scoring in a Wembley final in front of 50,000 fans, only to endure the pain of relegation a matter of weeks later.
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When his contract was recently cancelled at the League Two Spireites, he made the step back up to League One with Walsall and, having signed a contract until the end of the season, will this weekend be facing the club that gave him his chance back in the football league, Notts.
Westcarr admits he never wanted to leave the Magpies, but insists it was made clear to him in no uncertain terms by former boss Allen, who he politely describes as a "character".
"He told me that I was one of a few players he felt were saleable assets and not in his plans," said the former Notts striker.
"'You have to go' is what he said, so I didn't have any choice really, it was either that or stay and rot.
"His methods were certainly a bit different!
"I remember him stopping the team bus and making us do set pieces at a service station, using trees and people as goalposts.
"In one game we played, against Brentford, at half-time he came in and took his top off in the changing room.
"He was up there showing us all how we should be running and working, and he was running back and forward in the changing room sweating and f-ing and blinding!
"He used to lead us out for our warm-up and then walk over and start pestering the other team's coach to try and mess up their warm up!
"He got us going and we knew what we needed to do, which was stay up, and we ended up doing it.
"But I never thought he would be the long-term answer to Notts' problems, which turned out to be right."
Westcarr was only nine when he joined the renowned Nottingham Forest Academy, leaving school a year early to sign his first professional contract at 14.
He made his debut, aged 16, at the City Ground against Burnley on October 13, 2001.
The frontman has great memories of the day his name was written into the club's history books.
He recalled: "I played under Paul Hart for the under-19s when I was 16, so when he got the first-team job it was definitely good for me and for everyone else in the youth team.
"There were some really good players there who are playing now – Daws (Michael Dawson), JJ (Jermaine Jenas), Reidy (Andy Reid), Wes (Morgan) – some really good players.
"Harty gave me my debut against Burnley for the last ten minutes and I remember I got a one-on-one chance as well. But I missed it!
"I was buzzing, though, it's probably one of the best feelings I've ever had.
"I'm still the youngest, still got that record and it's good to have, to be a part of history at such a massive club."
Although big things were expected of him at the club, Westcarr only managed two starts and one goal in a total of 23 appearances during a tumultuous period for the Reds, before he became one of the many casualties of Gary Megson's clear-out.
"It was horrible leaving Forest," he said.
"That was all anyone knew, just Forest.
"I think there were four managers in two years of relegation battles and it was hard for youth team players and myself to get in really.
"I had to start from the bottom to come back up again."
After a contract was offered and then withdrawn by former loan club Lincoln City in the summer of 2005, he found himself going on various fruitless trials and was without a club or job at the beginning of the season.
Westcarr admits to ringing around managers himself asking for a chance, and it was Conference side Cambridge United who offered the striker a lifeline.
He scored eight goals that season while playing on a month-to-month contract, but the following year Westcarr joined an ambitious Kettering side in the Conference North – where his fortunes began to turn.
Promotion and an impressive FA Cup run ensued including a 2-1 win over Notts County, managed by a familiar face from Forest, McParland.
The run ended with a 4-2 loss to Premier League Fulham, but Westcarr scored both goals and caught the eye in the live televised game.
"Fulham was an amazing day, a packed house and I got two goals," he said.
"I think that put my name back out there and I got a few managers coming to games."
One of these was his former Nottingham Forest youth and reserve team coach, Ian 'Chaz' McParland.
Chaz offered 'Westy' a route back into the professional game, making him one of his early summer signings before the arrival of Sven Goran Eriksson and the infamous Munto Finance.
He says he is grateful to Chaz to this day and still keeps in touch with the man who has helped to shape his career.
He also wishes that Chaz had been given the opportunity to provide success and stability at Notts – something the club is still looking for today – and hopes he will get the chance to manage again elsewhere soon.
"Chaz rang me and we met at a hotel and I signed the contract that day," he recalled.
"We didn't need to discuss money it just couldn't be better, Notts County and back in the league, I was buzzing.
"Unfortunately I only had a few months playing for him.
"I felt sorry for him because the people who took over the club did so with the wrong intentions, claiming they were going to get (Gabriel) Batistuta and players like that.
"Chaz had the players he wanted and needed and I believe he could have done it with us."
Despite all the off-the-field issues, Westcarr looks back on his days with the Magpies as some of the best of his career.
He scored 11 goals and was a mainstay in his first season with the club as they claimed the League Two title.
He also ranks scoring in a 2-1 win at Sunderland and taking the mighty Manchester City to a replay in the FA Cup as highlights of his career.
His move to Chesterfield provided him with a Wembley goal and winners medal in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy final, but also the disappointment of relegation to League Two.
But, looking to the future, 'Westy' feels that Walsall may be the perfect place for him to showcase his undoubted talent and to taste further success.
"The next two or three years are quite important for me," he said.
"I'm 28 now so I need to keep playing and playing good football.
"I think if I play well and keep fit then there can be some good times ahead."