Weekends in the English football calendar don’t come much bigger than FA Cup Semi-final weekend. Not only is the FA Cup the worlds oldest and most prestigious cup competition, the semi-final draw has thrown up two local derby’s between four big teams which take the importance of the day to another level. Rivals Liverpool and Everton will lineup against each other at 12.30pm on Saturday in an occasion packed with pride, bragging rights and high emotion. The magic of the cup has already struck in throwing up such a fixture, but there is more magic in the air…
Stories always become the backdrop to the FA Cup, whether that’s giant-killing successes, semi-pro players who stack shelves by day and play against world-class players night or a pair of lucky pants that haven’t been washed throughout the rounds, stories help create FA Cup romance. The story of Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Jones is one that even the script writers on Brookside http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brookside would have had trouble come up with in their day. In the last two weeks Jones has gone from third choice Liverpool keeper to FA Cup Semi-final starter by luck and it is a bit of luck that Jones deserves.
On the pitch Brad Jones has had a rollercoaster of a career that his seen him end up at Liverpool despite having played only 120 games in all competitions since arriving at Middleborough from Australia 12 years ago. This isn’t that unusual for a goalkeeper – a lot of goalkeepers seem to be happy to warm a bench for the best part of their careers, just look at keepers like Carlo Cudicini or Steve Harper who seem more than content not playing many matches. Jones may have spent a lot of time warming benches, but this has been mainly down to bad luck rather than attitude.
Jones spent his early years behind fellow Aussie keeper Mark Schwarzer who has been one of the Premier League best over the years and still is. Jones was sent out around the houses on loan; at some clubs he just wasn’t given the chance and at others he was given a chance, but ended up conceding too many or having an absolute Taibi http://youtu.be/d7XtyUArkpk and the stints at those clubs were over before they started. Jones finally got a breakthrough when Schwarzer left ‘boro and he became number 1. Some good performances put him back in the frame for the Australian national team and he was called up for the 2010 World Cup squad but disaster struck.
Jones had to pull out of the squad after finding out his son Luca had been diagnosed with Leukemia in 2010. A tough period away from football began for Jones, but that same summer he got his move to Liverpool. Football became overshadowed by the battle his son Luca faced to beat leukemia, a battle that lasted 18-months and ended in heartbreak.
Jones has had his share of bad luck in life and in his career, but he finally is getting a chance to shine. He was thrust in to the action against Blackburn to come in and instantly save a penalty, which he dedicated to his Luca’s memory in a touching embrace to the sky, before going on to give another penalty away and luckily avoid a red card. Jones is now number one for the FA Cup Semi-final and will walk out at Wembley in to a local derby and Semi-final that will have an electric atmosphere. Occasions don’t come much bigger than this and it is a little bit of luck that Jones as a human being deserves and no one will begrudge. Jones celebrated the birth of his son Nico last week before his working life took a huge upturn this week, things couldn’t be better for Jones currently.
Hopefully this is the start of a happy period for a footballer and a person that deserves it. The momentum that one big life event and one huge football event can generate changes life quickly. Jones knows his future maybe away from Liverpool in the summer, but what away to put the demons of the last two years to bed. I hope you have a blinder at Wembley Brad, no one deserves it more than you. Let’s hope this fairy tale has a happy ending…
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