Liverpool FC’s Brad Jones’ journey from ‘skinny’ kid to main man at Wembley
FOR once, life has been kind to Liverpool FC goalkeeper Brad Jones.
The 30-year-old has been forced to endure acute trauma recently, suffering incomprehensible heartache after the death of first son Luca in November.
But the last week has shone brightly for the Australian and following the birth of second son Nico, Jones found his break with Liverpool.
It has of course, come in circumstances few would have predicted.
Just days before the FA Cup semi-final with Everton, Alexander Doni joined Pepe Reina on the list of suspended goalkeepers after Tuesday night’s red card at Blackburn Rovers and with it, gave Jones a league debut for the Reds.
The Anfield faithful have seen only glimpses of Jones since he signed in the summer of 2010 and his two performances have been set against the backdrop of disappointing.
Jones, bought by Roy Hodgson for £2.3m from Middlesbrough, played in the Carling Cup defeat to Northampton and then in the dour 0-0 draw with Utrecht in the Europa League.
Jones, rightly or wrongly, has been tarnished with the brush of Hodgson’s ill-fated regime.
But the man born in Western Australia has dealt with adversity on the pitch before.
Whether it was the coins which hurled down from the stands at Hillsborough - when Sheffield Wednesday fans gave their verdict on his loan spell - or being dropped at Derby County for the Rams’ Academy goalkeeper, Jones knows how set-backs feel.
In a highly competitive crop of goalkeepers at Middlesbrough, the international stopper fought tooth and nail for opportunities.
Admittedly, Jones’ prospects with Liverpool had not looked particularly rosy after Hodgson was shown the door in January last year.
Peter Gulacsi was promoted as Reina’s deputy for the final stages of the season and Jones fell further down the pecking order with the arrival of Doni last July.
An appearance in March’s mini-derby was a rare outing though football had taken a somewhat of a backwards step after the death of five-year-old Luca.
Jones will now carry Luca’s memory - and his son’s toys in travel bag - to Wembley on Saturday where he is leading the chase to start against Everton.
A former coach described Jones as a brave goalkeeper and he has certainly shown courage off the field.
If selected at the weekend, Jones will find himself thrust into the high level scrutiny of a Merseyside derby but has shown himself able to deal with significant occasions before.
With Mark Schwarzer injured, Jones helped book Middlesbrough a place in the 2006 Uefa Cup final after an astonishing night against Steaua Bucharest at the Riverside.
Jones’ Premier League chances were varied in the North East but 16 starts in the 2008/09 campaign was his most productive with Boro.
Dave Parnaby, the club’s Academy manager, saw something straight away in a teenage Jones, even if his stature was less than intimidating for a goalkeeper.
"He was a skinny, gangly and uncoordinated young man,” said Parnaby.
“He was raw but had natural ability and a spring in his heels.
“Brad was brave as well and gradually climbed from the Academy to the senior ranks.
"He came to us from Australia at 16 and went right through from scholarship level to professional terms.
"He had a number of loan spells which was all part of his development process.
“Eventually he made several senior appearances and did so in a really strong stable of goalkeepers.
"We had Mark Schwarzer, Ross Turnbull, David Knight and Brad. It was a strong goalkeeping department and so all credit to Steve Pears.
"He also came from the tutelage of Paul Barron as well as Steve.”
Parnaby, who also oversaw the progress of Stewart Downing, is thrilled Jones could get his Wembley chance this weekend.
"Our hearts are with him," he added.
"He has been through some tough times in his private life.
“We've kept a close eye on him.
"Life has been tough over the last three or four years for him.
"But out of the blue comes this real bonus, if you like.
"Strange circumstances have thrown up this surprise.
"He went on the pitch and saved Yakubu's penalty and hopefully he can help book Liverpool a place in the FA Cup final.
"Brad's temperament is fantastic, he takes everything in his stride and is such a laid back man.
"We'd be thrilled up here if he saves another penalty and Stewie Downing fires in the winner on Saturday.”
There can be little denying that Jones is deserving of such fortune.
Copyright - Liverpool Echo