‘Outstanding pro’ Wes Fogden was Cherries pick after Albion

WES FOGDEN is still playing the game he loves despite injuries blighting much of a career that might never have got off the ground.

Being told he might not play again when undergoing an operation to remove a benign tumour on his spine as an 18-year-old at Brighton made him even more determined to enjoy every moment of being able to step out onto a football pitch.

Although he eventually broke through to Albion’s first team, it was at AFC Bournemouth that he got regular league football as the Cherries began their rise through the football pyramid.

Brighton-born Fogden has stayed in Dorset and now plays part-time for Poole Town while working as head of football for Branksome-based Elite Skills Arena, a business owned by former Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell.

“Bearing in mind the amount of time injured, I’ve missed out on about five seasons of football,” Fogden told The News, Portsmouth’s Neil Allen in an interview published on 1 December 2022.

“I’ve had pretty much every injury going. Cruciate ligament damage to both knees, hamstrings, ankles, I’ve broken my nose four or five times, I fractured my cheekbone when going up for a header in the FA Youth Cup against Andy Carroll.

“There was even the time when the ball smacked me in the private regions, requiring an operation and putting me out for four or five weeks. A real variety of injuries.

“But I wouldn’t have it any other way. As long as I’m fit, I want to be playing every game, especially after what happened at Brighton.”

Fogden was never short of admirers for the way he bounced back from the devastating blow of being told he might never be able to play football again.

Tommy Elphick, who also went through Brighton’s youth ranks before moving to Bournemouth, said: “One thing with Wes is that you know he is going to dig in for you. He is a very good player; a footballer who can play at right-back, right wing or in central midfield.”

The player himself told the Albion matchday programme: “When I was told that I might not play again was the worst moment of my life but to come through it is a great achievement.”

After surgery to remove the tumour from his spine was thankfully successful, Fogden had to spend three months in a body cast before slowly recovering throughout the 2006-07 season.

He was grateful to the support of physio Malcolm Stuart, fitness coach Matt (‘Stretch’) Miller and physio Kim Eaton in aiding his return to fitness.

Albion sent him out on loan to Dorchester Town to gain experience but when Dean Wilkins’ squad was hit by ‘flu, the midfielder, who had previously been part of Wilkins’ successful Albion youth team, was recalled.

He made his first team debut at right-back in a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie against Swansea City when he was up against future Albion player Andrea Orlandi.

Fogden kept the shirt for the following Saturday’s league game at Oldham but was unfortunate to be sacrificed early in a reshuffle Wilkins was forced to make after wantaway Dean Hammond had got himself sent off early in the game. Nathan Elder went on as a substitute and scored a last-ditch equaliser for the Seagulls.

After that, Fogden’s involvement was a watching brief from the subs bench although he did get on in the 64th minute of a game at Cheltenham, replacing Albion’s goalscorer Jake Robinson in a 2-1 defeat.

Fogden subsequently went back out on loan, this time to Bognor Regis Town, and when Micky Adams was brought back to the Albion over Wilkins’ head that summer, he preferred to select more experienced players.

Fogden returned to Dorchester on loan initially and made the move permanent in October 2008. “Dropping out of league football wasn’t a tough decision,” he told afcb.co.uk. “Dorchester Town offered me a good deal, they were the only professional club in the Conference South at the time and it was a good opportunity to play first team football week-in-week-out.”

A cost-cutting exercise early in 2009 saw Fogden let go and he joined Havant & Waterlooville, who were in the same division. He was voted the Supporters’ Player of the Season in 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Having contemplated a career outside of football, he enrolled to take a degree in sports coaching and PE at Chichester University but Bournemouth boss Lee Bradbury gave him a second chance to build a career in league football.

“It was a difficult decision to put my studies on hold when Bournemouth approached me,” he said. “I was a year and a half in and I wasn’t expecting that call.

“After speaking to my family and the university, I decided to give the professional game one last shot.”

With the three-year deal done, Fogden said: “I’m really pleased to get back here at this level.

“It is a big jump for me. I was only young when I made my few appearances for Brighton and the pace was a lot quicker so hopefully I can just adapt as soon as I can.”

Bradbury told BBC Radio Solent: “Wes is a young prospect, who has a good grounding from his time at Brighton. He can play on either wing and can also play up front or in behind the strikers.

“He’s well thought of in the non-league circuit, and I saw it as a good opportunity to get him down here and integrate him into our squad.”

After three substitute appearances, Fogden produced an eye-catching performance on his full debut in a 1-1 draw at Colchester United in October 2011, Bournemouth’s Daily Echo observing that he “showed some neat touches in a lively display” playing just behind the striker in an attacking midfield role.

“I thought Wes Fogden was probably the best player on the park for us,” said Bradbury. “He was different class. He had great energy levels and worked really hard. He set the standard for the rest of the team.

“He has played off the striker quite a lot. He can play on either wing or up front in a partnership.

“He has got a lot of uses. He showed on Tuesday night what great quality he has, what a great professional he is and the fitness he has as well.”

The following March, after Fogden struck a 20-yard winning goal in a 1-0 victory over Brentford, Bradbury was once again full of praise for his signing. “I’m delighted for him. It was a terrific strike,” he said. “His energy levels are fantastic and he works so hard for the team. He’s very durable and a pleasure to work with.”

Fogden was part of a group of players who shared a close bond through meeting up at the Cotea coffee shop in Westbourne. The group included Ryan Fraser, Marc Pugh, Benji Buchel and Shaun MacDonald.

MacDonald, who joined Cherries two months before Fogden, told the Glasgow Times: “Just before I left, we all started going to Cotea in Westbourne. The food was always perfect, the coffee really nice and the people who own it are lovely.”

Fogden remained part of the set-up during Paul Groves’ brief reign after taking over from Bradbury, and then the return from Burnley of Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall. “Eddie and Jason gave the whole club a lift, the fans, the staff and the players, and we went on a roll that didn’t stop,” said Fogden.

Howe’s appreciation of Fogden was demonstrated in an interview with the Daily Echo, when he said: “Wes is a hard worker and a real team player but has got ability as well. He is a very good footballer, he has quality on the ball and you can`t underestimate that.”

Describing him as a valued member of the squad, the manager added: “Wes has certainly got the fire inside him to want to improve and to keep his place and I have been very impressed with him.”

Having made 59 appearances for the Cherries, including 32 League One starts, Fogden didn’t make any appearances in the Championship during the first half of the 2013-14 season and moved on to Portsmouth in January 2014.

Ahead of the move, Howe told BBC Radio Solent: “He’s been a really good servant to the club in his time here, he’s been an outstanding professional and someone who we have really enjoyed working with.

“But it’s been difficult to give him, although he has been injured this season, as much game time as he wants.”

Looking back on it a couple of years later, Fogden said: “I still had 18 months on my contract but decided that moving to Pompey was right for me.

“It was sad to leave, but it was time for a new chapter in my career. After the injuries I had when I was young it made me realise that, ultimately, I just love playing; if you’re not in that starting eleven on a matchday it’s very difficult.”

Born in Brighton on 12 April 1988, Fogden started playing football from an early age. “I was four or five years old, playing with boys a couple of years above me in my older brother’s team, which was run by my dad,” he said. “I signed for Brighton at 11 years old and played right the way through my school years.”

That senior school was Patcham High and in 2001 Fogden was in a Sussex under-14s squad alongside the likes of Richard Martin, Joel Lynch, Tommy Elphick, Tommy Fraser, Scott Chamberlain and Joe Gatting who all went on to play for the Albion.

He was part of the hugely successful Albion youth team of 2006 who, against all the odds, beat the youth sides of Premier League clubs Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers in the FA Youth Cup before losing on penalties to Newcastle United (managed by Peter Beardsley) in the quarter finals.

It was only after he had signed on as a professional at 18 in 2006, that he found out about his spine tumour.

“Initially I was told I would never play football again,” he recalled. “A diagnosis like that definitely changes the way you think about things; you take each day as it comes and enjoy it for what it is.”

Fogden’s time at Portsmouth was disrupted by a serious knee injury and he was only able to make 29 appearances in 19 months at Fratton Park. He later suffered a similar injury while playing for Dorking Wanderers and, in a March 2022 interview with Surrey Live, said: “With both of my ACL injuries I gained a lot of experience in the exercises I’d need to do,” he said.

“With the first ACL I had, I had a great physio at Portsmouth, Sean Duggan, who gave me a step-by-step plan. It was an unbelievable plan and I’ve used a lot of that into what I’ve done this season.

“Every minute of every game is a bonus now. I’m one of those that likes to play every minute anyway because of the injuries I’ve had. You cherish the moments you are out there.”

Fogden’s last professional league action came at League Two Yeovil Town where he was the 12th of 19 new signings made by Paul Sturrock ahead of the 2015-16 season.

He scored two goals in 17 appearances (plus one as sub) but was released in the summer of 2016 by Sturrock’s successor Darren Way.

He returned to Havant & Waterlooville in the Isthmian Premier League, helping them to promotion to the National League South and over four seasons made 154 appearances, scoring 23 goals.

For the 2020-21 season, Fogden switched to National League South outfit Dorking Wanderers, where he was once again dogged by injuries, including a nasty head injury that required hospital treatment.

He dropped back down to football’s sixth tier with Poole Town for the 2022-23 season because of the travel requirements playing and training for Dorking entailed.

There had been times when it clashed with his day job demands and taking on more at Elite Skills Arena had also influenced the decision. ESA owner Mitchell was chairman at Dorchester way back when the player went there on loan from Brighton.

“I’ve been working for Eddie Mitchell for a while now and have known him going back 15 years. He’s been really good to me,” he said.

As regards continuing to play, Fogden told The News: “All the time I can move about the pitch and be involved, playing as well as I can, then I’ll stay in the game. I’m still playing central midfield, right in the action, attacking and defending. I’m still going.

“When you’re a footballer, injuries are going to happen, the way I play is always twisting and turning, being involved, action packed. Freak injuries occur for me because of that – I can’t change my playing style.

“Considering I’m a bit shorter than a lot of players and at elbow height, it doesn’t help with my facial area. The same for dead legs, my thighs are knee-height compared to most players, it’s just one of those things.

“As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to get away from some of the injuries which maybe I could have avoided previously. I’m still all-action, but sometimes it’s a case of pulling out of tackles I know I haven’t got any chance of winning.

“Are my injuries connected with the back? I don’t think anyone can really know, there might be a bit of a lack of mobility in that area, which could cause hamstring injuries and give less knee support, and perhaps a pelvic imbalance. I don’t know, I’m not really sure.

“It has been 16 years since that back operation and I’m still playing. Without football I wouldn’t be anywhere near the person I am. It’s strange thinking back to how it could have been, had it not been for a fantastic surgeon.”

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Sammy Lee’s ugly u-turn left Hyypia in the lurch

FORMER Liverpool player and assistant manager Sammy Lee took an unpalatable u-turn after agreeing to become no.2 to Sami Hyypia at Brighton.

When in 2014 a second successive bid to reach the Premier League via the Championship play-offs had faltered at the semi-final stage, Oscar Garcia quit the Seagulls and Albion installed the inexperienced Hyypia as his successor.

The Finnish international former Liverpool centre back had earmarked Lee to bring valuable nous to his backroom team having already been turned down for the job by his first choice, Jan Moritze Lichte, from Bayer Leverkusen, where Hyypia had made his managerial bow.

Lee agreed to take on the role on 25 June 2014 and a formal announcement was made the following day. But by the morning of Monday 29 June, the bombshell news dropped that Lee was moving elsewhere on the south coast instead.

Rather than help to guide the fledgling managerial career of a player he had coached at Liverpool, Lee opted to join Dutchman Ronald Koeman at Southampton.

“I’m let down because I thought that I knew him,” Hyypia told Sky Sports, when interviewed at Lancing. “Everything was sorted and everything was agreed and he should have been here today. The way it happened was very disappointing and I couldn’t actually believe it.”

An apologetic Lee said: “I was thrilled to be offered the job at Brighton and I was excited at the prospect of working with Sami Hyypia again – but, totally unexpectedly, I have been given an opportunity to work in the Premier League.

“I fully appreciate that this is not an ideal set of circumstances and I am very sorry for the inconvenience, and any embarrassment, my change of mind, after the announcement was made, has caused.

“However, at this stage of my coaching career the opportunity to work again at the very top level of English football was not something I felt I could turn down.”

Some might argue Lee’s decision ultimately brought about the swift demise of Hyypia’s reign in the Albion hotseat: the efforts he made to implement a specific style of play have since been lauded, but a dismal set of results told a different story, and there was a parting of the ways with more than half the season still to be played.

If Albion fans hadn’t been overly impressed by Lee’s decision to leave Hyypia in the lurch that summer, they weren’t the only supporters not to be enamoured by the little man’s involvement in their club.

In a retrospective look at Lee’s brief tenure as manager of Bolton Wanderers, Marc Iles, chief football writer for the Bolton Evening News, wrote: “Lee’s frenetic 170 days in charge contained 14 games, three victories, 12 signings and the complete disintegration of the structure which had helped Wanderers secure four top-eight finishes in four years.

“The stormy period was characterised by dressing room upheaval, boardroom bitterness and the sad fall from grace of an honourable man who had the club at heart.”

Lee, previously Sam Allardyce’s assistant at the Reebok Stadium, had been handed the reins just 24 hours after Allardyce quit on 29 April 29 2007 to take over at Newcastle.

Lee was always better suited to a supporting role and, as well as at Bolton, he’s worked under Allardyce at Crystal Palace, Everton and West Brom (and during Allardyce’s brief England spell).

He rose through the coaching ranks at Liverpool after Graeme Souness took him back to Anfield at the end of his playing days.

He became a first team coach under Gerard Houllier and between 2008 and 2011 was assistant manager to Rafa Benitez.

Born in Liverpool on 7 February 1959, Lee made his way through the Reds’ youth ranks and made his first team debut in April 1978.

As chronicled on lfchistory.net, he earned a regular spot in the 1980-81 season, pretty much taking over the midfield berth previously occupied by Jimmy Case, who, at the end of that season, Bob Paisley sold to Brighton.

Albion fans of a certain generation will surely not fail to be moved by the story of Lee’s close friendship with Michael Robinson, the former Albion striker who was the midfielder’s former team-mate at Liverpool and Osasuna.

Robinson and Lee were together in a Liverpool side that in 1983-84 did the treble of the league, the League Cup and the European Cup.

Ahead of an August 2021 friendly match between the two sides to honour Robinson after his untimely death from cancer aged 61 in April 2020, Lee told The Athletic: “It is a fitting tribute and a fitting venue to have the game at, in front of the Kop.

“Michael did fantastic for Liverpool while he was there. It will be a very emotional night for everybody, particularly for Michael’s wife Chris and their children.

“He was not only a fantastic guy, a great colleague, but I consider him a brother, to be honest, I can’t put it any higher than that.”

Lee told reporter Dermot Corrigan: “Michael was very important for my professional life after Liverpool.

“You tend to think you will stay at Liverpool forever, you know, but it doesn’t happen. Michael had gone to Queens Park Rangers and he helped me to go there, and I had a nice time there. Subsequently he moved on to Osasuna, and he got me to go there. So he had a massive influence on my professional career.”

Injury eventually brought Lee’s Spanish playing days to an end and although he managed three games for Southampton and four for Third Division Bolton, it was coaching where his future lay.

In 2001, Lee became a part-time coach to the England national side under Sven-Goran Eriksson and three years later left Liverpool to join the national set up full time.

Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry said at the time: “We are very sorry that Sammy has decided to leave, but he goes with all our very best wishes for the future.

“Sammy’s been a wonderful servant to Liverpool as both player and coach. He should be proud of his contribution to the successes achieved at the club in recent years.”

Managerial change had habit of foxing Jason Jarrett’s progress

JASON JARRETT was one of multiple additions to Micky Adams’ struggling League One Brighton side in January 2009, advised to head to the Withdean by former Preston playing colleague Joe Anyinsah.

Anyinsah, who had been on loan at the Albion and declined the opportunity to stay in favour of moving to Carlisle United, nonetheless recommended the Seagulls to Jarrett.

The alliteratively named midfielder was 29 when he arrived on a free transfer hoping to reignite his career after a frustrating two-and-a-half years at Deepdale during which time he made just nine appearances.

“I was told by Alan Irvine I had a future at Preston North End, but there is only so long that you can sit on the bench,” he said. “I wanted to leave so that I can play some games and I have heard good things about Brighton so in the end it was a straightforward decision.”

He pointed out: “This is a chance to resurrect my career and I’m grateful to Micky Adams for bringing me down here.”

Jarrett was one of six new arrivals that month: Jim McNulty, Craig Davies, Calvin Andrew, Seb Carole and Chris Birchall were the others.

“We needed a bit more physical strength in midfield, which is why Jason is there,” Adams explained.

His debut for the Seagulls saw him in opposition to a club he’d very nearly signed for – Leicester City – after playing 13 games for them on loan in 2007.

And, in an even more bizarre twist, he ended up wearing the Foxes’ second kit of all yellow in the game on 27 January 2009 because the match referee deemed Albion’s would have clashed.

“Rob Kelly took me to Leicester and I was close to signing for them but it fell through when he was sacked,” Jarrett told the Argus ahead of the game.

“They are a big club and obviously the best team in the League. Everyone can see that, so it is going to be very difficult. They are a club that should definitely be in the Championship at the very least.”

Nevertheless, the Albion caused something of an upset by holding the high-flyers to a goalless draw, and the new man came close to netting the Albion a win.

Brighton were the 13th club of Jarrett’s career, most of which had been spent at Championship level. Anyone of a superstitious nature would say luck was not on his side.

Although he made 12 starts + two as a sub for the Albion, it was only a matter of weeks after he signed that Adams parted company with the Seagulls.

New boss Russell Slade stuck with Jarrett initially but then brought in his own man in Gary Dicker from Stockport County.

Having been given a contract only until the end of the season, Jarrett was not kept on, and it wasn’t long before he was reunited with Adams, this time at Port Vale.

Born in Bury on 14 September 1979, Jarrett started his career as a 16-year-old apprentice with Blackpool, and made his first team debut in November 1998. He moved on to Wrexham for the 1999-2000 season but only made one appearance for the Welsh side. Next up was hometown club Bury in the Second Division where he got a foothold in the team and featured in 69 matches. However, when they went into administration in 2002, they were forced to sell Jarrett to Wigan Athletic for £75,000.

Jarrett was a key part of the Latics midfield as they rose from the fourth tier through to the Championship, making 107 appearances under Paul Jewell.

A broken leg suffered in pre-season ahead of the 2004-05 season sidelined him and after he’d recovered he spent a month on loan at Stoke City under Tony Pulis.

Jarrett moved on before getting the chance to play in the Premier League for Wigan, instead joining Norwich City in the summer of 2005. He had previously played for Canaries boss Nigel Worthington at his first club, Blackpool, but, in common with a few other signings, his chances at Carrow Road were few and far between. He went on loan to Plymouth Argyle in the first part of the season, returning in January 2006, and two months later joined Preston on a temporary basis before making the switch to Deepdale permanent in May that year.

Once again, though, he found a manager in Paul Simpson reluctant to give him a regular starting berth so he went on loans to Hull City (where he played alongside Nicky Forster and David Livermore), Leicester (as mentioned above), QPR (for three months) and Oldham (where Craig Davies was a teammate).

He was picked out in the Albion matchday programme as Oldham’s star man ahead of their visit to the Withdean in February 2008, described as “a mobile, pacy central operator who can get forward but is also prepared to do the grimy tracking back and box-to-box work that are a good midfielder’s staple diet”.

He later returned to Oldham after his short term contract with Port Vale had expired. He’d been without a club in the latter half of the 2009-10 season but, in the summer of 2010, Oldham boss Paul Dickov took him on after a successful trial period. He told the club website: “We have a very young team and Jason’s experience helps us.”

However, he only made eight appearances and in January 2011 he dropped out of the league, initially playing for Conference North FC Halifax Town, then Airbus UK in Wales, before, in May 2013, signing for Conference side Chester. When they were relegated from the Conference in April 2014, Jarrett moved to Salford City.

After his playing days were over, Jarrett set up his own business: ProBall Sport. On his LinkedIn profile, he describes its aims thus: “At ProBall Sport we provide fun, educational sport activities for primary and secondary schools plus nutrition and well-being workshops.

“The power of school sports changed my life,” Jarrett writes. “I know first-hand how much of a positive impact it can have on young children, whether that be in pushing them on towards becoming a professional sports person or keeping them fit, active and healthy.

“I believe that first class sports coaching from a young age had a profound effect on my life and achievements so I developed Proball Sport to directly support and inspire today’s pupils to give them the chance to experience something similar, hopefully, even more special.”

Mixed fortunes at Brighton for Liverpudlian Lee Steele

ONE-TIME Liverpool triallist Lee Steele was part of the Albion squad which won back-to-back promotions from the fourth and third tiers.

Unfortunately for him, a certain Bobby Zamora was almost always ahead of him in the pecking order, along with Gary Hart, so the diminutive striker often had to be content with involvement off the subs bench.

Nonetheless, he contributed important goals as the Seagulls under Micky Adams went up from League Two in 2001 and from League One in 2002 under Peter Taylor.

His first season at Brighton was marred by a drink-driving incident which, in hindsight, he believed tainted the rest of his time at the club. Indeed, as the season drew to a close, he was put on the transfer list and was at loggerheads with Adams.

“I told him I’d prove him wrong, and he said that only one player had said that to him before and gone ahead and done it,” Steele told Spencer Vignes in a matchday programme article. After shedding a few pounds and improving his fitness, he said: “I scored loads of goals in pre-season and worked my way into the side.

“I got a few more as the season began, and then he left and I was back to square one with Peter Taylor.” Steele said Taylor was easier to get on with than the “totally demanding and driven Adams” although he reckoned: “The intensity went from our game a fair bit.”

Nevertheless, in the 2001-02 season, he made 25 starts plus 19 appearances off the bench and the most important of his 10 goals was the 91st-minute winner in an Easter Monday 2-1 win over Bristol City at the Withdean after he’d gone on as a 30th-minute sub for Paul Brooker, who’d turned an ankle.

Argus reporter Andy Naylor pointed out how Steele had gone from villain to hero after getting himself sent off in a reserve game just as Zamora was ruled out for three games with a shoulder injury. As it turned out, that goal against City was his last in an Albion shirt.

In its end of season play-by-player analysis, the Argus said of Steele: “An enigma. More to offer than he has showed, although he would argue a regular run in the side would help. Still managed to finish with ten goals and has the pace and power to trouble defenders.”

However, there was no more to offer Brighton because Taylor’s departure that summer coincided with Steele’s Albion exit too.

Reflecting on his time at the Albion in another Vignes interview for the matchday programme, Steele said: “I wasn’t used to playing substitute all the time, which I found hard to adjust to. Then when I did come on, I used to put myself under so much pressure that I wouldn’t deliver the goods. It still haunts me actually. OK I was in Bobby’s shadow, but I was at a massive club and should have done better.”

He moved to Oxford United on a two-year deal, but didn’t enjoy a happy time under Ian Atkins, and then joined Leyton Orient where some vital goals – including one that earned the Os promotion while simultaneously relegating his old club out of the league – helped earn him a ‘fans favourite’ tag.

After the Os, he had a season with Chester City, then dropped out of the league to return to Northwich Victoria.

He moved on to semi-pro side Oxford City but was sacked for a homophobic tweet about Gareth Thomas, which he said was tongue-in-cheek. Northern Premier League side Nantwich took him on, although he only played one game for them.

Born in the Garston district of Liverpool on 2 December 1973, Steele was a ‘Red’ from an early age, first being taken to watch them aged six and idolising Ian Rush. He was educated at St Austin’s Catholic Primary School, Liverpool, Holmwood School and then St Mary’s College.

The young Steele harboured ambitions of becoming a professional golfer rather than a footballer but, when that didn’t work out, he started playing football with non-league Bootle while working for his uncle as a bricklayer.

“I managed to get a trial for Liverpool,” he told Andy Heryet in the Albion matchday programme. “I hoped they would ask me back, but I didn’t hear anything from them, which was disappointing as they promised me that I’d hear either way, but they never got back to me.”

It was Northwich Victoria who propelled him towards a career as a professional, signing him as cover ahead of a FA Trophy final against Macclesfield.

Steele scored five goals in three end of season games, earned a place on the bench at Wembley and got on for the last 20 minutes, although Victoria lost.

In his second season at Northwich, his reputation was growing as a prolific striker and Third Division Shrewsbury Town snapped him up for £40,000 – a decent-sized fee for a non-league player.

“I wanted to go. I’d always wanted to be a professional footballer, ever since it became clear I wasn’t going to make it as a golfer,” Steele told Heryet.

He spent the next three seasons with the Shrews although the club’s struggles at the wrong end of the league prompted him to look for a move.

While he was keen to go to Tranmere Rovers, who’d shown an interest, no deal was forthcoming, but Brighton went in for him and, having played against them the season before, he liked what he saw.

Steele has had several strings to his bow since finishing his playing career: he’s a qualified licensed UEFA B coach, a personal trainer and a nutrition advisor. Clients have included pro footballers, elite junior tennis players, 16-times PDC World Darts Champion Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor and Team GB age group triathletes.

He also spent a year as a fitness coach with Oldham Athletic during Lee Johnson’s reign as manager and two years as a scout for his old club, Leyton Orient.

Since 2008 he has been operations manager for Kickback Tax (a tax advisor agency for footballers) and, since December 2021, has been senior scout for Northampton Town.

Did Albion fans only get to see half a Lita?

PROLIFIC second tier goalscorer Leroy Lita was a Gareth Southgate free transfer signing for Middlesbrough where he scored 20 in 82 games.

Two years after Boro cashed in and sold him for £1.75m to newly promoted Premier League side Swansea City, Lita joined an injury-hit Brighton side three months into Oscar Garcia’s reign.

Goals had been harder to come by for Lita after Brendan Rodgers had signed him for the Swans and he was sent out on loan, spending time back in the Championship with Birmingham City and Sheffield Wednesday.

It was a familiar story for Lita who had been Reading’s first £1m player when Steve Coppell signed him from Bristol City in 2005.

He netted a goal every three games for the Royals, but towards the end of his four years at the Madejski Stadium, he’d gone on loan to Charlton Athletic and Norwich City.

By the autumn of 2013, Lita had become something of a footballing nomad, fed up with a lack of first team action under Michael Laudrup.

With Albion’s leading striker Leo Ulloa out for two months with a broken foot, and Craig Mackail-Smith and Will Hoskins also sidelined, Garcia brought the diminutive striker to Brighton on a three-month loan arrangement.

“He is strong, fast and direct, and he has shown he can score goals in the Championship,” Garcia told the club website. “He offers us something different going forward.”

I can remember being at the Keepmoat Stadium, Doncaster, when he scored his only goal for the club two minutes after going on as a substitute for Jake Forster-Caskey (he’d played with his stepdad Nicky Forster at Reading).

Forster-Caskey had scored a wonder goal with his left foot from 35 yards before Rovers equalised but visiting Albion went on to collect three points in a 3-1 win (David Lopez scored the other with a long range free kick).

Lita had made his debut in a 0-0 draw at Yeovil on 11 October, going on as a sub for Ashley Barnes and his home debut saw him replacing another loanee, Craig Conway, in a 1-1 draw with Watford.

The eager striker made a public plea via the Argus to be given a start but Garcia only ever used Lita off the bench for the Seagulls (he went on as a sub on five occasions and was an unused sub for three games).

“The staff have a bit of doubt but I feel fine,” Lita said. “When I am on the pitch my mind just takes over anyway.
“I don’t ever feel tired or not match fit. I know you still need your match fitness, but you have to get that at some point, so hopefully this week.”

Having got off the mark for the fifth Championship club he had served on loan, he added: “Once you get that first goal you are thinking about the next one and the next one. I am just looking forward to scoring plenty of goals.

“I know I can score goals wherever I go so I’ve never had that doubt. Whoever has doubted me it’s up to them. My belief in myself is not going to end until I am 50 years old and can’t move!”

But with Ulloa’s fitness restored, Lita’s final appearance in an Albion shirt was on 3 December when he went on for Barnes at the Amex as the Seagulls succumbed 2-1 to Barnsley.

Maybe Lita’s Albion spell was cursed from the start when he was handed squad number 44 (all the fours, droopy drawers)?

He was still only 28 when he arrived at the Amex with an impressive record of 101 goals in 330 league and cup games, 14 of which had been in Reading’s 2006-07 Premier League season.

“I know the Championship well,” Lita said in the matchday programme. “Consistency is the main thing at this level because everyone beats everyone; some teams start well and drop off, while others start badly then pick up a run of results. So, it’s all about putting a good run together then you never know what might happen.”

Lita followed in the footsteps of former Swansea teammates Kemy Agustien and Andrea Orlandi to the Amex, but he also knew Liam Bridcutt and Andrew Crofts from his time as a youngster at Chelsea.

He recalled summer training camps at Horsham with Bridcutt and he played in the same Chelsea junior side as Crofts. “They have both gone on to become really good players,” he said.

“It helps when you go to a club and know a few people but I think the style of play here will also suit me.

“It is similar to Swansea and the club only signs players here who know the system.

“I played against Brighton last season, scoring on my home debut for Sheffield Wednesday, and although we won that day, I was still impressed by the way the team played.” He had also played at the Amex before when he was on loan at Birmingham and (below right) was the subject of a page feature in the matchday programme.

Born in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo on 28 December 1984, it was as a teenager on Chelsea’s books that he couldn’t believe his luck to be sharing a training pitch with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen.

“I would go home and see them on TV and the next day I would be training with them,” he told The Guardian. “It was unbelievable.”

Reporter Jon Brodkin wrote: “Chelsea broke his heart by releasing him but his three years at the club he supports were hardly wasted. The thrill of being a ballboy was surpassed by training with the first team’s front two.”

Lita told him: “I was 15 and the academy director said he had spoken to my school and I could have a couple of days off a week to train with the first team and the ressies [reserves]. It was a great opportunity and I learned a lot from it.

“Hasselbaink’s finishing was unbelievable, he didn’t mess about. He could place it and smash it. I mainly did finishing with them, not much else, but I could see as well how professional they were and how they looked after themselves.”

After Lita’s release, he contacted a few clubs – Fulham were interested but didn’t offer a contract – and he was aware that after leaving Arsenal Andy Cole had made a new start to his successful career at Bristol City.

It was the Robins who gave Lita an opportunity and former Albion skipper Danny Wilson handed him his first team debut at the beginning of the 2002-03 season when he was still only 17.

His first league goal was a late winner on 28 September 2002 to secure a 3-2 victory after going on as a substitute at Port Vale (for whom an 18-year-old Billy Paynter had scored).

“The striker hit a glorious goal to end Vale’s hopes of a point after they had fought back to level matters just a minute earlier,” said the BBC report of the game.

It wasn’t until the following season that he was given a professional contract and it was only after Brian Tinnion succeeded Wilson as manager in 2004-05 that Lita established himself in the City side. He scored 29 goals in all competitions and that form earned him a call-up to the England under-21s, Lita having decided not to play for his birth country.

He scored on his debut on 8 February 2005 when he went on as a sub for Justin Hoyte in a 2-1 defeat against the Netherlands at Derby’s Pride Park.

Those goals also earned him a £1m move to Reading, even though Tinnion advised him against the move, believing a Premiership club would come in for him.

“Once I got down here, I knew it was right,” Lita told The Guardian. “I want to go a step at a time. Reading are a good club, they’re looking to get into the Premiership and that’s where I want to be.”

He went on to score 15 goals in 25 league and cup games (+ seven as a sub) as Reading topped the Championship, and he returned to the England under-21 fold in February 2006.

He was on home turf at the Madejski Stadium when he earned his second cap, again as a sub, replacing David Nugent in a 3-1 win over Norway (future Albion loanee Liam Ridgewell was among his teammates).

A year later, after finding the net in the Premier League with Reading, Lita got a third cap as a substitute (for James Milner) and scored again in a 2-2 draw against Spain at Pride Park. Liam Rosenior was also a substitute that day.

Lita’s first start for the under 21s came the following month, on 24 March, in a 3-3 draw with Italy in the first game played at the new Wembley Stadium, in front of 55,700. On 5 June the same year, Lita scored England’s fifth goal in a 5-0 win over Slovakia at Carrow Road after he’d gone on as a sub for Nigel Reo-Coker.

Lita was an overage player in the 2007 UEFA European Under 21 Championship: he missed an 88th minute penalty after going on as a sub in a 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic but scored in each of the three games he started: 2-2 v Italy, 2-0 v Serbia and 1-1 v the Netherlands (who won the tie 13-12 on penalties). But a full cap eluded him.

Lita was a regular throughout Reading’s first top-flight campaign. In a side that include Ivar Ingimarsson and Steve Sidwell, Lita scored 14 times in 26 league and cup starts plus 12 appearances off the bench.

But with Kevin Doyle and Dave Kitson the preferred strike duo in 2007-08, Lita’s game time was much reduced and he went on loan to Charlton in March 2008.

It was a similar story the following season when he scored seven times in 16 games during a three-month loan at Norwich City – the haul included a hat-trick against eventual champions Wolves.

The excellent Flown From The Nest website, that profiles former Norwich players, recalled how that treble attracted the interest of plenty of other clubs, but City boss Glenn Roeder said: “It’s a better problem to have than him not scoring and playing rubbish – then none of us want him. What can you do?

“He was brought here to score goals. He was a little bit rusty in his first game which was understandable. He did better in the second game against Bristol City when he had a couple of chances which unfortunately never went in, and then in the third game on Tuesday night, we saw the real Leroy Lita and what he is all about.”

Lita returned to Reading and played in a FA Cup third round defeat at Cardiff and although Sheffield United made a bid for him, he preferred to stay with the Royals.

Nevertheless, at the end of the season, he finally left the Madejski and headed to Teesside on a three-year deal.

On signing for Boro, Lita said: “The manager has been after me for about a year, it’s great to feel wanted. I have a lot of respect for the gaffer and I want to do well for him and the club.

“I aim to repay him for his faith in me with goals. That’s the main strength to my game and I’m looking forward to scoring goals for Middlesbrough.”

He told the Northern Echo: “I’m raring to go. I haven’t enjoyed the last two seasons one bit, but this is a fresh start and I’m excited about the challenge.

“Other clubs were interested in signing me, but there was only once place I wanted to go and that was Middlesbrough.”

Southgate added: “Leroy has a hunger to score goals and his goalscoring record in the Championship in particular is very strong.

“His record says he gets one in two at this level so that will be important for us. I think he has a point to prove and, when he’s fully fit, he will relish the challenge.”

It wasn’t long before Southgate was succeeded by Gordon Strachan but Lita made the second highest number of appearances (41) in that season’s squad and scored nine goals as Boro finished mid-table.

There was yet another managerial change the following season, with the return of former player Tony Mowbray, but Boro once again finished mid-table with a side that featured Joe Bennett at left back and Jason Steele in goal.

Lita scored 11 times in 40 matches, which was enough to attract newly-promoted Swansea. “I’ve had a good chat with Leroy,” said Mowbray. “He has a chance to play in the Premier League and good on him. His talent has earned him that chance.”

But he only scored twice in six starts (+ 12 appearances off the bench) all season and in September 2012, Lee Clark signed him on a three-month loan for Birmingham.

“I know Leroy very well having worked with him at Norwich during a loan spell in which he scored seven goals in 16 games,” said Clark. “He’s a proven goalscorer who has power and pace and there’s no doubt that he’ll add quality to my squad.”

Lita scored three goals in 10 games for Birmingham before being recalled early, but in late January 2013, he joined Sheffield Wednesday on loan until the end of the season.

Wednesday manager Dave Jones told BBC Radio Sheffield: “Leroy has a lot of experience at this level and the one above. It could be with a view to a permanent deal. This lets us have a look at him and he can have a look at us.” But he only scored twice in nine appearances for the Owls.

Released by Swansea at the end of the 2013-14 season, Lita was then reunited with Danny Wilson, manager at newly relegated League One Barnsley.

“He was my first manager and I like the way he works,” said Lita. “He’s got a lot of trust in me and I’ve got a lot of trust in him.

“I enjoyed my time under him as a youngster. He helped me a lot and helped me progress in my career so far. I just want to get back to playing football regularly again and I’m going to get that opportunity here.”

He scored in his first two league games but didn’t register again for 21 games. When Wilson was replaced by Lee Johnson in February 2015, within a matter of weeks Lita joined lowly Notts County on loan until the end of the season but was unable to prevent their relegation.

On expiry of his Barnsley contract, Lita moved to Crete side AO Chania in August 2015 but was back in England the following March, signing a short term deal with League Two Yeovil Town, where he scored once in eight games. That was his last league club in England.

He scored five goals in 21 games for Thai Premier League side Sisaket in 2017 and on his return to the UK turned out for a number of non-league clubs: Margate, Haverhill Rovers, Salisbury and Chelmsford City.

In May 2020, the Coventry Evening Telegraph hailed his signing for Nuneaton Borough, whose manager Jimmy Ginnelly told the newspaper: “His partner is from Nuneaton and they’ve recently moved into a house on The Longshoot, which is just five minutes from the ground, so this is a win-win situation for both parties.

“These sorts of players don’t come onto Nuneaton’s radar very often so we moved quickly and obviously all of us here at the Boro are very excited.”

He scored eight goals in 33 appearances for Nuneaton, went on to play for Southern League Premier Division Central rivals Stratford Town before moving on to Hednesford Town, where he’s still playing.

In March 2022, the Express and Star reported: “Lita lit up Keys Park last night as he smashed a debut hat-trick to help Hednesford to a 3-1 victory over Stourbridge.”

Brighton trial was curtain call for Fred Pickering’s career

PROLIFIC goalscoring centre-forward Fred Pickering, who at his peak scored hat-tricks on his Everton and England debuts, ended his career after an unsuccessful two-month trial with Brighton.

Pickering was a transfer record signing for Everton (the previous season’s league champions) when he joined them from Blackburn Rovers for £85,000 in March 1964.

On his debut for Harry Catterick’s side, he scored three past Nottingham Forest’s Peter Grummitt in a 6-1 thrashing.

Eight years later, a player who’d played for his country and, but for injury, might have been involved in the 1966 World Cup, scored once for Brighton’s reserve side: in a 3-0 home win over Colchester United on 8 March 1972.

Brighton won promotion from the old Third Division two months later thanks in no small part to 19 goals scored by Kit Napier and 17 from Willie Irvine (Pickering’s former Birmingham City teammate Bert Murray netted 13 and Peter O’Sullivan hit 12).

Throughout the season, manager Pat Saward had been hankering for something a bit extra in the forward line. While he appreciated the skill of Napier and Irvine, he said “none had the devil in him. We wanted more thrust.”

Pickering was the second seasoned striker Saward had run the rule over, wondering whether their experience of goal plundering at the highest level several years before might be revived in third tier Albion’s quest for promotion.

Earlier in the season, he tried recruiting an ageing Ray Crawford but contract issues with the player’s last club, Durban City, meant the former Portsmouth, Ipswich, Wolves and Colchester centre-forward ended up joining the staff as a scout and coach instead.

In February 1972, 31-year-old Pickering, by then not even getting a game in Blackburn’s Third Division side, was given a chance by Saward to show he still had the goalscoring ability he had demonstrated so effectively earlier in his career.

Photographs of a rather heavy-looking Pickering training appeared in the Evening Argus and the former England striker was interviewed on Radio Brighton (as it was then) about his illustrious career. Although he played for the reserves, he wasn’t deemed fit enough to make it into the first team.

Saward eventually got the thrusting forward he sought on March transfer deadline day when he signed Tranmere Rovers’ Ken Beamish, who, at 24, was younger and fitter, and quickly endeared himself to Albion fans by scoring a handful of late goals which helped clinch promotion.

But what of Pickering? Born in Blackburn on 19 January 1941, he played junior football in his hometown before joining Rovers as an amateur aged 15.

As a schoolboy, he’d been an inside forward (a no.8 or no.10 in today’s parlance) but he was a full-back when he signed as a professional for Rovers on his 17th birthday.

Indeed, he was at left-back in the Rovers side that won the FA Youth Cup in 1959, beating West Ham United 2-1 on aggregate over two legs.

Alongside him for Rovers were future Spurs and Wales centre-half Mike England and Keith Newton, who also later moved to Everton and played for England at the 1970 World Cup. West Ham included Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst in their line-up.

With the likes of Dave Whelan and Bill Eckersley ahead of Pickering in the Blackburn pecking order, his chances of a first team breakthrough were limited.

But after a successful outing for the reserves up front, and with wantaway Irish striker Derek Dougan dropped, Pickering was given a chance as a centre forward – and he never looked back.

He scored twice in a 4-1 win over Manchester City and went on to strike up successful partnerships with Ian Lawther, initially, and then Andy McEvoy.

“It was a big turning point for me to be playing centre forward,” Pickering told the Lancashire Telegraph. “Especially when you consider in 1961, Dally Duncan (Blackburn manager, and later Brighton guesthouse owner) told me that Plymouth wanted me and that I was free to leave. I didn’t want to go because Blackburn was my club.

“I only left in the end because the club wouldn’t give me a rise of a couple of quid. It was absurd.”

By then Pickering had scored 74 goalsin158 appearances – some strike rate – which meant he always held a special place in the hearts of the Ewood Park faithful, as reporter Andy Cryer described in a 2011 article for the Lancashire Telegraph.

“Had fate been kinder to him he could easily have been a national darling too,” wrote Cryer.

“When hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst was firing England to World Cup final glory in 1966, an injured Pickering was left reflecting on what might have been after an incredible journey took him from Rovers reserves to international stardom.”

Pickering, nicknamed Boomer for his powerful right foot, had scored five goals in three England appearances and looked set for inclusion in England’s 1966 World Cup squad having been named in Sir Alf Ramsey’s provisional selection.

But he suffered a knee injury in an FA Cup quarter final replay against Manchester City which not only caused him to miss Everton’s FA Cup final win that Spring, but also meant he had to withdraw from the England squad. Cryer reckons it also led to the subsequent demise of his career.

Pickering told the reporter: “I played three games for England and I scored in every game I played, I scored five goals and I was playing well. I was named in the World Cup squads. I was going and from that day it was the following weekend when the knee started to go.

“I watched all the Brazil games at Goodison. England struggled in their first game against Uruguay and that is when Jimmy Greaves got injured.

“Obviously that is how Hurst got in, he wasn’t even really in the set up before. There was every chance if I had been fit it that might have been me who had got in. I wouldn’t say I would have done what Geoff Hurst did but you never know what might have happened.”

Pickering had made his England debut two months after moving to Everton, in a 10-0 demolition of the USA on 27 May 1964. It was the same match that saw future Albion manager Mike Bailey play his first full international for his country. Roger Hunt went one better than Pickering by scoring four, Terry Paine got two and Bobby Charlton the other. Eight of that England side made it to the 1966 World Cup squad two years later – alas Pickering didn’t.

The same scoring rate he had enjoyed at Blackburn continued at Everton and in his first full season he scored 37 goals in all competitions – the most by an Everton player since Tommy Lawton scored 38 in 1938-39.

In three years with the club, he scored 70 times in 115 matches but his exclusion from the 1966 FA Cup final squad soured his relationship with manager Catterick, as covered in detail by the efcstatto.com website. Injuries disrupted his involvement at the start of the following season, and a cartilage operation put him out of action for nearly six months.

Although he made his comeback in March 1967, his Everton days were numbered and, in August 1967, moneybags Birmingham City bought him for £50,000 to form a hugely effective forward line with Barry Bridges and Geoff Vowden.

Pickering and Bridges played in all 50 of Birmingham’s matches in the 1967-68 season; the aforementioned Bert Murray 47. Bridges was top scorer with 28 goals and Pickering netted 15.

The Second Division Blues made an eye-catching run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but they lost 2-0 to West Brom (who went on to beat Everton 1-0 in the final).

The following season, Pickering scored 17 times in 40 appearances (Phil Summerill also scored 17, and Jimmy Greenhoff 15) but City finished a disappointing seventh.

That signalled the end of the striker’s time in the Midlands and he returned to his native north west with Blackpool, who paid £45,000 for his services.

It was money well spent as Pickering top-scored with 18 goals as the Tangerines won promotion back to the elite, finishing runners up to Huddersfield Town. His most memorable performance was on 13 April 1970 when he scored a hat-trick away to local rivals Preston North End in front of a Deepdale crowd of 34,000. It earned Blackpool promotion while simultaneously relegating North End to the third tier.

But the 1970-71 season didn’t go well for Blackpool or Pickering. The club got through three managers and only won four matches all season, which eventually saw them finish bottom of the pile and relegated along with fellow Lancastrians Burnley. Pickering found himself fined and excluded for breaches of club discipline (mainly involving missing training) and before the season was over he was sold back to his first club, Blackburn.

That was a blow to Preston, who had just loaned Willie Irvine to Brighton and were keen to install Pickering as his replacement. But it was to Rovers, for £9,000, that he went, but he couldn’t prevent the Ewood Park outfit being relegated to the third tier.

He scored just twice in 11 League games in his second spell at Blackburn before that two-month trial at Brighton.

After he retired from football, he became a forklift truck driver. Warm tributes were paid when Pickering died aged 78 on 9 February 2019. Well-known football obituarist Ivan Ponting said of him: “At his rampaging best, Fred was an irresistible performer.

“Though neither outstanding in the air, nor overly-physical for a man of his power, not even particularly fast, he could disrupt the tightest of defences with his determined running and a savage right-foot shot that earned him the nickname of ‘Boomer’.

“Boasting nimble footwork for one so burly – he could nutmeg an opponent as comprehensively as many a winger – he was especially dangerous when cutting in from the flank, a manoeuvre that yielded some of his most spectacular goals.”

In March 2022, a road in the Mill Hill district of Blackburn, where he lived all his life, was named after him and his family spoke of their pride as they unveiled the street sign in his honour.

David Livermore was no stranger to yellow and red cards

DAVID LIVERMORE was one of those signings Brighton fans had a good feeling about, only to be disappointed with the outcome.

Here was a player who had learned his craft over 10 years as a youngster at Arsenal and, at 28, had played most of his career at second tier level.

So, when Micky Adams got him on a free transfer from Hull City for League One Albion in the summer of 2008, the signs were encouraging.

“David is an experienced midfield player who has played most of his football in the Championship,” Adams said. “He’s a versatile player who can play in midfield, left wing and left back, and he’s another quality signing.”

Maybe it was that versatility that counted against him, but by the turn of the year he’d only made 13 starts and had picked up so many bookings that he had to serve a suspension.

Perhaps the writing was already on the wall. “Suspension and the midfielder more often than not went hand in hand – his passion, commitment and tough-tackling nature meant that the former Arsenal trainee picked up a huge 86 yellow cards and 3 reds in his Lions career,” Millwall fan Mark Litchfield wrote in a profile on newsatden.co.uk.

The player’s frustration was revealed in an Argus interview with Andy Naylor, who said: “Livermore is an ‘old school’ player, more comfortable with an era when crunching challenges were greeted matter-of-factly by opponents and with no more than a quiet word from officialdom, rather than the modern malaise of writhing opponents and card-happy refereeing.”

Livermore told the reporter: “It’s the way things are now, suspensions are part and parcel of the game. I am someone that likes a tackle and, unfortunately, I’ve got six bookings now.

“The game has changed a lot. The referee was threatening to send me off at the weekend and I only gave away two fouls in the whole game. I think the tackle is slowly being erased.”

After the suspension, Livermore struggled to regain a place in the squad and he wrecked the opportunity of a rare start in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy when he was sent off for a bad foul in the semi-final at Luton Town. Albion clung on to a 1-1 draw but losing on penalties meant they were denied a trip to Wembley for the final against Scunthorpe.

That disappointment proved to be the final straw for the Adams reign, although being four places off the bottom of the table didn’t look pretty either.

Livermore went on as a sub in Adams’ successor Russell Slade’s first game in charge, a 2-1 defeat at Leyton Orient, and got a start in a home 5-0 win over the manager’s previous club, Yeovil.

He then started at left-back in a 3-0 defeat away to Walsall three days later, but was subbed off at half-time, and his replacement, loanee Gary Borrowdale, was Slade’s preference in that position for the rest of the season. Livermore was sent on loan, ironically to Luton.

But he had penned a two-year deal when signing the previous summer so he was back at Brighton for the 2009-10 season. He warmed the bench nine times in the first half of 2009-10 but only saw action once, going on as a sub for Andrew Whing in a 1-0 defeat at Orient in the JPT.

The arrival of Gus Poyet as manager didn’t help his cause either and eventually there was a mutual parting of the ways in February 2010. It felt very much like a case of what might have been, and the player himself gave a very honest assessment of his time with the Albion in an interview with the Argus.

“I am disappointed I have not fulfilled the expectations of supporters and probably myself,” he said. “I’ve played the majority of my career in the Championship. I started off at Arsenal and went to Millwall in League One, adapted to that and got promoted and had six or seven seasons in the Championship.

“I’m not saying I thought it would be easy coming to Brighton but I thought I would be able to do as well as at my other clubs.”

He said Albion was “a fantastic club” and he enjoyed the team spirit and friendliness of the squad, admitting: “It hasn’t worked out how I expected but I’ve enjoyed my time there.”

Livermore reckoned it was the money he was on at Brighton that put off other sides from taking him on loan. The ending of his contract gave him free agent status, which meant he was able to organise a short-term deal at Barnet.

It obviously hit the player hard to realise his playing days were coming to an end after Barnet released him at the end of the season.

He told the Cambridge Evening News: “I’d dropped through the leagues, from Championship to bottom of League Two in a couple of seasons.

“I knew I had to make a decision. I even qualified as a personal trainer – I don’t know what I was thinking.

“From a playing point of view, I fell out of love with the game. Part of me said just stop and get a job – deliver the post or something, just get a normal job, provide for your family and enjoy your life.”

He was rescued by the offer to manage non-league Histon, and he told the newspaper. “The Histon job came up and I took it and fell back in love with the game from a coaching point of view. I was very lucky that opportunity came up at the time.”

Born on 20 May 1980, in Edmonton, north London, Livermore grew up as a Spurs supporter and was taken on by them at the tender age of seven! But frustrated at just being asked to train, rather than play games, he switched to Arsenal and was on their books for a decade.

He was on a two-year YTS scheme before turning professional but had to move to Millwall, aged 19, to get a breakthrough in the game.

Livermore had been in the same Arsenal youth side as Ashley Cole, and played five games for the Gunners reserve team in the 1997-98 season, when Matthew Wicks and Matt Upson were regulars, scoring once in a 1-1 draw against Tottenham on 17 March 1998. In a pre-season friendly at Enfield on 18 July 1998, he went on an as substitute for 23 minutes but that was the extent of his first team involvement. He made 11 appearances plus two as a sub for the reserves in the 1998-99 season, before leaving the club.

He joined on loan initially making his Millwall debut on the opening day of the 1999-00 season at Cardiff City in a 1-1 draw that hit the headlines for fan clashes rather than the football. It took joint bosses Keith Stevens and Alan McLeary only four matches to convert the loan into a permanent transfer, and Livermore was signed for £30,000.

Football history books reveal Livermore as the scorer of the final football league goal of the 20th century: an injury-time winner against Brentford on December 28, 1999. It happened to be the first of his goals for Millwall and he made 34 appearances that season.

After the disappointment of losing a play-off semi-final to Wigan Athletic in 2000, Livermore was able to savour promotion from League Two as champions under Mark McGhee in 2001; he played 39 games and was part of an eye-catching partnership with Australian international Tim Cahill.

There was more play-off semi-final heartache the following season when Millwall were edged out of the League One end-of-season final two places by Birmingham City; another season in which Livermore only missed three games – through suspension.

2004 is to Millwall fans what 1983 is to Brighton supporters: it was the year that against all odds they made it to the FA Cup Final. Millwall’s achievement was arguably more remarkable in that they were in the division below opponents Man Utd. The Lions were beaten 3-0 at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and Livermore gave away a penalty (bringing down Ryan Giggs) which Ruud van Nistelrooy scored from.

“We didn’t play a Premier League side all the way through until the final so it just shows you what can happen,” Livermore recalled in an interview with the Argus. “I played every minute of every game. That was the highlight of my career.”

The one consolation from the Cup Final defeat was that Millwall got to play in Europe – the UEFA Cup – the following season because United were in the Champions League. It was Livermore’s penultimate season with the Lions and, with a year left on his contract, close season speculation had him linked with a £500,000 move to either Southampton or Sunderland.

Millwall director, Theo Paphitis, said: “Livers asked to go on the transfer list and that hasn’t changed. We’ve had enquiries from two clubs, but neither have matched our valuation. We would dearly love Dave to stay at Millwall, but his contract is up at the end of the season when he would be in a position to leave us for nothing.” It emerged Arsenal were entitled to 30 per cent of any profit the Lions made if the player was sold.

Millwall managed to persuade him to stay and to sign a new contract in January 2006, with director of football Colin Lee declaring: “I have said, from the moment I arrived, David is an absolutely vital player. I’m hopeful others we are in the process of trying to re-sign will see this as evidence we have now turned the corner and are moving forward again.”

While his loyalty was rewarded with the Player of the Year trophy come the end of the 2005-06 season, Millwall were relegated to League One and Livermore, wanting to stay in the Championship, was soon on his way.

In a most curious turn of events, Livermore joined Leeds United for a £400,000 fee, telling the Leeds website: “This is a huge club, this is where you want to be playing – at the right end of the division. I just want to be part of things here. Every player wants to play in the Premier League. That’s the aim.”

But before he could kick a ball in anger for United; in fact, just 10 days’ later, he was sold to Hull City. Leeds boss Kevin Blackwell explained that he had subsequently been able to sign Kevin Nicholls from Luton Town and (future Albion loan signing) Ian Westlake from Ipswich Town, and both would be ahead of Livermore in the pecking order.

Hull began the season under Phil Parkinson, who had signed former Reading teammate Nicky Forster for £250,000, but Phil Brown took over halfway through and they only just managed to avoid relegation. However, the midfielder must have had a wry smile on his face to discover the club propping up the division were none other than Leeds!

The following season saw a big turnround in Hull’s fortunes and they won promotion via the play-offs although Livermore was on the periphery and on transfer deadline day in January 2008 he moved to Boundary Park, Oldham, pairing up with Preston midfielder Jason Jarrett, another loanee who he would subsequently meet again at Brighton.

That introduction to management at Histon, when they were relegated from the Conference in his first season and were 16th in Conference North the following year, proved a steep learning curve for Livermore, as he told the Cambridge Evening News.

“In the first season I was player-manager I didn’t take a wage. My wife and family couldn’t quite understand why I was going through all of that for no money. Fortunately, I had some money set aside anyway, and going to Histon was the best decision I made.”

As well as having the lowest playing budget in the league, Livermore had to deal with off-field issues such as players not being paid and points deductions. “It was a baptism of fire,” he told the newspaper. “I learned a lot about dealing with contracts, managing individuals, trying to make things more professional, and getting players in to help the team.

“All you can do in any job is be honest. I didn’t have all the answers and I told the players that. I think honesty is key, and having that integrity.”

It was while he was at Histon that he began talking about his future coaching career with his friend and former Millwall teammate, Neil Harris, who was also coming to the end of his playing career (at Southend United). When Harris was injured, he went to watch a few Histon games and Livermore told cardiffcityfc.co.uk. “It was always good to have his eyes on the games and bounce ideas off each other.

I’ve known Neil since I was 19. We played together at Millwall for about six seasons and always stayed in touch after that despite our careers going in different directions.”

In 2012, Livermore had the opportunity to return to Millwall, as youth team coach, and Harris followed him back to take charge of the under 21s. “I’d assist him on his games with the 21s during that time and then when the opportunity came for him to take over as first team manager (in 2015), he asked me to join him, which was an easy decision for me to make,” said Livermore.

The pair took Millwall to the League One play-off final at Wembley in 2016, when they were beaten 3-1 by Barnsley, and the following season they returned after finishing sixth in the table and won their place back in the Championship courtesy of a 1-0 win over Bradford City. They also twice took Millwall to the quarter finals of the FA Cup.

Although Millwall won two of their first three matches of the 2019-20 season, a subsequent seven-game winless run saw the pair leave Millwall in October 2019. Club chairman John Berylson said: “Both Neil and David leave with their heads held high, forever friends of the club, and I wish them both every success in their future careers. They will always be welcome at The Den.”

The following month the pair were installed as successors to the Neil Warnock regime at Championship Cardiff and the Welsh side finished fifth in the league by the end of the first season but lost out to Fulham in the play-off semi-finals.

Unfortunately, the churn of managers in the Welsh capital didn’t spare Harris and Livermore and, in January 2021, after 14 months, their services were dispensed with after a six-game losing streak. Mick McCarthy and Terry Connor took over: they were only there for nine months.

After a year out of the game, Harris and Livermore were back in the managerial saddle in January 2022 at League One Gillingham, but they couldn’t prevent the Gills being relegated at the end of the season.

Confrontation was seldom far away in Micky Adams’ career

THE FIRST player ever to be sent off in a Premier League game managed Brighton twice.

Fiery Micky Adams saw red playing for Southampton when he decked England international midfielder Ray Wilkins.

“People asked me why I did it. I said I didn’t like him, but I didn’t really know him,” Adams recalls in his autobiography, My Life in Football (Biteback Publishing, 2017).

It was only the second game of the 1992-93 season and Adams was dismissed as Saints lost 3-1 at Queens Park Rangers.

Adams blamed the fact boss Ian Branfoot had played him in midfield that day, where he was never comfortable.

“He (Wilkins) was probably running rings around me. I turned around and thumped him. I was fined two weeks’ wages and hit with a three-match ban.”

It wasn’t the only time he would have cause not to like Wilkins either. The former Chelsea, Manchester United and England midfielder replaced Adams as boss of Fulham when Mohammed Al-Fayed took over.

His previously harmonious relationship with Ray’s younger brother, Dean, turned frosty too. When Adams first took charge at the Albion, he considered youth team boss Dean “one of my best mates”. But the two fell out when Seagulls chairman Dick Knight decided to bring Adams back to the club in 2008 to replace Wilkins, who’d taken over from Mark McGhee as manager.

“He thought I had stitched him up,” said Adams. “I told him that I wanted him to stay. We talked it through and, at the end of the meeting, we seemed to have agreed on the way forward.

“I thought I’d reassured him enough for him to believe he should stay on. But he declined the invitation. He obviously wasn’t happy and attacked me verbally. I did have to remind him about the hypocrisy of a member of the Wilkins family having a dig at me, particularly when his older brother had taken my first job at Fulham.

“We don’t speak now which is a regret because he was a good mate and one of the few people I felt I could talk to and confide in.”

With the benefit of hindsight, Adams also regretted returning to manage the Seagulls a second time considering his stock among Brighton supporters had been high having led them to promotion from the fourth tier in 2001. The side that won promotion to the second tier in 2002 was also regarded as Adams’ team, even though he had left for Leicester City by the time the Albion went up under Peter Taylor.

Adams first took charge of the Seagulls when home games were still being played at Gillingham’s Priestfield Stadium.  Jeff Wood’s short reign was brought to an end after he’d failed to galvanise the side following Brian Horton’s decision to quit to return to the north. Horton took over at Port Vale, where Adams himself would subsequently become manager for two separate stints.

Back in 1999, though, Adams had been at Nottingham Forest before accepting Knight’s offer to take charge of the Albion. He’d originally gone to Nottingham to work as no.2 to Dave Bassett but Ron Atkinson had been brought in to replace Bassett and Adams was switched to reserve team manager.

The Albion job gave him the opportunity to return to front line management, a role he had enjoyed at Fulham and Brentford before regime changes had brought about his departure from both clubs.

On taking the Albion reins, Adams said: “For too long now this club has, for one reason and another, had major problems. The one thing that has remained positive is the faith the supporters have shown in their club.

“The club has to turn around eventually and I want to be the man that helps to turn it around.”

The man who appointed him, Knight, said: “Micky is a formidable character with a proven track record. He knows what it takes to get a club promoted from this division. But, more than that, Micky shares our vision of the future and wants to be part of it. That is why I have offered him a four-year contract and he has agreed to that commitment.”

Not long after taking over the Albion hotseat, he was happy to say goodbye to the stadium he’d previously known as home when a Gillingham player in the ‘80s and it was a revamped squad he assembled for the Albion’s return to Brighton, albeit within the confines of the restricted capacity Withdean Stadium.

Darren Freeman and Aidan Newhouse, two players who’d played for Adams at Fulham, scored five of the six goals that buried Mansfield Town in the new season opener at the ‘Theatre of Trees’.

Considering he was only too happy to be photographed supporting the campaign to build the new stadium at Falmer, it’s disappointing to read in his autobiography what he really thought about it.

“My mates and I nicknamed it ‘Falmer – my arse’ although I never said this to Dick’s face,” he said. “There was always so much talk and we never felt like it was going to get done.”

The turning point in his first full season in charge was the arrival of Bobby Zamora on loan from Bristol Rovers. “The first time I saw him he came onto the training ground; he looked like a kid. But he was tall and gangly with a useful left foot; there was potential there.”

Interestingly, considering Adams makes a point of saying he usually ignored directors who tried to get involved on the playing side, he took up Knight’s suggestion that the side should switch to a 4-4-2 formation – and the Albion promptly won 7-1 at Chester with Zamora scoring a hat-trick!

After a so-so first season back in Brighton, not long into the next season Adams was forced to replace his no.2, Alan Cork, with Bob Booker because Cork was offered the manager’s job at Cardiff City, at the time owned by his former Wimbledon chairman, Sam Hammam. Adams reckoned Booker’s appointment was one of the best decisions he ever made.

Surrounded by players who had served him well at Fulham and Brentford, together with the additions of Zamora, Michel Kuipers and Paul Rogers, Adams and Booker steered Albion to promotion as champions. Zamora was player of the season and he and Danny Cullip were named in the PFA divisional XI.

Not long into the new season, the lure of taking over as manager at a Premier League club saw Adams quit Brighton, initially to become Bassett’s no.2 at Leicester City, but with the promise of succeeding him.

“While I thought I had a shot at another promotion, it wasn’t a certainty,” Adams explained. “I knew I had put together a team of winners, and I knew I had a goalscorer in Bobby Zamora, but football’s fickle finger of fate could have disrupted that at any time.”

He admitted in the autobiography: “Had I been in charge at the age of 55, rather than 40, then I perhaps would have taken a different decision.”

While Albion enjoyed promotion under Taylor, what followed at Leicester for Adams was a lot more than he’d bargained for and, to his dismay, he is still associated with the ugly shenanigans surrounding the club’s mid-season trip to La Manga, to which he devotes a whole chapter of his book, aiming to set the record straight.

On the pitch, he experienced relegation and promotion with the Foxes and he doesn’t hold back from lashing out about ‘moaner’ Martin Keown, “one of the worst signings of my career”. Eventually, he’d had enough, and walked away from the club with 18 months left on his contract.

After a break in the Dordogne area of France, staying with at his sister-in-law and her husband’s vineyard, he looked for a way back into the game. He was interviewed for the job of managing MK Dons but was put off by a Brighton-style new-ground-in-the-future scenario. Then Peter Reid, a former Southampton teammate, was sacked by Coventry City. He put his name forward and took charge of a Championship side full of experienced players like Steve Staunton and Tim Sherwood.

The side’s fortunes were further boosted by the arrival of Dennis Wise, but, in an all-too-familiar scenario Adams had encountered elsewhere, the chairman who appointed him (Mike McGinnity) was replaced by Geoffrey Robinson. It wasn’t long before it was obvious the relationship was only going to end one way. As Adams tells it, Robinson was influenced by lifelong Sky Blues fan Richard Keys, the TV presenter, and it was pretty much on his say-so that Adams became an ex-City manager after two years in the job.

With an ex-wife and three children to support as well as his partner Claire, Adams couldn’t afford to be out of work for long and fortunately his next opportunity came courtesy of Geraint Williams, boss of newly promoted Colchester United, who took him on as his no.2.

However, it only got to the turn of the year before he was out of work once again, although, from what he describes, he wasn’t enjoying his time with the U’s anyway because Williams kept him at arm’s length when it came to tactics and team selection.

He was amongst the ranks of the unemployed once again when Albion chairman Knight gave him a call, but, with the benefit of hindsight, he said: “Going back turned out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life.”

Adams blamed the backdrop of “the power struggle” between Knight and Tony Bloom on the lack of success during his second stint in the hotseat, and he reckons it was Bloom who “demanded my head on a platter”. The fateful meeting with Knight, when a parting of the ways was agreed, famously took place in the Little Chef on the A23 near Hickstead.

Looking back, Adams conceded he bowed to pressure from Knight to make certain signings – namely Jim McNulty, Jason Jarrett and Craig Davies in January 2009 – who didn’t work out. He reflected: “I shouldn’t have taken the job in the first place. I’d let my heart rule my head but, in fairness, I didn’t have any other offers coming through and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

“I wouldn’t ever say he (Knight) let me down, but he had his idea about players. I did listen to him, and maybe that’s where I went wrong.”

He added: “Going back to a club where success had been achieved before felt good, yet, the second time around, the same spark wasn’t there no matter how hard I tried.”

Born in Sheffield on 8 November 1961, Micky was the second son of four children. It might be argued his penchant for lashing out could have stemmed from seeing his father hitting his mother, which he chose to spoke about at his father’s funeral. Adams is obviously not sure if he did the right thing but he felt the record should be straight.

The Adams family were always Blades rather than Wednesdayites and, at 15, young Micky was in the youth set-up at Bramall Lane having made progress with Sunday league side Hackenthorpe Throstles.

While he thought he had done well under youth coach John Short during (former Brighton player) Jimmy Sirrel’s reign as first team manager, Sirrel’s successor, Harry Haslam, replaced Short and, not long afterwards, Adams was released.

However, Short moved to Gillingham and invited the young left winger to join the Gills. Adams linked up with a group of promising youngsters that included Steve Bruce.

In September 1979, he had a call-up to John Cartwright’s England Youth side, going on as a sub in a 1-1 draw with West Germany, and starting on the left wing away to Poland (0-1), Hungary (0-2) and Czechoslovakia (1-2) alongside the likes of Colin Pates, Paul Allen, Gary Mabbutt, Paul Walsh and Terry Gibson.

Adams honed his craft under the tutelage of a tough Northern Irishman Bill ‘Buster’ Collins and began to catch the attention of first team manager Gerry Summers and his assistant Alan Hodgkinson, who had played 675 games in goal for Sheffield United.

He made his debut aged just 17 against Rotherham United but didn’t properly break through until Summers and Hodgkinson were replaced by Keith Peacock (remember him, he was the first ever substitute in English football, in 1965, when he went on for Charlton Athletic against John Napier’s Bolton Wanderers) and Paul Taylor.

“Keith saw me as a full-back and that was probably the turning point of my career,” Adams recalled.

Once Adams and Bruce became regulars for the Gills, scouts from bigger clubs began to circle and at one point it looked like Spurs were about to sign Adams. That was until he came up against the aforementioned Peter Taylor, who was playing on the wing for Orient at the time (having previously played for Crystal Palace, Spurs and England).

“He nutmegged me three times in front of the main stand and, to cut a long story short, that was the end of that. Gillingham never heard from Spurs again,” Adams remembered.

Even so, Adams did get a move to play in the top division when Bobby Gould signed him for Coventry City. Managerial upheaval didn’t help his cause at Highfield Road and when John Sillett preferred Greg Downs at left-back, Adams dropped down a division to sign for Billy Bremner’s Leeds United (pictured below right with the legendary Scot).

“He had such a big influence on my career and life that I wouldn’t have swapped it for the world,” said Adams. But life at Elland Road changed with the arrival of Howard Wilkinson, and Adams found himself carpeted by the new boss after admitting punching physio Alan Sutton for making what an injured Adams considered an unreasonable demand to perform an exercise routine even though he was in plaster at the time.

Nevertheless, Adams admits he learned a great deal in terms of coaching from Wilkinson, especially when an improvement in results came about through repetitive fine-tuning on the training pitch.

“It is the one aspect of coaching that is extremely effective, if delivered properly,” said Adams. “I learnt this from Howard and took this lesson with me throughout my coaching and managerial career.”

However, Adams didn’t fit into Wilkinson’s plans for Leeds and he was transferred to Southampton, managed by former Aston Villa, Saints and Northern Ireland international Chris Nicholl. Adams joined Saints in the same week as Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock and the pair were quickly summoned by Nicholl to explain the large size of the hotel bills they racked up.

Adams moved his family from Wakefield to Warsash and he went on to enjoy what he reflected on as “the best few years of my playing career”. He was at the club when a young Alan Shearer marked his debut by scoring a hat-trick and the “biggest fish in the pond at the Dell” was Jimmy Case.

Adams described the appointment of Branfoot in place of the sacked Nicholl as a watershed moment in his own career. “Overall he was decent to me and I found his methods good,” he said. And he pointed out: “I was getting older, I’d started my coaching badges and I already had one eye on my future.”

Adams recalled an incident during a two-week residential course at Lilleshall, after he had just completed his coaching badge, when he dislocated his shoulder trying to kick Neil Smillie.

“I was left-back and he was right-wing, and he took the piss out of me for 15 minutes. The fuse came out and I decided to boot him up in the air,” Adams recounted. “The only problem was that I missed. I fell over and managed to dislocate my shoulder hitting the ground. It was the worst pain I’ve ever had.”

If life was sweet at Southampton under Branfoot, that all changed when he was replaced by Alan Ball and the returning Lawrie McMenemy. Adams and other older players were left out of the side. Simon Charlton and Francis Benali were preferred at left-back. Eventually Adams went on a month’s loan to Stoke City, at the time managed by former Saints striker Joe Jordan, assisted by Asa Hartford.

On his return to Southampton, and by then 33, Adams was given a free transfer.

Former boss Branfoot came to his rescue, inviting him to move to League Two Fulham as a player-coach in charge of the reserve team. Branfoot also signed Alan Cork and he and Adams began a longstanding friendship that manifested itself in becoming a management pair at various clubs.

On the pitch, Branfoot struggled to galvanise Fulham and, with the team second from bottom of the league, he was sacked – and Adams replaced him. He kept Fulham up by improving fitness levels and introducing more of a passing game.

But he knew big changes were needed if they were going to improve and he gave free transfers to 17 players, despite clashing with Jimmy Hill, who had different ideas.

An admirer of what Tony Pulis was doing at Gillingham, Adams signed three of their players: Paul Watson, Richard Carpenter and Darren Freeman. He also got in goalkeeper Mark Walton and centre back Danny Cullip. Simon Morgan was one of the few who wasn’t let go, and Paul Brooker emerged as a skilful winger. All would later play under him at Brighton.

Promotion was secured and Adams was named divisional Manager of the Year but after all the celebrations had died down Mohamed Al-Fayed bought the club and things changed dramatically.

“The club was in a state of flux as it tried desperately to come to terms with its new status as a billionaire’s plaything,” Adams acerbically observed. “From having nothing, we had everything.”

Before too long, in spite of being given a new five-year contract, Adams was out of the Craven Cottage door, replaced by Wilkins and Kevin Keegan.

But he wasn’t out of work for long because Branfoot’s former deputy, Len Walker, introduced him to the chairman of Swansea City, who were on the brink of relieving Jan Molby of his duties as manager.

Various promises were made regarding funds that would be made available to him but when they were not forthcoming he realised something was not right and he quit, leaving Cork, the deputy he’d taken with him, to take over.

By his own admission, if he hadn’t been sitting on the £140,000 pay-off he’d received from Fulham, he probably would have stayed. As it was, he was out of work once again…..until he had a ‘phone call from David Webb, the former Chelsea and Southampton defender who was the owner of Brentford, but in the process of trying to sell the club.

His brief was to keep the side in the league and to make it attractive to potential purchasers. It was at Griffin Park that he first met up with the aforementioned Bob Booker, who was managing the under 18s at the time. “He is one of the most loyal and trustworthy friends I have ever known,” said Adams. “He would do anything for you.”

However, although he signed the likes of Cullip and Watson from Fulham, he wasn’t able to stop the Bees from being relegated. During the close season, former Palace chairman Ron Noades bought the club and announced he was also taking over as manager.

Once again, Adams was out of a job but his next step saw him appointed as no.2 to Dave Bassett at Nottingham Forest.

Which brings us almost full circle in the Adams career story, but not quite.

After the debacle of his second stint in charge of Brighton, he was twice manager at Port Vale, each spell straddling what turned out to be a disastrous period in charge of his family’s favourite club, Sheffield United.

It was Adams who gave a league debut to Harry Maguire during his time at Bramall Lane, but the side were relegated from the Championship on his watch, and he was sacked.

Adams took charge of 249 games as Vale boss but quit after a run of six defeats saying he’d fallen out of love with the game.

It didn’t prevent him having another go at it, though. He went to bottom of the league Tranmere Rovers and admitted in his book: “It was arrogance to think I could turn round a club that had been relegated twice in two seasons.”

In short, he couldn’t and he ended up leaving two games before the end of what was their third successive relegation.

“It was a really poor end to a career that had started so promisingly at Fulham,” he said.

Teenage debutant ‘keeper Forster forever just a back-up

A GOALKEEPER who held a ‘youngest ever’ record for 58 years played second fiddle between the sticks for Charlton Athletic and Brighton.

Derek Forster had started out at Sunderland and was only FIFTEEN when he played in goal in front of a 45,000 Roker Park crowd in the opening game of the 1964-65 season.

The youngster let in three – but so did his opposite number, Gordon Banks, the England international who was in goal for opponents Leicester City.

“Derek’s a wonderful prospect. From what I could see, he didn’t make a single mistake,” said Banks after the game.

Forster had played in front of an even bigger crowd a few months’ earlier when 95,000 at Wembley saw him keep goal for England Schools against West Germany.

But those early tests of nerves were of little consequence because Forster’s career didn’t pan out quite as he might have wanted.

Sunderland’s first choice ‘keeper, Jim Montgomery, was one of the country’s top goalkeepers, best known for a match-winning double-save for the Wearsiders in the 1973 FA Cup Final at Wembley when second tier Sunderland beat high-flying Leeds United 1-0.

Montgomery remained largely injury-free – and made a record 627 appearances for Sunderland – meaning over the course of eight years the 5’9” Forster only got to play 30 league and cup games for the Mackems.

It was only after that amazing FA Cup win in 1973 that Forster finally left his home in the north-east and tried his luck in London. He joined third tier Charlton who were managed by Theo Foley, a former Eire international teammate of his old Sunderland playing colleague, Charlie Hurley.

Forster was soon in action for the Addicks, ironically playing against Brighton twice within 18 days at the Goldstone (they won 2-1 in the League Cup and in the League). Below left in a collision with Lammie Robertson.

But he was not able to dislodge the experienced John Dunn permanently from the no.1 spot and was limited to nine appearances. He moved during the close season to the Albion, where Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had dispensed with the services of long-serving Brian Powney as part of a 13-player clear-out.

Forster actually joined Albion on the very day that it was announced Taylor was staying at Brighton to take sole charge after his managerial mate Clough quit to join Leeds United.

At the Goldstone, though, Forster found the holder of the no.1 jersey, Peter Grummitt, was another in the same ilk as Montgomery. Grummitt, who’d been one of the pair’s first signings not long after they’d arrived at the Goldstone in the autumn of 1973, had played more than 350 games at the highest level for Nottingham Forest and won three caps for England’s under 23 side, where he vied for the goalkeeper position with Chelsea’s Peter Bonetti.

Arguably one of the best Albion goalkeepers ever, it was perhaps no surprise Grummitt’s form restricted Forster to only three appearances. Ironically, when Forster did get his first team break, he conceded six in his first match.

In spite of pre-season optimism from Taylor, Albion had only three wins on the board from their first 13 games, and when the side went to Fellows Park, Walsall, on 1 October, Forster was like a sitting duck as the Saddlers thumped Albion 6-0. Grummitt was back between the sticks for the following five matches.

No stranger to strong disciplinary measures when he deemed it right, in October Taylor made six first teamers who’d lost 3-2 at Grimsby the previous evening play for the reserves at home to Millwall the following day.

Forster was the last line  of defence in that experienced line-up, and made some important stops on three occasions, but still conceded three. However, the involvement of the first team contingent saw Albion win 5-3: Ian Mellor scoring all five Brighton goals.

Three weeks later, after player-manager Bobby Charlton’s visiting Preston North End side won 4-0 at the Goldstone, Forster stepped in for Grummitt for the second time – and once again was on the losing side: 2-1 at Gillingham.

His one and only winning experience in an Albion shirt came the following week at Prenton Park when Albion beat Tranmere Rovers 2-1. In front of just 2,134 supporters, that win proved to be Forster’s third and last first team appearance.

Taylor obviously wasn’t wholly convinced by his back-up ‘keeper that autumn because he took a look in the reserves at triallist Jim Inger, from assistant manager Brian Daykin’s old club, Long Eaton.

Nevertheless, Forster remained the back-up ‘keeper, a role he continued throughout the 1975-76 season without being called on for the first team because Grummitt was ever-present. The disillusioned Forster departed, admitting he was “cheesed off at Brighton”.

In fact, he quit the professional game, returned to the north-east and played local league football while taking on a job at Washington Leisure Centre (run by Sunderland city council’s leisure department), where he worked for 30 years.

He was in the news in 2010 when it was revealed that three years earlier he had lost the sight in his left eye through cancer.

“It changes your whole life,” he told the Northern Echo. “You either jump off the bridge or you tell yourself to get on with it.

“It makes you realise that it doesn’t matter how hard you train, or how careful you are about what you eat, it’s someone else who’s calling the shots.”

Forster, who retired from the city council, added: “We presumed that we’d do all sorts when we retired and then I realised that I mightn’t even have got that far.

“Now we don’t presume anything. I’ve changed a lot; if that tumour had spread I was a goner. Now every day is a Sunday.”

Born in the Walker suburb of Newcastle on 19 February 1949, Forster went to Manor Park School in the east end of the city: actor Jimmy Nail and Sunderland and England footballer Dennis Tueart were other alumni.

As a promising centre forward, Forster had trials with the city’s under-11s. “One of the goalies didn’t turn up, so they asked me to play there,” Forster recalled.

“I’d honestly never kept goal in my life, not even in the back street, but I had a blinder. Caught every ball. After that, I never played anywhere else.”

The young Forster’s prowess earned him selection for the England Schools side on nine occasions, in a squad that included future stars Trevor Brooking, Colin Todd,  Colin Suggett and Joe Royle.

Sixty years on, it seems extraordinary to discover crowds of 95,000 would fill Wembley to watch the cream of England’s schoolboys, but vintage black and white film footage available on YouTube confirms it.

The all-things-Sunderland website rokerreport.sbnation.comisa detailed source of how Forster made history, and it is certainly a rather curious tale.

Initially signed as an amateur by Sunderland, he was then taken on as an apprentice but for two weeks of the 1964-65 pre-season month he’d been on a family holiday in Blackpool.

He’d trained for just a week and had never seen his new teammates play competitively. Then regular goalkeeper Montgomery sustained a hairline fracture of his left arm in training.

The opening game of the season – Sunderland’s first game back in the top flight after winning promotion – was only a matter of days away and they were without a manager because Alan Brown had left in acrimonious circumstances to take charge of Sheffield Wednesday.

Brown was temporarily replaced by a ‘selection committee’ of club officials and team captain Charlie Hurley.

The assumption was that the 20-year-old reserve goalkeeper, Derek Kirby, would deputise for Montgomery but, instead, they turned to Forster, who’d had that experience of playing in front of a huge crowd at Wembley.

After being called into club secretary George Crow’s office on the Thursday morning to be told he’d be starting, he said: “This is the greatest moment of my life. I had no idea that I would get my chance so soon, even after Monty’s unfortunate injury.

“I only hope I will justify the confidence shown in me and don’t let anyone down.

“I expect I shall be a little bit nervous, but it will be wonderful – and inspiring – playing behind Charlie Hurley and company.”

Even though he let in three, not only did he have the praise of Banks ringing in his ears, but his captain Hurley said: “A great game. If he goes on like this, he’ll have an exceptional future.”

The following Monday’s Echo said the young ‘keeper had “the agility of a panther” and was “bursting at the seams with talent”.

While The Journal’s Alf Greenley reported: “The crowd were with him to a man, even, I suspect, the not inconsiderable contingent of Leicester followers who had made the trip and the reception accorded to him when he turned out was only exceeded by that at the end.

“It was a truly remarkable performance for one so young.

“He handled the ball in the swirling wind with the confidence of a veteran, positioned well and stood up to the onslaught of the Leicester forwards like one far in advance of his years.”

Forster was just 15 years and 185 days old on the day of the match and he remained the youngest-ever top-flight footballer until 18 September 2022 when Arsenal’s Ethan Nwaneri rewrote the record books coming off the bench in the 89th minute of the Gunners’ 3-0 win at Brentford yesterday. He was aged just 15 years and 181 days.

It remains to be seen what sort of future Nwaneri might have in the game. For Forster, although he played the next few games, Montgomery returned and the teenager was left to hold a watching brief although he was still young enough to play a key role in Sunderland’s successful youth team of the mid-1960s.

In 1965, Sunderland lost the two-legged FA Youth Cup semi-final 5-0 to Everton for whom two goals in the Goodison first leg 4-0 win were scored by Jimmy Husband, who’d been a schoolmate of Forster’s in Newcastle.

Sunderland lost the 1966 final 5-3 on aggregate to Arsenal (who included Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson), when Forster’s teammates included the future Cup Final side captain Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Suggett and Todd, who went on to win the league with Derby County and play for England.

Forster was still the last line of defence when the Wearsiders (above) finally won the trophy in 1967, a 2-0 aggregate scoreline seeing off a Birmingham City side that had future England international Bob Latchford at centre forward.

Less than 48 hours after the game, Forster, Hughes and Suggett travelled to North America as part of a squad selected by manager Ian McColl to represent the club in the United Soccer Association, where they played seven matches under the guise of the Vancouver Royal Canadians.

Retrospectively, Forster regretted not moving on sooner from Sunderland. But he told the Northern Echo: “Sunderland were one of the top youth clubs and they were very good to me. I should have left much earlier, seen the signs, but in those days players were genuinely loyal.

“You didn’t just ask to leave as soon as you were dropped. I decided to stay. It was my mistake. Monty never got injured again for five years, though I tried hard to kick him in training. He was an exceptional goalkeeper.”

Forster likened his situation to Newcastle’s Shay Given and Steve Harper. “Both very good goalkeepers, but maybe one a bit better than the other.”

Lowe and behold, the centre back who couldn’t get a game

KEITH LOWE is one of those curious cases of a player who joined the Albion on loan but didn’t kick a ball in anger!

He played one game for the reserves and sat on the first team bench for five matches without getting on.

Lowe was just 20 and well down the centre half pecking order at Wolves when Mick McCarthy had just taken charge.

At the beginning of the 2006-07 season, Albion’s first choice centre backs, Adam Hinshelwood and Guy Butters, were both out injured, and Joel Lynch was a doubt after picking up a niggle in a pre-season game. So, manager Mark McGhee took the opportunity to get Lowe on loan for a month.

Candid former Wolves manager McGhee told the Albion matchday programme how the club had done its homework on the youngster, who he described as a “no frills central defender who gets in where it hurts to head it and boot it. Obviously, that’s something we need – a big lad in our box to head it away. With the absence of Guy Butters, we’ve missed that sort of height in pre-season so I hope he will do well for us.

“Obviously I know people well at Wolves, so we don’t think for a minute that we are signing Rio Ferdinand, but we’ve signed a steady young player who’s determined to make a career for himself and wants to do well.”

For his part, Lowe told the Argus: “I’ve found out that there are a few injuries in the defence here so hopefully I’ll get into the team as soon as possible and play as much football as I can.”

Born in Wolverhampton on 13 September 1985, Lowe had progressed through the Wolves academy and was given a first team debut by Dave Jones in the League Cup at the beginning of the 2004-05 season, three weeks before his 19th birthday. Two months later Lowe was awarded a three-and-a-half-year contract and he said:“My family are all Wolves supporters so it’s a bit of a dream come true.”

Although he made 13 appearances at either right-back or centre-back that season, he only played three matches for them under Glenn Hoddle the following season although he gained experience out on loan, at Burnley (under Steve Cotterill), and QPR in the Championship, and Swansea in League One.

“A lot of people have left Wolves but the one thing they have got is a lot of defenders and they have scrapped their reserve team now so it was best to go and play somewhere else,” Lowe told Andy Naylor of the Argus. “I’m looking to play as many games as I can. I wasn’t getting the opportunity I would have liked at Wolves so I jumped at the chance to come and play some football.”

Lowe said that even though McCarthy had not long been in charge, he had already got his starting eleven in mind. “I hadn’t asked to go out on loan yet, but from what I can gather the manager here ‘phoned up our manager and it seemed like the ideal place to come,” he said. “I’ve not been down to Brighton before but my first impressions, even from the drive in, were it seems really nice and I’m really looking forward to it.”

He added: “My aim is to get noticed at Wolves but I’m open to anything that happens. If it’s not going to happen for me at Wolves then I’ll stay here as long as the management staff want me.”

Unfortunately for Lowe, Lynch recovered from a pre-season thigh injury in time to make the starting line-up for the season opener at Rotherham, and he never did manage to force his way into the side.

By mid-August, he confessed in another Argus interview: “I’m very disappointed. I came down here to play football but it hasn’t happened. You’ve got to be professional about it, keep working hard and hopefully it will come.

“We kept clean sheets in our first two games and, when things like that happen, you can’t really go knocking on the gaffer’s door and say: ‘Why am I not in the team?’ The lads have done really well but I’ll just keep working hard in training and hopefully he’ll take note.”

Lowe pressed his claims for a place by scoring on his debut for the Reserves, heading an equaliser from a Tommy Fraser corner on 54 minutes, in front of McGhee, in a 2-1 win away to QPR. He said: “It was nice to get 90 minutes under my belt and it was a good performance and result, so I was pretty pleased.

“Hopefully I’ve caught the gaffer’s attention. I thought I did well enough and I’m just trying to push to get into the team.”

It didn’t happen, though, and McGhee was at pains to point out the circumstances. “We brought him here to play but then Joel got fit and suddenly looked absolutely fine.

“By the time we got Keith down here we weren’t sure he had trained with us enough and done enough work with us. Joel was there and we decided not to gamble with Keith but to play Joel, who has then played so well, so things have conspired against him a wee bit.”

McGhee added: “He did fine at QPR. In the second half, particularly, when we pushed them up the park and asked them to defend in behind, he did it well.”

Lowe might have got a chance in the Carling Cup against Boston United but Wolves were only prepared to allow him to be cup-tied if Albion intended keeping him longer – and McGhee had decided to add to his defensive options by signing veteran Georges Santos.

Lowe headed back to the Black Country, but the following month he went on loan to Cheltenham Town, where he finally saw some league action, playing in 18 matches. It sowed the seed for a later period in his career: he played 133 games for League Two Cheltenham between 2010 and 2014 in a career that ultimately embraced 617 appearances for 13 different clubs.

Lowe spent the final season of his Wolves contract on loan at League One Port Vale. Signed by Martin Foyle, Lowe also featured under his successors Dean Glover and Lee Sinnott, playing in 31 matches. But Vale were relegated in 23rd spot and the defender finally bade farewell to his boyhood club in May 2008.

He dropped out of the league for the 2008-09 season, appearing in 52 games for Conference Premier League side Kidderminster Harriers.

Budget issues meant he was released at the end of the season and the following campaign he was back in the league with Hereford United, playing 26 games for the League Two Bulls under John Trewick and former Wolves boss Graham Turner. That spell at Cheltenham came next.

During two years at York City, Lowe collected no fewer than four Player of the Year awards in 2014-15 – three from supporters’ groups and one from local newspaper The Press.“Keith deserves the awards for his consistency,” City boss Russ Wilcox told the newspaper. “To play every league game is always an achievement. It shows you are doing things right on and off the pitch. It means you look after yourself, train properly and are a good professional.”

Released by new York boss Jackie McNamara, Lowe returned to Kidderminster, by then in the National League, where he spent another 18 months, much of it as club captain.

National League Macclesfield Town was his next port of call and he played in all of their matches as they won promotion back into the league in 2017. However, it ended on a sour note in 2019 when he was one of six players to issue the club with a winding up order for unpaid wages.

The 2019-20 season saw him turn out for three different clubs: Southern League Nuneaton Borough, National League North side Bradford Park Avenue and latterly (until the Covid pandemic called a halt to the league) Kidderminster for a third spell.

At the end of the 2021-22 season, he announced his intention to concentrate on developing a career as a teaching assistant. He told the Kidderminster club website: “I’m not ready to stop yet and am very much planning to play part-time next year, but it feels like now is the time to move away from the full-time game and think about the future and the career I’ve been building in schools.”