Ogrizovic proud to stand alone

FOOTBALL: Coventry City's venerable keeper, whose career has taken him from the police force to Wembley, intends to remain at the top of his profession past his 40th birthday. Glenn Moore spoke to him; Net minder: Steve Ogrizovic caught up at Coventry's training ground this week. `Desire is what has kept me going,' the 39-year-old says Photograph: Peter Jay
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There will be something missing when Steve Ogrizovic leaves the field after Coventry City's match with Everton at Highfield Road today. For the first time in a dozen years, he will not be exchanging a handshake with Neville Southall.

Instead, Paul Gerrard is expected to keep goal for Everton, following the apparent passing of Southall's long reign. Southall is 38, Gerrard 24 - the contrast further emphasises that Ogrizovic now stands alone as the Premiership's most venerable goalkeeper.

One by one the veteran No 1s are departing the Premiership scene. This season Dave Beasant (age 37) has been supplanted by 25-year-old Maik Taylor at Southampton and Tony Coton (35) has suffered a career-threatening injury at Sunderland. West Ham, and 35-year-old Ludek Miklosko, are fighting relegation while Kevin Hitchcock (34) is unsure of his place at Chelsea. By the time Ogrizovic celebrates his 40th birthday in September he could be the Premiership's oldest goalkeeper by seven years.

What is the secret? "One good thing is that I don't have to run around like an idiot," Ogrizovic said when we met up at Coventry's Ryton training complex this week. "People say goalkeepers are mad, but I've always thought it was the other way around. At least the ball comes to us, they have to chase it around."

It is not an entirely frivolous point, but he adds: "Desire is what has kept me going. I'm lucky in that I've always been a good trainer. I see some young pros, some kids, who come in and it is almost a chore to go training. I feel sorry for them, they are never going to fulfil their potential. People say I work hard, but it is just the way I prepare for a game. I have another year on the contract after this and want to play as long as possible."

We are sitting in a changing room chock-full of muddy kit and giving off a distinctive odour. However, this is not because Ogrizovic - the name comes from his Yugoslav father - is so obsessed with training he cannot drag himself away from the environment. He is showered and clean but is helpfully enduring the atmosphere so the interview can be conducted in peace (he has done enough of these to know a canteen full of footballers is not a good location).

"I've always been fit and my body is strong. I never want to tempt fate but, apart from a broken leg two years ago, I've also been fortunate with injury," he adds, ignoring the evidence of his oft-broken nose.

"It probably helps having worked in the world outside [he is a former policeman]. I know what it is like to work for a living. That said, football is a very difficult occupation, people look at the hours we work and they don't think so, but there is an awful lot of mental pressure, especially when things are not going well.

"You have people's expectations in the city, you are on television every week, there is great pressure to perform well and get good results. Unless you are in that position, people wonder what you are talking about, but it is a pretty horrible feeling for a few days if things have gone badly. You have to pick yourself up and sometimes it is not so easy."

If he stays clear of injury, and maintains his current fine form, Ogrizovic's 40th birthday should co-incide with his surpassing George Curtis' 486- match club league appearance record. He overtook the former centre-half's club record for appearances in all competitions in December and today turns out in a Coventry shirt for the 554th time.

Two of those matches stand out and memories of both have been rekindled this year. The difficult FA Cup third-round tie with Woking evoked the traumatic 1989 defeat at Sutton United. City's subsequent progress in the most-winnable FA Cup in years has stirred fonder recollection, of the 1987 FA Cup victory over Tottenham.

Ogrizovic, the only survivor of both games, recalled: "Sutton was the worst moment of my career, not one I like being reminded of. They played very well but we did not play that badly, we created lots of chances. It was one of those days. We were fated. It was a dark hour.

"Woking, though a much better side, were also in a no-lose situation. It was a tricky game. It was ironic we then went to Blackburn and won while Woking lost at home to Southport. It brings home how difficult football can be.

Ogrizovic, incidentally, is a giantkiller himself. As a keen fast bowler, he was in the Shropshire side who beat Yorkshire in the NatWest Trophy in 1984 - Ogrizovic 10-1-43-1 (Moxon). He also reached the final of the main club cricket competition with Shrewsbury but missed out on Lord's as the town's football club, his then-employers, were away to Grimsby on final day. "I was there in spirit," he said, "the winning runs were hit with my bat." He still plays, in the powerful Birmingham League.

Back to football's cup. "Every club left must fancy their chances now. If we play to the best of our ability we can beat any of the other sides - which is not to say we think we will win it. With it being 10 years since we won, people in the city are saying it could be our year, but I'm too long in the tooth to start thinking about that yet. I am not looking any further ahead than a very difficult game at Derby.

"In 1987 I was already 29 and I was determined to take it all in. I thought: `This might not happen again' and, to date, it hasn't. I've said to a few lads: `This year might be your best opportunity, time does pass you by. Don't think there's next year and the year after. Do it now, this is your chance'."

If they beat Derby on Wednesday, Coventry will face Middlesbrough in the sixth round at home. The ideal semi-final for Ogrizovic would then be Chesterfield, not for the obvious benefit in playing a Second Division club, but because that is where he started.

"It would be great to play them. I've very fond memories though I was not there long. I was in the police and thought I had no future in football when Arthur Cox asked me if I fancied signing pro. I had to take a cut in wages but the opportunity was too good."

Ogrizovic went straight in the first team - "playing on adrenalin" - and, 18 matches and four months later, was signed for pounds 70,000 by Liverpool - the same fee Coventry paid Shrewsbury for him seven years later.

"The police had already installed discipline into me at a very early age and I found Liverpool was also a very disciplined set-up. Bob Paisley was manager, with Joe Fagan and Ronnie Moran. Roy Evans was reserve team coach. They never allowed people to get carried away with themselves even though they were European champions. Bob was quiet, but he never let players get too big for their boots. He knew exactly what he wanted and was a very good judge of a player."

Ogrizovic spent four-and-a-half years at Anfield, all but four games in Evans' reserves alongside players of the calibre of Tommy Smith, Emlyn Hughes, Sammy Lee, Kevin Sheedy, Ronnie Whelan and Ian Rush.

"I learned a lot. I remember a reserve game with Manchester United with 15 internationals on the pitch. My only regret was that I probably stayed a year or two too long."

And yet he will always wonder if he might have stayed for a decade. "It's a funny story," he says, as people do when they tell a story which is not funny at all, not for them.

"Ray Clemence was in goal and obviously playing very well, I was never going to get past him and I felt I needed first-team experience. I put that to Bob Paisley and he agreed but said I had to wait until he had signed another keeper and until we were put of Europe.

"He signed Bruce Grobbelaar. Meanwhile we got to the European Cup final and beat Real Madrid in Paris. I was on the bench. Then Ray dropped the bombshell that he wanted to leave. If I had known Ray was going, I would never have asked for a move.

"Bob had spent pounds 250,000 on Bruce so he was obviously going to play him, but he persuaded me to stay another year and fight it out with him. Unfortunately I never got the opportunity. Who knows what would have happened? I always wonder, but it's no good looking back."

Indeed. It is a fair bet the former policeman - at 6ft 5in he was always detailed to patrol Nottingham city centre on a Saturday night - would not swap places with Grobbelaar now.

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