It is not selling David Carson short to describe his performances at Caley Thistle this season as revelatory.
A runaway favourite for the fans’ player of the year award, Carson came back from injury to become an undroppable figure and a key cog in the Highland club’s resurgence in form.
He did not take a traditional route into football. Spotted playing for local side Ashington as a teenager, Carson was signed by Championship side Blackburn Rovers after impressing on trial.
Eric Kinder was the coach of Blackburn’s under-21s when Carson came to the club in 2014, from Northern League side Ashington. An ardent Blackburn fan who has also been a youth coach and academy manager at Ewood Park, Kinder wanted more grounded, hard-working players during a tumultuous time during Rovers’ ownership by Venky’s.
Blackburn reached the final of the Under-21 Premier League Cup in 2015, during Carson’s first season at the club. Among his colleagues were David Raya, now the Brentford number one, Rovers regular Ryan Nyambe and Sheffield United defender Jack O’Connell. He later went on to captain the under-21 side.
Signed a professional contract with Blackburn Rovers!!! Absolutely buzzing ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/htEt6x39pi
— David Carson (@DaveyCarson8) March 21, 2014
“At the time the recruitment at Blackburn was quite strange,” said Kinder, now academy manager at Carlisle United. “There were a lot of foreign players who, in my opinion, weren’t good enough to represent Blackburn.
“We had to get some local/English players who would battle and fight for us. David was one of them. He was a tough Geordie who was Newcastle United mad.
“The Davey Carson that trained and Davey Carson that played were the same person. He gave everything he had.
“I heard he was doing well in Scotland and it didn’t surprise me. He had a determination to be a professional footballer and he’s had a lot of setbacks.”
The biggest setback came in July 2014, when a then-18-year-old Carson lost his older brother Karl.
“The circumstances behind that were heartbreaking,” added Kinder. “He sat me down and told me all about it. It was a case of ‘you get home now and you come back when you’re ready to come back’.
“For him to come back and continue with his career – I think that spurred him on a little bit. If he can handle what he had to handle, a release from a football club is nothing.”
After his release from Rovers in 2016, Carson returned to the north-east of England and to non-league football with South Shields.
However, he came to the attention of Caley Thistle while at Morpeth Town. Former Northern Ireland international David McCreery runs a consultancy business which has Carson as a client and he recommended the midfielder to John Robertson, whom he played alongside for Newcastle United and Hearts.
Nick Gray, the Morpeth manager who signed Carson in 2017, refined a player with unquestionable energy levels into a match-winner.
“I sometimes played him out wide in a front three and sometimes as a 10 in a free role,” said Gray, who first came across Carson as a pupil at Gateshead College. “He preferred that; you could see from his body language at times he didn’t like playing out wide.
“He was fantastic here. He’s one of those players you let do what they want in the final third. Sometimes his decision-making was disappointing but he improved a lot and worked damn hard, with and without the ball.
“He hates losing and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve not come across many footballers that work harder than Davey Carson.”
Morpeth achieved back-to-back promotions during the two seasons Carson was at Craik Park, finishing runners-up in the Northern League Division One in 2018 and then winning the Northern Premier League Division One East a year later.
His final tally of 16 goals in 74 games from midfield earned him a league player of the year award and a move back into full-time football.
“He’s one of these guys you will to do well as he’s had a couple of setbacks but kept knocking on the door,” added Gray.
“He gives loads of energy and was always in the team, as long as he was injury-free. A little bit of magic from him might win us the game.
“In a sad way, we were disappointed to see him go but I didn’t think he would leave for another non-league club. Some players wouldn’t have taken the chance but credit to him.
“He doesn’t give up and is always a positive-thinker. He’s a very hungry, dedicated guy.”
Carson, who signed a new three-year deal with the Caley Jags earlier last month, has become a firm favourite with the supporters since his arrival in the Highlands in 2019.
He fits the mould of the kind of player Inverness made a habit of picking up during their Premiership hey-day; a player who had a grounding in non-league football in England, with some senior level experience, which had perhaps been overlooked by other clubs.
Danny Williams, Ross Draper and Carl Tremarco – Scottish Cup winners with Caley Thistle – all fit that profile and you can add Carson to the list.
Stevie Riley, a Caley Jags supporter and contributor to fan podcast The Wyness Shuffle, is one of many who have been won over.
“His style suits a lot of fans,” he said. “He’s tenacious, he’s a battler. I think he’s a future captain. He’s honest and a leader but doesn’t go above his station.
“Everyone loves a player who, even if they’ve not got the ball, are chasing down men, scurrying around trying to get the ball back. Fans love that.
“We had that with Shaun Rooney when he first came. He won the fans over with his work-rate and Davey has done that.
“He’s fallen in love with the city as well. He’s moved his Mrs up there, she’s got a job up there. He’s shown commitment to the city and fans love that more than someone who’s up for a quick pay-day.
“He wants to stay long-term and we embrace that as well.”
— The Wyness Shuffle (@TheICTPodcast) April 15, 2021
Carson’s contributions to his team’s cause of late have come from right-back. Initially deployed there by interim manager Neil McCann after an injury to regular full-back Wallace Duffy, Carson has been a stand-out.
His performances earned him March’s player of the month award in the Championship, with his relentless, energetic style allowing him to contribute in defensive and attacking areas. It has also allowed McCann to pair Sean Walsh and Scott Allardice as an effective, combative pairing in midfield will retaining Carson’s pressing abilities.
“He wasn’t a stand-out for me last season,” Riley added. “He was a solid seven-out-of-10 guy; he wouldn’t mess up or set the heather alight. But this year he’s been a revelation.
“He’s my player of the season, just for his impact playing in a position that’s not his favourite. He’s been that good at right-back – you feel sorry for Wallace Duffy, who’s a natural right-back and can’t get a sniff now.”
— David Carson (@DaveyCarson8) April 13, 2021
His long-term future at Inverness is secure and at 25, there is little reason why Carson cannot improve further and add another chapter to his story of perseverance.
“Put it this way, I don’t think we’ve replaced him,” added Gray. “That’s no disrespect to the boys that are here, but he’s been away two years and it’s hard to find a player like that.”