Big Brother will be watching little brother on Sunday, in more ways that one.
Steven Goode, a contestant in the 15th series of the reality TV show, will be in the Stamford Bridge crowd on Sunday to watch Charlie Goode hopefully complete one of the most remarkable ascensions from non-league to Premier League. Well, a Premier League ground, at least. (Steven, by the way, lasted 51 days before being voted out ninth in the series won by Helen Wood).
This time last year Charlie was playing for Hendon in an Isthmian League game against Enfield. In front of a crowd of 402 brave souls, Hendon lost 1-0. On Sunday, he could, if selected by Scunthorpe United manager Mark Robins who has an FA Cup tale or two of his own, be pitched against Diego Costa in front of nearly 42,000 fans at Stamford Bridge in the third round of the FA Cup. If Watford fans are pinching themselves right now at their lofty league position then so is Goode, who went to school in Bushey and whose family live in the town.
“Considering where I was last year, it’s a big change,” said Goode in an early contender for the understatement of 2016. “It’s a bit surreal.”
Even more so when John Terry is, in footballing terms anyway, his idol, the player he models his game on.
“I’d love to get his shirt but I’m sure there will be a lot of players after it,” he said.
Goode will have 30 members of family and friends in the sold-out away end in the Shed. They were all willing the Iron to be drawn out of the hat with the Blues for the third round, even though Scunthorpe had still to win their second-round tie.
“We drew 0-0 at Leyton Orient and the draw was on the Monday,” Goode said. “There wasn’t many left in the draw and then Chelsea came out. I’d made a note of their ball number and when the draw came out my phone went mad.”
Scunthorpe won the replay handsomely to pocket £27,000 in prize money but, more importantly, set up a trip to face Eden Hazard and Co.
Goode’s tale is reminder that if you first don’t succeed, then try, try and try again. He didn’t play for the Watford district team let alone Herts county team and was released by Fulham at the age of 15, told he was too small to make it as a footballer at the elite level. He got told the same thing during trials at Southend and Peterborough.
“I was very small,” said Goode. “I look back now and can’t believe how small I was. I just had this massive growth spurt around 16.”
Didn’t he just, so much so that he went from a tenacious right back to a towering centre-half. He now stands at 6ft 5in and is a chip off the old block; his father was a no-nonsense centre-half who enjoyed a decent semi-professional career, including a spell at Barnet.
It was in the same semi-professional ranks where Charlie rekindled his love for the game after being let go by Fulham. He took quite a few steps back in a bid to take one forward, virtually starting over again. He played for Hadley and then Harefield United in the Spartan South Midlands League before winding up at AFC Hayes where he met Sam Mazurek, the Watford-born goalkeeper who has seen most things around the non-league circuit.
“He used to pick me up for training,” said Mazurek. “He was always the first out for training, pinging balls around and it was clear early on he had a wand of a right foot. He never lost a header, read the game very well and was always the player that people spoke about after games.”
Goode quickly became the talk of the non-league circuit. Hendon moved the quickest and signed Goode in November. He went from strength to strength, instrumental in Hendon’s two cup final victories and a second-place finish in the league last season. His form earned him a call-up to the England C team, made up of the best players from non-league clubs aged 23 and under. He played against Republic of Ireland Under-21 side in Galway. Goode benefited from playing in the school of hard knocks rather than the gilded system of academy football.
“It took me a year to got used to non-league football, playing against experienced older players,” said Goode. “I played against Scott Fitzgerald [the former Watford striker]. He played for Chalfont and he tried to rough me up a bit. It was good to get through that.”
Goode supplemented his wages at Hendon by working for the family business selling electric blinds and curtains, starting work at 6.30am and then getting permission from his dad to finish early so he could make midweek away games.
“I started believing in myself again,” said Goode. “I got used to the lifestyle of non-league.”
It suited him down to the ground and it was reflected in his dominant performances at the heart of a Hendon side who went on a 28-game unbeaten run. The number of scouts, agents and opposition managers started to increase at Earlsmead Stadium.
“My performances got better and better every week and I was getting phone calls from agents,” Goode said. “From March I was getting about four calls a day. It was stressing me out and all got on top of me.”
He had a week’s trial at Luton, who said they would be in touch at the end of the season. Other League Two clubs were banging his door down. He eventually plumped for Scunthorpe, making the leap from level seven in the Football League pyramid to level 3. It says a lot about Goode’s character that instead of resting on his laurels of a two-year-old professional contract, he handed in his resignation with the family business and spent the summer running to increase his fitness levels.
“My mindset was to give it my all,” Goode said.
Goode’s daunting integration into life at Glanford Park was helped by the fact that he and Jack King, the Scunthorpe midfielder, had a mutual friend at Hendon in Kezie Ibe.
“It was like my first day at school walking in,” Goode said. “But they are a great set of lads and they were great to me.”
A pre-season trip to Marbella helped the bonding process, as did the obligatory new-player initiation.
“We had six or seven new signings and they all went up and I thought I’d got away with it,” said Goode. “I had to do it in the end and went for Back for Good by Take That. It wasn’t the best vocal performance.”
Darius Henderson, the hulking centre-forward formerly of Watford, would no doubt have been leading the jeers and heckling.
“I thought I was tall,” said Goode. “He’s so strong in the air and is a great guy as well. He signed at the same time as me so he helped me settle in.”
Henderson and Goode were both on the bench for the season opener at Burton but it was Goode, the centre-back, and not Henderson, who came off the bench to mark his debut with a goal.
“I wasn’t sure if I’d be in the squad,” said Goode. “Niall Canavan got injured early on and I came on for my debut. I didn’t have too much time to think about it which was probably good. I was just chucked in. The goal was from a cross that came in. Sadly it was a goal that didn’t mean anything as we lost 2-1.”
Privately, it must have meant a great deal to him and his father who was in the crowd at the Pirelli Stadium. It was pinch-yourself type stuff. Being a defender the clean sheet he kept four games later, at home to Millwall, in his full debut would have probably have had greater currency. Two games later he was, unbelievably, on the scoresheet again, again netting the consolation, this time in a 2-1 home defeat to Barnsley.
He’s been in and out of the side since, as you’d expect for a 20-year-old in his first season of professional football, but he’s still made 13 appearances, featuring most recently in the Boxing Day win over Doncaster. His performances have certainly been easier on the eye than those of Steven in Big Brother in 2014.
“I knew he was auditioning for it,” said Charlie. “I didn’t realise he’d get on. It was cringing to watch half the time.”