Ex-Leeds United star Mark Beeney has experienced both extremes of the footballing game in his time as a pro. Leon Wobschall chats with the former Whites keeper.
FOOTBALLING life is just streets ahead for former Leeds United keeper and one-time chauffeur Mark Beeney.
After donning the cap and gloves for a spell working for an executive driving business, where he ferried around celebrities such as Victoria Beckham, ex-Prime Minister Edward Heath and Leeds lass Nell McAndrew, Kent-born Beeney now finds himself surrounded by household names on a daily basis amid opulent surroundings.
Beeney, now 43, is the reserve and academy goalkeeping coach at millionaires row club Chelsea and heads a team of five, while being part of a managerial support staff which numbers around 50.
And if anyone can appreciate the vast chasm between the plush fittings of Stamford Bridge and state-of-the-art training facilities of Cobham and the muck-and-nettles of lower-league football, it’s Beeney, who cut his footballing teeth at non-league Maidstone United in the late 1980s.
Beeney, forced to retire due to a serious Achilles injury suffered while playing for the Whites in a reserve game in March 1999, had a taste of the big time at Leeds, a club he spent over seven years at after joining from Brighton.
But he learnt plenty about the other side of football, both during his latter days at Maidstone, when spiralling debts eventually led to the club going under and at Brighton, who Beeney – and ex-United boss Howard Wilkinson – played a major role in saving from oblivion.
The Seagulls’ soaraway success story is a pretty remarkable one. But rewind the clock to April 1993 and the south-coast club weren’t exactly in flight. More in freefall.
Albion were teetering on the financial brink and it was only Beeney’s £350,000 move to Leeds, under then boss Wilkinson, that April which averted the threat of closure.
Half-time guest in United’s first clash at the Amex Stadium – which cost a cool £105m – last Friday, Beeney was afforded warm cheers from the Sussex public, forever grateful for his role in Albion’s history.
He said: “I remember moving to Leeds. I didn’t find out that anything was happening until the Friday night. We were at Plymouth and I was basically told: ‘A car is picking you up after tomorrow’s game, you are going up to Leeds – we’ve got to let you go’. It was as simple as that.
“I subsequently found out that if I didn’t go, Brighton would go under.
“We knew there were massive problems because on the playing and staff side we weren’t getting paid regularly. At the time, it was a case of them saying to me: ‘You’ve got to go or everyone will be out of a job and the club will shut’. But at the end of the day, you don’t turn down a chance to go to a team who’d won the old Division One championship the year before.
“I signed after transfer deadline day, but they got dispensation. I played against Coventry and it was a 3-3 draw (May 1993) – I think Leeds finished 17th that year.”
Beeney’s place in the sun arrived the following season in 1993-94 when he played 27 games, but it proved a false dawn and if he needed any further proof, it was hammered home when Nigel Martyn arrived at LS11 in a record deal for a British goalkeeper in the summer of 1996.
But while cooling his heels on the bench for several seasons, Beeney remained philosophical and that stoicism stood him in good stead following his career-ending injury.
Beeney, who made 69 appearances for Leeds and who remains good friends with former room-mate David Wetherall, said: “As soon as they spent £2.5m on an England goalkeeper, there’s not much chance of the other guys (goalkeepers) playing!
“To be fair, it’s one of those things that happens in football. I had a contract still and a new manager that came in (George Graham) and he wanted me to stay there for a few more years as they didn’t have anyone else coming through – it was two or three years before Paul Robinson started to emerge.
“I was happy to stay at a good club. Leeds will always be a massive club. Look at last Friday, to take 2,000 people down to Brighton for a match on the TV shows the level of commitment from the supporters, which was fantastic.
“I’ve some good memories of Leeds, although fans will probably remember the sending off (at Old Trafford in April 1996).
“I wasn’t flavour of the month that day and I remember Lucas (Radebe) went in goal as some clubs elected not to have a sub keeper on the bench!
“But for me, it was just unfortunate that two ruptured Achilles compounded everything. To be fair, I’d been fairly lucky before. I’d not had any previous injuries of any note, just the odd dislocated finger or shoulder before I came to Leeds.
“Then I got the big one, which is always difficult. When it re-ruptured during the rehabilitation, I had to be realistic and the decision was made by the club to pay up the insurance money and move me on.
“There was no plans in place for retirement. Sometimes, players do look ahead, but I was only 29 and I still realistically thought that I had another 10 years of playing.
“Obviously, you have to move on very quickly when the decision is made by other people.”
And on his switch to chauffeuring, Beeney added: “We had some contacts with Sky Sports (at Leeds) and other big businesses and it seemed quite an easy way to keep involved in sport in some way. I did that for two or three years in Yorkshire and continued doing it down south with the companies being multi-nationals.
“we did some work with Victoria Beckham through D&G Records. We also picked up ex-Prime Ministers and things like that. But I always wanted to get back into football full time.”
It was United present technical director Gwyn Williams who helped to provide Beeney with a route back into football with Chelsea.
And after combining his coaching duties with managing non-league Sittingbourne, Beeney went full time with the Blues in March 2005 and was even promoted to temporary head goalkeeping coach by “The Special One” himself – Jose Mourinho – for a spell in September 2007 before reverting to his previous role.
On his second career in football, Beeney said: “I went on a coaching course with Dennis Wise and Gus Poyet and they pointed Chelsea in my direction; I’d been there at 18 or 19 just to train when I was playing non-league football.
“I met Gwyn Williams and before I’d got home from the coaching course, he was on the phone saying: ‘Give me a ring, we’ve got a vacancy if you want to take it’.
“I did a couple of years part-time and then the year Jose joined, he said he wanted me full time and I’ve been there ever since. That was nice, although to be fair, I think his goalkeeping coach didn’t want to get involved with anything other than the first team at Chelsea.
“Everyone knows the (Chelsea) story and Roman (Abramovich) has come in and the place has spiralled massively. I now head a little team of five goalkeeping coaches that work through the academy from under-sevens to under-16s. After that, I take over and look after the A-teams and reserves.
“it can be frustrating being a goalkeeping coach– you can speak to anybody and they will say the same – because nobody is making their own goalkeepers. They go out buying from other clubs or picking them up from abroad.
“We’ve one English lad (Sam Walker) who is currently playing for Northampton and another (Rhys Taylor) who played at Crewe (on loan) last year.
“We’ve also got a Belgian boy (Thibaut Courtois) at Atletico Madrid and a Croatian (Matej Delac) playing in the Czech Republic.
So we’ve now got three out on loan and a young English lad in and around the England under-19s. But it’s a massive thing to go into the first team.
“Football is a bit different these days. When I was playing, it wasn’t the crazy sums of money that is talked about now. people could see that we were ordinary punters.
“I could go down to the village where I lived and have a quiet pint and no-one would worry. Nigel Martyn could do the same.
“Now the big-hitters such as John Terry can’t go anywhere without getting hassle.
“So it was nice in my time, although just as nice would have been to have got the money that the modern guys get!”