Football: Magic day when we really cleaned up

Des Gallagher, the Stevenage keeper, charts a week up lofts and up with the gods
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The Independent Online
TWO hours before the biggest football match of my life last Sunday I mused on what Alan Shearer was doing at that moment. This was mainly because I was hoovering our lounge. Whatever the best centre-forward was up to it occurred to me that hoovering wasn't it and not just because he was playing 250 miles from home.

Now, I wouldn't like anybody to run away with the idea that my pre-match ritual involves wielding a vacuum cleaner, but it was a household chore that needed to be done and my wife, Denise, was getting our sons ready for the match. Nor can I tell you that hoovering was soothing and helped to allay my nerves. Actually, I wasn't nervous.

Maybe it's because I'm 35 now and saw it as my duty to help some of the youngsters but my lack of apprehension surprised me. In the week of the match I'd been insulating lofts all around North London. Now I can't deny that the match didn't cross my mind at these times or that during interminable traffic jams it wasn't the subject of perpetual daydreams but I wasn't jittery.

During the pre-match talk we giggled. I wouldn't like Newcastle to take this the wrong way but before we go out usually Paul Fairclough, our manager, known as Cloughy, will take us through his strategy. "You pick up their No 5," he'll say, "and you stand on No 10." But this time it was "OK now don't let Shearer get a sniff" and "Give Batty as good as he gives", or some such. These guys will be representing England in the World Cup in France in a few months' time. Oh, yeah, we giggled all right at the thought of it all. It seemed the only sensible thing to do.

But there was no doubt we thought we could win. Keep it tight, we thought, at least for the first 10 or 15 minutes, a period when it was crucial not to concede a goal. It took three. Keith Gillespie got enough space and Shearer peeled off at the back. I didn't see him but when I did it was too late. He did everything correctly.

I didn't seem to have much to do after that but it was some comeback. Being level before half-time was an enormous boost. We were happy in the dressing room and there was a feeling of confidence and well-being. We knew their fitness would tell. It's not that we're unfit. The training the boss puts us though doesn't give us a chance. We run, run, run. But they are pros and there's a tendency for your adrenalin to run out. The millions watching it on television probably saw that it happened.

I had a bit more work. I was pretty pleased with the save I made from Albert's header and then I fell on another one. All right, if you push me, I'll admit I was impressed with Shearer. It was his first comeback and he was slick. There was a point when I was clearing and he impinged by pulling at my shirt. I sort of half-complained to the referee but he waved it all away. As I went back to my goal I caught the eye of the best centre forward in England and he grinned at me a bit slyly. A hero's grin. I smiled back. Nice touch, I thought.

He and Batty shook our hands at the end. We were happy with 1-1, of course we were. The truth is that the players always wanted to play at St James' Park. Our chairman,Victor Green, said he wasn't stopping us but in that case it was up to us to get a draw. We didn't have a team party. I went to my brother's pub in Luton and a had few beers.

I had Monday off so that was a day's wages lost and didn't make our appearance on Big Breakfast. On Tuesday night at training the boss made us run more than ever to sweat the beer out. I've been at work, daydreaming a bit, enjoying it all. But a bonus would be nice as the wife has already spent it. We were at Gateshead yesterday for the FA Trophy, we called in at St James' Park. Big place. Could be intimidating. I'll be at work again this week. I'm thinking of the match.

What I'm thinking of mostly is a penalty shoot-out. That would be some finale. I can hardly wait.

Interview by Stephen Brenkley

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