mens adidas shorts Brighton and Hove Albion goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts relishing his role
Albion’s goalkeeping coach is more content now than he ever was between the posts during a career which included FA Cup, League Cup and play off final appearances.
This outlook is somewhat unorthodox. Most footballers miss playing, whether they remain in the game in an alternative role or veer off in a completely different direction.
Not Roberts, forced to retire at the age of 29 in 2005 due to recurring back problems. He went out on a high, making his last appearance the previous year in Albion’s play off final victory over Bristol City at the Millennium Stadium.
Roberts said: “I remember in the past thinking ‘What are we doing today, I’m not feeling too good here’, with my back. I never come in feeling like that now.
“I am probably better at coaching than I was as a player. When you are better at something you tend to prefer it. I think I’m developing all the time as a coach.
“As a player I probably stopped developing in my early Twenties. That was when I picked up my first few injuries.
“You become more experienced and learn from them, which does help as a goalkeeper, but my physical state meant I was never able to improve to get to the top level. I was always just playing catch up.
“I could have managed myself better in that period as well. I still loved the games, the crowds, but I didn’t enjoy training which definitely wasn’t me, because as a kid I loved training.”
The route to Roberts’ current position has been as unconventional as his opinion about playing.
It took him from South America to Roehampton University, either side of an aborted attempt at a comeback with the Seagulls.
He said: “After I had an operation here in the year I retired, 2005, I moved to Brazil. I was dating a girl at the time who I had been seeing for a few years. She was finishing Uni there. I just took time basically.
“From the moment I announced I was retiring you get phone calls, about coaching, being an agent, doing this, doing that. I had no interest, I just needed to be by myself, time away and to rehab my back.
“I trained the following year for three or four months with Keelo (John Keeley), just to see if I could have come back, but I was never able to. During that period other things developed and I made the decision I was going to go to Uni then, take a proper amount of time out.
“I kept in touch with people and Nathan (Jones) got me down to Yeovil. I had been out for about four years then and that gave me time to be a normal person again, lose you identity as a footballer. It was a real good time and time I needed.”
“It started up with ten ex professionals,” he said. “It ended up with only three of us lasting the course. It was a good period and in my final year of studying I was already coaching at Yeovil, so I was driving back up twice a week. It gave me time to think about my direction and probably to mature.”
Roberts returned to Albion last summer from Charlton to become the club’s sixth goalkeeping coach in eight years following Antti Niemi’s return to Finland for family seasons.
Born in Bishop Auckland, his debut season as a member of Chris Hughton’s backroom staff had a bitter sweet ending in the final day promotion decider at Middlesbrough, his first club.
He played for them in the 1997 FA Cup final against Chelsea, when he was infamously beaten within 42 seconds by a shot from Roberto Di Matteo, and in a League Cup final replay defeat against Leicester at Hillsborough.
“I don’t really have the same connection with the team at Middlesbrough as I do to Brighton and even Charlton,” Roberts said. “But my best mate (Chris Moseley) is the physio at Middlesbrough.
“It was a strange one after the game. He was a little bit apologetic in the tunnel. Although I was absolutely devastated I was actually really pleased for him and for his two kids who were in the tunnel as well.
“It took the summer for me to get over it, until the first day of pre season, because we wanted it so much and I thought we deserved it.”
The appliance of goalkeeping science continues to work. Roberts and the glove men he looks after have set about making amends in impressive style.
Gary Hooper’s injury time consolation for Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough prior to the international break was the first goal conceded by David Stockdale in five and a quarter matches.
Stockdale’s Finnish understudy, Niki Maenpaa, also kept clean sheets earlier in the season in Albion’s League Cup win over Colchester and against Rotherham in the Championship when Stockdale was injured.
Roberts will have a studying brief again when Stockdale bids to complete a hat trick of home shut outs against Preston at the Amex on Saturday. And that is just the way he likes it.