Midweek Muse: Wycombe’s 46-year-old keeper Barry Richardson won’t be last veteran between the sticks for cash-strapped Football League clubs

Wycombe’s 46-year-old goalkeeping coach Barry Richardson made the news on Saturday after coming off the bench in their 1-0 win against Plymouth. Richardson, who had not played a professional game in over a decade before Saturday, kept a clean sheet in the 75 minutes he spent on the field after replacing the injured Alex Lynch. And The Offside Rule’s Tom Simmond felt his antenna twitch at something which popped up between the lines of Richardson’s post-match comments.

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Richardson was asked to perform bench-warming duties (so he thought) by Wycombe Wanderers boss Gareth Ainsworth after the sale of former number one Matt Ingram to Queens Park Rangers earlier this season.

And after his triumphant reprise in Devon, he explained why to the BBC: “The reason I’m on the bench is because financially the club is in a sticky place. We can’t afford to carry an extra goalkeeper and have got no reserves and academy.”

Penury in the lower divisions is a standard staple of most clubs’ narratives, but what was most interesting about Richardson’s comment was the idea that Wycombe could not afford to carry a third goalkeeper. It seems odd that such a specialised position would be the first place where cash-strapped clubs look to cut back, but Richardson’s example is far the only one of its type.

Dave Beasant first made football history when, as a Wimbledon player, he became the first goalkeeper to save a penalty in an FA Cup final (in 1988 – palming John Aldridge’s shot away). But he claimed another record last season when he sat on the bench three times for Stevenage at the ages of 55 and 56 following an injury to the backup keeper, his son Sam.

Another veteran keeper – former Leicester, Birmingham and Burton custodian Kevin Poole – had quite the extended Indian summer to his career, playing as high as the Championship for the Rams at the age of 42. Not content to stop at that, he joined Burton’s efforts to get into the Football League, winning the player of the year award at the age of 43 before picking up a Conference winner’s medal at 45 in 2008-09. Poole finally ended his playing career in November 2013 at the age of 50.

The trend for lower-league clubs relying on coaches for cover is less surprising when you consider that a goalkeeper can generally expect to have a much longer career than an outfield player, as much less extreme physical exertion is expected of them.

Also, the specialised nature of goalkeeping as a position means that goalkeeping coaches will almost always be former goalkeepers. These factors (which could also offer a partial explanation as to why relatively few keepers become managers after retiring) combine to ensure that as well as a coach, clubs lower down the ladder are also getting a built-in contingency plan.

But not every manager thinks along such orthodox lines. Neil Warnock famously never used to put a keeper on the bench during his time at Sheffield United, because he had such faith that Phil Jagielka would do a decent job in goal should anything befall Paddy Kenny. Warnock was proven right in December 2004, when Kenny was sent off in a game at Millwall for fighting with Kevin Muscat in the tunnel at half-time. Jagielka, despite being beaten early in the second half, had a relatively easy time of things as the Blades turned the game around to win 2-1.

However, as many others have shown (Harry Kane’s few minutes between the posts against Asteras Tripolis in the Europa League last season being a prime example) this is not a strategy that managers employ very often, and for good reason! This, above all, means that there will be ample scope for many more veteran glovemen to emulate Richardson’s cameo in future.

What is your favourite example of a non-keeper having to go in goal? Has your club had a much-loved veteran between the sticks who defied their advancing years when they put on the gloves?

Read more from Tom here !

Follow Tom at @TallulahonEarth

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