FOOTBALL: Spalding United retain top stopper
All being well, goalkeeper Michael Duggan will make his 300th appearance for Spalding United sometime in September.
Among all the good business done by Tulips management duo Matt Easton and Lewis Thorogood this summer, getting Duggan to re-sign is right up there.
For keeping the club’s longest-serving player shouldn’t be taken for granted. At least three local clubs made contact with him soon after the end of last season, mindful of the fact Tulips players had gone unpaid for several weeks.
“If someone has taken the time to contact me, I will always take the opportunity to speak to them,” Duggan said. “But as soon as the money got sorted, I was happy to stay at Spalding.
“They don’t have to sell the club to me - I’ve made some friends and they’ve always looked after me, allowing me to play my football and enjoy it.”
The 32-year-old is about to embark on his seventh full season at the Sir Halley Stewart Playing Field. Signed by Pat Rayment in January 2012, he was a replacement for the departing Lee Drury.
As a Southern League Division One Central winner with St Neots Town, Rayment saw Duggan as a good fit in a squad he was hoping to take to Step 3. The initial rise to Step 4 was delayed – finishing behind St Ives Town and champions Holbeach United that season – but several Tigers were lured to Spalding over the summer and Rayment had his title-winning squad and one worthy of a good crack at the Vase.
Duggan said: “We had a great side that year. I think Andrew Tidswell had scored 50 by Christmas and then got injured.
“We had something like 28 clean sheets that season and I was on a clean sheet bonus so Pat must have been livid!
“Being thrown out of the Vase that season was a massive disappointment though. You wouldn’t say we’d have definitely won it but the manner we went out was tough – an admin error (ineligible player) that no one means to do.”
Rayment left before achieving his goal and, after a short stint by his assistant Marcus Ebdon, the baton was taken up by Dave Frecklington, who steered the Tulips to the Evo-Stik First Division South play-off final in April 2017.
Duggan is head of PE at Spalding Academy and one of his former pupils – Jonny Lockie - netted the extra-time winner against Stocksbridge Park Steels to set up the showdown, a 2-0 defeat to Witton Albion.
“Anyone will acknowledge that (champions) Shaw Lane and (runners-up) Witton Albion were the two best sides that season,” said the Tulips’ number one. “We were just ecstatic to be in the final.
“It was mixed emotions for me though. I really wasn’t fit enough to play. I got injured in the semi-final and the final was four days later. I felt like a bit of a hindrance and the team were carrying me. I couldn’t kick the ball. It was not a nice experience in a game I was looking forward to.”
The past two seasons have seen scraps against relegation but Duggan believes Easton has the tactical know-how and players to bring fans a bit more cheer.
“The signings are looking good and I’d like to think we will be towards the right end of the table,” said Duggan, who rates re-signed Neal Spafford among the best defenders he's played with at Spalding United. Former players Nathan Stainfield and Lee Canoville are in there too but it's midfielder Chris Hall whom he rates as the best overall.
Duggan was included in the league’s team of the year in 2016/17 and has a clutch of Tulips annual awards including manager’s player and the equally coveted supporters’ player.
How long does he intend carrying on playing?
“I do feel like I’m playing well and with consistency,” he said. “You only have to look at Paul Bastock for an example of a goalkeeper playing well until they’re 40. As long as I avoid injury and am enjoying it, I want to carry on as long as I can.”
Duggan is currently on 292 appearances for Spalding. Another seven seasons at his average of 45 matches would take him well beyond 500.
For now, the focus is the 300 milestone – and with his sponsor for the coming season being Bruce Patterson, of Coronation Bars which runs the social club, there’s bound to be a good toast waiting.