Goalkeeping: A Family Affair?

By Faye Hackwell

News • Feb 2, 2024

Goalkeeping: A Family Affair?

Like father, like son. Like grandfather, like grandchild. How goalkeepers have inspired following generations to take up the position…

Peter and Kasper Schmeichel. Miguel and Pepe Reina. Fabio and Carlo Cudicini.

Three of the families where goalkeeping gloves have been passed down the generations.

DNA may play a part, with science suggesting genetics and lifestyle are both contributing factors in determining the strengths and performances of elite athletes.

But there is no doubting the role a relative can play in inspiring a young goalkeeper to follow in their footsteps.

For Carlisle United’s recent signing Harry Lewis, it was his late grandfather Ken Mulhearn who was a ‘local legend’ between the posts at their hometown club Shrewsbury Town - and he handed his enthusiasm and love for football down to his grandson.

Ken, who died aged 72 in 2018, made 370 appearances in goal for Shrewsbury between 1971 and 1980, and also played for Manchester City, Stockport County and Crewe Alexandra.

Looking back on when he first became aware of his grandad’s playing career, Harry recalls: “I was eight years old and I’d just played my first season of football and there was a presentation at the end of the season.

“They said there was going to be a special guest and they were reeling off all these things the guest had done, playing this amount of games for Manchester City and for Shrewsbury, and I was thinking ‘wow, this guy sounds like an absolute legend’ and then my grandad was brought onto the stage!”

After initially playing as a defender, Harry developed an interest in playing in goal and Ken arranged for him to have a one-to-one goalkeeping training.

“I signed for Shrewsbury Town when I was about nine or ten and he would always come and watch training, but he would never, ever talk to me about goalkeeping or what it meant or anything like that - he never really passed on any wisdom.

“There's not much footage from that late-60s and 70s through to the early 80s, so I can't really say that I've ever seen much of him play, but I got the impression around Shrewsbury that, if you were a Shrewsbury Town fan, you knew who Ken Mulhearn was.

“And he was probably a big reason behind why I wanted to play football, not necessarily why I want to be a goalkeeper, but the way that he was spoken about by random people who were still coming up to him when he was 70 years of age and talking about the good old days at Shrewsbury - that showed he was still looked up to with admiration for something that happened 40-odd years in the past.

“Seeing that, I definitely thought ‘that's kind of how I'd like to be remembered’.” 

Ken’s double knee replacement and the effects of injuries he’d sustained during his playing career prevented him from ever having a kick-about with his grandson, but they used to talk about football a lot - including discussing the successes of Joe Hart, who also originated from Shrewsbury.

“He’d tell me stories of football in the ‘70s and how the culture was different to now.

“We talked about football a lot, but he certainly never told me how to keep goal and he never once said, ‘you should have done better with that’ and he never pushed me into goalkeeping. 

“That was something I just naturally enjoyed.

“I enjoyed throwing myself around in the mud to be honest, but I also enjoyed it because I felt like I was good at it and it just felt right.” 

Harry’s career took him from Shrewsbury Town on to Southampton, Dundee and Bradford City, before he transferred to Carlisle United in January this year.

He also represented England at under-18 level and Ken was sometimes called upon by journalists to give his views on the progression of his grandson’s career.

When Harry signed for Premier League Southampton in 2015, Ken told the Shropshire Star at the time: “I know he’s my grandson and I’ve always stayed in the background, but I know a goalkeeper when I see one and Harry’s got the attributes to be very good.

“His attitude is exemplary, he’s very unassuming and he’s always willing to listen and learn.”

As Harry’s career became more serious, he found his grandad grew increasingly nervous watching him and would come along to training, but not to many of the games themselves.

“For someone who played hundreds of games of professional football, he said he always found it much harder watching me play.”

In his latter years, Ken often hosted guests in the hospitality lounge at Shrewsbury Town and Harry sometimes joined him there after going to watch a game.

“He was there to meet and greet and talk about playing for the club and after a game, you couldn’t get him out of there for wanting to talk about me.

“He was very, very proud and he was very close to me and both my brothers as well, but you could tell it meant something to him that I was doing what I did.

“I wasn’t doing it for him but I recognised how much pleasure he took from it.

“We did have a very special relationship because we would talk about football and I could relate to him in some senses.”

Harry’s one-time England under-18s teammate, Freddie Woodman, also succeeded a relative in goal.

Freddie’s dad, Andy Woodman, now manages Bromley in the National League after goalkeeping for the likes of Northampton Town, Brentford and Oxford United, and says it wasn’t his son’s original intention to play in goal, but the progression happened naturally.

“He was a midfield player when he was younger but he went in goal one day and was just a complete natural and never really came out of goal again,” Andy recalls.

Like his dad, Freddie’s goalkeeping journey began at Crystal Palace.

He went on to win the Under-20s World Cup and the tournament’s Golden Glove award with England in 2017 and currently plays for Preston North End.

In 2013, he joined the academy at Newcastle United and progressed into the first team there - where his dad was goalkeeping coach at the time.

“We knew some people might think ‘that’s the coach’s son’ but anyone who knows Freddie knows he's ultra professional and it was brilliant.

“I was getting paid to coach other goalies and coach my son who was on his own journey, and he was seriously professional in learning his trade.

“Years ago, we were warming up at Old Trafford, me, Freddie and the other goalkeeper, and Guy Mowbray was the commentator, and he Tweeted a picture of me and Freddie on the pitch on Boxing Day saying ‘most fathers and sons have a kick about down the park on Boxing Day’ and there we were at Old Trafford.”

When Andy’s Bromley side won the FA Trophy in 2022, there was another father-and-son goalkeeper pairing at Wembley that day as well.

The opposition goalkeeper, Wrexham’s Christian Dibble, had followed his father, Andy Dibble, into the Welsh club’s goal itself - two decades after his dad spent three years as Wrexham goalkeeper.

Christian played in goal from the age of eight and used to watch his dad play for the likes of Hartlepool United, Stockport County and the Red Dragons in the late-90s and early-2000s.

Andy, who also made 116 appearances for Manchester City and 62 for Cardiff City, said: “We’re a very similar shape and size.

“He’s more-or-less a carbon copy of me and he’s left-footed and he’s had a nasty knee injury which he’s got over, so there are loads of similarities.”

Meanwhile Andy’s other son, Marcus, has a different frame, is right-footed and plays as a centre-half for Abbey Hey in the North West Counties Football League - so the traits aren’t universal throughout the family.

Seeing Christian sign for Barnsley at 16 and progress to playing for Wales Under-21s and clubs including Chelmsford City, Nuneaton Town and his current club, Kidderminster Harriers, has been a proud journey for his dad.

“It’s probably the toughest position on the field, as we all know, and I’m glad I didn’t push him too much, he just followed it.

“I’ve always taken a big interest in watching him but I’ve always let other people’s coaching lead him, because I think having your dad on top of you all the time can be a bit too overpowering.”

Watching Christian play for Wrexham in the FA Trophy was a particularly special occasion for Andy.

“I’m proud to have played for the club myself and to see him play at Wembley was fantastic.

“It was a great occasion although they lost and sadly they ended up losing in the play-offs that season as well when they expected to go up.”

Andy can’t get to all of Christian’s games due to his own coaching commitments at Accrington Stanley, but he watches clips of him playing afterwards and they will always chat about his matches.

“Every Saturday at five o’clock I'm always looking for his result first and it does give me pride and pleasure to see him doing well.

“Week by week, you live the ups and downs.”

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