On a recent morning before training, Newcastle United striker Callum Wilson couldn’t resist telling his team-mates about the latest artwork in his burgeoning collection.
Understanding of art spreads throughout the squad. Inspired by Wilson, teammates Joe Willock and Isaac Hayden bought their own works.
“Sometimes I got so excited about a piece I bought that people would have a conversation around the breakfast table and then ask questions about it,” Wilson tells me in an exclusive interview.
“I was just talking about my piece and they kind of perked up and said, ‘Oh, actually, I could have a piece of art.’ And it had a little domino effect.”
It was girl with balloon, a mural by British street artist Banksy that first caught Wilson’s attention. He asked his agent to put him in touch with an advisor who could offer him a crash course in the world of art investing.
“At first I was only interested in investments. It was about getting a piece that would grow financially over the years. And then it was about finding a piece that I really liked that I would put on the wall,” Wilson says.
“Sometimes you buy a piece because you like it. Sometimes it makes so much sense to buy it because it’s only going one way and it could double or triple (in value).”
Wilson says he’s “not an art expert” but enjoys “dipping my toe in the industry.” About 18 months ago he bought his first work by “graffiti spaghetti” artist Sam Cox, also known as Mr Doodle.
He has since added works by renowned British artists such as Banksy, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Philip Colbert. The works are currently in storage while Wilson lives in a rental house.
The Hirst, named St Paul’sis a colorful kaleidoscopic style that Wilson describes as “like a butterfly”.
“The detail was beautiful. And I was like, ‘I can imagine that long-term effect is somewhere in my house,'” he says.
His favorite piece is Choose your weaponby Banksy.
“It’s a character, a man standing with his hood up. It kind of takes me back when I see it as I was when I was a teenager. Playing around on the street and stuff like that,” says Wilson.
“So it’s almost a reflection of my character from back then.”
Professional soccer players invest in everything from virtual reality platforms to GPS data companies, but it’s rare for a player to talk about art investments.
“Yes, you can purchase some properties that are good investments. Yes you can buy a few watches which are good investments. But I wanted something different that would stimulate me in a different way,” says Wilson.
“It was about being put in front of someone who knew what they were talking about and how big the industry is and teaching me Collection Slowly.”
Wilson has seen how fragile a career as a top athlete can be. Suffering serious injuries, he was loaned out to non-league side Tamworth as an 18-year-old, where he played alongside semi-professionals.
With his financial advisor he is now planning for the “worst case scenario”.
“We are basically planning as if football could end tomorrow. It’s important to have a source of income when you’re done because you’ve been retired a long time.”
On the pitch, Wilson, 30, is aiming for a return to international football. He has four caps for England, scored once and was last called up to a squad in 2019. With the World Cup starting in November, he will do whatever it takes to be there.
“I’m in a position where I’ve just gotten fit, I’ll work hard over the summer and come back to fire next season. That’s all I can do,” he says.
“I can only influence what I can control. And if it’s good enough… so be it. If not, at least I can say I gave everything I had.
“I think this World Cup would probably be more special for me than any other.”
Wilson previously spent time in Qatar in 2017, home of this year’s World Cup. He was “in a bad place” after suffering a serious knee injury and was rehabilitated at Aspire Academy. Next to the academy, one of the stadiums for the tournament was built.
“I said to (the physiotherapist): ‘I’ll come back and play in this stadium’. He said, ‘Callum, honestly, I hope you do,'” says Wilson.
“It was at a point where I couldn’t even walk, I came off my crutches. People said when you come back from an injury like that it’s lucky you’re the same player and stuff like that. And then I say, ‘I’m going to come back and play in this stadium at the World Cup.’ But I had never played for England before, so I had that kind of mentality.
“It’s closer now than ever. We’ll see what happens. Maybe you’ll see me there, who knows?”
Wilson leaves Burnley tomorrow with a highlight in Newcastle’s final game of the season. On Monday night he led the team as captain and produced an outstanding performance in Newcastle’s 2-0 win against Arsenal.
It was Wilson’s first start of 2022 after missing four months with a calf injury. The next season is a blank canvas.
“I’ve become more resilient. Unfortunately I’ve had a lot of setbacks over the years, but I think that’s part of the game,” he says.
“Sometimes that can be a long road. But it often leads to beautiful goals.”