Arran: I have to pinch myself

ARRAN Lee-Barrett has to pinch himself every day, just to make sure that he isn't dreaming.

Carl Marston

by Carl Marston

ARRAN Lee-Barrett has to pinch himself every day, just to make sure that he isn't dreaming.

Ipswich Town's current No. 1 has shot to fame in dramatic fashion over the last couple of months, and he secured his long-term future by signing a new 18-month contract on Thursday.

But Lee-Barrett's story is no ordinary tale. Sure, he is a local lad, Ipswich-born and bred, but he wasn't even a big fan of football until the age of nine.

In fact, he has a school-friend to thank for his introduction to the beautiful game, and also a larger-than-life Danish goalkeeper.

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"I wasn't into football that much until the age of nine or 10,"

confirmed Lee-Barrett.

"My best friend, Anthony, was and still is a big Ipswich Town fan. I started to play football in the playground with Anthony, at St Marys School, and then I got invited to play for Whitton Sports Centre.

"I was given the chance to play in goal or in the outfield, and I decided to play in goal because I was a big fan of Peter Schmeichel.

"In fact, my first football shirt was given to me by my Grandad. It was a Manchester United shirt, a Peter Schmeichel goalkeeping jersey.

"I played one and a half seasons with Whitton Sports Centre, before joining the Ipswich Town Academy in the under-11 age group, right through to the under-16s.

"I used to sit in the Britannia Stadium as a kid, because the Academy players all had tickets there. Wrighty (Richard Wright) was in goal 10 years ago!" added Lee-Barrett.

It didn't work out for Lee-Barrett, first time around, at Portman Road. He left at the age of 16, and after an apprenticeship at Norwich and short stays at Cardiff and Coventry, in between dropping into non-league with Weymouth, he ended up at Hartlepool.

The 25-year-old spent two seasons at the Victoria Park, clocking up 55 league games for the League One club.

But he didn't fancy a third season on the north-east coast.

"I was not very happy at Hartlepool, so I didn't want to take out the option of another year on my contract," admitted Lee-Barrett.

"There is so much more quality in the Championship. At Hartlepool we occasionally played the bigger teams in League One, like Leeds, but in the Championship it's week-in, week-out. I'm enjoying the challenge.

"I grew up a local lad, which makes it all the more special.

"It feels amazing when I walk out as part of the Ipswich XI, behind the captain, with 20,000 to 25,000 fans cheering you on, many of them in their Town shirts.

"However, I'm not getting carried away, because I know how lucky that I am.

"I've played in the Conference, and in the league below the Conference (Blue Square South), so my feet are always on the ground.

"It just feels amazing to be here."

Lee-Barrett originally only turned up at Ipswich to train, at the start of this season, but he was given a short-term contract when Shane Supple retired.

The rest of Town's goalkeeping mishaps are well documented, with loanee Asmir Begovic's sudden return to Portsmouth, Richard Wright's long-term knee injury, and Brian Murphy's ankle ligament damage sustained in the warm-up at Leicester.

Murphy will be back in the fold, within the next week, but the Irishman has a fight on his hands trying to dislodge Lee-Barrett from the starting XI.

"I'm very pleased to have signed a new contract, and I'm pleased that the club has shown faith in me," said Lee-Barrett.

"I didn't have much to think about. I spoke to Simon Clegg (Chief

Executive) on Wednesday. It was an easy decision.

"I hope that it keeps improving me, and I hope to prove that I'm worth having!

"When I first came here, it was just to train and just put my face about and hope. But now I'm in the starting XI. It's hard to believe!

"I guess I was in the right place at the right time, and I think that I've taken my opportunity.

"Over the years, I've looked at other keepers of my age. They've been given their chance at 17, or 21, but I've had to wait that little bit later.

"I must confess that I didn't see it coming."

Lee-Barrett has enjoyed some giant-killing successes with his former club Hartlepool, and now he hopes to make Cup progress with Town.

"We had a good Cup run at Hartlepool last season," recalled Lee-Barrett.

"We knocked out Stoke City, and then drew West Ham in the next round.

We lost 2-0 that day, but we did the best we could in that match.

"Now I'm in a different position, because I'm at a big club, I know that. Yet every team will be up for the Cup, so we've got to be ready for that."

Lee-Barrett will make his 10th appearance in a Town shirt at Southampton this afternoon.