Life in between the sticks can be a testing and a somewhat lonely one, something Lee Idzi knows all too well about.
Few would enjoy the challenge of being the number one goalkeeper where the rewards are so finely poised that one mistake could alter the whole course of a season, and Carmarthen’s Idzi knows this better than most.
Having been part of the Carmarthen set up since the summer of 2014, and having been in the JD Welsh Premier League since 2007, Idzi has seen it all. He’s seen clubs fold, players come and go, and seen how the whole setup has evolved.
Once in an academy system, the prospect of failing to turn pro is a tangible reality that few would like to admit to. The carrot being dangled in front of the youngsters’ noses is snatched away at the last second. It would be easy to assume that this could taint many players’ view of the game they so love. Idzi has faced the brutality of academy football, having played in the junior ranks for Swansea City, Cheltenham Town and Merthyr Town all before the age of 18.
By looking at Idzi’s career path, it reads as a fairly straightforward journey of consistently playing for top tier sides. However, his journey to the top was much more difficult and there was greater uncertainty in those early days than many would have expected. After experiencing the ruthlessness of academy football, the goalkeeer was almost left in the wilderness, as just days before the start of the 2007/08 season, he was ready to sign for Penydarren, a club outside of the Welsh Leagues. But, with the move about to be made, he was snapped up by then JD Welsh Premier League side Haverfordwest County.
The County manager at the time is a man who he still holds a lot of respect for, and claims was one of the most influential coaches in his career.
“I’ll always have a lot of respect for Derek Brazil, he signed a relatively unknown keeper into the Welsh Premier League, a day before it started, with no experience at that level and stuck with me. I owe him a lot. I’ve also got a lot of time for Nev Powell, both managers were great at man management with myself and the squad they had.”
To do what Idzi has done would be considered a fantastic success for any player. Some would argue to achieve such longevity as a goalkeeper in the top tier of any league is immeasurably harder. This success is largely down to Idzi and his decision making throughout his career. For the majority of academy players, professional football is what they strive for.
But, despite being released, he turned down the chance to be professional after qualifying for Europe with Neath AFC.
“I joined Bangor from Neath after winning the play off final with them. I turned down a full time contract at Neath because I didn’t think the club could sustain the money they were spending, which they didn’t. I joined the best team in the league and went straight into the Champions League squad, it turned out to be the best move of my career.
“I was joining the biggest club in the league and for me being a pro footballer is playing League 2 football and above. Playing in a league where the opposition are also full time, that’s proper pro football. The Welsh Premier League is getting more professional by the year, and heading in the right direction. It has a lot of good players who could go on to play in the Football League.”
Credit must be paid to the Old Gold shot stopper for taking the harder decisions in order to ensure he remained at the top. After rejecting a full time contract for the 2011/12 season with Neath, the keeper linked up with Bangor City. His move proved to be worthwhile, as at the end of the season, Neath FC were dissolved.
Having recently made national headlines after scoring from his own area in a 2-1 win over local rivals Aberystwyth Town, Idzi is ageing like a fine wine. Since his move down South, his reputation in the league has only amplified and augmented as the seasons have passed by. But, having just crossed the wrong side of 30, as a goalkeeper, he still has his prime years ahead of him.
I didn’t think the club could sustain the money they were spending
But, his current situation is likely to be one of the most testing periods of his Welsh Premier League career. In the midst of a relegation battle with Carmarthen Town, the goalkeeper is experiencing the longest injury lay-off of his career so far. With the managerial situation at Richmond Park still unresolved after the departure of Mark Aizlewood, it would not seem preposterous to suggest that Idzi’s head could be turned and looking towards the future, with his own future with the Old Gold still not certain. However, the difficulties of his own career have made him ready for these testing periods, and he’s sure to deal with them like he does everything else. With poise.
“There’s only one goal at the moment – to remain in the Welsh Premier League, we’ll see what happens after that. I love playing for the club, I’ve played a lot of games and have a lot of respect for the people who run the club. My current contract is up this season so I’m not sure if it’s home for the future yet.
Aize was good to me as a player. I wasn’t close to him really, I think I knew what he wanted from me and I done it good enough for him to avoid any run ins.”
The rehabilitation period can be frustrating for a player. Time on the sidelines, especially when the club seemed to be just finding the right formula to the problems that marred the first half of their season would infuriate any player with the drive and fire to perform like Idzi clearly possesses. One would think that his own personal career in fitness would undoubtedly have proven to be useful to aiding his recovery to return to the Old Gold staring lineup. However, the personal trainer and entrepreneur sees it in a different light.
There’s only one goal at the moment – to remain in the Welsh Premier League
“It’s been three weeks now, the longest of my career. I expect to return early March, the Hand is healing well. I’ve been training as I normally do, 4-5 times a week , to avoid causing further damage to the injury.
Obviously being in the gym environment has helped me keep fit but not with recovery as I lift a lot of weights for clients it’s been hard to rest as much as someone with a less active job. The recovery may have been quicker.”
Whilst the future of the Old Gold hangs in the balance, one thing is for sure: when the former Bangor man decides to call it quits on what has already been a successful and prosperous career, he will be remembered fondly, and he hopes that the young players in the squad can already view him as a leader. However, he has seen the league evolve and seen how changing rooms have changed over time. Whilst he once wouldn’t have been seen as a leader due to his lack of Football League experience, the tide is changing and he sees it as an opportunity to step up.
“I would like to think I’m someone the younger players look up to. Myself, Hanf & Surms have most experience but we only really have Welsh Premier League experience, where when we were coming into the league there was lot of ex pros about to look up to. It’s becoming a young man’s league I think, but to have experience in the squad in this league is priceless.”
Many will instantly recognise the imposing figure in the goal at Richmond Park and he has quickly become something of a source of consistency in a young Carmarthen side that has seen change over the last few years. When the time comes to hang up his gloves, the Old Gold faithful, and the league as a whole, will no-doubt remember him fondly. But, for now, there is a lot more to achieve for Idzi.
FEATURED IMAGE: John Smith