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Sunday, 27 May 2012 07:43

5 Years Work Paid Off

5 Years Work Paid Off Blog

It maybe a corny line but on Thursday I was “over the moon” after having my part time role as Centre of Excellence goalkeeping coach at Swindon Town FC increased to Full Time Academy Goalkeeping coach, as the club goes into Academy status under the new EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) brought in by the premier league and English FA.


Without sounding like an “oldie” when I was a lad I was no different to millions of others in that I wanted to be a professional footballer. However there were not the opportunities and pathways in those days that there are now for young players. There were not academies or centres of excellence or the coaching available to me as there are now. Growing up I played grass roots football and was doing quite well and made it into the then Swindon Schoolboys squad and was watched by Southampton and had a trial at Cardiff City but I didn’t quite make the grade.


I played many years in the non league game but when I was about 34 I picked up a few niggling injuries and it was at this stage I started to look at the coaching pathway. In the past 5 years I have gone through my FA Level 1, FA Level 2 and Uefa B Licence outfield badges and my FA Level 2 Goalkeeping and FA B Licence Goalkeeping badges. All of which has taken a lot of time and a lot of money and hard work to achieve.


Also 5 years ago I started coaching at Jamie Shore Soccer Academy in Bristol as goalkeeping coach and set up Steve Hale Goalkeeping School. At the same time I was invited in to Swindon Town Centre of Excellence by Jeremy Newton and Dave Byrne to do some goalkeeping coaching at around the time Dennis Wise was just leaving the club as first team manager.


I am Swindon born and bred and my Dad took me to my first game on a cold and wet Friday night and I saw them beat Northampton Town 3-2 with a Peter Coyne hat-trick in the Lou Macari days. Over the years although I have obviously been playing myself I have always been a fan and gone to as many games as I possibly could. Obviously being a goalkeeper myself I have always watched and focussed on the many custodians the club has had over the years:


Jimmy Allan, Scott Endersby, Jake Findlay, Kenny Allen, Fraser Digby, Nicky Hammond, Frank Talia, Shay Given, Tim Flowers, Rhys Evans, Steve Mildenhall, Bart Griemlink, Phil Smith, Dave Lucas and Wes Foderingham all who I have watched grace the County Ground.


As a young lad Kenny Allen was my first favourite as he was a character with his long grey hair and he often wore a different make of boot on each foot!  Then, it goes without saying Fraser Digby who became a legend at the club playing for 12 years and making 420 appearances. I also remember watching Steve Mildenhall coming up through the Youth team (managed by another Swindon legend John Trollope) and becoming first team goalkeeper. Interestingly having watched Rhys Evans play for Swindon I’m now actually coaching his 8 year old son at the club! 


During my 5 years so far I have seen the likes of first team managers Dennis Wise, Paul Sturrock, Maurice Malpas, Danny Wilson and now Paolo Di Canio at the helm. I have to say Danny Wilson has been the one so far who has shown me the most respect, though I haven’t really had anytime close up with Paolo Di Canio so far.  Also during this time I have gone in and observed and assisted first team goalkeeping coaches John Granville and then George Wood with the senior goalkeepers at the club and am looking forward to building up a relationship with current first team goalkeeping coach Domenico Doardo who I have met on a few occasions now. I watched and learned from both John and George and both of them were good in supporting and encouraging me. George Wood in particular I hold big respect for who has years of knowledge, a great personality and who actively encouraged me and got me serving and sometimes doing my own drills with the goalkeepers which was great. In that time I saw at close hand Peter Brezovan, Phil Smith and Dave Lucas and all three are good pro’s and accepted me in and have been good with me as they were with all the young scholar goalkeepers throughout that time such as Mark Scott, Calum Antell, Jamie Stephens, Leigh Bedwell and Conor Thompson.


Looking back over my own 5 years coaching the young goalkeepers at the club I have thoroughly enjoyed coaching all the goalkeepers. It’s been great to see Mark Scott make it as a pro though sad to see him depart recently. Also seeing Calum Antell develop and though his pathway was blocked due to the club already having 4 senior goalkeepers at the end of his scholarship he has gone on to make it as a professional at Hibernian. Following him has been Jamie Stephens who we sold to Liverpool, a great move for him and totally deserved. More recently Leigh Bedwell who I have talked about before in my last column, I have seen progress from under 14’s when I first joined to now earning his first professional contract with the club. Conor Thompson who started out in Steve Hale Goalkeeping School came into the centre and progressed through to scholar and also gained international recognition with Northern Ireland, the first time I can remember a young goalkeeper in our system doing that. Now we have Conor’s younger brother, Jared who again started out in Steve Hale Goalkeeping School and again then came into the centre. I have been coaching him at Swindon for 4 years and as we speak two premiership clubs in Southampton and Chelsea are both keen to sign him.


I have been to Holland twice, the Milk Cup tournament in Northern Ireland twice and been to South Korea all with the Centre coaching the goalkeepers. I have worked very hard and enjoyed all of the experiences I have had so far with Swindon Town, with Jamie Shore and setting up and running my own goalkeeping school and working through my coaching qualifications with the English FA.


Therefore, on Thursday when the Swindon Town Chief Executive, Nick Watkins shook my hand after we had agreed a contract, I was made up with both excitement as I look forward and relief as it feels like all that hard work has finally paid off. It has been my goal to become full time working daily in the professional football environment and now this new challenge will begin on the 2nd July when we report back for pre season training. I now have a month off to relax and then the hard work begins and I won’t take my foot off the pedal, I will be putting my all into the role!


I will stress though, that doesn’t mean the end of Steve Hale Goalkeeping School, far from it. I may need to look at whether we continue on a Monday evening or move it to another evening depending on the structure of my sessions at Swindon under the new Academy programme but we certainly will be continuing. I am fortunate in that I have two good people in Chippy (James Whitlock) and young Dan Callaghan helping and supporting me so even if I cannot make a session I have complete faith and trust in them. As has been the case during my time running it and working at Swindon, any goalkeepers that come into my goalkeeping school who I feel have the potential and right attitude for hard work I will look to try and bring through into Swindon if we require a goalkeeper at their particular age group.

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