Exclusive Interview: Vince Bartram

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR “Hi Vince, thanks for taking the time to talk to me at TSF this afternoon.  So, Goalkeeping development coach at Southampton F.C, after a great career it must be nice to give back to the next generation?"

VB “It certainly is.  I have been at Southampton F.C for ten years now and prior to this new role I was the academy goalkeeping coach which was great but the legs were proving not to be what they once were.  There was a general consensus in the club, and football in general, that the specialism of recruitment - and I don’t like the word scouting because that puts you in a general bracket - but the goalkeeping specialism in particular, it's such a specialist position, that it needs an expert eye.  We were finding that scouts were reporting back and saying 'we've seen this lad or that lad, and we think we like him, but can a goalkeeping specialist go and take a look at him?'  And that is how my role evolved and developed. 

Today I oversee and am involved in the recruitment of our players from under 7’s right the way through to under 23’s.  Basically, I'll be asked for my opinion on anything goalkeeper related for the first team and at our various development centre’s.  Officially, I started the role in October 2020 and we're still seeing how it works across the different departments, but so far it's working well".

JR “Sounds exciting, not many former pro's get a specially created role once they finish their playing days, speaking of which, you played three seasons for AFC Bournemouth making over 150 appearances for the club right?"

VB  “That's right.  I moved down to Bournemouth having been at Wolverhampton Wanderers for six seasons.  I'd come straight out of school and I had never been around a football club until I went to Wolverhampton Wanderers.  AFC Bournemouth offered me the chance of first team football so I came down and had three seasons in which I only missed three games in the League, FA Cup and League Cup.  I made a reputation for myself and earned a name for myself playing regularly week in and week out in the Football League. 

I had some good times and some difficult times.  I had been down in Bournemouth a couple of months and there were headlines that the club was millions of pounds in debt.  They were not easy times.  Harry Redknapp signed me but he left after the first season and Tony Pulis took over in what was his first job in management.  He inherited a club with debts and a first team that had an experienced team with players such as Jimmy Case, Kevin Bond, Jimmy Quinn and Andy Jones.

Those players moved on in the second season and a lot of youngsters came through, players such as Keith Rowland, Neil Masters, Scott Mean and Steve Fletcher had joined the club.  It was a young side.  I still live in Bournemouth, I moved back here after my career finished and I am still only a two minute walk from the stadium.  Bournemouth is a lovely place to live and I still have good friends that I made from those times with the club.  From a playing point it was a massive learning curve playing week in and week out.  Learning to manage your body was important because in those days we didn't have analysts and all the stuff that players get nowadays, even in the lower leagues.  My highlight was making around 175 appearances in league and cup games, with a nod to the game in which we beat Newcastle United at St James's Park in a penalty shootout.  That would be the highlight from a headline point of view but for me it was just getting the chance to be playing regular first team football".

JR  ''You were also at Arsenal F.C. for four seasons, but didn't you have the chance to go to other clubs too?

VB  ''I did.  When Arsenal came in for me, Leicester City were also interested in me.  Brian Little was the manager of Leicester City at the time and he had given me my debut at Wolverhampton Wanderers as an 18 year old so there was a bit of a pull there, and it was a difficult decision.  I had the chance to go to Leicester City where I had a realistic chance of competing as a first team number one or to go to Arsenal where I knew I was going to be a number two to England's goalkeeper at the time.  What swayed the decision was simply to say one day, years later down the line, that I could say I played for Arsenal.  Just to say that I pulled that shirt on... that was the reason for going. 

I signed for two years and the first year I was on the bench every game.  In the second season they changed the rules and I played eleven games in the league and league cup.  At the end of that season the club offered me a new contract but I was missing playing regularly, even though I was getting great experience of being at a big club.  When I signed initially, George Graham said to me that the club will do everything for me, and all I had to do was to go out and play well.  Looking back now and thinking about what happens to Premier League players nowadays, they get so much more, but I got what George Graham was saying at the time. 

Even so I wanted to go and play first team football so I went on a week to week contract.  But then I got injured, I dislocated my collarbone and was out for three months.  By the time I was fit again Arsène Wenger had came in, Alex Manninger had come in, and John Lukic had returned to the club, so I was now sharing the fourth choice goalkeeping spot with Lee Harper. It took me 18 months to two years to get the chance to move on again. 

I have great memories of my time at Arsenal. Pulling on that shirt and walking out at Highbury was special.  I have not been on the pitch at the Emirates Stadium, in fact I have only been there a couple of times.  But to me Highbury was the best place you could ever wish to play football, and I have a sense of pride that I had the opportunity and make great friends with the likes of Paul Dickov, Ian Selley and David Hillier.  I have been lucky enough to play for the Arsenal vets team and in the masters tournament.  I have gone to the Caribbean and represented the Arsenal PFA team alongside Stefan Schwarz, John Jensen and Jimmy Carter and as the saying goes, 'Once a Gooner always a Gooner!'

JR  ''Speaking of top players, you were at Arsenal at a pivotal point in the clubs history with Arsene Wenger coming in and revolutionising football in this country.  You must have seen some incredible talent..."

VB  ''Well actually I have been fortunate to play with some very good players at AFC Bournemouth and Wolverhampton Wanderers too, but when I was at Arsenal... Dennis Bergkamp was just unreal.  I was one of the lucky ones that got to see what he could do day in and day out, his technical ability and dedication... everything about him was special.  Someone said to me whilst I was at Arsenal that we wouldn't  win anything with eleven Dennis Bergkamp's, and they were right!  You need a Tony Adams, a Lee Dixon, an Ian Wright and a Ray Parlour, because that creates a blend.  

But in terms of raw ability Dennis was the best that I played with.  I remember a few years ago when Ronald Koeman was the Southampton FC manager, we went over to play Ajax in Amsterdam during an international break with a mixture of youth and under 23 players and Dennis was one of the coaches for Ajax.  He remains just a lovely, humble guy.  He saw me and said, 'Hi Vince',  and I was like, 'oh my god Dennis Bergkamp remembers who I am!'  It just shows there are no heirs and graces with him, even though he was a superstar player, he never had a superstar ego.  

I learned so much just from playing behind Tony Adams too.  The first time I played behind him it blew me away, the little details and the little bits of information and signals and how you could read what he was going to do in the game.  It was amazing.  

And not forgetting Steve Bull at Wolverhampton Wanderers.  He turned the club around, he was a massive signing for the club even though he came in as a relatively unknown player from West Bromwich Albion.  His goalscoring record (250 goals in 474 games for Wolves)  over the years propelled the club from the 4th division to the 1st division.  With Bully it was always said that his first touch was not great but his second touch was in the back of the net.  

I remember one day he was injured on a Tuesday in the changing room and I had come in early from training, he was having treatment and I asked him if he was going to be fit for Saturday.  He turned round and said, 'I've got a bust leg, but I'll be out there'.  And that was his attitude, to get out and play.  He just loved playing on a Saturday.  No matter what had happened between Monday and Friday he would be out there on a Saturday scoring goals, from a mental and attitude point of view it was a great learning curve".

JR  ''He and Dennis must have helped you tremendously in training to understand the nuances of top goalscorers, particularly as you have faced down some of the best in the business...''

VB  ''Absolutely!  When I was at AFC Bournemouth we were drawn against Blackburn Rovers... in fact now that I think about it one of my best games for the Arsenal first team was against him as well... I'm talking about Alan Shearer of course.  Whenever you played against him he was the epitome of the classic English striker in that he had ability with his feet, he was good in the air and he was as strong as an ox.  Also, his work rate... he worked so hard and he never gave defenders a minutes rest.  

I didn't realise it at the time, but a little point I'd like to make is that Peter Crouch and John Terry both scored their first professional goals against me.  I was at Gillingham F.C. and we were playing Q.P.R.  There was this really tall centre forward, and with ten minutes of the match to go he checked in on the edge of the area and volleyed the ball into the top corner.  That was his first professional goal.  And then John Terry scored against me in the FA Cup quarter final at Stamford Bridge, which was his first professional goal too.  I think I earned their respect and sent them on their way, two big names and players that have a history with the Premier League!  

I played against some of the very best.  Later, I played against Paolo Di Canio in a vets game out in Dubai and even at that age after he'd retired, you could see the ability that he has.  I also played against Gianfranco Zola in the FA Cup and also in games after we'd retired as well.  You know, you look at these guys and you think, "my God, if you are this good now what were you like at the peak of your fitness levels?"  Some of these guys must have been frightening''. 

JR  ''I really appreciate your time today Vince, it's been fascinating to listen to you talking about your life in football.  Finally, how has each manager you played under helped you to get to where you are today?"

VB  ''It is probably a bit of a cliche but every manager you play for has some effect on you, whether you know it or not.  Brian Little gave me my professional debut and two months later he had gone and Graham Turner had come in.  I learned a lot about the first team environment under his watch.  But when I went to AFC Bournemouth, Harry Redknapp was a very different character and had a different style of management.  I have a lot of respect for Harry particularly for what he went on to achieve after AFC Bournemouth.  Under Harry we had a very experienced team and it was almost like we just went out and played, and that was Harry's mantra, to go and play the game boys. 

Tony Pulis came in after Harry, I'd had two years at AFC Bournemouth and he let me go as he and he was learning his way in the game.  But he then re-signed me when he became manager of Gillingham FC, we reached a play-off final before he moved on and went on to bigger and better things.  He influenced me in that fact that he sold me once at AFC Bournemouth and then re-signed me at Gillingham FC.  

And obviously George Graham.  To see how he worked and the focus on the defensive side and that legendary Arsenal back four... that did not happen by chance, he worked on that unit every week, twice a week.  The principles of defending and sending wide players inside and coaching full backs to send players into where we were strongest with Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown.  The emphasis was on the defensive side and the organization and what was required during the week to get to the level on a Saturday. 

Arsène Wenger was also a big influence.  Seeing how he transformed players like Tony Adams and Steve Bould was impressive, they were getting to their thirties but he changed their diet and their preparation and recovery for games, and gave them two or three extra years as top players.  Also Peter Taylor.  When I went to Gillingham FC we ultimately got promoted by the play-offs, Peter came in as an experienced coach at England under 21's level and he had some really good ideas on the training ground.  I remember one day we lost on a Saturday and we came in on the Monday morning and the lads were wondering what we are going to be doing today.  We turned up at the training ground and everything was setup as if we were going to be running.  Peter then turned up with a mini football and just made it a really fun morning instead.  It was brilliant, I think the following Saturday we got a good result which was because of Peter Taylor's attitude to that Monday session.  He recognized that instead of being down and hitting the boys hard, they needed a lift, the atmosphere needed a lift.  He read the situation perfectly.  Every manager over my career has had an influence, there are so many good things that I remember''.

James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.