Eve keen to learn the hard way
Dale Eve believes that the next stage of his goalkeeper education must be completed away from Stoke City, the Barclays Premier League club, as he prepares to return to football’s equivalent of the “school of hard knocks”.
The Stoke Under-21 goalkeeper had brief loan spells at Sky Bet League Two side Fleetwood Town and Skrill Premier team Nuneaton Town last season, which he describes as humbling but valuable experiences.
Realising that football is not always a bed of roses was an important lesson for the 19-year-old, who is keen to benefit from the loan system again, with an extended period away from the bosom of the Britannia Stadium.
“Being sent on loan was humbling for me because you realise that these guys are playing for their livelihoods and could be released any day,” said Eve, who played one reserve-team match for Fleetwood and two first-team games at Nuneaton.
“Most of these guys don’t have long contracts, and the Nuneaton players are part-time and go to work before training twice a week. You want to ask them ‘Why are you doing this?’ Then you realise that they’re doing it for the love of the game.”
Learning your trade in the lower leagues is not for the faint of heart, as Eve can surely testify. But he credits the few months spent on loan at those football backwaters, playing alongside and against tough-as-teak journeymen, for helping to accelerate his maturity.
“When you’re playing at the under-21 level, you’re often up against players who go down after being tackled and cry about it,” Eve said. “It’s totally different in Conference football, though — you’re getting battered every day.
“Grown men are coming for you because a 35-year-old man doesn’t want to get shown up by a 19-year-old kid!
“At Stoke, I train with the first team once or twice a week, so it was important for me to experience that on a day-to-day basis.”
Last season was uncomfortable in more ways than one for the Bermuda goalkeeper: he was in the final year of his contract and concerned about the amount of time being spent playing second fiddle to Daniel Bachmann, the Stoke Under-21 first-choice goalkeeper.
Those concerns proved unfounded, however, with Eve, despite his lack of competitive action, doing enough to earn a new two-year deal, which perhaps reflects the club’s commitment to harnessing his “raw potential”.
Eve said: “Last season was a learning curve for me because I didn’t really play much and I had a lot of ups and downs.
“Sometimes you’re just training and you’re wondering why you’re not involved, and then you realise that this is football.
“For the longest time, I was feeling shaky because my contract was up, so when they gave me a two-year deal when a lot of guys were getting only one, I was like, ‘OK, they must see something in you’.
“Stoke are looking to get me out on loan again and I don’t really want to be playing under-21s. You want to get the best games you can. You don’t want to be falling back and only playing with and against guys your age.”
Considering that he claims to have taken up goalkeeping seriously only four years ago, Eve’s football journey is still very much at an embryonic stage.
However, whereas many of his outfield contemporaries are braced for a make-or-break phase of their careers, Eve, as a goalkeeper, has the luxury of having time on his side.
“When I first arrived at Stoke, the coaches were like, ‘We like his size, we like his attributes, but he is raw — he’s a brand new talent’,” said Eve, who boasts a muscular 6ft 4in frame.
“They had to teach me the basics for the first two years, while last season was about showing me what real football is about.
“This season is about showing me what professional football is about and the mindset of the game. That’s why it’s so important for me to go on loan because you have to be playing first-team football somewhere.”
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