Goalkeeper Connor Roberts on the Everton move he looked back on and regretted and how little things can massively change a professional football career

“As a kid you were buzzing when your mum gave you two quid to go down to the shops, so when you get given a contract with all these figures on it at 15, you just can’t turn it down.”

As a young footballer you want to play at the highest level you can for the best team you can.

If a big side comes knocking usually you can’t say know.

But as Oswestry’s Connor Roberts explains, moving to a bigger side, in hindsight, is not always the best option to take in a bid to progress your career.

The 28-year-old goalkeeper who enjoyed two and a half years as a professional with Premier League Everton, is currently number two at The New Saints and has recently kicked off his coaching career.

Back in his teenage years he made a decision to go to the very top when he signed for the Toffees – but looking back the stopper admitted it was one of his biggest regrets.

“I moved there from Tranmere when I was under 15 and missed half a season of under 14s because it all went to a tribunal and stuff,” explained Roberts.

“I actually turned down a YTS contract at one stage and then I was offered a professional contract at 15.

“As a kid you were buzzing when your mum gave you two quid to go down to the shops, so when you get given a contract with all these figures on it at 15, you just can’t turn it down.

“I think to this day I regret going there at that time. I could have maybe gone the route of Joe Hart and worked my way up from a lower club.

“Tranmere were good with me and said I would be in the first team at 17, but I left before that because I couldn’t turn down that contract.

“It is something me and my family have maybe regretted since.”

The lad from St Martins, who began life in football as a striker, had been with Everton’s academy before hand on trial for a year.

The interest was then sparked again at the age of 14, when Tranmere went to play at Everton.

“Everton was where I trialed for a while and then Tranmere came in for me and I went there, and it was amazing,” admitted Roberts.

“It was the best thing I did really, the coach there John Achterberg (current Liverpool goalkeeper coach) was the best goalie coach I’ve probably ever had to be honest.

“You can never say what would happen in football but looking back I fancied myself to play in the first team at Tranmere, and I could have worked my way up.

“But these things happen.”

After turning down a YTS at Everton he was offered a professional contract at 15 that didn’t kick in until the goalkeeper was 17.

He arrived at Everton and was down the pecking order, but soon rose up after the departure of fellow stoppers Iain Turner and John Ruddy.

“I moved up after that and I found myself training with the likes of Tim Howard every day and I had to pinch myself, which was unreal,” added Roberts.

“Mikel Arteta was just a god there, everyone looked up to him. He would walk into the canteen in his pants and everyone would act as if it was normal.

“Tim Howard was great, he was an amazing character who demanded so much from you and was so good with the younger lads.

“I remember one time my gloves were battered and my boots were a bit old. The next day I came in and had a new pair of boots and two new pairs of gloves from him.”

While at Everton Roberts went on loan to non-league sides Colwyn Bay and Burscough and then had a small loan type spell with Fulham to play in an under 18s tournament.

It was a strange move that Roberts struggled to recall, apart from the quality of the Fulham youngsters.

“We had an under 18 competition and they needed a goalkeeper for the semi-final and the final, if I remember correctly,” explained Roberts.

Roberts during a Wales training session – TNSFC Website

“Their academy was top class when I went down. At Everton you had a lot of British lads, but there they had a lot of foreign players and they were technically brilliant.”

Roberts was in a good class of players while at Goodison Park, regularly lining up alongside the likes of Jack Rodwell and Ross Barkley.

Then after two and a half years on Merseyside, he swapped the blue of Everton for the red of Cheltenham Town in League Two.

But despite learning a lot at the club, he rarely got a look in in the first team.

He said: “It was tough going having not played a lot of men’s football.

“It is a different ball game if I am honest, and I was behind an unbelievable shot stopper in Scott Brown.

“He was probably one of the best I’ve seen stop stopping wise, up there with Premier League goalkeepers.”

His time at Cheltenham proved to be his last in full time football until he rocked up at hometown club The New Saints in 2018.

His time at Cheltenham may not have brought many senior appearances, but it did throw up one of his most surrel moments in the game.

“On the back of a Wales under 21s game Chris Coleman rang me and I was in the squad for Holland away,” added Roberts.

“Imagine a number two of a League Two club at Holland away with Sneijder and Blind and the likes lining up.

“I think Van Gaal had just taken the United job at the time.

“I can’t remember much because in fairness I didn’t deserve to be there, it was ridiculous to think that happened to a lad from Oswestry really.”

From Cheltenham, Roberts signed for Chester before moving into the JD Cymru Premier with Bangor City, where he made 85 appearances in a top side at Nantporth.

But off field problems led to the club eventually being denied a domestic licence, which in turn saw them demoted to the second tier of Welsh football.

“The side we had would be up there competing now, we had players with hundreds of football league appearances under their belts,” insisted the goalkeeper.

“I loved every minute of it up there but as people know there were off field issues and the club ended up in the Cymru Alliance.”

Roberts then signed for hometown club The New Saints, where he has been understudy to the ever green Paul Harrison.

At the club he has also combined his return to full time football with coaching, something that the goalkeeper has embraced as much as playing.

Roberts during a training session with midfielder Ben Clark

“It has been like a rollercoaster my career, so I will never predict what can happen in the future,” said Roberts.

“H (Paul Harrison) is a top goalkeeper, but hopefully in the future I’ll get my chance.

“On the coaching side it is something I love, I love seeing the kids improve and helping them improve and I have just as much passion for that as I do for playing.”

Roberts’ career, which began in the local area, has now come full circle with his return to playing in Oswestry in recent years.

And he puts much of his success in his career to this date down to the influence of his father, Stuart, himself a top drawer goalkeeper in the local area.

“I was lucky to have a Dad who put as much time and effort into me as he did,” added the goalkeeper.

“It used to be behind the Stans supermarket on the field there working hard all the time, and I was very lucky in that respect to have that.”

Roberts, who is currently on loan at fellow JD Cymru Premier side Aberystwyth Town, is hopeful his chance will come at TNS in the number one jersey.

He admitted before he does have the odd regret with regards to decision making.

However, the goalkeeper believes a player’s professional career can at times be down to a bit of luck.

He added: “At Cheltenham I started four or five games for Wales under 21s, and I was number one and Danny Ward was number two.

“Then you look at him a few years later. He got a £15 million move and I was in the Welsh Premier, which is no disrespect to that standard as it is a good standard.

“There are so many players in that phase where they are in the limelight and then certain things happen to them.

“As it happened for me I got a bit unlucky maybe and ended up playing part time and doing what I did, but I have loved every minute of it.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: