By Matt Badcock
WITH goalkeepers at the highest level going for ever increasing fees, there’s never been more emphasis on the No.1 jersey.
Non-League had plenty to cheer in that department when it came to the World Cup, with England’s Jordan Pickford playing a starring role in the run to the semi-final just five years after he was on loan to Conference clubs Darlington and Alfreton.
England C goalkeeper coach Mick Payne has seen it all over a long-career that has seen him work with a vast number of top keepers and have roles at Dagenham & Redbridge, in the academies at Tottenham and Crystal Palace as well as with Paul Fairclough’s Non-League Three Lions for the past 15 years.
Here he talks us through why it’s the most specialised position in the game.
“The key to any goalkeeper being successful is they must play – they must experience what it is like when three points are on the line.
Unfortunately, a number of keepers just don’t get the opportunity to go and play.
Jordan Pickford was at Sunderland when they had the foresight and understanding to give him the opportunity to do that. Even now he’s not the finished article, but I’m sure those experiences he had at Darlington and Alfreton have held him in good stead for what he’s achieved so far.
The biggest thing that has shone through with Pickford is his mental strength and you can see he’s also been given a huge amount of confidence by the management. They’ve given him the opportunity to play in the whole tournament. We know what Jack Butland and Nick Pope, who also started out in Non-League with Bury Town, bring. They also are two young keepers still learning their trade in the Premier League. That bodes well that they are all vying to play for England.
For all keepers, it’s not just about their shot-stopping – it’s how they deal with the physical side of the game, the tactical side and if they do make a mistake, do they crumble or stay strong?
Non-League gave Pickford and Pope a chance. The clubs know they will make mistakes – that comes with the territory of the position.
The best goalies are the ones who make the fewest mistakes. That’s because they all make them. Look at Hugo Lloris in the World Cup final – a mistake. So the very best make them.
As a goalkeeper, there is no hiding place. The one thing you mustn’t do is try to influence the game to make up for an error. You might come for a cross that you shouldn’t just because you want to take the next cross. You have to be patient before putting it right. Without doubt, you’ve got to have the right mindset.
Mistakes are down to either poor technique or poor decisions. There’s two ways – you deal with it or you don’t. The ones who don’t fall by the wayside.
No successful team, at any level – amateur, semi-professional, professional, international – does it with a poor goalkeeper. They do it with a keeper who keeps their team in a game or a tournament with a save or a crucial intervention as required.
This summer, two goalkeepers who featured for England C last season earned moves into the Football League.
Grant Smith, who also won The NLP’s Goalkeeper of the Year, has joined Lincoln City from Boreham Wood and James Montgomery made the switch from Gateshead to Forest Green Rovers. I’m so pleased for them both. They deserve it.
Only a year ago Ross Fitzsimons moved to Notts County having broken into the England C team after a great season for Chelmsford City. It’s fantastic they are all getting their chance and their performances have been recognised.
Those lads have all experienced being at pro clubs when they were younger, were released from that system and had to go again in Non-League.
A lot of managers are reluctant to give young keepers the chance because their job is on the line and instead choose to go with an experienced head. So fair play to the managers of the clubs who gave these lads the opportunity and belief they could play every week.
Thibaut Courtois won the Golden Glove at the World Cup for his Belgium performances.
It’s less than seven years since England C played a Belgian side at Luton with him in goal and Thomas Meunier on the bench. We won 1-0 that night – Matthew Barnes-Homer will always be able to say he scored past one of the best in the world.
The secret for top goalkeepers like Courtois is that he pulls out those big moments in big games.
But it was our keeper, Seb Brown, who was man of the match in that game against us at Luton Town. Seb had a great game and kept his clean sheet. No one can take that away from him.
It was striking how many players picked up awards at the end of last season.
Both Smith and Montgomery did, similarly Mitch Walker at Dover, Sutton United’s Jamie Butler and Brandon Hall at Kidderminster. They’ve also played for us with England C.
I saw a lot of Mark Cousins, who won Player of the Year at Dagenham & Redbridge. He went about his work in a very professional manner and is another who came out of the League to establish himself. David Gregory did well for Bromley, Tom McHale at Truro, then there’s Preston Edwards, instrumental in helping Dulwich Hamlet into the National League South.
We’ve had some fantastic keepers in the England C set-up over the years, many who went on to play in the Football League and even the Premier League – Chris Weale, Matt Glennon, David Stockdale, Phil Smith, Nikki Bull, Shwan Jalal, Paul Jones, Adam Bartlett, Lance Cronin, Arran Lee-Barrett. It’s quite a list.
I must also mention the late Dale Roberts, who I’m sure would have also played in the League. He was a fine young man.
It’s been an honour for me to have played a little part in their development.”
For all the latest news, interviews, features and match reports from Steps 1 to 6, with exclusive access and behind the scenes news from your club throughout the summer, become a subscriber to The Non-League Paper, here: http://bit.ly/NLP-Sub