Guess who I bumped into the other day on Mapperley Top?
None other than Saul Deeney, former Ireland International, Notts County, Burton Albion and Derby County goalkeeper.
On the eve of the World Cup finals, where the world greatest mercenary footballers will strut their stuff, it is refreshing to hear from someone at the modest and loyal end of the sporting spectrum.
Having got talking to him, it transpired that he had recently left the Rams ‘by mutual consent’. I got the feeling that he was a bit wary of my request for an interview. I think he ‘smelt a rat’ so to speak; that I was looking for an exclusive from the corridors of power at Pride Park!
Once I’d convinced Saul that (as far as the A52 to Derby was concerned), my interest extended only as far as Canning Circus; he was happy to talk.
Now I knew that Saul had represented the Republic of Ireland before, but you never know what accent footballers are likely to have. They have a habit of surprising us don’t they? After all, former Forest goalkeeper Lee Camp played for Northern Ireland; although I’m not sure he knows his poteen from his vodka!
Saul’s accent is a soft North of Ireland accent. His home town being Derry. Now 30 years of age and having lived in Nottingham since he was 14, he could be forgiven for adopting the language of the Nottinghamian. Having chatted to Saul for an hour, it is clear that as professional footballers go, his loyalty to family and club are more important than single-minded ambition.
To hear that he is one of 13 brother and sisters and that all his siblings are settled in Derry, is refreshing to hear. He does manage to get them over for Nottingham’s Goose Fair every year! He also remains in touch with his host family in Nottingham, whom he lodged with as a teenager.
Prior to moving to England, Saul played for Foyle Harps. After a few trials at clubs in England, he had several offers to consider. I asked Saul how a 14 year old can make such a big decision; and what made him choose Notts County.
In context, Notts County were managed by an ambitious ‘Big Sam’ Allardice (now at West Ham United). Saul noticed that the set up at Notts was impressive and expectations high. On the goalkeeping side of things, Saul was impressed with the coaching of Bob Shaw and Steve Sutton. Sutton having been the understudy to a certain Peter Shilton at Nottingham Forest in the 1980’s.
What also impressed Saul was Nottingham as a city. He liked it. He warmed to its sporting legacy, the location of its two clubs, separated only by the River Trent. Forest were back in the top flight and ‘Big Ron’ Atkinson at the helm. Whilst ‘Old Big Head’ himself had retired, his son Nigel Clough had just started as a player manager at Burton Albion. To help with the historical context, Clough junior had recently been released by Manchester City, after their relegation to the 3rd tier of English football!
So Saul Deeney arrived in Nottingham.
Day one at Notts County was a historic for two reasons.
Local schoolboy Jermaine Pennant signed for Arsenal in a £2 million deal!
Saul Deeney was on the bench for Notts County in their cup match against Bury!
The optimism of that first day at the club did not continue at the same level. In the next 7 years, Saul would play under as many managers, all at Notts County. At the age of 22 he took the opportunity to sign for Burton Albion where Nigel Clough was making a name for himself in management. Saul did have another short spell at Notts County but remained loyal to Nigel Clough, latterly rejoining him at Derby County, but leaving as part of the recent managerial changes.
Saul’s attitude is that whether you are playing first team football or on the bench for the reserves, the club are your family and you need to respect and look after each other.
The big question, what next? Now that this loyal ‘family guy’ is without a football club. Life as a goalkeeper is a lonely one and surely without an ‘extended family’ around him, he must be tempted to return to Derry.
‘We’ll have to see. I’ve had a shoulder injury for some time. I’ll keep myself fit and see what happens’
‘Do you see yourself returning to Derry?’
‘Maybe. Derry City is a massive club back home, but I’m in no rush. I enjoy my life here.’
‘What makes you stay in the same area of Nottingham?’
‘I love this area (Mapperley Top). I like how you can take a short walk to shops, restaurants and pubs’
What is your first memory of Mapperley?
‘Well I’ve been eating at The Plains Fish Bar ever since I came here. My Dad took me in there and I still visit. I like places where you are made comfortable. They become part of your family. I got to Deli-icious and Brown Bettys for the same reason’
‘What about Nottingham’s lively music and club scene?’
‘I like to get to shows, musicals and family shows.’
Saul went on to say that he is not into loud rock music which, to be honest, threw me off my stride a bit. I had been waiting to talk about The Undertones, one of my favourite bands as a teenager and undoubtedly Derry’s finest musical export.
Through The Undertones I had hoped to impress him with my knowledge of Derry, but his lack of interest, (coupled with the fact he hadn’t been born when The Undertones were touring the world) meant the topic was pointless.
All I need now is some time off. I have a couple of reasons to visit Derry.