“My quads were hanging off from all the goal kicks!” exclaimed Notts County’s new goalkeeping hero. Michael Doyle, or should we say ‘Schmeichel’ Doyle as he is now nicknamed, is the Magpies’ 39-year-old midfielder and captain.
Usually spraying passes and making big tackles, he was forced to go in goal last week but this was no five-minute cameo. After number one Sam Slocombe was sent off 18 minutes into Notts’ National League clash with Dagenham and Redbridge, it was up to captain Doyle to don the goalkeeper gloves for 72 minutes. What looked to be a long night in store turned into a ‘game for the ages’ as Doyle guided his team to a 3-1 victory and he only lost his clean sheet in second half injury time!
Going a man down was a setback but it was still just an ordinary game in Doyle’s mind, until to his dismay, he realised there was no substitute stopper on the bench.
“I thought ‘bloody hell this is going to be a long night with ten men’.” Doyle laughs in an exclusive interview with The Sportsman. “I didn’t think for one second we didn’t have a keeper on the bench. Then the penny dropped. I asked the big striker to ask the gaffer who he wants in goal and he comes back and says ‘You, skip’. I was thinking ‘Oh no, Jesus I don’t want to do this’.”
To make things even more daunting, Doyle’s first action between the sticks was to face a penalty. He knew what he had to do though, immediately thinking of legendary keeper Bruce Grobbelaar putting off the opposition back in the Eighties.
“I was just thinking ‘I’m going to take as long as possible here’ because I’ve taken penalties before and it’s not a pleasant experience,” he reveals. “I was a big Liverpool fan growing up, so I remembered seeing the 1984 European Cup final in Rome; don’t get me wrong I wasn’t doing jelly legs but I remembered Grobbelaar and so I walked behind the back of the goal to waste time. The referee was telling me to hurry up, so I then put the towel on the net. Then I walked out and said the ball wasn’t on the spot. I was thinking about the antics of what a keeper would do. I took four or five minutes just to get into the position.”
It seemingly worked, Dagenham striker Paul McCallum hit the post and Doyle gathered the follow up. “He’s hit it too well,” the stand-in stopper insists. “I’m not telling him how to take a penalty but you’ve got a fella in goal who’s never played there, you just roll it into the bottom of the net and I wouldn’t have got it because I don’t have the feet or those movements.
“I think that settled me down, once he missed the penalty straight away and I got a feel of the ball, it gave us something to hold onto. I think if they scored the penalty it’s a different game. They missed it and the lads took the game to them.”
As the match unfolded, those lucky enough to be inside the stadium couldn’t believe what they were witnessing. Doyle got down quick to make a smart save with his leg, got behind another effort from range and was plucking crosses from the air with ease. Born in Dublin, Doyle, who started his career with Celtic before appearing for Sheffield United, Coventry, Portsmouth and Leeds, played Gaelic football in his younger days and believes the skills he picked up certainly helped him.
“I wouldn’t say I was a bloody natural, mate!” he modestly laughs, bemused after The Sportsman praises his stunning display. “I was very nervous. We were 3-0 up at half-time. I went to the toilet and I was just saying to myself ‘Please don’t lose this game’ because I knew if we lost it would be down to some easy shots at me that could go wrong.”
“With Gaelic, you do become good at catching the ball but Gaelic balls are a lot heavier than footballs. Being a keeper, it was about trying my luck and diving about, whereas Gaelic is catching long balls and running forward with it. I put it down to a bit of beginner’s luck as well as the Gaelic coming in handy!”
Rio Ferdinand, Harry Kane and Phil Jagielka have all deputised in goal and Doyle has now added his name to that exclusive list. He certainly has a new found respect for goalkeepers and now better appreciates the rigours of their role. Doyle laughs when The Sportsman informs him former team-mate David Forde tweeted Notts County on Tuesday and joked, “Top class skipper. You always said goalkeeping was easy.” After previously rollicking his keepers in training, he insists he will be having a word if he hears anyone else having a go
“You can tell my voice is a bit hoarse,” he says. “I’m usually quite vocal on the pitch so I was shouting my head off at the lads to keep busy and to keep myself occupied. I was coming to the edge of the box and trying to give information to players. At half-time I said to the goalie coach, ‘Bloody hell, I’m a bit light headed, I’ve got pain in my head from all the shouting’ because in goal you’re having to shout seventy, eighty yards. When you’re in midfield everyone’s around you so it was a lot different.
“My quad after the game was hanging off from all the goal kicks and the body was aching because it was so cold too,” Doyle admits. “You kick the ball a totally different way as a keeper, hitting it straight whereas a midfielder always plays on the angle, you’re coming across it; with goalkeepers you’re coming down. Straight away I told the keepers my quads were hanging off and they said “Told you so, it’s not easy is it?!”
Doyle turns 40 in August so we asked him what’s next and reminded him fellow goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is still playing at 43. While he’s unlikely to go in goal again, his first aim is to take the Magpies, the oldest professional club in the world, back to the Football League.
“I’ve always loved football and I’ve done my badges. I want to stay involved in the game, coaching, management, recruitment. I genuinely have a passion for football and certainly think I can add something. Whether that’s next year, I don’t really know, I take it year by year.”
It was Luke Pilling, not selected on the bench last week, who lent his goalkeeper gloves to Doyle and told him to keep them as a memento a day later. The Irishman tells us he does collect shirts and memorabilia but is happy to give them up for a charity or auction if it means helping somebody.
Amazingly, if Pilling, filling in for the suspended Slocombe at Kings Lynn on Tuesday evening, has to make way for one reason or another, it will be down to Doyle to deputise again. Whether he is playing midfield or in goal, Notts County are in safe hands with their skipper. Captain fantastic and goalkeeper extraordinaire, Schmeichel Doyle.