As the new Premier League season approaches, Wes Foderingham remembers Rangers, school exams and the day he was baffled by Sheffield United
There were only a couple of minutes to go but, as the goals kept coming and the action continued at a ridiculous pace, Wes Foderingham was confused.
“There was a point,” he admits, “When I didn’t know what the score was. I always remember my centre-half coming over and asking if we were going through. I told him, Nathan Thompson I think it was, just to make sure we didn’t concede another one. Because I thought we were okay, as things stood at least. But to be honest, being totally truthful, I wasn’t really sure.”
Foderingham still struggles to make sense of what happened that night when, after meeting in the first leg four days earlier, Sheffield United travelled to Swindon for the second installment of their 2015 League One play-off semi-final. The 5-5 draw, which saw the visitors lose 7-6 on aggregate, remains one of the most dramatic encounters ever witnessed in the end of season knockouts. Nearly half a decade later, having helped the Wiltshire club wreck United’s promotion hopes, Foderingham is out to make amends. Following five seasons north of the border with Rangers, where he moved soon after Swindon were later beaten by Preston North End at Wembley, the London born goalkeeper is back in England after joining Chris Wilder’s side on a free transfer. United, fresh from finishing ninth in the Premier League only a season after being promoted and three since eventually navigating a way out of the third tier, are now a very different team to the one he encountered on that remarkable May evening at the County Ground. And Foderingham is a very different player.
“It’s a big opportunity for me,” he says, dabbing sweat from his forehead after completing a training workout. “It’s the first time I’ve been directly involved at Premier League level and I’m looking forward to showing what I believe I can do.”
Despite never making an appearance in the competition, England’s top-flight holds no fears for the 29-year-old following his time in Glasgow. Experiencing the goldfish bowl that is Old Firm football - living and working in Britain’s most tribal sporting city - means Foderingham, should he dislodge Aaron Ramsdale or his team mate suffers a loss of form or injury, is more than qualified to cope with even the PL’s most hostile atmospheres when United begin the new campaign with a game against Wolverhampton Wanderers on September 14th.
“The first time it hit me just how big that club is was the first day I arrived,” Foderingham remembers. “It’s a brilliant club, one of the best you could play for in the world, but the scrutiny and the spotlight that comes with it is off the scale.”
Mark Warburton has just replaced Stuart McCall at the helm when Foderingham made the first of 143 outings for Rangers, during a 6-2 win over Hiberbian in a Scottish Championship fixture at Easter Road.
“Even though they weren’t in the highest division at the time, you could tell they were likely to go up,” Foderingham continues. “Because a new manager had come in, that spotlight was really on because he’d made some changes and everyone wanted to see what would happen.
“One of the things that really rammed it home what I’d walked into - you think you know but, trust me, until you get there you really don’t - is the number of goodluck messages I got - people you don’t even know getting in touch to say what Rangers meant to them and what was at stake. That’s when you realise just how huge it is.”
After gaining promotion in his first season at Ibrox and also winning the Challenge Cup, Foderingham departed at the end of last term having taken part in nine derbies against Celtic.
“You feed off the energy of the crowd in those games and all the way through,” he reveals. “It’s intense but, as a kid, you want all of that and everything that goes with it. Everything you do is scrutinised to the n’th degree and it taught me that consistency, both on and off the pitch, is one of the most important qualities you can have as a professional. It’s so, so important.”
From Hammersmith, Foderingham started his career with Crystal Palace before, following a spell on loan with Bromley, heading to Fulham. Despite being capped at under-19 level, most of his time at Craven Cottage was spent undergoing placements with non-league clubs Boreham Wood and Histon before Swindon came calling.
“I was actually thinking of leaving the game, or the professional game anyway,” he confesses. “Fortunately everything worked out but yes, I was seriously thinking about doing something else.
“To be fair, I was pretty good at school. I got quite a few A-stars. Science was what I was best at. If people don’t believe me, I’ve still got the certificates.”
Like many members of Wilder’s squad, Foderingham has been forced to drag his way up from the bottom in order to reach the highest level and, acknowledging the likes of Enda Stevens, Chris Basham, Jack O’Connell and George Baldock have all completed similar journeys, he believes that explains why United defied predictions they were destined for relegation by finishing ninth last term instead.
“I’ve watched United, ‘us’ now, quite a lot over the years and, like everyone else, been really impressed not only by what’s happened but how it’s been done,” he said. “When I got the call from (goalkeeping coach) Darren Ward saying United wanted me, I didn’t have to think twice.”