Former Ipswich midfielder Chaplow on his big blue moment, social media madness and his new life in California
- Credit: Archant
Andy Warren caught up with former Ipswich Town midfielder Richard Chaplow to discuss his goal at Watford and his new life as a coach in California.
Even the distance of 5,000 miles and the passing of five years isn’t enough for Richard Chaplow to escape the events of March 21, 2015.
Chances are he never will, either. And that’s a good thing.
It’s now five years since the midfielder slotted the ball past Watford goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes to send 2,000 travelling Ipswich fans wild as the last-minute winner sent Mick McCarthy’s Blues hurtling back into the Championship promotion picture.
The goal has become iconic and has perhaps, sadly, taken on added meaning given the Blues haven’t had a moment of that magnitude, that late into a season, to celebrate since.
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Like each of the previous four, this year’s anniversary saw Chaplow’s phone go wild. The messages from supporters certainly brought a smile to his face with he and his young family in lockdown at their home in Newport Beach, California, due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
“On the day Ipswich’s official Twitter account always releases the video and everybody always remember it so I get plenty of messages,” he said. “I think in recent times it’s been up there for a lot of people in terms of memories. Myself included.
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“I get it quite frequently throughout the year as well, with people posting the video, and then I check my accounts and all of a sudden I have a crazy amount of messages going on. It definitely comes up six or seven times a year. My phone goes mad.
“It always amuses me that it’s called ‘Richard Chaplow Day’ and it’s all great fun. I still have memories of going to support my team, Burnley, as a kid and it’s amazing now to have been part of a memory everyone’s sharing.”
Chaplow’s memories of his big moment in blue are still vivid. Though that might have been helped by the fact his goal at Vicarage Road has been replayed and shared thousands of times online.
“With about 10 minutes to go Watford had a corner and I was thinking ‘get me on, get me on’ and then Mick put me on. ‘Here we go’ I thought.
“Watford were dominating the game and we were sat in, waiting for an opportunity. I got a couple of touches before that but the breakaway did eventually come.
“I’ve always been a fit player and made a career of getting box-to-box, making late runs. I just wanted to get up there to support Searsy (Freddie Sears) and to give him an option if he needed me.
“Ultimately he’s used his immense strength that he has as a big target man (*laughs) to shrug Ben Watson off the ball. Then we’re two on one. His pace was spot on, perfectly weighted, and I didn’t have to break stride at all and that skill is a little underrated so it was probably as difficult as scoring the goal itself.
“I took a good first touch and, in years gone by, I might have lashed at it a little earlier. But I looked up, picked my spot and slid it down the side of Gomes and into the net.
“The scenes were magnificent. The fans, the player and the staff were going crazy. It was real euphoria. There were inflatable bananas, flamingos and beach balls flying round. That’s everything you want to feel as a football player and everything you love the game for.
“I was over the moon to be able to come to the club and be a part of that and to have a moment like this to look back on, especially when all the messages come through, is a really good feeling. Having the relationship and connection with the fans after such a short time is really special.”
For all the attention his goal at Watford has brought, it’s sometimes forgotten Chaplow played just six times for the Blues after joining on loan from Millwall to aid the push for promotion to the Premier League.
It’s a time he remembers fondly, though.
“I didn’t manage to get on and impact things as regularly as I would have liked for a few reasons,” he said.
“The competition in midfield was really strong and I was aware of that when I signed. Cole Skuse, Teddy Bishop, Tabby (Jay Tabb) were there so it was a strong area. I came in to bolster that a bit.
“I was grateful for the opportunity at the time because I wasn’t really enjoying my football at Millwall at all, so I needed a new route.
“Mick McCarthy was always someone I respected and Ipswich was a club that, as a footballer, whenever I played away there I always left thinking ‘that seems like a proper club to play for, I wonder what that would be like’.
“The team I joined was exactly as I expected a Mick McCarthy side to be – full of good people and a really good energy around the training ground every day. Hard work, respect, good values and no nonsense. That’s a difficult thing to create and it’s not something I’ve been part of often.
“We made the play-offs of course but the real goal was to get promoted. Sadly we didn’t manage that.”
It’s been a steady decline at Portman Road ever since, with the Blues now finding themselves in League One.
“I look from afar now and see the club is far too big and far too good to be where they are, so I’m sure the day will come when they’re back in the Championship and then the Premier League,” Chaplow said.
“Sometimes you have to step back before going forward again. Leeds look like they’re on the brink of being able to do that now having been down for many, many years, and there are other examples too.
“The level of League One a decade ago is no longer how it is. Everyone’s able to compete due to great coaching, great budgets or whatever it is. Football’s changed from what is was before.
“I’m sure Ipswich’s day will come again.
“I was at Southampton when we were relegated from the Premier League to League One. We built an identity again there, got very good at what we did and then got back-to-back promotions and carried it through.”
Chaplow played one more season in England after leaving Ipswich, for Doncaster, before heading across the pond to begin his life in the United States.
He originally signed for USL Championship side Orange County to play in the American second tier but, after hanging up his boots, is now the club’s assistant coach. Chaplow, his wife Emily and their two sons, all have Green Cards and are intent on staying in California for some time yet.
“We love it here,” he said.
“I maybe hung the boots up a season earlier than originally planned because it felt like the right time and that I was ready to step into the coaching side.
“The club offered me the assistant coaching role here and I’ve learnt so much already. I’ve definitely developed an empathy for the coaches I’ve worked for before because the hours are certainly different to when you’re playing and it’s a lot of hard work.
“To be able to coach in California, where the sun shines most days, is fantastic.
“The club has grown so much since I’ve been here. When I first joined the team we didn’t have a training ground and we would get changed at the stadium and drive out, find a field, put your boots on on a park bench and train.
“I’d not experienced that before because I had always been in the upper levels of the English game. It was massively different but it felt like another opportunity for me as a person to grow, learn and embrace that side of it. It was fantastic to come back down and feel like I did when I started as a kid.
“But after four-and-a-half years we have now transformed into something remarkable. We have a 5,000-seater stadium with training pitches right outside, a small gym and the chance to do video analysis. The growth has been magnificent and we’re maybe competing with some of the upper sides in League One.
“It’s special and I’m looking forward to seeing where we can go in the next five years.”