Football: Keeper of Values Slips on Golden Gloves: THE INTERVIEW NEVILLE SOUTHALL ; the Man Safeguarding Torquay's FA Cup Interests Knows All about Life at the Top and Bottom
Haylett, Trevor, The Independent (London, England)
MAYBE THE pundits were right when they said that England v Scotland overshadowed everything else last week. Maybe Torquay United's visit today to Forest Green Rovers in the FA Cup does not hold the appeal that it ought. Whichever explanation fits, it was hard to discern even the slightest ripple of FA Cup fever around Plainmoor two days ago as Torquay went about their sleepy business.
The players were being put through their training paces elsewhere, so the seagulls had the run of the place and the club shop cried out for custom. Glamorous it was not, yet it's to these far-flung parts that you go to make contact with one of football's true star names, a cup winner in both of the last two decades, a goalkeeping Footballer of the Year whose appearance record for his country is unlikely ever to be bettered. And as he thrusts out a huge paw for a handshake and exchanges pleasantries with what little staff Torquay need to man the bar on a slow Friday, it is clear Neville Southall feels very much at home in this environment.
Some will argue that to drop so far down, both geographically and in respect of footballing seniority is to apply a dull finish to a career that has always shone with the most potent lustre despite the occasional controversy. It is a concept with which Southall has not the slightest affinity. He began on the bottom rung with Winsford United on a princely part-time wage of pounds 14, moved on to Bury long before they discovered what it was like to be upwardly mobile and only takes offence with the view that he should be offended now that he has returned to the same run-down grounds and penny scrimping ways.
"People have got this idea that you have to play at a certain standard all your career. I started at the bottom and I'm finishing at the bottom. If you're lucky enough you'll always drive a Rolls Royce but some day you might have to go back to a Reliant Robin. I want to be a manager and nobody can accuse me of lacking experience, because I have played in all four divisions and for Doncaster in the Nationwide Conference as well. If someone gives me a manager's or coach's job in the Third Division then at least this way I will know what it takes to get a team out of the division and what it's like to operate on no money."
Initially he intended to stay only for two games while Torquay's regular keeper regained fitness but he enjoyed himself so much he decided to stay even though that entailed a weekly 500-mile round trip from his Chester home. "It's a smashing club and they work hard to give something back to the community. It's something the big clubs could do more of. On Saturdays we get groups of 50 school kids touring the ground, whereas a similar thing at Everton, say, would only pull in the adults because the sponsors would look after them. If you come down from the Premier League you might think the facilities here are shabby but you should see the look on the kids' faces when they step into our dressing-room. It's a magic place because it's their local team and they're at an age where we can make a difference as to how they think about the game."
Southall has never been one to underestimate the importance of the supporter and believes they should get a much better deal. He respects the game's traditions and worries about its future, which smacks hard against the reputation he earned, unfairly, at the start of his career as one of football's cerebrally challenged. Ludicrously, he still comes across the odd terrace comedian keen to remind him that he once emptied bins for a living but now it is water off a 41-year-old duck's back. "I worked on a rubbish cart, I was a hod carrier, I did a bit of demolition work and I don't understand why some see that as derogatory. …