Pollitt the true journeyman, shot-stopper to the stars

By Ronald Atkin
Click to follow
The Independent Football

After an 18-year career that began as an apprentice at Manchester United and has spanned 11 League clubs in every other division, the 33-year-old Pollitt will finally be making his debut in the English game's top flight.

Quiet and unassuming fellow though he is, Mike acknowledges what has happened to him adds up to "an amazing turnaround, a whirlwind". Having spent a gloomy relegation year with Rotherham, Pollitt eyed the fixtures for the new season and noted that prospective life in League One would begin with a game against Walsall.

As someone who comes from nearby Bolton, he had been delighted to see Wigan Athletic climb into the Premiership. "So when everyone was going on about them playing Chelsea in their opening game I thought, 'fantastic for them', never thinking I would end up being part of it."

Pollitt was Wigan's first signing of the summer, for £200,000, clear indication that he was highly rated by that shrewd young manager, Paul Jewell. The question of whether he would have immediately replaced the club's long-serving keeper, John Filan, is academic, since Filan is currently sidelined with a muscle tear, but that misfortune has smoothed the way for Roy of the Rovers to step forward and provide extra spice for what is certain to be a memorable occasion for club, town and the man who has waited 18 years for his shot at the big-time.

"When you get to 33 you think it might all have passed you by," Pollitt admitted after that extra training stint, a session which piled on the extra coincidence that it was organised by Wigan's goalkeeping coach, Gary Walsh, who had been Old Trafford's first choice when Pollitt joined United as a 15-year-old.

So he will be nervous then? "Funny, but I have just been talking about that with Gary," he said. "I'm not nervous at all, just looking forward to it, the bigger the stage the better for me. I find it more difficult playing at a smaller club in front of a few thousand. The fact that this game is so massive doesn't bother me at all."

Having turned out in his time for Bury, Lincoln, Darlington, Notts County, Brentford and Chesterfield, Pollitt has learned about commitment and he likes what he sees at Wigan.

"This club have a fantastic work ethic and they have been used to winning for the last few years. I just think we could surprise one or two people. Everyone is expecting us to do badly, but in the dressing room we won't be talking about relegation. They are saying we should go out and enjoy it, but this is not a Cup game, enjoy the day and that sort of thing.

"We are not going to enjoy it and lose the game. We want to get something out of it. We respect Chelsea, but they will have respect for us as well, and you never know what can happen."

Even the prospect of facing strikers like Didier Drogba and Hernan Crespo does not alarm Pollitt. "They are world-class players, something I have not been used to, but I am just going to take it in my stride. As a goalkeeper your game doesn't change too much when you step up a league, unlike an outfield player. For me it will be about positional play and shot stopping, not much different from what I have been used to."

As a youngster, Pollitt was no different from his school-mates in wanting to become a striker. "You all dream of that, but I soon knew I wasn't going to make it, so being tall I went in goal. I managed to save a penalty in my first game and never looked back."

So well did he perform that, at 15, he was signed on apprentice forms by Manchester United and spent three years there before being released without getting near the first team at a time when, in addition to Walsh, United had Jim Leighton, Chris Turner, Mark Bosnich and then Peter Schmeichel to take care of the goalkeeping chores.

"People said it would have been better for me to start lower down and work my way up, but the experience I got at Man U was fantastic, just being at a club of that size was tremendous. I wouldn't have changed it for the world. But when it didn't work out, I moved on and started again at the bottom."

Pollitt made his League debut for Lincoln City against Shrewsbury in 1992 as a 20-year-old ("I remember it quite well") and has now clocked up close to 500 League games. "I have been quite fortunate with injury, so I have only missed three or four games in the last seven years."

That lengthy list of previous clubs is not quite what it seems, Pollitt points out. "I was at Notts County at a time when Sam Allardyce was manager and I wasn't in the first team, so he just sent me out on loan, playing as many first-team games as I could. In one season I had five clubs and played about 35 games on loan."

The last six seasons were spent at Rotherham, where Pollitt experienced promotional highs as well as the eventful woeful relegation. "We had some good times there, started in the lower reaches and worked our way up, rather like what Wigan have done. But I expected to be on the move because Rotherham saw me as their only saleable asset and were trying to get me off the wage bill. So after our last game of the season, a 0-0 draw at Leeds, I wanted to stay on at the highest level I could, with a Championship club if possible. But for this to happen now, well, you wouldn't have got a bet on it, would you?"

Pollitt is right. Less chance of a bet on what has happened to him than on Wigan getting a result this afternoon.