The Non-League Side Shaping EFL Goalkeeper Talent

By Danny Lewis

News • May 28, 2024

The Non-League Side Shaping EFL Goalkeeper Talent

How have Wealdstone contributed to the EFL goalkeeper talent conveyor belt?

Header image: Marcus Dewhurst/Tommy Cockles via Twitter.

Marcus Dewhurst’s departure was among the main topics of discussion when National League side Wealdstone’s retained list for the upcoming season was released. The 23-year-old joined an ever-growing list of goalkeepers who have left Grosvenor Vale in the last five years, but while that may seem like a cause for concern, it represents the complete opposite and is a sign of the positive work the Stones have done with players in that position.

Dewhurst joined from Sheffield United in November, having enjoyed a number of successful loans, and represented England’s youth teams but endured a tough time on loan at Scunthorpe United the previous campaign. 

“It was hard for me to see how I could stay at Sheffield United and get my career back on track,” he tells “I thought it was a bit of a risk to go to Wealdstone but after the season we had as a team and I personally thought I did pretty well, now I feel like I'm back on track and I can progress back up the leagues and achieve what I set out to when I was 16.”

There was plenty of sacrifice along the way as he lived in Hull, so would face four-hour drives to training and nights in hotels before matches. He admits: “If Wealdstone were full-time, then I would have stayed but just with it being part-time and so far away, it was always going to be tough to stay there for another year or two.” 

Having helped Wealdstone finish four points above the relegation zone to secure a fourth consecutive season in the National League, Dewhurst adds: “I think it's the most I've enjoyed football since I left Boston [United]. I had a really good time and relationship with the fans at Boston and the players and it was very similar if not the same to that. Really nice club, great players, great lads and if it wasn't for them, I don't know what I'd be doing now. Probably be looking for a job at the end of my Sheffield United contract.”

While Dewhurst hasn’t yet joined a new club, the expectation is that he will be another goalkeeper who plays professional football after leaving Wealdstone, having replaced Jed Ward, who has become a regular at Bristol Rovers after being recalled.

Among others, they follow the likes of Leyton Orient’s Sam Howes, Charlton Athletic’s Harry Isted, George Wickens and Will Dennis who have impressed on loan in the Scottish Premiership this term, and Grant Smith who saved two penalties against Solihull Moors to help Bromley reach League Two for the first time in their history.


Most of those will have worked with Jason Scannell, who has spent 10 full seasons as Wealdstone’s goalkeeper coach over two spells, having returned to the club in the summer of 2021. Most of his first period with the club was spent with Jonathan North as the number one. 

Having such a high turnover of goalkeepers presents a different challenge, but it’s one he has dealt with well. “That's from years of experience of working with goalkeepers of all ages and all levels,” Scannell tells “Without sounding big headed, I guess I understand what the ‘keepers need, and I have my views on what I want out of a goalkeeper in terms of technique, footwork, tactical understanding, ability, and that's changed over the years. It's had to evolve as the game has evolved.”

That is even more impressive as Wealdstone has been part-time competing against full-time clubs – although Scannell will now have some more time with his goalkeepers as the club switches to a hybrid model.

Even with the new model, having less time with the team than Wealdstone’s competitors would have means Scannell and the club’s other staff have had to make the most of what they do have. Dewhurst praised the goalkeeper coach’s “calming influence”, something Scannell says “comes pretty naturally”.

Scannell referred to Dewhurst as “a pleasure to work with”. Speaking more generally about those who have played for him, the goalkeeper coach adds: “You do find that with ‘keepers who work at this sort of level, they all want to work, they all want to improve and it's a joy to work with ‘keepers of this quality. 

“When I identify something with a goalkeeper that I think we need to work on, I show them video, show them clips of what they've done and then I'll show them clips of where they've succeeded and try and ensure that I praise as much as possible as well, so that we're identifying and motivating goalkeepers to be the best they possibly can.”

That work with clips has paid dividends, contributing to two of Dewhurst’s favourite saves at Wealdstone. He called one against York City “one of the best saves I’ve made in my career”.

Scannell says: “We've worked on moving across the goal, getting set for whenever a header or shot came in. That's what enabled him to go back in the direction he'd just come from and being able to show him that and explain to him, we've done that in training and how he'd actually put that into the game. He has that faith and trust in everything I was trying to do with him.”

The other save Dewhurst noted was denying Harry Pritchard’s penalty before Corie Andrews scored a 99th-minute equaliser against Barnet. He says: “The penalty was straight at me, but I had to stay down the middle and that was because of Jason telling me and showing that his last five penalties had gone straight down the middle.”

Even with the work away from the pitch, both are in agreement that the main aspect in progressing goalkeepers is playing games. “Sam Howes was there, he came from Horsham. He was capable of playing at that level, it was just a case of someone giving him a chance,” Dewhurst says. “I think it was a similar case with me, it's just about getting that chance in the right set up and the right atmosphere of the fans and dressing room and stuff like that. Then it was down to me to perform.”

Wealdstone’s track record of providing the environment for Dewhurst and those before him to perform in the way they have is being noticed by clubs higher up the pyramid. “Wealdstone play a particular style of football that the pro clubs are looking at, which is playing out from the back and being comfortable playing through the thirds,” Scannell says.

He adds that they have “got this reputation for loaning goalkeepers and developing young goalkeepers from pro clubs” which has seen them be “approached by a number of clubs” as they look to find the replacement for Dewhurst.

When asked about the characteristics he is looking for, Scannell responds: “We look for front foot goalkeepers that allow us to keep a high line, are comfortable sweeping, but equally in the box they dominate, they'll make the match winning saves. They've got a good character, are willing and open to listen, to analyse their own game, to improve with the game time that we allow them.”

He continues: “No goalkeeper has everything and that's the joy of being a goalkeeping coach; to help them work on areas they need to improve but equally to fine tune the areas that they succeed at. 

"I always say with a goalkeeper that you've got to have this super strength which is either dealing with crosses, communicating, distribution, being comfortable with the ball at your feet in tight spaces, having that super strength that we can keep improving and keep marking you out for.”

It's easy to recognise the pride that Scannell feels towards the goalkeepers he has worked with when he speaks about them. “Jed [Ward] was with us from pre-season until October and his journey was huge from the start to leaving us in October to go back to Bristol Rovers. The ‘keeper that we started with to the ‘keeper that left was so much more positive, so much more confident,” he says. 

“Of course, Marcus, his journey with us has been incredible and I hope that he gets signed to an EFL club, if not a Championship club as soon as possible.”

Scannell speaks of how Wickens “left us a far better ‘keeper than when he joined us”, how Howes “left me saying that he always felt that I got the best out of him”, plus the amazement he felt seeing Dennis step up and that he is “so happy to see him carrying on his success”.

He is also looking forward to beginning his work with a new goalkeeper once they have arrived, stating: “Already, I've been approached by so many goalkeepers, as you can imagine, over the summer. A couple of agents have reached out to me. It's always exciting meeting a new goalkeeper.”

In addition to the new player between the sticks and new hybrid status, Wealdstone will also be training at a new facility under a new manager in Matt Taylor. “All exciting, all new challenges but one that we look forward to,” Scannell says. Even with all of the changes, it will be a success for the club if they get similar results from their future goalkeepers.

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