Beasant memories

Brighton’s veteran goalkeeper talks Chris Eldergill through the ups and downs of a career spanning 24 years, and explains why he’s happy to carry on playing

At the age of 44 and with a wealth of experience dating back 24 years, Dave Beasant is the oldest play­er in the Football League. The 6ft 4in goalkeeper is cur­rently helping out at Brighton & Hove Albion, hav­ing signed from Wigan back in January. Brighton are Beasant’s 13th club and he has now made more than 750 league appearances during his career. His determination to add to this figure is evident.

“There is no doubt in my mind about what I want to be doing next season and that is to carry on playing. Last season I played every game that I was available for down in Portsmouth and even had a spell at Tottenham. This made me think that there was life in me yet. If I don’t earn myself a contract at Brighton next sea­son, I want to earn it somewhere else and I don’t see why a birth certificate should get in the way of that.”

Following the injury to Brighton’s first choice keep­er Michel Kuipers, who has been ruled out for the rest of the season, Beasant has deputised admirably and proved a popular figure. With his goal­keeping coach, John Keeley, two years his junior, what is it that keeps him going? “The love of the game and the will to go out there and perform. I still get a buzz playing to an audience and want to be playing first-team football. I could still be picking up money sitting on the bench somewhere but I need to be involved.”

He acknowledges that the specialised training goalkeepers now receive has helped prolong his career: “Training with an outfield player has its drawbacks because all they tend to want to do is put the ball in the back of the net. With a coach, they can give me a fully rounded session and practice at handling the ball. For instance, every day I catch at least 250 balls and that isn’t simple stuff – it’s a proper workout.”

One thing he doesn’t practise is punching the ball as opposed to catching it: “I don’t like that aspect of the continental style of goalkeeping and don’t think you’ll find an English goalkeeper who’s adopted it. Although you are saving the ball, you are putting it back into play. Also by clenching your fist, you are losing four or five inches in the air and the way the football moves about today, those inches could be vital.”

Up until the age of 16 Beasant was a striker and admired the likes of Rodney Marsh and Stan Bowles at his favourite team, QPR. Indeed it was only when he was spotted “throwing himself around and acting the fool” at college that he was given the role between the sticks. “Our school goalkeeper didn’t move on to sixth form college and it was just natural for me to go in goal. While I didn’t model myself on anyone, I did keep a keen eye on QPR’s goalkeeper, Phil Parkes, and it was strange only a few years later to be playing against him.”

A spurt in growth helped Beasant make arguably his biggest career decision and led him towards an illustrious career, including a penalty save in the 1988 FA Cup final against Liverpool, which helped Wimbledon lift the trophy for the first and only time. He was also capped twice by England and like any goalkeeper under the watchful eye of television cameras, was featured on the odd blooper video.

But, on reciting some of the lower points of his career, notably the way Ian Porterfield, then Chelsea manager, publicly ridiculed him towards the end of his time at Stamford Bridge, he stresses the importance of mental strength: “You have to retain confidence in your own ability no matter what anyone tells you. I would say it is more important for goalkeepers because you can’t really stamp your authority on a game. Instead you have to wait for the game to come to you. As an outfield player, if you don’t see much of the ball or make a couple of errors, you can go hunting for it and generally make yourself more available. As a goalkeeper, you can’t work like that. I remember when David James was at Liverpool and was going through a rough patch – he may have tried to involve himself too much. If he made a mistake and came for a cross that he didn’t get, he might then think to himself ‘I’ll go and catch the next one to make up for it’. You simply can’t do that. You have to judge each ball on its own merit.”

Although James is still widely criticised for his erratic nature, Beasant is a big admirer of the current England goalkeeper: “He has got fantastic ability and I believe that he has come a long way as a goalkeeper. It takes two or three seasons of consistently performing at a high level for a person to access what a keeper is like, because experience is key.”

However, when asked about the current England goalkeeping predicament, Beasant perhaps not sur­prisingly is in full support of 39-year-old David Seaman: “If he is fit during the current qualifying cam-­­­paign, he should be England’s number one. He’ll know when he is no longer able to perform on the international stage. It’s clear that someone like Paul Robinson has been the form keeper this season and deserves his opportunity but like Richard Wright a couple of years ago, I worry it may be too soon.”

From WSC 195 May 2003. What was happening this month