Once again we have been given permission to re-publish an article from The match day programme.
This time Peter Lewis spoke to Ben Foster. This was first published in the West Ham match day programme.
The article and images are copyrighted by BCFC.
BEN FOSTER COULD HAVE A BLOSSOMING CAREER IN FOOTBALL MANAGEMENT ONCE HE HANGS UP HIS GLOVES.
The Blues keeper had an extra spring in his step as he strode out of the visitors changing room after the Second City clash at Villa Park last weekend. The England international had just helped his side hold their local rivals to a draw in their own backyard, halting a sequence of six successive derby-day defeats, but this wasn’t the only reason for the St. Andrew’s shot-stopper’s exuberance. His shut-out against Gerard Houllier’s side had also earned him five bonus points in a ‘Dream Team’ fantasy football game!
Foster is involved in an online mini-league with 50 or so friends from his hometown of Leamington. And the decision to select himself – along with defensive team-mate Roger Johnson – was proving to be an astute move. “I’m top of the league at the moment,” he bragged as he revealed to journalists about his first dabble in management.
But when Blues News caught up with our first-choice guardian after training this week his ardour on the Dream Team front had waned somewhat. “I only got a six out of ten despite keeping a clean sheet,” he exclaimed with disbelief. “You need to get a seven to get three extra points. And it was a quiet weekend for my team – plus Titus Bramble getting sent off killed me! I’ve dropped down to second place in the league now.
“I’m still buzzing about this though because it’s my first season doing Dream Team. A few of my mates have all put a few quid into the pot and whoever wins or comes second or third shares the winnings. It kind of makes me interested because at the best of times I don’t really watch too much football. I’ve got to keep up with it now and there’s pride at stake – I’ve got to beat all my mates!”
Moving onto more serious matters, Foster insists that the side deserved at least a share of the spoils after last weekend’s goalless stalemate across the other side of the Expressway. It was his first experience of the Birmingham derby but he was only too aware of the importance of the occasion to the supporters. And if any of the players were in any doubt then Craig Gardner soon put them straight.
“When I first signed for the club and met some of the fans, one of the first things they talked about was the Villa game,” says Foster. “They are so passionate and it’s got to be the biggest game of the season for them, so I knew from day one that it meant a lot. There are also a couple of old Villa boys in our side. ‘Gards’ especially was very up for the game – he was mad for it! I’ve played in the Manchester derby and this game was maybe a little more intense. United want to win any game, regardless of who it’s against, but down here the derby is so much more about local pride than it is up north. Overall we were happy with the point. We were probably the better team over the 90 minutes but 0-0 was a fair result. We played well and carried on our form from the Arsenal and Blackpool games. It was a good performance over the 90 minutes.”
The former Old Trafford man earned his second successive clean sheet at Villa Park, following on from the 2-0 success over the Seasiders at St. Andrew’s. But Foster is quick to deflect any individual plaudits onto the dauntless defenders right in front of him. “This season I probably haven’t had too many saves to make and a lot of credit for that has to go to the defence,” he admits. “You know that Roger and Scotty are going to throw their lives on the line every Saturday afternoon for 95-odd minutes. The amount of blocks that they make, it’s fantastic to have players like that in front of you, and there’s a bit of pace with the full-backs as well. We really are very good at stopping teams from having chances against us. It’s nice to get back-to-back clean sheets and that makes it four for the season, so I’m fairly happy with that.”
However Blues boss Alex McLeish is certainly not belittling the part that Foster has played in the campaign so far. In fact he was recently quoted as saying that he felt that his new custodian had made more of an impact in his first three months than his predecessor Joe Hart during his early days at Blues. High praise indeed when you consider Hart’s player-of-the-season accolade at St. Andrew’s last term. The player himself is just relishing the chance to play regular first team football following his £6 million switch from Manchester United back in May.
“It feels like I’ve been here for a long, long time,” he says. “They are a great set of lads and I have found it really easy to settle in. The manager is top class and all the coaching staff are brilliant. It’s just nice to come into work and know that you’re going to see a few smiley faces and enjoy your football.
“It was nice to read the manager’s comments. Joe obviously did really well last season and he’s carried that on this season. I’m similar to Joe in that it was important for me to get this chance to play first team football and it’s just nice to know that I’m going to be playing week in and week out as an integral part of the team. It’s great to have that feeling again.
“I’m 27, which is still fairly young for a goalkeeper, but I got to a point last season where I thought, I’m not so young any more and I need to be playing first team football. The Birmingham opportunity came along and it was something that I was hugely interested in straightaway – and obviously I come from the area as well. I know a little bit about the club and I heard a lot of good things so it was a no-brainer really.
“I know a lot of people make a lot of the Man United thing and the fact that I was at the biggest club in the world, but if you’re not playing regularly it doesn’t mean anything to me to be honest with you. I really don’t enjoy not being involved. I love the fact that I’ve got a match on the Saturday and I get so much more of a buzz.”
This afternoon’s visitors to St. Andrew’s are West Ham United, who are currently rooted to the foot of the Barclays Premier League table. But the Blues keeper is not expecting an easy ride by any stretch of the imagination. “They’re going to be scrapping for their lives,” acknowledges Foster, who made his last appearance for the Red Devils back in February in a 3-0 home win over the Hammers. “By the same token, we’re coming into the game off the back of four points out of six, and three very good performances to boot. Being the home team I think we’ll have a similar set-up to the Blackpool game and look to win.”
Away from the league, the excitement is already building ahead of the Carling Cup quarter-final showdown with Villa after the two big city rivals were paired together in last weekend’s fifth round draw. The queues have built up all week at the St. Andrew’s ticket office with fans eager to snaffle up their seat for what promises to be a nerve-jangling night of knock-out football. Foster won that particular competition back in 2009 after a Wembley final win over Tottenham, a game which also saw him named man of the match. But he is happy to stand aside for this last-eight battle and watch his keeper-comrade Maik Taylor take his place between the posts.
“I’m not even thinking about it,” he insists. “Maik has played so well in every round so far I think it would be quite unfair to pull him out of the team. I’d love for him to go and play that game and get us through to the semis because he deserves that chance, although I don’t actually know what the manager has got planned for the game in terms of the goalkeeper or outfield positions. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be another humdinger. Any game against Villa is one that the fans will be buzzing about and hopefully we can get the win. That’s four home draws on the bounce and this is a great opportunity to get through to a semi-final of a major cup competition.”
Finally, returning to where we started, did Foster have to deliberate for long before choosing himself for his Dream Team? He replies: “No, straightaway, I just looked at the choice and thought ‘£3 million – that’s good value for money, I’ve got to have him!’” Back in the real world, McLeish must also be thanking his lucky stars that he opted to make that call to his old Aberdeen gaffer back in the close season.