Hislop's final goal before hanging up the gloves

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The Independent Football

Shaka Hislop expected to have returned home to Trinidad by now. To have resigned himself that his football career was over, to have ultimately ended on a sour note after having been "unceremoniously shown the door" by Alain Perrin at Portsmouth last year.

It would have been the only regret. Hislop has enjoyed a good life, earning enough money to pursue his dream of buying and developing property in the Caribbean - he owns five townhouses and land in Trinidad and two properties in Tobago - and of "putting something back" into the community.

He will still pursue that goal. But not yet. At the age of 37, Hislop will this Saturday be in goal for West Ham United in the FA Cup final against Liverpool. "Twelve months ago I was wondering: where to from here?" Hislop said. "The last 12 months have seen some monumental changes as far as I'm concerned. I was third choice at Portsmouth and things were looking like they were going nowhere."

Without a club and expecting to sell up, he got a call from Ludek Miklosko - West Ham's goalkeeping coach - "who expressed an interesting moving me back to West Ham". Hislop had played for the east London club before, of course and had watched from afar as they imploded under Glenn Roeder, with relegation leading to a fire-sale of players and his successor as manager, Alan Pardew, trying to pick up the pieces and struggling back to the Premiership via the play-offs.

"I followed quite keenly the fortunes of this club ever since I left," Hislop said. "I saw the pressure he [Pardew] was under. I saw the results. I knew the reaction of the fans, and I just couldn't figure out why it was that Alan wasn't getting it right with this team in the [Championship]. It was only when I came here that I felt that I understood.

"I firmly believe that West Ham were a Premier League [club] in all but name, and that Alan Pardew was a Premier League manager. Sometimes the two don't work in the First Division. For instance, Sunderland - the football that got them to romp away with the Championship hasn't worked for them this season."

West Ham have certainly prospered, finishing ninth in the Premiership and reaching Cardiff. Indeed, Hislop subscribes to the theory that they are a team better suited to the top flight. "The type of football that brings you success in the Premier League does not work out in the First Division with poor pitches, terrible conditions, teams that are much more physical and referees who let a little more go," he said.

This will be Hislop's second Cup final. For his first he was on the bench for Newcastle United in 1999. He will savour the experience all the more for his previous disappointments and because he started this season only as understudy to Roy Carroll before he got injured.

"The good thing about being 37 and still in this game is that it is a year-to-year job from now. Gone are the days when I'll be signing three- and four-year deals," he said.

Indeed, Saturday could mark his last match for the club. "You prepare for when the time comes and it's going to come to all of us," Hislop says. "I think I'm fairly well-prepared, but even so it will be a big jolt."

He will then return to Trinidad, after this summer's World Cup, and continue with his coaching badges especially as he is - Dwight Yorke apart - the most famous player to leave its shores. To return with an FA Cup winner's medal - and a year later than he expected to - would make it all the sweeter.

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