Former Mansfield Town skipper Luke Foster is back in the area with a combined playing and coaching role under ex-Stags star Paul Holland at Ilkeston FC.
The experienced 30-year-old will link up with Holland and another ex-Stags, Liam Hearn, to try to develop the club’s young talent.
Foster was one of the earliest cases of footballers getting into hot water over comments made on social media, his description of the Stags as ‘a shambles’ hastening his exit from the club.
Stags believed they had pulled off an excellent signing when the respected Oxford United defender was snapped up for an undisclosed fee in January 2010 and quickly made him club captain.
Stags had initially decided against making a bid, citing Foster’s high wages as the main stumbling block.
However, a week later Foster signed a one-and-a-half-year contract and made his debut in Mansfield’s 4-1 victory over Forest Green Rovers, though was sent off in a 1–0 defeat to York in March and suspended for two games.
He made 16 appearances for Stags but at the end of the season made a comment on his Facebook page, calling the club a shambles.
Chairman Andy Perry said: “We all have our own opinions. I don’t know why Luke Foster made those comments.
“I think he was just frustrated by certain aspects of what we and the gaffer want from him.
“I don’t think his last three or four games were anything to sing home about and he went home with a flea in his ear and maybe didn’t take it very well. But as captain he has got to stand up and be counted.”
Foster tried to patch things up by saying: “I wish to apologise to the manager, board, my fellow colleagues and the Mansfield supporters for any offence that may have been caused from an expression placed on a social networking website.
“It was not meant to be offensive and has been observed in the wrong manner.
“I sincerely apologise for any offence caused and will choose my words carefully in future. I have accepted the club’s disciplinary measures following my meeting with the manager and chairman.
“I hope to move on from this and concentrate on my footballing career.”
But it wasn’t enough as he was released with boss David Holdsworth saying: “It’s a practical decision for both the club and Luke.”
Now with more than 350 professional games under his belt, Foster is preparing for a fresh new challenge.
“Paul Holland rang me and told me about the opportunity at Ilkeston, shortly followed by Liam Hearn who I’d been playing alongside at Harrogate and who wanted to know if I was going to join him here too and in a similar role,” said Foster.
“I did my research and spoke to lots of people who are familiar with this level of football, and in the end it seemed a really exciting challenge.
“I still love to play and had offers from clubs higher up to consider too, but the chance to come and coach younger players as well was what swung it as it’s a part of the game I want to progress into eventually.”
Foster subsequently agreed to join and will have a full-time role at the New Manor Ground that will see him both form a key part of the first team squad and coach on a daily basis.
It’s the next stop on a career that has seen Foster usually prove a popular addition wherever he has laid his hat.
After coming through the ranks at Sheffield Wednesday, his career began in earnest under the tutelage of former Ilkeston Town manager and ex-Stags player and assistant boss Keith Alexander at Lincoln City, a spell Foster enjoyed not least due to working with a man he and Ilkeston supporters freely label a ‘legend’.
Foster added: “I then got a move to Oxford, which is where I probably had the most settled spell of my career. I played over 100 games and won both the fans’ and players’ Player of the Year award in 2008 which was a huge honour.”
The ill-fated short spell at Mansfield Town followed before a successful season under Graham Westley at Stevenage which saw them promoted to League One.
“Then a chance came up to move back closer to home with Rotherham, which appealed as the club was going from strength to strength and had a new stadium being built too, “ he added.
“Unfortunately I then injured my cruciate ligament playing at Hereford just before Christmas which ruled me out for the rest of the season.
“The problem was, I only had a one-year contract and when the summer came, Steve Evans had taken over as manager and I ended up a free agent, which given I was trying to get my fitness back was a pretty tough time.”
Foster kept himself fit with the help of a short stint at Matlock Town and hoping for a change of luck. That came in the shape of his former boss Westley, who was now in charge at Preston North End.
“Graham offered me what proved a massive lifeline,” said Foster. “I went there, worked hard and got a contract, before playing a few games and getting my sharpness back. Then my luck changed again.
“Having been out for so long I needed a second wind but it didn’t really come and I was given a couple of weeks’ rest, during which time Graham got the sack and Simon Grayson came in.
“The problem was that by the time I was ready to play, Simon had a settled side that was doing well and I struggled to force my way into the team. By the end of that campaign, I was the only one of six central defenders there who would be out of contract and they reluctantly released me.”
A return to the National League followed as Foster had a season back at Lincoln City, before 18 months at Southport where he was club captain.
He said: “I really enjoyed it at Southport but the main problem was the travelling involved. Sometimes I’d stay over but with a young family in Yorkshire, most days I’d end up doing the round trip and it took its toll.
“In the end I left in February as the chance came up to join Harrogate which was obviously much closer to home, and I had a good couple of months there including helping them get to the play-offs.”
Foster, alongside Hearn, couldn’t quite get Harrogate over the line and ultimately they would both leave in April, soon to reunite at the New Manor Ground.
Now looking to the future, Foster is relishing the challenge of preparing young Ilkeston players for the rigours of the professional game.
He added: “Academy football and first team football is totally different and I hope I can help the young players prepare for that.
“I’ve played for a good few clubs but I’m really keen to settle at Ilkeston and hope this will be a role I can be effective in and enjoy for a good few years.”