Football: Gould's unusual route to the top ends in Paradise

Phil Shaw meets a striker-turned-keeper who has stepped out of his father's shadow to become a key figure in Celtic's title quest
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OUT on the slopes of Celtic Park, the feuding tribes traded anthems and insults. Down in the tunnel, two lines of players stared ahead, chewing nervously and steeling themselves for the Old Firm fray. It was then that the television cameras caught Jonathan Gould chatting casually with Andy Goram.

This, clearly, was more than simply two members of the goalkeepers' union exchanging fraternal greetings. So what was it last Sunday that was important, or interesting, enough for supposedly bitter rivals to cut through an almost tangible tension?

Gould, whose agility and authority have been major factors in Celtic's challenge to Rangers' hopes of a 10th successive championship, laughs as he reveals all. "Andy's a keen cricketer like myself and he just tapped me on the shoulder to ask whether I fancied going down to Ayrshire to play with him and his mates this summer.''

While the invitation was as welcome as its timing was surprising, Gould felt obliged to point out that Goram had a prior engagement. He was tempted to offer to take his place in Scotland's party for the World Cup finals, but there is a possibility that the 29-year-old Londoner - eligible for Craig Brown's squad because his mother was born in Blantyre - may yet accompany his Rangers counterpart to France.

Nine months ago he was better known as the son of Bobby Gould, the outspoken manager of Wales, than for safe handling. He had fallen so far from favour at Bradford City that he spent one Saturday with the chairman's cricket team because he was not even wanted on the bench at Blackpool.

Now he plays at the place colloquially known as Paradise, the undisputed No 1 for one of Britain's leading clubs. When the Celtic manager, Wim Jansen, ponders how to avenge last week's Scottish Cup semi-final defeat in a potentially decisive Premier Division derby at Ibrox on Sunday, Gould's name will be first on his sheet for reasons of form as well as formation.

To reach that position he has overcome the prejudice of those who assumed he owed his career to nepotism, as well as a lack of formal football education. For when his contemporaries were serving apprenticeships, Gould was studying for A-Levels. As they turned pro, he was working nine to five in a Bristol bank.

Amazingly, he did not even play in goal, turning out up front for Shirehampton in the Somerset Senior League. Football was "in my blood", but his father, once a striker at Premiership level, told him he was not good enough to make it as an outfield player. The only hope, he suggested, was to reinvent himself as a keeper.

Gould practised furiously. He virtually wore out a video of great saves, devoured Bruce Grobbelaar's autobiography and studied the custodian's art from the stands. At 22, however, he had progressed no further than Clevedon in the Western League while working as a hydraulic engineer.

Eventually, Fourth Division Halifax gave him a trial and a belated League debut. It was a winning start, too, if not a lucrative one. "The club rule was that we had to be out of the bottom four to qualify for a win bonus," he recalls. "We never managed it in my two years there.''

The arrival of John McGrath made him realise that some managers viewed his presence as a threat. "They seemed to think I was going to sneak off to phone my dad saying: `You'll never believe the decision he's made'.''

He sensed that the writing might be on the wall at Halifax when he heard McGrath announce in an after-dinner speech: "We've got a player here, Jonathan Gould, who, if he was a sky-diver, would miss the earth.''

His father had faith in his talent, signing him for West Brom and Coventry in turn. "If anything, he was harder on me than he would have been on someone else," Gould says, "but it probably made me stronger.''

At Highfield Road he displaced Steve Ogrizovic - "on merit in my opinion, though Oggy wouldn't agree" - and attracted Scotland's interest. Ron Atkinson, unimpressed, off-loaded him to Bradford. He won man of the match awards, but again the perception was not shared by the manager, Chris Kamara.

"He was addressing a supporters' meeting when a barman dropped some glasses and he said: `I see Gouldy's in tonight'." Gould might have enjoyed the joke had Kamara not made it plain he did not want him at the club.

Last summer, on being offered a "free", Gould called numerous lower-division managers. From Gillingham to Stoke to Scarborough, they all turned him down. He was now convinced that his father's reputation, far from opening doors, was hindering him.

Then, the morning after he played for the reserves at Clitheroe, the old man rang to say: "Celtic are interested - keep your mobile on." Bradford's coach reluctantly let him take it on a training run. He had gone 100 yards when Celtic's general manager, Jock Brown (brother of Craig), phoned. Gould immediately drove to Glasgow and quickly earned a contract.

So far he has kept 22 clean sheets, plus one for Scotland B against a Welsh side managed by a familiar face. Celtic-watchers can recall a single possible error, when Marco Negri beat him on his near post in a 1-1 draw with Rangers. Gould agrees, though the shot was "like a rocket", and concedes he might have done better with a free-kick scored by Dundee United.

His contribution has been likened to Goram's across the city - the highest praise in his book - while he has also impressed as an articulate ambassador for Celtic. A visit to the memorial to John Thomson, the keeper who died from injuries sustained against Rangers in 1931, gave him an early insight into their place in Scottish culture.

Now, Gould could find himself immortalised as part of the team who ended Rangers' ascendancy. Opposing fans still call him an "English bastard", but to his delight and relief, Jansen had no preconceptions about his parentage or his past. The Dutchman's sole criterion is his performance.

Ibrox should go a long way towards settling the title race, despite Hearts' gallant pursuit. Celtic lead by three points with five games left, but Rangers may have gained a psychological advantage in the Cup. "It was strange," Gould reflects. "We should have had it wrapped up by half-time, but in the end we could have lost by four or five.

"The disappointment won't fully hit us until we see Rangers play in the final. Our main emotion afterwards was disbelief. We hadn't played well for a while without losing, whereas we dominated Rangers for an hour and lost. Wim has tried to get through to us that if we play that well again, we could come out on top.''

Another high-class display by Gould, amid a clamour which renders communication with defenders all but impossible, may also influence Craig Brown's thoughts when he names his national squad next week. Just as banking's loss has proved to be Celtic's gain, Ayrshire's cricketers might be advised to explore other options.