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My Favourite Non-League Picture: Nicky Hayes

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Nicky Hayes

GOAL-DEN BOY! Goalkeeper Alan Julian sprawls out on the ground, surrounded by his joyous Billericay Town teammates, after scoring a last-gasp equaliser at Sutton United. Picture: Nicky Hayes

Billericay Town photographer Nicky Hayes shares and explains the image he cherishes the most

October 19, 2019
Sutton United 1
Billericay Town 1
FA Cup Fourth Round Qualifying
Attendance: 789

Two minutes into the allotted four of injury-time and it didn’t look like Billericay Town were going to equalise.

Hosts Sutton United, of the National League, were leading 1-0, with a place in the FA Cup first round waiting, and I thought we were going out.

Then, all of a sudden, this guy in all-pink started sprinting up the pitch!

Alan Julian, our goalkeeper, referred to himself as ‘pretty in pink’ and he stood out like a sore thumb as he came charging downfield to attack a last-gasp free-kick on the left-hand side.

I took a gamble and decided to track and frame my camera on him. Normally I’d focus on the forward players like Jake Robinson or Sam Deering but it was very late on and it was all hands on deck.

Alan told me afterwards how when a keeper comes up it sometimes confuses and panics the opposition defence. His aim was to generate some sort of impact, block an opponent off or draw a defender away, which might help one of the strikers around him.

The free-kick floated in towards him and his first thought, so he revealed, was to punch the ball away because that’s what he usually does! Instead, though, he closed his eyes and rose for the header. The ball hit the back of his head and Alan, surrounded by bodies, fell to the ground, dazed. Imagine his delight to discover the ball had actually gone in!

As I followed Alan’s path, I got some frames of when he makes contact with the ball – he’s almost facing his own goal!

The Billericay players have always been good to me by running towards the camera to celebrate a goal but Alan admitted he would never have thought about it – he didn’t know what to do! He simply got up and started running towards the bench, only for an ecstatic Moses Emmanuel to haul him to the ground. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have got that shot.

What makes the shot too, I think, is how he’s screaming with happiness on the floor. Bear in mind, Alan is 36 years old, has been playing football all his life, won promotions and the FA Trophy at Wembley, and played in the Football League, but never has he experienced the joy of scoring a goal – particularly a last-minute equaliser in an FA Cup tie.

It’s also the reaction of all the players around him. The looks on the faces of Sam Deering, Moses Emmanuel and Themis Kefalas are simply joyous.

I mean, how often do you see a goalkeeper score a goal? The photo really captures the wow factor. Alan had been getting some stick during the game from the Sutton fans behind the goal because he was playing against one of his old clubs. It was ironic he would get the equaliser!

As a photographer, you have to remove your personal feelings when these moments happen. I have seen photographers celebrate goals for their clubs, meaning they miss the shots. From when the ball hit his head, I must have rattled off about 70 to 80 photos in those eight seconds or so.

I could hear all the fans celebrating behind me, and out of the corner of my eye I could see some of them falling over the barrier to get on the pitch! But you have to ignore that and carry on shooting.

You have to have a good eye, half-decent equipment and a bit of experience.

That goal, in a way, saved the football club. The negotiations for the new consortium to take over the club were finalised by the time the replay was played on the Wednesday. You wonder what might have happened had we lost that game. It paved the way for our future.

Alan was invited to the televised first round draw at Maldon & Tiptree on BBC, two days later. I went along with him and you could tell he was still buzzing but he spoke about how important it was the team won the replay otherwise his goal was all a bit of a waste of time. We thumped them 5-2!

Alan describes it as the greatest weekend of his career. He even has the picture hung above his fireplace at home too – that makes me proud.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled the world taking photos at different sporting events but working in Non-League for the past three years or so has been so rewarding.

Working with Billericay was like starting over again because I was visiting grounds I’ve never been to and playing teams, with respect, I hadn’t heard of.

The working conditions are challenging, such as the floodlights not being as bright as the higher levels, but that’s part of the enjoyment.

Billericay is a good club, everyone knows we’ve had our moments, but I really enjoy it and feel part of it.

Alan has signed prints of the photo and I know it’s in the households of some Billericay fans which is lovely to see.

It’s the most iconic photo I’ve taken in my time at the club and, all being told, my best.

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