When Gustavo Hamers’ 30-metre header went over Ben Foster’s head, the Watford goalkeeper thought first of O… Here we go… Then came the self-hatred, the analysis, the acceptance and the reorientation. Even if I dive in, I remember what I was thinking: I have to save him and for some reason I didn’t have enough contact with the ball, whatever it was, it was a technical error, Foster told ESPN. As soon as it happened, I thought right away: Oh, no, no, no.
The process took 30 seconds and everything was recorded by a GoPro camera, which Foster placed in the back of the goal before the start. His Watford-team finally won a long-awaited 3-2 victory over Heymer Coventry City last weekend in the championship. Then, during the handshake after the game, he surrounded his GoPro and thanked his teammates for the rescue. When Foster returned to the dressing room, he was greeted by teammate Will Hughes. He [Hughes] just stood there and looked at me with a cheeky face, it’s going to be great on YouTube!
– The championship on ESPN+ : Live Game Broadcast (US only)
– ESPN+ Reading guide: Bundesliga, Series A, MLS, FA Cup and higher
When football stopped in March, Foster, 37 years old, used his time and energy to combine his football career and passion for cycling with his new YouTube channel The Cycling GK, which highlights some of his plans for life after football. In the darkness of another blockade in the UK, Foster and his YouTube channel offer an antidote. In sport, where identities are so often hidden, it is against the norm to let us catch a glimpse of the journey of a living person and the person with whom we want to spend an afternoon in a pub.
I love soccer. Don’t get me wrong. I like it, Foster. I love Saturday afternoons, the adrenaline rush I feel is unbelievable. But I can take the rest or leave it… really take or leave the rest of the shit that comes with it… Celebrity, celebrity, etc… I don’t care.
As we talk in front of Zoom, Foster is repulsed by the things that upset him and illuminate his radiant smile: The beer, the family, the food, the excitement of driving his new Tarmac SL7 (it’s like watching the birth of his new baby), the Giro d’Italia and his YouTube channel. Oh, and save yourself the punishment, like in an episode with Adam Armstrong of Blackburn Rovers.
The Foster Channel offers the viewer a unique insight into the life of a goalkeeper on and off the field. The GoPro, which he drives behind him at the door, gives you the opportunity to listen to everything that is going on: The personal moment is the cry of a lute player shouting at another lute player. You’re a selfish piece… after he took a good shot over the crossbar instead of going to his teammate in a better position. Then there are moments in another episode when Foster beats his defense and allows him to shoot at target or aim one of his backs to hold the Coventry striker to his weaker right leg. It’s an incredible approach – one we all miss with every new Fly to the wall documentary that comes out on streaming media.
Seeing the GK bike can also convey Foster’s infectious enthusiasm. Somehow after our conversation his joie de vivre made me buy a few bottles of red wine that he recommended – Tempranillo called it Guv’nor – and wondered if I could get a well-insulated frame on one of those lightweight bikes with technology and precision that would make NASA blush.
Foster is now in the twilight of his career and has played for Manchester United, West Bromwich Albion, Birmingham City and his current team Watford, which has won eight English internationals. We talk about some of the highlights – how he saved Stephen Gerrard’s penalty shoot-out header, his England debut under Sir Alex Ferguson – then he laughs and remembers how his opponent Paul Robinson congratulated him from 80 metres away. But Foster is fixed in the present and is not defined by the sport.
The mission statement says I’m Ben Foster: I’m a man, I have two beautiful children, I like to ride my bike, I like to make a living playing soccer. That’s how I live my life. You have to learn to draw a small line between what you are and what you do in life.
I’ve learned not to care what other people think and all the shit that comes with football, you just have to learn to forget it because it doesn’t matter. Especially for the goalkeeper, one should say: Stay on that keel if it makes sense.
He sees himself as an obsessed cyclist, like the footballer who founded the new YouTube channel that takes you to the heart of Watford’s life – including Hughes’ many colourful expressions. Whatever Hughes does, he swears, and as long as we cover his mouth and make him bleed like a curse, we’re fine. He likes it, actually, he’s mean. He’s one of those people who pretend to give a lot, and that’s what he does: I’ll never come, I’ll never talk, blah, blah, blah, blah. And as soon as the camera turns up, he runs to the back and jumps and swears and all that.
So far 11 episodes have been released: Spectators have learned that Foster is ultra competitive on a watt bike, loves tomato ketchup, (again) Hughes swears a lot, an unsung hero in Watford, as a crew member and bus driver – the blood of the club, and Foster judges the hotel on whether or not he has a USB port on the bed (he’s full of praise to the hotel’s local team for the recent renovation and new USB ports – sweet as a nut, buddy!).
Cycling is as much Foster’s hobby as his hideout. The two hours he spends on his bike every day gives him the opportunity to clear his head, pump up endorphins and let him eat and drink what I want when he gets home. As we talk, he drinks a glass of wine in front of the camera and laughs at how quickly he ate a bag of chips at the beginning of the day when he had already burned 2000 calories. His dream holiday consists of four or five days in the mountains with his teammates on a bike, followed by an afternoon at the swimming pool.
But this passion was originally motivated by necessity. During his 19-year career he contracted three cruciate ligaments and his bicycle enabled him to get fit again without exerting pressure on his surgically repaired knees. He also monitored his mental health during the first COVID 19 blockade in the United Kingdom.
It was the best medicine for me – I had to take it every day, whether it was on a motorcycle or a motorcycle, and I went out for an hour, two hours, whatever it was. My condition was incredibly high because I was at home and I was worried about the weight gain, but because I nailed the bike so hard, as if I were in the same condition as before, I think it was very important for me in terms of mentality.
And you can see it all in the GK engine. YouTube can provide him with a market and a post-football activity, but he also knows how cruel social media can be for those who are rooted at the beginning of their careers. I saw them when we got into full boarding school, and the first thing they do is see what some guy in his room said about him, and they take it with them. Your reaction isn’t like… Heads, they accept it completely, and it really affects them. It’s actually a pity, because the only people you really have to listen to are the trainers, your favourites, your parents, the people who really matter.
That’s why he doesn’t try to take himself too seriously, nor the life of a goalkeeper on a roller coaster. But he is also aware of his mortality. So far he has played 480 professional matches; his body reminds him of that on Sunday morning. I’m getting out of bed… it’s like things have gotten a lot harder and Oh, God, I can’t wait for it to stop hurting.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Watford-goalkeeper Ben Foster played for Manchester United and England, but he always tried to keep an eye on the ball. Getty
Foster still has a two year contract with Watford and he would very much like to return to the Premier League next year and maybe last year. Cycling helps him stay retired, but he never wants to be the number two goalkeeper. It’s not in his nature. In football, you never know, I don’t think you can ever say we just measure it and see how we feel.
When it’s time to hang up the gloves, he somehow stays in the game (maybe he does media work or makes a comment or something), but he’s already dreaming of adventure on his bike.
He says I want to do some things from the Bucket list. There are things like the Hate Route or L’Etape du Tour, where you like the seven most difficult stages of the Tour de France or the Giro d’Italia or something like that. And you’ll do them every day. But we don’t race, it’s like a big group of people having fun. There’ll be a group that will race, but I’ll be in a group with people who just want to have fun, and then you’ll be in a bar with a few drinks. So will they the next day. It’s such good company. Dude, honestly, I… I can’t wait.
Then there are projects closer to him, such as a new house he is building on a 30 acre farm in Warwickshire. He also has new neighbors who belong to the lady who owns the farm. She’s like crazy, crazy animals. She’s got four llamas. She has three ostriches who just had babies named Rei. She now has six or seven ostriches. She has Dobermans as a watchdog, which is also a nice, bright and mean watchdog.
Just outside the front door there are two huge lakes. There’s a hundred Canadian geese, she’s got bloodthirsty herons everywhere. There are carp in the lake – it looks like a three, four or five pound carp. She also has two peacocks, and they just had babies.
Then there are the guests he would like to see in his show. The wise guest of a dream would be… he just won the Giro, Tao Geoghegan Hart. We’re kind of friends on the Internet. He’s a big football and Arsenal fan.
And maybe new goals for his GoPro. I’d like one in the door of Manchester City Ederson. I saw Cruyff turning a man about ten yards from his target, and I thought… You don’t care if… Dude. It’s evil. And yet this mentality is worth its weight in gold. He’s in class. From the past, I think that even the simple fact of hearing Peter Schmeichel sing and hear him come in front of people and toast people like you wouldn’t believe, would be incredible.
And then he starts looking for his next obsession. I’m a world-class hobbyist. I think I’m gonna go after my dad because he’s a collector of things. He’s always collected Star Wars memorabilia; he has so many things at home that it’s a joke – just like some of them have real old-fashioned little characters that are still kept in boxes, and so on. That’s the kind of gene collection I get from him. I think it’s great. I don’t think that’s a bad way to be honest.
But for now it’s all about getting Watford back into the Premier League, enjoying the noise of the game and at the same time doing everything possible to film the life of a professional footballer – and a two-wheeler.
In football you can never get too high, you can never get too much, Foster says. On the other hand, don’t go too low and too deep, because then you start thinking about it too much and worrying too much.
When we’re in front of the camera, I try to show people that this is what I do in football. And I’ve found the best way to deal with it, just like right now. This YouTube has opened so many doors… …but people are really watching! Even for the bike videos, I get 100,000 hits. That’s very good. It’s working. I like her.