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Joe Hart was in a different class even as a toddler

05 Sep 2010 19:40:03

Joe Hart was in a different class even as a toddler

It is a special moment for any dad the first time you throw a ball to your toddler and he manages to catch it. But for Charles Hart it was a bit different. His little boy Joe was just two years old and stood 30 feet away, across the garden of their house on the edge of Shrewsbury. Joe not only held on to the tennis ball, but threw it right back. Joe saves the day: Hart announced himself on the international scene with this save from Bulgaria's Dimitar Rangelov It was the day an England goalkeeper was created. 'I just gasped. I knew then he was going to be exceptional,' says Charles. 'I was trained as a PE teacher and worked in the fitness industry so I knew something about kids and sporting development, and that was just unreal. 'Most small children can't catch at even a short distance, they haven't got the motor skills or the physical strength. 'That's why I can still remember that day. We just moved further and further apart, playing throw and catch. For some reason he has always just had natural strength and eye-hand co-ordination. It all came together. 'There is sporting blood in both sides of the family. Myself and Joe's uncles played rugby but he is just different again. He seems to be blessed with everything.' If that day in the Harts' garden was a defining point in Joe's career, there would be plenty more. Ball game: Joe Hart was forced to chose between football and cricket The only question after that was not whether Joe would excel, but at which sport. It wasn't going to be rugby. 'That was one of those typical father and son things,' Charles says with a laugh. 'Because I played it, he didn't want to. 'From an early age Joe decided to be a goalkeeper. He liked getting muddy and throwing himself about, and the furniture at home will pay testament to that, so he became a goalkeeper. 'We had two sinks, and one was always full of his messy football gear so my wife, Louise, could get it clean enough to go into the washing machine without ruining it!' There was cricket gear to clean, too. If Hart hadn't been earning his first competitive cap against Bulgaria at Wembley on Friday, he could just as easily have been preparing for an Ashes series. The next big moment was with Shrewsbury Cricket Club as they followed up winning the Under 13 national title by taking the Under 15 one, too. Hart's figures of three for 19 and 34 not out tell only half the story. The eyes of club chairman Andy Barnard light up at the memory. 'For a small club like ours to achieve that, you knew we had talent, but Joe was exceptional in the way he played, but there was also something about him. 'He was a winner. 'I saw it most at the Under 15 final. We were at Shenley playing a team from Cardiff. He bowled so quickly and aggressively. Aiming high: Hart (back left) towers over his cricket team-mates at primary school 'I'm not saying he won the game single-handedly, but his presence, the aura he gave off to the other boys, the feeling of him playing was enough for us to win the game. 'I watched what happened at Wembley, his first major England game, and he was not fazed by it at all. He just loved the opportunity. That's what he was like then.' Cricket might have wrecked his sports career, though. 'He had bad back problems growing up and he had this terrible bowling action that was going to hurt him more. 'We had him running through corridors, and the club coach invented big panels of wood for him to get sideways on. His front leg splayed, which gives stress fractures, but they sorted that out and he has no back problems now. 'He's wonderful. When he comes here now he just likes to sit down with the guys. 'He's not in any way affected by his fame and fortune.' Boot boy: At home in Shrewsbury Joe turned down the chance to join Worcestershire's cricket staff and plumped instead for a YTS scheme at Shrewsbury. The next big moments weren't too far away. Gary Peters was the manager who flung Hart in at the deep end and Peters recalls: 'The club had been bottom of the league and I wasn't sure if I wanted the job. 'I went to watch the reserves in the afternoon before I went back and gave a decision. I just saw this big kid in goal, couldn't believe it when they told me he was only 17, and thought, 'I just have to manage him'. 'The first-team goalkeeper was a 33-year-old called Scott Howie who had been player of the year when they got promoted from the Conference the season before. 'But at the dangerous end of the season, when we had to win to make sure we stayed up, I put Joe in. 'The supporters thought I was mental, even the board wondered if I was stupid. The chairman said to me, 'I know he's going to be a great player one day, but does it have to be this day?' 'But, to be honest, the kid kept us up. We won 3-0 that day, and he commanded the box, took everything. 'When I said, 'I'm putting you in', he couldn't wait. If anything, that cockiness is what makes him, except it's in a good way. He's not a bit arrogant. 'Somebody asked me before the World Cup if England should put him in. Yes, definitely. If Fabio Capello had put him in, we'd have done better. 'I told David Moyes, who had been my assistant when I worked at Preston, about him and he sent Chris Woods to have a look. Before long just about every Premier League club was at every game.' It was Manchester City who bought him. Tim Flowers was their goalkeeping coach, and says: 'When I first saw him train I said to him, 'You will win 100 caps'. 'He laughed, but I'm even more sure now. I saw him a couple of weeks ago and he's filled out and is so imposing. I'm 6ft 2in and he made me feel like a jockey!' Birmingham goalkeeping coach Dave Watson picked up Hart when City stopped trusting youth for a while and gave his place to Shay Given. Watson says: 'He'd been knocked down the pecking order and it was just what he needed to come and play. He bought into the whole environment and it got the best from him. 'Goalkeeper is an isolated position, especially when things aren't going well, and you have to know that whatever happens you will get support. Once he got that there were times in training he'd be unbeatable. 'When he takes that into a game, he's at a different level.' Fabio Capello's joy at new maturity in his England No 1Clemence takes Hart as confident Joe looks the part for EnglandAdam Johnson 'making up for lost time' with England and Manchester City after delayed start at MiddlesbroughWayne Rooney will travel to Switzerland for England's Euro qualifier despite claims that he cheated on wife Coleen with a prostitute


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