Conor O’Keefe: ‘Last year I played in the FA Vase. Now I’m going to the Bernabéu’

The English goalkeeper landed a contract with Fuenlabrada after sending letters in gold envelopes to 48 Spanish clubs. On Tuesday he will join his team-mates at the Copa del Rey tie against Real Madrid

When Fuenlabrada’s bus rolls through the gates into the Santiago Bernabéu on Tuesday night, there will be an Englishman on board. In early July Conor O’Keefe, a 22-year-old goalkeeper and university student from Macclesfield, boarded a plane, hired a car and flew to Spain armed with nothing but a gigantic spreadsheet and Google Maps. There, he knocked on the door of every club within an hour radius until the third-division leaders invited him in; two months later, the Copa del Rey draw paired them with Real Madrid. And although he will not play, this is his team now – 48 clubs and hundreds of golden envelopes later.

“I rang my dad: ‘We’re going to Real Madrid,’” he says. Richard O’Keefe knew how long his son’s journey had been and how much further it still has to run: from Crewe to Macclesfield and a season spent travelling the north-west, turning out for nine different teams, a kind of supply goalkeeper always on call; from turning down a youth contract, instead playing as a two?year “triallist” because it was the only way they would let him sit A-levels, to chasing clubs and agents; from joining Olympic high-jumpers and a former Rada-trained actor turned athletics coach named Fuzz Caan, to the home of Ronaldo, Bale and Benzema.

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