The Road to Rangers – Connor Goldson

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If the last Road to Rangers was an Old Firm Special, it felt only right that this edition should focus on the player who had a special Old Firm. For Conner Goalson (right I got it out the way early), a brace against Celtic was the personal highlight for a man who’s start to the season has seen him become a record-breaking defender and a real contender for our Player of the Season, having been awarded the honour of October’s Scottish Premiership Player of the Month.

Goldson has been the bedrock of Steven Gerrard’s defence at Rangers since his arrival at the club in 2018 and has been since awarded the honour of being the clubs Vice-Captain. A vocal leader on the pitch, he has been a large part of what has made the Rangers defence near-impenetrable so far this season, having played in every minute of our record-breaking clean sheet run.

It’s not always been this plain sailing for Goldson, however. He has a personal desire to make up for the time he lost fighting a heart defect that threatened to derail his career entirely. Now playing the best football of his career and with writers and pundits running out of superlatives to throw at him, it feels a good time to reflect on the career of the main man at the heart of the Rangers defence.

Early life and Shrewsbury Town: 1992-2015

Born in Wolverhampton, Goldson was educated at one of the best preforming state schools in England – the Thomas Telford School – which has been known for their outstanding pass rates for pupils and their Grade 1 rating from Ofsted.

In addition to his great education, Goldson’s natural football ability was discovered by a host of different sides. Initially being scouted for Wolves, Goldson left the side and was then offered a chance by Football League side Shrewsbury Town at the age of fourteen. Speaking to the club website about his time in the academy, Goldson said:

“I really enjoyed it. I left Wolves to try and have a bit of fun with my friends, but when Shrewsbury came in I knew lot of the lads because I’d gone to school with a  few and played for the county side with a few of them. They fast-tracked me really quickly and I think you need that as a kid. You need people to show faith in you and I really enjoyed it”.

At the end of the 2009/10 season, Goldson was one of five academy graduates to be awarded professional contracts with the side. Throughout the 2010/11 season, Goldson floated between the Shrewsbury bench and the academy side for the first half of the season, before managing an extended run in the matchday squad from January onwards. His professional debut would come on the 8th February at the age of eighteen, as he came on in the 69th minute in a 5-1 win away to Luton (with all six goals coming in the fist half). His full debut for the side came just a few weeks later as he stepped in for suspended skipper Ian Sharps. Shrewsbury went down 3-0 to Bury that evening, and after the game he spoke to the Shrewsbury Chronicle about his mixed emotions at making his full debut but being beaten:

“To lose 3-0 to a team around us in the table is hard to take. I don’t think we deserved that either as we started bright and created chances but the second goal killed us. I thought I did all right but I need to be a bit more aggressive in the air and win a few more headers.

I only knew I was playing just before the game. I didn’t expect to start but the gaffer pulled me to one side when I came in. he told me I was good enough and to go out and do what I’d been doing in every reserve game he’d seen me in. The nerves weren’t that bad to be honest. When I came on for my debut as a sub at Lincoln my legs were all over the place, but I didn’t feel that bad on Tuesday”.

Connor Goldson, 2013

That was to be Goldsons last appearance of the season, as he spent the remainder of the campaign floating between the substitutes bench and the reserve side. He was on the bench of both legs for Shrewsbury’s League Two Play-Off Semi-Final defeat to Torquay United, who would go on to lose the final to Stevenage at Old Trafford.

The 2011/12 season was much the same for Goldson, who again floated in and out of the side as Shrewsbury pushed for promotion to League One. Goldson was rewarded with three consecutive starts for the first time in his career as he started matches away to Port Vale and Southend with previous seasons beaten Play-Off Finalists Torquay at home, winning two and losing one. The only other appearance Goldson made that season was for a solitary minute, being brought on to help see-out a 1-0 win at home to Accrington Stanley. With all his appearances coming in the month of November, Goldson was forced to endure watching most of Shrewsbury’s promotion charge from the bench or the reserves, as the side finished second in the league.

After the pattern of being around the matchday squad and then dropping back into the reserves continued for the first half of the 2012/13 season, Goldson suddenly found himself with the first extended run of games in his career as he started nine consecutive matches between December and January. Notably, Goldson was deployed across the backline filling in at his natural position of centre half but also playing as a left back and a right back with the majority of his appearances coming in that position. He registered his first assist from right back in a 1-1 draw with Hartlepool.

After dropping out the starting XI he was recalled in March of that season and became a vital part of Shrewsbury’s survival campaign as they managed to steer clear of the relegation spots by seven points. On the final day of the season, Goldson headed home his first career goal against bottom of the league and already relegated Portsmouth in a game that Shrewsbury would go on to win 3-2.

Goldson’s big breakthrough came in the 2013/14 season as he became a regular starter for Shrewsbury, again being played across the backline. Part of the reason for Goldsons development was put down to his natural sporting aptitude – in particular boxing – as he trained with the former professional Richie Carter to try and improve upon his physicality and fitness.

Goldson during his boxing training, 2013

However, despite Goldson being a regular starter for Shrewsbury for the first time in his career it was agreed in late November of that year that Goldson would head to League Two side Cheltenham on an emergency loan deal. Speaking upon Goldson’s arrival, Cheltenham boss Mark Yates told the club website:

“Connor is a very good defender. He is big, strong and mobile. We are lacking in numbers in defence so he can certainly bolster our options”.

Goldson made four appearances for The Robbins winning three and losing one of those games, keeping three clean sheets in the process. As an interesting wee caveat goes, Goldson was on loan at Cheltenham at the same time as one Kemar Roofe! [And of course if you would like to read about Roofe’s Road to Rangers then that article is also available on the Heart and Hand website].

Goldson in action for Cheltenham against Mansfield Town, 2013

Despite his loan dealing being extended by Cheltenham, Shrewsbury exercised the recall clause in his deal after defender Darren Jones picked up an injury. It was around the same time that Shrewsbury manager Graham Turner (then the manager with the longest career in English football) stepped down and was replaced by caretaker manager Michael Jackson. From that point onwards, Goldson played every minute of every game for Shrewsbury as he established himself as the sides first choice centre back. Despite this, he could arrest the slide in the Shrewsbury team which was already in decline and it resulted in Shrewsbury’s relegation back to League Two.

Despite the relegation, Goldson attracted the attention of various Premier League outfits including serious interest from Swansea. He however opted to extend his deal at New Meadow for a further two years after the club appointed Micky Mellon (now of Dundee Utd fame) as their new permanent manager. Speaking after he penned the new deal, Goldson said claimed he done so against the wishes of his agent:

“My agent didn’t really want me to sign. He wanted me top go and play U21 football at a premier league team but it’s better I stay here. As soon as I came off the phone to the gaffer I said to my dad ‘I’m signing’. Its fake to go to a team and play U21 football somewhere else, I need to be playing in the first team every week and there’s no place I’d rather do that than here”.

He continued to cement his place in the team becoming un-droppable in the eyes of Mellon, so much so that Goldson was handed the Captains armband for the first time at just 21 years old in a League Cup tie at home to Blackpool, l where he led Shrewsbury to a 1-0 win. Mellon was full o praise for Goldson after the game and gave an insight into his character, claiming:

“He approaches every day’s training as if it’s the most important day’s training of his life. Wearing the armband inspires him and we felt we could get a wee bit more out of him with that extra responsibility”.

He was named captain again for the following round, away to Leicester, and in the league against Stevenage, building upon his leadership experience.

Goldson Captains Shrewsbury, 2014

Being given the captaincy was not the only achievement for Goldson during Shrewsbury’s League Cup run, as he got his first taste at playing top Premier League opposition as Shrewsbury welcomed Chelsea to New Meadow in the Round of 16. Live on TV, Jose Mourinho named a strong side that was captained and led by Didier Drogba. Drogba opened the scoring for Chelsea just after half time but Shrewsbury managed to pull level on the 77th minute to put themselves on the verge of a famous result. However, an own goal by Jermaine Grandison nine minutes from time was enough to break the Shrews hearts and send Chelsea through, who would of course go on to beat Tottenham 2-0 in the final.

Didier Drogba puts Chelsea ahead against Shrewsbury (with Goldson in the background), 2014

Back to league business and Goldsons goals from set pieces throughout the season proved crucial to winning his Shrewsbury promotion back to League One. Overall, Goldson found the net seven times in the 2014/15 season, his highest tally in a season to date. Goldson scored the winner in a tight game against Portsmouth in the 72nd minute to seal a 2-1 win. Furthermore, in the business end of the season Goldson scored a brace in five minutes against Dagenham & Redbridge to secure a 2-0 win. Shrewsbury ultimately finished second in the league on 89 points, 4 points ahead of Bury in 3rd and 5 points ahead of Wycombe Wanderers in the Play-Off places.

Goldson celebrates promotion to League One, 2015

Brighton: 2015 – 2018

Goldson started the 2015/16 season still at Shrewsbury, captaining the side as they fell to a 2-1 defeat to Millwall on the opening day of the season. However, the opportunity to join Brighton in the Championship arose a couple of weeks into the season as they made their interest known to Goldson, who ruled himself out of the Shrewsbury’s 2-1 loss to Chesterfield in an effort to force through a move, which was eventually sealed on the 19th August. Speaking to Shrewsbury’s media in 2018, after being voted by 80% of the fanbase as being their favourite defender of the last decade, he said he regretted how the move came to be:

“It was tough. I knew at the end of that season I had to leave for myself. I knew I was ready to push onto the next level but at the same time I knew how good Shrewsbury had been to me and I knew how much I meant to the team at the time and the manager. At the time it didn’t go as smooth as I would have wanted it to, the way I left, especially with the manager who I had the most respect for but since then we’ve had conversations regularly”.

Goldson initially flirted between the bench and the U21s as he settled into his new side, playing twice for the young guns and scoring in a 2-1 defeat to Arsenal. During that time where he wasn’t a regular starter, Goldson was in the stands at Pride Park as Brighton drew 2-2 with Derby County in December 2015 and alleged racial abuse by a home fan, writing on twitter:

“Always great being in the stand on a Saturday afternoon and being called a black b****** by a derby fan with his child. Great day”.

The allegation was corroborated by the Brighton Goalkeeper David Stockdale and the incident was subject to a police investigation.

The following week, Goldson made his debut for Brighton against Middlesbrough as he replaced Uwe Hünemeier for the final half an hour, with Brighton already being 3-0 down. Also playing for the Seagulls that day was former Ranger Jamie Murphy who is now at Hibernian.

Connor Goldson in an U21’s match for Brighton against Arsenal, 2015

From this point forward, Goldson cemented his place in the side as he started every game between then and the end of the season bar two. His first goal for the club came in a 2-1 win, as he headed home the equaliser as Brighton came from behind to win. He followed that up three games later with another goal as Brighton hammered QPR 4-0. Goldson’s form helped propel Brighton up the table, but they heartbreakingly missed out on automatic promotion after finishing with the same number of points as Middlesbrough but just two goals worse off. Goldson was forced off through injury, as were three other Brighton players, in the Play-Off Semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday which they would lose 3-1 on aggregate.

It was in the following January that Goldson was diagnosed with an enlarged aorta – a condition where the largest blood vessel of the body expands. This condition, which not being totally uncommon but can cause Strokes as the plaque cased by the enlarged aorta caused debris to flow up to the brain which can lead to potential fatalities. Goldson described to the Herald the process that led to his diagnosis:

“I’ve never felt a symptom. I’ve never felt anything to do with my heart. it was just a routine check-up that they picked up something was a little bit dilated. Not much, but once the specialist has seen that it would have been on his head to let be play football again. Many players will be playing with the same thing I had but I saw the specialist and he couldn’t let me go and plat because it would have been on his head if anything happened”.

During his time out with the condition and recovering from the surgery, Brighton managed to achieve promotion to the Premier League by finishing second in the Championship, a point behind league winners Newcastle. Goldson’s first appearance after his surgery came in December 2017, as he played the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 win over Watford, with his next appearance coming in a 4-0 home defeat to Chelsea, and his last appearance for the club coming on the final day of the season at Anfield as Brighton were once again beaten 4-0.

Rangers: 2018

On the 13th June 2018, Connor Goldson became Steven Gerrard’s sixth signing of the summer penning a four-year deal with Rangers for a £3m fee. Speaking upon his arrival, Goldson told the club website:

“Steven Gerrard had a massive influence on my decision to sign. When he first spoke to me I didn’t really know what I was doing, there were a few clubs interested in me in the Championship and I didn’t really know what to do. We carried on speaking and he has been brilliant with me, he said I could speak to him whenever I wanted or whatever I was thinking”.

Two years on, Goldson is playing the greatest football of his career at the helm of the Rangers defence. The Vice-Captain has been omnipresent in a record-breaking run of clean sheets that has seen Rangers break the British record for the longest run of consecutive clean sheets at the start of a season.

At this stage of the season we are in a good place as a squad and as a club and the most important thing is to stay grounded. While nothing is won in November, the words tattooed across Goldson’s legs remain as important now as ever.

Keep Faith.

Twitter: @rsjh0501

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