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Growing Up

I was born in Bermondsey in 1982 and went to Riverside Primary School where I first learnt to kick a ball around. I say ‘kicked’ because at that age, and until I was fourteen years old, I played in defence. I’d played for Fisher Athletic and they thought I’d be more use playing out of goal. However it became obvious that my strongest position was between the sticks – and as a result I began to focus on players such as David Seaman and Peter Schmeichel. It wasn’t as if they were role models, my mum is the best role model I could ever have, but they were players at the top of their profession and I made every attempt to watch them play whenever I could. As I moved into secondary school – at Deptford Green, I joined Sydenham and we had a great season, winning the league cup and conceding a grand total of four goals!! Two of the boys I played with did make it through to pro clubs; Anwar Uddin who played at Bristol Rovers and Terrell Forbes at QPR, I still keep in touch with them.

At about the age of fifteen a few clubs became interested in me; Fulham, QPR, and Reading were all rumoured to be monitoring my performances. However I signed for Charlton as my mates; Chris Piper and Ryan Pacey were also signing and they were the nearest club to home. Basically Charlton just felt right for me.

To be very honest, joining a professional club was a shock to the system. At home everything had been done for me, now as an apprentice I was expected to look after myself, go to college, train, do jobs around the club, and of course - perform on the pitch. I was struggling, and to make matters worse, in training one day I pushed off and felt my hamstring go. When I got back to the changing rooms I looked down at the back of my leg and saw a massive swelling, I’d ruptured my hamstring. After an operation it took me six to seven months to get back – I used a lot of this time to think about my game and how I could improve.

I was very lucky at Charlton, the senior ‘keeper; Mike Salmon (now the goalkeeping coach at Gillingham) was excellent. I’m very appreciative of his advice and support, and he takes credit for my development as a player.

I slowly built up my fitness and during the second year of my apprenticeship I began to get to grips with the pressures and responsibilities of football at this level. After being injured for such a long time, I was determined to get my head down and work hard. Dean Kiely had arrived at the club in a £1 million move from Bury, and if there’s one person above anyone to thank in my brief pro career – it’s Deano.

Goalkeeping is different, and I think there’re different demands on keepers than outfield players. I’m not saying it’s harder playing in goal, but there whereas fitness levels may not be so paramount, the ability to concentrate for the full 90 minutes is integral. Lee Smelt and Micky Cole (pyhsio) worked hard with me at Charlton, but Deano’s one to one training sessions were excellent – and taught me so much.

Dean Kiely – a great keeper and a great coach

By now I had coached myself to be driven and focused. I was making progress, but at the time, with four keepers in front of me, my path to first team football looked very unlikely. I’d made 30 youth team appearances, but there’s a big gap between youth and first team football. I’d decided that if I was ever to make the grade I’d couldn’t afford to give anything other than 100%. As a result I made sacrifices during my ‘teenage’ years, I didn’t do the things that kids my age were doing and although it was tough, I have absolutely no regrets. Near the end of my two years as an apprentice, Gary Stevens – the youth team coach and ex-Tottenham player, took me to one side. What he told me made me realise that all the hard work I’d put in had improved me…”a year ago you were a waste of space, but you’ve come on and proved a lot of people wrong”. It was music to my ears, without wanting to sound big headed I always had confidence in my ability, but I knew that in order to succeed, ability on it’s own was simply not enough. I knew I had to adapt to this new way of life and give it all I had. To hear Gary’s words made me realise that my hard work was paying off, the result? I was offered a one-year pro contract at Charlton.

Next Part: Life as a Pro