Words & Image: James Bird
Carl Ikeme played for Wolves ever since he was a little kid with big gloves and big goalposts to make his own.
He made his debut in a 5–1 League Cup win over Chester in 2005 (with a team managed by Glenn Hoddle and featuring Joleon Lescott, Colin Cameron, Seol Ki-Hyeon, Darren Anderton, and Kenny Miller), got promoted with big Mick in 2009, was the only reliable presence as Wolves slid from the Premier League to League One between 2011 and 2013, and then anchored the defence as the club pulled its socks up, put its shirt back on the right way round and got itself back into the Championship.
Carl saw the lot at Wolves—the full deck of weird, hopeless, and infrequently fantastic cards that moved their way through the club as it played solitaire against itself on a broken table for the last 15 years. Making 207 appearances for Wolves between his debut and retirement in 2018, alongside 10 appearances for Nigeria—Carl would have been the Super Eagles’ goalie at the World Cup last summer had he not fallen seriously ill with acute leukaemia—a condition that as of June 2018 he has thankfully been in complete remission of. Head Coach Gernot Rohr described not having him in Russia as “his biggest regret”.
He was one of those goalies that made things slow motion, like just looking at the ball put the brakes on. He was that calm in plucking crosses out of the air that my dad nicknamed him the Iceman. He made hurling himself between two metal sticks to stop a ball from crossing a painted line look elegant.
And after Wolves’ FA Cup Third Round win over Liverpool, I had five minutes to look up at the man I’d looked down at from the stands so many times before. There’s only one Carl Ikeme.
Carl, what are your first memories of the FA Cup?
Well, my first memories of FA Cups are the Finals as a kid. And it’s me at my grandad’s with the family, and there’d be a lot of hype in the house about what suits they were going to wear and what time we were getting to head to the Molineux to watch. I can remember being excited from nine o'clock in the morning until kick-off time, and there being that massive build-up to the game.
What about the first time you played in the Cup
The first time I played in the FA Cup was against Luton away for Wolves, which wasn’t a classic cup tie for us. We lost 1–0. Ståle Solbakken got the sack after that, and of course, it doesn’t become the greatest memory after that happened. But it was a proper taste of the FA Cup in the sense that at Luton—the capacity is quite high for a small ground—and they were proper on top of you from the start.
My main memory is of the fans going berserk at the end of the game and us walking off not happy. Not happy at all.
I actually liked those games against ‘smaller’ clubs, though. You knew it was going to get spicier, and I knew that I’d get to come for crosses more than I usually would. I enjoyed that battle and bit of a scrap.
Do you have to prepare differently for those kind of games?
I don’t think I ever prepared differently for any game. You can’t ever rest on your laurels. Honestly, as a goalkeeper, if you don’t prepare properly for any game, you end up with egg on your face.
How do you feel about a little run in the Cup for Wolves this year?
Is it vitally important Wolves have a Cup run? Maybe not. But, would the fans and the players and the managers and the owners love it? I think they would. It would be the icing on the cake at the minute. Things are unbelievable here from where we were two or three years ago to where we are now. Even getting promoted from the Championship to actually being a part of the Premier League, it’s sort of—I’d like to say dreamland.
I think the owners and the club want to be pushing towards to the top half of the league. When you sit back and look at it, most of these players were in the Championship last year. So, as well we being super talented, a lot of them are still improving. Many of them are still really young, and a lot of them still have points to prove. It’s exciting.
It would be great for everyone involved in the club to have a little run. You never know, because we’ve got momentum from getting promoted and there’s a really good feel around the club—it just feels like the right year to have a little run.
It does. I would like that. As a goalie, who were your footballing heroes growing up?
My goalkeeping heroes changed as I grew up. Schmeichel was someone that I absolutely loved as a kid. And then I used to go down the Villa quite a lot, so Mark Bosnich was someone that I really liked to watch playing. At Villa he was brilliant.
David James was someone who looked like me in that he was a black keeper—and he showed me that I could be a goalkeeper. It was really important for me to see that. He was so athletic and at a top, top club. Those three keepers in my younger days were huge influences. And then, of course, your Buffons and Casillas were people that I really loved watching.
Finally, what’s the best goal someone has ever scored past you?
The best goal, well, it’s hard to think. But I am going to give a shout out to Coads (Conor Coady). He did score past me from about 25 yards for Huddersfield. It’s not the best goal I’ve conceded, but it was pretty good. I’m going to give Coads that mantle.
What an incredibly lovely man. MUNDIAL Magazine Issue 16 is out now. There’s lots more like this in there. Get it delivered to your door here.