At 27, Jason Foster can no longer be classed as a ‘spring chicken’. But as first-team captain, his role as king Cobra is crucial in the development of the youngsters around him.
What’s more, Foster’s back-story very much fits the template of the kind of player currently reviving Clipstone’s fortunes.
He grew up dreaming of becoming a star at a professional club. He suffered the blow of rejection at the age of 15, followed by the heartache of serious injury. But his ability has been resurrected, and his enthusiasm rekindled, by manager Dave Hoole and his staff at Clipstone.
“I am really enjoying my football again,” said Foster, who lives in Chesterfield. “We have a good bunch of young lads who are hungry to improve.
“We started the season with a brand new team, but we have got stronger and stronger.
“It’s such a good club, from the chairman down, and I am enjoying my responsibility as captain.
“Hopefully, if we can add a few more experienced heads, we can give it a good go next season. We are targeting a place in the top eight, which should qualify us for the FA Cup the following year.”
The way the Cobras improved as the 2019/20 campaign in the East Midlands Counties League’s Premier Division went on, the top eight is not out of the question.
They were still only fifth from bottom when the season was brought to an end by the coronavirus lockdown. But even that was vastly better than the previous two seasons, particularly 2017/18 when they finished rock-bottom of the Northern Counties East League’s Premier Division with just two points from 42 games and a goal-difference of minus-135!
Hoole has been given much of the credit for the revival, but the manager himself is keen to deflect praise on to players such as Foster.
Of the central midfielder, Hoole says: “Jason is Clipstone’s finest striker and passer of a football. Not because of God-given talent but because he practises with a relentless application that the vast majority of less-gifted players wouldn’t contemplate.”
Such application was not enough, 12 years ago, to prevent Foster’s release from Derby County, where he had been since the age of eight.
“I was gutted for it to come to an end after all that time,” he said. “But Derby had a change of academy director and I fell out of favour with the new staff, who said I was too small and not strong enough.”
For a couple of seasons, Foster’s love for the game was dampened. And just after returning and helping Heanor Town win a league title, he was sidelined again, this time by a cruciate ligament injury.
His comeback prompted a move up the non-league ladder to Sheffield before the same injury in his other knee, as well as a torn cartilage, knocked him back once more.
It is to his credit that Foster, who works as a surveyor for the digital network business, Openreach, has been able to bounce back.
Given that much of his work is for the NHS and food stores, he is classed as a key worker in the lockdown.
He is much more than a key worker at Clipstone FC.