By Charles Wade-Palmer
From karate kid to filling in between the posts, Sam Kingston’s goalkeeper journey started later than most.
Yet training more days than not over his teenage years has deservedly fast-tracked him into Chelmsford’s first-team squad, aged just 18.
Sam grew up in the city before a family move to neighbouring Braintree, where his game really came on.
Having already gone full circle, the young shot-stopper reflects on his development to date and that incredible FA Youth Cup run.
An 11-year-old Sam had no idea how much football would take over his life when leaving behind martial arts for Springfield-based Uplands Rangers FC.
Clearly used to tumbling around on mats, pulling on gloves appealed simply because he ‘liked diving around’.
“You have to have something crazy about you to be a goalkeeper!” – Sam Kingston
He said: “I used to do a bit of karate, it was just something to do to be fair. There wasn’t any particular reason that I came into football late, though, it was just the time that I decided to try and do some football.
“They had trials at the club, and I went to be a goalkeeper – I just liked diving around so I thought, ‘Why not give it a go?’
“It kind of just went on from there, I ended up being put in the A team at the time, for the next season as goalkeeper, and I did well. So, that’s how I started out.”
Sam’s admission that growing up watching ‘keepers in action on YouTube is enough to make anyone over 21 feel old.
And despite quickly learning that it takes someone a bit ‘crazy’ to enjoy having shots fired at them for 90 minutes, Sam was already sucked in.
“I just liked watching goalkeepers on TV and YouTube videos at the time, I just thought it would be good fun,” he said.
“You have to have something crazy about you to be a goalkeeper!”
Chelmsford City EJA U13 was Sam’s first switch and he obviously did something right to earn a trial with Barnet FC.
He didn’t make the cut but the following season enjoyed title-winning success with Braintree Town EJA who were also County Cup finalists.
“It was football every day.” – Sam Kingston
So busy with football, mornings before lessons started became the only time Sam could squeeze in his homework.
Sam: “I was also training with an academy called FITC academy at the time, so I was training about three days a week with them, doing goalkeeper training. On top of that, I was training once a week with the Braintree team and playing a game.
“So, my whole week was pretty much football by that point, but I found it okay because I used to get to school quite early, so I could do a lot of my work in the morning.”
His return to the Clarets’ colours for under-18s football coincided with picking up game time for Chadwell Heath Spartans men’s team in the Essex Alliance League.
“I was training with the First Team at Chelmsford and playing for two different teams – the U18s and Chadwell Heath Spartans. It was football every day again pretty much,” he explained.
Sam was set to be crowned a champion in his first season playing with adults, only for Covid-19 to force the competition null and void.
“I think it was just that we had to prove that we weren’t pushovers.” – Sam Kingston
Not getting carried away was key to the Academy side’s impressive run in the FA Youth Cup, which could only be stopped by a League One club, Sam says.
Ipswich Town Academy put five past City at the EMG Inspire Stadium in the second round on 23rd November.
Sam: “I think it was more that we took it one game at a time, we just wanted to win each game and then see who we had next and try and beat them as well.
“With the Ipswich game, I think it was just that we had to prove that we weren’t pushovers. We just wanted to try our best and whatever happened, happened.
“We were underdogs and the pressure wasn’t on us. Obviously, there was a bit of disappointment that we didn’t get the result, but we weren’t expected to.
“But we’ve got to be happy, we went as far as we could in the competition. It was just a great experience to do that with the boys in the squad.”
“Lee was always there when I wanted to message him about anything or call him up.” – Sam on ex-Clarets number one, Lee Worgan
Then came the call up from City Manager Robbie Simpson, who has regularly thrown the teenager into matchday squads.
Soaking up the atmosphere travelling to games and watching from the bench is one thing, but to learn from an experienced pair of hands in Lee Worgan was invaluable, Sam says.
“I think the main thing that I learnt from him was that he has a great starting position, he’s always ready for a ball over the top to come and get it and help the defence out.
“He was always happy to help in training sessions, he’d give you pointers if he felt that you could do something that would help improve you; that helped me a lot.”
Sam continued: “I’ve had a lot of help from coaches like Danny – the Goalkeeping Coach – he’s really helped me over the time we spent in lockdown and out of lockdown.
“Before games, after we’d warmed up with Lee, he used to help me with kicking and crossing.
“Lee was always there when I wanted to message him about anything or call him up.
“The players help me out as well by giving me tips just to make the game easier for myself and to be more confident.”
Robbie has inevitably also spent time trying to get the best out of Sam, “He’s helped me a lot with the way we play, he’s given me pointers on how to make it easier for myself,” the ‘keeper noted.
“I just like being able to push myself; I want to be successful as much as I can.” – Sam Kingston
Shortcomings Sam has spent the closed season working on have been largely physical but his mindset is also something he has looked to build on.
Sam: “Probably, when I first started training with the First Team, I probably wasn’t the most confident person in the world and I wasn’t up to that standard, so I just worked on myself over that lockdown period to improve mentally, physically and technically.
“I got a personal trainer during lockdown, that was over Zoom calls, to improve my physicality. I was probably quite skinny back in that time.
“For technically improving, I did my one-on-one sessions when we were allowed back out to help improve that side of my game.
“I probably didn’t have the biggest kick back in them days as well, so that’s improved a lot over time.
“I just like being able to push myself; I want to be successful as much as I can.
“My mum has helped me out a lot, she’s taken me everywhere; there’s been a lot of travelling involved with football.
“I just want to prove that all of her hard work and the dedication that she had, I can get somewhere for it.”