You see them in all professional football matches, backup goalkeepers. Sat often in their goalkeeper gloves, patiently sat there in the anticipation that the first-choice keeper needs to be replaced and they finally get their chance. It must be an isolated role.
Pre-match you’re part of the groundwork for the match ahead, taking shots at the person who has been selected ahead of you, till you then move onto the next drill, crossing the ball for the man chosen between the sticks for your country, so he can practice his aerial skills.
Then, you are back down the tunnel to change into your team wear to spend more often than not, 90 plus minutes sat in a dugout with the sporadic moments of standing on a touchline doing a few stretching exercises with as much application as me on an exercise bike on a Saturday morning whilst watching Sky Sports on a big monitor right in front of me.
Some second-choice keepers are rarely seen in any football matches throughout a season a respective team play, due to the domination of the person ahead of them in the pecking order, and this article looks at those keepers who between 1982 and 1997 found themselves in precisely that position. A back up to the great Neville Southall between the sticks for Wales for 15 years, who during that period, hardly ever missed a game. Even the great Neville Southall though, had a period on the bench waiting his turn.
Mike England the Welsh Manager when Nev first broke into the Welsh squad, chose Dai Davies initially ahead of Nev, until the summer of 1982, when Nev’s club performances could not be held back anymore, then the number one shirt became his property.
I look at those keepers who sit on benches in many countries in all kinds of weather conditions, just waiting for the opportunity if/when required with a feeling of empathy, which I am sure they are not happy that I have that sentiment towards them.
They are representing their respective team/country which is something I could only dream of, but nevertheless, that emotion is/was there.
The Blaenau Ffestiniog born goalkeeper was one of the first who had to sit and wait during the Southall years. Felgate was a keeper who had a long professional career spanning from 1978 to 2007. He did play at several clubs but where he played the majority of his games were at Lincoln City and Bolton Wanderers.
In his international career he had the bad luck of playing during the period of his career with Dai Davies and in particular, Neville Southall but he also was very unlucky that in 1981 he was due to make his debut for Wales against Northern Ireland when Dai was not available, however, the game never took place it was cancelled due to the ongoing Bobby Sands hunger strike in Northern Ireland, and was decided by the powers that be that during this period playing a friendly international would be in poor taste. Felgate did finally make his international debut in 1983 against Romania when he came on as a substitute for Nev.
Felgate was a regular in the Welsh squad for many years, but that game against Romania would be the only international he would play for his country. Felgate gained national exposure in 1999, when aged 38, he played for Leigh RMI against Fulham at Craven Cottage in the FA Cup. The non-league side earned a gallant draw that day, with Felgate excelling, pulling off some fantastic saves. Kevin Keegan, who was Fulham’s manager, made the statement that Felgate’s performance was the best he had ever seen at any level. High praise indeed from a man involved in football for so many decades.
Niedzwiecki was an excellent keeper who played his professional career with Wrexham and Chelsea. He made his international debut in 1985 against Norway appearing as a substitute for Nev. He would go onto gain one more cap for Wales. Unfortunately, due to injuries, he had to retire from playing prematurely at the age of 28.
Niedzwiecki would go on to have an excellent coaching career which included coaching Wales working alongside Mark Hughes. His last job in professional football was with Southampton, but when Mark Hughes was released, Niedzwiecki also was asked to go. Expect him and Hughes to appear in a dugout somewhere sometime soon.
Born in Senghenydd, Thomas was an outstanding goalkeeper mainly in the 1980s. After starting his career at Bristol Rovers, where he caught the eye with some exceptional performances and had several clubs watching him. Thomas had loan spells at Cardiff City, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United. Newcastle decided after his loan spell to make the move permanent.
Thomas was the number one keeper for Newcastle for a few years, being in goals during the periods of Newcastle’s rise back to the top flight with players such as Kevin Keegan, Terry McDermott, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle to name a few in their ranks. Thomas was highly thought of but could not dispose of Nev from the Welsh number one shirt.
Thomas won just the one solitary cap when he started a European Championship qualifier against Finland in Helsinki in 1986 which ended in a draw. An excellent keeper who again just happened to be at the peak of his career when Nev was arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet.
The keeper who spent the majority of his professional career with Hull City and Sunderland, made his debut for Wales in 1986 against the Republic of Ireland when he replaced the injured Neville Southall. Nev broke his ankle that day on the Lansdowne Road surface, which that day, was atrocious.
Due to his injury, Norman would have an opportunity to show his abilities, and when Nev returned, Norman did play a further two games for his country. So, in terms of some of the other backup keepers of that period, he got a lot more game time. He retired from professional football at the age of 39. An excellent backup keeper at international level for Wales.
Dibble made his professional debut as a 17-year-old for Cardiff City and was identified quickly as one to watch. He played for many clubs during his career but is probably best remembered for his days with Cardiff, Luton Town and Manchester City. While at Luton he played a massive part in their League Cup victory at Wembley Stadium against Arsenal. Dibble saved a penalty from Nigel Winterburn.
The keeper made his debut for Wales in 1986 against Canada. His debut was a few months after the injury Nev suffered against Ireland, which is mentioned in the above paragraph. Dibble would go onto win another two caps for Wales. He is now goalkeeper coach at Cardiff City and doing an excellent job.
Roberts started his professional career at Queens Park Rangers where he played for 11 years. During that period, he won two caps for Wales both coming on as a substitute for Neville Southall in 1993 and 1996 against Republic of Ireland and San Marino respectively. He initially retired from football in 1998 only to return in 2000 playing for another 12 years for Dagenham and Redbridge.
Roberts was an excellent shot stopper and a fine goalkeeper for an extended period. He is now the Welsh national goalkeeper coach.
Marriott had a long professional career spanning many clubs. The club he made the most appearances for was Wrexham where he played more than 200 games. He won five caps for Wales, his debut in 1996 against Switzerland and his final cap, against Tunisia in 1998 where Wales took a hammering. A robust and competent keeper who had a good career.
Coyne played for several clubs in his career, and he is best known for his performances for Tranmere Rovers and Grimsby Town. During his spell with Tranmere, he made his international debut for Wales in 1996 against Switzerland. Neville Southall’s international career was coming close to the end, and in Coyne, Wales had a keeper who they could rely on.
In total, Coyne won 16 caps for Wales with his last cap being in 2007 against Cyprus. There was a period where he was the first choice, but after the retirement of Neville Southall, he had the emergence of Paul Jones which curtailed his opportunities to gain a lot more caps for Wales. An excellent keeper.
The keeper is best remembered for his career at Nottingham Forest where he forged an excellent career. Crossley was renowned for his skills at saving penalties and was a very good goalkeeper. He made his debut for Wales in 1997 against the Republic of Ireland. Similarly, to Danny Coyne, he had to contend with Neville Southall and Paul Jones to try to become the first-choice goalkeeper which is an arduous task.
Crossley played eight times for Wales with his last international being against Latvia in 2004. Another excellent goalkeeper who never got a consistent run of games for Wales due to the abilities of others.
So, there you have the list of those who backed up a great but did get some rare outings on a football pitch for Wales. I have not included Paul Jones, who initially was a back up to Neville Southall before securing the number one shirt as his own. Jones won 50 caps for Wales, a figure many Welsh fans will never forget as, on the occasion of a half-century of caps, Jones had the number 50 shaved into his hair. The game that transpired was that Wales lost five one at home to Slovakia, their worst home defeat in 98 years and Jones was beaten three times from long range, not the most auspicious of days.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. Neville Southall was an all-time great and for the keepers who I have named, they all were very good keepers and good servants to Welsh football and was just unfortunate their careers crossed with Nev which stopped them in most cases, winning a lot more caps for Wales, but they were always ready with their gloves sat down in some far-flung country waiting patiently as you never know when an opportunity may arise….