A GOALKEEPER from Chester could be the busiest man at Wembley Stadium this Sunday as Championship outsiders Cardiff City face Liverpool in the Carling Cup final.
Tom Heaton, a boyhood Reds fan, will form the last line of defence between the Bluebirds’ goal and Kenny Dalglish’s expensively-assembled array of international stars.
The former Upton High School pupil was the hero of Cardiff’s penalty shootout victory over Crystal Palace in the semi-finals – and he can expect to play a key role again this weekend in what will be the biggest game of his career.
Heaton, 25, will be cheered on by a whole host of friends and family, including dad Dave, mum Joan and sister Lucy.
Dave, of Guilden Sutton, said: “I’m looking forward to it – absolutely. It will be a fantastic occasion. Some people spend a whole career and don’t get to Wembley.
“On paper, Liverpool should win because it’s a Premier League team versus a team from the Championship. But you never know in sport – stranger things have happened.”
Heaton’s mum Joan prefers not to watch her son play because she gets too nervous. During last month’s dramatic semi-final, she refused to even tune in to BBC’s live coverage of the match.
However, Joan has been persuaded to make the trip south to Wembley this Sunday.
“It was too big a game for her to miss,” said Dave. “She’s just going to have to cope with the nerves.”
Heaton began his career at Wrexham but was quickly snapped up by Manchester United after scouts spotted him playing for the Chester Primary Schools team.
Despite signing for the Red Devils, he continued to support Liverpool.
“He went to his first trial at Manchester United in a Liverpool shirt. I remember it well!” said Dave.
Heaton signed for Cardiff in 2010 and has been their specialist Carling Cup goalkeeper this season, with David Marshall preferred by boss Malky Mackay for the Bluebirds’ league matches.
Having played such an important part in getting Cardiff to Wembley – saving two penalties in the semi-final shootout – Heaton is widely expected to be given the gloves for Sunday’s game.
“The cup competitions have been my golden ticket really,” said the former England Under 21 keeper. “When you get an opportunity you try and take it with both hands.”
Scotland international Marshall has even said he would be ‘surprised’ if Heaton – a schoolmate of Chester FC midfielder Levi Mackin – did not play.