YORK CITY SOUTH
This article, by Dave Flett, first appeared in The Press on 12th February 2011
DAVID Stockdale was bombed out of York City for supposed weight problems in 2006 but he has been making former manager Billy McEwan eat his words ever since.
Before releasing him, McEwan even suggested the Leeds-born goalkeeper was spending an unhealthy amount of his time scoffing burgers at McDonald’s.
Stockdale was dining at football’s top table this week, however, after becoming the first-ever graduate of the Bootham Crescent club’s youth team to earn a call-up to England’s senior squad. No small fry now, the 6ft 3in stopper was rubbing shoulders with the country’s elite players and fielding accusations of being a golf bandit from Wayne Rooney during the Three Lions’ midweek trip to Denmark for the first international friendly of 2011.
Just five years after being farmed out to the likes of Wakefield and Emley and Worksop Town as his career looked to be nosediving under the uncompromising McEwan, Stockdale was being considered for selection by £6 million-a-year England coach Fabio Capello.
Over-imaginative Roy of the Rovers script-writers have been handed their P45s for penning less far-fetched stories.
Having been picked up by Darlington following his City exit at the age of 20, Stockdale moved on to Premier League outfit Fulham two years later in a £600,000 deal.
Last season, he was playing European football for the Cottagers and, this term, he has emerged as a credible contender for Aussie ace Mark Schwarzer’s starting place between the sticks.
He saved a penalty from Manchester United’s Nani during a starring display against the Red Devils in August and eye-catching performances throughout January, while Schwarzer was on international duty in the Asian Cup, earned him his call from Capello.
Despite his meteoric rise, however, Stockdale remains grounded and travelled north to visit former City team-mate Adam Arthur on his return from Scandinavia.
Now 25, he still keeps in touch with old youth team pals Stephen Baynes, Sean Davies, Bryan Stewart, Matthew Coad and Lev Yalcin and is genuinely honoured to have created a little bit of Bootham Crescent history this week.
He said: “Becoming the first player from York City’s youth team to get called up for England means a lot to me. I still look out for the club’s results and am still in touch with David McGurk and a lot of the fans.
“I got invited to the play-off final last season but couldn’t make it so I’m hoping the club can get there again and wish everybody at Bootham Crescent all the best. I will never forget what a big part York City played in my career and fully appreciate what the club did for me.
“I wanted to stay there and it was the manager who released me, not York City, so I’ll never hold that against the club.”
Stockdale made 24 League appearances for City and his performances during the club’s first season in the Conference earned him a call-up to the England ‘C’ team.
He played four minutes for the non-League Three Lions in Italy which remained his biggest international honour prior to the midweek trip to Copenhagen.
About his senior call-up, Stockdale said: “It was extraordinary really because it came out of the blue so I was just so excited to be there.
“I had been named in a provisional squad before but had to pull out because I was injured. I was distraught because I thought the chance might never come again. Fortunately, it did and I just concentrated on showing what I could do in training by working hard.”
There was, however, some respite for Stockdale and the rest of the England squad, leading to his 18-hole showdown with the notorious bad loser Rooney.
“I played against Wayne in a pairs game along with two of the masseurs and we won so that was quite satisfying,” Stockdale beamed. “I was playing off a handicap of 18 and getting accused of being a bandit but he came across as a great lad.
“In fact, everybody in the squad was brilliant towards me. I couldn’t have had a better time. Everybody was really friendly and down to earth and it was great for me to see how important England was to all these players as you hear and read so much suggesting they don’t care."
Liverpool legend Ray Clemence, England’s goalkeeper coach, also ran the rule over Stockdale in training while Capello made the squad’s new boy feel welcome too.
“Ray Clemence had a word with me and gave me a bit of advice on how I can improve,” Stockdale revealed. “He basically told me to keep working hard, do my best and not to leave with any regrets. “He added that it might be my first time with the squad but that I should work towards getting the next call-up to make sure it’s not the only time.
“With Fabio Capello, everybody knows he’s the kind of manager who keeps himself to himself but he asked me how I was and just told me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Reports last week suggested Stockdale had risen above Robert Green – the man who Capello took as his first choice in last year’s World Cup finals – in the pecking order for England.
But the modest Yorkshireman is not drawing similar conclusions concerning the West Ham ’keeper’s omission after Capello plumped for Stockdale, Joe Hart and Ben Foster.
“He did not get picked and I did but I don’t know if that means I was ahead of him or that they just wanted to have a look at me,” Stockdale confessed. “Whatever the case, it’s a boost getting ahead of somebody as good as Rob.
“He’s a great player who is playing in the Premier League week in, week out. I’m not and going to Denmark doesn’t mean I think I’m better than him now. I just tried to show what I can do.”
Stockdale also admitted that current first-choice Hart, two years his junior at 23, might prove a difficult man to dislodge from between the sticks, adding: “I know Joe personally and he’s a hard-working lad who wants to do well for himself.
“Unfortunately, for the rest of us ’keepers, I can see him being England’s number one for a long time. It’s up to everybody else to put pressure on his place.”
England are next in action on March 26 when they continue their European Championship qualifying campaign with a clash at Wales’ Millennium Stadium.
Next year’s finals in Ukraine and Poland are obviously on the horizon too, should Capello’s men emerge unscathed from their group but Stockdale is not looking that far ahead yet, saying: “I’m taking one step at a time and, if I can get in the squad again, that would be another exciting experience.
“I’ve never set any targets with England because, until now, I never thought of such a possibility. Now, I’ve got in though, I want to set realistic targets and the first is to hold down a regular spot in the Premier League hopefully next season and then take it from there.
“If we get to the middle of next season and I am doing well in the first team then, yes, getting in the European Championships squad will be my ambition.”
Convincing Fulham boss Mark Hughes to select him ahead of seasoned campaigner Schwarzer, therefore, might hold the key to Stockdale’s international dreams.
Schwarzer, who will turn 39 this year, agreed a new 12-month deal for next season in December while Stockdale is under contract until the summer of 2013.
The young pretender is now perceived as a worthy challenger rather than an occasional understudy for Schwarzer.
Stockdale has made ten appearances this season but Schwarzer went straight back into the team after his Socceroo commitments.
Describing the pair’s friendly rivalry, Stockdale said: “Because of who he is, it’s great people are saying I’m vying for his place. I’m trying to keep pushing him and, hopefully, that’s part of the reason behind why he’s playing so well.
“But, if he does slip up, I will be ready to take the number one spot. I’ve just got to wait for another chance to show what I can do.”
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