Feature

Foster: Traffic jam gave me my big break in non-league

9 Oct 2018
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Watford goalkeeper recalls the day he was spotted by a Stoke City scout while playing for Racing Club Warwick

Saturday, 13 October, marks Non-League Day in England, celebrating football beneath the top five tiers of the English football pyramid.

A strong relationship between non-league football and the Premier League has been built over the years, with many players rising to the elite level from non-league clubs.

We spoke to five Premier League footballers who played in non-league about their experiences.

Ben Foster (WAT)

For Watford's goalkeeper, there was an element of luck, or perhaps destiny, about how non-league football got him on the ladder to the highest level.

Aged 17, Foster was playing for Racing Club Warwick, now in the Midland Football League, Division One, at the ninth level of the game, when he was spotted by a Stoke City scout.

"It was a funny story," says Foster. "He [the scout] got stuck in traffic on his way home from Stoke, decided to re-route, saw some floodlights on and thought he may as well just pop in.

"I had a particularly good game that night under the floodlights and thankfully he was there. The rest is history."

Fond memories

Non-league football at Racing Club has fond memories for Foster, including the characters who make up the game at this level.

"I was working as a chef at the time, while I was there," he says. "It was a good part of my life, growing up.

"The manager at the time was called Billy Hollywood. We had a big centre-back, Kim Green. He was about 6ft 8in tall and about 6ft 8in wide as well!

"He was fairly immobile but he was an absolute tank of a man and somebody you could rely on.”

After several loans, while at Stoke, Foster left for Manchester United and has since gone on to make 296 Premier League appearances, including spells at Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion. 

'Non-league grounds you'

The 35-year-old feels his time in non-league has helped him in his top-flight career and he still remains in touch with the club and people from there.

"It grounds you and gives you that feeling of appreciating where you are, what you’re doing and what you’ve got," he says.

"The lowest moment would probably be training on a wet Tuesday night when it’s absolutely 'Baltic', covered in mud. The training pitches were brutal.

Staying in touch

"I’ve been back to the club a few times. I’ve got a few friends who play for the team. I sponsored them last year as well.

"It’s nice to go back and see them because that’s where it all started.

"I go to watch my mates play on a Saturday and the pitches they are playing on are super-bobbly, and for us [at Watford] even our training pitches are like bowling greens, so you appreciate that a lot more."

For more on Non-League Day 2018, go to nonleagueday.co.uk.

Also in this series

Part 2: Barnes: Non-league was central to my development
Part 3: Arter: Non-league coach restored love of the game
Part 4: Cook: Non-league game did me the world of good
Part 5: Bettinelli: I'll always have fond memories of Dartford

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