Sam Togwell: The Potteries workhorse

Sam Togwell's nomadic life as a loan player with Port Vale still beats stacking supermarket shelves
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The Independent Football

A footballer's life can lurch between extremes of high emotion and low recognition, frenzied activity and unremitting tedium. One minute Sam Togwell was marking Steven Gerrard. The next he was marking time in the Stoke-on-Trent hotel that has become his home from home.

Togwell, a versatile 21-year-old, began the season with a flurry of first-team cameos at Crystal Palace, the club he has been attached to since he was 10. Sent on for the last five minutes against Liverpool in the Carling Cup, he was told to "sit in" and stop Gerrard's forward runs. "We beat the European champions 2-1," he says, "so I must have done my job."

Since November, however, he has been on loan to Port Vale. The League One club, who utilise his energy as an attacking midfielder, hope to make the transfer permanent by splashing some of what fans call "the Robbie Williams money" after the singer invested £260,000 in Vale.

If it goes through, the move should restore the sense of security and progress Togwell once felt at Palace. "A few years ago, I thought I'd never leave. I'd made my debut at 17 against Rotherham. Even after I broke a leg at Bristol Rovers reserves, I was back in eight months.

"I was in the first-team squad with people I came through YTS with - Ben Watson, Wayne Routledge, Gary Borrowdale. Wayne went on to Tottenham, though another mate who made his debut before me is now a baggage-handler at Heathrow and no longer plays.

"I had an offer to go on loan to Viking Stavanger in Norway and went to look around with my girlfriend and mum. But I said no in case I became the forgotten one. I went to Oxford and Northampton to get experience, but I was still confident I'd make it at Palace." Now Togwell realises that "no one spends their career at one club any more". When Palace's reserve manager, Kit Symons, revealed Vale's interest, he had no idea where they were based. Soon he was holed up in the "mother town" of the Potteries, Burslem, half a mile from Vale Park.

"It was a massive upheaval for me, leaving my friends and family and coming to an area I didn't know. But I've been here six months now. That's typical for a player on loan. I stay here about four nights a week and the rest of the time I go home to High Wycombe to see my parents and girlfriend, who works and goes to college down south.

"There's not much to do around Burslem. It's an old town. After training I tend to come back to the hotel, have a kip and then watch TV or play games on my lap-top. I've got a Mini - I'm not in the Porsche set, though hopefully that's to come! - and I usually drive to training.

"I haven't been recognised in the street yet, but I get the odd 'I know you from somewhere' look. I've been in the hotel so long that all the staff know me. Most importantly, the chef. At first I ordered from the menu but I only liked two or three dishes. Now I can get what I want - chicken, potatoes and so on."

With time on his hands, does he ponder life after football? "Right now all I want to do is play, though I might change if I got badly injured. I've got ideas - I once thought about becoming a PE teacher, and I'd want to stay in sport - but I haven't thought about it much." Does he plan financially for the future? "The PFA have a pension scheme, which is handy, and I try to save as well." Yet it is the here and now, the regular League action, that truly engages Togwell, who headed his fourth goal for Vale in Saturday's win over Swansea City. "With the low crowds in this division, it's a bit different from the world of the Beckhams and Gerrards," he says. "But I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it. I get up and enjoy going to work every morning. A mate has a part-time job in Somerfield's which he hates. I'm lucky. I'm being paid to do something that I'd be doing if I wasn't in football."