Tears on debut, Kevin Keegan and applications to join the police: the making of Sheffield Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood

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Shoulders hunched, sullen, dejected, a 19-year-old Keiren Westwood clicked the end of his pen back and forth while surveying the inch-thick questionnaire in front of him.

He was at his mum’s house on the outskirts of Manchester and a few weeks earlier had been told by Kevin Keegan that his services at Manchester City were no longer required. Falling flat in trials at Bradford City and Accrington Stanley, Westwood was in danger of becoming another teenage statistic lost to the game.

By now training with non-league AFC Mossley, he began to accept his fate and was filling out the form that he thought would usher in a new career. ‘How would you deal with a domestic disturbance?’ it read. He was applying to be a policeman.

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And then the phone rang. Westwood had been invited to train with Paul Simpson’s Carlisle United, relegated from the Football League the following season.

Sheffield Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood has come a long way from his first months as a teenager at Carlisle United.Sheffield Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood has come a long way from his first months as a teenager at Carlisle United.
Sheffield Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood has come a long way from his first months as a teenager at Carlisle United.

“I got a call asking if I could get myself there,” he later remembered. “I got up there in the gold Punto very, very quickly.

“I trained that day with the lads and I have never trained so badly. In the shooting session, the shots were hitting the net, and then I was diving. I was nearly in tears at the end of the session.

“I just sat on the ground, head in hands, saying ‘what a day, what a summer’.

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“Dennis Booth was Paul Simpson’s assistant, a brilliant bloke, and he said ‘you alright son?’ I said ‘I’ve had a shocker’ and he said ‘nah, you were alright’.

“I looked up at him and said ‘I was absolutely shocking’ and he just started laughing and said ‘forget about it, come tomorrow and play in the game, see how you go, don’t beat yourself up’.

“I played against Barrow the following day, did quite well, and Simmo asked me to sign. It was the best feeling ever.”

It was a sliding doors moment that could have seen the disappearance of a talent that would go on to win promotions, play in the Premier League and earn 21 caps with the Republic of Ireland.

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Westwood’s luck is out at Sheffield Wednesday, frozen out in favour of younger duo Cameron Dawson and Joe Wildsmith, but he is the proud owner of two player of the year gongs at the club having starred under Carlos Carvalhal.

Matt Glennon, Carlisle number one back on Westwood’s arrival in 2004, remembers meeting a driven young goalkeeper set for bigger things.

Speaking to The Star, he said: “He was coming in as a young lad and he was a hard-worker, but he just had to be looked after a little bit in terms of believing in himself after what happened at Man City.

“He was a strong character even at that age, he wouldn’t take any nonsense and once he got himself back on track you could see he was always going to play in the Premier League and internationally as well.

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“He’s done really well and I’m really proud of where he started to where he’s ended up.

“Circumstances happen in football, but he came up, he learned, he watched and he listened, he got his chance and he’s been taking it ever since.”

After flip-flopping in selection, Carlisle were promoted via the playoffs with Glennon between the sticks. When the former Hull City stopper moved on Westwood was installed as the main man and presided over the second-best defensive record in League Two as the Blues won a shock title.

The rest is history of course, Westwood climbing the Football League ladder with Coventry and then Premier League Sunderland before arriving at Wednesday in 2014.

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But it was in those first weeks at Carlisle that a glittering career was given the kiss of life.

“We got on really well,” Glennon said. “He’d stay at my house and we’d go out for a couple of beers and have chats.

"But we had some arguments in training as well. At the end of the day we were after the same thing; he didn’t want to lose and I didn’t want to lose.

“As much as we were friends, he wanted my spot and that’s what you need, especially as a goalkeeper. You’ve got to have a certain character to play goalkeeper, a lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to play in that position.

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“No matter how many times people tell you you’re not quite good enough, you’ve got to crack on with it. You’ve got to use that inner-strength and unless you’ve got it, you aren’t going to make it.

“It’s only when you’re faced with something like that [being released] that you find out who you are and whether you can take a kick between the legs every now and then.”

Looking back on his debut for the Blues, a late defeat at Stevenage, Westwood later acknowledged the steep learning curve he was on at the time.

“I was in tears,” he said. “A few grabbed me into the crowd and they were hugging and consoling me.

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“That day triggered something in me. I never looked back after that.

“When I went up there I was just looking for a job, I had bills to pay and had to help my mum and dad and family out, and not working and having any money is not great.

“If I was a bit quicker and brighter I might have finished that application form and become a policeman.”

Law enforcement’s loss proved to be Sheffield Wednesday’s gain.


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