Q&A with Tim Flowers

Credit: Fulham FC

On Friday 24th March Fulham Focus’ Darren Sonnet had the pleasure to interview Former Fulham Goalkeeping coach Tim Flowers, we would like to thank Fulham FC for allowing us to do the interview and to Tim for taking time out of his day at the end of the week and chat with us.

DS – Hi Tim, thanks for the taking the time to speak to us today, it is much appreciated.

TF – Yeah, no problem.

DS – When I was growing up I wanted to be a keeper, sadly I didn’t stand in the grow bag long enough. Shilton, Zoff and Pfaff were my idols. Who did you admire and were they the reason you became a keeper?

TF – Like most kids I wanted to be a forward as I thought they got all the glory. I started up front and quickly realised I wasn’t that good, like most who find that out I ended up working my way back through the team and ended up playing centre half. I got into at a trial for a Sunday league team based in Coventry, with 30 or 40 other kids. They asked for a goalie, no one put their hands up, so my dad said why don’t you give it a go, I didn’t want to but in the end I said I will go in goal. That is how it started really, I got into the team by default as I was the only goalie. I found out I was better there and ended up playing in goal for the district and the county as well as the Sunday league team, I then got spotted one Sunday morning by a scout from Wolves, that’s how I got into professional football. My heroes really, as I was a Coventry City fan, was a Scottish guy called Jim Blyth & Les Sealy they were the goalkeepers at the time so they were my heroes from the local club. The England keepers were Shilton & Clemence at the time and Liverpool were ruling Europe so I would be watching them on Sports Night as Clemence would be playing. Those two were the big stars at the time and were the guys I sort of looked up too.

DS – Excellent, I can relate to that having been a goalkeeper when I was a lot younger. I noticed you mainly at Blackburn, and I think you had an outstanding career. How did you cope knowing you were coming to the end of your playing career, was coaching/managing something you wanted to go into?

TF – The last club I played for was Leicester City, I signed for Martin O’Neil had a full season for him then he left for Celtic, Peter Taylor came in & I had a full season for him, over the summer he bought in Ian Walker from Spurs and the following season I didn’t play much after that. I had a couple of loan spells one at my boyhood team Coventry, they were for a month here and there, so I sort of realised that playing was coming to an end. I also had a bad hip, eventually having to have both hips replaced, at the time I thought it was a groin strain, but it was an arthritic hip. My last game was against Wolves for Leicester which was also the last game of the season, I retired after the match. To be honest with you it was weird, although I knew I was going to pack in playing it was a low feeling really, a strange feeling, not so much I had retired but knowing I would never ever play again, not even in testimonials, as you can’t go throwing yourself after having had your hips replaced. Micky Adams had come in as manager, he was someone I had played with at Southampton, and he said to me go get your hips sorted out and then come back and take the goalkeepers. It kept me involved in the game and I didn’t want to come out of the game, that was a real bonus for me. I had the operation within a week of the season finishing, rehabilitated and I was back out on the pitch with them around September / October time. I loved it, it got me back out with the players and in the fresh air and working in football which is what I know. I started to take my badges then, in hindsight I should have started earlier, but you think your indestructible when you’re a player.

DS – Was it in an easy transition to make, once you knew?

TF – Playing are the best years of your life, coaching is more time consuming. I have looked back and have been an assistant manager to Iain Dowie, also doubling up with goalkeeping coach and that’s more 8-5 and then a game in the evening for scouting players & the opposition, it’s a role I enjoyed. I left Man City as a goalkeeping coach to join Iain as I wanted that extra responsibility. Micky gave me some hard-fast ground rules about the transition, stay out of the dressing room as I was always in there for the banter, making it clear you’re on the other side of the fence as a coach, so it was a fairly easy transition, just being in the game was important for me.

DS – When I was growing up keepers were different to today’s keepers, built differently and kept differently, has coaching changed to cope with that?

TF – Yeah, I think the major thing that is different since I retired in 2006, is the distribution side of things. For instance, Ray Harford asked me at Blackburn what my favourite side was and asked me to kick it down that side to see how far I could put it, once that was done, he said put it in a 15 by 15 grid and we will do the rest. Nowadays David must have every club in the bag so to speak, the coaches want it passed out from the back, controlled passing, short passing, mid chips into midfield and the last resort being the long ball up to the front man. We spend a lot of time on different types of distribution and types of pass, most keepers these days need to have a decent wrong foot, both of ours will use their wrong foot and are quite ok with it. Most of the coaching other than that hasn’t changed. Distribution is the main change but the lines for shot stopping won’t change.

DS – That sort of answers my next question, which was going to be, has your coaching style changed under Slavisa, but I am guessing from what you have said it’s the same, just getting the lads better with their feet and comfortable with that?

TF – Definitely! the gaffer and Javi insist the ball being played out from the back, they don’t mind the clips over to the opposite full back, as you will see we play high and wide at times, even in to fizz it through the gaps to the midfield to take the pressure off if we are being pressed. As I say they insist in that style of play and we are quite an attractive team to watch.

DS – It is probably the most attractive football I have seen since Tigana, I think every fan loves the style and that we dominate possession, which is a credit to the way we play?

TF – Yeah it is, the gaffer he has had meetings with the keepers, if they make a mistake playing out from the back, he has told them that’s what I want so if it goes wrong then that’s on me. The phrase he uses is ‘I will pick the cheque up and pay that bill’.

DS – You seemed a very loyal player to me, you only played for 4 clubs. When I looked at your stats I was amazed to see that by the age of 18 you had played over 60 odd games for Wolves?

TF – I sort of got in by default so to speak, I left school at 16 and was an apprentice there, did everything cleaning cars and boots and then playing for the youth team on Saturday. After one season John Burridge left and Wolves were bought. Tommy Docherty came in as manager and with a week to the first game I was the only keeper and he said to me you’re playing. Tommy Doc said to me at five to three Timmy I want you to do something you haven’t done before, I said what’s that boss, he said play well. I ended up playing all season conceding around 120 goals, getting battered from pillar to post, in one week, I let 11 in in 3 days! I ended up winning player of the season from the fans that season.

DS – Nowadays do you think the loyalty between players and clubs and vice versa is different?

TF – A little yes, there are that many agents around these days, and some seem to want to just move players on because they get a fee from the deal. I would have been too scared to ask to leave Wolves, but they told me they were selling me in the summer to Southampton. I Spent 8 years at Southampton, my career turned there as well. I was having a couple of good games and then a few bad ones, so I asked for a keeping coach. They got Mike Kelly to come in 2 or 3 times a week and within 6 months added 50% on my game. Best goalkeeping coach I have ever seen, almost everyone that works has based in on a little that Mike bought to the table. This meant I was putting runs of games together and people became interested. Saints didn’t want to let me go, I said to them I definitely want to go to Blackburn as they were putting such a good team together, I then spent a long time at Blackburn as well. I never wanted to leave, but I lost my place to Filan, but I wanted to play I would have dropped a division to play but fortunately Leicester came in for me. Martin O’Neil was a great man manager, I played out of my skin for him, when he signed me I promised him I would and not let him down, he said I know you will.

DS – In my mind keepers seem to be overprotected these days, when they get a slight touch of any player it seems to be a foul, and in some instances, it is their own defender impeding them, so are keepers too protected?

TF – Clearly there has been a fundamental rule, not just on keepers but on contact in general. You very rarely see 2 midfield players going in for a 50/50 ball. One of our lads and a Newcastle player went in more aggressive than is the current norm and the crowd erupted, I think the English public still want to see 2 players contesting the ball where they put the body on the line. When 2 lads go in like that the refs blow the whistle, irrespective of if it is a fair tackle, they seemed scared to let any physicality into the game. I think it isn’t just the 18 yard box it is all over the field of play to be honest with you. Back in the day a lot more was let go, you knew in the first 2 challenges were going to be physical.

DS – I 100% agree, I think it is fans these days are not as educated about the game as maybe we were in days gone by. So now they some tackles and think blimey what’s going on

TF – Yeah yeah, even the benches, we do it ourselves, I do it. Hardest player I played with was Jimmy Case, proper old school. He would look after his team mates. Every team had a player like that back then.

DS – Your England career, you were unlucky, we had Seaman in goal and he was up there with the best in the world at the time. You were called up for two tournaments Euro 96 and the World Cup in 98, was it strange knowing going into those that you wouldn’t play unless Seaman was injured?

TF – First and foremost, it was such an honour, all my games were friendlies or preparation games where they were giving the squad lads a go. I thoroughly enjoyed every squad and tournament I was in. There were several good keepers around Seaman, Martyn, Pressman, Walker and James coming through, most of them playing in the premier league so they had a lot of good ones to select form. Was it a strange feeling, not really, you always prepared to play just in case David popped his finger or something. I had a little spell, where we had a string of friendlies after returning from the states, and I played in them all. We then had a thing called the Umbro Cup, we played Japan and I was man of the match, we drew 3-3 against Sweden, then we lost 3-1 to Brazil at Wembley and I didn’t play well in those two games. That probably cost me a real chance of putting a lot of pressure on Dave if I am honest, Dave was an outstanding goalie. I count myself fortunate to have got the caps I did and gone to the tournaments I did.

DS – I personally think this next topic is a hard one for you to answer, fans have differing opinions about our keepers, you work with them daily, so what are the differences you see between David and Marcus?

TF – Your talking massively fine margins, I came in a year ago and we were in a scrap, we had Betts injured, Andy in goal and Joe Lewis, they were the pool we had. Javi and the manager didn’t have time to bed in playing out from the back. As we approached the summer they said to me we need a number 1, so all summer I was going through reports and notes on players I had seen or had been recommended, looking at tapes, so I had a top five. Being honest David was high up on that list, he had done the course in the championship for a few seasons and was outstanding for Brentford. At Brentford under previous coaches there they played out from the back, and it was a similar style to what we wanted to do. In Ireland, I showed the gaffer clips, he really liked what he saw and we decided that we should try to get him. The style had was used to was a massive reason he came through the door. At the price we paid he was a massive steal for us, a real bargain. I suggested we kept Jesse, we loaned out Norman and Rodak to get them to develop more. There isn’t a better two first team keepers at a club in this division, it is that close between them.

DS – As you say you have been with the club for a little over a year, what is the biggest change at the club you have seen in that time?

TF – The bedding down of the style that you now see on a weekly basis. That process started in pre-season, with the gaffer and Javi getting across the ideas of the style they wanted to play. The recruiting players to fit that style, as you touched on there has been wholesale changes, massive turnaround, I don’t think anyone can dispute we have a better quality of player in the squad without disrespecting those that have left. With some existing players stepping up and responding to the players around them. We have a different type of player now, those that will come in between the lines play in the pockets between the lines. Having said that if teams want to play a high line we are very capable of getting in behind with the pace we have in the squad. What we are saying to teams are if you want us to have the ball then we get into a rhythm and once there we can pick teams apart like Huddersfield and Reading found out, or hold a high line and we will go behind you. A lot of coaches from other clubs this season have said after the game you’re the best team we have played this season without a doubt, and that’s even if we have won or lost!! Which is a great compliment to the team and coaching staff.

DS – We seem to be having trouble breaking into that top 6. On the forum, it’s driving some of the fans crazy. Some question the bottle of the lads, personally I do not subscribe to that, others and I am one of them think the lads maybe anxious as they know they deserve to be in the top 6. Personally, I honestly believe once in there we will not drop out of those positions, why do you think we have not broken into the top 6 yet?

TF – That’s a good question, its one that we have chatted about, saying how many times have we had that chance to get in there. The two home games that have just gone after being so good at Newcastle, where we were a different class, it was so frustrating. I went home after the Wolves’ game and was gutted, although we don’t need to get in front of anyone till that last game of the season. Having said that we need to take one of the chances we are getting, Wednesday have been fortunate we haven’t taken them. We may catch another team up there you never know, everyone is playing each other as well. I agree with you once we get our nose in there I think we will stay there. I am like one of the fans the sooner the better for me, we have the style and personnel to get in there.

DS – We only have a few more to go, and I wanted the last few to be what I think is more light-hearted or easier to answer. What are the best and worst things about being a player and a coach?

TF – Winning and losing it’s as simple as that. As a player, I could not wait to get into work every single day, get my kit on and train. As a player, your weekend is governed by the result at 4:45 on a Saturday, in England that can be addressed quite quickly with a mid-week game. Waking on a Sunday when you have lost is horrendous, but if you had won it is was fantastic. As a coach and manager, it is a different feeling, being a manager is the closest to playing and I have only done that at non-league level. As a coach, all though you want to win, you don’t get that feeling in your stomach like you did as a player and do as a manager.

DS – Having been around the game for a long time, what is the one rule change you would make for the betterment of the game?

TF – I was always against it, but I am starting to side for video replays for the big calls. For instance, the other week we had a goal, the linesman couldn’t see it as he wasn’t quick enough to get there, the referee from his position couldn’t see it from where he was at. We thought it was in and we saw the tape at half time, why don’t we have the technology, why is it just the prem.

DS – you don’t even need to stop the game have someone watching a monitor and signal to the ref.

TF – Absolutely, for the big calls, I ref games here it isn’t easy the lads are in your ears, so for the big calls let’s use it.

DS – I apologise for this question because this isn’t mine, I have played in goal and I was offended it came up. Are keepers as fit as outfield players considering most of the time they are just standing around?

TF – (Laughing) Clearly on a Saturday they don’t do anything physically as much as the outfield players. We as keepers work very hard Monday to Friday, all the stats of the heart monitors and they are as fit as a fiddle, their fat content is less than 10%, Buttons is about 6%, they are proper athletes. They do different weights, biometrics it is really professional, they are tested on everything and their fitness levels are peak. If you get the stats up on a Monday and Odoi, Malone and Sessegnon have run 14k, clearly keepers don’t do that. The outfield lads have a 2-day recovery if they play on a Saturday and do controlled workouts, whereas the keepers are in and training as normal.

DS – Do the coaches join in or have a kick about, of so who is the best and who is the worst?

TF – The gaffer is the only one that joins in, that will only be if someone has gone off with a knock or we are short of numbers, it is mostly in small sided games but the rest of us don’t join in.

DS – We have had a few issues from the spot this season, now I know you were going to take one for Leicester once and the manager said no, I think it was Micky Adams. As we have had some problems fancy putting the boots on and take one for us?

TF – (Laughing) It was probably a good call form Micky Adams, was the last game of my career at Wolves, I started running up as everyone was saying you take it, but the manager Trevor Benjamin was on and he said no I am having it and Micky agreed. To be fair it isn’t lost on us we have had a couple of competitions etc. We did work out what points we would have won if we had converted the penalties.

DS – Last question and this is what we have been building up to. Given the news stories around Wayne Shaw, we want to know are you a pie or pasty man?

TF – A pie or pasty, he has had a few more than me (laughing), I will go for a pie.

DS – Any particular filling?

TF – Steak, Steak & Mushroom, Steak & Kidney, don’t mind Chicken and Mushroom. I am not fussy eater you can tell that, if it’s in front of me I will eat it. I don’t mind a pie, a true Brit!