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      'I got chucked in Noades' pool at 3am!' - Carlo Nash's Wembley memories


      Carlo Nash knows what it's like to step out on the biggest occasions. The goalkeeper – who celebrates his 50th birthday today (13th September 2023) – last year shared his unconventional journey with Will Robinson, and explained why reaching Wembley became not just a footballing achievement, but a personal one too...

      Stepping out at Wembley is every young footballer’s aim, but for Carlo Nash it carried extra poignancy. Indeed, having seemed an impossible dream for so long as he overcame trauma, rejection and – worst of all – a growing indifference to the game he loved, it is surprising that later it came to define many of the biggest moments of his career.

      Successful with Crystal Palace and Stoke City among others, not a game went by where Nash didn’t pause and think back on the most unconventional of journeys to the top, thankful for what he had achieved. If anything, he preferred it that way.

      “In some respects, I was glad for the way it happened,” he says, looking back. “The way I did it, which is very uncommon, meant I appreciated what I had a lot more than if I had come through the Academy. I had gone out and worked for a living, and knew what it was like on the other side. To get the opportunity at an older age was something I grasped with both hands.”

      In the beginning, Nash was no different than any promising youngster. Spotted first in his Sunday league side and then representing Bolton, he was asked to join Manchester United’s centre of excellence. So far, so standard.

      Then everything changed. “We had an exchange with a club in Germany,” Nash remembers. “[The German exchange player] had come to stay, and we had just dropped off the lad that was with us when, driving back through Bolton town centre, a van came through the lights and we ploughed into it.

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      It was quite a traumatic experience... I lost interest in football because of what happened.

      Carlo Nash

      “We were stuck in the car, with my mum and my sister. We couldn’t get out. There was fuel leaking and everything – it was quite a traumatic experience for a 14-year-old. My mum had a nervous breakdown because of it.

      “That experience really hit my confidence. It’s obviously a massive part of that position [goalkeeper], so my game started to suffer. I ended up quitting football at 14, after being let go by United. I lost interest in football because of what happened.”

      Nash’s career in the game was all but over. He took up tennis and continued to work towards his GCSEs and A-Levels, finishing school and gaining work as a screen printer.

      But his life was about to change again, this time for the better.

      After being encouraged to play pub football by a colleague, his talent shone through once again and he signed for non-league side Clitheroe; in his first season, they reached the promised land.

      “We ended up going on an FA Vase run that saw us playing in the final at Wembley,” he says. “To go from not playing at all, to playing at non-league standard, to doing that is the stuff dreams are made of. It’s Roy of the Rovers stuff, really.”

      Nash’s long association with Wembley began – but things were about to get better still. “I’ll never forget it,” he says. “I was sat at my desk the week after the final, and the Chairman of Clitheroe rang and said: ‘Crystal Palace have offered £35,000 for you. Do you want to go and speak to them?’

      “I was like: ‘Is this a joke or something?’ It was surreal. I was so excited to get the opportunity to play for a professional club.

      “At that time I was 23, and just after I signed I watched Palace lose to Leicester in the [1996] play-off final. Nigel Martyn was in goal and I remember thinking: ‘I’m actually going there for pre-season!’”

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      I don't think anything could have prepared me for going up seven leagues.

      Carlo Nash

      The step-up in class was vast, and it took time for Nash to adjust to the demands placed on him – not that he didn’t give his all from the start.

      “I don’t think anything could have prepared me for going up seven leagues,” he says. It’s easy to sympathise when it’s put that starkly. “I think my first challenge was getting to grips with the physical side of it. Not just the rough and tumble, but the fitness needed to play at that level.

      “The first two weeks of moving there, I was literally cabbaged. I did six-mile runs every day in Richmond Park. I was falling asleep at four o’clock as soon as I got back to my flat. But it was a process I had to go through.”

      There were some big personalities to contend with, but when Nash got his chance he took it. “I’m coming from nowhere,” he admits.

      “No one knows me from non-league.

      “There was Ray Houghton who was the captain, and such an experienced player who played internationally. Dougie Freedman, Dean Gordon, Bruce Dyer – there were a lot of good lads in there, experienced lads.

      “It was 1st February, 1997, and we played QPR at Loftus Road. That was the first time I got into the team on my own merit. We won 1-0, I had a stormer, and I managed to keep my place until the end of the season.”

      Call it luck, fate or sheer hard work, Nash was heading for his second date with destiny at Wembley stadium – this time in an entirely different tier of significance.

      “Wow – we left it late,” he remembers of the ‘97 promotion push. “We finished sixth, and there are a few stats that show the team in good form finishing sixth has a good chance of being promoted.

      “[The play-off final] was amazing to play in. You came out from behind the goal, not on the side or by the halfway line, so it was a long walk to line-up.

      “The atmosphere was absolutely amazing. I know as a fan the old Wembley wasn’t great, because I’ve been as a fan... but to play at a packed Wembley is just an experience not to forget.”

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      I remember getting chucked into Ron Noades' pool at about 3am!

      Carlo Nash

      Such was the cacophony of sights and sounds, such was the assault on the senses, that Nash remembers very little of the game.

      What it did do was serve a stark reminder of how much he had achieved. “It’s such a massive occasion,” he says. “To go in a year from playing the FA Vase final in front of 7,000 fans, to playing in a Championship play-off final in front of 90,000 – it’s unheard of.

      “When Hoppy [David Hopkin] scored, I ran half the length of the pitch to jump on his back. I can remember leaving the pitch in just my Sloggis [underwear], because I had thrown everything else into the crowd. Other than that it’s a bit of a haze, to be honest with you.”

      If the match was a haze, the celebrations were more of a chaotic blur. “The dressing room was crazy,” Nash says, laughing at the memory.

      “Everyone was drowning in champagne. We were all in the baths together at Wembley, drinking.

      “I know it went on later into the evening because I remember getting chucked into Ron Noades’ pool at about three o’clock in the morning! It was massive.”

      If the FA Vase final was the fulfilment of a dream, and the play-off was confirmation of a professional career, then the FA Cup finals of the early 2010s meant coming full circle for Nash. Back at Wembley again, but this time as the experienced head among young up-and-comers.

      He had reached the FA Cup final with Everton in 2009, losing out to Chelsea, and was now part of another extraordinary run with Stoke. Although not involved on the pitch, he had a huge role to play off it.

      “It was funny really, because the gaffer was urging me every game to go and rally the troops in the middle of the pitch – even though I was on the bench,” he says. “I found it a little bit embarrassing, because I was trying to rally them and I’m not even starting.

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      I'd been at Wembley countless times... I felt like it was a bit of a home for me, if I'm honest!

      Carlo Nash

      “Hopefully something I said might have worked, because we went on a great run and it was only Manchester City that got the upper hand on us in the end [in the final]. We were still making history and it was a great day out with the fans.

      “I’d been at Wembley countless times with the [FA Cup] semi finals, the finals, play-off finals and other bits and pieces. I felt it was like a bit of a home for me, if I’m honest!”

      For a boy from Bolton, suffering from a childhood trauma that saw him fall out of love with the game, becoming a Wembley regular is some turnaround. It’s a triumph of will power that saw him play at the ‘home of football’ not just once, but multiple times.

      Some finals were won, others were lost. But football is about making memories, and Nash has done just that. “It’s somewhere every young player dreams of playing,” he says.

      “There are certain things in your career that you look back on and they stick in your mind. Every time you play at Wembley has to be one of those.

      “They are memorable occasions. To experience that was phenomenal for me.”