POPULAR goalkeeper Jamie Speare returns to Accrington Stanley tomorrow (Sat) and admits it will be "absolute torture" if he is on the bench.
Speare, who spent six years with the Reds and made more than 320 appearances, left to join Lancaster in 2004 but was snapped up by Conference new boys Southport in April this year although most of his time has been spent as a substitute.
But he would love nothing better than to run out at the Interlink for the Haig Avenue outfit and play a major part tomorrow.
"It is going to kill me tomorrow if I am on the bench," said Speare, who has just become a father for the first time with the birth of Ethan James. "It will probably be the most frustrating game in the world if I miss out.
"The manager makes the decisions and has to stand by them but I would be absolutely over the moon if I played - and it will be absolutely torture if I don't.
"If I am playing I wouldn't expect anything less than a slating from the fans behind the goals - and I don't mind it!
"And if I am not, I will have a little bit of banter on the bench. I will be mentally prepared whatever!"
Speare was so well thought of at Stanley that he got a testimonial as, after signing in 1998, he helped the Reds climb from the UniBond First Division through to the Nationwide Conference.
He fell out of favour after he was sent off in the Conference opener at Aldershot - Jon Kennedy got his place and he struggled to win it back.
He was released in 2004 and since then Stanley have struggled to find a regular keeper.
And there will only be a few familiar faces for "Jamo" with a big change of personnel over the last 18 months.
"I still speak to Rocky (Robbie Williams) and see him quite a bit. But I won't be texting him about the game as it could blow up in my face and, knowing Rocky, he won't let me forget it!
"I saw Jimmy Bell in town the other day and I am looking forward to seeing Paul Mullin and Cav (Peter Cavanagh). But there have been a lot of changes."
Southport boss Liam Watson will also be returning to his former club as he signed for the Reds for £10,000 in February 2000 and the striker played alongside Speare when Stanley won the UniBond First Division title that year.
He left the Interlink to become player-manager of Runcorn and then he joined the Conference North Champions.
Speare, meanwhile, was a huge part of Stanley's rise up the leagues and isn't shocked they have carried on improving and now sit second in the Conference table.
"I can't say I am surprised by Accrington's success. I always said, since Coley took over, they have improved every time.
"In his first full season we won promotion, the second we finished ninth, the third we finished sixth and fourth we won the league.
"The first season in the Conference we were 10th and then Stanley finished 10th again last season but with more points.
"He has continued to progress year after year. They have finished higher and higher and his record speaks for itself."
He admits his own career has had its up and downs since he left Accrington.
The 29-year-old joined Lancaster and then was picked up by Watson after some stunning displays to return to the Conference with Southport in April. But he has only played two league games with Steve Dickinson getting the nod.
"It not been going too well personally as I have played two games and it has been disappointing, I thought I would have played more.
"I played against Tamworth and Canvey Island and I didn't think I did alot wrong but it is up to the manager."
Southport are struggling in the relegation zone but Speare thinks they will get out of it.
"Liam is trying to do everything professionally off the pitch, with training, travel and he has brought in some fitness coaches. But, as Coley knows, it is hard for a part-time team in the Conference, especially when there are only two or three of us.
"Results could have gone better but we have shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. We are not as bad a side as our league positions suggests but then I guess league positions also don't lie, we are not winning games and we only have ourselves to blame. But it is up to ourselves to get out of it.
"And all the team are looking forward to tomorow. Me and Liam because of our Accrington-connections but the whole team is and we want to beat Accrington a) because they are full-time and b) because they are second in the league.
"Accrington need the points as desperately as we do so it will be a really tough game but, if we play to our potential, then we can get something out of it.
"If we win I will enjoy it and have a pint after the game. If we lose, I will keep my head down and make excuses for a sharp exit!"
- EX-STANLEY defender Jerome Fitzgerald also plays for Southport as does former Burnley centre half Earl Davis.