Life as a Professional
Signing pro didn’t exactly go to my head. I was far from over-confident
and I realised that I still had, and have, a lot of things to learn and hopefully
many things to achieve. But that contract reflected the realisation that I’d
stepped one rung higher up the ladder. I was training more with Deano and on
one occasion travelled with the first team to a game at Bradford. The match
was televised and later that night I saw myself on ‘Match of the Day’
– it was frightening, and it made me realise how far I’d travelled.
Don’t get me wrong, I was, and still am on a learning curve. However
after the progress I’d made, life was to remind me how cruel it can be.
Charlton took us to an army camp for training and the usual team building exercises,
however, not all the boys returned. Pierre Belangy, a good friend of mine, drowned
during one of the exercises.
There was an inquest into his death, and evidence was presented to the Coroners
Court. All I’m sure about is that a true friend is no longer with us.
Half way through my third year at the club I asked Alan Curbishley about my
future. He pointed out that there were a number of keeper’s in front of
me and that he felt I wouldn’t develop if I stayed at Charlton. Although
this wasn’t exactly good news, I remember feeling not particularly disappointed
– probably because it wasn’t unexpected. Curbs made it obvious that
even reserve team football experience would be limited.
Although I knew I had the ability to make it, I felt I had to plan for the possibility
of leaving full-time football. I’m not the type of person to sit on my
backside and feel sorry for myself, I also wasn’t prepared to rely on
my mum – she’d done her bit and it was my responsibility to continue
to stand on my own two feet. Curbs had told me that Charlton would do all they
could to find me a new club, but I also thought it sensible to prepare for a
life away from football. I looked at the job vacancies, and saw a position for
Adshell – cleaning bus shelters. I even filled in the application form!
However Deano helped me out again – I’ve got to say a lot of thank
you’s to that man – he’d contacted Kevin Blackwell at Sheffield
United and a result, Neil Warnock asked me up for a trial. I played at Bramall
Lane against Wolves, and even though I thought I’d done ok, they didn’t
take me on – saying they were looking for a more experienced back-up for
Simon Tracey – then their first choice keeper.
This time I certainly did feel disappointed, but as one door closes, another
opens. Just as I was getting on the train at Sheffield my mobile went, it was
Bernie (Dillon), the Chief Scout at Gillingham. He told me they were looking
for a young No.2 and asked me down for a trial. All told, I played eight games
in a month during the trial – seven youth games and one reserve team fixture.
My Grandad had been ill, but he was pleased to hear that I’d been given
a chance by Gillingham, I remember him asking me to save a ticket for him. Half
way through the month he died. We had a game coming up against Bournemouth and
I didn’t know if it was right to take part. I asked my mum for advice
and she told me to play – so that game was for my Grandad – and
he’d be glad to know that that game probably contributed to the decision
to offer me a two and a half year contract.
U21European Championship Qualifier
It was a great feeling to be part of the first team set-up, although I spent
the first ten games as a sub and then the gaffer decided that he didn’t
need a replacement keeper on the bench! It was disappointing, but I’d
learnt to channel disappointment into determination to work even harder. My
confidence was also boosted with selection for the Welsh under 21’s. I
qualify for Wales as my Nan is Welsh and I’m very proud to pull on the
My debut came at home to Grimsby on the 5th March 2002 when I conceded one
goal but we ran out 2-1 winners. The next game was away to Sheffield Wednesday
– a massive ground packed with history (if not fans). I kept a clean sheet
in a 0-0 draw and got a good write up in the press, including being selected
in the Division One ‘team of the week’. I felt that this was a big
deal, it was probably at this point that I realised I was well on my way to
my dream, and for all the hard work, it seemed to have happened so fast. It
wasn’t all plain sailing, and in my next game I conceded a weak goal when
I tripped over the ball against Forest – it was one of those occasions
when you wish the ground would open up and swallow you. After I picked the ball
out of the net I thought back to the difficult times at Charlton and knew that
if I was going to succeed I’d have to put the mistake behind me. Luckily
I made some good saves later in the game and we ran out 3-1 winners. I wasn’t
sure what the gaffer was going to say but I needn’t have worried, he told
me that I’d reacted well to the mistake and that was all that mattered
– but put it this way, I was glad we got the result! I finished the season
making a further nine appearances.
With one of the great Premiership strikers
- Mark Viduka at Elland February 2003
I felt that I established myself during the 2002/03 season – and also
made my full debut for Wales U21’s. I started the season as first choice
and in total made 44 appearances. However contact negotiations with Gillingham
were drawn out, and it wasn’t until December that I finally signed a three
and half year deal with the club.
Shortly after I’d signed we were drawn with Leeds United in the FA Cup.
After holding them to a 1-1 draw at home, we were beaten 2-1 at Elland Road.
Playing at such a ground against Premiership opposition was a great experience
and I’m hungry to play against these teams in the future.
The biggest event of the year occurred in April when I married Amera. She’s
been very good for me and gives me a perspective on life that’s important.
It’s far too easy to get so wrapped up in football and Amera gives me
that balance. If things aren’t going too well she’s the one that
gets me through it.
A great season for me was capped by being awarded the supporter’s ‘Player
of the Year’, and I’ll take this opportunity to say ‘thank
you’ to everyone of you who voted – it was a genuine honour and
meant a lot to me!
Feeling at home at ‘The Priestfield’.
I feel I’m progressing and although I haven’t found my football
career to be particularly easy, I appreciate the good times and I don’t
take my progression for granted. As I look towards season 2003/04 I’ve
set myself two general targets; to keep my place at Gillingham and to push for
inclusion in the full Welsh squad.