Phillips Experiences Highs and Lows of Life on Loan
Football is, as they say, a funny game and it can lead to a mixture of conflicting emotions at the weirdest of times.
One player riding that rollercoaster is goalkeeper Dillon Phillips. Currently on loan at National League outfit Cheltenham Town from Championship Charlton Athletic, he is enjoying the highs with his current team while his parent club experience some brutal lows.
“As well as young talent, we have a lot of experience in this group. They have helped us stay at it”
Down at The Valley, relegation looms, with a run of poor results and a managerial revolving door fuelling fan protests against owner Belgian Roland Duchatelet.
Meanwhile, in Gloucestershire, Cheltenham are contesting the automatic promotion spot with Forest Green, having only lost two of their 28 games in the league this season. Things seem like they couldn’t be going better for Phillips.
The Robins currently have the best defensive record in the league (just 19 goals conceded), with their 20-year-old goalie keeping 12 clean sheets – not that he wants to take all the credit.
“Tight-knit is a great way to describe us,” he told me. “As well as young talent, we have a lot of experience in this group. They have helped us stay at it and they all know what it takes to do well at this level and higher
“There is no easy game in this league you have to go to some horrible places and pick up valuable points so yes we will stay very grounded.”
However, it’s not surprising that despite his focus on the job in hand at Cheltenham, Phillips’ thoughts turn to the struggles of Charlton, where he’s since the age of seven.
” I like to think that there are people at Charlton who believe in me too”
Currently sitting second bottom and four points off safety, there’s no sign of a revival happening anytime soon. But their young keeper remains hopeful over their plight.
“Obviously, I’ve seen some anger from Charlton fans. At the moment it’s a sticky patch and the results haven’t been great, but I’m sure they will pull through with the quality in the dressing room.”
Phillips is not looking to walk away from his childhood club, either. “Signing my scholarship at 15 and moving into full-time football is when I saw that the club were really investing in my potential.
“I’m confident that hopefully one day I will make my professional debut for Charlton, and I like to think that there are people at the club who believe in me too. So I’m quietly confident that I’ll be able to break into that first team in the future.”
Phillips is keen to stress how much he has learnt from other goalkeepers at Charlton – lessons he is currently putting to good use at Cheltenham under boss Gary Johnson.
“When I was eight I trained with probably four or five different age groups of goalkeepers to work on specific aspects. All of the goalkeeping pros that I’ve worked with have been top draw.
“I learned from all of them in different ways. Ben Hamer, Ben Alnwick and Stephen Henderson have all been Charlton’s number ones whilst I’ve been a pro and I look up to all of them. I still keep in contact with all three even though two are not at the club anymore.”
Having recently extended his loan until the end of the season, Phillips is hoping that he can cap off a great campaign by helping Cheltenham return to League Two.
“I’ve had a taste of being in a winning team I want to it continue this, to improve in aspects that I need to and just eventually fulfil my potential and play to as high a level as I can,” he said.
Phillips stresses again that Cheltenham’s success is down a real team effort, with experienced players such as striker Danny Wright and Aussie defender Aaron Downes combining with young talents such as former Spurs youngster Jack Munns and Welsh midfielder Billy Walters.
“If the example Jack Butland has set is in any way a good omen, Phillips has nothing to worry about in terms of making a name for himself”
Whether their goalkeeper will remain part of the team beyond this season remains to be seen. The end of his loan spell will also signal the end of Phillips’ current deal at Charlton, but Phillips says he is not worried about the possibilities that lie ahead.
“My five-year plan would ideally have me in there somewhere making my debut at Charlton, but for now my main objective is to keep playing games now and not stop to sit and be a number two keeper.
“So if it means moving up the league slowly, that is what I’ll do. As all goalkeepers will tell you, you need experience as well as quality.”
The last ‘keeper of note that was on loan at Cheltenham was a certain Jack Butland – now Stoke City’s first choice between the posts and seen as the natural successor to Joe Hart in the England team.
If the example he has set is in any way a good omen, Phillips has nothing to worry about in terms of making a name for himself.