It is often the case in non-league football that goalkeepers are the players who notch up the most appearances for their respective club. Jason Willis backs this theory up, coming in at 10th on our list of all-time appearance makers with 114 starts in four seasons.
Willis was a product of the highly successful Barking Abbey Youth Academy, who was part of the Waltham Forest Youth team which made the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup in the 2005-6 season.
He was a reliable presence between the sticks, and helped his side beat Leyton Orient, Yeovil Town and West Bromwich Albion before eventually being beaten by Brentford.
His first team debut came in the same season, as he came on as a substitute against Barking after Charlie Hasler had been sent off.
Four days later, came Willis’ full debut as he was between the sticks for a 3-2 win over Stanway Rovers in the Essex Senior Cup.
Willis missed the first few games of the 2006-7 season through injury, but once he returned, he was first choice and made 43 starts in a team which narrowly missed out on the play-off placed.
He stayed with the club well into the 2007-8 season, and made 33 starts before moving onto Enfield Town at the end of the season.
Willis has the honour of being the only Leyton Pennant/Waltham Forest goalkeeper to have scored a goal in normal play.
Forest travelled to Danny Honeyball’s Arlesey Town on the 1st of December 2007. It was a miserable day, and the pitch was heavy going. Midway through the first half, Willis’ long punt up-field hit the only patch of hard ground on the entire pitch, bounced over the stranded ‘keeper and into the back of the net, cueing wild celebrations.
Willis returned for his most recent spell at the start of the 2010-11 season, going onto make 34 appearances.
With a grand total of 114, despite still only being in his early twenties, it is surely only a matter of time before Willis returns and adds to his talley.