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Ben Foster’s Wrexham return is the deal that works for everybody

The former England goalkeeper was lured out of retirement to boost Wrexham’s title charge

Harry Latham-Coyle
Saturday 22 April 2023 20:08 BST
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<p>Ben Foster celebrates after Wrexham’s crunch 3-2 Easter Monday victory over Notts County (Barrington Combs/PA)</p>

Ben Foster celebrates after Wrexham’s crunch 3-2 Easter Monday victory over Notts County (Barrington Combs/PA)

It was an offer that was just too good to refuse. You get the sense that Ben Foster was happy enough in retirement, diversifying his media portfolio, swelling his subscriber base, lowering his handicap. When the goalkeeper announced his decision to depart from professional football last September, it felt like the right time. The eight-cap England international had achieved plenty in the game, securing a tidy haul of trophies and a place as a fan favourite at a handful of clubs.

His Watford contract had come to a natural end with both parties happy to move on, Foster’s form still good but happy to hang up the gloves. To most ex-international shot stoppers approaching 40, a contract offer in the fifth tier would not even have registered on the radar. But, for Foster, the chance to go back to Wrexham - where, in many ways, it all began - made too much sense.

“The first time I was here, it was genuinely the springboard to the rest of my career,” Foster said after signing for the club in March, 18 years on from a transformative temporary move to north Wales.

“On the back of the loan move, playing in the LDV Vans Trophy Final at the Millennium Stadium, I got my move to Manchester United at the start of the next season It was absolutely bonkers! If you’d told me 18 years ago that I’d have gone on to have the career that I have had, I probably wouldn’t have believed you to be honest, so I do owe a lot to Wrexham.”

While they were obvious commercial benefits to Foster’s tie up to a club owned by a pair of Hollywood superstars, the move made footballing sense, too. In the thick of a hard-fought title battle with Notts County, manager Phil Parkinson had just lost his first-choice goalkeeper, Rob Lainton. Goalkeepers of the 39-year-old’s quality are rarely available, and his steady head and big game experience could offer plenty to a squad striving to return to the EFL for the first time in 15 years.

“I don’t need much [money],” Foster said on his podcast, Fozcast, in response to critics who suggested the owner’s deep pockets had lured him back. “To be honest, the negotiations took about five minutes.

“Wages wise, it’s literally peanuts… the part for me is getting the team over the line and getting them promoted. I’m a very low maintenance player. Just wheel me out, I’ll do a job.”

However romantic the storyline, however sensible the signing, few foresaw Foster’s Wrexham return panning out so perfectly. It had been the closest run National League title race in recent memory, Notts County and the hosts locked together on 100 points and meeting with season’s end near. After a pulsating game that had seen Wrexham fight back to go 3-2 in front, the referee’s point to the penalty spot in stoppage time gave Notts County one last chance.

Stood 12 yards apart from Cedwyn Scott deep in stoppage time at the Racecourse Ground, Foster settled himself, wiping at eyes left a little weary from a night spent watching the Masters. Had Scott’s penalty found the net’s embrace, Notts County would have had the point they needed to pile the pressure on, Wrexham having faltered three days prior against Halifax.

But Foster guessed right, a heavy hand beating the ball away to all but secure promotion. One more win will take Wrexham back to the football league proper. It may be that Foster returns to retirement, commiting again to YouTube with Lainton fit to regain his place. But that single save alone made this career coda worth it - one last magic moment for the goalkeeper to show that this was a rare deal that had worked for everyone.

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