Archive | December, 2018

Goalkeepers are Different

2 Dec

Goalkeepers are Different

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“Some people say goalkeepers are crazy, but to me they’re not crazy, they’re different”

The quote above is the opening line to the excellent “Goalkeepers are Different” by Brian Glanville one of the first fictional football books that I had read and also one of the best books of its genre. It was published in 1971 a vintage year for Wigan Athletic fans of a certain age (old buggers) That 1970/71 season was one of the greatest in our history, it was non league that’s true, but the football that side played was some of the best I have ever seen, if not the best.

One man who had the perfect vantage point of that classic side was the goalkeeper Dennis Reeves. Dennis was one of our best ever keepers, never flashy, always calm; he made the art of goalkeeping look easy. Dennis still attends many of our home games and I managed to have a chat with him at the end of last season. Here’s what he had to say…

Early Childhood

I was born in Lockerbie Dumfriesshire we lived in a country cottage with my granddad. He was in charge of the fishing licences for the anglers on the river Annan which was only about 300 yards away from the house. My dad was from Cheshire and he had met my mum, a Scottish girl, while he was stationed there in an army camp. We moved to Cheshire when I was two or three years old and lived on a farm there. It was there that my love of sport grew. I had an older brother and a younger sister and it was an idyllic place to grow up in. We used to throw a tennis ball against the barn wall and try to catch it, throwing it that bit higher every time. When the weather got cold we’d play cricket inside the barn. My older brother would soon get fed up if I kept bowling him out so I used to bowl easy deliveries just to keep him interested. Being isolated meant I had no other kids to call upon once my brother got fed up.

When I was around 12 years old we moved to Wrexham where my parents had bought a pub. It was better for us because we had more going on in the town. I started watching Wrexham football club being a big believer in supporting your local team. At first I would wait until they opened the big gates with 20 minutes to go then I would nip in but when I started getting pocket money I could then pay on. I remember Alex Stepney playing there for Millwall and it was around this time that I started going to Wrexham Youth Club and taking part in all the sports they played there. My first competitive football game came about when I was picked to play in goal for North Wales Youth v South Wales Youth when I was about 15. We won the game 2-0 and a few weeks later I was playing football with my mates near our pub when my dad came over and said that three scouts from Manchester United wanted to see me. Johnny Carey and Les Olive were two of the scouts, can’t remember the other one’s name but they wanted me to go on trial at United. This was in May, anyway June and July arrived and I still hadn’t heard anything from them so I started training as an amateur at Chester FC. I often think should my dad have phoned Manchester United? But we didn’t know the correct protocol to follow and we never heard from them again.

 Football League

I had a good grounding at Chester and it was a gradual progression to the first team. I was initially sent out on loan to play in the Welsh League and then I was picked for the Chester Youth team for a game against Bradford City in the FA Youth Cup. From there I never looked back and went from the A team to the Reserves. My first reserve game was away to Frickley Colliery and i played well in a 2-0 victory. It was a tough league but it stood me in good stead and after 2 or 3 games I got picked for the 1st team. I made my first team debut at Chester when I was 17 years old against Rochdale at home in October 1963. It was a midweek game under the floodlights and we won 2-0 in front of seven or eight thousand fans. We won the next game on the Saturday at home to Doncaster Rovers and it eased me into league football.

Manchester United v Chester City FA Cup 1964/65, Chester City v Wigan Athletic FA Cup 1965/66

Chester had a good run in the cup this particular season, In the 1st round we played Crewe at home and won 5-0. Then we travelled to Barnsley and beat them 5-2. In the 3rd round we played Manchester United at Old Trafford in front of 45,660 fans. We stayed in the Norbreck Hotel in Blackpool and trained on the beach. Standing in the tunnel at Old Trafford was Denis Law who was suspended for the game. He was one of my idols and when he saw us lining up he said “Who the f*****g hell are these?” Well he knew at half time because we were winning 1-0 but that was just his way, it didn’t put me off him. I’d settled into the game very well, Bobby Charlton had a terrific shot in the first couple of minutes of the game and I pushed it round for a corner and my confidence grew from then on. In the second half we had our backs to the wall a bit and George Best scored an equalizer from what we thought was an offside position. We hung on but after a scramble in the goalmouth Albert Kinsey scored the winner. Then in the following season we of course played in the cup against Wigan and that was a hell of a game which the latics supporters are always quick to remind me about. It was a very physical game which Chester won 2-1 but I got a bit of a buffering probably from Harry Lyon shoulder charging etc. I always remember one incident in that game someone shot from point blank range and I instinctively stuck a hand out and pushed it over the bar. I played well that day and I had to do too.

Wrexham to Wigan

I was at Wrexham for a couple of seasons and following a late release in the summer I was looking for a club. Port Vale were interested but I signed for Wigan who needed a keeper following Dave Gaskell’s move to Wrexham ironically. I couldn’t have moved to a better club, it never felt like I was playing for a team outside the Football League. I sometimes go to games in the National League now and I think these teams are playing at the same level we were in the Northern Premier but we were miles better! Wigan had a good mix of youth and experience, Jim Fleming was a great player and of course Derek Temple was here and I’d watched him score the winning goal in the FA Cup final a couple of seasons earlier. Smashing lad Derek always had a smile on his face. Quite a few players from the Football League signed for non league clubs back then. Boston had Howard Wilkinson and Jim Smith, Great Harwood had Ronnie Clayton etc good players who wanted to carry on playing football because the money wasn’t really that good and some had to carry on playing for a wage.

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A goalkeeper’s lot

Training for goalkeepers is very different today, all the clubs have specialised trainers to work with the keepers. I wish they had had them in my day but the only one I knew of was Harry Gregg at Shrewsbury Town. I suppose I could have asked to go there for guidance but I was only a young keeper and I didn’t like to ask. Gordon Milne was a smashing manager at Wigan and he used to say to me “Dennis you know your position. Try and dominate the six yard box and take control of the eighteen yard box” He summed it up in a nutshell. I used to go to Everton when we didn’t have a game and I would watch closely the keepers in games. I remember studying Gordon Banks in one match and the positions he took up. He always seemed to get in the way of shots and that was down to his positioning. Ray Clemence was another and I picked up a lot from watching them. I’d like to think I was a good positional goalkeeper, it came naturally to me. Back then we didn’t have the gloves they have today and I seldom wore gloves. I had cotton gloves for night games because the grass would have dew on it. They had bits of dimpled rubber on like those that you see on table tennis bats but generally goalkeepers didn’t wear gloves. I tried some of the gloves they have now after I retired and I think I could have caught the ball one handed with them!

Manchester City v Wigan Athletic FA Cup 1971.

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This was the game were I famously split my boot taking a goal kick which led indirectly to City’s winning goal. I don’t regard it has a mistake because the ball landed almost near the halfway line. The pitch was very hard and icy because it was in the shade of the big stand they had there and that didn’t help. When I kicked the ball the sole of the boot just came away, flapping about. The trainer came on and wrapped tape around it to try and secure it. We didn’t have spare boots or anything like that. I threw them in the skip after the game. At the end of that 1970/71 season hopes were high that we would finally get into the Football League but they refused us entry citing the free pens we had circulated was not received well. I mean come on? We deserved to be in the league, should have been in the league but for an antiquated system. I was really disappointed because I wanted to return to playing in league football. I played the best football of my career at Wigan Athletic but I never got picked up by a league club.

Final Thoughts

I was working as well as playing football and eventually it got a bit too much. The decorating business was getting busier and I had to make a decision about playing on. I decided to step down from goalkeeping duties and went to see our manager Brian Tiler around Christmas time to tell him I was retiring at the end of the season. He was very good about it and he could have got another keeper in but he played me until the end of the season. I could have gone to other non league clubs in the area but I respected Wigan that much that I didn’t want to play against them. My feeling was that I was going out on a high leaving a good club rather than signing for a lesser team. It was hard to keep away from it at first and I had a call from the chairman at Winsford who asked me did I fancy playing again. I went back to Wrexham and did some training there to sharpen myself up but I felt a pain in my back and it affected my work for weeks so I phoned Winsford up and told them I wasn’t going back to football and that was it.

I was lucky to play for three good clubs even though things didn’t go to plan at Wrexham I still enjoyed it. I get to watch the teams when I can and it’s just a pity the old players at Wigan from my time here seem to have just drifted away. Sad because it would be good to see them again. We’ve had some great players here, Billy Sutherland, Kenny Morris, big Dougie Coutts, Fred Molyneux, Ian Gillibrand only small but could sniff out danger. Ian was probably the smallest defender I’d ever seen but he timed his jumps so well he had the spring in his legs that a lot of bigger opponents didn’t have, they were flat footed compared to Ian. Gilly was a quiet man off the field but on it he was so determined, thy shall not pass attitude. He had Wigan Athletic on his sleeve, loved the club and it was so sad when he passed away so young.

I like to think we played our part in where the club are today, part of the foundations so to speak. The non league days were a very important part of Wigan’s history and rightly so. A lot of the clubs we played against have now gone, some good teams who would give us hard games, real shame. Some are still going today of course and Stafford Rangers was always a tough place to go. One ground that always created a good atmosphere was Netherfield. Not a very good ground but noisy when you got a few on. The good thing about playing in non league was the places you got to visit that you probably wouldn’t have gone to normally, Matlock, Mossley, Worksop and of course I got to play at Wembley Stadium which I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t dropped down to non league. I always get a warm welcome from the fans at Wigan who saw me play and it was a privilege to play for this wonderful club.

Dennis Reeves

I’d like to thank Dennis for taking the time to be interviewed and it was a pleasure to meet such an unassuming latics legend. Real gentleman who still attends games at Wigan so if you get the chance to have a chat with him please do. Best of luck Dennis and thank you.

Tony Topping