England international trio give Mansfield Town’s Aidan Stone a perfect grounding in the art of goalkeeping

Young Mansfield Town goalkeeper Aidan Stone could hardly have had a better grounding after training for two years at Burnley with three England goalkeepers.
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With Nick Pope, Tom Heaton and Joe Hart ahead of him, Stone's chances were always going to be limited with the Clarets, but the experience has been invaluable and Mansfield will be hoping they will reap the benefits now the 20-year-old has broken into the first team.

“Working with that calibre of goalkeeper is an experience I will forever carry with me,” said Stone.

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“In my first season at Burnley, Nick Pope wasn’t an England international, so it was more Tom Heaton.

Aidan Stone - a great education at Burnley.Aidan Stone - a great education at Burnley.
Aidan Stone - a great education at Burnley.

“But then Joe Hart joined the following summer and they’d all represented England - I was a bit bewildered by it.

“You're meeting these lads and talking to them every day. Then you get the chance to train with them after watching them on TV for the last five years. So that was a bit surreal at the time. “

With Pope, like Hart, coming from non-league, Stone said it was an inspiration to him and where he could go.

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“You look at the amount of trophies Joe Hart has won and where he has come from – Shrewsbury and non-league, working his way up to be England's No.1.

“Nick Pope too. It's stuff like that that makes you believe in yourself as they have come from non-league like me and gone right to the very top.

“These players do a lot of work in the gym to maintain their bodies to keep at that optimum performance level.

“Me and Tom Heaton did a lot of work in the gym and I tried to take the exercises he was doing when he was on top form into my gym programmes. I still try and do that now.

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“Learning from the best was massive for me. It’s nice to have them as colleagues but also as friends.

“Nick Pope sent me a message after the Newport game, congratulating me on my debut and telling me to keep working hard and doing what I do best.”

Stone found himself developing into a goalkeeper through his youth after starting out as a defender.

“To be honest I grew up as a centre half until I was 14 or 15,” he said.

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“But as silly as it sounds I put on a little bit of weight and I wasn't as mobile outfield.

“I used to go down to a six-a-side Leisure League with my uncle and play in goal when I was about 11 or 12 for a mess-around.

“After that, any penalty shoot-out my club was involved in I would tell them to chuck me in goal and I managed to do all right. From then I just enjoyed goalkeeping.

“I thought it was a position in which I would be able to make it.”

His career then suddenly began to take off.

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“I was playing for a non-league team called Brocton FC but I was also playing for the counties team through sixth form,” he said.

“From that they put me forward to England Schoolboy trials and I managed to successfully get through and played in the Centenary Shield, which we won.

“That's when Burnley contacted Brocton and my school and asked if I could come in.

“I went in and trained on the Monday and we played Wolves in a friendly on the Tuesday and they signed me after that game. So it was all a bit quick and a big move away after just coming out of sixth form.”

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Burnley released him after two years and Stone admits that could have been the end of his dreams.

“Steve Stone was the manager at the time and he just said 'I think it would be best for you to go out and play men's league football',” he said.

“At the end of the day there were three England international goalkeepers in front of me so, realistically, as much as I would have wanted to push for the first team, when you have those playing in front of you it's always going to be hard, no matter what team you are at.

“I could have easily fallen out of football after leaving Burnley, so getting the chance to come here and keep pursuing the career that I’ve always wanted was massive for me.

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“A few weeks after I found out I wasn't getting a contract, I found out Mansfield were interested. My agents did a lot of ringing about and there were a few people at Burnley who knew contacts as well.

“There were a few teams that were interested, but Mansfield did offer me a trial and things went from there.”

Stone believes he left Turf Moor with good qualities.

“My main quality is my talking – I like to be very loud on the pitch,” he said.

“It keeps me focused and it keeps the lads in front of me focused as well.

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“At times everyone switches off, so if you have a constant voice behind you, it keeps you mentally and physically switched on.

“I do pride myself on my distribution and my kicking as well. The thing I’d like to work on is my power.

“I’ve been working on different power sessions outside and in the gym to try and get my level of performance higher.”