Where are they now?: Gary Sprake

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The Independent Online
GOALKEEPERS with Neville Southall's talent are a traditional virtue of Wales teams. Arsenal's Jack Kelsey guarded the Welsh net with distinction 41 times from 1954 to 1962 and 30 years ago this Saturday the jersey passed to another giant of the lineage.

Gary Sprake was aged 18 years, 7 months and 17 days when he faced Scotland on 20 November, 1963. It was the first of 37 caps, coming 18 months after the start of a magnificent career with Leeds United that spanned more than 500 appearances and brought winners' medals from the Inter-Cities' Fairs Cup (twice), the League Cup and the championships of both Second and First Divisions.

Unfairly, Sprake is often remembered less for great saves than for notorious blunders. But fate has been cruel in other ways: at only 29, by then with Birmingham, injury forced him to quit.

'I had to undergo spinal fusion but I would have been a cripple without the operation,' he says. 'I had reached the stage where I could not straighten my back.'

Sprake remained in the Midlands during a slow, painful recovery, worked as a rep but then changed direction by becoming a borough council training officer in Solihull, a job he has kept for 14 years.

'I like the work. I never wanted to stay in football to coach or manage. I play golf with Terry Cooper but I don't really keep in touch with the game and I haven't been to a match for ages, although I'll watch Wales on television tomorrow.'

(Photograph omitted)