Alan Moogan remembers the sense of excitement as if it were yesterday. After working his way up through Everton's youth and reserve sides, the 18-year-old midfielder had been called into the first-team squad for an FA Cup third-round tie away to Shrewsbury in January 2003.
"We stayed overnight," he recalled. "I remember Wayne Rooney being in the next room and Kevin Campbell in the room next to that. I kept thinking to myself: 'I could be involved in this tomorrow.' When we walked into the changing room the next day I saw my shirt hanging up. David Moyes hadn't told us the team yet, but I thought: 'I'm going to be on the bench.' I was disappointed when he named the team and I wasn't in, but I still reckoned I might get my chance before too long."
One month later after that FA Cup tie (a stunning 2-1 defeat for Everton, Nigel Jemson netting the winner for the Shrews), and having still not made his first-team debut, Moogan was injured playing for the reserves against Liverpool. "I landed badly on my ankle and when I got up I knew there was something wrong. In the dressing room I remember getting out of the shower and looking at my ankle. It didn't look right. Mick Rathbone, the first-team physio, said I would have to go for a scan the next day."
The scan revealed an avulsion fracture, in which a ligament pulls away a piece of bone. After 18 months of rehabilitation and failed comeback attempts, during which he was released by Everton, Moogan was told by specialists he would never play professional football again.
Today, the midfielder finally gets the FA Cup chance he thought would always be denied him. Now 26, he plays part-time for Southport, who entertain Sheffield Wednesday in the first round in front of a live TV audience on the same Haig Avenue pitch where he suffered his injury; Wednesday's manager will be Alan Irvine, Moyes's former assistant.
Having taken an insurance pay-out, Moogan knows his professional days are over, especially as the ankle still gives him problems. He takes painkillers before and after matches and is sometimes unable to train. No wonder he relishes every moment on the field, especially since Southport won promotion in the summer to the Blue Square Bet Premier, where many of their rivals employ full-time squads.
His life still revolves around football. He is developing a career as one of Southport's youth development coaches and would eventually like to go into management. "I'm playing at the highest level I could possibly play at now, so I want to make the most of it," he said. "I want to stay at this level for as long as I can. That's the way I look at matches like this weekend. This could be the furthest I'll ever go in the FA Cup. For most of the lads in the dressing room it will be the biggest game they've ever played in.
"I think we have a half-decent chance. We can't wait to play and we really have nothing to lose. If I was in Sheffield Wednesday's shoes I'd be thinking: 'We really don't want to get beaten there.'
"We've adapted pretty well since we got promoted. We haven't won or lost a game by more than one goal and we've been creating plenty of chances, although we haven't been scoring many. We certainly haven't been battered by anybody."
Moogan's quality has been evident. He played for England at every level from Under-15 to Under-19 and had been happy with his progress at Everton. Coming from a family of Everton supporters he had been thrilled to move to Goodison Park at 14, having spent six years on Liverpool's books.
It was at Everton that he became a close friend and team-mate of Rooney as they reached the 2002 FA Youth Cup final, losing to Aston Villa. "At 14 Wayne had a man's body," he said. "At that stage he wasn't the sort of player who would be in training before everybody and the last to leave, but when he started working with the first team it was unbelievable how his fitness came on. I remember the first pre-season run he did on the beach with the youth team. He was right at the back of the group. Then I remember doing the same pre-season run with the first team a couple of years later and he was right at the front. When he started full-time his dedication was terrific.
"I think he became a much more complete player after he went to Manchester United. When he was at Everton his awareness of players around him wasn't nearly as good as it is now. His touch was brilliant, though I never thought at the time that he would go on to become the world superstar that he is today."
Southport v Sheffield Wednesday is on ITV1 today, kick-off middayReuse content