A huge thank you to Rob Stokes, the co-author of Glove Story – the new book for every goalkeeper, past and present – for his support in kindly donating author royalties from sales to Willow. We recently caught up with Rob to talks about his inspirations for the book...

"Long after I’d given up playing in goal for Waterlooville in the Southern League, I started to rediscover and explore my memories by slowly building a collection of all the kit, memorabilia and ephemera associated with those days, those experiences, stretching right back to childhood days when I first played between the sticks. I now have a huge collection of gloves, glovebags, kit catalogues, magazines, toys, comics – all of which seems to put me directly in touch with the sensations and thrills of being a keeper, as well as giving me the chance to contact some of my goalkeeping heroes to conduct interviews and share images and memories of gloves and glory days. 

Goalkeeping books loom large in my life, having read pretty much every one over the years. But the one that moved me and stuck with me most was Bob Wilson’s Behind the Network – especially the penultimate chapter, ‘Anna’s Story’. It was written with such emotion and sadness it was hard to hold back the tears.   

I was never lucky enough to attend one of Bob’s goalkeeping schools as a kid, nor had I had witnessed Bob play for Arsenal as he retired just before my fifth birthday. But it did still feel that I knew Bob as he was such a big part of my years growing up, firstly on Football Focus and Match of the Day, along with Grandstand mixed in with early mornings on Breakfast TV. Even watching the London Marathon, Bob would always be trying to catch the runners for a quick word at Tower Bridge. He was never off our TV screens.  

When we were putting together plans for a lavish book that would pull together so many shared memories for goalkeepers of all ages, Derek and Gary mentioned author royalties. For me, money was never a motivation where Glove Story was concerned, I just wanted to see the book out there, and its effect on fellow keepers.  So I thought about donating my royalties, however modest, to charity – and straight away I knew it had to be to the Willow Foundation. 

I’m sure there are many others out there who have admired the work that Bob and Megs do to keep Anna’s name shining bright, and I liked the idea of helping even in a tiny way.  Then Derek and Gary both offered to do the same, and everyone we asked to help contribute towards the book also proved incredibly generous in giving up their time for free to write words, photograph content and provide fantastic artwork like Doug Nash. From the writers through to the waived image rights for Roy of the Rovers comic, it was a great collective effort. And all the goalkeepers we approached were also so obliging in providing interviews, memories from their goalkeeping days and even digging out old personal items to include within the book. There was a real show of support from the Goalkeeping Union!

Before the idea of a link with Willow was finalised, Bob invited me to his house for the afternoon so I could go show him through the content. I was nervous all the way down, thinking what if Bob didn’t like the book or some of things we had lined up for inclusion. Bob on football cards, and a Shredded Wheat packet. Toys and games, magazines and videos and humorous advertising campaigns featuring keepers he actually knew, who were just legends to us. My brain was going into overdrive.  

I needn’t have worried. Bob greeted me at the door with a big, warm smile and a firm handshake, just as if he was greeting a fellow goalkeeper in the tunnel before a big game. Bob introduced me to his wife Megs, and then we went into his office to look at the ‘bits and bobs’ he had prepared to perhaps include in the book. I was blown away. He opened up a huge folder containing all of his old Arsenal press cuttings, brochures from the Goalkeeping School days, course notes, photographs and even letters from managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Clough.  

Thankfully, Bob’s reaction to the material we’d already compiled was very positive. He loved some of our obscure finds, the strange old kit and ideas on goalkeeper training, which was a huge relief. Still it was a great leap of faith to allow us to add the Willow logo to the book’s cover before it was all finished. 

Now it was easy to relax, and we sat for hours drinking coffee and eating Megs’s home-made cake, chatting about Bob’s career from those early bare-handed days, diving headlong in to attackers’ paths, right through to his time as a coach and years as a TV presenter. 

What an afternoon that was – my very own Football Focus Goalkeeping Special. And everything we were talking about is now included in the finished book, brand new out in time for Christmas."

You can purchase Glove Story right now for just £10 by clicking here.

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