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The Big Interview with Sam Slocombe
Proving that studies and football success can go hand in hand, Sam Slocombe tells DAVE FLETT of his route to a pro contract.
SAM Slocombe has hailed the “massive” role played by York College in his pathway to becoming Scunthorpe United’s first-team goalkeeper.
Seven years ago, Slocombe decided to further his studies in North Yorkshire after being released by both the Iron and Lincoln City as a schoolboy.
While sitting A-levels in biology, chemistry and maths, he also received specialised goalkeeper coaching from former York City number one Andy Leaning at the college’s Football Development Centre, headed by another one-time Minsterman Gordon Stainforth.
He went on to play for the English Colleges’ team alongside Anthony Pilkington – the brother of City winger Danny – who now plies his trade in the Premier League with Norwich.
Both Slocombe and Pilkington provide shining examples of how different routes can be taken into the professional game by bright youngsters who might have been overlooked by clubs during their formative years.
At 23, the former has established himself as first choice between the sticks at Glanford Park this season, usurping Josh Lillis at the League One outfit.
Following his impressive performances, Slocombe is now in talks with manager Alan Knill about a long-term contract with Scunthorpe, who have moved quickly to exercise the one-year option they had to extend his existing deal at the end of the current campaign.
On York College’s part in his success story, Slocombe said: “York College’s Football Development Centre played a massive role in getting me where I am now. I cannot speak highly enough about the set-up in York and what my time there did for me is unbelievable.
“Being part of a development centre pretty much gives you the same life that an apprentice has but gives you a bit more freedom in terms of what you can study. Things are also a bit more relaxed on the football side because there’s less pressure for lads to develop within a time frame.
“The lads are there because they want to be. Sometimes, at clubs, you find some apprentices love the game but others are just there for the status.
“They take for granted what they have got, whereas the lads at York College want to work hard at bettering themselves.”
Slocombe completed a two-year sports and exercise foundation degree after leaving York College and intended to further that qualification with a year at the University of Lincoln.
Having impressed at semi-professional neighbours Bottesford, though, then Scunthorpe manager Nigel Adkins offered him a six-month contract following a successful trial.
Since then, Slocombe has coached Centre of Excellence teams at Glanford Park but, while targeting a career in the game when he eventually hangs up his gloves, the Iron man is grateful that he also possesses a strong academic background.
He said: “When I started at York College, I was realistic about the very small minority of players who get into the game and get paid enough to live off it. I needed to know my education was there before I went any further.
“There are some bright footballers that end up neglecting their education because clubs don’t give them that opportunity to do what they could do. I want to continue within the game but it’s not certain that I will be able to.”
Slocombe added that Leaning, whose goalkeeping career followed a similar path having been signed by City as a latecomer after catching the eye for amateur teams York RI and Rowntree Mackintosh, provided inspiration for him at a crucial stage in his life.
On his old mentor, who recently became Neil Warnock’s goalkeeping coach at Leeds United, Slocombe said: “It’s nice to know you can get into the professional game at a later age. There aren’t massive amounts of players who have come through the way I have but they are out there as Anthony Pilkington is proving.
“If you set your heart on it and show you want to do it, you can get there. Andy was fantastic for those two years I was in York.
“I had missed out on two years of goalkeeping coaching, having played locally after being released by Lincoln as a kid and I was very lucky to go back into that situation with Andy. He did a lot for me and I cannot speak highly enough of him.
“It’s rare to get specialised goalkeeping coaching outside the professional game and to be able to ask Andy about things was great because he had been through it all.”
Slocombe is not the only man with Minster links assigned with preserving Scunthorpe’s League One status in the nexst two months.
Former City boss Chris Brass is Knill’s assistant at Glanford Park, where one-time Bootham Crescent striker Jon Parkin has also been recruited on loan from Cardiff.
Slocombe looks up to both, saying: “Brassy is a very good coach and such a nice guy. He’s a funny lad who makes sure everybody has seen his famous own goal. Only last week, he was shouting about it trending on Twitter at the training ground.
“We were lucky to get Jon Parkin until the end of the season as well. He’s a fantastic lad to have around and he’s been in relegation battles before.
“As a ’keeper, I love him because when I kick the ball up the pitch it doesn’t come back. He’s helped us turn results around and all the lads are happy to have him here.”