They walk the tightrope between glory and despair without a safety net, writes James Shield.
Count those intent on snatching their first team place as confidantes and friends. Goalkeepers, as Iain Turner admits, really are different.
“Week in and week out we are competing for one position,” he said. “But, week in and week out, we’ve also got each other’s back during training and games.
“I suppose that’s why they say goalkeepers are a strange bunch. What we do is a little bit unique.”
Turner, who joined Sheffield United on a free transfer earlier this season, enjoys going against the grain. Not only does the former Scotland B international feature among a select band of players to represent both sides of the Steel City divide but, as he told The Star during a break in training earlier this week, proudly breaks another golden rule.
“Back up the road it can be a little bit different to down here in England because a lot of people follow two clubs. One of the Old Firm and them then the side closest to them.
“My dad was from Oldham and he always used to tell me that you support you local team. So, because I’m from Stirling, that’s who I follow and nobody else. Stirling Albion are the only ones for me.”
Turner has come a long way since progressing through the ranks at Forthbank Stadium, Albion’s snug 4,000 capacity arena, nearly a decade-and-a-half ago. Thirteen clubs, including Everton, Doncaster Rovers, Sheffield Wednesday and of course United feature on his footballing CV but The Binos, presently languishing at the bottom of the Scottish League One table, still exert great influence over his career.
“Kevin Drinkell was manager at when I was there. Then he was my agent although he’s not any more.
“Chris Reid was the goalie I looked up to most. A great player but unfortunate with injury.”
Because, when Mark Howard succumbed to a back complaint following last month’s League One defeat at Gillingham, Turner assumed responsibility for anchoring fifth-placed United’s promotion bid. Seven games and four victories later, he enters tomorrow’s meeting with Fleetwood Town boosted by the knowledge that Nigel Clough, the United manager, has no plans to hand Howard an immediate recall. Providing, he underlined before Tuesday’s defeat by Peterborough, there are no catastrophic performances.
“I’ve been hoping for a chance,” Turner continued. “Unfortunately, the way it is with ‘keepers, you usually have to wait for an injury because there can only ever be one in the team. If you don’t start off as the number one then you’ve got to be patient.”
The Faustian Pact between goalkeepers who happen to be colleagues is fascinating. They strive to help each other improve yet know, by doing so, they diminish their own chances of commanding a regular starting role.
At first glance, Turner has spent most of his career wrestling with this conundrum. But, he explained, it is not as taxing as some might think.
“Listen, if you aren’t in the eleven, you’re still on the same team. You still want it to do well. So it never causes an issue. Not in my experience because everyone knows the score.”
“Whether you are first choice or second choice, you shouldn’t prepare any different,” Turner added. “You should always give everything you’ve got because that’s what being a professional is.
“Football is about taking the rough with the smooth and so, if you’re in the team or on the bench, every experience gives you something to build on and learn from. It all helps to make you who you are.”
Despite making only 25 appearances in four seasons, Turner insisted his words should not be interpreted as an admission that he is happy to be cast in a supporting role.
“Every single game you want to be involved in. But I’ve been a footballer long enough to know how it works.
“I’m 31 and want to be playing so I’m trying to give the gaffer a decision. If Mark was in my position then he’d tell you exactly the same.”