By Tony Leighton
Being a fully paid-up member of the goalkeeping fraternity, and thus willing to pass on tips and advice to less experienced stoppers, is all very well - but to help a fellow keeper at the expense of re-claiming your first-team place after injury is surely taking that 'fraternity' thing too far? Not so in the case of Crewe Alexandra's Steve Phillips.
34-year-old Phillips is providing club colleague Alan Martin with all the support that the 23-year-old Scot needs as he looks to start building a career after failing to make the first-team at either of his first two clubs - Motherwell and Leeds United - and then joining the Railwaymen from part-time outfit Ayr United in July 2011.
"Steve's helped me massively," Martin told football-league.co.uk as he paid tribute to the npower League 1 club's senior keeper, who was an ever-present last term as promotion from League 2 was clinched but is missing the start of the new campaign due to a knee problem that has required surgery.
"I'm still learning," added Martin, "but Steve is helping me in training every day. We start half-an-hour before the rest of the boys and normally finish half-an-hour after them, so as well as getting the benefit of working with Steve, it's helping me in terms of fitness, stamina and concentration levels on the pitch.
"Steve's on his way back to playing - he's doing 40 miles a day on a bike to get his fitness up. I drove past him one day last week and he was wearing skin-tight, red and white Lycra - what a sight. He's almost ready to go though, so I know I'll have to up it - but I want to keep the number one jersey, that's my main target."
Having had to wait for a whole season to make his Crewe debut, which he finally did in last month's 5-0 Capital One Cup win against Hartlepool United, Martin is understandably keen to hang on to the jersey - and he is staking a solid claim after playing in all seven of his team's League and Cup games to date.
"I've been satisfied so far," said the young keeper. "I still want to get more in my game, but I've had three clean sheets and I'm happy with that. Hopefully I can keep doing it, but clean sheets aren't just down to me they're about everybody working together and you can see that out on the pitch.
"We've gone up from League 2 to League 1 and it's not a small step it's a big, big leap. But the boys have dealt with it really well. We're testing ourselves against stronger teams and we'll be the underdogs this season, but we're proving that we should be in this League and maybe pushing higher."
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