Welcome to Wrexham: Veteran goalkeeper Ben Foster in profile

Premier League veteran came out of retirement to make a crucial intervention for the Welsh club enjoying a new lease of life under Hollywood owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 11 September 2023 18:59 BST
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Welcome to Wrexham season two trailer

Welcome to Wrexham, the acclaimed series documenting the beleaguered Welsh football club’s surprise takeover by Hollywood stars Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, is about to return to Disney+ for a second round.

This time recounting the rollercoaster events of the 2022/23 season, the latest instalment features an all-important cameo from former England goalkeeper and Premier League veteran Ben Foster, who (spoiler alert) returns from retirement for one last hurrah with one of his old clubs.

Born in Leamington Spa in 1983, Foster, now 40, began his career with Racing Club Warwick of the Southern League Division One West, also training to be a chef at Cafe Rouge as a fallback in case his football career did not pan out.

In 2001, he was taken on by Stoke City but never made a first team appearance. Instead, he was shipped out on loan to one side after another: Bristol City, Tiverton Town, Stafford Rangers, Kidderminster Harriers and, most presciently, Wrexham.

Foster made 17 appearances for the Red Dragons in 2005, lifting his first silverware when the club won the Football League Trophy, before finding that his immediate future lay with Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils instead.

The keeper only actually played 12 times for Manchester United over the course of five years as he faced stiff competition from the great Edwin van der Sar and was twice loaned out to Watford, where he made 73 appearances between 2005 and 2007 and earned his first England caps under Steve McClaren.

One of his United games, however, was the 2009 League Cup Final, in which Ferguson’s men beat Tottenham 4-1 on penalties, with Foster using data stored on an iPod to determine which way to dive for each taker – a lovely period detail.

He was eventually sold to Birmingham City in 2010 and appeared to benefit from a period of greater stability, firmly establishing himself as a reliable pair of hands at the Blues and then during long spells with West Bromwich Albion and again at Watford before finally announcing his retirement in September 2022 at the grand old age of 39, able to look back on a fine career that saw him make 390 Premier League appearances and go to the 2014 Fifa World Cup in Brazil with Roy Hodgson’s England.

But that was not to be the end of Ben Foster’s story.

Out of nowhere, he returned to the limelight by unexpectedly re-signing for McElhenney and Reynold’s Wrexham in March 2023 as emergency cover for the side’s usual No.1, Rob Lainton, out injured.

Foster kept a clean sheet on his debut, a 3-0 win over York, before, incredibly, saving a 96th minute penalty in a top of the table clash with Notts County to give Wrexham a 3-2 win over their nearest rivals and send them three points clear at the summit.

Afterwards, Foster revealed the owners’ overjoyed reaction: “Rob kissed me fully on the lips and Ryan called me a double handsome b*****d. I’ll take that.

“I said to them ‘Listen, you may as well end the documentary now. You’ll never get a better moment than what’s just happened’.”

Wrexham went on to secure the National League title and win promotion with a 3-1 win over Boreham Wood, sending the revamped Racecourse Ground into raptures, as the show’s latest season will recount.

“At full-time I had to get my GoPro quick in my goal because somebody tried to nick it,” Foster said of the pitch invasion by euphoric Welsh fans that followed the final whistle.

“They rugby tackled me and I was on the floor thinking: ‘This is bonkers’. Then I was on shoulders. I was clinging on [to the camera] with dear life... You could see how much it meant to everybody, people were on the pitch within seconds.”

Foster signed a new one-year contract that summer and then, in August, played a part in another remarkable game, a 5-5 draw with Swindon, after which he abruptly announced his retirement (again), this time, presumably, for good.

As refreshingly candid as ever, the keeper told Wrexham’s fans: “The honest truth is that my performances this season haven’t reached the level I demand of myself, and I feel that now is the right time to retire.

“At the forefront of my mind, when making this decision, was not only what was best for me but also the club, and making the decision now gives the club every opportunity to assess their options before the [transfer] window closes.

“Wrexham will always have a special place in my heart.”

Responding on social media, Reynolds paid tribute to the outgoing shot-stopper by tweeting: “He built memories I’ll never let go of for as long as I live. I love this guy. Thank you for everything, Ben.”

The two men had clearly become unlikely friends, as demonstrated by the Deadpool actor storming into a press conference after the Boreham Wood win to claim Foster’s sweaty shirt as a memento.

Manager Phil Parkinson also hailed Foster as a “a model professional” and said: “It takes a big person to make the decision he has and one who really understands this football club, with the timing of his decision.

“I am sure I speak for everyone, when thanking him for his contribution that went far beyond that one magnificent penalty save against Notts County to help us gain promotion last season.

“Wrexham AFC was a better place for having Ben Foster around the club.”

Outside of football, Foster is known for the YouTube channel he started during the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown of 2020, “Ben Foster – The Cycling GK”, on which he posts videos of his adventures on two wheels, and for his podcast Fozcast – The Ben Foster Podcast.

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