FOOTBALL can be a funny old game sometimes – Concord Rangers goalkeeper Chris Haigh knows all about that.
The 24-year-old has starred in the Beachboys’ run to Wembley, with vital penalty saves including in the shootout against Leamington and at a pivotal moment in their quarter-final against Royston Town.
Having been plucked from Heybridge Swifts on the back of an outstanding season that resulted in a play-off final win, although not promotion because of PPG and the FA’s restructure, Haigh has cemented his quality as one of Non-League’s best young stoppers.
But, had it not been for traffic holding up Swifts’ stopper Danny Sambridge he might not have got the nod in Julian Dicks’ first game in charge back in 2018.
“I loved playing for Julian – apparently I wasn’t even meant to play on the Saturday as Julian didn’t want to change the team much because it was his first game – I don’t think he’d even taken a session,” Haigh explained.
“Danny got stuck in traffic. So I played, had a worldie and played every game after that. Danny is a great keeper, it’s just weird how it worked out. He could have had a great game that day and played the rest of the season and I wouldn’t be playing for Concord right now. It’s funny how it works out.”
Haigh says he loved his time playing for the West Ham legend, who recently returned to the club as boss, and he gets the same feeling of support from Concord as he chases the dream of playing higher.
“It’s very similar to Heybridge,” he said. “When I play I feel I have got full backing of the manager and staff. If you make a mistake, you’ve got the backing so you play with freedom. For me that’s the biggest thing and why I signed for Concord.
“I love the club. For a lot of the boys who want to push on and came to Concord, it’s fantastic. They put faith in players and that’s all you can ask for. The manager and staff are honest and know how to get the best out of people, which is great.
“There are different ways of hopefully having a good career. There is a way of going into a pro club, sitting on the bench playing U23s and hopefully getting a chance that you take.
“Or there is the option of going out to play regularly and trying to prove yourself that way. I just want to play. For me it’s very hard to sit back and not.
“Also I want to prove I can play at a higher level and playing regularly is the best way for me to do that, in my opinion.
“You find a lot of keepers, and outfield players, come out of pro clubs at 21 or 22 and they’ve not played much senior football so end up having to play Non-League anyway. As a keeper a lot of it is experiences so it’s great to be playing from a young age.”
Wembley will be the latest experience for the former Southend and Gillingham youngster. He saw England play Brazil under the arch but this will be first time he’s been back since. And he can’t wait.
“It has been really weird,” Haigh said. “We went through a couple spells where we thought maybe this final wasn’t going to happen. Most players don’t ever get to play at Wembley so it’s obviously a big thing for all of us.
“After we’d played Halesowen and were in the final, there were times when you see it on TV and think, ‘Am I going to get my chance to play there?’
“Now it’s different. We’ve known it is going to be on for a while so when you see a couple of the games at Wembley you think, ‘I’m going to be out three soon!’ It’s the opposite feeling where you’re buzzing for it.”