I SPENT 18 of the most enjoyable months of my career at Ware immediately before hanging my boots up in 2008 – but it’s no exaggeration to say our goalkeeping situation resembled Chipperfield’s Circus.
I played in front of no fewer than six keepers, and young Ryan Jones was the only one who didn’t have a tale to tell, but only because he was so quiet.
We had former Watford trainee James Hoad, who quit the season after I left to focus on training full-time with the Great Britain skeleton bob team aiming for the Winter Olympics.
Then there was Luke Woods, a huge presence who represented Malta Under-21s against the likes of Younes Kaboul and Charles N’Zogbia in France, while turning out for us in Ryman One North.
His run in the team was interrupted by a broken wrist sustained while helping out Scott Neilson at work, and trying to hold onto the current Grimsby winger’s van as a prank went sadly wrong!
There were one-off performances for Matt Allen, our assistant-manager who was a retired centre-half but ended up being nominated as an FA Cup player of the round.
Then goalkeeper coach Paul Halsey – currently on the staff at Billericay and brother of referee Mark – who leaked more on his night between the sticks at Bury Town than he ever managed to get out of the dressing room showers he claimed to fix in his day job as a plumber!
The first people you meet are usually the most memorable, however, and Anthony Anstead – the regular number one when I first arrived on loan from Hitchin in November 2006 – was no exception.
Now, Ant was a good keeper. No question. He’d been at Chelmsford City and was part of Ware’s Ryman Division Two title-winning side in 2005-06. But he did things differently to most goalkeepers.
He would often appear ahead of me and the rest of the back four, rolling the ball out of his area and dribbling it towards halfway to try and get an attack going.
I remember manager Glen Alzapiedi tearing out what little hair he had left when Ant tried a shot from a free-kick inside our own half, and the last we saw of him in his gloves for Ware was at Potters Bar Town early in the 2007-08 season.
There, he attempted to control a ball on his goal-line and flick it over an on-rushing striker’s head, only for it to be nodded straight into our net!
It was obvious Ant always wanted to play outfield, and after a brief reunion with Glen at Harlow Town, where he ended up becoming manager for a short spell in 2009, he was granted his wish by Wodson Park FC boss Kris Munt.
“Munty rang me up to go and play there, but I told him I wasn’t playing Herts Senior County League in goal, it’d be too boring,” says Ant. “I ended up scoring a few goals at that level, then got 72 in 102 games at St Margaretsbury in the Spartan South Midlands.”
In the summer, he switched to Step 5 rivals Hertford Town, where he’d scored eight times before making a dream return to Ware colours on Tuesday against Waltham Forest.
Having signed dual registration, our former goalkeeper opened his account for the club as a 34-year-old striker by settling a Ryman One North basement battle with the only goal of the game.
“It made me laugh when I signed the FA registration forms and halfway down is a box that asks ‘Is this player a goalkeeper? YES/NO’,” adds Ant. “Well, yes…but…no!
“I’ll eventually go back to playing in goal, but for now I think my keeper experience assists my scoring.”
It may not match Newcastle playing Alan Shearer in goal as a 15-year-old trialist, then having to pay £15m to re-sign him as a striker a decade later.
But it’s a feel-good story that would have the Gallowgate End cheering from the rafters – just as it has me and my old club’s die-hards!
CREAM OF THE CROP
MY debates with fellow columnist Alan Alger usually rage as we clock up the motorway miles, but on his selection for goal of the season so far, I have no argument.
Alan picked his top ten for the Skrill website, with two late additions from Tuesday night’s games taking silver and gold.
Before he’d even gone on trial at Kidderminster, I’d had Great Britain Students’ head coach James Ellis telling me to remember the name Joe Lolley, because I’d be writing a lot about him this season. His second goal of the campaign at Aggborough against FC Halifax was as cool as his name!
But Alan’s number one choice of Carl Magnay (or should that be ‘Magnum’ continuing the ice-cream theme and considering the accuracy of his shot?) for his 40-yard bullet against Chester also did it for me.
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OBEY LAW TO AVOID RED MIST
ALFRETON TOWN had been motoring along quite nicely in the Skrill Premier until Tuesday’s road trip to Southport, when they started in third spot but slipped to sixth after a 2-1 defeat.
Manager Nicky Law has done a fantastic job in turning the Reds into top-half challengers, but it’s fair to say that at time he’s known for language as colourful as his boys’ shirts.
It took on a different shade, however, when one of his defenders switched off at a corner, forcing centre-half Michael Wylde to leave his man and attack the ball that ultimately resulted in the hosts’ second goal.
“When you decide you’re going to do something else from the job you’re given, you’re going to get punished for it,” said Law.
“If you take your car to be sprayed red and someone else has decided to spray it yellow just because they want to, you’re not going to be happy, are you?
“And that’s exactly what we’ve done. We know exactly what we’re doing from the corner, and one player switches off and decides that he’s going to go and do something else, so someone else has to try and cover them to counteract it and the man they’re supposed to be marking scores.”
Whatever the problem, Law has proved in his six years at the Impact Arena helm that he’ll strip it back down and get the right gloss finish again!