Saving Face

Michael Nicholas shoots the breeze with top NI goalkeeper Roy Carroll

Shortly after making his Northern Ireland debut in 1997, Roy Carroll was Wigan Athletic’s record signing when they paid Hull City £350,000 for his services. The Fermanagh-born goalkeeper soon established himself as first choice at Wigan, where he made 170 appearances and went on to be named in the Second Division Team of the Season at the end of the 99/2000 campaign.

Carroll was brought up in Tamlaght, Co Fermanagh and began his football career in the Fermanagh & Western League with local sides Fivemiletown United and Ballinamallard United.

He then made the move to England with Hull City, for whom he made 50 appearances in two seasons. The former Enniskillen High School pupil appreciates the impact that the Fermanagh-based coaches had on his career.

Roy Carroll‘I really enjoyed my time playing in the Fermanagh & Western League. That's were I picked up a lot of the basics and I am grateful to those who coached me. However, I was like any other young fella and I wanted to make a career for myself in football, so when Hull City came knocking it was too good a chance to turn down.’

His work at Hull led to a place at Wigan, his skills attracting attention from high places. In July 2001 Manchester United came calling with a £2.5 million cheque which saw him move as an understudy to French 'keeper Fabian Barthez.

Commenting on his move to Manchester United, Carroll says he didn’t have to be asked twice.

‘A few clubs had an interest in me, and a few scouts watched me on different occasions. Then my agent rang up and said ‘Do you fancy going to Manchester United?’ I was off down the road straight away! I had nearly joined Leicester and there were rumours about Everton too. I was just glad those two moves fell through and I was able to join United.’

An injury to Barthez just three games into the season presented Carroll with his big chance when he made his debut against Aston Villa in front of a crowd of 42,000. He went on to put in a good performance and was singled out for praise from Sir Alex Ferguson, who said:

‘Roy has a great pair of hands and is an excellent shot stopper. He uses the ball very well plus he is quick, strong and brave.'

Only realising on the morning of the game that he was going to be playing, Roy admitted to being a little apprehensive.

‘Naturally I was a bit nervous about making my Premiership debut but I enjoyed it and made a few saves with everything else going quite well for me on the day. The big difference between playing in the premiership and the first division is that there are 37,000 more people watching you, week in week out.’

Carroll made 10 appearances in his first year with United and the following year he again provided back-up to Barthez, collecting a Championship Winners medal.

Life at Old Trafford wasn’t all plain sailing, however. The arrival of Tim Howard at the start of the 2003/04 season provided the Fermanagh man with stiff competition for the number one jersey. Carroll played a big part in the FA Cup semi-final that year making some crucial saves, and although Howard was restored for the Cup Final, Roy was grateful to Ferguson for the run out as a substitute in Cardiff.

‘It was great to get on in the FA Cup final and to pick up a winners medal in one of the biggest competitions in the world. All my family were over from home and it was nice to have them with me at the post-match banquet.’

Carroll gained his greatest infamy for the amazing ‘goal that never was’ against Tottenham; a speculative shot from the half-way line by Pedro Mendes that Carroll dropped behind his goal-line, then scooped back into play. The referee and his assistants were unable to verify that the ball had crossed the line.

He was released by Manchester United on May 27 2005 after United failed to assure him that he would be first choice ‘keeper for the next season. Three weeks after leaving Old Trafford, Carroll signed for West Ham.

The Fermanagh shot-stopper enjoyed a successful start to his West Ham career, making 19 appearances. However, a back injury sustained in a game against Fulham required surgery and he was sidelined for the remainder of the 2005/06 season.

Roy admits that his spell on the sidelines was one of the most frustrating periods in his career, especially missing out on the FA Cup final.

‘It was a very difficult time for me but thankfully the injury is clearing up well and I am on course to begin pre-season training in a few weeks. It was a pity on a personal note to miss out on the FA Cup final through injury, but the lads performed superbly and only Steven Gerrard’s brilliance prevented the Cup from going back to Upton Park.’