Goalkeeping coach Mick Payne knows the English Non-League set-up quite well. His role at Dagenham and Redbridge led to him getting the job at the England C set-up in 2003, a national team set up for those in Non-League. Mick hasn’t left the role since, being a part of some memorable victories against the likes of Barbados, Bermuda and Wales C. The Football Pink caught up with Mick and he told us about his opinions on the academy system, why goalkeepers need experience more than any other player and how the England C set-up is a genuine pathway to the top of the Football League.
‘Hi Mick, the role of a goalkeeping coach is quite specific, how did the opportunity come about in the first place?
“I was at Chelsea as a young ‘keeper and I didn’t make the grade. I had a serious injury at 22 which kept me out of the game for a while. I played with Colchester, Leyton Orient and a lot of Non-League sides but I got the opportunity to speak to Arsenal ‘keeper Bob Wilson and realised that there was an opportunity to go out there and coach ‘keepers. It just didn’t exist when I was a player. I started to really study it and gradually got more into the role of a goalkeeper coach.”
“I worked at Tottenham in their academies and ended up going to Dagenham and Redbridge. I was very fortunate to be there when they had some great FA Cup runs as a Non-league side still. We took (then Premiership) Charlton Athletic to a replay in 2001 and reached the fourth round in 2003 after beating Plymouth Argyle, who were two leagues above us. We ended up reaching League One which for a club of Dagenham’s size was incredible. Our first game was away to Sheffield Wednesday in front of 27,000 at Hillsborough.”
Was the success at Dagenham a factor in you getting the England C role?
“What happened was I knew Paul (Fairclough) who was at Stevenage at the time – I did a couple of things for him whilst I was at Dagenham with pre-season and then I asked him if he wanted any help when he got the role as England C manager and it went from there.”
“It’s the pinnacle of my career, there was a lot of hard work to get there but to be involved in a national team set-up is just superb. We train at St.George’s park when necessary, the players get their International cap which is fantastic. It’s just like any other England side. They get all the training kits, tracksuits and the hotels are nice too.”
What are the best experiences you’ve had with the side?
“We’ve played all over the world against the likes of Russia, Cyprus, Jordan, Bermuda, Grenada and Barbados. Going to Barbados and Bermuda was great. What people don’t understand is sometimes it might be an U-21 or U-23 side but it’s still a full international side. When we played Turkey in 2013, Cenk Tosun was up front for them. When we played Belgium in 2011, Thibaut Courtois was in goals and Toby Alderweireld was playing at centre-half. We played them again a year later – Simon Mignolet was in goals instead.”
“We’ve had some great games – we beat Bermuda 6-1 in 2013, Andre Grey scored twice in that game. There were so many players in that side who have gone on to play in the Football League. Sam Clucas, James Norwood, Marlon Jackson and Antoni Sarcevic were all in that team.”
And from a goalkeeping perspective, who are some of the big names to have played for England C?
“Again, there’s so many. David Stockdale played for us when he was 19 whilst he was at York City, Matt Glennon also picked up a cap when he was playing for Carlisle United – he ended up having a great career playing in Scotland and later Huddersfield. Chris Weale who played for Leicester City in the Championship, got four caps whilst he was at Yeovil.”
Why is the England C set-up more important than ever these days for young goalkeepers trying to forge a career in the Football League?
“I would say to all players – especially goalkeepers, you need to play. You can be a young goalkeeper sitting on the bench for a Championship or Premier League side but you need to get experience. You’ve seen it since football has resumed, there’s been more errors because goalkeepers have had a long break. It’s vital that goalkeepers learn the trade, the best ones are the ones that make the fewest mistakes. Outfield mistakes don’t get noticed as much, they could miss a pass or a shot but when a goalkeeper makes one, it gets highlighted a lot more.”
“For me goalkeepers need to learn the position. I mean this nicely, U-23 football doesn’t have the same edge to it as League football does. It doesn’t have three points resting on it. Some of the players who are in League Two or the Conference, it’s their livelihood.”
“You can see the way up. Marcus Bettinelli is a good example. He was at Fulham, went on loan to Dartford and then Accrington Stanley, got himself in the England U-21 side and now he’s fighting for a spot in Fulham’s first team. David Raya as well when he was at Blackburn went on loan to Southport to get experience and now he’s at Brentford. There’s a lot of ‘keepers who have gone out on loan to learn their trade.”
“The top clubs want to nurture their players which is fine and want them as training ‘keepers, but they want to keep them, they don’t want them to go out on loan. That’s no good for any player’s development. You can see how much more it matters when it’s a full international game or one in the Conference.”
“Fejiri Okenabirhie is at Doncaster Rovers now. He was playing for Dagenham a couple of years ago. He got noticed. The England C internationals have a huge list of scouts as well that come and watch the games. There’s definitely a pathway to the Football League if you have the mentality, drive and enthusiasm alongside someone who believes in you. Cardiff’s Lee Tomlin and Aden Flint both played for England C. As did Steve Morrison, George Boyd, Craig Mackail-Smith, Steve Morrison and even Sam Ricketts (who later ended up picking Wales at senior level.) There’s people who have played for England C who really have had great careers. We feel that it was the England C side that gave them that real push to go even further.”
Thanks for talking to us Mick.
“No worries – pleasure.”
England C is clearly more vital than ever for players trying to get noticed in the ever more competitive football landscape that the English pyramid currently has. But as Mick told us, there clearly is a pathway to the top. As someone who was at a recent England C international Vs Wales, you can clearly see how much more of an edge there is to those games. Compared to the slow and uncompetitive U-23’s football, England C internationals give players a chance at Non-league to showcase their talent to scouts and show what they are about.
For a part of the pyramid that is clearly neglected by attendances and revenue, England C gives players a chance to be Non-league internationals for the night and a chance to earn a full cap. It is vital that the system remains in place so the next David Stockdale’s and Andre Gray’s can find their way and get a chance for scouts to potentially see them and give them a chance in the Football League.