The FA Cup offers lower-division players a chance to grab the attention of an international audience, and even when that fades the memories will last forever
30 November ~ Non-League football is littered with promising young players who never quite made it to the top. Sean Geddes came far closer than most having been a member of the Manchester United youth set-up, and a contemporary of Jesse Lingard and Ravel Morrison.
He’s 25 now and feels his moment has passed. Born and raised in West Bromwich, Geddes works for a local engineering firm and plays semi-professionally. His current circumstances are a world away from some of his former team-mates but he still has a significant FA Cup legacy to look back on. In 2014 he scored a brace for Worcester City in a famous first-round giant killing.
“Coventry were going through a bad patch with different things happening, so we actually did think we could win,” says Geddes. “We had a good team and we had nothing to lose. Apart from the last ten minutes, when they were throwing everyone forward, we battered them. We were comfortable. That’s probably my best moment in football. Especially scoring the second goal, because that was in front of our fans. There were 3,200 of them, something like that. It was just mad.”
Geddes was first discovered at the age of 14, when his Sunday team competed in a tournament in Manchester and his parents were approached by scouts from the city’s two biggest clubs, both keen to take him on trial. He joined Manchester United and lived in nearby digs, twice competing against Barcelona and others in the Nike Premier Cup, a prestigious youth tournament.
Whenever he returned home, Geddes would turn out for Walsall, who operated as a feeder club for Manchester United. At 16, the Saddlers offered him a one-year apprenticeship, followed by a guaranteed two-year professional contract. Believing that he had a better chance of making the grade there, Geddes accepted. It’s something he would approach differently now.
“If I’d stuck with Manchester United then I could always have come down but from Walsall I couldn’t really. It was what I wanted to do at the time. I was back with my family, living at home. I knew everyone. It wasn’t different,” he says. “Different managers were the problem. One would get the sack and then someone else would come in. The last manager I had at Walsall had been the youth-team manager before. We didn’t get on. As soon as he was put in charge I knew I was out the door.”
Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United had been interested in signing Geddes during his second season, when he was involved in the first-team squad under Chris Hutchings, but a £250,000 price tag put them off. A talented and tenacious central midfielder, he could also be hot-headed. The appointment of Dean Smith, who he had previously clashed with, signalled the end for him. He was released in the summer of 2011 and signed for Stourbridge of the Southern League.
Geddes started enjoying football again and his form was incredible, scoring 28 goals in his first season while playing as a holding midfielder. He helped Stourbridge to the FA Cup second round in successive seasons, losing to Stevenage both times, before a disagreement with manager Gary Hackett saw him move to Worcester City in 2014, where he was unexpectedly thrust into the media spotlight.
In November that year, the club faced League One Coventry City in the FA Cup at the Ricoh Arena. Worcester had the better of the game and went two goals up through Geddes. He smashed home a penalty and then sent a half volley skidding into the bottom corner. Geddes was mobbed by team-mates as he ran to celebrate with the travelling Worcester fans behind the goal. The hosts pulled one back but the visitors held on.
Geddes remembers being asked for autographs by Coventry fans as he left the ground and celebrating his success in modest and familiar circumstances. “On the night, my old man asked if I wanted to come to the pub. I watched myself there on Match of the Day. Because it’s my local, it was just normal. But, to be fair, everyone was buying me drinks. The place was full and when it came on everyone just went quiet.”
Thanks to an outlandish rabona goal against Barrow in the FA Trophy soon after, Geddes’ short-lived fame carried even further. Riding the crest of a social media wave, newspapers and TV channels were regularly getting in touch for interviews and the clip was broadcast around the world…
“It was stupidly unreal. I’ve got a mate in Norway who saw it on telly. It just went everywhere. Facebook was going mad, then it would be on some Spanish TV that I’d been tagged in. It was ridiculous. All the newspapers kept ringing me. I think we had 15 people come to work because of that. It was a big thing for them and they had a few orders come in. The company made £24,000.”
Football League clubs were taking notice too. Geddes had interest from Coventry, Luton and Grimsby, which only intensified with another goal in an FA Cup second round replay at home against Scunthorpe. With Worcester heading out of the competition, Geddes played a one-two in the opponents’ box, carried on his run and stabbed the ball in to equalise. He also scored twice in an epic penalty shootout that ended 14-13 in Scunthorpe’s favour.
Despite the appeal of returning to professional football, Geddes had to put his young family first. The offers he received weren’t enough to justify leaving behind a secure job for an uncertain future. Having negotiated a large contract at Worcester City, complete with signing-on fee, on the back of his rabona goal and FA Cup exploits, the wages offered were less than Geddes could make through work and the semi-professional game.
He moved between Sutton Coldfield Town and Stafford Rangers last season, but the travelling was taking its toll. Out of action with a knee injury, he’s waiting for the all clear to return. Geddes feels he’s now too old to make it as a professional and doesn’t believe that it would be viable anyway, particularly with a mortgage, partner and two children to support. He’s content to keep enjoying football and know that, if nothing else, at least his FA Cup achievements will live on. Sean Cole