Callum Harriott with his dog and car in FS mag ()Callum Harriott with his dog and car in FS mag () © Copyright

Mad dogs and mansions

When we heard about a promising young Championship player who sells French bulldogs on Instagram and grew up on the same street as Stormzy, we had to go find out more.

Callum Harriott, 22, is a small winger with big dogs. When FS pitches up at his mum and dad’s house in Norbury, he is in the dark alleyway that runs down one side. He has one hand on the collar of an enormous American bulldog (Akila, pictured), the other holding his phone to his ear, and he’s using his leg to prise open the front door. His mate has got hold of an identically massive dog.

Harriott acknowledges us with a big grin that contains no trace that this chaotic scene is in any way unusual. He takes us inside, where we briefly meet his mum and uncle before shuffling into the front room with the two dogs. American bulldogs are the stocky cartoonish version of the breed. There is lots of heavy breathing, lots of slobber.

Harriott has spent the best part of two decades ushering dogs into his mum’s house. He would be playing out with his mates, and would more often than not find a stray dog to bring home.

Callum Harriott's dog in FS magazine photoshoot ()

 

“I’d open the door and my dad would be like, ‘Boy, f***ing take that dog back!’ And I’m like, ‘Why? What’s wrong with it? What’s wrong with it?’”

“And then I just started bringing dogs and dogs. Because I’ve always had dogs. When I was younger, I had dogs, and I’d just come home with a dog. I had crazy dogs! I had attack dogs.” Harriott talks like a machine gun and there’s a half-second pause before he says: “Nessie”.

If Harriott has clocked that I’m kinda nervous around dogs, he’s got a funny way of showing it.

“If you was on a bike riding past, Nessie’s going to bite you off your bike. She will chase you and take you off your bike. No doubt. No doubt.” He’s joking. It’s a joke. Definitely a joke. 

Harriott now has his own place in Biggin Hill, where he has built kennels for his canines. He has owned at least 15 dogs on a permanent basis.

“Let me try and name all of them,” he says, unprompted. “Bo, King, Luce, Looch, um… ch-ch-ch… Nessie, um…Rocky, Bella, Molly, Taz, Money, Simba, Roxy, um… Kong.”

Kong was his favourite. He shows us a picture on his phone of a giant bulldog that looks like Desperate Dan doing the Ronaldo pose.

Callum Harriott on sofa with his dog for FS magazine (Tom Miles)

 

“Kong just constantly won every fight. I used to just walk home, proud, like, when I was younger, like, ‘Good boy!’ We loved Kong, and then there was one time that Mum came back from work and Kong must have trashed her room.

“Like, when I say ‘trashed her room’ I mean your room weren’t a room. Then Mum was like, ‘that dog needs to go.’”

As well as beloved pets, Harriott is also in business with French bulldogs, which he sells through his Instagram page (@ldnfrenchies).

“I’m into it deep now,” he says. “In the Frenchie world, they sort of like know me now.”

He pays for genetic tests to determine what kind of DNA his dogs carry. Certain strands are more sought-after. Chocolate and tan go for about £15,000. Lilac and tan, they go for £20-30,000.

“It’s crazy and it’s mad that people actually buy that, but I know what it carries; I’ve got the paperwork, I’ve got it all tested.”

By breeding them, which he does with a cousin in Lockerbie, Scotland, he can make serious money on them. Harriott might buy a dog for £10,000 but he can be pretty sure that he’ll be able to sell eight of its litter for £7,000 each.

“That’s what kind of hooks you into doing it,” he says.

Callum Harriott with his dog (Tom Miles)

 

I’m at the Harriott house, and there’s a steady stream of background activity. It is pretty hard to keep track of exactly what’s going on. Various people come and go: Callum’s dad, uncle, neighbour, cousin (another ex-Charlton player Harry Osborne). 

Everyone is super friendly, and it strikes me that Harriott is in his absolute element in this fast-paced environment. He’s constantly whipping his phone out to illustrate answers to my questions: an Instagram account for his puppies, a highlight reel of his best goals.

He joined Charlton’s youth ranks in 2008 on the back of seven consecutive seasons in the Premier League. Another youth player at the time, Jonjo Shelvey, was already knocking on the door of the first team, so things looked pretty promising for Charlton YTS lads.

Harriott went on to play 95 times for Charlton over five seasons, scoring 12 times, before they were relegated to League One in May. He was promptly snapped up on a three-year deal by Championship Reading, who invested heavily in their squad over the summer. Twelve players came in, including Tyler Blackett from Manchester United, John Swift from Chelsea and Liam Moore from Leicester City.

In the south-west Harriott has been revitalised by the demanding,  disciplined management of Jaap Stam.

“He plays head tennis against the coaching staff and he hates losing,” Harriott says of Stam, clearly in awe of the three-time Premier League winner. The training sessions are hard, challenging and instructive.

Callum Harriott with his dog and car in FS mag ()

 

Harriott plays as an orthodox left winger, high up the pitch and buzzing around where the action is.

“I know I’ve got a job to do every game,” he says. “I try my hardest to do the job. I’ve got to be a threat.”

What job is he told to do?

“You know when you get the ball, like one versus one? Take care in what you do, whether you’re putting in a cross, shooting, whatever. I like to poach around the box and shoot when I can.”

As we speak, Reading sit fourth in the Championship after three wins on the bounce. But only five points separate third and tenth. It’s not a time to get carried away, and he is coy about promotion talk.

“Well the aim is obviously to play at the highest level of your ability. I’d like to obviously play in the Premier League sooner rather than later but only time can tell that,” he says, modestly.

Callum Harriott juggling football for FS magazine photoshoot (Tom Miles)

 

“You know when you’re young, you obviously dream of playing for the team that you support, or the Barcelonas… and as you get older, reality hits you, and you are where you are today. But, obviously, that’s what I’m aiming to, you know, to push on to…”

Although he played for the England under 19s, Harriott may be able to “represent for the Reggae Boyz” because of his Jamaican grandfather. If the necessary paperwork is available, he is hoping for a call up.

Has he seen enough so far to think he belongs at the very top level?

“Sometimes I think that, but I usually feel I need to get on with where I am now. And you know, work as hard as I can and, try to better myself and then the rest sort
of comes. You have to improve every day.

“But hopefully I’ll get there one day and Mum and Dad can have a mansion”

Does Harriott think that the odds were stacked against him making it as a pro footballer?

“Yeah, easily said. At school, we was troublesome kids. You can ask my mum, she’d probably tell you. She’d tell you a lot of me,” says Callum, eyes wide, pointing up the stairs.

“Some of the people I grew up with around here are in jail or dead. Crazy. The older I got the more I realised I needed to stay focused on my football, that’s why having good friends and family around you is so important.”

Harriott says that he was lucky to be seen as “the football kid. It put me in a position where I’d never had any altercations or problems. But some of my friends are nutcases.”

One night, years ago, Harriott and his cousin Harry walked down the street to find it flooded with 50-100 lads from Croydon looking for trouble. The two were able to walk away unscathed – but why would 100 people from Croydon would descend on a nice, tree-lined suburban street in Norbury?

Callum Harriott's playing Nintendo Wii in FS magazine ()

 

“Just gangs… It all starts with silly things when you’re young and this is why, honestly, things never end,” says Harriott, who is keen to stress that this was years ago. It is not something he has ever really been involved with, or is likely to see happen again. He offers this theory by way of explanation:

“Like if someone from Croydon has been… shot, or stabbed. Or someone’s dead, someone over here needs to… it don’t stop. It don’t stop until someone’s dead.”

There are massive benefits to growing up around here. There must be. Some of the UK’s best grime artists rep these ends, and Harriott still hones his skills against local footballers.

“I was on the street from like 11 or 12. I just think that from here, at night, there’s nothing. Like we don’t really have a lot down here [south London], if I’m totally honest. And like, when you can do something for yourself, like the whole of the area supports something that you do – that’s good.

“If you’re not doing anything good, then you’re an enemy or whatever. But if you’re doing something, that’s good and people like it, and want to support it. And like, around here we’ve got this, we’ve got something to brag about.”

Case and point is Big Mike Amari. Aka Wicked Skengman. Aka Stormzy.

“This is what I meant. His mum’s down there,” says Harriott, pointing down the street again. “In this room here, this used to be my bedroom, we had a studio. We used to like, record songs together!

“Storm’s from my school. Everyone at school thought they could rap. But in the playground, he was like a joke. People thought he must have been copying the lyrics from somewhere.”

As Harriott’s career at Charlton progressed, he moved away and into digs near the training ground. He remembers coming back to Norbury with a new car and seeing Stormzy (Mike) out and about. “Every time I saw Mike, he used to just be walking, literally on the High Street. When he used to see me in a new car and he’s like: ‘Cal, what the f**k? You’re f***ing up my head.” And I was like, ‘Start rappin’ then. What are you doing?’ He was like, ‘Nah I’m gunna, I’m gunna.’

“The next minute, he made a mix tape called 168 mix-tape. Like just made it by himself, like, printed out loads of CD copies and gave them out to everyone. And everyone just started flogging them everywhere. Everyone was like, ‘this man’s good’ and everybody started liking him. And since then, he is killing it.

Callum Harriott on sofa with his dog for FS magazine (Tom Miles)

 

“Every time I see his mum, his mum is so happy. Because how we was when we was younger, you wouldn’t think we would become what we are. Easily said.”

Stormzy is not the only exciting talent close to Harriott. He’s mates with Alex Iwobi, and plays football with him at Goals during the summer.

“Sometimes we do North London v South London,” he explains. “Our team’s unbeaten. Let me talk you through the team… So, me, Daniel Johnson from Preston, Wilfried Zaha, [Jason] Puncheon, Dominic Vose [Grimsby], and then there’s the keeper, from Streatham. Our man from Streatham Vale called Sam, and he is the keeper on five-a-side. Or seven-a-side. He’s really good in net.

“We play North London, that’s like Chuba Akpom: I played 19s with him for England. Iwobi – there’s like an Arsenal bunch that come down. It’s good. We don’t lose! No matter what team you bring, you won’t win.

“If I have to be honest, I’ll put my life on it you won’t beat us. I’ll put my life on it. We have never lost. It’s just like skill school there. Everyone does crazy stuff.

“We go Goals in Copers Cope in the summer. We have like crowds sometimes!

“We go there on a day where no one’s sort of there, but obviously people latch on and notice and watch. It’s good!”

It seems kind of nuts that top footballers are honing their skills in the cage during the summer. Copers Cope comrade Alex Iwobi told the New York Times recently that he used to practise skills he’d learned from playing FIFA.

Harriott confirms that he did the same thing, but with FIFA Street instead. “Me and my brother would be in the garden, and we’d just do skills until lights down. It’s the best. When we’d go Goals, we’d have new tricks to show everyone, and then it just naturally builds. It’s like built-in, and you just start doing it. I still feel I need to do more of that now. I can do loads of tricks out there, but I’d like to do more – and harder ones.”

Photos: Tom Miles

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