Football: Legend of the shadowlands

Working Glass hero falls to earth but is keeping the faith. Simon Turnbull catches up with the keeper turned saviour of Carlisle
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The Independent Online
THE PRE-SEASON contest at Hunts Copse, home of Swindon Supermarine, was three minutes old on Wednesday night when the Swindon Town goalkeeper got his first touch of the ball. "Shoot!" one of the four spectators behind the goal bellowed as Mark Robinson's back-pass trundled towards the goalkeeper who produced the goalscoring save of last season. It was difficult enough for Jimmy Glass to control the ball with his right instep on the hump- backed surface. He did well simply to return it whence it had come. But the groan of mock disappointment from the Wiltshire wag behind him raised a pertinent question about Swindon Town's reserve-team keeper.

Jimmy Glass could be found pondering the matter himself in the clubhouse afterwards. "How do you follow it?" he said, gazing into a space somewhere between a Tremeloes poster and a portrait of W G Grace, reflecting on the one-hit wonder of a shot with which he settled the Football League survival issue five minutes into end-of-season injury time. "I always wanted to score a goal because, really, I'm a frustrated forward. But how do you follow it?

"It's something I've got to come to terms with because it's the start of the season and I'm looking down the barrel again at reserve-team football. I've started the same way I've started the last 10 seasons - running up and down and twisting this way and that in training. I've found it difficult, I have to admit. I'm just going to have to get on with it and knuckle down. Hopefully it'll come good."

The whole world, it seems, knows how it came spectacularly good for Glass late on the afternoon of Saturday 8 May. The story of the on-loan goalkeeper scoring the 95th- minute goal that beat Plymouth Argyle and, as a consequence, saved Carlisle United's Football League life and snuffed out Scarborough's received instant global recognition as one of the all-time football fairytales of the unexpected.

Bert Trautmann watched the Brunton Park drama in disbelief on satellite television at his home in Valencia. An Australian radio station spent three days trying to track down Carlisle's saviour. "Even when I went out to Cyprus on holiday, all the locals knew who I was," Glass said. "I've had letters and phone calls from all over the place. It's been unbelievable."

Eleven weeks after he half-volleyed Graham Anthony's half-cleared corner into Brunton Park's Waterworks End goal, Glass still shakes his head at the tap of interest he turned on. But from the distance of a close-season break, and a disarmingly detached perspective that makes him an even more endearing hero, he can look back and appreciate why he created such a world-wide fuss.

"One of the headlines summed it up for me," he reflected. "'Glass crystalises the beauty of the game', it said. It wasn't so much about me. I mean it was a very flattering headline. But it wasn't about me. It was more about the fact that in the world of Premiership football and pounds 50,000-a-week wages and David Ginola's perfect thighs and all the rewards that go to the Premiership stars something could happen to make people step back and realise why they love the game.

"There are 92 professional League clubs in this country, yet in the eyes of a lot of people there's just the Premiership. But you ask 7,000 Carlisle fans what they'd rather watch: Manchester United versus Arsenal or a goalkeeper going up for a corner in the last minute and scoring the winner?"

The majority of the 271 souls gathered at High Copse, five miles north- east of Swindon, might have opted for the latter choice too but Jimmy Glass was not in a goalscoring position when the last minute came. He was sitting on the visitors' bench, having been granted only the first half in which to press his case for first-team selection. Not that he had much of a chance to impress. He only had one save to make, other than the Supermarine goal his AWOL defence gave him little chance of stopping. Resisting temptation, and the predictable pleas of the punters, he remained in his penalty area for Town's three corner kicks.

The Swindon Town side - a mixture of first-teamers and reserves - emerged 3-2 winners against Supermarine, who nobly upheld the name they derived from the Second World War fighter planes manufactured by the Vickers Armstrong workers who formed the Hellenic League club. "Places up for grabs," the back-page headline in that night's Evening Advertiser had declared. But Glass is unlikely to grab one in the Swindon side against Walsall on the opening day of the First Division season. Frank Talia is the club's No 1 goalkeeper in the eyes of Jimmy Quinn, the Swindon manager, and Glass has two other rivals - Steve Mildenhall and Alan Flanagan - for the No 2 slot.

At 25, Glass has become frustratingly familiar with football life as a number two No 1. He spent five years at Crystal Palace without getting a first-team game, largely because of Nigel Martyn. And since moving from Bournemouth to Swindon last summer the strikingly tall, strikingly affable Epsom native has fallen behind Talia in the goalkeeping pecking order at the County Ground. Glass still has three years of his contract to run but Quinn has made it clear he can leave if he wants to find first-team football elsewhere.

"I still feel I've got a lot to offer," Glass said, considering his uncertain future in the Hunts Copse car park. "I've come back from Carlisle and I want to play. At Bournemouth I kept 40 clean sheets in 100 games, which is a good ratio in anyone's book. I know I've got plenty to offer."

He has more than his goalkeeping talents to offer, of course, as one passing back-seat passenger reminded. "Smashing goal, Jimmy," the young lad shouted, giving a thumbs-up gesture before winding up his window. "Cheers, mate," Glass replied, though he might well have enquired, "And which particular goal would that be?" He once scored a hat-trick playing up front in an end-of-season friendly for Bournemouth.

"One of them was a 25-yard volley, too," the goalscoring goalkeeper recalled. "I played up front when I was a kid. I've always loved playing there. It's so much easier than playing in goal. You can never win when you're in goal. That's part of what I like about goalkeeping, I suppose... But maybe you can win - if you run up in the last minute and score the winner."

A likely story indeed.

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