When Brighton and Hove Albion take to the pitch against Manchester City on August 12th they will be doing so with a new man between the posts.
In a move which was both unsurprising and wildly out of left field, David Stockdale joined Harry Redknapp’s Birmingham side last week departing the Seagulls after three years.
That he left at all is the unsurprising bit. I was in the crowd at the final whistle at Aston Villa and, speaking as a completely unqualified “expert” on the body language of professional goalkeepers, he looked to me like a man saying good-bye.
Stockdale was soon to be out of contract and there had been rumours circulating, as far back as January, that he would be joining Chelsea to replace Bournemouth-bound Asmir Begovic and that’s where some of us thought he would end up. Or possibly at one of Watford or Crystal Palace both of whom he allegedly had discussions with. I don’t think anybody, once news of his rejection of the offer on the table came through, thought that he’d end up at Birmingham; following in the footsteps of another former Seagull Tomasz Kuszczak.
He had his reasons no doubt and it isn’t my place to question them, but the general consensus amongst Albion fans are that one or both of the following things occurred:
He wasn’t offered a long enough contract at the Albion
He was aware of the intention to bring in other 1st team goalkeepers
With both of those things in mind the decision to stay in the Championship makes more sense. Taking a move which guaranteed him two or three years of work at a presumably good wage thanks to old ‘Arry and, knowing he’s likely to be the #1, or #13 in his case, would likely have been more desirable than a one year contract maybe playing second fiddle to a new boy at the team his clean sheets had helped promote.
In the vacuum of time between finding out he’d rejected the offer from Brighton and that he’d joined Birmingham some people on Twitter, unfortunately, gave him a bit of a hounding which I felt was utterly unfair.
Stockdale was a model professional during his time at the Albion both on and off the field. It honestly came as no surprise when, in the wake of the Shoreham Air Show disaster, he was the first player to put his hand up and ask what he could do to help.
Not only that but he, in my eyes, absolutely raised the standard of goalkeeping at Brighton. His distribution with his feet is insane; I’ve watched so many glorious passes pinged off his boots and down the pitch. He also gave me my absolute favourite memory of last season: saving Fernando Forestieri’s penalty and then, even better, saving his follow up. Just glorious.
He is a top goalkeeper, as evidenced by his inclusion in the Championship team of the year, and comes across as a thoroughly decent man to boot. Birmingham should consider themselves immeasurably lucky and new Seagull Mathew Ryan has some awfully big gloves to fill.