‘There are no regrets... I got to play for the club I support’ – Loach on his time at Town and being ready to climb back up the ladder
- Credit: PA
Scott Loach was in England squads, courted by Tottenham and got a dream move to Ipswich Town – the club he grew up supporting. STUART WATSON caught up with the 31-year-old, currently playing for National League side Barnet, to look back on his time with the Blues, what followed and what could come next.
It’s been a career of two halves for Scott Loach.
First came the rise. He battled with Joe Hart and Tom Heaton as a regular in Stuart Pearce’s England Under-21 set-up. He was twice called up to the England senior squad at the age of 22, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. He was a Championship regular under the management of Brendan Rodgers, Malkay Mackay and Sean Dyche at Watford. He sealed a dream move to his beloved Ipswich Town at the age of 24.
Then came the fall. His time at Portman Road last just two years. His contract was terminated by mutual consent. He dropped to League One, then League Two and is now in his third year playing in the National League.
Yet the Barnet keeper, still only 31, has no regrets. He knows he’s one of the lucky ones.
“I could look back and think ‘what would have happened if I’d have signed for Tottenham?’ (Spurs would have signed him in 2009 had Carlo Cudicini not seen a move to Portsmouth collapse) or ‘what might have happened if I’d held on for another year at Ipswich?’, but I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason,” said Loach.
“I wouldn’t have met my wife and we wouldn’t had our two children if the pathway had been different.
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“I didn’t plan to drop down the leagues, but I always remind myself that I’m still playing football for a living. That’s something I dreamed of as a kid. Not many people get to actually live out that dream.
“I’ve got the England shirt I wore on my Under-21s debut framed on the wall. I didn’t just play for them once, I played for them 14 times over two campaigns.
“I went away with the England senior squad twice too. That might have been down to injuries or unavailabilities, and some people might think ‘how?’, but it is still something I am very proud of. No-one can ever take that away from me.
“And I got to play for the team I grew up supporting too. How many people get to say that? There’s no point siting back and dwelling on what could have been.”
Loach was born in Nottingham, but his family (all Forest fans) moved to Ipswich when he was four. He started attending Town games at the age of six and joined the club’s academy at age of eight.
“I was obsessed by Man United, like a lot of kids at that time, but then my dad started taking me to watch Ipswich. When (Mauricio) Taricco scored that top corner goal (against Manchester United in a 2-0 League Cup win in 1997) my heart was won. When we lost to Bolton in the play-offs (1999) I remember crying the whole way home. Ipswich Town was a major, major part of my childhood.”
The Loach family moved back to Nottingham in 2000. Scott joined Lincoln, before signing for Watford in 2006 (the first goal he conceded for the Hornets was an infamous ‘ghost goal’ awarded by referee Stuart Attwell in a 2-2 draw against Reading). As his star rose, Ipswich spotted an opportunity to lure back ‘one of their own’.
“There were whispers about the move a year before,” recalls Loach. “I’d always seemed to play well against Ipswich for Watford. For whatever reason, I don’t know if it was down to the fee, it never materialised though and they ended up taking David Stockdale on loan for the season (from Fulham in 2011). I was gutted. I thought the moment had gone and it was never going to happen.
“The next summer, when I heard they were still interested, I really pushed for it this time. Gianfranco Zola had just come in, he was trying to sign either (Manuel) Almunia or Cudicini, so I knew I wasn’t going to play. When Ipswich came in, I just said to him ‘please don’t stop this, it’s where my heart is’.
“When I finally signed it was surreal, really exciting. I remember getting my photo taken on the pitch and looking up at the stands where I used to sit. It was hard to describe how I was feeling that day. Just pride.
“Another surreal moment was when Richard Wright came in to do some training. I was thinking ‘I used to watch him train as a kid and was in awe, now I’m the No.1 and he’s just training’. They say never meet your idols, but Richard did not let me down. He was great to me as a young kid and great again when I became a senior player. Everyone speaks so highly of him, so it’s no surprise to me the role he’s played at Man City in recent years.”
Loach started 25 times in his debut campaign as the Blues finished 14th.
“I was only 24 at the time which, looking back, was young,” he recalls. “It felt like I’d walked into a proper men’s dressing room. There were big personalities, people like David McGoldrick, Jason Scotland and Luke Chambers. It took me a little while to adjust and find my voice.
“There was the stuff with Michael Chopra (when people turned up at the training ground to chase gambling debts). I never saw it happen myself, but the lads were talking about it. Apparently it happened a few times. In training, finishing wise, he was ridiculous. Such a good player, but obviously there were off-field issues.
“I used to travel back up to Nottingham with Didzy (David McGoldrick) and Chambo (Luke Chambers) quite a bit. We had that bond. I also formed a strange little bond with Tyrone Mings after he signed. We spent a lot of time together and it’s been great to see what he’s gone on to do. What’s he’s done has been phenomenal.”
He continued: “In the first season I played a lot of games and my form was a bit indifferent. I’ll always be thankful to Paul Jewell for bringing me to Ipswich, but I would have liked him to do certain things differently with me.
“He brought Hendo (Stephen Henderson) in (on loan from West Ham). That’s fine, I think he’s a great keeper, but I just think that could have been explained to me a bit better. I do appreciate that it’s tough for managers though. They have to do what they see is fit for the club and it’s their jobs that are on the line though.
“So I was out the team for a bit, which was a bit frustrating, then I finished the season well under Mick (McCarthy). That summer Gerks (Dean Gerken) came in and he was more favoured than I was. All credit to him, he played really well and deserved his spot.”
Loach started just five league games as Town finished ninth in 2013/14. He was initially transfer listed before reaching an agreement to terminate his contract a year early by mutual consent.
“I’ve got no issues with how it ended at Ipswich at all,” he says. “Mick was great. Whether you were playing or not, you always knew where you stood with him. He’d come in every morning and shake all your hands.
“He came to me in the March, I think, it might even have been as early as February, and said he’d like to go down another route. He told me he had his eyes on Bart (Bialkowski), which is understandable because he’s a great keeper. He told me ‘if I have to play you, I will’. And he did.
“I appreciated that pure honestly from Mick, TC (assistant manager Terry Connor) and (keeper coach) Malcolm Webster. He let me know his plans and was keen to help me with the next step. That’s all you can ask for. It’s not like he hung me out to dry or anything.
“I don’t regret anything. I know I gave it my all. I did everything right. It’s just one of those things – sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.
“Maybe I could have stayed and stuck out another year, gone on loan and see where that had taken me. I don’t know... I loved having the opportunity to pull on the Ipswich Town shirt though, even if it didn’t quite pan out the way I’d imagined and dreamt it would.”
An early summer move to newly-promoted Rotherham, under the management of Steve Evans, followed.
“In hindsight, that was a bad decision,” says Loach. “I was like a rabbit in the headlights at that time. I’d been a Championship keeper for a while and I jumped at the first Championship club that came along. That’s when I should probably have taken a step down to make sure I played regularly.”
Adam Collin retained his place between the sticks for the Millers and Loach ended up going out on loan to League Two side Bury where he played just three games.
“That was probably my worst spell in football. It happens,” he said. “All of a sudden people are looking at you thinking ‘he was dropped by Ipswich, didn’t play at Rotherham and he didn’t do great at Bury...’ Your reputation in the game changes.
“Suddenly I was scratching around for games. Darren Ferguson took me to Peterborough, I enjoyed it there, then I went to Yeovil for a bit (both loan spells at League One clubs).
“That summer Notts County (in League Two) came in for me. That was ideal because it took me back to Nottingham where my family where. The move also appealed because I’d have the chance to learn off (former Manchester United keeper) Roy Carroll. I was playing really well there, but then John Sheridan came in and signed his own keeper. Again, it happens. I was back to square one again.”
After a loan spell at York City, Loach signed for newly-relegated National League side Hartlepool United. He was named supporters’ and players’ player of the year in his debut campaign as the North East side finished 15th. When his two-year deal expired last summer, he signed for league rivals Barnet.
Loach has started 133 consecutive games over three seasons leading into this enforced coronavirus break. Barnet, managed by former Town favourite Darren Currie, are currently one point outside the play-off places with four games in hand.
“The last three years have been good for me, playing regularly,” he says. “It got to a stage where I had to stop over-thinking about things. I just thought ‘go and play, just enjoy yourself’. It’s been like ‘I’m still here, I’m still about’. I’m 31 now and approaching the 500 game mark. I feel like I’ve got some good experience behind me.
“I had to drop down to play consistently. Now I’ve done that, I’m hoping I can start working my way up the leagues again. Hopefully I’ve still got a good six or seven years left. Goalkeepers tend to get better with age. Many of them go on to 38/39.”
With all football currently suspended until at least April 30, possibly longer, Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous has placed all non-playing staff, around 60 people, on notice in ‘emergency measures to preserve the club’. He has, however, said that they could still keep their jobs if the season somehow swiftly restarts and the team gain promotion to League Two.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” said Loach. “We’ve obviously seen what’s happening with the off-field staff. That’s not nice to hear, but I guess the chairman has got to do what he’s got to do. I’ve got another year on my contract. Whether that can be voided or whatever, I don’t know. None of us do. We’re all in the dark.
“Hopefully we can get this season back on and finished because we’re all thinking we can achieve something.”
On Currie, who played 89 games for Town between 2004 and 2007, Loach said: “Every week, as soon as I finish playing I look to see how Ipswich have got on. The gaffer always asks me what the score was.
“I remember watching him as a boy. I can picture him in that Powergen kit with those blond highlights - I always tease him about that! What a talented winger he was though. He talks a lot about Ipswich. I think he lives over Colchester way.
“He’s a proper football person. He wants the games to be played right. He has his own ways and methods that everyone really buys into.
“He’s a great person to work under, which is what you want at my age. We both want to work our way up the ladder. I can 100% see him managing higher up.”
On Ipswich’s current situation, Paul Lambert’s men having slipped from first to 10th in the League One table at the start of 2020, Loach says: “I know the fans are frustrated at the moment and I get that. I am too.
“Speaking with my footballers’ hat on, I know that there is no divine right and you have to earn everything. But, speaking as a fan, I’m looking at the stature of that club, my club, and hurting at the current situation.
“We started so well, but then... I don’t want to slag anyone off here... but we’ve just seemed to hit a brick wall. It’s clear everyone is finding it tough there at the minute. Hopefully it will all turn around.
“I wish I had more time to get back there and watch games, but I’m always playing. The other week I had tickets to watch Man City v Arsenal and I was like a kid waiting to go and watch that, but it obviously got called off.”
Having spoken about playing on for years more and wanting to move back the ladder, could he see himself playing for Ipswich again one day?
“I’d love to,” says Loach without hesitation. “I don’t know how realistic that is, but you never know in football. Sometimes big clubs like Ipswich are looking for an experienced number two or number three keeper. If that opportunity ever came my way, I’d bite their hands off.
“There’s something about Ipswich which is infectious. It feels like the club is the heart of the town, a real family club. It’s special.
“My son is two and just starting to pick up a ball, so he might be end up joining the goalkeeper’s union. He’ll definitely be getting an Ipswich shirt at some point. Whatever happens, Ipswich will always be my club.”