Charlie Horlock returned to Hitchin for a second spell this season. Still only 24, Charlie has had an eventful career in football and has certainly experienced both highs and lows along the way. I recently spoke to Charlie and he talked me through his football experiences to date.

Charlie was born in East Grinstead and lived there until he was eighteen. His first club was Charlton Athletic who he joined when he was twelve and he stayed there for 2½ years before being released. It was devastating news for Charlie as the reason given was that he was too small to be a goalkeeper. At that time scans were not available that could predict growth prospects which does now happen. Charlie trained with a goalkeeping coach Stuart Owens three evenings a week and earned a three month trial at Fulham but again he was released for being too small.

He joined Wycombe at fifteen after his coach got him a trial. He was now beginning to grow and became a regular in Wycombe Under 18’s despite being just fifteen. He made his FA Youth Cup debut having been to school during the day and this was his biggest day in football so far but there was no happy ending as Wycombe were beaten 1-0 by Rushden (a goal Charlie could do nothing about). Charlie was given a two-year scholarship at Wycombe and did get to train with the first team. He also occasionally was involved in warm-ups on match days. He suffered an injury when he was sixteen but was soon hit by a massive blow.

Due to financial pressures Wycombe dropped their entire youth set up. There had been no warning and suddenly Charlie was without a club the second year of his scholarship now worthless. Wycombe offered the youth players contact numbers to try and get new clubs but despite sending out up to twenty letters and emails only Stevenage replied to Charlie. Even then while he was offered a trial he had to compete with ten other triallists. The trial was due to last two weeks but Charlie was taken on after just two days. He was given a one year scholarship and played for the under 18’s and trained with the first team.

At the end of this year Charlie was confident of getting a contract but a change of manager meant circumstances changed and the new manager did not sign Charlie. Luckily his old club Wycombe then offered him a trial and he was given a one-year contract as back up goalkeeper to Matt Ingram. He did not get a first team game so went on loan to Hendon.

He was at Hendon for two months and it was a real shock to the system in the world of non-league football. Away from the comforts of League football Charlie had to become more streetwise and it certainly progressed his career. Wycombe just avoided relegation and Charlie was offered another year. Another loan spell followed as Charlie wanted match practice and he went to Harrow where he played twenty games before returning to Wycombe.

At this stage Hitchin were looking for a goalkeeper and Mark Burke approached Wycombe. Charlie was keen to play first team football and initially agreed to join Hitchin for a month. Mark even managed to arrange lodgings for Charlie in Baldock and he was very grateful for this. Results improved for Hitchin during this spell and Charlie stayed to the end of the season. His first game was against Royston on 15 November 2014 in a Herts Charity Cup game that we lost 2-1. The only players still at the club who played in that game are Lewis Rolfe, Ben Walster and Brett Donnelly. Charlie said he enjoyed it much more at Hitchin than at Hendon or Harrow. He felt appreciated and valued at Hitchin and was happy working for the management team. Wycombe kept tabs on Charlie’s performances and he returned to Hitchin for the 2015/16 season.

Charlie suffered his biggest disappointment with the play-off semi-final defeat at home to Hungerford but his final game saw a Herts Senior Cup Final victory against Boreham Wood. He then returned to Wycombe with no real expectations but an injury to one of their goalkeepers meant Charlie was called up to be on the bench for the Wembley play-off final against Southend. An attendance of 38,252 saw Southend win on penalties. Interestingly this Wembley final was not the highlight of Charlie’s season. Instead it was Hitchin’s 1-0 win over Poole with Dan Webb’s last minute header on the day of the Save Top Field march. He said he had gone through a big learning curve and he needed to be playing so this game meant more than sitting on the bench at Wembley.

His contract at Wycombe was now at an end and at the age of twenty he needed a new club. While Charlie did not want to leave Hitchin after playing 87 games he needed to play at a higher level. He joined Eastbourne Borough in the Conference South and also trained with Brighton including a number of sessions with the first team. Brighton had agreed to sign Charlie on 1 January and he would fulfil his dream of becoming a League player.

Then tragedy struck as Charlie was injured on Boxing Day and was ruled out for six months. Unfortunately Brighton could not wait as they needed a goalkeeper there and then so Charlie missed out. He got back in to the Eastbourne team but a new manager then brought in his own goalkeeper. Charlie did not want to be number two again and asked to go out on loan. He turned down Guernsey but knew the Hastings United manager and joined them for a month before they paid a fee to make it permanent. Charlie stayed at Hastings for 1 ½ years and just missed out on promotion.

Mark Burke had kept in touch with Charlie and always made him feel wanted so when Mark asked Charlie to rejoin Hitchin he agreed. He thought he would be competing for the No 1 jersey with Michael Johnson but MJ left to join Braintree so Charlie became the regular keeper again. He is pleased to be back at Top Field where he still feels appreciated and wanted after a number of kicks in the teeth during his career. He wants to help Hitchin get back in to the play-offs and is still ambitious. Aged just 24 he still hopes he can get in to League football at some point.

Charlie is currently doing his UEFA B coaching badge and does goalkeeping coaching which he really enjoys and also does coaching work for Mark Burke at the Arena. Charlie has seen how the football world can be both cruel and kind but he has no bitterness over those moments of misfortune and is just determined to be the best goalkeeper he can be.

He is an impressive individual and has now passed 100 appearances for Hitchin. We are very lucky to have him back at Top Field.

BY ROY IZZARD