GRADUATION: Part Three – Herald Sport brings you the last in a series of fascinating excerpts from the new book of Aylesbury-born professional goalkeeper Richard Lee, Graduation.
“This game comfortably goes down as the best night of my life although the day leading to it was somewhat manic.
I had ordered some gloves for the game from my sponsor ‘Sells’. The gloves hadn’t arrived and it was game day. I had a worn pair that maybe had one game left (at best) but nothing else. As a goalkeeper having confidence in your gloves is huge, at pro level playing a game with gloves that lack grip is unacceptable, they simply are the tools of our trade...
I arrived at the game to see a package sat on my place with two brand new pairs of Sells gloves! I didn’t have a pair earlier that day and now I had several pairs! And after all the efforts exerted I decide to wear the ones I already had, but at least I was sure.
So the game begins, and we are one down within five minutes. The ‘less than 10 per cent stat’ pops into my head again; in fact against Everton it’s probably closer to two per cent. This could be a long night, I reckon.
I was helpless to save the goal and credit where it’s due - it was a good finish into my top right hand corner. Focus, focus, focus, control what I can control. A few minutes later Yakubu slips through, I come off my line quickly to make a smothering save. I make several more contributions to keep it to one: a save mid-height to my right that was put behind, and a low save to my left. I feel good, at one with the game, my focus was pure.
With half-time approaching we secured an equaliser - a fantastic header from Gaz Alexander – and we’re back in this game.
The atmosphere heats up. Half-time, one each, so far so good.
Added to this we squander a chance to win it: Charlie McDonald sees his penalty saved. End of normal time, 1-1, what an achievement. Everton want this, their big guns are on (Extra-time passes without further score).
People always say to me: “penalties must be so nerve racking”. Honestly? Not at all. This is as big an opportunity I get - to be a hero for a night.
I had partaken in hypnotherapy the night before and quite curiously Dave had made a suggestion for saving a hypothetical Jermaine Beckford penalty. Why Beckford I am unsure, but this was in my mind as he approached.
The standard of penalties was high. I dived the correct way for the first two but both evaded me. I felt a moment of frustration when the third one went in. I didn’t just play the game of my life for it to be forgotten in a shoot-out ‘nearly’ story.
Thankfully our boys were showing great composure so the score was still level. Beckford stepped up. C’mon, this is the one I thought. He looked nervy. I could sense he had yet to win over the Everton faithful, this was no time for showing mercy though.
He stepped up and fired low to my left. I dived mid height. I flung my arm down and felt the ball thud against my wrist and out to safety. YES! I felt the roar from behind me – it’s amazing how much noise 8,000 people can make! Pure ecstasy, I felt the adrenaline course through my veins.”
> Graduation by Richard Lee is available via Amazon at AmazonUK