Torquay United goalkeeper Martin Rice has revealed that his penalty save in a 1-0 FA Trophy final defeat to Ebbsfleet United in 2008 is the best stop he has made in a nine-year senior career that has also taken in multiple seasons at both Exeter City and Truro City.
Rice first joined Torquay in 2007 after moving from Devon rivals and hometown club Exeter City, but, finding first-team opportunities limited at Plainmoor, joined non-league Truro two years later. A successful stay at Treyew Road – which took in two promotions in his three seasons at the club – convinced new Torquay manager Martin Ling to swoop for Rice’s signature in July 2011 after both of United’s senior goalkeepers in 2010-11, Scott Bevan and Danny Potter, had joined the Plainmoor exodus started by boss Paul Buckle’s defection to Bristol Rovers earlier that summer.
Lured by the promise of professional football, Rice found himself behind first-choice goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik on his return to Torquay, but earned praise from coaching staff and team-mates alike for his superb attitude and enthusiasm – so much so that United left-back Kevin Nicholson named the custodian as his “Player of the Season” despite the fact that Rice did not made a single league appearance in 2011-12! Says Ling: “The enthusiasm and drive he brings to the place is phenomenal…I’ve been really pleased with how he has done the job as number two.”
Although Torquay inevitably lost Olejnik this summer, to Championship side Peterborough United, Rice has once more found himself beginning the season on the bench, with new signing Michael Poke assuming the role of first-choice goalkeeper. Ironically, Poke was one of the glovesmen obstructing Rice’s path to first-team football in his initial spell at United: the pair formed the club’s goalkeeping unit in the 2008-09 promotion-winning campaign, and Martin was on the bench as Torquay, with Poke between the posts, defeated Cambridge United in the play-off final on 17 May 2009.
Rice had, however, started at Wembley in United’s 1-0 FA Trophy final defeat to Ebbsfleet United in May 2008, and it was in this game that the goalkeeper made what he believes to be the best save of his career – a spot-kick stop to deny future Torquay team-mate Chris McPhee when the scores were still level. In an interview with Torquay’s match-day programme about the science and demands of his position, Rice said “The best save I ever made was the penalty at Wembley, especially as I’d given the pen away!”
The 26-year-old added: “I have always loved the role [of a goalkeeper] and there are so many different areas to work on: handling crosses, shot-stopping, kicking…making saves is the obvious area of glory for a ‘keeper but coming for crosses is equally satisfying because you know it’s helping out the defenders.”
Echoing Matt Barlow’s musings in today’s Daily Mail, Rice admitted the isolation of his position can be a drawback: “The life of a goalkeeper can be lonely and standing out on the pitch can sometimes be a lonely place, but you’ve always got to be on your toes and ready for the ball coming over the top.
“It is a different psychology [compared to outfield positions] but you can sometimes think about things too much; if you make a mistake, it’s important not to excessively study what happened and keep your mind on the game.”
Watch the save in question: