THE life of a goalkeeper rarely runs smoothly.
By the very nature of being the last line of defence, there is a very fine margin between achieving hero status or being cast as the villain. Robert Green has had a taste of both during his first week at Leeds United.
On Wednesday night, the 35-year-old was responsible for steering United into the second round of the League Cup at the expense of Fleetwood Town after saving the 10th and final spot-kick of what had been up until then an exemplary display of how to score from 12 yards.
Three days earlier, however, and it had been a different story with Green culpable for Queens Park Rangers’ opening goal in what proved to be a chastening 3-0 defeat for Garry Monk’s men.
Even for someone as well versed in the vagaries of his position, this represented a huge swing in fortunes. For Green, however, the big thing in the opening week of the season was being back out doing what he loves best. Playing football.
“It was a strange final few months at QPR,” said Green when asked about the contractual situation that saw him frozen out at Loftus Road due to Rangers wanting to avoid triggering an appearance-related clause that would have brought him another year.
“At first, I found it very frustrating. I wasn’t playing through no fault of my own. But then, after a bit, I found it quite nice to be able to enjoy time with the family. After all these years of football, my Saturdays were spent being a dad.
“We would go to farms, go to adventure playgrounds, or go away for the weekend just finding things to do. They loved it. My boy is five and my daughter is three, and yet I have never really spent any time with them. The odd holiday, here and there, but not a lot more.
“It has been a case of coming home, putting them to bed, getting them up but then going to work again. Weekends were then all about games. So, for them to spend time with me was probably as valuable as it was in reverse.”
As enjoyable as Green found spending time with the family, he did miss playing. Which is why a free transfer to Leeds, where he has since moved the family, came as such a tonic.
“You miss football,” he added. “Of course you do. But if I was out with the kids on a Saturday. I didn’t have the radio on as we drove to the farm or wherever.
“I’d see the scores at the end of the afternoon. But it was knackering enough looking after three kids under five without trying to get the radio on.
“Coming to Leeds, though, was a big thing. Not only was it a chance to get back playing, but I was coming to a huge club.”
Green was speaking to The Yorkshire Post in the reception of United’s Thorp Arch training base. The walls are adorned with all the big names to have come through the Academy, the likes of Jonathan Woodgate, Harry Kewell and Alan Smith all staring down, placed there in the hope they can inspire the current generation.
“I have played with or against a lot of the guys on the wall here,” added the Chertsey-born goalkeeper.
“Rio (Ferdinand) was another Leeds player, too. I knew from talking to those lads that if there ever was a sleeping giant in this country, Leeds are it.
“At Peterborough in pre-season, we were miles from home and yet thousands turned up. It was the same when I have been in opposition to Leeds. The away fans would follow them everywhere and the enthusiasm they show in getting behind the team is incredible. If we can tap into that, we can be on to something.
“Plus, look at the stadium, the club, the infrastructure. Look at this place, everything is geared to the Premier League. The facilities here are as good as anywhere I have been.
“It is everything we need and if we can get something right on the pitch then we can create something special.”
For now, Leeds’s focus is on today’s visitors, Birmingham City. It is the first of back-to-back home games. Fulham will be the visitors on Tuesday, and Green is relishing his Elland Road bow as a Leeds player.
“I didn’t play here in the Premier League,” he added. “Norwich and Leeds passed each other (in 2004 when United were relegated from the top flight). But I do remember some big games here.
“I remember coming here with Norwich and Leeds were struggling. We went 2-0 up but they got a goal back. After that, it was a real battle and I think Leeds equalised in the last minute.
“It was wave after wave of attacks. The crowd really got behind them, really sucking it into the goal. We have to get that feeling week in and week out. If we can do that then we have a chance.
“An Elland Road close to full can be a really intimidating place. The fans give the opposition goalkeeper loads of stick, I am told. I thought it was just me.”
Green’s return to playing action has given the 35-year-old a new lease of life and he intends to play on well into his forties.
It has also gone down well with his parents.
“Mum and dad have not missed a game I’ve played in,” added Green. “It killed them having nothing to do, when I was out of the QPR side. I don’t think they enjoyed twiddling their thumbs.
“Now I am at Leeds, they will get through a few miles. Home games used to be from Surrey to Norwich. Then London. This is a bit further, it will test their dedication. But I know they are looking forward to it.”
As, it seems, is Green himself. “Being back playing again is great,” he added. “This is a new challenge and one I am relishing.
“The Championship is a strong division with a lot of ex-Premier League clubs, including those who just came down. I’d say it has never been harder as a league, never been more keenly contested. But we will meet it head on.”