From: Chelsea - on loan - September 2003
Record: Played: 28(1) Clean sheets: 8
To: Chelsea - end of loan - May 2004
Career stats: Soccerbase
He was: A goalkeeper
Someone - it might've been Frank Zappa or it might've been Elvis Costello, depending on who you believe (and
how much you care) - once said that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture". An undeniably
brilliant quote, certainly...but also complete cobblers. Only an especially pompous artist would sneer at
others' attempts to describe, understand, justify and criticise their work, thereby suggesting that, somehow,
mere mortals don't deserve their profound, glorious offerings if they're not going to be sufficiently grateful.
And besides, writing about music is a piece of bloody cake in comparison to writing about goalkeepers....
It's not that there's nothing to say. There's plenty to say. It's just that it doesn't add up to very much,
that it doesn't really get to the heart of what distinguishes great goalkeepers from not-so-great goalkeepers.
Because the bits that we stand and applaud every Saturday are, by and large, fairly routine - it's comparatively
rare, perhaps not even once in every game, that you see a save that's truly outstanding, that another
keeper might not have been able to make. For most of us, incapable of defying gravity for more than a fleeting
millisecond and certainly not without landing ourselves in hospital for six months, it looks utterly spectacular
and impossible. But football is full of shot-stoppers, and the dole office has its fair share too.
At which point, we naturally begin to look at the other stuff - communication, distribution, general
administrative duties, and so forth. And, again, there's plenty to say...but, in essence, not much of it
goes beyond the fact that confidence plays a massive part in determining success or failure. Remember Espen
Baardsen? We loved him when he arrived, because he stomped around the penalty area as if it were his own
private property. And, later on, we loved him rather less, because he let squatters move in and take over.
Confidence, y'see. That's all.
And so what distinguishes between the great and the not-so-great is, ultimately, just time. The former manage
to steer a course through all of the turbulence, neither getting too carried away when their fingertips flick
that shot over the bar and bring the crowd roaring to its feet in appreciation, nor becoming too forlorn when
their hands part to allow a feeble scuff to squirt over the line and the crowd rises for an altogether different
purpose. They have something - traditionally, a combination of madness, stupidity and almost psychotic
self-confidence, although merely managing to maintain a sensible, adult perspective seems more fashionable
nowadays - that keeps them coming back, that makes managers and defences feel that they can be relied upon
again and again. And the latter fall by the wayside, often through no specific fault of their own.
So, in keeping with the general theme, Lenny Pidgeley's loan period had the ups and downs that come with
his chosen profession. Brought in from his position as seventy-third in line to the throne at Stamford
Bridge, he arrived on a distinct up, quickly given an opportunity by a suspension to Alec Chamberlain when
he'd merely expected to be a back-up bench-warmer during Richard Lee's enforced absence. He seized the
opportunity with youthful enthusiasm too, and was every bit as bright and confident and fearless as a young
keeper ought to be, with stupid hair and spotty complexion to complete the picture. As ever - remember
Lars Melvang? - it was all thoroughly refreshing, a bit of a holiday from Alec's general sensibleness...and it
did the team no particular harm for a while either.
Of course, the flaws began to emerge over time. He was capable of being truly extraordinary - one save at
Walsall, turning the ball around the post when it was struck firmly from barely a yard out, was particularly
impossible. He could be momentarily special, beyond the mundane. Yet his lack of experience in other areas
was exposed as that initial burst of confidence faded away, and he was especially guilty of failing to
communicate effectively with his defence...which was an increasingly significant problem, given that the
defence was hardly a model of well-drilled organisation itself. My suggestion that we might tie some bells
to his boots so that people could hear him coming wasn't entirely flippant.
The truth was somewhere between where he began and where he finished, really. For all that
pressure built steadily for Alec Chamberlain's recall - predictably, from many of the people who'd been campaigning
for his retirement just a few months earlier - Lenny Pidgeley was a much better keeper than his final
appearance at Ipswich suggested. Then, one sliced clearance and one moment of indecision had cost us two
vital goals, and everyone knew it...especially him. He looked crestfallen, and the sentimental part of me
considers it a real shame that Chelsea's procrastination prevented him from getting another year's loan and an opportunity to
bounce back. Then again, that part quickly remembers that we would've lost Alec Chamberlain if that'd
happened...and, sentiment aside, the mixture of Richard Lee's youth and Alec's experience seems like a
better, safer balance.
Again, then, it's about time. Like many, Lenny Pidgeley has the basic attributes...and what he doesn't
do well at the moment can surely be taught in the coming years. Here, right now, is his first challenge. He
clung onto the horse for a good while, then fell off and landed on his chin. And now he needs to get back
He can do it. Not at Watford, though. And not, you suspect, at Chelsea.